Wednesday, January 26 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Wednesday, January 26, 2011, are:

Church bubble bursts after borrowing to go big

Tea Party Republicans ‘states rights’ position unconstitutional

Anti-abortion group caught trying to ‘ACORN’ Planned Parenthood

Pharmacy makes millions blowing whistle on drug companies

US repeats Mexican drug war support after awkward Wikileaks

Deaths will not stop Albanian anti-government protests

Egyptian protest death toll up to five

Tunisian upheaval gives Jordanians hope; “This spark is started”

Palestinian Authority denies helping Israelis kill Hamas leader

Church bubble bursts after borrowing to go big
The Wall Street Journal
(1/25/11)

Churches Find End Is Nigh

Residential and commercial real-estate owners aren’t the only ones losing their properties to foreclosure. The past few years have seen a rapid acceleration in the number of churches losing their sanctuaries because they can’t pay the mortgage.

Just as homeowners borrowed too much or built too big during boom times, many churches did the same and now are struggling as their congregations shrink and collections fall owing to rising unemployment and a weak economy.

Since 2008, nearly 200 religious facilities have been foreclosed on by banks, up from eight during the previous two years and virtually none in the decade before that, according to real-estate services firm CoStar Group, Inc. Analysts and bankers say hundreds of additional churches face financial struggles so severe they could face foreclosure or bankruptcy in the near future.

“Churches are the next wave in this economic crisis,” says Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a non-profit civil-rights group, who works with pastors around the country to help churches negotiate better terms with their bankers.

Religious denominations of all kinds have suffered in recent years as donations have declined, with many Catholic parishes closing and synagogues merging their congregations. But the property-financing problems have been concentrated among independent churches, which while seeking to expand lack a governing body to serve as a backstop to financial hardship.

“Religious organizations may be subject to the laws of God but they are also subject to the laws of economics,” said Chris Macke, senior real-estate strategist at CoStar. Many troubled churches, he said, are in states such as California, Florida, Georgia and Michigan, which also have some of the highest home-foreclosures rates in the country.

In many cases, churches ran into trouble after borrowing to build bigger houses of worship needed to accommodate growing congregations in once-booming housing markets.

Tea Party Republicans ‘states rights’ position  unconstitutional
The Associated Press
(1/26/11)

GOP invokes 1700s doctrine in health care fight

Republican lawmakers in nearly a dozen states are reaching into the dusty annals of American history to fight President Obama’s health care overhaul.

They are introducing measures that hinge on “nullification,” Thomas Jefferson’s late 18th-century doctrine that purported to give states the ultimate say in constitutional matters.

GOP lawmakers introduced such a measure Wednesday in the Idaho House, and Alabama, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming are also talking about the idea.

The efforts are completely unconstitutional in the eyes of most legal scholars because the U.S. Constitution deems federal laws “the supreme law of the land.” The Idaho attorney general has weighed in as well, branding nullification unconstitutional.

“There is no right to pick and choose which federal laws a state will follow,” wrote Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane.

Regardless of the very dubious constitutional nature of the efforts, the nullification push has become a rallying cry in conservative states at a time when anti-government angst is running high and “state’s rights” are a popular belief among the tea party crowd …

Idaho Republican Sen. Monty Pearce said the then-future president’s words underpin nullification advocates’ chief contention: States never relinquished final say over federal matters.

“He was at the Constitutional Convention,” Pearce said. “He understood how this whole thing was going to be set up.”

Actually, Jefferson was far away, in France, as the framers met in 1787 in Philadelphia to replace the Articles of Confederation.

And his beliefs on nullification were nothing more than his opinions — there’s no such mention in the Constitution, said David Gray Adler, a constitutional scholar who directs the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

“There’s nothing in the Constitution to suggest that the states are superior to the federal government,” Adler said. “We have a long string of Supreme Court decisions that reject their theory.”

Anti-abortion group caught trying to ‘ACORN’ Planned Parenthood
CBS News & The Associated Press
(1/25/11)

Planned Parenthood Seeks FBI Probe into Possible Ploy by Anti-Abortion Group

Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the United States, has notified the FBI that at least 12 of its health centers were visited recently by a man alleging to be a sex trafficker, but who may be involved in a ploy to trap clinic workers.

The visits were made between Jan. 11 and Jan. 15 to Planned Parenthood health centers in Virginia, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Arizona.

In each case, according to Planned Parenthood, the man sought to speak confidentially with a clinic employee and then requested information regarding health services for sex workers, including some who he said were minors and in the U.S. illegally.

Stuart Schear, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for communications, said the organization has requested an FBI probe of the man’s claims and has already fielded some initial FBI inquiries.

Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president, Cecile Richards, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder summarizing the visits and requesting an FBI investigation. If the man’s assertions were true, she wrote, they would indicate possible violations of federal laws pertaining to interstate sex trafficking of minors …

According to Schear, Planned Parenthood’s findings have revealed that the man has ties to Live Action, an anti-abortion group that has conducted previous undercover projects aimed at discrediting Planned Parenthood, which has become a constant target for protesters because of its role in providing abortions.

Lila Rose, Live Action’s founder and president, described Planned Parenthood’s allegations as “very interesting.”

Rose declined to confirm or deny that the visits were part of a Live Action operation, but did indicate in a telephone interview with the Associated Press that some type of undercover videotape project was in the works.

Schear said Planned Parenthood could not disclose the man’s suspected identity or even describe his physical appearance or clothing because of strict patient-privacy laws. According to Schear, the man who visited the clinics would initially present himself as a patient seeking treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, only elaborating on the purported sex ring after getting into a private setting with a clinic employee.

Pharmacy makes millions blowing whistle on drug companies
Los Angeles Times
(1/24/11)

Blowing the whistle on drug firms

Last December, a specialty pharmacy in Florida enjoyed its best month ever — posting a hefty $168.7 million in revenues.

But it wasn’t filling prescriptions that made Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys Inc. such a success.

Tiny Ven-A-Care has developed a lucrative niche market: blowing the whistle on drug companies that overcharge Medicare and Medicaid — and collecting tens of millions of dollars in reward money …

The company’s whistle-blowing essentially works like this:

The company conducts research, comparing the prices it paid for drugs with the prices reported by drug makers to the government for reimbursement. Ven-A-Care files suit, on behalf of the government, when it spots large discrepancies between the two sets of prices.

The spreads can be dramatic.

A 2005 California suit alleged that a 1-gram vial of the antibiotic vancomycin was sold to providers for $6.29, but billed to Medi-Cal for $58.37, while 50-milligram tablets of the blood pressure medication atenolol were billed to pharmacies at $3.04 and to Medi-Cal at $70.30.

“I think Ven-A-Care has played a key role and possibly the predominant role in alerting state and federal governments about … fraud,” said Nicholas Paul, a supervising deputy attorney general for the state of California …

Since 2000, the company has won settlements in at least 18 such suits. Three settlements announced last month brought the fees awarded the company and its attorneys since 2000 to more than $380 million.

State and federal governments, meanwhile, have collected about $2.2 billion from those cases …

Both in recoveries for themselves and for taxpayers, Ven-A-Care’s partners are apparently the most successful whistle-blowers in U.S. history.

US repeats Mexican drug war support after awkward Wikileaks
The New York Times
(1/24/11)

Clinton Voices U.S. Support of Mexico in Trip

More than a month after the disclosure of cables in which American diplomats questioned progress in Mexico’s drug war, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came here on Monday to deliver a message of solidarity with President Felipe Calderón and to rebut public doubts about persistent violence.

After a private meeting with the Mexican foreign secretary, Patricia Espinosa, in this historic, pastel-splashed colonial city, Mrs. Clinton declined during a news conference to directly address the cables, published by several news organization after they were revealed by WikiLeaks.

The cables, written by American diplomats in Mexico, said that the country suffered from squabbling and mistrust among agencies, intelligence missteps, and a less than complete dedication to the rule of law. Among the results, according to the cables, is that criminals are not prosecuted or prosecutions are delayed. In one of the cables, a Mexican government official raised the fear that some territory was falling under the control of organized crime groups.

But Mrs. Clinton said that the United States supported Mr. Calderón’s resolve to dismantle major organized crime groups, even if “it is not easy.”

The grisly nature of the violence, including the beheading of drug-gang rivals, shocks and worries the public on both sides of the border, she said.

The Mexican government’s crackdown, begun in December 2006, along with fighting among the gangs for control of smuggling and other criminal enterprises, has killed 34,600 people in the past four years, the government said this month, including 15,273 people last year alone.

“Drug traffickers are not going to give up without a terrible fight, and when they do barbaric things like behead people, it is meant to intimidate,” Mrs. Clinton said, before touring a historic theater and meeting with Mr. Calderón in Mexico City. “It is meant to have the public say just leave them alone, but a president cannot do that.”

Mrs. Clinton, nodding to sensitivities here, took pains to concede the United States’ role in providing guns and money to Mexico’s gangs, calling them transnational …

Mrs. Clinton spoke in a museum that commemorates a bloody revolt against Spanish loyalists at the beginning of Mexico’s war of independence in 1810.

It shares something with today’s headlines. The heads of four insurgents were hung here during the war of independence.

Deaths will not stop Albanian anti-government protests
Xinhua
(1/23/11)

Albania’s opposition calls for fresh protest after deadly clash

Albania’s opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama on Sunday called for a new protest to be held on Friday afternoon, an indication of continuous tensions in the country after a deadly clash.

Rama made the demand when attending the funeral of two victims of a Friday clash, which followed an anti-government protest outside Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s office building and led to three deaths …

Earlier, Albanian President Bamir Topi and the British, American and EU ambassadors to that country appealed for restoration of dialogue and normality in order not to damage any further prospects of the Balkan nation as it tries to be admitted as an EU member …

The president and the three ambassadors also highlighted the importance of cooperation between Albania’s law enforcement bodies, a clear reference to the failure of police to execute six arrest warrants issued by prosecutors against main chiefs of the national guards on the charge of overstepping their authority that resulted in the deaths …

On Friday, the opposition Socialist Party held the protest against alleged government corruption and election fraud by the Berisha government.

Around 60 persons were wounded in the following clash and over 100 others had been arrested.

Protesters pelted the prime minister’s office building and the police lining before it with stones, sticks, umbrellas and whatever they could get. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannons to disperse them.

Three people died from gunshots in chaos. One was shot in the head, and the other two in the chests.

Video footage showed live bullets were fired from within the compound of the government building as police tried to push back protesters …

The opposition Socialist Party and the ruling coalition government have been at loggerheads since the 2009 general election, which the opposition claimed was rigged.

The opposition has been demanding the coalition government’s resignation and early elections. Prime Minister Berisha rejected the demand.

Egyptian protest death toll up to five
Haaretz
(1/27/11)

Death toll in Egypt protests reaches five as anti-government riots persist

Demonstrations against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak resumed in many cities throughout Egypt yesterday. But though thousands participated in the protests, they were significantly smaller than Tuesday’s demonstrations.

The exception was in Suez, where developments were much more dramatic: Protesters set government offices ablaze and targeted a building belonging to the ruling party. The media reported at least 50 injured in clashes with security forces and three people lost their lives in the clashes in Suez.

“The situation has gone out of control, and there is a real war in the streets,” a reporter for Al Jazeera in Suez reported.

Even though Egypt’s Interior Ministry warned yesterday that police would not allow unauthorized assemblies, some 2,000 people marched down the main avenue in Cairo, along the Nile, yesterday evening. They were charged by the special anti-demonstration police, as was true of all of yesterday’s demonstrations.

Earlier, hundreds had demonstrated on the capital’s main thoroughfare and were dispersed with tear gas. Several dozen activists gathered before the journalists’ union building in Cairo and shouted slogans against Mubarak; they were attacked and beaten by police.

Hundreds of people were arrested in the various incidents. More than 120 people were arrested in Assyut, most members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and about 600 were arrested in Cairo, including eight journalists protesting against the government.

The number of deaths in all the demonstrations yesterday was five. The other two occurred in Cairo last night.

The demonstrations’ organizers tried to use social network platforms to rally supporters, but residents reported that the main site used by the demonstrators – Facebook – was at best only partially accessible yesterday.

Tunisian upheaval gives Jordanians hope; “This spark is started”
BBC News
(1/25/11)

Tunisia political turmoil inspires Jordan protesters

Retired colonel Mohammed al-Btoush is not a natural rebel. For nearly two decades he served loyally in the Jordanian armed forces.

He is a fierce patriot and supporter of the Hashemite monarchy.

He never expected to be involved in politics. But now he is part of a committee of retired officers that is publicly urging Jordan’s rulers to make urgent reforms – before it is too late.

The former generals and colonels were worried even before the popular uprising that drove the Tunisian president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, from power earlier this month.

Now they fear a similar revolt in Jordan.

“This spark is started,” he says. “We cannot control this spark. It is like a gas cylinder, a bomb. If you keep pressurising it, it will burst. So we don’t know what will happen in the future. But we are worried for our country, for our leadership.”

Jordan, with its population of just six million, its well-respected monarchy and comparatively wide range of political and social freedoms, has long been seen as one of the most stable of Arab states.

But the last two weeks have shown that the Tunisian revolution, which has sent shock waves right across the Arab world, has had an impact here too.

Many of the economic problems that drove Tunisians onto the streets are also felt by Jordanians. Unemployment is officially about 14%, but some estimates put it closer to 30%.

Prices have been rising fast, and the capital, Amman, is said to be the most expensive city in the Arab world – though one in four Jordanians lives below the official poverty line.

As the Tunisian uprising gathered pace, the Jordanian government announced a $169m (£107m) package of price subsidies.

But that was not enough to prevent thousands of people marching through the streets of Amman and other towns on 14 January, and again a week later.

They called for the resignation of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai, a further lowering of prices and an end to high-level corruption.

But the demand for political reform of Jordan’s “managed democracy” was not far below the surface.

Palestinian Authority denies helping Israelis kill Hamas leader
Al Jazeera
(1/25/11)

The al-Madhoun assassination

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has shown operational willingness to co-operate with Israel to kill its own people, The Palestine Papers indicate.

Among the documents are notes, handwfritten in Arabic, revealing an exchange in 2005 between the PA and Israel on a plan to kill a Palestinian fighter named Hassan al-Madhoun, who lived in the Gaza strip.

Al-Madhoun (born 1973) was a leading figure within the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, a movement aligned to Fatah, which at that stage still held power in Gaza. Al-Madhoun had been accused by Israel of planning deadly bombings at Israel’s Ashdod port and the Qarni crossing between Gaza and Israel …

Some four months after this meeting, on November 1, 2005, al-Madhoun was killed in his car by a missile fired from an Israeli Apache helicopter over the skies of Gaza. The attack also killed a wanted Hamas activist and wounded three other people.

The very next day, Mofaz, who by that time was in Washington, pledged to ease the lives of Palestinians and to pursue peacemaking with President Abbas …

Youssef denounced the release of The Palestine Papers in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“Al Jazeera depended on unofficial documents, while I have the official one,” Yousef said.

“Mofaz’s request to have al-Madhoun killed has been taken out of context. Israel did not ask to kill him but only to arrest him. The killing of a Palestinian is a red line for us. Israel depends on itself when it comes to security, not on us,” Youssef added.

The Palestine Papers appear to reveal two primary motives for the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with Israel and their crackdown on dissent.

Firstly, it serves to maintain the movement’s political supremacy at a time when it is being questioned. Secondly, it seems an attempt to signal to the US that it wants to remain a trusted partner in peace talks, regardless the costs.

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Wednesday, January 26
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