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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Lurching from One Disaster to the Next

IPS
October 30, 2010
By Paul Weinberg

TORONTO, Oct 30, 2010 (IPS) – The world is ill-prepared for the human toll from the expected increase in floods, droughts and extreme storms and hurricanes on the horizon.

So say experts like Peter Walker, director of the Tufts University-based Feinstein International Center near Boston. In late 2008, his organisation authored a report titled “Humanitarian Costs of Climate Change” for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“We may be keeping people alive, we may be helping people to survive,” Walker told IPS. “But we are not doing it in a way that helps people recover and be able to face the next crisis.”

Walker advocates moving away from the current ad hoc nature of international humanitarian relief efforts.
“We are getting to the point where these crises are sufficiently frequent and large that you need to shift to having a much more formal international system that allows pre-disaster assistance and relief [to be] deployed more quickly,” he said.

Walker said that his comments would apply to all natural disasters whether or not they are caused by climate change, including earthquakes and tsunamis.

The other complicating factor in countries receiving humanitarian relief such as Pakistan and Haiti is that recovery remains difficult and long term in the face of lack of resources, basic infrastructure, government services, and economic equality in the population, he said.

Although the people of Aceh province in Indonesia managed to recover from the tsunami of 2004, individual family savings ended up getting spent in the process of survival, he added.

“Five or six years after the tsunami, if there is another hit, people will not be in a good situation to recover as they were last time,” Walker said.

Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada, told IPS that there is greater recognition among aid agencies and nongovernmental organisations of the need “to increase our capacity” in humanitarian crises, as well as to “be more strategic”.

With millions of rural people displaced and in internal refugee camps following the floods in Pakistan, relief workers were in short supply even with a strong aid agency presence on the ground, he observed. “We can do more than one crisis at a time, but more than one mega crisis at a time is a stretch,” Fox said.

One controversial aspect in relief is the increased role of foreign militaries. U.S. and Canadian soldiers arrived in Haiti to deliver supplies, beef up communications and rebuild infrastructure. In addition, U.S. military helicopters were used for rescue and delivery of supplies to Pakistan’s flooded areas in the Indus River basin.

Fox is opposed to aid agencies working closely with the U.S. military – which is viewed with great suspicion and resentment, for instance, in Pakistan in light of the U.S. military’s role in that country, including its drone attacks against suspected Islamist forces.

“When the military do things, they do it in a very expensive way,” he said. “They often do it in a slow way because of the level of preparedness and scale which they do it. And this isn’t their core competency. They are not very sensitive to local leadership, local ways of doing things.”

Fox cited the example following the Haiti earthquake of the U.S. military’s initial monopolisation of the Port-Au-Prince airport which served as a temporary hub for incoming airborne humanitarian relief. “A number of agencies [including Doctors without Borders] found it hard to get things through,” he noted.

Nevertheless, the world’s major militaries remain the best source for the combination of helicopters, lift vehicles and engineering capability needed to sort out the disruption and chaos following future natural disasters, says Michael Byers, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.

The biggest obstacle is the military itself, especially in Canada, where defence planners are not jumping at the expanded opportunities in humanitarian relief, even with their soldiers’ battle weariness in war-torn Afghanistan, he told IPS.

“It is a question of changing the mindset of the Canadian military leadership that humanitarian missions are going to be an essential component. I think humanitarian disaster relief is going to be the primary role for the Canadian forces in the coming years, I don’t think the military leadership understands that now,” Byers said.

Martin Shadwick, a military analyst at Toronto’s York University, agrees that ambivalence exists in Canada’s military.

“There is not really a negative connotation in the military towards [disaster relief] I think they would only get concerned if they were being called upon day in and day out and were turning into disaster relief 911 [telephone emergency] service,” he said.

Shadwick warns that an insufficient supply of military equipment and services has developed in the militaries of the European Union and North America in wake of recent austerity measures.


Full Article Here – http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53409

Big Banks Told Not To ‘Fix’ A Fraud

Wall Street Journal
October 30, 2010
By ROBBIE WHELAN

Ohio’s attorney general threw a wrench into the banking industry’s push to quickly restart foreclosures by fixing faulty paperwork, and pressed them to modify mortgage loans.

In two letters released Friday, Attorney General Richard Cordray criticized a number of banks and loan-servicing companies, including Wells Fargo & Co.; Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC Mortgage; Bank of America Corp.; and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Mr. Cordray said the banks are trying to paper over fraud committed in foreclosures with temporary fixes that don’t address underlying problems in the banks’ practices.

“It is not acceptable for a party who believes they submitted false court documents to merely replace those documents. Wells Fargo and any other banks are not simply allowed a ‘do-over,’ ” he wrote in the letter to Wells. The other letter was sent to Ohio judges, who were asked to notify Mr. Cordray when banks file substitute affidavits.

He demanded that the banks vacate any court order or motion that was based on improper paperwork. In an interview Friday, Mr. Cordray said the banks would “be well-served to work out a settlement with the borrowers to modify the loans and work out payments.”

Mr. Cordray’s letters come as several banks say they have reviewed their foreclosure procedures and are resuming evictions. But his insistence that they go beyond replacing affidavits by employees who have been labeled “robo-signers”—who didn’t adequately review underlying foreclosure documentation—threatens to upend banks’ efforts to resolve their foreclosure problems.

Mr. Cordray’s strategy gives clues to the goals of a 50-state probe, which was announced two weeks ago. Led by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the effort was joined by top law-enforcement officers from all 50 states in response to reports of widespread errors in foreclosure filings and allegations of robo-signing.

“The banks are committing fraud on the court, essentially perjury, and then saying ‘Whoops! You caught me! Here’s some different evidence and use that instead,’ ” Mr. Cordray said in an interview Friday. “I know a lot of judges are not going to take kindly to that.”

Bank of America declined to comment. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said Friday the company intends to cooperate with Mr. Cordray’s inquiries and doesn’t “believe that any of these instances led to foreclosures which should not have otherwise occurred.” She added that Wells Fargo has “chosen to submit supplemental affidavits out of an abundance of caution.”

Tom Kelly, a J.P. Morgan spokesman, said the company is still reviewing foreclosure documents for mistakes and hasn’t refiled any new or replacement affidavits. Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for GMAC, said her company is “not proceeding with foreclosure sales in Ohio or any state using a defective affidavit.”

The aims of the 50-state probe were initially unclear. Some attorneys general, however, made reference to a 2008 settlement in which Bank of America agreed to an $8.4 billion loan-modification program after its Countrywide Financial unit was probed for predatory lending practices.

Mr. Cordray declined to discuss the 50-state investigation or the conversations he has had with other attorneys general about the matter. Mr. Cordray, a Democrat, faces a Republican challenger for his office in Tuesday’s general election.

Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins said in an Oct. 20 television interview that he was “confident with our policies and controls” related to foreclosures and that “the person at Wells who signs a foreclosure file is the same person as the person who reviews the file, and it is not always done that way in the industry.”

Full Article Here – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052702304879604575582743893387762.html

Amazon Defense Coalition: Three Chevron Lawyers Sanctioned For Obstructing Ecuador Environmental Trial

Business Wire
October 29, 2010

Facing $113 Billion in Potential Damages, Chevron Lawyers Seek Any Opportunity to Delay

LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador–(BUSINESS WIRE)–A trial court has sanctioned and fined three Chevron lawyers for obstructing the trial where Chevron faces a multi-billion dollar judgment for the deliberate dumping of 18 billion gallons of toxic waste, according to court papers made available today.

“The evidence clearly shows Chevron used illegal practices that resulted in the massive destruction of the rainforest in Ecuador and the decimation of indigenous groups and other local residents”

Alberto Racines and Diego Larrea, both of whom have worked on Chevron’s legal team in Ecuador since the trial against Chevron began in 2003, were fined by Judge Nicolas Zambrano this week for repeatedly filing the same motions in an effort to delay the seven-year Ecuador trial.

The judge ruled that the lawyers had used Chevron’s motions “to obstruct the trial.” In 2009, a third Chevron lawyer – Patricio Campuzano – was sanctioned for the same reason.

On August 5 – one day after the court ordered both parties to submit their own damages assessments – Chevron filed 19 motions to nullify the order or the trial itself in a 30-minute period. Racines and Larrea then cited the failure of the trial judge to quickly rule on each of the motions as a basis to recuse him.

“The evidence clearly shows Chevron used illegal practices that resulted in the massive destruction of the rainforest in Ecuador and the decimation of indigenous groups and other local residents,” said Pablo Fajardo, who represents dozens of indigenous and farmer communities suing the oil giant for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest.

“To help Chevron evade its obligations, Chevron’s lawyers are trying to sabotage the Ecuadorian legal system in addition to violating their professional obligations,” he added.

Chevron, which operated several oil fields in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990, faces damages and clean-up costs estimated at up to $113 billion. The amount includes compensation for an estimated 10,000 potential deaths from cancer in the coming decades, according to reports submitted by a team of prominent American technical experts.

Full Article Here – http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20101029005858/en/Amazon-Defense-Coalition-Chevron-Lawyers-Sanctioned-Obstructing

Supreme Court refuses to stop Minnesota disclosure law

Associated Press
October 29, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has refused to block a Minnesota law requiring disclosure of corporate political spending.

The high court without comment turned away a request for an injunction from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

The Supreme Court earlier this year freed businesses to spend company money on elections, overturning state restrictions on corporate political spending. Minnesota lawmakers responded by enacting disclosure requirements so that corporate campaign spending would be public.

Full Article Here – http://www.sctimes.com/article/20101029/NEWS01/110290049/Supreme-Court-refuses-to-stop-Minnesota-disclosure-law

Federal Government Asks for Closed Courtroom to Protect Goldman Sachs Secrets

AllGov 
October 29, 2010
By Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky

The U.S. Department of Justice has requested that a federal judge seal the courtroom of a trial involving computer code theft in order to protect trade secrets of Goldman Sachs.
 
Sergey Aleynikov was arrested by the FBI on charges of stealing computer code that supports Goldman’s high frequency trading system, which allows the bank to buy and sell stocks in a fraction of a second.
 
Goldman Sachs and others use “flash trading” to send out automated sell offers at higher and higher prices until one comes back with no buyer. The program then drops back to the highest acceptable price and sells at what the buyer set as his maximum limit. This allows Goldman to always obtain the best possible selling price, while the buyer loses the normal give and take of bargaining. In the case of large orders, such as those from pension funds or mutual funds, this can cost the buyers a small fortune.
Federal prosecutors have argued that the general public should not be allowed to observe the trial when details of Goldman’s trade secrets are discussed. They also asked that any documents related to Goldman’s trading strategies be sealed.
 

Pentagon official ran private spy network, lied to investigators: report

AFP
October 29, 2010

A senior Pentagon official broke Department of Defense rules and lied to military officials when he set up a network of private contractors to spy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, The New York Times reported Friday.
The Times cited an internal investigation stating that the official, Michael Furlong, set up an unauthorized spy network starting in late 2009 and “deliberately misled” top generals about it.

Pentagon rules forbid using contractors as spies.

But some of the information provided by the network was used for strikes against militants, the Times reported.

The results of the Pentagon investigation, ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are classified, the Times said.

It added that the Air Force inspector general is conducting a separate probe to see if Furlong broke any laws or committed contract fraud.

Furlong’s network was made up of small companies — including one run by an ex-CIA agent — that used agents in Afghanistan and Pakistan to gather intelligence on militant groups.

It operated under a 22 million dollar contract run by Lockheed Martin, according to the Times.

Full Article Here – http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/10/pentagon-official-ran-private-spy-network-lied-investigators-report/

Trainee detectives to study Facebook

ITN
October 29, 2010

Detectives will be taught how to track down killers and other criminals on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, police leaders have said.

Sweeping changes have been made to training for thousands of student investigators to bring their work into the 21st century.

They include new information on how to track down suspects through social networking sites, where wanted people may reveal valuable clues.

Updated training exercises also examine how to gather the best information from computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices.

Earlier this year escaped prisoner, Craig Lynch mocked police with clues about his whereabouts on Facebook during four months on the run.

In London, detectives are examining posts on Facebook and Twitter relating to the murder of 17-year-old Marvin Henry during a suspected fight between rival gangs.

Deputy Chief Constable Nick Gargan, acting head of the National Policing Improvement Agency, said updated training is vital.

He said: “This programme is a vital part of the career pathway for detectives and the new training covers sensitive areas of policing where limited guidance existed previously.

“These improvements are exactly what detectives need to tackle the challenges and complexities of modern policing effectively.

Full Article Here – http://uk.news.yahoo.com/4/20101028/tuk-trainee-detectives-to-study-facebook-dba1618.html

No terror arrests in 100,000 police counter-terror searches, figures show

Guardian
October 28, 2010
By Alan Travis

More than 100,000 people were stopped and searched by police under counter-terrorism powers last year but none of them were arrested for terrorism-related offences, according to Home Office figures published today.

The statistics show that 504 people out of the 101,248 searches were arrested for any offence – an arrest rate of 0.5%, compared with an average 10% arrest rate for street searches under normal police powers.

The figures prompted the former Conservative home affairs spokesman David Davis to call for the controversial policy to be scrapped.

“This astonishing fact of no terrorism-related arrests, let alone prosecutions or convictions, in over 100,000 stop and searches, demonstrates what a massively counter-productive policy this is,” said Davis.

“A policy which fuels resentment and antagonism amongst minority communities without achieving a single terrorist conviction serves only to help our enemies and increase the terrorism threat.”

The annual Home Office bulletin on the use of terror powers also discloses for the first time that more than 85,000 people were questioned by police at airports and other border points in the last years under counter-terrorist legislation. More than 2,600 of them were held for more than an hour.

As Home Office ministers consider proposals to cut the current 28-day limit on detention without charge of terror suspects, the official figures reveal that nobody has been held longer than 14 days for the last two years before being charged or released.

The annual bulletin on the police use of counter-terrorism powers shows that, since the 9/11 attacks, 1,834 people have been arrested in Britain in connection with terrorism-related incidents.

A total of 1,000 of those suspects have been released without charge, 422 charged with terrorism-related offences, 228 with other crimes, and the remaining 184 dealt with by other action such as being transferred to the immigration authorities.

Full Article Here – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/oct/28/terrorism-police-stop-search-arrests

Pakistan flood food running out, warns UN

BBC
October 29, 2010

The United Nations has warned its supply of emergency food aid for victims of Pakistan’s summer floods will run out by the start of December.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Martin Mogwanja said up to six million people relied on the aid every month.

With winter on the way, seven million people still do not have adequate shelter or quilts, blankets and warm clothing, he told the BBC.

 
The monsoon floods affected 20 million people and one fifth of the country.

At least 1,500 people died in the deluge.

Appealing for further donations from the international community, Mr Mogwanja said malnutrition was also increasing as food stocks dwindled.

And winter would bring fresh misery for the homeless, he said.

Those most in need of shelter are said to be in north-western Khyber Pakhutunkhwa province, northern parts of Punjab province and Gilgit Baltistan in the far north.

“The food stocks… are not sufficient to take us through into December, so there are a number of areas we are seeing increases in malnutrition of children,” Mr Mogwanja told BBC Urdu.

Full Article Here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11649569?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Exxon Mobil 3Q income jumps 55 percent

Associated Press
October 28, 2010
By CHRIS KAHN

NEW YORK – Exxon Mobil Corp.’s third-quarter income jumped 55 percent thanks to higher oil prices and increased production.

The world’s largest publicly traded oil company on Thursday reported earnings of $7.35 billion, or $1.44 per share. That compares with $4.73 billion, or 98 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Revenue increased 15.8 percent to $95.3 billion.

Oil companies have seen profits jump as crude prices increased 12 percent year-over-year, and prices should continue to rise. The International Energy Agency forecasts that world oil consumption will grow next year to 88.2 million barrels a day.

Earlier Thursday. Royal Dutch Shell PLC said quarterly profits climbed by 6.5 percent to $3.46 billion with higher oil prices mitigating charges in its refining business. ConocoPhillips reported Wednesday that its income more than doubled for the third straight quarter, earning $3.06 billion for the July-September period.

Selling crude for more money has helped offset unexpected drilling expenses and a drop in Gulf of Mexico production that some companies are starting to see following BP’s giant oil spill earlier this year.

The U.S. shut down deepwater exploration for several months after the April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and regulators set tough new rules that nearly halted drilling activity in the Gulf.

David Rosenthal, Exxon Mobil vice president of investor relations, said the company continues to review the new regulations, though it plans to move forward with a project in the Gulf.

“We plan to submit in the near term our next permit application to get that drill under way,” Rosenthal told analysts in a conference call.

In July, Exxon took the lead in organizing a $1 billion containment network that will eventually be used to respond to future spills in the Gulf.

Exxon, based in Irving, Texas, posted higher profits for most of its businesses; including oil production and exploration, refining and U.S. chemicals. It also cranked up oil production year-over-year, and its refineries made more fuel. The company continued to plow billions of dollars into expanding production and exploration, increasing spending 55 percent to $7.6 billion in the third quarter.

Full Article Here – http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101028/ap_on_bi_ge/us_earns_exxon_mobil