Tuesday, February 15 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, February 15, 2011, including four bonus stories covering Wisconsin’s coming state worker impasse, and four extra links on Bahrain’s uprising, are:

Wisconsin governor wants National Guard to replace state workers

Arizonan murders in anti-illegal immigration funding scheme

Afghan, Iraq wars cost US taxpayers $322 million a day

Why did US release terrorist behind London’s 7/7 attacks?

US, Saudi Arabia get nervous about latest Mideast uprising

Thousands of cops stop Algerian protest

Ivory Coast chaos ignored as world watches Egypt, Tunisia

As elections approach, Zimbabwe political violence explodes

Israel to build East Jerusalem military base beyond ‘green line’

Wisconsin governor wants National Guard to replace state workers
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Walker calls for cuts or big layoffs

Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that thousands of state workers would be laid off if the Legislature does not adopt his budget fix that cuts public worker benefits and takes away almost all union bargaining rights from public workers.

A Walker aide confirmed that the benefit reductions would cost the average state worker thousands of dollars a year, or roughly 8% of his or her salary.

Walker also signaled that in a larger budget plan coming later this month he would trim aid to municipalities and let local officials deal with those cuts at least in part through savings on public employee costs.

First, Walker wants the Legislature – which is controlled by his fellow Republicans – to act quickly on the 144-page budget repair plan and approve it by Feb. 25. It could move even faster than that, with a hearing in the budget committee and floor votes being tentatively lined up by Republicans for next week.

Speaking at a Capitol news conference, the governor also said the National Guard is ready to take control of state prisons if correctional officers illegally strike or obstruct work. Union officials said they had no such plans.

Walker called government workers “good and decent public servants” and said he wanted to end the practice of forcing them to take eight unpaid furlough days a year. But he said the state had no money or time to bargain with unions over the benefits changes.

“I don’t have anything to negotiate,” Walker said. “We are broke in this state. We have been broke for years. People have ignored that for years, and it’s about time somebody stood up and told the truth. The truth is: We don’t have money to offer. We don’t have finances to offer. This is what we have to offer” …

In a teleconference with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, Walker said the state’s strong civil service laws eliminated much of the need for public unions at all.

“I get why unions make sense in the private sector . . .  but at the public level, it’s the government, it’s the people, who are the ones who are the employers,” Walker said. “Whether someone is in the union or not . . .  we protect sick leave, vacation time. We protect work rules.”

  • While replacing government workers with National Guard members is meant to scare labor, it’s not as scary as sites like ThinkProgress have made it out to be. Their story, “Wisconsin Gov. Walker Threatens To Deploy National Guard As ‘Intimidation Force’ Against Workers’ Unions,” cites an article at the World Socialist Web Site as a source.
    When you go the WSWS story, “Wisconsin governor threatens to call National Guard on state workers,” there is no link to the original statement, there’s no mention of who the reporter is or his affiliation, or what the exact question was that the reporter posed. On top of all that, there’s more ellipses in the quote than in critic’s abbreviated endorsements for a B-movie:
    When asked by a reporter what will happen if workers resist, Walker replied that he would call out the National Guard. He said that the National Guard is “prepared … for whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for … I am fully prepared for whatever may happen.”
  • Past This is Hell! guest John Nichols’ Capitol Times column, “Vets group is right: National Guard should not be used to bully political foes and bust unions,” offers the actual quote from Vote Vets. It’s clear how ThinkProgress (and their source, the World Socialist Web Site) stretched the statement in order to sensationalize:
    Vote Vets, the 100,000-strong organization of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their supporters, issued a statement Monday in which the group objected to Walker’s inappropriate threat to activate the National Guard.
    “Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet — but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member and Iraq war veteran who lives in Wisconsin and has been active with Vote Vets. “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the governor is about to cross.”
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story, “Present, former Packers say they back AFL-CIO,” reports that Wisconsin’s workers are being supported by members of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers:
    Present and former members of the Green Bay Packers, all members of the National Football League Players Association, have signed a letter in support of the AFL-CIO’s efforts to derail Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut some union bargaining rights …
    The statements reads: “We know that it is teamwork on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great. As a publicly owned team we wouldn’t have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans.
    “It is the same dedication of our public workers every day that makes Wisconsin run. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. But now in an unprecedented political attack Governor Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work.
    “The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class. When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards. Wisconsin’s long standing tradition of allowing public sector workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s. It has created greater consistency in the relationship between labor and management and a shared approach to public work.
    “These public workers are Wisconsin’s champions every single day and we urge the Governor and the State Legislature to not take away their rights.”
    The NFLPA also released a statement in support of the AFL-CIO.

Arizonan murders in anti-illegal immigration funding scheme

Arizona vigilante found guilty of murdering Latino man, daughter

An Arizona jury on Monday convicted anti-illegal immigration activist Shawna Forde of murder in the killing of a Latino man and his 9-year-old daughter during a 2009 vigilante raid she led on their home.

The Pima County jury convicted Forde on eight counts, including two counts of murder for the shooting deaths of Raul Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, and the attempted murder of the child’s mother, Gina Gonzales, at the family’s rural Arivaca home on May 30, 2009.

The child and her father were American-born U.S. citizens.

The jury also convicted Forde on two counts of aggravated assault, and one count each of burglary, armed robbery and aggravated robbery.

The jury is scheduled to return Tuesday for the penalty phase of the trial.

Forde’s alleged accomplices, Albert Robert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush, are scheduled to go on trial later this year.

During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Forde as the ringleader of the hit squad, and said she had planned the raid and the murders to steal weapons, money and drugs to finance a new anti-illegal immigration outfit.

Afghan, Iraq wars cost US taxpayers $322 million a day
Agence France Presse

Afghan war costs $300 million a day: Pentagon

The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will allow for a reduced US defense budget in 2012 but the war in Afghanistan still costs the United States close to 300 million dollars a day.

Under the Pentagon’s proposed budget, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will drop to $117.8 billion for fiscal year 2012, a reduction of 41.5 billion from the previous year.

As the US war effort winds down in Iraq, the budget sets aside $10.6 billion for “Operation New Dawn,” with the remaining 50,000 US troops there due to withdraw by the end of 2011.

Spending for the Afghan mission calls for $107.3 billion, down slightly from the last budget, which requested $113.5 billion.

President Barack Obama has vowed to start a withdrawal in July of the roughly 97,000 troops now in Afghanistan.

The budget released Monday offered no insight into the scale of the planned drawdown, with the Pentagon’s budget document assuming an average of 98,250 troops on the ground by the end of 2012.

Why did US release terrorist behind London’s 7/7 attacks?

Jihadi who helped train 7/7 bomber freed by US after just five years

An American jihadist who set up the terrorist training camp where the leader of the 2005 London suicide bombers learned how to manufacture explosives, has been quietly released after serving only four and a half years of a possible 70-year sentence, a Guardian investigation has learned.

The unreported sentencing of Mohammed Junaid Babar to “time served” because of what a New York judge described as “exceptional co-operation” that began even before his arrest has raised questions over whether Babar was a US informer at the time he was helping to train the ringleader of the 7 July tube and bus bombings.

Lawyers representing the families of victims and survivors of the attacks have compared the lenient treatment of Babar to the controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Babar was imprisoned in 2004 – although final sentencing was deferred – after pleading guilty in a New York court to five counts of terrorism. He set up the training camp in Pakistan where Mohammad Sidique Khan and several other British terrorists learned about bomb-making and how to use combat weapons.

Babar admitted to being a dangerous terrorist who consorted with some of the highest-ranking members of al-Qaida, providing senior members with money and equipment, running weapons, and planning two attempts to assassinate the former president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.

But in a deal with prosecutors for the US attorney’s office, Babar agreed to plead guilty and become a government supergrass in return for a drastically reduced sentence.

The Guardian has obtained a court document which shows that on 10 December last year – six years after his initial arrest and subsequent guilty plea – he was sentenced to “time served” and charged $500 (£310) by the court in a “special assessment” fee. The document also reveals that Babar had by then spent just over four years in some form of prison and more than two years free on bail.

Graham Foulkes, a magistrate whose 22-year-old son David was killed by Khan at Edgware Road underground station in 2005, said: “People get four and a half years for burglary. They can get more for some road traffic offences. So for an international terrorist who’s directly linked to the death of my son and dozens and dozens of people to get that sentence is just outrageous.”

US, Saudi Arabia get nervous about latest Mideast uprising
BBC News

Bahrain protests prompt global concerns

As protests continue in the tiny gulf state of Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, the Americans and Saudi Arabia are monitoring events there very closely.

The country, with an indigenous Shia-majority population, is ruled by a Sunni royal family, the al-Khalifas.

As events in Egypt gathered pace, human rights activists in Bahrain called for a day of rage on 14 February.

The result on Monday was sporadic protests in Shia villages across the island and attempts to create a “Tahrir Square movement” in central Manama, the capital.

Footage shot by protesters and posted on the internet shows riot police attacking peaceful demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Thus far, the government is continuing to respond with harsh tactics. Dozens of protesters have been wounded and two killed.

A 21-year-old man died on Monday after being hit by a rubber bullet. On Tuesday, at a funeral march to protest against his killing, a second man was hit by a shotgun blast and died.

Although protesters have been routinely beaten and tear-gassed by security forces in the past, these deaths are the first of their kind in several years, and are likely to add fuel to a growing anger among ordinary Bahrainis.

The demonstrators, many waving the Bahraini flag, are calling for a new constitution, the release of hundreds of Shia men and boys who have been rounded up since August 2010 and an end to civil rights abuses.

The king went on state television promising to investigate the deaths of the two protesters and offering to set up a committee to discuss change.

“Too little, too late,” was the blunt analysis of Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

“Yesterday the people were calling for reform. Today they are saying: ‘Change the regime.’”

However, Western analysts caution that an Egyptian-style revolution is unlikely to unfold in Bahrain.

Gala Riani, a senior Middle East analyst at Jane’s Defence Weekly says: “Bahrain is not unused to this kind of unrest.

“The authorities will be able to handle it, as they have in the past, if it is sectarian in nature.”

But that could be a big if.

  • While PressTV’s report, “‘Saudi Arabia sending troops to Bahrain’,” seems pretty sketchy (an un-named ‘political analyst’ is their source), but believable:
    Saudi Arabia is sending troops to Bahrain in a move to crack down on pro-democracy protesters who took to the streets in the capital Manama, a political analyst says.
    The analyst told PressTV on Tuesday that Riyadh is sending its troops in an attempt to help King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa to crack down on the protesters.
  • The New York Times story, “Clashes Erupt in Bahrain as Tumult Ripples Across Mideast,” describes the previous day’s protests and violence:
    The police officers, 20 of them, raised their weapons and fired rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas directly into a small group of protesters chanting slogans and holding signs on Monday. One man fell instantly and was shot at as he squirmed on the ground. Another was trapped against a wall and writhed as an officer shot rubber bullets at him, again.
    That scene, on Avenue 28 around 5:30 pm, was played out all over this island nation on Monday as the police attacked peaceful protesters — men, women and children — chasing them down, firing at them with rubber bullets and overwhelming them with tear gas. At times the tear gas was so heavy, and fired with such abandon, that the police also succumbed, dropping to the ground to vomit.
  • The Associated Press article, “Bahrain square becomes new center for Arab anger,” ties the Bahrain uprising to America’s uncertainty about the situation in Yemen:
    The unrest in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, adds another layer to Washington’s worries in the region. In Yemen, police and government supporters battled nearly 3,000 marchers calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a fifth straight day of violence.
    Yemen is seen as a critical partner in the U.S. fight against a network inspired by al-Qaida. The Pentagon plans to boost its training of Yemen’s counterterrorism forces to expand the push against the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula faction, which has been linked to attacks including the attempted airliner bombing in December 2009 and the failed mail bomb plot involving cargo planes last summer.
    Saleh has been holding talks with Yemen’s powerful tribes, which can either tip the balance against him or give him enough strength to possibly ride out the crisis.
  • In channelnewsasia.com’s article, “Thousands call for regime change in Bahrain after 2 killed,” it’s all Grand Prix and parliament:
    The protests in a country, which saw deadly unrest in the 1990s between the majority-Shiite population and the Sunni ruling family, prompted Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone to voice concern about next month’s Grand Prix which opens the new Formula One season …
    Demonstrators want a “contractual constitution and a peaceful transfer of power,” said MP Mohammed Mezaal, of the Shiite opposition Islamic National Accord Association whose 18 MPs walked out of the 40-member parliament,
    The decision came because of “the deterioration in security and the negative and brutal way in which (authorities) dealt with the protesters, killing two of them,” said another of the bloc’s MPs, Khalil al-Marzooq …
    The Formula One chief told London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that it was too early to consider the possibility of calling off next month’s Bahrain Grand Prix but said that he planned to contact Crown Prince Salman about the risk of protests.
    “The danger is obvious, isn’t it?” Ecclestone told the paper’s online edition. “If these people wanted to make a fuss and get worldwide recognition, it would be bloody easy, wouldn’t it?”

Thousands of cops stop Algerian protest
The New York Times

Algerian Riot Police Break Up Protest

Riot police officers stifled a protest in Algeria’s capital on Saturday by hundreds of people voicing the same demands for change that have helped topple two of the region’s autocratic governments over the last month.

Gathering in the central May 1 Square, demonstrators in Algiers chanted “Bouteflika out!” referring to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria with a tough hand since 1999, maintaining power through elections that opposition figures say were rigged. The rally’s organizers said thousands had taken part, but news agencies and the government here gave vastly differing figures, from a few dozen to thousands.

Witnesses said thousands of riot police officers with clubs had blocked the demonstrators from carrying out a planned march in the center of the whitewashed seaside capital, which was otherwise tense and deserted on Saturday. By late afternoon, with the last of the demonstrators gone, the square was still sealed off by police officers, and dozens of armored police vehicles remained in the neighborhood.

It was unclear on Saturday what, if any, long-term implications the protest would have for Mr. Bouteflika’s government; outbursts of civil unrest have been frequent here for decades. But the large-scale deployment of the police and recent concessions — Mr. Bouteflika has promised to lift a longstanding state of emergency here — show the government is wary of the contagion of unrest in neighboring countries.

Ivory Coast chaos ignored as world watches Egypt, Tunisia

COTE D’IVOIRE: From bad to worse

With the world’s attention focusing on mass mobilization and historic shifts of power in Tunis and Cairo, the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has faded into the background but remains completely unresolved. There has been no face-to-face meeting between Laurent Gbagbo and his long-time political rival Alassane Ouattara, while both men, backed by their respective camps, continue to lay claim to the presidency.

Ouattara has international legitimacy on his side, backed by most of his African peers, the UN and the European Union. Ouattara and his prime minister, Guillaume Soro, have stressed that Ouattara’s right to executive power cannot be surrendered and that a strong display of regional and international will is called for, appealing openly for military support. Gbagbo and his associates remain adamant that Ouattara’s election victory is irredeemably tainted and that their own popular support, survival skills and tactical alliances in Africa and elsewhere will see off the challenge from outside, including an expanding range of economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian problems continue, as do the human rights violations. But most of the worst violence has been confined to now familiar flashpoints. In Abidjan, there have been bloody encounters in the northern district of Abobo, where Ouattara supporters say they have led a fight-back against security forces moving repeatedly into an area known as a Ouattara stronghold. Thousands have been displaced in and around Duékoué in the west, where longstanding tensions between the Malinké and Guéré communities have been exacerbated by the conflict …

The Central Bank of West African States’s (BCEAO) closure of its branches in Côte d’Ivoire has been complemented by the withdrawal, or at least suspension of activities, of several key banking concerns. International banking giant Citibank closed its Abidjan headquarters on 14 February.

On the same day French-owned Banque Internationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie en Côte d’Ivoire (BICICI), the country’s second biggest bank, temporarily closed its operations. Along with Société Générale’s SGBCI, another French-owned entity, it controls 65 percent of Côte d’Ivoire’s market share. “Today we are no longer in a position to guarantee satisfactory legal and accounting security for our clients, nor the physical security of our employees,” the bank said in a statement …

But any drawn-out closures will also hit ordinary folk hard. “For three days I’ve been trying to withdraw money. My husband is due to get his kidney dialysis, but we can’t do it until we withdraw money and now the bank has closed,” a worried BICICI client told IRIN.

Sanctions have seeped into every aspect of Ivoirians’ lives, making them fearful of a downward economic spiral which they have often considered the scourge of neighbouring poorer countries.

With Ivoirians rushing to withdraw what they can, fearing banks may close, cash machines shut down early as newly-imposed daily limits are quickly reached …

Forty-litre cooking gas canisters have jumped from 5,000 CFA francs (US$10) a refill to 12,000 CFA francs ($24) when available at all. After long queues, buyers are often told to buy a “new model” canister if they want a refill – costing a total of 37,000 CFA francs ($75).

The situation is worse outside the main commercial hub of Abidjan. “Even before the elections supply would sometimes be a bit erratic. But now, trucks are not making the journey to deliver canisters at all. We have to send someone to Abidjan to pick up enough cans for 10 people at a time,” a resident in Tiassalé, some 120km north of Abidjan, told IRIN.

Sanogo Amidou, who imports shoes from neighbouring Ghana to sell in Adjamé’s bustling main market, has stopped travelling abroad to buy his produce …

The cost of running a skeleton economy, with ministries in disarray or barely functional, is apparent, Sanogo says, pointing out a chest-high pile of uncollected rubbish in the street outside. “And then the customs workers are keeping everyone’s merchandise locked up anyhow. When you go to see them after five days, they’ll tell you come back in another week. When you come back in a week, you have to bring money otherwise you can’t remove your merchandise,” he said.

It is not yet clear whether growing anger at shortages of cooking gas, disruption of transport services, rising prices and other major inconveniences will translate into organized protest. “You would expect there to be a serious manifestation of dissatisfaction, but the question is: who will it be directed at?” an Abidjan-based observer asked, noting that Gbagbo was capable of blaming worsening social grievances on Ouattara and the international community, while Ouattara would blame Gbagbo’s own obduracy for the breakdown.

As elections approach, Zimbabwe political violence explodes

ZIMBABWE: Political violence escalates

Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity (GNU) was born out of political violence in 2008, and analysts see its demise occurring in much the same way.

The two-year-old unity government was formed on 11 February, 2009 after two rounds of violent and disputed elections the year before. It “was more like a ceasefire agreement between belligerent forces and very little has been achieved under that set-up,” said Philip Pasirayi, spokesman for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a grouping of civic organizations.

Although no election has been announced, both President Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have created an air of expectation that a national poll is being planned for 2011.

“As expected, following Mugabe’s call for elections in 2011, the violence perpetrated by hired ZANU-PF hoodlums has escalated in the past three weeks. This is not at all a result of political protest by Mugabe’s personal party – rather, this is well-orchestrated destabilization of the GNU… This will throw the nation back to the year 2008,” political analyst John Makumbe alleged in an article published on 9 February.

“The party [MDC] wants elections, but there has to be an atmosphere existing for free and fair elections… There has to be security of the person. We are saying ‘Yes’ to elections, but ‘No’ to a bloodbath,” Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister and also the MDC secretary-general, recently told an international news agency.

Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, extended his tenure after Tsvangirai withdrew from the second round of the presidential vote in protest against political violence, but ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority in 2008 for the first time since independence.

Israel to build East Jerusalem military base beyond ‘green line’

Haaretz probe: IDF base to be built in East Jerusalem

The Jerusalem municipality plans to construct an Israel Defense Forces army base that will house military colleges on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, reportedly beyond the pre-1967 war green line.

Both the municipality as well as the Ministry of Defense dispute this claim, stating that the base will be built within the green line, however, Haaretz has revealed otherwise and according to the plans created by the architectural firm hired by the municipality, the base will encroach upon disputed territory …

According to a document obtained by Haaretz, which includes the first draft of plans detailing the grounds of the base, it will be located on Mount Scopus, between the Mormon University and the Augusta Victoria Hospital, not far from Hebrew University. Based on the document, the base will encompass 32 dunams (a unit for measuring land area, about 1/4 acre) and will house learning institutes, a swimming pool, a gym and more. This is, however, only a first draft that is yet to be shown to the planning committee.

Although the Ministry of Defense as well as the Jerusalem municipality have claimed that the base will be within the green line, the document proves otherwise. Mount Scopus was part of Israel during the time period between the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six Day War, and the majority of Hebrew University’s campus is within this territory. Most of the area in which the base is to be built, however, appears to be on land that belonged to Jordan during the interwar period. According to armistice agreements, it was a demilitarized zone and a small part of it was no man’s land between the two countries’ borders.

The construction of an IDF base in East Jerusalem is expected to spark criticism from the United States as well as Europe, who see all building in East Jerusalem as detrimental to the peace process and against the status quo, particularly in light of the fact that it is for military purposes.