The United Nations released a report on October 10 detailing widespread prisoner abuse within the Afghan detention system. The report is the most comprehensive of its kind on how Afghan authorities treat prisoners, and is based on interviews over the past year with more than 300 suspects linked to the insurgency. It paints a devastating picture of abuse, citing evidence of “systematic torture” during interrogations by Afghan intelligence and police officials even as American and other Western backers provide training and pay for nearly the entire budget of the Afghan ministries running the detention centers. According to the report, detainees were hung by their hands and beaten with cables, and in some cases their genitals were twisted until the prisoners lost consciousness at sites run by the Afghan intelligence service and the Afghan National Police. The report does not assess whether American officials knew of the abuses. But such widespread use of torture in a detention system supported by American mentors and money raises serious questions about potential complicity of American officials and whether they benefited from information obtained from suspects who had been tortured.
Source: New York Times
A Canadian company, Knowaste, plans to develop five recycling plants across the UK over the next four years that will convert disposable diapers into plastic products. Commercial waste operators will deliver to the first plant in West Bromwich waste from hospitals, nursing facilities, and child care centers. Knowaste CEO Roy Browne maintains that the plant will be able to annually recycle 36,000 tons of diapers and other absorbent hygiene products, including bedliners and incontinence aids, and use them to make plastic components such as roof tiles and commercial tubes.
Source: Sky News (UK)
A handful of multinational security companies have been turning crackdowns on immigration into a multibillion-dollar global industry. In Britain, Australia, and the US, privatized detention for illegal immigrants is turning tidy profits for prison companies like Florida-based GEO Group, which controls 7,000 detention beds in the US. (The US has a total of 400,000 detentions annually, up from 280,000 in 2005; private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons.) GEO Group lost its Australia contract in 2003 amid a commission’s findings that detained children were subjected to cruel treatment. The ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits, and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.
Source: New York Times
A survey by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average family insurance plan purchased through an employer now costs over $15,000 per year, a nine percent increase from last year. That’s more than double the average price 10 years ago, and more than the cost of a new Ford Fiesta. Some analysts believe insurance companies are getting their price hikes in now before a provision kicks in next year requiring them to justify any double-digit increase. And some of the rise in costs is likely coming from requirements already in effect, such as mammogram screenings and other preventive services. But meanwhile, employers are feeling the squeeze, with many citing the high cost of coverage as a deterrent to hiring. And increasingly, they’re passing the costs on to workers in the form of higher out-of-pocket costs. Half of all workers at small firms now pay annual deductibles of $1,000 or more.
Sixty-one percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, down from 64 percent last year according to a Gallup poll. This is the lowest level of support since 1972, the year the Supreme Court voided all existing state death penalty laws. Support peaked in the 1990s as concerns about crime rose. The poll, conducted October 6-9, was taken shortly after the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, which generated widespread protests and extensive news coverage.
A Pennsylvania school board has signed a contract with a national advertising agency to allow advertisements in the 16 schools of the Pennsbury School District. Ultimately, 218 ads are to appear on walls and floors, and shrink-wrapped over lockers, locker-room benches, even cafeteria tables. The ads must relate to health, education, nutrition, or student safety, and may not directly endorse products. They tout, among other things, reading and outdoor activities (Library of Congress and the Ad Council); organizational skills (Post-it Notes), and concussion awareness (Dick’s Sporting Goods). The ads may generate as much as $424,000 for the school district, which faced a $6 million budgetary shortfall this year. Janet Miller, chief operating officer for School Media Inc., the Minneapolis-based agency that signed Pennsbury, said the deals are win-win. Schools get cash through less incendiary means than tax hikes, and “corporate leaders [get] a chance to stand up” and contribute to education, she said. “It’s America helping America.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10 years. Meanwhile, industrial countries are consuming growing amounts of meat, nearly double the quantity than in developing countries. Much of the vigorous growth in meat production is due to the rise of industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming,” said Danielle Nierenberg, Worldwatch senior researcher. “Factory farms pollute the environment through the heavy use of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used for feed production.” Dirty, crowded conditions on factory farms can propagate sickness and disease among the animals. Mass quantities of antibiotics are used on livestock to reduce the impact of disease, contributing to antibiotic resistance in animals and humans alike. Eighty percent of all antibiotics sold worldwide in 2009 were used on livestock and poultry. Worldwide, per capita meat consumption increased from 41.3 kilograms in 2009 to 41.9 kilograms in 2010. People in the developing world eat 32 kilograms of meat a year on average, compared to 80 kilograms per person in the industrial world.
Source: Worldwatch Institute
According to an October report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US students took out more than $100 billion in loans last year, a figure that will push the total amount of outstanding student debt above the $1-trillion mark this year for the first time. Americans now owe more in student loans than they do on their credit cards. Students are borrowing roughly twice what they did a decade ago, and total outstanding debt has doubled in the past five years alone. Full-time undergrads borrowed an average of $4,953 in 2010, a 63-percent jump from the previous decade. “Students who borrow too much end up delaying life-cycle events such as buying a car, buying a home, getting married, [and] having children,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a publisher of FinAid.org. Nick Pardini, a finance grad student at Villanova who blogs about student loans, wrote: “It’s going to create a generation of wage slavery.”
Source: USA Today