The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Thursday, June 24, are:
Federal judges financial links to big oil stall BP spill lawsuits
Los Angeles Times
Judges’ hands tied by oil industry interests
Federal judges in gulf states have been extensively invested in the oil and gas industries for decades, and those interests threaten to create a logjam for the 150-plus lawsuits and legal challenges prompted by the BP spill.
Seven of the 12 federal judges of the Eastern District of Louisiana already have cited potential conflicts of interest in bowing out of cases brought by fishermen, charter operators, tourist services and families of those killed in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Recusals in oil industry cases have become so common among the judges that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last month left in limbo a landmark case brought by Hurricane Katrina victims because the court couldn’t muster a quorum to review it. Eight of the circuit’s 17 judges stepped down because of financial interests in the oil, gas and chemical companies being sued for alleged culpability in global warming.
The 5th Circuit, encompassing Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, would be the venue for the Obama administration’s expected appeal of Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of Louisiana that struck down the government’s six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling.
Feldman recently filed a financial disclosure statement for 2009, but it won’t be available to the public until the judge has a chance to request redactions, said Richard Carelli, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Documents for 2008 show that Feldman, 76, then had holdings in Halliburton and Transocean Ltd., two of the companies being sued in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The 1983 appointee of President Reagan also owned, bought or sold stock in about 20 other oil and gas industry companies that year.
In Gulf, ‘handling and disposal of oily materials was haphazard at best’
The Associated Press
Shoddy disposal work mars oil cleanup
A leaky truck filled with oil-stained sand and absorbent boom soaked in crude pulls away from the beach, leaving tar balls in a public parking lot and a messy trail of sand and water on the main beach road. A few miles away, brown liquid drips out of a disposal bin filled with polluted sand.
BP PLC’s work to clean up the mess from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history already has generated more than 1,300 tons of solid waste, and companies it hired to dispose of the material say debris is being handled professionally and carefully.
A spot check of several container sites by The Associated Press, however, found that’s not always the case.
Along the northern Gulf coast, where miles of beaches have been coated with oil intermittently for two weeks, the check showed the handling and disposal of oily materials was haphazard at best.
A mound of oily sand sits in an uncovered waste container in a parking lot at the crown jewel of Alabama’s park system, Gulf State Park. Water from the previous night’s storm drips out of the bin into a brown pool on the asphalt.
In Pensacola, Fla., along the road through Gulf Islands National Seashore, trash bags from the debris removal hang over the side of big storage bins.
A waste collection area dotted with numerous bins full of spill debris stands in what seems like an odd spot: Smack in the middle of the tourist section in Gulf Shores, Ala., directly across the street from a seafood restaurant hungry for customers because of a lack of tourists.
Cleaning up a spill is an undeniably messy job, particularly when crude oil or tar balls are washing ashore in varying amounts in four states. The debris isn’t classified as hazardous waste, so it can be placed in landfills that accept ordinary household garbage, including table scraps.
Oil spill suicide: “We’re helping cover up the lie. We’re burying ourselves”
The Washington Post
Apparent suicide by fishing boat captain underlines oil spill’s emotional toll
Allen Kruse had been a charter fishing boat captain for more than two decades — long enough that people called him by his boat’s name, Rookie, as if they were one and the same. But then, two months ago, the leaking BP oil well began pouring crude into the waters where he took families fishing for snapper and amberjack.
Two weeks and two days ago, with his fishing grounds closed, Kruse, 55, took a job working for BP’s cleanup crew. For the very people who’d caused the mess.
Other boat captains said Kruse, like them, found the effort confusing, overly bureaucratic and frustrating. He told them to keep their heads down, not to worry about the hassles. But those close to him saw he was losing weight.
On Wednesday morning, Kruse drove to his boat as usual. As the deckhands prepared for the day’s work, Kruse, as the captain, was supposed to turn on the generator. But after a few minutes, the crew members said, they didn’t hear anything and went looking for him. A deckhand found him in the wheelhouse, shot in the head.
The Baldwin County, Ala., coroner’s office called his death an apparent suicide and said Kruse didn’t leave a note. There’s no way to be sure why he would have taken his life. But his friends see the tragedy as a clear sign of the BP spill’s hidden psychological toll on the Gulf Coast, an awful feeling of helplessness that descends on people used to hard work and independence.
“We’re helping cover up the lie. We’re burying ourselves. We’re helping them cover up the [expletive] that’s putting us out of work,” said a 27-year-old deckhand who was working for Kruse on Wednesday and spoke on condition of anonymity. He said Kruse was facing the same problems as others in his business: “It’s just setting in with ‘em, you know; reality’s kicking in. And there’s a lot of people that aren’t as happy as they used to be.”
Around the gulf, social service providers are dealing with a rising tide of mental health crises. Groups of Baptists are deploying extra chaplains in parishes along the coast. In southern Louisiana, where the impact was felt first, about 1,500 people have received counseling services from Catholic Charities.
Blackwater lands $100 million CIA contract
The Washington Post
CIA hires Xe, formerly Blackwater, to guard facilities in Afghanistan, elsewhere
The CIA has hired Xe Services, the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, to guard its facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere, according to an industry source.
The previously undisclosed CIA contract is worth about $100 million, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deal, which is classified.
“It’s for protective services . . . guard services, in multiple regions,” the source said.
Two other security contractors, Triple Canopy and DynCorp International, put in losing bids for the CIA’s business, the source said.
The revelation comes only a day after members of a federal commission investigating war-zone contractors blasted the State Department for granting Xe a new $120 million contract to guard U.S. consulates under construction in Afghanistan.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano stopped short of confirming the contract, saying only that Xe personnel would not be involved in operations …
The firm, based in Moyock, N.C., has been fighting off prosecution and lawsuits since a September 2007 incident in Baghdad, when its guards opened fire in a city square, allegedly killing 17 unarmed civilians and wounding 24.
Two weeks ago, Prince announced that he was putting the company on the block. A spokeswoman said “a number of firms” are interested in buying but declined to elaborate.
Sarkozy’s last big reform before election leads to nationwide strike
French strike disrupts travel
Widespread travel disruption gripped France today as unions staged nationwide strikes against government plans to reform the pensions system and lift the retirement age.
Thousands of transport workers walked off the job, hitting train, plane, metro and bus services, while civil servants, teachers and some private sector staff also went on strike.
Around 200 demonstrations were planned across France during the day, with unions looking to fill the streets to push their demand that the government drops plans to lift the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 in 2018.
Initial indications from large cities such as Marseille and Lyon suggested that turnout was very high, with the main rally of the day set to kick off in Paris in the afternoon.
“We are all in the same boat,” said Jean-Luc Mariano, a docker who joined a march in the port city of Marseille. “It is already hard enough working at the age of 56 in the docks. To add yet more years to that means we will never get to enjoy our retirement,” he said.
At a previous union day of protest in May some 395,000 protesters took to the streets, according to police figures. The unions put the number at one million …
France’s unions say today’s demonstrations will be a foretaste of the protests they plan for September when the reform is due to go to parliament for approval.
The day of action was a key test of strength between the unions and President Nicolas Sarkozy, who
needs to slash a ballooning budget deficit and public debt to help the country maintain its precious triple-A sovereign debt rating.
Mr Sarkozy has spent considerable political capital on the pension drive, which is likely to be the government’s last big reform before his expected re-election bid in 2012 …
A poll by BVA showed that two French people out of three supported the union protests but a survey, carried out by Ifop for Le Figaro daily yesterday, said 58 per cent supported the idea of lifting the retirement age.
French racists blame Cup loss on “guys with chickpeas in their heads”
The New York Times
Racial Tinge Stains World Cup Exit in France
After France was booted from this year’s World Cup on Tuesday without winning a match — amid scenes of selfishness, indifference and indiscipline — the French news media piled on about the humiliation to the country and the misbehavior of its players. There were calls for a complete restructuring of the French team: its management, its method for choosing players, its training.
But there is a more troubling aspect to the reaction to the defeat, which has focused on lack of patriotism, shared values and national honor on a team with many members who are black or brown and descended from immigrants.
The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who has often criticized the failures of French assimilation, compared the players to youths rioting in the banlieues, France’s suburban ghettos. “We now have proof that the French team is not a team at all, but a gang of hooligans that knows only the morals of the mafia,” he said in a radio interview.
While most politicians have talked carefully of values and patriotism, rather than immigration and race, some legislators blasted the players as “scum,” “little troublemakers” and “guys with chickpeas in their heads instead of a brain,” according to news reports.
Fadela Amara, the junior minister for the racially charged suburbs who was born to Algerian parents, warned on Tuesday that the reaction to the team’s loss had become racially charged.
“There is a tendency to ethnicize what has happened,” she told a gathering of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing party, according to news reports. “Everyone condemns the lower-class neighborhoods. People doubt that those of immigrant backgrounds are capable of respecting the nation.”
Rwanda arresting opposition in run-up to presidential election
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Rwandan police arrest dozens of opposition protesters
Rwandan police arrested dozens of opposition protesters on Thursday, as President Paul Kagame presented his papers for re-election to the National Election Commission.
Kagame is widely expected to secure a second seven-year term in the Aug. 9 ballot. He has held de facto power since 1994 when his guerrilla force took power after ending massacres of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu authorities.
Opposition leader and presidential hopeful Victoire Ingabire, who is facing trial on charges of genocide denial and belonging to a terrorist organisation, said members of her United Democratic Forces party, which mainly represents Hutus, had been detained during a peaceful protest in Kigali …
Ingabire’s party and the Democratic Green Party have called for presidential elections planned for Aug. 9 to be postponed to allow them to meet technical requirements to register. The two are the only parties that have not been able to register.
A Reuters witness saw several Ingabire supporters arrested at the Justice Ministry as they unfurled party banners.
“They have to accept the registration of all political parties and that we can participate in the election,” Ingabire said.
Ntaganda leads a faction of the opposition Social Party Imberakuri. In December last year he denied senate charges of peddling ethnic “divisionism” and genocide ideology …
Kagame has won praise for economic reforms and completely rebuilding state institutions since 1994 but international rights groups and the United States, a major donor and military ally, have expressed growing concerns about democratic freedoms ahead of the ballot.
“We’ve made very good progress, but there’s a long way to go. There’s still a lot to go ahead of us to be where we want to be,” Rwanda News Agency quoted Kagame as saying after handing in his papers to the electoral body.
Sri Lanka refuses to allow UN investigation of civilian deaths
Sri Lanka says UN panel ‘will not be allowed’ to enter
The Sri Lankan foreign minister has said that a UN panel on human rights will not be allowed into the country.
GL Peiris said that there was “no need” for the panel to come to the country and they would not be allowed in.
The UN secretary general announced earlier this week that the panel will look into alleged human rights abuses.
The UN has described the move to prevent the panel from entering the country as “most unfortunate”.
“Everybody loses out if we cannot go to Sri Lanka, it will make it harder for the truth to be unearthed,” former Indonesian attorney-general Marzuki Darusman – the head of the three-member panel – told the BBC.
Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said the panel would advise on how to deal with alleged perpetrators of abuses.
About 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the war, the UN says.
There have been several allegations that both the army – and Tamil Tigers rebels who they routed last year – committed crimes at the end of the war.
Americans optimistic about the future, just not as much
Jesus will return by 2050, say 40pc of Americans
Americans are largely optimistic about the future, according to the poll from the Pew Research Center For The People and The Press/Smithsonian Magazine.
By mid century, 71 per cent believe cancer will be cured, 66 per cent say artificial limbs will work better than real ones and 81 per cent believe computers will be able to converse like humans.
But Americans are also braced for a major energy crisis and a warming planet, according to the survey. More than half, or 58 per cent, fear another world war in the next 40 years and 53 per cent expect a terrorist attack against the United States using a nuclear weapon.
The poll also shows a sharp dip in overall optimism from 1999, when 81 per cent said they were optimistic about life for themselves and their families. The current poll found just 64 per cent were …
Here are some other findings of the poll:
• 71 per cent believe cancer will be cured by 2050.
• 81 per cent believe computers will be able to converse like humans.
• 68 per cent of those under 30 predict a world war by 2050.
• 53 per cent say ordinary people will travel in space
• Nearly three-quarters, or 74 per cent, of those polled believe it likely that “most of our energy will come from sources other than coal, oil, and gas”.
• Yet 72 per cent believe the world is likely to experience a major worldwide energy crisis by 2050.
• 66 per cent say the Earth will definitely or probably get warmer but it breaks down strongly along political lines, with just 48 per cent of Republicans saying so and 83 per cent of Democrats.
• 42 per cent say it is likely that scientists will be able to tell what people are thinking by scanning their brains but 55 say this will definitely or probably not happen.
• 89 per cent believe a woman will be elected US president by 2050.
• 86 per cent say it is at least probable that most Americans will have to work into their 70s before retiring.
• 41 per cent say Jesus Christ will return within the next 40 years while 46 per cent say this will definitely or probably not happen.
• 63 per cent anticipate the demise of paper money
• 61 per cent say almost no one will send letters by 2050.
• 31 per cent expect the planet will be struck by an asteroid.