Radioactive Beer Kegs Menace Public, Boost Costs for Recyclers

Scrap metal is processed at the Jewometaal Stainless Processing B.V. in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on Tuesday, April 22, 2008. Photographer: Roger Cremers/Bloomberg News

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — French authorities made headlines last month when they said as many as 500 sets of radioactive buttons had been installed in elevators around the country. It wasn’t an isolated case.

Improper disposal of industrial equipment and medical scanners containing radioactive materials is letting nuclear waste trickle into scrap smelters, contaminating consumer goods, threatening the $140 billion trade in recycled metal and spurring the United Nations to call for increased screening.

Last year, U.S. Customs rejected 64 shipments of radioactive goods at the nation’s ports, including purses, cutlery, sinks and hand tools, according to data released by the Department of Homeland Security in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. India was the largest source, followed by China.

“The world is waking up very late to this,” said Paul de Bruin, radiation safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing BV in Rotterdam, the world’s biggest stainless-steel scrap yard. “There will be more of this because a lot of the scrap coming to us right now is from the 1970s and 1980s, when there were a lot of uncontrolled radioactive sources distributed to industry.”

On Oct. 21, the French nuclear regulator said elevator buttons assembled by Mafelec, a Chimilin, France-based company, contained radioactive metal shipped from India. Employees who handled the buttons received three times the safe dose of radiation for non-nuclear workers, according to the agency.

Operations at the factory are now back to normal and the company has cut ties with the “source” of the radiation, Mafelec said in a statement. “In the worst-case scenario the exposure would have been under that of a medical scan,” Chief Executive Officer Gilles Heinrich said.

1 Million Missing Sources

Many atomic devices weren’t licensed when they were first widely used by industry in the 1970s. While most countries have since tightened regulations, it is still difficult to track first-generation equipment that is now coming to the end of its useful life.

Abandoned medical scanners, food processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are often picked up by scrap collectors and sold to recyclers, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear arm. De Bruin said he sometimes finds such items hidden inside beer kegs and lead pipes to prevent detection.

There may be more than 1 million missing radioactive sources worldwide, the Vienna-based IAEA estimates.

Read moreRadioactive Beer Kegs Menace Public, Boost Costs for Recyclers

Documents linking Iran to nuclear weapons push may have been fabricated

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has obtained evidence suggesting that documents which have been described as technical studies for a secret Iranian nuclear weapons-related research program may have been fabricated.

The documents in question were acquired by U.S. intelligence in 2004 from a still unknown source — most of them in the form of electronic files allegedly stolen from a laptop computer belonging to an Iranian researcher. The US has based much of its push for sanctions against Iran on these documents.

The new evidence of possible fraud has increased pressure within the IAEA secretariat to distance the agency from the laptop documents, according to a Vienna-based diplomatic source close to the IAEA, who spoke to RAW STORY on condition of anonymity.

The laptop documents include what the IAEA has described in a published report as technical drawings of efforts to redesign the nosecone of the Iranian Shahab-3 ballistic missile “to accommodate a nuclear warhead.” The documents are also said to include studies on the use of a high explosive detonation system, drawings of a shaft apparently to be used for nuclear tests, and studies on a bench-scale uranium conversion facility.

These technical papers, along with some correspondence related to the alleged secret Iranian program — referred to by the IAEA as “alleged studies” — have been the primary basis during 2008 for the insistence by the US-led international coalition pushing for sanctions against Iran that the Iranian case must be kept going in the United Nations Security Council.

Read moreDocuments linking Iran to nuclear weapons push may have been fabricated

Starbucks 4Q Profit Drops 97 Pct on Closure Costs


Seattle-based Starbucks said profit in the fourth quarter fell 97 percent to $5.4 million, or a penny a share, from $158.5 million, or 21 cents per share.
(Johnny Green/PA Wire/AP Photo)

Fewer U.S. customers and venti-sized costs for closing poorly performing stores led to lower sales and profit in the fourth quarter at Starbucks Corp., the company said Monday.

The quarter’s results came at the end of a transition year for the coffee retailer, in which former Chief Executive Howard Schultz took back the reins of the company to again fill the CEO and chairman posts.

Seattle-based Starbucks said profit in the quarter fell 97 percent to $5.4 million, or a penny a share, from $158.5 million, or 21 cents per share. The coffee retailer earned 10 cents per share when the costs from closing about 600 stores in the U.S. and 61 locations in Australia are excluded.

Read moreStarbucks 4Q Profit Drops 97 Pct on Closure Costs

Goldman urged bets against bonds it sold: paper


The flags of the U.S. and China hang outside of 85 Broad Street, headquarters for the investment bank Goldman Sachs in New York, October 23, 2008.

(Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which acted for the state of California in selling bonds, has urged some of its big clients to place investment bets against some of those bonds this year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Read moreGoldman urged bets against bonds it sold: paper

Revised AIG Terms Begin Treasury Transfusions to ‘Zombie’ Firms


A man exits the American International Building, home to the headquarters of American International Group (AIG), in New York, Nov. 10, 2008. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — The revised bailout of American International Group Inc. marks a new phase in the government’s effort to shore up financial markets: It’s the first time cash from the rescue fund Congress created last month has been committed to a failing company.

The Federal Reserve, which saved the insurer from collapse two months ago with an $85 billion loan, yesterday reduced that loan and offered lower rates, while the Treasury chipped in $40 billion from its bank-rescue fund to buy preferred shares. The new terms represent a departure for Secretary Henry Paulson, who until now has said he only wants to invest Treasury funds in “healthy” firms.

Taxpayers are “keeping the zombie alive,” said Robert Eisenbeis, chief monetary economist at hedge fund Cumberland Advisors and former director of research at the Atlanta Fed. “We keep getting deeper and deeper into these holes.”

The shift is likely to vastly expand political demands for saving dying companies in the name of financial or economic stability. The administration of President-elect Barack Obama may soon have to consider credit or capital injections for other insurers, automakers, even retailers as the U.S. slides deeper into what could be the worst recession in a quarter-century.

“Are you going to do General Motors and Ford, and, if you do those, are going to go on and do retailers?” said William Isaac, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and now chairman of the Secura Group LLC. “ Where does it stop? That is a very difficult decision we are going to face as a country.”

AIG’s Losses

Read moreRevised AIG Terms Begin Treasury Transfusions to ‘Zombie’ Firms

Bonuses for Wall Street Should Go to Zero, U.S. Taxpayers Say

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — U.S. taxpayers, who feel they own a stake in Wall Street after funding a $700 billion bailout for the industry, don’t want executives’ bonuses reduced. They want them eliminated.

“I may not understand everything, but I do understand common sense, and when you lend money to someone, you don’t want to see them at a new-car dealer the next day,” said Ken Karlson, a 61-year-old Vietnam veteran and freelance marketer in Wheaton, Illinois. “The bailout money shouldn’t have been given to them in the first place.”

Compensation at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc. and the six other banks that received the first $125 billion of the federal funds is under scrutiny by lawmakers, including Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat. President-elect Barack Obama cited the program at his first news conference on Nov. 7, saying it will be reviewed to make sure it’s “not unduly rewarding the management of financial firms receiving government assistance.”

While year-end rewards are likely to decline with a drop in revenue this year, industry veterans say that eliminating them risks driving away the firms’ most productive workers.

Read moreBonuses for Wall Street Should Go to Zero, U.S. Taxpayers Say

GM Tumbles as Deutsche Says It May Become Worthless

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) — General Motors Corp. plummeted as much as 31 percent and moved toward its lowest level in 62 years after a Deutsche Bank AG analyst downgraded the shares, saying they may be worthless in a year.

“Even if GM succeeds in averting a bankruptcy, we believe that the company’s future path is likely to be bankruptcy-like,” Deutsche Bank’s Rod Lache wrote today in a note. The New York analyst recommended selling the shares and cut his 12-month price target to zero. He previously advised holding the stock.

The decline shows mounting pessimism that a turnaround will succeed at the largest U.S. automaker amid the credit crisis and the worst sales market in at least 15 years. GM is petitioning the U.S. government for aid after saying last week it may not have enough cash to operate this year. A bankruptcy typically wipes out the value of a company’s shares.

Barclays Capital and Buckingham Research Group cut their price targets for GM to $1.

GM, based in Detroit, lost 99 cents, or 23 percent, to $3.37 at 2:45 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. It fell as low as $3.02 in intraday trading, which would be the lowest close since Nov. 22, 1946, according to Global Financial Data in Los Angeles. Ford Motor Co. dropped 9 cents to $1.93.

Read moreGM Tumbles as Deutsche Says It May Become Worthless

MPs seek to censor the media

Britain’s security agencies and police would be given unprecedented and legally binding powers to ban the media from reporting matters of national security, under proposals being discussed in Whitehall.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, the parliamentary watchdog of the intelligence and security agencies which has a cross-party membership from both Houses, wants to press ministers to introduce legislation that would prevent news outlets from reporting stories deemed by the Government to be against the interests of national security.

The committee also wants to censor reporting of police operations that are deemed to have implications for national security. The ISC is to recommend in its next report, out at the end of the year, that a commission be set up to look into its plans, according to senior Whitehall sources.

Read moreMPs seek to censor the media

Report: Secret order OKs U.S. raids overseas

N.Y. Times: U.S. targeted al-Qaida fighters in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military has conducted nearly a dozen secret operations against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups in Syria, Pakistan and other countries since 2004, The New York Times reported in Monday editions.

Meantime, Pakistan’s president said he expects U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to re-evaluate American military strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban targets on its side of the Afghan border.

Citing anonymous U.S. officials, the Times story said the operations were authorized by a broad classified order that then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed and President Bush approved in spring 2004. The order gave the military authority to attack al-Qaida anywhere in the world and to conduct operations in countries that were not at war with the United States.

One such operation was the Oct. 26 raid inside Syria, the Times reported. Washington hasn’t formally acknowledged the raid, but U.S. officials have said the target was a top al-Qaida in Iraq figure. Syria has asked for proof and said eight civilians were killed in the attack.

In another mission, in 2006, Navy SEALs raided a suspected terrorist compound in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The raids have typically been conducted by U.S. Special Forces, often in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency, the newspaper said. Even though the process has been streamlined, specific missions have to be approved by the defense secretary or, in the cases of Syria and Pakistan, by the president.

Read moreReport: Secret order OKs U.S. raids overseas

Fed refuses to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn’t require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.

“The collateral is not being adequately disclosed, and that’s a big problem,” said Dan Fuss, vice chairman of Boston- based Loomis Sayles & Co., where he co-manages $17 billion in bonds. “In a liquid market, this wouldn’t matter, but we’re not. The market is very nervous and very thin.”

Bloomberg News has requested details of the Fed lending under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and filed a federal lawsuit Nov. 7 seeking to force disclosure.

Read moreFed refuses to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion