Society's Child


Five injured in massive industrial explosion in Ontario, Canada

Veolia Environmental Services location in Sarnia, Ontario
© Screenshot from Google Maps
Veolia Environmental Services location in Sarnia, Ont.
Five people have been injured after a massive industrial explosion in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. The explosion occurred at Veolia ES Canada Industrial Services that offers industrial cleaning and maintenance services.

Five people were injured in the explosion that caused a fire at the industrial site in Sarnia, Mayor Mike Bradleyannounced according to CTV News. One person was critically wounded in the blast and three suffered serious injuries, while one was hospitalized with minor injuries, according to the mayor.

End This Fee for All - hidden charges burden lower- and middle-income population

hidden fees bills
Last week, AT&T agreed to pay $80 million to customers who had been overbilled for charges they had not authorized. This was an all-too-rare case of a perpetrator brought to book: In recent decades, Americans have increasingly been hit with fees they know nothing about, which have contributed to a crisis of consumer debt. We must hope we are entering a new era of regulatory activism that will shine a light on hidden fees.

Besides mystery cellphone charges, consumers regularly complain about surprise bank charges for using tellers, for overdraft protection or for not maintaining minimum balances. Not to mention fees for "maintenance" of individual retirement accounts or 401(k)'s, airport taxes, charges on credit-card cash advances or balance transfers, costs for the activation or early termination of cable and Internet services, and fees on 529 college savings accounts and mortgage origination. A 2010 Consumer Reports survey found that unexpected or hidden fees were consumers' biggest bugbear.

In the AT&T case, the company typically charged customers $9.99 per month for unrequested, third-party subscriptions for ringtones and text messages providing horoscopes, flirting tips, celebrity gossip and "fun facts." AT&T pocketed at least 35 percent of these fees; the company earned $108 million in 2012 and $161 million in 2013 from the scheme.

The structure of billing made it "very difficult for customers to know that third-party charges were being placed on their bills," according to the Federal Trade Commission. Even when customers complained, refunds were often denied.

This isn't the first time the industry has run afoul of regulators. In June, the F.T.C. issued a similar lawsuit against T-Mobile for "cramming," as the practice of adding hidden fees is known; there have been seven such fee-cramming investigations since 2013.

"Hidden" does not necessarily mean a charge is missing from the consumer agreement; rather, costs and terms are often buried in fine print or impenetrable legal language that even contract lawyers have difficulty discovering. The onus is on the customer to be informed of whatever costs are associated with the goods or services. But with these charges buried in tightly guarded pricing structures, customers are often trapped into paying exorbitant fees for years and years.

Perniciously, these "trick-and-trap" fees are not just lurking in your cellphone plan; they have invaded areas of consumer credit like mortgages, student and auto loans - financial services that have traditionally provided a path of upward mobility for low-income and working-class families. A glaring example is higher education, where colleges and universities bury students under a mountain of fees, including registration fees just to attend class, quite apart from the fees they already face on student loans.

Comment: Extra charges buried in obscure legal language is just one more way the 1% enrich themselves.


Armed Pro-gun activists marches through downtown St. Louis

St. Louis protests with gun1
© Reuters/Andrew Innerarity
Dozens of armed demonstrators have marched through the downtown St. Louis to confirm their right to carry firearms openly in public. Only some 10 policemen watched the march without much interest, even after the group met counter protesters.

A heavily armed crowd of over 40 people marched on Saturday afternoon from the Citygarden to the Gateway Arch, openly displaying their arsenal. A group of some 10 police officers took a note of the gathering, but did not follow or otherwise intervene with the group armed with pistols and rifles, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Comment: It is interesting to observe these armed pro-gun activist protests, while police are shooting the unarmed black teenagers.


Global Ebola cases pass 10,000; a million vaccine doses to be ready at the end of 2015

Ebola Mali
© Joe Penney/Reuters
A health worker checks the temperature of a baby entering Mali from Guinea.
The global number of cases in the Ebola outbreak has exceeded 10,000, with 4,922 deaths, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organisation released on Saturday. Three countries with shared borders - Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea - account for all but 10 of the fatalities, with only 27 cases occurring outside the west African epicentre.

The UN agency said the number of cases was now 10,141 but that the true figure was much higher, as many families were keeping relatives at home rather than taking them to treatment centres and are burying their dead without official clearance. It said many of the centres were overcrowded.

The latest report showed a rise of 400 cases in the last three days in Sierra Leone and Guinea but no change in the number of cases and deaths in the worst- affected country, Liberia.

It comes as an analysis of Ebola figures by development consultants the African Governance Initiative (AGI) suggest that even with current efforts to build more hospital facilities in the affected nations, there will be no medical personnel to staff them and there will be a shortage of more than 6,000 hospital beds in Guinea and Sierra Leone by December if the WHO's worst-case scenario figure of 10,000 new cases a week by the end of the year is reached.
Star of David

Israeli army kills 14-year old Palestinian with U.S. citizenship

slain Palestinian youth, Orwa Hammad
© Shadi Hattem
14-year old slain Palestinian youth, Orwa Hammad who is also a U.S. citizen, was killed by the Israeli army, October 24, 2014.
A Palestinian teen with U.S. citizenship was killed today by the Israeli army at a demonstration in the West Bank town of Silwad, near Ramallah. Fourteen-year old Orwah Hammad was shot with a live bullet that entered his neck and exited through his head, according to Ramallah hospital staff. He died while being treated at Ramallah hospital around 6 p.m. this evening, Jerusalem time.

The killing comes eight days after Israeli soldiers killed a 13-year-old boy during a raid on a West Bank village.

How convenient! Washington school shooting took place during SWAT drill and two weeks before upcoming gun control vote

initiative 594
What are the odds?

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how a few elite billionaires including Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates have spent some $8 million to make sure Washington's controversial gun control bill, Initiative 594, will appear on the state's November ballot and that voters will be flooded with anti-gun propaganda in the lead up.

I-594 would require universal background checks, going so far as a making it so that a hunter would not be allowed to hand a gun to a friend on a hunting trip without triggering the background check provisions in the anti-gun bill.

On YouTube, Michael Parkhurst commented, "Commercials promoting the bill have been bombarding us for weeks."

Comment: See also: Two dead from high school shooting in Washington state; shooter identified as Jaylen Rey Fryberg

Stock Down

Banker suicides continue: Deutsche banker and former SEC enforcement attorney hangs himself

© Reuters/Luke Macgregor
Back on January 26, a 58-year-old former senior executive at German investment bank behemoth Deutsche Bank, William Broeksmit, was found dead after hanging himself at his London home, and with that, set off an unprecedented series of banker suicides throughout the year which included former Fed officials and numerous JPMorgan traders.

Following a brief late summer spell in which there was little if any news of bankers taking their lives, as reported previously, the banker suicides returned with a bang when none other than the hedge fund partner of infamous former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Khan, Thierry Leyne, a French-Israeli entrepreneur, was found dead after jumping off the 23rd floor of one of the Yoo towers, a prestigious residential complex in Tel Aviv.

Just a few brief hours later the WSJ reported that yet another Deutsche Bank veteran has committed suicide, and not just anyone but the bank's associate general counsel, 41 year old Calogero "Charlie" Gambino, who was found on the morning of Oct. 20, having also hung himself by the neck from a stairway banister, which according to the New York Police Department was the cause of death. We assume that any relationship to the famous Italian family carrying that last name is purely accidental.

Here is his bio from a recent conference which he attended:
Charlie J. Gambino is a Managing Director and Associate General Counsel in the Regulatory, Litigation and Internal Investigation group for Deutsche Bank in the Americas. Mr. Gambino served as a staff attorney in the United Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Enforcement from 1997 to 1999. He also was associated with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom from 1999 to 2003. He is a frequent speaker at securities law conferences. Mr. Gambino is a member of the American Bar Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.
As a reminder, the other Deutsche Bank-er who was found dead earlier in the year, William Broeksmit, was involved in the bank's risk function and advised the firm's senior leadership; he was "anxious about various authorities investigating areas of the bank where he worked," according to written evidence from his psychologist, given Tuesday at an inquest at London's Royal Courts of Justice. And now that an almost identical suicide by hanging has taken placeat Europe's most systemically important bank, and by a person who worked in a nearly identical function - to shield the bank from regulators and prosecutors and cover up its allegedly illegal activities with settlements and fines - is surely bound to raise many questions.

EU fail: Domestic agricultural production soars in Russia after food sanctions

russian agriculture
© © RIA Novosti/Sergey Guneev
President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have put on a new show of unity ahead of upcoming elections by harvesting corn together at a farm in southern Russia's Stavropol Region
Economy and sectors adjusting to changing environment

When Russian President Vladimir Putin cut off European Union imports of agricultural products earlier this year, one of the rationales was to give a boost to the badly underdeveloped domestic sector - and it seems to be working. September's retail and investment numbers were down but agricultural production soared by 16.8% year-on-year in September, according to Rosstat.

"Domestic demand in Russia remained sluggish in September, retail sales, which reflect household consumption, edging up 1.7% year-on-year. This is slightly better than what we saw in summer and puts the nine month tally at 2.3% y-o-y," Alfa Bank's chief economist Evgeny Gavrilenkov said in a note on October 20. "Conversely, the agriculture sector posted extremely strong growth of 16.6% year-on-year in September and 7.7% in the first nine months of this year. Combined with strong industrial output growth last month (2.8%), driven by import substitution, this should lead to improvements in basic sector output."

russian harvest
Agriculture has become a key sector in the Kremlin's import substitution programme. Despite being a top three world exporter of grain and home to the "Black Earth" regions, some of the most fertile land in the world, Russia continues to import about 40% of its food. It has deficits in raw milk, potatoes, pork and beef to name a few products.

And Russia completely fails to make any of the added value products like posh cheese or cured meats: why invest in complicated food processing products when it is easier and cheaper to simply import them from Europe? In Moscow the problem is particularly acute, with some 60% of food products imported last year.

Russia's food industry came under even more pressure after Russia acceded to the WTO in August 2012. Pork producers in particular immediately felt the squeeze after duties on European's higher quality, lower cost imports were phased out as part of the deal.

But that problem has gone now after the shops were cleared of this competition, leaving a giant gap in the market that the state is hoping local producers will rush to fill. Indeed, the spike in food prices is causing a macro problem as inflation soars, but the Kremlin must be hoping the food companies are using their extra money to improve their production and that their increased market shares will be permanent when the sanctions regime finally comes to an end.

The Kremlin turned the screw on Europe again this week by adding more products to its own sanction list. The federal supervisory agency for agriculture, the Rosselkhoznadzor, said "temporary restrictions" will go into effect this week on European beef and pork offal, as well as beef, pork and chicken fat.

The agency said it imposed the ban because "banned and harmful substances," including antibiotics, had been found in these meat products and byproducts. It did not identify the other substances.

"We reiterate our view that the economy is adjusting to the new environment. Economic growth has slowed, but it is not stagnating or contracting," writes Gavrilenkov.

Comment: This was a brilliant two-pronged strategy, both helping domestic producers, and encouraging trade relations among the lesser players in the world agricultural market. Latin America has been a particular beneficiary of Russian efforts.

Cow Skull

Life in the California towns hit hardest by the drought

© Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Manuel Rodriguez, 83, watches as workmen install a water pump to carry water from an outdoor container into his home in Porterville, California October 14, 2014.
In one of the towns hardest hit by California's drought, the only way some residents can get water to flush the toilet is to drive to the fire station, hand-pump water into barrels and take it back home.

The trip has become a regular ritual for East Porterville residents Macario Beltran, 41, and his daughters, who on a recent evening pumped the water into containers in the bed of his old pickup truck to be used for bathing, dish washing and flushing.

As if to emphasize the arid conditions that led them there, an emergency broadcast warned of a brewing dust storm.

The state's three-year drought comes into sharp focus in Tulare County, the dairy and citrus heart of the state's vast agricultural belt, where more than 500 wells have dried up.

Donna Johnson's tap went dry in June. Since then she's been trying to help neighbors connect with help from the county and the state. She began making door-to-door deliveries of water donated by charities and such supplies as hand sanitizer - often in withering 100-degree heat.

"I saw all these people who couldn't take a shower: kids, pregnant women," the 72-year-old said.
Gold Seal

Prepping for the 'end of the world' as we know it

© Dwight Eschliman
A visit to "prepper camp," a four-day session on surviving super viruses, natural disasters, socioeconomic collapse, world war, and more

A shot rings out in the Orchard Lake Campground. The crack ricochets off of evergreens and elms and oaks. No one hits the ground, screams, or ducks for cover. None of the 600 campers even seems fazed by the blast piercing through the stagnant humidity. After all, it's just target practice.

Welcome to prepper camp.

For four days last month, the campground - nestled in a remote part of the foggy Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina - hosted a crash course in survival. Organized by "Prepper Rick" Austin and his wife, a blogger who goes by "Survivor Jane," the weekend attracted participants from Tennessee, California, Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, and Georgia. When the sole Yankee outs herself, one person jokingly threatens to lynch her with a paracord.

Preppers have their own language. They carry "BOBs," or "bug-out bags," knapsacks stuffed with provisions necessary to "get out of dodge" when "TSHTF" (the shit hits the fan). "TEOTWAWKI" is instantly recognizable as shorthand for "the end of the world as we know it." But that "end" means something different to everyone. They're not all anticipating a rapture. Preoccupations range from super-viruses like Ebola to natural disasters (solar flares, hurricanes) to man-made catastrophes (an ISIS attack, socioeconomic collapse leading to utter mayhem).

Comment: See also: And do have a listen to the SOTT Talk Radio show that was devoted to this subject:

Surviving the End of the World (as we Know it) and further discussion on the SOTT forum here.