Tuesday, October 26 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, October 26, 2010, including a bonus link on America’s guns, are:

Government missed lots in estimating Gulf oil spill

The story of one US gun store and hundreds of crimes

America’s anti-abortion clinic protests come to Britain

What role is Mafia playing in Naples garbage strike?

UN joins condemnation of settlers’ West Bank olive orchard attacks

At UN, only US, Israel support American sanctions on Cuba

Indonesia hit by tsunami from earthquake while awaiting volcano

Rising prices spark fears of another global food crisis

Short on easy food, Russian bears digging up human corpses

Government missed lots in estimating Gulf oil spill

Government estimates of oil in Gulf may miss mark

On a dock in Cocodrie, Paul Sammarco unfurls a 15-foot long piece of fabric, a highly absorbent cotton-like material, which may spark a whole new debate over how much oil remained in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

Dr. Sammarco and a team from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON)  sampled waters two months after BP plugged its crippled well.

He was astonished at what he found, samples that roughly mirrored the official estimates of NOAA scientists taken weeks earlier at the height of the spill and far closer to the spill site.

“I kept looking at the data and looking at the data and asking, ‘why are they the same?’” Sammarco said.  “They shouldn’t be the same.”

His findings were even more suprising given the differences in time and distance between his samples and ones from the government.

The NOAA scientists had worked in waters just a couple miles from BP’s Macondo well, whereas the LUMCON research vessel was in Terrebonne Bay, 50 miles northwest of the spill site and seven weeks later.

NOAA used a tried-and-true method of dropping canisters to various water depths.

However, an underwater video shot by a LUMCON researcher weeks after the spill showed globs of oil were visible in the water column with the naked eye.

“The canisters, they’re really good for what they’re designed to do,” Sammarco said, to sample something that has dissolved in the water column.

He believes the NOAA team missed the oil globules.

Sammarco likens it to aliens landing from a distant world, using tubes to capture humans and estimate the  population, but missing the cities.

The story of one US gun store and hundreds of crimes
The Washington Post

Virginia gun store D & R Arms: Fastest from counter to crime

D & R Arms, a no-frills shop tucked into a strip mall in Portsmouth, is one of more than 200 gun dealers in the Hampton Roads area and more than 1,600 active in Virginia. But no other dealer listed in state records has had so many guns move so quickly from counter to crime scene in recent years.

Such a pattern is a red flag for law enforcement officials looking for potential gun trafficking. That’s because the speed with which a new gun becomes police evidence can indicate criminal intent by the buyer at the time of the sale.

Since 2004, almost 70 percent of the guns traced back to the store were seized within a year, some within days or weeks, according to state records. The state rate is about 30 percent for the same time period.

A “time to crime” of three years or less for a gun is a warning sign, according to researchers working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Researchers who have studied long-term tracing trends say guns remain in circulation for decades, but newer weapons turn up disproportionately in crimes.

The big picture, according to interviews and records, is one of a store transformed in recent years for reasons unknown. During its first decade, the store rarely sold guns that turned up at crime scenes. But the number of guns sold there has tripled since 2004, and the number traced from crime scenes has grown sevenfold. ATF inspectors, after finding virtually no problems in 2001, have warned the operators three times since then that their license is in jeopardy. In recent years, the shop has sold guns to interstate traffickers in “straw purchases” who, when caught, told the ATF they were so obvious that store employees must have suspected something.

The 2003 congressional blackout on federal gun-trace information has shielded D & R Arms from public scrutiny. The Post uncovered the surge in crime guns from the shop by analyzing a little-known database of seized weapons maintained by the Virginia State Police. By piecing together thousands of corresponding police and court records, the newspaper documented the details of the crimes.

By the end of last year, officers had recovered and traced more than 250 guns sold by D & R Arms, often in drug- and weapons-related crimes in Portsmouth: An AK-47 and a shotgun from a cocaine dealer. A Hi-Point carbine dropped in a robbery by a juvenile who shot his victim in a struggle over the gun …

Convicts and law enforcement officials say there is a relentless criminal demand for guns. New weapons are at a premium.

“That’s the basic reason people tend to purchase firearms from those able to go to the store for them,” Jonathan S. Moore, now in federal prison in Ohio for drug trafficking after a string of arrests involving guns from D & R and other Virginia stores, wrote in response to a reporter’s questions. “Even though you may pay a markup . . . the extra money spent somewhat insures you from purchasing broken and ‘body ridden’ firearms.”

“Body ridden” means used to kill or wound.

The store, on Tyre Neck Road, is unimposing. Inside, gun gear hangs on one wall, a worn cargo-style couch sits by the counter and a dirty crockpot rests on a chair. Placards in the window say “I’m the NRA” …

(Dana Taylor, 44, who runs the store with her husband, Richard, 46, the shop’s owner) briefly landed on the other side of the law in 1999 when a man filed a misdemeanor complaint that Taylor threatened to kill him. He “shot . . . a round at me, just missing me,” the victim claimed in court. Taylor completed a firearms safety course, and charges were dismissed.

America’s anti-abortion clinic protests come to Britain
The Independent

US-style anti-abortion protesters target clinics in Britain

British women who want to terminate a pregnancy are being confronted by Christian protesters picketing abortion clinics, in a copy of tactics used by hardcore anti-abortionists in the US.

A Texas-based religious group, which has support and funding from hundreds of American churches, has been holding protests outside Marie Stopes House in central London, one of Britain’s first modern abortion clinics.

It is the first time that the group – called 40 Days for Life – has targeted an abortion clinic in mainland Britain.

“Pro-choice” campaigners say pickets place unfair pressure on women at a vulnerable time in their lives. They accuse fundamentalist Christians of blocking pregnant women as they try to enter abortion clinics and providing them with misleading leaflets that over-exaggerate the medical risks of terminating a pregnancy. Clinic staff told The Independent that 40 Days for Life had filmed some women and employees walking into the clinic.

The “pro-lifers” counter that their protests are simply peaceful “prayer vigils” to provide women with support and information on alternatives to terminating their pregnancy. Campaigners are holding a planned 40 days of protests, picketing clinics in 218 US cities, as well as in Australia, Denmark, Canada and Northern Ireland. The protest at Marie Stopes House was due to enter its 35th day today.

Beata Klepacka, a 31-year-old paediatrician from London, was one of five protesters thumbing rosary beads and praying loudly opposite the clinic last week. She explained how more than 500 volunteers, the majority being Catholic, use a rota to make sure that the clinic is picketed 12 hours a day.

“This is a peaceful, prayerful and legal vigil,” she said. “Our primary concerns are the hearts and souls of the people who walk into that building.

“In America we have been very fruitful. We’ve seen seven clinics close because of our vigils and at least 3,100 women, who were going to have an abortion, but didn’t.”

Many of the leaflets handed out by 40 Days for Life contain warnings about a supposed increase in breast cancer among women who have abortions. Cancer Research UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer have consistently presented peer-reviewed research indicating that there is no link …

Darinka Aleksic, campaign co-ordinator at Abortion Rights, said she had been tracking a significant recent upswing in anti-abortion protests.

“American-style tactics are being increasingly used in Britain, not just with pickets but with internet campaigns and the use of misleading leafleting,” she said. “We are strongly in favour of women receiving as much support, counselling and information about abortion as possible. But we’re worried about the tenor of a lot of the advice being given out by these pickets. There’s a lot of emphasis on guilt and misleading scientific information.”

What role is Mafia playing in Naples garbage strike?

Naples magistrates see mafia role in waste protest

Prosecutors in Naples are investigating whether members of the local mafia are involved in protests against a new rubbish dump near Italy’s third biggest city, a judicial source said on Monday …

Initially peaceful, the protests have turned violent over the past week, with demonstrators repeatedly clashing with police at night, throwing petrol bombs against garbage trucks and setting cars on fire …

The nature of the clashes has prompted the probe by prosecutors, who suspect members of the Camorra — Naples’ mafia, which makes a fortune from illegally dumping and burning toxic waste — may have infiltrated the protest.

“There are elements pointing to criminal groups interfering in the protests,” the source said, without elaborating.

The source said the probe was at an early stage and it was not immediately clear how Camorra mobsters would benefit from fomenting the protests, as the mafia usually prefers to get on with business away from the spotlight.

The Camorra has been turning waste into cash for decades in and around Naples, according to environmental group Legambiente.

Until 1994, when local authorities took charge of the region’s landfills, it controlled most, if not all, of the dumps.

The gangsters still make fortunes in industrial waste transport by dumping and burning toxic refuse in the countryside — a major source of pollution blamed for higher than normal rates of certain cancers in the region.

Legambiente estimates that mafia involvement in crimes against the environment yield a turnover of 7 billion euros ($9.83 billion) a year.

UN joins condemnation of settlers’ West Bank olive orchard attacks

UN envoy demands Israel act against settler attacks

A senior UN official condemned attacks by Jewish “settler extremists” on Palestinians’ olive trees in the occupied West Bank and called on Israel to “combat violence and terror by Israelis.”

Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, also said he was alarmed that work had started on hundreds of new homes for settlers in the occupied territory since the end of Israel’s settlement freeze last month.

Serry was speaking to journalists on Tuesday while olive-picking with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the village of Tormos Ayya north of Ramallah. He said settlers had destroyed hundreds of trees in the village in recent weeks.

Palestinians began harvesting olives across the West Bank this month.

“I am appalled at acts of destruction of olive trees and farmlands, desecration of mosques and violence against civilians,” Serry said.

“Israel states its condemnation of attacks, which I welcome, but its record in imposing the rule of law on settlers is lamentable,” he said.

At UN, only US, Israel support American sanctions on Cuba
The Associated Press

UN condemns Cuba embargo – again

The U.N. General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn almost a half-century of U.S. sanctions against Cuba, demanding an end to what member states say is a cruel Cold War anachronism that only hurts ordinary people.

The final vote Tuesday by U.N. member states was 187 in favor of ending the sanctions, with two countries – the U.S. and Israel – in favor of keeping them. There were three abstentions.

Indonesia hit by tsunami from earthquake while awaiting volcano
BBC News

Indonesia tsunami deaths increase after Sumatra quake

More than 100 people have been killed and many are missing after a tsunami triggered by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

Scores of houses were destroyed by waves after the 7.7 magnitude quake, which struck 20km (13 miles) under the ocean floor near the Mentawai islands.

Ten villages on the islands were swept away by the tsunami, a disaster official told the AFP news agency.

Damage and rough weather are delaying efforts to reach the affected area.

Hendri Dori Satoko, a lawmaker in the Mentawai islands, told Metro TV: “Our latest data from crisis centre showed that 108 people have been killed and 502 are still missing.”

He said some of the missing could have fled to higher ground and were afraid to return to their homes.

Health ministry officials said 113 bodies had been recovered in the area so far, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The search and rescue operation is being seriously hampered by bad weather, officials have told the BBC’s Karishma Vaswani in Jakarta.

Heavy rain is preventing helicopters from accessing the area and boats cannot reach the islands either because the dock on the island of South Pagai has been destroyed.

Poor communications have also made it hard for officials to gain accurate information, our correspondent adds.

The disaster comes as thousands of people are being evacuated from the area around the Mt Merapi volcano in central Java, after it began erupting.

Rising prices spark fears of another global food crisis
The Guardian

Global food crisis forecast as prices reach record highs

Past this is Hell! guest John Vidal writes …

Rising food prices and shortages could cause instability in many countries as the cost of staple foods and vegetables reached their highest levels in two years, with scientists predicting further widespread droughts and floods.

Although food stocks are generally good despite much of this year’s harvests being wiped out in Pakistan and Russia, sugar and rice remain at a record price.

Global wheat and maize prices recently jumped nearly 30% in a few weeks while meat prices are at 20-year highs, according to the key Reuters-Jefferies commodity price indicator. Last week, the US predicted that global wheat harvests would be 30m tonnes lower than last year, a 5.5% fall. Meanwhile, the price of tomatoes in Egypt, garlic in China and bread in Pakistan are at near-record levels.

“The situation has deteriorated since September,” said Abdolreza Abbassian of the UN food and agriculture organisation. “In the last few weeks there have been signs we are heading the same way as in 2008.

“We may not get to the prices of 2008 but this time they could stay high much longer.”

However, opinions are sharply divided over whether these prices signal a world food crisis like the one in 2008 that helped cause riots in 25 countries, or simply reflect volatility in global commodity markets as countries claw their way through recession …

But other analysts highlight the food riots in Mozambique that killed 12 people last month and claim that spiralling prices could promote further political turmoil.

They say this is particularly possible if the price of oil jumps, if there are further climatic shocks – suchas the floods in Pakistan or the heatwave in Russia – or if speculators buy deeper into global food markets …

“The food riots in Mozambique can be repeated anywhere in the coming years,” said Devinder Sharma, a leading Indian food analyst.

“Unless the world encourages developing countries to become self-sufficient in food grains, the threat of impending food riots will remain hanging over nations.

“The UN has expressed concern, but there is no effort to remove the imbalances in the food management system that is responsible for the crisis.”

Mounting anger has greeted food price inflation of 21% in Egypt in the last year, along with 17% rises in India and similar amounts in many other countries. Prices in the UK have risen 22% in three years.

The governments of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines have all warned of possible food shortages next year, citing floods and droughts in 2010, expected extreme weather next year, and speculation by traders who are buying up food stocks for release when prices rise.

Food prices worldwide are not yet at the same level as 2008, but the UN’s food price index rose 5% last month and now stands at its highest level in two years.

World wheat and maize prices have risen 57%, rice 45% and sugar 55% over the last six months and soybeans are at their highest price for 16 months.

Short on easy food, Russian bears digging up human corpses
The Guardian

Russian bears treat graveyards as ‘giant refrigerators’

From a distance it resembled a rather large man in a fur coat, leaning tenderly over the grave of a loved one. But when the two women in the Russian village of Vezhnya Tchova came closer they realised there was a bear in the cemetery eating a body.

Russian bears have grown so desperate after a scorching summer they have started digging up and eating corpses in municipal cemetries, alarmed officials said today. Bears’ traditional food – mushrooms, berries and the odd frog – has disappeared, they added.

The Vezhnya Tchova incident took place on Saturday in the northern republic of Komi, near the Arctic Circle. The shocked women cried in panic, frightening the bear back into the woods, before they discovered a ghoulish scene with the clothes of the bear’s already-dead victim chucked over adjacent tombstones, the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomelets reported.

Local people said that bears had resorted to scavenging in towns and villages – rummaging through bins, stealing garden carrots and raiding tips. A young man had been mauled in the centre of Syktyvkar, Komi’s capital. “They are really hungry this year. It’s a big problem. Many of them are not going to survive,” said Simion Razmislov, the vice-president of Komi’s hunting and fishing society.

World Wildlife Fund Russia said there had been a similar case two years ago in the town of Kandalaksha, in the northern Karelia republic. “You have to remember that bears are natural scavengers. In the US and Canada you can’t leave any food in tents in national parks,” said Masha Vorontsova of WWF Russia.

“In Karelia one bear learned how to do it [open a coffin]. He then taught the others,” she added, suggesting: “They are pretty quick learners” …

According to Vorontsova, the omnivorous bears had “plenty to eat” this autumn, with foods such as fish and ants at normal levels. The bears raided graveyards because they offered a supply of easy food, she said, a bit like a giant refrigerator. “The story is horrible. Nobody wants to think about having a much loved member of their family eaten by a bear.”