Wednesday, February 9 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Wednesday, February 9, 2011, plus two bonus stories on what you should fear, are:

Pentagon strategy’s new Asia focus, expands mission creep

FBI “breaking down doors with guns drawn” in Anonymous hunt

Two Afghan kids killed each day; peaceful areas now violent

Eviction of indigenous occupying Easter Island luxury hotel “illegal”

Indigenous Brazilians protest dam; “it will destroy our way of life”

In run-up to larger protests, Greek doctors take to the streets

Saudi oil reserves, production may have been exaggerated

Egypt’s notorious security force trained at FBI academy

Bosses can’t limit workers’ freedom of speech on Facebook

Your cubicle is shrinking

Pentagon strategy’s new Asia focus, humanitarian mission creep
The Christian Science Monitor

Asia and cyberattacks headline list of growing threats to US, military says

In the first revision of the National Military Strategy since 2004, the Pentagon is singling out Asia as a region of rising power and concern, pointing to the increased threat of cyberattacks, and warning of the “impact of the wars on our military, especially our people” as the US enters its 10th year of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The National Military Strategy, which was released Tuesday, is the Pentagon’s piece of the National Security Strategy, the White House’s periodic appraisal of the pressing threats America faces and how it plans to deal with them. The previous National Security Strategy was released in 2010.

The document takes note of the wear and tear on the US military as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We underestimate at our peril,” the Pentagon says, “the stresses of sustained combat operations on our equipment and people.”

Reflecting the US military’s broadening areas of responsibility, the Pentagon document also makes note of destabilizing global trends in population growth, water scarcity, and climate change.

The Pentagon’s growing focus on Asia “does not necessarily mean” more American troops will be dispatched to the region, says a senior US military official, who briefed reporters on the condition that he not be identified by name. But the official did not rule out the possibility of a “redistribution” of forces, noting that in Europe, there is less need for US ground forces as NATO develops ballistic missile defenses.

The American military should also seek to “invest new attention and resources in Southeast and South Asia,” according to the report, which lobbies for more exercises with the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other countries. It also points to the need to expand and deepen military relationships with both China and India.

But even as the US military seeks closer defense ties with China, for example, it remains wary of the country’s technological leaps forward …

The document offers few surprises, particularly with regard to North Korea, a long-time irritant to American goals in the region …

Woven throughout the document are warnings that cyberspace is becoming increasingly congested and dangerous …

Citing demographic trends, the assessment at times stresses concerns that are traditionally deemed the province of humanitarian organizations.

“The world will become more populated and urbanized. Global population will increase by approximately 1.2 billion and there will be more than a billion new urban dwellers by 2025,” according to the report. Such developments “will contribute to increased water scarcity and may present governance challenges.”

The report delves into global warming as well, noting that the “uncertain impact of global climate change combined with increased population centers in or near coastal environments may challenge the ability of weak or developing states to respond to natural disasters.”

FBI “breaking down doors with guns drawn” in hunt for Anonymous
Bloomberg News Service

WikiLeaks Backers ‘Anonymous’ to Be Probed by U.S. Grand Jury

Evidence collected by the FBI about Anonymous, which attacked websites of four companies to punish them for blocking contributions to WikiLeaks, will be considered this week by a U.S. grand jury, according to court papers and an informal spokesman for the group of activist hackers.

The federal grand jury in San Jose, California, will begin reviewing evidence tomorrow that includes computers and mobile phones seized from suspected leaders as prosecutors probe the coordinated so-called denial-of-service attacks in December, according to a federal subpoena and the spokesman, Barrett Brown. Anonymous directed activists to target payment processors MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc., EBay Inc.’s PayPal, and U.K.-based in public chat rooms.

Among the evidence seized by the FBI during multistate raids on Jan. 27 was data taken from an individual who controls one of Anonymous’s primary servers, identified by the organization only by his cyber-handle ‘Owen,’ Brown said.

“The FBI is breaking down people’s doors with guns drawn,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a member of the board of the National Lawyers Guild, which has talked with Anonymous organizers about their legal defense. “A group of people are engaged in a modern day electronic sit-in, and the FBI wants to treat that like it’s terrorist activity.”

Anonymous responded on Feb. 6 by hacking a California-based security firm that it said was aiding the probe, hijacking 60,000 company e-mails and making them public on one of the organization’s servers. The e-mails included a proposal by the company to develop a malware tracking program for the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), among other confidential documents.

Two Afghan kids killed each day; peaceful areas now violent

Report: Afghan war kills two children daily

An average of two children per day were killed in Afghanistan last year, with areas of the once peaceful north now among the most dangerous, an independent Afghan rights watchdog said Wednesday.

The Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said in a report that, of the 2,421 civilians the group registered as killed in conflict-related security incidents in 2010, some 739 were under the age of 18.

It attributed almost two-thirds of the child deaths to “armed opposition groups” (AOGs), or insurgents, and blamed U.S. and NATO-led forces for 17 percent.

The ARM report said many of the reported child casualties occurred in the violent southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, the traditional strongholds of the Taliban insurgency.

But Kunar in the east and Kunduz in the north were also among the most dangerous provinces for children, it said, underlining how violence has spread from insurgent strongholds in the south and east to previously peaceful areas of the country.

Civilian and military casualties hit record levels in 2010, with violence at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-led Afghan forces in late 2001.

War-related child deaths in 2010 were down on 2009, when ARM said 1,050 were killed.

However the watchdog warned: “Children were highly vulnerable to the harms of war but little was done by the combatant sides, particularly by the AOGs, to ensure child safety and security during military and security incidents.”

  • A leading Republican presidential candidate, Haley Barbour, has a different view than the Pentagon in The Associated Press story, “Barbour: Iran biggest threat to global security”:
    Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Wednesday that Iran is the world’s top threat to peace and stability.
    Barbour, who is a potential 2012 Republican candidate for president, said world leaders should be judged by their success in responding to Iran’s nuclear program and what he called Iran’s support for terrorism and efforts to destabilize other governments …
    Barbour said American policymakers tend to fall into one of two camps regarding America’s alliance with Israel: those who see it as costly and problematic, and those who, like Barbour, consider it a strategic partnership.
    “Israel is the Holy Land of democratic faith,” Barbour said. “We’re with you, and we’re glad you’re with us” …
    Barbour said the Obama administration’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, imposed after the catastrophic leak from a drilling rig, “is inflicting a disaster on America.”
  • In the BBC News story, “Janet Napolitano: US terror threat highest since 9/11,” America’s Homeland Security secretary has another reason for you to live in fear:
    The threat of terrorism against the US homeland is in some aspects “at its most heightened state” since the 9/11 attacks, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said.
    “The terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly,” she told members of Congress.
    The US faced new threats by groups already inside the country, inspired by al-Qaeda, she said.
    Ms Napolitano warned that attacks could be carried out with little warning.

Eviction of indigenous occupying Easter Island luxury hotel “illegal”
BBC News

Police evict Rapa Nui clan from Easter Island hotel

Police on Easter Island have evicted a group of indigenous people who had been occupying the grounds of a luxury hotel since last year.

The group of Rapa Nui say the land on which the hotel was built had been illegally taken from their ancestors generations ago.

They have been protesting for months over what they say are plans to develop Easter Island.

The island, annexed by Chile in 1888, is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Members of the Hitorangi clan have been occupying the Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa since last August.

The hotel was bought from the Chilean government by the Scheiss family, a powerful investment group, in the 1990s, but the Rapa Nui say their ancestors had been cheated into giving up the land years before.

Rodrigo Gomez, a lawyer for the group, said up to 50 armed police had broken into the hotel to remove the final five occupiers. They were arrested and released pending court hearings.

Mr Gomez said the operation had been “utterly irregular and illegal”. It comes two days before the group was due to appear in court to discuss the ownership of the land.

A statement on the Save Rapa Nui website said a judge on the Chilean mainland had twice refused to give police permission to carry out the raid, and that another of the group’s lawyers had been prevented from visiting his clients in jail.

Indigenous Brazilians protest dam; “it will destroy our way of life”
BBC News

Brazil: Indigenous tribes protest against Amazon dam

Hundreds of indigenous Brazilians have been protesting in the capital, Brasilia, against the construction of what will be the world’s third biggest hydro-electric dam.

An indigenous leader delivered a petition opposing the project signed by more than half a million people.

Environmentalists say the dam in the Amazon river basin will harm the world’s biggest tropical rainforest.

Brazilian Energy Minister Edison Lobao said construction would begin soon.

Mr Lobao said the population which would be affected by the Belo Monte dam would be compensated and resettled.

But indigenous leader Raoni said he was convinced the dam would bring “bad things” to his tribe’s villages.

“We don’t want Belo Monte because it will destroy our rivers, our jungle and our way of life,” he added.

In run-up to larger protests, Greek doctors take to the streets

Doctors fight police in Greece cuts protest

Striking doctors scuffled with police outside Greece’s parliament today as anti-cuts protests spread beyond unions to professional groups.

More than 1,000 doctors, some in white coats, staged the central Athens protest against plans to impose tougher monitoring rules for spending in the National Health Service.

Police used pepper spray during the brief confrontation, which ended without any injuries or arrests.

The country’s largest unions plan a general strike for February 23, and announced today that retailers will also join the protest and close their stores for 24 hours.

The Greek Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants said one in four of its small business members – or 225,000 enterprises – face the threat of closure in 2011.

Prime Minister George Papandreou said his government had no choice but to press ahead with the painful reforms.

Saudi oil reserves, production may have been exaggerated

WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices

Past This is Hell! guest John Vidal writes …

The US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.

The cables, released by WikiLeaks, urge Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi government oil executive that the kingdom’s crude oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 300bn barrels – nearly 40%.

The revelation comes as the oil price has soared in recent weeks to more than $100 a barrel on global demand and tensions in the Middle East. Many analysts expect that the Saudis and their Opec cartel partners would pump more oil if rising prices threatened to choke off demand.

However, Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, met the US consul general in Riyadh in November 2007 and told the US diplomat that Aramco’s 12.5m barrel-a-day capacity needed to keep a lid on prices could not be reached.

According to the cables, which date between 2007-09, Husseini said Saudi Arabia might reach an output of 12m barrels a day in 10 years but before then – possibly as early as 2012 – global oil production would have hit its highest point. This crunch point is known as “peak oil”.

Husseini said that at that point Aramco would not be able to stop the rise of global oil prices because the Saudi energy industry had overstated its recoverable reserves to spur foreign investment. He argued that Aramco had badly underestimated the time needed to bring new oil on tap.

One cable said: “According to al-Husseini, the crux of the issue is twofold. First, it is possible that Saudi reserves are not as bountiful as sometimes described, and the timeline for their production not as unrestrained as Aramco and energy optimists would like to portray.”

Egypt’s notorious security force trained at FBI academy

WikiLeaks: Egyptian ‘torturers’ trained by FBI

According to leaked diplomatic cables, the head of the Egyptian state security and investigative service (SSIS) thanked the US for “training opportunities” at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia. The SSIS has been repeatedly accused of using violence and brutality to help prop up the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. In April, 2009, the US ambassador in Cairo stated that “Egypt’s police and domestic security services continue to be dogged by persistent, credible allegations of abuse of detainees.

“The Interior Ministry uses SSIS to monitor and sometimes infiltrate the political opposition and civil society. SSIS suppresses political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation.”

In October, 2009, “credible” human rights lawyers representing alleged Hizbollah detainees provided details of the techniques employed by the SSIS. The cable states: “The lawyers told us in mid-October that they have compiled accounts from several defendants of GOE [Government of Egypt] torture by electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and stripping them naked for extended periods.

Bosses can’t limit workers’ freedom of speech on Facebook
The Associated Press

Settlement with govt in Facebook firing case sends a message to employers

Employers should think twice before trying to restrict workers from talking about their jobs on Facebook or other social media.

That’s the message the government sent on Monday as it settled a closely watched lawsuit against a Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she went on Facebook to criticize her boss.

The National Labor Relations Board sued the company last year, arguing the worker’s negative comments were protected speech under federal labor laws. The company claimed it fired the emergency medical technician because of complaints about her work.

Under the settlement with the labor board, American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. agreed to change its blogging and Internet policy that barred workers from disparaging the company or its supervisors. The company also will revise another policy that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the Internet without permission.

Your cubicle is shrinking
Yahoo! News

The incredible shrinking American office cubicle

Feeling a little cramped at work? Do you no longer enjoy the elbow room you used to? Well, you’re not alone. According to the International Facility Management Association, the average American office worker had 90 square feet of work space in 1994, but by 2010, that same worker was down to just 75 square feet of personal space in which to stretch out on the job.

Nor are office drones the only casualty of this spacial downsizing trend. Senior company officials have seen their offices shrink as well, from an average of 115 square feet in 1994 to 96 square feet in 2010. Oh, the humanity!

The shrinking workplace is yet another cost-cutting measure that employers have pursued for years under the theory that smaller workstations are cheaper to maintain to especially as commercial rents spiral upward.

The same quest for space-based cost-reduction is what gave us the cubicle in the first place. But some business thinkers point out that there’s a bright side to the inhospitable cubicle; with technological breakthroughs enhancing worker mobility, employees can spend more time working outside of the cramped confines of their workspaces.