Thursday, June 30
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Thursday, June 30, 2011, are:
Army Fixing Shocking Problems Exposed at Arlington Cemetery…in 1997
Yesterday’s big Arlington National Cemetery story was that the FBI is investigating possible criminal acts at Arlington.
The other thing going on is that frustrated members of Congress are seriously considering yanking authority to run Arlington National Cemetery away from the Army and giving the cemetery to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The reason? The VA runs 130 veterans’ cemeteries, apparently very well. The Army runs two cemeteries, including Arlington National Cemetery, and we all know how well the Army has done at Arlington.
Not well. And the Army knew the cemetery was out of control back in 1997, according to a report obtained by Battleland.
Army officials now argue vociferously that they are shocked, shocked by what happened at Arlington and they are really, really going to fix it. Last summer when the scandal exploded, Army Secretary John McHugh, for example, asked the House Armed Services Committee on June 30, 2010 not to take Arlington away from the Army. When pressed on whether the Army should lose Arlington, McHugh pledged that, “I’m going to work as hard, and the people that we brought into this initiative will work as hard as possible to restore what we consider an Army problem.”
The Army had admitted that Arlington had big problems on June 10, 2010. During a Pentagon press conference that day, the Army inspector general, Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb, made one little-noticed remark. He said some problems at Arlington “are a repeat of the deficiencies detailed in a 1997 inspection report by the military district of Washington’s IG.” Whitcomb added that those were “deficiencies which currently have gone largely unaddressed for the past 12 years.”
Wait a minute. What?
Yep. A copy of that 1997 inspector general report obtained by Battleland shows some shocking deficiencies at the cemetery. It doesn’t say anything about not knowing where all the bodies are buried, which turned out to be the real scandal. But it basically says that the Army knew back in 1997 that the cemetery was out of control in myriad ways under the Superintendent there, Jack Metzler, and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham. The Army finally forced them out last summer, 13 years later.
And here is the kicker — the 1997 report follows yet another report that found problems back in 1992.
Partisan bickering over US program that armed Mexican drug cartels
The Washington Post
Democrat: Weak U.S. laws hurt gun-trafficking fight in Mexico
The ranking Democrat on the House committee investigating the controversial federal gun-trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious accused its Republican chairman on Wednesday of stifling discussion of whether U.S. gun laws have contributed to the violence in Mexico.
A report released Wednesday by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said weak laws impede federal firearms agents trying to counter gun trafficking by Mexican drug cartels. It criticizes Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, for making “efforts to wall off any discussion of the nation’s gun laws.”
“Chairman Issa objected to any questions about whether the nation’s gun laws could be improved to assist these law enforcement agents in their efforts to counter drug violence and firearms trafficking by Mexican drug cartels,” the report says.
In a statement, committee spokesman Frederick R. Hill responded: “This is a predictable maneuver from a minority that has sought to obstruct the investigation into Justice Department sanctioned gunwalking. It will not affect the committee’s continued focus on a reckless operation that has been linked to deaths on both sides of the border.“
Titled “Outgunned,” the 26-page report recommends stronger penalties for “straw purchasers” who illegally buy guns for others and a reporting requirement for multiple purchases of long guns, such as AK-47s. Cummings will hold a forum on the report Thursday on Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, President Obama was asked at a news conference about Fast and Furious, the year-long investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allowed traffickers to move hundreds of U.S. weapons into Mexico.
“As you know, my attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gunrunning to be able to pass through into Mexico,” Obama said. “The investigation is still pending. I’m not going to comment on a current investigation. I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by ATF, and we got to find out how that happened.”
Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, under pressure to resign over the operation, is scheduled to testify in Congress next month.
Issa, who recently held a hearing on Fast and Furious, has called for top Justice officials to be held accountable. Issa and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) have led the charge to uncover details about the operation.
Cummings’s report cites testimony from agents who criticized Fast and Furious to illustrate ATF’s lack of tools to combat gun trafficking.
First of three court rulings backs Obamacare
Federal appeals court rules health care reform bill is constitutional
The political and legal future of the sweeping health care reform bill received a big boost Wednesday after a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled in favor of the Obama administration and Congress, concluding a key provision in the landmark legislation was constitutional.
The “individual mandate” requiring nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties — was challenged in federal courts by a large number of individuals and groups, who said people should not be forced to purchase a product like medical coverage. A partially divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit disagreed.
“We find that the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of legislative power by Congress under the Commerce Clause,” said the three-judge panel on Wednesday, in a 64-page opinion.
The opinion is the first of three rulings that will emerge from federal appeals courts around the country in the coming weeks over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The issue is almost certain to eventually reach the Supreme Court, perhaps by year’s end. More than two dozen other legal challenges to the law are floating in lower federal courts.
Failed and controversial CEOs are doing quite well, thank you
US News & World Report
How 11 Corporate Titans Profited After Failure
In this economy, there aren’t too many second chances. But if you’re a corporate titan, fortune may smile on you more than once, even if you damage your firm or even imperil its existence.
The last several years have been tumultuous in corporate America, as a financial crisis rippled through the economy and other disasters brought shame upon once-admired firms. The recession that coincided with the financial crisis has cost the U.S. economy about seven million jobs and left the whole nation slogging through a weak, unconvincing recovery. Yet a number of disgraced CEOs and other grounded high-flyers have fared surprisingly well, either landing plum jobs with new employers or securing golden parachutes that guarantee a luxurious retirement–or both. That’s not always the case. In his 2004 book Why Smart Executives Fail, Dartmouth professor Sydney Finkelstein found that of 51 “failed” CEOs, only two ever got hired again by an existing firm. The rest started their own firms, became consultants, or slunk into retirement. Today, by contrast, companies seem more willing to hire executives with black marks on their resumes.
Of the 11 corporate “up-failers” on our list, none has been accused of crimes or illegalities, and virtually all of them attribute their controversial performance as business leaders to factors beyond their control. Yet critics blame them for problems that deeply damaged the firms they once ran or helped run. Here are some of the former CEOs and other corporate honchos who seem to have stumbled upward after being involved in some of the most notorious corporate episodes of the last decade …
Now it’s 40,000 Welsh teachers protesting over cuts
40,000 Welsh public sector staff join pensions strike
An estimated 40,000 public sector workers in Wales have joined the one-day strike action in a row over changes to their pensions.
About 1,000 Welsh schools were fully or partly shut as 17,000 teachers walked out with dozens of government buildings and services closed or affected.
Thousands of striking workers held rallies at lunchtime on Thursday.
The Welsh Government said it aimed to minimise the impact. The UK government insists the pension changes are fair.
Peter Harris, national officer for the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union in Wales, said members had little option but to strike.
Thousands took part in staffing picket lines and attended joint union rallies, with an estimated 1,000 in Cardiff city centre, 400 people at Castle Square, Swansea, and 80 in Wrexham town centre.
Mr Harris said unions had lobbied government in Cardiff and London and taken part in rallies in Pontypridd, Aberystwyth as well as a major protest in London earlier this year.
“No one wants to be on strike,” told BBC Radio Wales, adding that talks have been going on since 2007.
“I’m not sure what else we can do,” he said. “We are hitting a brick wall.”
He estimated 40,000 workers are on strike on Thursday in Wales, saying they faced losing thousands “robbed from their pension pot”.
Meanwhile, UK ministers insisted the changes were a vital part of pension reform and were fair to both workers and the taxpayer.
The strike was a protest at plans to raise the station pension age, raise employee contributions and link pension values to the generally lower consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI).
Around 17,000 members of three teaching unions – National Union of Teachers (NUT), Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and University and College Union (UCU) are taking industrial action in Wales.
David Evans, secretary of the the NUT in Wales, said around 13,000 of his members were taking part.
More than half of Wales’ 1,800 schools are affected, either fully closing or closing some classes.
Greece gets IMF aid for selling off state assets to private companies
Greece passes austerity bill after trouble-free vote
The Greek parliament passed a second austerity bill Thursday, opening the way for the EU and IMF to release a 12 billion euro ($17 billion) loan installment which Athens urgently needs to stave off bankruptcy.
The vote on detailed measures to implement 28 billion euros in spending cuts, tax increases and privatisations passed without any of the wild street battles which marred Wednesday’s vote on an initial austerity bill.
The Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers is now likely to approve payment of the latest loan installment this weekend.
“I am very satisfied because now I can go to Eurogroup strengthened by a vote of confidence and two approved bills,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told Reuters. “We can now move to the next stage of finding a viable solution.”
After a debate taken up partly by mutual accusations over the previous day’s violence around Syntagma Square in central Athens, deputies voted 155 to 136 to pass the implementation law.
All individual articles went through with opposition support for privatisation and spending cuts, but one deputy from the ruling PASOK party voted against a part of the bill setting up a privatisation agency to handle the sell-off of state assets.
Attack on Al Qaida has “fingerprints of government-sponsored hackers”
Hacker attack cripples al-Qaida Web communications
Computer hackers shut down al-Qaida’s ability to communicate its messages to the world through the Internet, interrupting the group’s flow of videos and communiqués, according to a terrorism expert.
“Al-Qaida’s online communications have been temporarily crippled, and it does not have a single trusted distribution channel available on the Internet,” said Evan Kohlmann, of Flashpoint Global Partners, which monitors the group’s communications.
The attack was carried out within the past few days by unknown hackers targeting al-Qaida’s Internet communications systems. It was “well coordinated and involved the use of an unusual cocktail of relatively sophisticated techniques,” Kohlmann said.
“My guess is that it will take them at least several days more to repair the damage and get their network up and functioning again,” he said.
A year ago, al-Qaida’s Internet communications suffered a similar hacker attack.
British newspapers reported earlier this month that the UK government hacked into an al-Qaida website last year and inserted recipes for making cupcakes in place of instructions on how to build bombs. The target was the group’s English language magazine, “Inspire,” intended for Muslims in the West. The magazine is the product of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen.
Instead of an article called “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” the online magazine contained recipes from a book assembled by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. It took the terrorist group nearly two weeks to restore its original posting.
Kohlmann said the latest incident “once again appears to bear the telltale fingerprints of government-sponsored hackers.”
Future wars will be fought over water
Water wars: 21st century conflicts?
After droughts ravaged his parents’ farmland, Sixteen-year-old Hassain and his two-year-old sister Sareye became some of the newest refugees forced from home by water scarcity.
“There was nothing to harvest,” Hassain said through an interpreter during an interview at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya which is housing some 160,000 Somalis displaced by a lack of water. “There had been no rain in my village for two years. We used to have crops.”
As global warming alters weather patterns, and the number of people lacking access to water rises, millions, if not billions, of others are expected to face a similar fate as water shortages become more frequent.
Presently, Hassain is one of about 1.2 billion people living in areas of physical water scarcity, although the majority of cases are nowhere near as dire. By 2030, 47 per cent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Environmental Outlook to 2030 report.
Some analysts worry that wars of the future will be fought over blue gold, as thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations battle for dwindling resources.
Governments and military planners around the world are aware of the impending problem; with the US senate issuing reports with names like Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With rapid population growth, and increased industrial demand, water withdrawls have tripled over the last 50 years, according to UN figures.”The war was also a reason why we left,” Hassain said. “There was a lot of fighting near my village.”
“Water scarcity is an issue exacerbated by demographic pressures, climate change and pollution,” said Ignacio Saiz, director of Centre for Economic and Social Rights, a social justice group. “The world’s water supplies should guarantee every member of the population to cover their personal and domestic needs.”
“Fundamentally, these are issues of poverty and inequality, man-made problems,” he told Al Jazeera.
The evidence is in: crazy weather caused by climate change
Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather Is a Product of Climate Change
In North Dakota the waters kept rising. Swollen by more than a month of record rains in Saskatchewan, the Souris River topped its all time record high, set back in 1881. The floodwaters poured into Minot, North Dakota’s fourth-largest city, and spread across thousands of acres of farms and forests. More than 12,000 people were forced to evacuate. Many lost their homes to the floodwaters.
Yet the disaster unfolding in North Dakota might be bringing even bigger headlines if such extreme events hadn’t suddenly seemed more common. In this year alone massive blizzards have struck the U.S. Northeast, tornadoes have ripped through the nation, mighty rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri have flowed over their banks, and floodwaters have covered huge swaths of Australia as well as displaced more than five million people in China and devastated Colombia. And this year’s natural disasters follow on the heels of a staggering litany of extreme weather in 2010, from record floods in Nashville, Tenn., and Pakistan, to Russia’s crippling heat wave.
These patterns have caught the attention of scientists at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They’ve been following the recent deluges’ stunning radar pictures and growing rainfall totals with concern and intense interest. Normally, floods of the magnitude now being seen in North Dakota and elsewhere around the world are expected to happen only once in 100 years. But one of the predictions of climate change models is that extreme weather—floods, heat waves, droughts, even blizzards—will become far more common. “Big rain events and higher overnight lows are two things we would expect with [a] warming world,” says Deke Arndt, chief of the center’s Climate Monitoring Branch. Arndt’s group had already documented a stunning rise in overnight low temperatures across the U.S. So are the floods and spate of other recent extreme events also examples of predictions turned into cold, hard reality?
Increasingly, the answer is yes. Scientists used to say, cautiously, that extreme weather events were “consistent” with the predictions of climate change. No more. “Now we can make the statement that particular events would not have happened the same way without global warming,” says (past This is Hell! guest) Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.
That’s a profound change—the difference between predicting something and actually seeing it happen. The reason is simple: The signal of climate change is emerging from the “noise”—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.