Tuesday, August 31 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, August 31, 2010, are:

World’s most high profile climate change skeptic denies U-turn

McCain economic aide wants New Deal-like hiring of jobless

Was US behind “unlawful killings in Yemen”?

US rushes to leave after destroying Iraq for 20 years

Homemade Afghan bombs spark arms race with foreign troops

“Probably the only incorrupt people in Afghanistan are the Taliban”

Israel’s leading actors, playwright refuse to play the settlements

Israeli singer gets 39 lashes for performing in front of “mixed audience”

Abstaining from alcohol shortens your life

World’s most high profile climate change skeptic denies U-turn
The Guardian

Bjørn Lomborg: $100bn a year needed to fight climate change

The world’s most high-profile climate change sceptic is to declare that global warming is “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today” and “a challenge humanity must confront”, in an apparent U-turn that will give a huge boost to the embattled environmental lobby.

Bjørn Lomborg, the self-styled “sceptical environmentalist” once compared to Adolf Hitler by the UN’s climate chief, is famous for attacking climate scientists, campaigners, the media and others for exaggerating the rate of global warming and its effects on humans, and the costly waste of policies to stop the problem.

But in a new book to be published next month, Lomborg will call for tens of billions of dollars a year to be invested in tackling climate change. “Investing $100bn annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century,” the book concludes.

Examining eight methods to reduce or stop global warming, Lomborg and his fellow economists recommend pouring money into researching and developing clean energy sources such as wind, wave, solar and nuclear power, and more work on climate engineering ideas such as “cloud whitening” to reflect the sun’s heat back into the outer atmosphere.

In a Guardian interview, he said he would finance investment through a tax on carbon emissions that would also raise $50bn to mitigate the effect of climate change, for example by building better sea defences, and $100bn for global healthcare.

His declaration about the importance of action on climate change comes at a crucial point in the debate, with international efforts to agree a global deal on emissions stalled amid a resurgence in scepticism caused by rows over the reliability of the scientific evidence for global warming.

The fallout from those rows continued yesterday when Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, came under new pressure to step down after an independent review of the panel’s work called for tighter term limits for its senior executives and greater transparency in its workings. The IPCC has come under fire in recent months following revelations of inaccuracies in the last assessment of global warming, provided to governments in 2007 – for which it won the Nobel peace prize with former the US vice-president Al Gore. The mistakes, including a claim that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, prompted a review of the IPCC’s processes and procedures by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an organisation of world science bodies.

The IAC said the IPCC needed to be as transparent as possible in how it worked, how it selected people to participate in assessments and its choice of scientific information to assess.

Although Pachauri once compared Lomborg to Hitler, he has now given an unlikely endorsement to the new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change. In a quote for the launch, Pachauri said: “This book provides not only a reservoir of information on the reality of human-induced climate change, but raises vital questions and examines viable options on what can be done.”

Lomborg denies he has performed a volte face, pointing out that even in his first book he accepted the existence of man-made global warming. “The point I’ve always been making is it’s not the end of the world,” he told the Guardian. “That’s why we should be measuring up to what everybody else says, which is we should be spending our money well.”

But he said the crucial turning point in his argument was the Copenhagen Consensus project, in which a group of economists were asked to consider how best to spend $50bn. The first results, in 2004, put global warming near the bottom of the list, arguing instead for policies such as fighting malaria and HIV/Aids. But a repeat analysis in 2008 included new ideas for reducing the temperature rise, some of which emerged about halfway up the ranking. Lomborg said he then decided to consider a much wider variety of policies to reduce global warming, “so it wouldn’t end up at the bottom”.

The difference was made by examining not just the dominant international policy to cut carbon emissions, but also seven other “solutions” including more investment in technology, climate engineering, and planting more trees and reducing soot and methane, also significant contributors to climate change, said Lomborg.

“If the world is going to spend hundreds of millions to treat climate, where could you get the most bang for your buck?” was the question posed, he added.After the analyses, five economists were asked to rank the 15 possible policies which emerged. Current policies to cut carbon emissions through taxes – of which Lomborg has long been critical – were ranked largely at the bottom of four of the lists. At the top were more direct public investment in research and development rather than spending money on low carbon energy now, and climate engineering …

Despite his change of tack, however, Lomborg is likely to continue to have trenchant critics. Writing for today’s Guardian, Howard Friel, author of the book The Lomborg Deception, said: “If Lomborg were really looking for smart solutions, he would push for an end to perpetual and brutal war, which diverts scarce resources from nearly everything that Lomborg legitimately says needs more money.”

McCain economic aide wants New Deal-like hiring of jobless
The Atlantic

Conservative Economist: ‘Find the Unemployed and Hire Them’

Let’s put this gently: economist Kevin Hassett is no Keynesian.

Hassett, the director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an economic adviser to Sen. John McCain, recent attacked President Obama’s economic plan as “voodoo economics,” claiming “the biggest Keynesian stimulus in U.S. history was a bust.”

But when I got him on the phone to talk about the unemployment crisis, he struck a different tone. His problem with the stimulus wasn’t that government spending inherently fails to grow jobs and the economy. The problem, he said, was that Obama’s stimulus was not direct enough.

With the Recovery Act, the White House eschewed direct hiring and aimed instead to raise overall economic output in the hope that more activity would lead to more demand, which would lead to more hires. “Look at the stimulus and the number of jobs we’ve actually created, and it comes out to a couple million bucks per job created,” Hassett told me.

“My idea is simpler. Find the unemployed and hire them.”

If the government had spent the stimulus hiring people directly, we could have supported 23 million jobs, Hassett claimed. Hiring millions of unemployed workers directly into government organizations that already exist — such as the military and the Army Corps of Engineers — would be a much more efficient use of government funds.

Hassett defended direct government hiring, which the federal government used en masse during the Great Depression, in a conversation about the nature of our unemployment crisis. There is an ongoing debate about whether 17 percent broad unemployment figure is the result of a “cyclical” challenge, due to temporarily weak demand, or a “structural” crisis, due to a fundamental mismatch of workers’ skills and employers’ needs …

“Employers don’t want to take a chance on some guy without a job for two years,” he said. “The cycle is so long and deep that the cyclical becomes the structural.” The easiest way for the government to end somebody’s jobless spell is, very simply, to end it by straight-up hiring the worker.

“Since the economy has created this class of long-term jobless, the arguments for government hiring become stronger,” he said. “If you give the person a job for a while, it helps them get a job later. You remove the stigma.”

Was US behind “unlawful killings in Yemen”?

Amnesty wants U.S. to clarify role in Yemen killings

Amnesty International said on Wednesday the United States appeared to have carried out or collaborated with Yemen in attacks that killed suspected al Qaeda militants, violating international law.

Yemen’s killings of al Qaeda suspects, often in aerial bombings, are extrajudicial executions and are unlawful, the human rights watchdog said, and urged Washington to clarify the involvement of U.S. forces and drones in such attacks.

U.S. officials say only that Washington plays a supporting role by helping Yemen track and pinpoint targets. But the United States has long been involved in fighting militants in Yemen.

“The USA appears to have carried out or collaborated in unlawful killings in Yemen and has closely cooperated with Yemeni security forces in situations that have failed to give due regard for human rights,” Amnesty said in a report. It urged Washington to “investigate the serious allegations of the use of drones by U.S. forces for targeted killings of individuals in Yemen and clarify the chain of command and rules governing the use of such drones”.

US rushes to leave after destroying Iraq for 20 years
The Guardian

Iraq withdrawal: Amid heat and broken promises, only the ice man cometh

Past This is Hell! guest Martin Chulov writes …

On a pot-holed backstreet in eastern Baghdad, Saad Turki is sweltering under a corrugated tin roof, manning a giant pulley. The grime of yet another merciless summer day has stained his shirt ochre and he is parched from the rigour of a Ramadan fast.

But Turki – unlike the stream of customers lined up outside his workshop – is not complaining. Business is buoyant in his rudimentary line of work. The insufferable heat of Iraq seven years after the invasion has helped transform him from a youth in the city’s downtrodden fringes into a man on the make.

Turki is producing large slabs of ice, which most Baghdadis have been using since mid-June to cool their houses. He has been selling up to 6,000 each day to families who have no other means of making their homes even remotely livable in the face of a relentless three-month heatwave.

“We’ve never had a summer like this,” he says, as a police pick-up truck pulls up to collect a half-metre slab of white ice that has freshly spouted from a rusting foot-wide pipe (the policeman doesn’t pay). “On some days we can’t produce enough to satisfy everyone.”

Things weren’t supposed to be this way. After seven years of hopes and $53bn of US reconstruction money, it has come to this — an ice machine in a city on fire. Iraq in 2010 is far from the middle-income utopia envisaged by some American officials in the early days of the occupation.

The country under Saddam was a command economy ravaged by war and sanctions, which had taken a particularly heavy toll as the technology driving civic infrastructure had forged ahead throughout the west during the 1990s.

As US forces steadily withdraw, George W Bush’s notion of a new Marshall Plan, the blueprint that helped rebuild western Europe after the second world war, for Iraq is increasingly looking illusory. Key benchmarks reveal that all aspects of civic infrastructure have either stagnated or only inched ahead since 2003.

“A lot of the reconstruction has been posited on things that haven’t happened, such as the reconditioning of major power stations,” says Christine McNab, the resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Iraq.

“A lot of what is wrong with infrastructure is from the sanctions period, when people couldn’t order spare parts and couldn’t modernise.”

Access to potable water had been another key goal of US and Iraqi administrators. And while there has been progress at a micro-level, such as a US-built water treatment plant in Sadr City and work by the US Army Corps of Engineers in other deprived regions, an overhaul of Iraq’s moribund water delivery system has not happened.

The United Nations says 79% of Iraqis now have improved access to drinking water compared with 2003. However, separate figures reveal that only one in four households have access to tap water in their homes.

Sewage is a serious environmental threat – more than 60% of households dump untreated waste on open land. Electricity remains a major problem …

The brain drain of Iraq’s professionals has taken an especially heavy toll on doctors. Up to 60% of GPs and specialists present when Baghdad fell have either fled out of fear for their lives or become economic migrants. Doctors were ruthlessly hunted down by militias from 2005 to 2008 and remain attractive targets even now …

“Just the fact that individuals are having to spend their own money on buying generators means there is that much less money in the economy,” says McNab. “It is the height of absurdity in such an oil-rich country that they don’t have the right oil grades to run these stations properly.

“To get investors to come, there needs to be electricity 24/7, with no breaks,” she says. “They also want a water supply. They need hygienic solutions and that means the sanitation services need to be working.”

Across Iraq, the US withdrawal is increasingly seen as a rush for the exit, when there remains much work to be done.

“They want it to be over, but it doesn’t mean it is,” says the ice-maker, Turki. “It doesn’t bother me though, because I’ll be making ice for a decade to come.

“Look at the mess that is Iraq. Do you think they will somehow get it together when the strong man leaves town? No, Iraqis will eat each other for power.”

Homemade Afghan bombs spark arms race with foreign troops
The Guardian

Afghanistan bomb attacks kill twenty-one US soldiers in 48 hours

A series of bomb attacks have badly hit US troops in eastern and southern Afghanistan in the past 48 hours.

The death toll among in the Nato-led coalition has reached 484 this year and is predicted to far surpass 2009’s total of 521.

Deaths have risen consistently each year since 2001. Afghan police and civilians have suffered far higher casualties.

The coalition blames the rise in troop deaths partly on the influx of reinforcements, which is allowing commanders to target previously untouched insurgent safe havens where rebels are mounting stiff resistance …

Homemade bombs using old shells or homemade explosives and hidden in roads, tracks, walls, streams and buildings have become the Taliban’s favoured weapon.

Their use has sparked an arms race with foreign troops evolving tactics, or relying on more heavily armed vehicles and mine detectors to try and avoid them.

“Probably the only incorrupt people in Afghanistan are the Taliban”
Der Spiegel

‘Only the Taliban Are Not Corrupt’

The CIA is alleged to have been paying an aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for information. Former CIA agent (past This is Hell! guest) Michael Scheuer spoke to SPIEGEL about why fighting corruption in Afghanistan is all but impossible.

SPIEGEL: The CIA is alleged to have paid Mohammed Zia Salehi, an aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, for information. Has the CIA damaged the Americans’ credibility?

Michael Scheuer: That’s absolutely good recruitment. I think you recruit whoever gives you access to a target. It might be someone who is a terrorist or it might be someone who’s a corrupt official. I think any other intelligence agency would be delighted to have someone to give them information about what Karzai is thinking because he’s such a dishonest man.

SPIEGEL: The US now has to face accusations that it is financing the very corruption it is promising to fight.

Scheuer: Not really. President Obama knew about this. His intelligence advisors knew about this. If he’s smart I’m sure the president would want to have somebody close to Karzai to know what’s going on. The US government and other governments are lying when they say that they can clean up corruption and win the war.

SPIEGEL: Is Washington being energetic enough in trying to fight corruption?

Scheuer: We’re really not in a position to push these people. Who’s going to replace them? There isn’t anyone less corrupt. Probably the only incorrupt people in Afghanistan are the Taliban. If you want no corruption, give the government back to the Taliban.

Israel’s leading actors, playwright refuse to play the settlements
The Independent

Israeli actors refuse to take the stage in settlement theatre

Five leading Israeli theatres were facing a mounting political row yesterday after a pledge by 60 of the country’s most prominent actors, writers and directors to boycott the companies’ planned performances in a Jewish West Bank settlement.

The companies triggered the protest by planning a programme of performances to mark the opening of a new £6.4m cultural centre in the West Bank settlement of Ariel later this year.

The protest – which was condemned by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – includes Yousef Sweid and Rami Heuberger, two of Israel’s best known actors, as well as its most venerated living playwright, Joshua Sobol, whose Holocaust work Ghetto won the Evening Standard Play of the Year award when Nicolas Hytner directed it at London’s National Theatre in 1989.

Their petition, sent to Israel’s Likud Culture Minister, Limor Livnat, expressed “dismay” at the theatres’ decision to perform in the settlement’s new auditorium and served notice that the artists will refuse to perform in any settlements. Calling on Israeli theatres to “pursue their prolific activity” within the “green line” that marked its border until the 1967 Six Day War, it says that to do otherwise would “strengthen the settlement enterprise.” .

Mr Sobol told the liberal daily Haaretz, which first revealed the theatres’ plans, that he hoped the petititon would shake up the Israeli public and promot a change of heart by the theatre managements. “There was a lethargy in recent years,” the playwright said. “People somehow became indifferent to the many existential issues in Israel, and this may revive public debate.”

Ariel, a settlement of around 20,000 people, is deep inside the West Bank and its new cultural centre is close to completion after being built in fits and starts over the past 20 years. The theatre’s manager, Ariel Turgeman, has insisted that the company’s contracts do not allow them to cancel performances in such circumstances.

The settlements will be at the heart of new direct negotiations brokered by US President Barack Obama due to open at the White House this week. They are regarded by most of the international community, including Britain, as illegal under international law.

Israeli singer gets 39 lashes for performing in front of “mixed audience”
The Jerusalem Post

‘Sinner’ singer given 39 lashes by rabbis

A singer who performed in front of a “mixed audience” of men and women was lashed 39 times to make him “repent,” after a ruling by a self-described rabbinic court on Wednesday.

Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, founder of the Shofar organization aimed at bringing Jews “back to religion” (hazara betshuva), has made it his recent mission to fight against musical performances for both men and women.

His “judicial panel,” with Rabbi Ben Zion Mutsafi and another member, sentenced Erez Yechiel to 39 lashes in order to “rid him of his sins.”

In a video clip of the court posted on the Shofar Web site, Ben Zion said that those who make others sin (mahtiei rabim), such as artists who make men and women attend performances or dance together, have no place in the world to come.

He displayed a leather strip he said was made by his father from ass and bull skin, with which Yechiel was to have been whipped.

Yechiel, who said, “I accept upon myself the lashing for my sins,” was ordered to stand by a wooden poll with his head facing north (“from whence the evil inclination comes”), his hands tied with a azure-colored rope (“a symbol of mercy”), and served his “sentence.”

Abstaining from alcohol shortens your life

Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers, Study Finds

One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption  has been the consistent finding that those who don’t drink actually tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred health problems associated with drinking.

But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that – for reasons that aren’t entirely clear – abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one’s risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don’t have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

But why would abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It’s true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes, since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors – job and child-care worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related illnesses over long periods. (They also don’t get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.)

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables – socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on – the researchers (a six-member team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at Austin) found that over a 20-year period, mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.

The sample of those who were studied included individuals between ages 55 and 65 who had had any kind of outpatient care in the previous three years. The 1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. One drawback of the sample: a disproportionate number, 63%, were men. Just over 69% of the never-drinkers died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.

These are remarkable statistics. Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer (particularly cancers in the mouth and esophagus), heavy drinkers are less likely to die than people who have never drunk. One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, and social interactions are vital for maintaining mental and physical health. As I pointed out last year, nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves to join the party.