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Multiple Discoveries from NASA's New Horizons Pluto Mission

R.I.P. William 'Bill' Herbert Kelder - Intellpuke

Gamers Donate 37,500 Pounds Of Food To Needy

Statement From The Whitehouse Regarding The Government Shutdown

An Open Response To 'Organizing for Action'

Bayou Corne: The Biggest Ongoing Disaster In The U.S. You Have Not Heard Of

Boston Mayor Hopes Feds 'Throw the Book' at Marathon Bombing Suspect

Boston Police Closing In On Suspects

2 Explosions At Boston Marathon. 2 Dead, Many Injured.

The Press vs Citizens Rights and Privacy - Act 3

CBS News - Year In Review 2012 - 366 Days: 2012 In Review

The Guardian - 2012 In Review: An Interactive Guide To The Year That Was

TruTV - The Biggest Conspiracy Theories of 2012

Colbert Nation: 2012: A Look Back

FIP Year In Review(s?)

Happy Holidays

Welcome To A New Era!

An Open Letter To United Health Care, Medcom, And The Medical Insurance Industry In General

Whitehouse Petition To Remove "Under God" and "In God" From Currency And The Pledge.

December 21, 2012

If Hillary Clinton Ran For President, She Would Probably Be The Best-prepared Candidate In American History

CIA Director David Petraeus Resigns After FBI Investigation Uncovers Affair With High-Profile Journalist

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U.S.-Afghan Military Operations Suspended After Attacks

Iran Nuclear Chief Says IAEA Might Be Infiltrated By 'Terrorists And Saboteurs'

Romney Stands By Gaffe

2011 Year In Review
Top 100 stories for 2011

2010 <==     ==> 2012

#1) Tibetan Monk Burns Himself To Death In Call For Return Of Dalai Lama
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:58:00
(Read 36999 times || comments)

A Tibetan Buddhist monk calling for the return of the Dalai Lama has burned himself to death in southwest China. 

The 29-year-old monk's self-immolation at a monastery in Tawu could spark fresh tensions in the heavily ethnic Tibetan parts of Sichuan, which borders  Tibet, after protests in March when a Tibetan monk there also burned himself to death.

"Tsewang Norbu drank petrol, sprayed petrol on himself and then set himself on fire," the Free Tibet organization in London said, citing an unnamed witness.

"He was heard calling out 'we Tibetan people want freedom', 'long live the Dalai Lama' and 'let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet'. He is believed to have died at the scene," said the group.

China's official Xinhua news agency also reported the monk's death, but said "it was unclear why he had burned himself".

Tawu, known as Daofu in Chinese, is in a largely ethnic Tibetan part of western Sichuan that many advocates of self-rule say should form part of a larger homeland under Tibetan control.

Tensions over the fate of the exiled Dalai Lama and his calls for Tibetan self-determination sometimes flare into protests in the region.

#2) Deal With United Continental Crucial, Air Canada Tells Competition Bureau
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:28:32
(Read 29056 times || comments)

A close partnership between Air Canada and United Continental is crucial to the future of air travel in Canada, according to an argument by Air Canada in a legal battle with the country’s competition commissioner over the airlines’ proposed deal.

Melanie Aitken, head of Canada’s Competition Bureau, moved in June to block a partnership between Air Canada and Chicago, Illinois-based United Continental, the world’s biggest airline.

The deal would see the two airlines co-operate on a number of cross-border flights, including links where their offering would be the only option, such as Calgary-Houston or Ottawa-Washington, D.C.

The airlines insisted the deal is good for customers and could lower prices. The Competition Bureau sees the partnership as a merger in disguise, one that would quash rivals, reduce choice and inflate prices.

Ms. Aitken’s bid to spike the deal is “fundamentally misconceived,” stated Air Canada in its legal response filed with the Competition Tribunal on Monday and made public on Tuesday.

#3) Water Risk Data Base Backed By Big U.S. Companies
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:31:16
(Read 27967 times || comments)

A consortium of large U.S. companies including General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical is backing a new initiative to help manage water supplies in regions threatened by shortages, reflecting growing concern about the importance of water to businesses.

The Aqueduct Alliance, backed by seven large U.S. companies and the World Resources Institute, an environmental campaign group, is launching a new database showing water availability at a local level.

The database, which will be available to everyone, is intended to inform investment and planning decisions by businesses and governments, for example, by warning them that a plant might not be able to source the water it needs.

It will also enable investors to assess companies’ exposure to water risk.

Coca-Cola, the soft drinks group, has handed to the new alliance its own proprietary data on water availability, collected over years of research, making it open for general use. “Water is the lifeblood of our business,” said Joe Rozza, the group’s manager of water resources sustainability.

#4) Palestinian Statehood Bid Sets Stage For Showdown With U.S.
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-14 15:11:42
(Read 27722 times || comments)

Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council to support their bid for statehood, a senior official said Sunday - a move that would set the stage for a showdown with the U.S.

Legislator Hanan Ashrawi is the first Palestinian official to spell out that the Palestinians plan to ask the Security Council to endorse admitting Palestine as a full-fledged state, despite an expected U.S. veto.

“We are going to the U.N. with all options open,” Ms. Ashrawi told a news conference. “We are going to the Security Council, we are going to the General Assembly. We are not limiting ourselves to one thing.”

She urged the U.S. to abstain if it would not support the Palestinian bid outright.

The Palestinian quest for a U.N. statehood endorsement has put Washington in the awkward position of potentially vetoing Palestinian statehood at a time when Arab countries are rising up against authoritarian rulers.

#5) Breaking Taboos - Concerns Mount In Germany Over ECB Bond Buys
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:58:52
(Read 27032 times || comments)

The euro drama is escalating in Berlin. In order to save the common currency, the European Central Bank is now purchasing large volumes of Italian government bonds. German central bankers and politicians in Chancellor Merkel's government oppose the move, which they see as a dangerous threat to the ECB's independence.

The timing was very cunning. It was 7:50 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7, when Germany's Federal Press Office released a joint statement by Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Though hedged in diplomatic terms, the Continent's two most powerful political leaders were demanding that the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) take an active role in helping Spain and Italy weather the euro crisis. Either the bank supplied money, they said, or the euro was finished.

It wasn't long before the wire agencies transmitted the first news alerts. It was a carefully planned chain of events -- and an insidious one, too.

Indeed, Merkel and Sarkozy knew only too well that, at that very moment, the ECB's governing council was holding a conference call to discuss the next steps. The council's 23 members had been arguing for almost two hours over whether the ECB should buy up Spanish and Italian sovereign bonds to prop up their value.

It took the central bankers almost two more hours to cobble together a majority to support the plan. The toughest resistance came from Jens Weidmann, the president of the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank. He stubbornly opposed the decision till the bitter end -- but all was in vain. The next day, the ECB launched the greatest purchasing of government debt in its history.

The move shakes the already fragile foundations of the monetary union. But it's not just the stability of the euro that's at stake; it's also the credibility of the very institution charged with preserving its value.

#6) Essay: Riots In England - British Society Broken By Greed
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:30:33
(Read 26990 times || comments)
Intellpuke: The following essay was written by Speigel journalist Thomas Huetlin; it was posted on Spiegel Online's website edition for Tuesday, August 16, 2011.  

The blazing infernos which took hold in the U.K.'s biggest cities have shocked British society. It wasn't a desire to protest that drove the brutal looters onto the streets, but pure consumer greed. Bankers, politicians and media moguls have made this greed socially acceptable.

Ashraf Haziq is 20 years old, a student from Malaysia. He was fasting during Ramadan and had the misfortune to be cycling on his bike in Barking, an area in East London, last week.

First there was a gang of kids. They threatened him with knives, broke his jaw and stole his bike. As he sat dazed on the sidewalk, staring at the blood that was dripping from his face onto the ground, the next gang appeared. Its members were older; some were masked. One helped him to his feet and supported him, but this supposed aid was merely a diversion as another helped himself to the contents of the injured man's rucksack at the same time; throwing away some of what he stole and pocketing the rest. He grinned broadly, prancing with joy.

It was pictures like these that disproved the theory that the riots were protests, or a youth rebellion like those that have taken place in other European countries against government austerity packages.

It was nothing of the sort. The events which unfolded on the streets of London and other English cities last week were brutal and full of an enthusiasm to inflict the greatest possible damage, even on mere passers-by who had the bad luck to get in the way. It was as if the gang from Stanley Kubrick's classic film "A Clockwork Orange" had left the screen and become real, only this time armed with BlackBerrys.

#7) Paranoid In Paris - France Fears Loss Of Top Rating
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:32:34
(Read 25939 times || comments)

With rumors of a downgrade, the French are deeply worried about the potential loss of their top credit rating. The market turmoil and share price losses last week show how nervous investors have become. Does France have the political will to impose the strict austerity measures needed to save its rating?

They are gamblers in the service of the state. Their open-plan office is similar to that of an investment bank: The telephones have a direct line to the financial centers, and monitors flicker with columns of numbers. Specialists at the Agence France Tresor, as the treasury in Paris' Rue de Bercy is called, manage the French government's assets and liabilities, "in the best interest of the taxpayers."

There is growing concern not just in the treasury, but in the whole of France, about the solidity of the country's finances. Since doubts about France's creditworthiness surfaced in financial markets, the "historic earthquake," as French daily Le Point has called the euro debt crisis, has also engulfed Paris. Speculation that France might be facing a downgrading of its top AAA rating has shaken the trust of investors, and rumors about a possible bank bankruptcy have caused deep plunges in French share prices.

Ever telegenic and prepared to offer up a soundbite, President Nicolas Sarkozy broke off his summer vacation and rushed back to the Elysee Palace to lead a crisis meeting on Aug. 10 attended by ministers and the head of the French central bank. It had been intended to calm markets, but it achieved the exact opposite.

#8) A Politically Dangerous Proposal - Europe Pressures Merkel To Accept Euro Bonds
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:59:08
(Read 25723 times || comments)

Angela Merkel has been steadfastly opposed to euro bonds so far, but Germany's Nein no longer seems set in stone. French President Nicolas Sarkozy may have changed his mind too after the market turmoil last week. However, euro bonds present a serious domestic political risk for Merkel. 

The introduction of euro bonds, government debt issued by the entire euro zone, may be the only remaining way to solve the euro debt crisis, say some government leaders and economists, and Chancellor Angela Merkel could come under pressure from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to drop her categoric opposition to them at the special meeting planned by the two in Paris on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti called for the introduction of such bonds, saying, "We wouldn't be where we are now if we had had euro bonds."

The chairman of the euro group of euro-zone finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, and the E.U. Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, have long proposed euro bonds, arguing that they would restore stability by stopping speculative attacks on the debt of individual euro member states.

#9) Fear Of The Executioners - The Sinister Power Of The Rating Agencies
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:32:59
(Read 25348 times || comments)

As the debt crisis worsens, governments fear the rating agencies, which have the power of life and death over whole economies. The Big Three helped to cause the 2008 financial crisis and are now accused of worsening the euro zone's woes. But a look behind the scenes shows that there are few alternatives to the mighty agencies.

The man who will decide on the financial health of entire countries this summer wears dark suits and square wire-rimmed glasses. He has graying hair, but his face is youthful. He speaks in a sonorous baritone tinged with a southern German accent. Yes, this ratings guru is from Germany.

His name is Moritz Kraemer and he makes a friendly and relaxed impression. But when his critics talk about Kraemer's work, they characterize him as "highly dangerous" and a "firebrand," one of those murderous men "who destabilize all of Europe." His powerful opponents include the German chancellor, the president of the European Commission and the French head of state, to name just a few.

Kraemer is the head of the European sovereign credit ratings unit at Standard & Poor's. Together with his colleagues at the rating agency, he has helped ensure that Greek government bonds are now seen as "junk" and those from Portugal and Ireland are rated only slightly better. Being saddled with such a low rating makes it far more difficult for these countries to take out additional loans.

Kraemer and his team have repeatedly downgraded Greece's credit rating over the past two years -- and each step down the rating ladder has escalated the European debt crisis. "That was really rough," Kraemer admits in a surprisingly calm manner, "but we're simply obligated to promptly inform investors of our opinion of the risks involved." Kraemer assesses the creditworthiness of countries and addresses the question of how likely it is that they will become insolvent. Working with his colleagues, he takes hundreds of pieces of data, combines this with people's views and opinions, and finally distills this to a rating. The highest rating, AAA, has become the ultimate seal of approval. From there it goes downhill over nearly two dozen rungs to D, for default. Germany is rated AAA. Greece is hovering just above D.

Repercussions for Whole Continents  

Kraemer's job is normally a rather low-profile position that is only important for bond dealers, central bankers and other financial professionals. But these are no ordinary times. The currency market is teetering on the brink of disaster and suddenly everything Kraemer does has repercussions for entire countries -- and even continents.

#10) U.S. Threatens To Cut Gaza Aid After Hamas Crackdown
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-14 15:11:53
(Read 24979 times || comments)

The U.S. will cut $100 million in American aid money to Palestinians in Gaza if the territory's Hamas rulers continue with “unwarranted audits” of local American nonprofit organizations, a state department official said Friday.

The American threat came in response to a growing attempt by Hamas to exert control over the international organizations that support the many impoverished Palestinians among Gaza's population of 1.5 million people.

This week, Hamas shut down the U.S.-financed International Medical Corps after it refused to submit to a Hamas audit.

The State Department informed Hamas on Thursday that aid worth $100 million would be halted if the International Medical Corps were not allowed to operate freely.

“If they are not allowed to reopen and operate then obviously we are looking at USAID to suspend all operations until the IMC is allowed to reopen,” said a state department official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “These are unwarranted audits and amount to an increase in harassment of humanitarian relief staff.”

#11) Warren Buffett To U.S. Congress: Stop Coddling The Super-Rich
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 01:00:28
(Read 24835 times || comments)

Billionaire Warren Buffett urged U.S. lawmakers to raise taxes on the country’s super-rich to help cut the budget deficit, saying such a move will not hurt investments.

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice,” The 80-year-old “Oracle of Omaha” wrote in an opinion article in the New York Times.

Buffett, one of the world’s richest men and chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc, said his federal tax bill last year was $6,938,744 (U.S.).

“That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 per cent of my taxable income - and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 per cent to 41 per cent and averaged 36 per cent,” he said.

Lawmakers engaged in a partisan battle over spending and taxes for more than three months before agreeing on Aug. 2 to raise the $14.3-trillion U.S. debt ceiling, avoiding a U.S. default.

#12) British Magistrates Advised To 'Disregard Normal Sentencing'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:57:43
(Read 24779 times || comments)

Magistrates are being advised by the courts service to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with those convicted of offenses committed in the context of last week's riots.

The advice, given in open court by justices' clerks, will result in cases that would usually be disposed of in magistrates courts being referred to the crown court for more severe punishment.

It may explain why some of those convicted have received punitive sentences for offenses that might normally attract a far shorter term.

In Manchester a mother of two, Ursula Nevin, was jailed for five months for receiving a pair of shorts given to her after they had been looted from a city center store. In Brixton, south London, a 23-year-old student was jailed for six months for stealing £3.50 worth of water bottles from a supermarket.

The Crown Prosecution Service also issued guidance to prosecutors on Monday, effectively calling for juveniles found guilty of riot-related crimes to be named and shamed. Those dealt with in youth courts are normally not identified. The youngest suspects bought before the courts last week in connection with the riots were an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy.

The sentencing advice from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) came to light after the chair of Camberwell Green magistrates court, Novello Noades, claimed that the court had been given a government "directive" that anyone involved in the rioting be given a custodial sentence. She later retracted her statement and said she was mortified to have used the term "directive".

#13) U.S. General: Iran-Backed Militants Biggest Threat To Iraq
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:30:59
(Read 24502 times || comments)
Iranian-backed militias present the most dangerous security threat for Iraq, outpacing al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who have been blamed for the spike in violence there, a senior U.S. military officer said Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the Shiite militias - together they have several thousand insurgents - are working to keep the Baghdad government weak and isolated. Decisions on the number of types of attacks launched by the three main militia groups, he said, are made inside Iran, including through their ties with the powerful Quds force.

The escalating threat underscores the dangers as the U.S. prepares to pull its troops out by the end of the year. Iraqi officials are discussing whether they want to have some American forces stay in the country past that deadline.

"The Quds force is providing direct support (to the militias) in terms of manning, equipping, provision of intelligence," Buchanan said. "They have been at least exhibiting the behavior that lines up with a strategy that wants to keep Iraq weak and isolated from everybody else, all of its neighbors and the United States. And so they've been employing political means, economic means, security means in the way that these militant groups operate."

#14) Interview With Mikhail Gorbachev - 'They Were Truly Idiots'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:31:57
(Read 24259 times || comments)

In a SPIEGEL interview, Mikhail Gorbachev, 80, discusses the last days of the Soviet Union, his failure to resolve problems with the Communist Party and the ensuing bloodshed he says still troubles him today. He also accuses Vladimir Putin of pulling the country "back into the past."

SPIEGEL: Mikhail Sergeyevich, you turned 80 this spring. How do you feel?

Gorbachev: Oh, what a question. Do you have to ask me that? I've gone through three operations in the last five years. That was pretty tough on me, because they were all major operations: First on my carotid artery, then on my prostate and this year on my spine.

SPIEGEL: In Munich.

Gorbachev: Yes. It was a risky procedure. I'm grateful to the Germans.

SPIEGEL: But you look good. We saw you before the operation.

Gorbachev: They say you need three or four months to get back to normal after an operation like that. Do you remember the book "The Fourth Vertebra," by the Finnish author Martti Larni? It is a wonderful book. In my case it was the fifth (vertebra). I've started walking again, but every beginning is difficult.

SPIEGEL: And yet you are back in politics, and you're even making headlines again. Why don't you finally sit back and relax?

Gorbachev: Politics is my second love, next to my love for Raisa.

SPIEGEL: Your deceased wife.

#15) Panetta: Bigger Defense Cuts Would 'Weaken' U.S.
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:34:08
(Read 24065 times || comments)
Large new cuts in defense spending would "terribly weaken" U.S. national security, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday as he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used a rare joint interview to argue that the nation cannot afford to keep playing partisan chicken with its finances.

Panetta expressed optimism about progress by American-led forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan and by NATO forces in support of anti-government rebels in Libya. He cited those conflicts as examples of why severe cuts to spending on defense and diplomacy would be dangerous.

Panetta said the Pentagon is prepared to make $350 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, as agreed by Congress. But he warned of dangers to the national defense if bigger reductions are required.

The recent deficit compromise reached between the White House and Congress set up a special bipartisan committee to draft legislation to find more government cuts. If the committee cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan by year's end or if Congress rejects its proposal, it would trigger some $500 billion in additional reductions in projected national security spending.

"This kind of massive cut across the board, which would literally double the number of cuts that we're confronting, that would have devastating effects on our national defense; it would have devastating effects on certainly the State Department," said Panetta.

#16) Shell's Second Oil Leak In North Sea Pipeline Caused By Relief Valve
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:29:55
(Read 23383 times || comments)

A relief valve close to the faulty pipeline at Shell's Gannet Alpha oil platform in the North Sea appears to be the source of a secondary leak that is adding to the worst oil spill in U.K. waters in a decade.

Green campaigners and members of the Scottish parliament have rounded on the oil company for being slow to release full information on the leak, which was first detected last Wednesday but only disclosed to the public on Friday evening.

Shell said on Tuesday that while the leaking well was "under control", and the main spill had been shut off successfully, a small quantity of oil was still finding its way to the sea by another pathway. After lengthy searching, the valve was pinpointed as the likely source.

Work will continue to dam the small quantities of oil – at up to five barrels a day, a trickle compared with the 1,300 barrels thought to have gushed out in the first days of the leak, but Shell could not say how soon it would be completed. The company has also been so far unable to explain how the leak occurred in the first place.

Green campaigners accused the company of complacency and secrecy, as information on the progress of the leak continued to be slowly released. Per Fischer, communications officer at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "It beggars belief that we are still being drip-fed information and that Shell's initially 'insignificant' leak is still causing problems."

#17) Injustice? Victim Of Indonesian Mob Attack Sent To Jail
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:55:38
(Read 23093 times || comments)
An Indonesian man wounded when Islamic hard-liners launched a deadly attack on his minority sect was sentenced Monday to six months in prison - more than some of those caught on video taking part in the lynching.

Human rights groups blasted the ruling, saying 48-year-old Deden Sudjana was acting in self-defense. They said it showed how the police, the judicial system and the government are helping fuel religious intolerance in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

The United States, which values Indonesia as a key democratic ally in Asia, also said it was disappointed by the ruling.

Sudjana was convicted of inciting violence because he defied police orders to leave the scene when the attackers arrived at a meeting of the minority Ahmadiyah sect. Sudjana instead fought back during the Feb. 6 incident in the village of Cikeusik in central Indonesia.

Footage of the attack, which circulated widely on the Internet, showed 1,500 hard-liners descending on a house where 20 members of the sect had gathered. The attackers, carrying wooden clubs, machetes and rocks, killed three people and continued to pummel their lifeless bodies, chanting "God is Great!" as police looked on.

#18) News Of The World Reporter's Letter Reveals Phone-Hacking Cover-Up
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:28:57
(Read 22925 times || comments)
Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and their former editor Andy Coulson all face embarrassing new allegations of dishonesty and cover-up after the publication of an explosive letter written by the News of the World's disgraced royal correspondent, Clive Goodman.

In the letter, which was written four years ago but published only on Tuesday, Goodman claims that phone hacking was "widely discussed" at editorial meetings at the paper until Coulson himself banned further references to it; that Coulson offered to let him keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the paper in hacking when he came to court; and that his own hacking was carried out with "the full knowledge and support" of other senior journalists, whom he named.

The claims are acutely troubling for the prime minister, David Cameron, who hired Coulson as his media adviser on the basis that he knew nothing about phone hacking. And they confront Rupert and James Murdoch with the humiliating prospect of being recalled to parliament to justify the evidence which they gave last month on the aftermath of Goodman's allegations. In a separate letter, one of the Murdochs' own law firms claim that parts of that evidence were variously "hard to credit", "self-serving" and "inaccurate and misleading".

Goodman's claims also raise serious questions about Rupert Murdoch's close friend and adviser, Les Hinton, who was sent a copy of the letter but failed to pass it to police and who then led a cast of senior Murdoch personnel in telling parliament that they believed Coulson knew nothing about the interception of the voice-mail of public figures and that Goodman was the only journalist involved.

The letters from Goodman and from the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis are among a cache of paperwork published by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee. One committee member, the Labor Parliament Member Tom Watson, said Goodman's letter was "absolutely devastating". He said: "Clive Goodman's letter is the most significant piece of evidence that has been revealed so far. It completely removes News International's defense. This is one of the largest cover-ups I have seen in my lifetime."

#19) President Obama In Midwest To Win Back Support
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 01:00:40
(Read 22898 times || comments)

President Barack Obama began a bus tour of the U.S. Midwest focused on jobs and the economy on Monday, aiming to leave behind doubts about his leadership that could dent his 2012 re-election prospects.

The three-day trip takes him to Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, states he won in the 2008 presidential election, but could expose Obama to voters who, polls suggest, are furious about political gridlock in Washington as he begins serious campaigning for his 2012 re-election attempt.

The White House says President Obama is on a listening tour to hear from Americans about the economy and talk about how to boost jobs and hiring. There are no plans announced for a major policy speech to roll out initiatives for economic growth.

With unemployment at just above 9%, jobs are expected to be the central issue for voters in next year's presidential and congressional elections.

Even some of the President's fellow Democrats have expressed frustration that the president has not promoted plans to boost jobs growth more aggressively. Republicans blasted the trip as a taxpayer-funded "debt end" bus tour and hammered Obama over high unemployment, record national debt and the flagging economy.

#20) U.S. Corn-Belt Farmers: 'The Country Has Turned Its Back On Us'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 01:00:12
(Read 22816 times || comments)

There were times when Arlyn Schipper could almost feel heroic on his family farm in the heart of America's corn belt.

His 1,619 hectares (4,000 acres) in Iowa, planted almost entirely with corn, were helping to feed a nation – or at least help put fuel in its gas tanks, as his crop was processed into corn ethanol.

Schipper still sees it that way. It is just he feels America has moved on, or as he put it: "The country has turned on us."

The U.S. debt crisis, and the challenge of finding $1.3 trillion (£796 billion) in budget cuts, has forced Congress to re-examine three decades of government subsidies for corn ethanol.

Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa have exposed further a negative consequence of biofuel production: the global food crisis. By competing with food crops for land, large-scale biofuel production has constricted supply and so boosted food prices across the world. This has led to a backlash against biofuels such as corn ethanol from environmentalists and development charities.

"Ten years ago this was the greatest thing since apple pie – ethanol. A lot of farmers invested in this, and a lot of farmers invested in ethanol plants. Everybody wanted it. Our country wanted it. It was a renewable resource," said Schipper. "And now that we have got all of this money tied up in this, it's kind of turned on us."

#21) Chinese Rating Agency Chief - 'The Whole World Will Be In Danger'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:33:54
(Read 22547 times || comments)

The head of state-owned Chinese rating agency Dagong, Guan Jianzhong, 57, speaks to SPIEGEL about China's economic model, why he believes the rating system used by the Big Three is a threat to the world and the twilight of Western dominance. 

SPIEGEL: You recently said that it would be a "catastrophe" if an American rating agency downgraded the United States' credit rating. Now that Standard and Poor's has taken that step, is the situation as bad as you imagined?

Guan: This rating on the U.S. credit crisis has a significant influence on the world. China is the largest debt holder of the United States, and the downgrade will primarily damage the value of the US dollar assets and bonds held by China. Second, it will influence China's export of commodities to the United States in the future. More importantly, it will lead to the deterioration of global macroeconomics for both developed debtor economies and emerging creditors.

SPIEGEL: Will China invest less in U.S. bonds from now on?

Guan: I personally think it's unsafe to invest in U.S. bonds. It is too risky. But the Chinese government might have considerations other than just economic risk. In terms of pure investment, however, it is not a wise decision any longer.

SPIEGEL: Both the U.S. and Europe are struggling with a massive debt crisis. Is this the end of Western dominance?

#22) Commentary: 'Politicians Don't Decide What Counts As Private'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:29:39
(Read 22342 times || comments)
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Spiegel journalist Kristen Allen, writing under the German news magazine's column "The World From Berlin", which includes editorial comments by various German news agencies. Ms. Allen's column and the commentaries follow:

Over the weekend, conservative Schleswig-Holstein governor candidate Christian von Boetticher resigned over an affair with a teenage girl. German commentators on Tuesday debate how far politicians' privacy should be protected, and whether ruthless party politics played a role in the scandal coming to light.

On Sunday night the leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein resigned from his post after it emerged he'd had an affair with a 16-year-old girl last year.

Under massive pressure from his party Christian von Boetticher, 40, stepped down from his main position, then later announced he would also give up his post as state assembly party group leader. He had planned to run as the CDU's candidate for the state governorship in an election in May 2012.

Boetticher had been the designated successor to current state governor Peter Harry Carstensen, but he now stands in the rubble of his own career as tabloids tout lurid details of a relationship he tearfully described as "simply love."

"Yes, it's true, I fell in love in early 2010 with a young woman and was with her for several months," the politician told a news conference in the state capital Kiel on Sunday evening. He said that even though the relationship had been legal, he had underestimated the "moral objections of many people."

#23) Washingtonblog: Nuclear Expert: Radioactive Rain-Outs - Even In Western U.S. And Canada - Will Continue For Years
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:58:19
(Read 21768 times || comments)

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says in a new interview that the Japanese are burning radioactive materials. The radioactivity originated from Fukushima, but various prefectures are burning radioactive materials in their territories.

Gundersen says that this radioactivity ends up not only in neighboring prefectures, but in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California.

He notes that radioactive rain-outs were documented recently in British Columbia and Oklahoma with geiger counters.

#24) British Prime Minister: Riot-Hit U.K. Must Reverse 'Moral Collapse'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:56:53
(Read 20293 times || comments)
Britain must confront a culture of laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness that fueled four days of riots which left five people dead, thousands facing criminal charges and hundreds of millions in damages, Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged Monday.

As rival political leaders staked out their response to England's unrest, Cameron pledged to deliver a raft of new policies by October aimed at reversing the "slow-motion moral collapse" which he blames for fostering the disorder.

"This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face," Cameron told an audience at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England. "Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said Monday he was checking whether those involved in the riots should have their welfare payments cut, while London mayor Boris Johnson said young people convicted in the disorder would lose their right to use public transportation for free.

#25) Euro-Zone Crisis - Merkel And Sarkozy Plan 'True Economic Government'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 18:32:18
(Read 19875 times || comments)

Following a summit meeting in Paris, France, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have announced proposals to introduce a "true European economic government" as part of a long-term plan to battle the debt crisis. They also appear to have ruled out issuing euro bonds, at least for the time being.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have revealed plans for a "true European economic government" -- while at the same time appearing to rule out introducing euro bonds in the near future. Euro bonds have been the subject of an intense debate in recent days as the debt crisis unsettled markets and opened up a new dimension in the problems plaguing the common currency.

Speaking at a press conference following Tuesday's special Franco-German summit in Paris, the German chancellor insisted euro bonds -- which would see the euro zone issue bonds as a whole, rather than each individual country -- were not part of the solution. Rather, the aim was to solve the debt crisis in a step-by-step fashion: "I do not believe that euro bonds would help in that regard," she said.

The French president, meanwhile, said euro bonds could be a possibility in the future: "Perhaps one could imagine such bonds at some point in the future at the end of a process of European integration. But not at the beginning" of it.

Otherwise, he warned, precisely those countries "who have the best ratings today" might be threatened.

#26) Hackers Protest San Francisco Transit Decision To Block Cellphones
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:56:06
(Read 19024 times || comments)

San Francisco's mass transit system prepared for renewed protests Monday, a day after hackers angry over blocked cellphone service at some transit stations broke into a website and posted company contact information for more than 2,000 customers.

The action by a hacker group known as Anonymous was the latest showdown between anarchists angry at perceived attempts to limit free speech and officials trying to control protests that grow out of social networking and have the potential to become violent.

Anonymous posted people's names, phone numbers, and street and e-mail addresses on its own website, while also calling for a disruption of the Bay Area Rapid Transit's (BART's)  evening commute Monday.

BART officials said Sunday that they were working a strategy to try to block any efforts by protesters to try to disrupt the service.

“We have been planning for the protests that are said to be shaping up for tomorrow,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said. He did not provide specifics, but said BART police will be staffing stations and trains and that the agency had already contacted San Francisco police.

#27) Libyan Rebels Confirm Interior Minister Has Defected To Egypt
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-08-16 00:56:23
(Read 18483 times || comments)

Libyan rebels celebrated the most high-profile defection in weeks from the regime of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, as former interior minister Nasser al-Mabruk escaped the country with his family.

Mr. al-Mabruk slipped quietly into Egypt with nine of his close relatives on Monday, making no statement about his reasons for leaving Tripoli.

A spokesman for the rebel council, Mahmoud Shammam, said he was abandoning the Gadhafi regime in the wake of recent advances by the rebellion.

“He sensed things were falling apart in Tripoli,” said Mr. Shammam in an interview.

Libya's rebels have gained ground on three fronts in the last week -- in the cities of Brega and Zawiyah, and towns such as Tuarga -- slowing squeezing the supply lines that have allowed Col. Gadhafi to maintain his hold on the capital.

#28) Interview: Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator - 'We Have To Be Constantly On Guard'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-18 19:12:16
(Read 16947 times || comments)
Background: Saeed Jalili, 45, ran the office of religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for four years and is seen as a close confidant of the most powerful man in Iran. Since 2007 Jalili, who holds a doctorate in political science, has also served as Iran's chief negotiator in talks about the nuclear conflict.

The general secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, talks to SPIEGEL about allegations that Israel assassinated nuclear scientists in Tehran, the dangers of waging cyber warfare against Iran's nuclear facilities and the West's false expectations for upcoming negotiations in Istanbul.

SPIEGEL: Mr. General Secretary, to what extent is Iran threatened by foreign powers?

Jalili: Threatened? Are you serious? Iran is more stable than ever before. We have never been in a better political and economic position in the region. We now have more opportunities than ever.

SPIEGEL: We find this statement very surprising, in light of a number of attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a physicist, was murdered exactly a year ago. In late November, two bombs, which were meant to kill your nuclear experts Majid Shahriari and Fereidoun Abbasi, exploded almost simultaneously. All of this happened in the middle of Tehran. Hasn't a shadow war against Iran been underway for some time?

Jalili: When the enemy sees no other option, he resorts to the methods of terror. This is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

SPIEGEL: The fact that such assassinations are even possible mainly reveals one thing, namely that the Iranian security apparatus is no longer capable of protecting the nuclear program's key experts.

Jalili: Terror exists all over the world. Only last year, we managed to destroy a group in the eastern part of the country where, with U.S. support, it had committed bomb attacks with many civilian casualties. Compare that success with the situation of those who, for the last 10 years, have claimed to be fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. They have achieved nothing. We, on the other hand, dealt a serious blow against those enemies who killed our nuclear scientists -- we destroyed a network of Zionist spies.

SPIEGEL: Do you have any proof of this?

Jalili: Yes. We were able to arrest 10 people and we will put them on trial. We possess photos, videos and statements that prove their guilt. We have information about the locations where they were trained. All of this took place within the Zionist regime.

SPIEGEL: Are you claiming that the Israeli intelligence service Mossad recruited Iranians and trained them in Israel?

Jalili: They were trained there for the attacks. They then returned to Iran via a third country to conduct their cowardly operations. We also expect our neighboring countries to be vigilant to prevent this sort of thing. We have turned to international bodies and asked for their support. This state-sponsored terrorism must be condemned. The role of the United Nations Security Council also needs to be examined.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?

#29) Common Cause Asks For Investigation Of Justices Scalia's, Thomas' Ties To Kochs
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-21 15:43:47
(Read 9997 times || comments)
A government watchdog group alleges that two of the Supreme Court's most conservative members had a conflict of interest when they considered a controversial case last year that permitted corporate funds to be used directly in political campaigns.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the subject of an unusual letter delivered Wednesday by Common Cause asking the U.S. Justice Department to look into whether the jurists should have disqualified themselves from hearing the campaign finance case if they had attended a private meeting sponsored by Charles and David Koch, billionaire philanthropists who fund conservative causes. A Supreme Court spokesperson said late Thursday that the two justices did not participate in the Koch brothers' private meetings, though Thomas did "drop by".

If it believes there is a conflict, the Justice Department, as a party to the case, should ask the court to reconsider its decision, said Common Cause.

The landmark case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, was decided a year ago this week. It permitted corporate and union funds to be spent directly on election advertising, a practice that had previously been restricted. The Kochs have been significant donors to independent-expenditure campaigns, which increased dramatically after the Citizens United decision.

The letter is based in part on references to Scalia and Thomas made in an invitation to an upcoming meeting this month of elite conservative leaders sponsored by the Kochs. The invitation, first obtained by the liberal blog Think Progress, names the two justices among luminaries who have attended the closed Koch meetings at unspecified dates in the past.

#30) The 'Kill Team' Images - U.S. Army Apologizes For Horrific Photos From Afghanistan
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-21 14:55:31
(Read 9570 times || comments)

The images are repulsive. A group of rogue U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan killed innocent civilians and then posed with their bodies. On Monday, German news magazine SPIEGEL published some of the photos -- and the U.S. military responded promptly with an apology. Still, NATO fears that reactions in Afghanistan could be violent.

The United States and NATO are concerned that reactions could be intense to the publication of images documenting killings committed by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The images appeared in the most recent edition of SPIEGEL, which hit the newsstands on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already telephoned with her Afghan counterpart to discuss the situation. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon has likewise made contact with officials in Kabul. The case threatens to strain already fragile U.S.-Afghan relations at a time when the two countries are negotiating over the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

In a statement released by Colonel Thomas Collins, the U.S. Army, which is currently preparing a court martial to try a total of 12 suspects in connection with the killings, apologized for the suffering the photos have caused. The actions depicted in the photos, the statement read, are "repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States."

The suspected perpetrators are part of a group of U.S. soldiers accused of several killings. Their court martials are expected to start soon. The photos, the army statement said, stand "in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers' performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations."

#31) Star Wars - Lady Gaga, Ke$ha And The German Hacker Heist
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-27 17:49:35
(Read 9358 times || comments)

A few young Germans have the world's biggest record companies at their knees. After hacking into the computers of famous recording artists and their managers, they have placed unreleased songs by the likes of Lady Gaga and Shakira on the Internet. Two have been caught, but the others are still at work.

It's 9 a.m. in the western German city of Wesel, where Christian M. is still in bed, dozing in his room in the basement. It's a morning like every other, when getting out of bed doesn't seem worth the effort. There isn't anyone waiting for him in the outside world, where no one is interested in a young man who dropped out of vocational school and, at 22, is now unemployed and spends hours in front of his computer.

No one.

Except Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis, that is. It's August 26, 2010, in a residential area of red-brick duplexes in this city on the lower Rhine River, when the basement door opens and in bursts Lady Gaga, together with Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis. Actually, it's the police who are now standing in front of his bed, after Christian's sister let them into the house. Christian blinks as an officer shines a flashlight into his face. Then a male voice says: "You know why we're here."

Christian probably has a pretty good idea. Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Leona Lewis and a few other superstars have been hunting him down, along with their record companies, Universal and Sony, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation and its German counterpart, the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). And now they've found him, a boy who looks closer to 17 than 22, who doesn't say more than a few sentences at a time and squints when he takes off his glasses.

The male voice belongs to a detective with the police criminal investigation division in nearby Duisburg. It doesn't take him long to secure a confession from Christian. Denying the charges wouldn't do him any good, anyway. The evidence is sitting on his desk: his mobile hard drive, which he usually hides in another room in the basement at night.

When they examine the drive, the police find a few thousand songs that Christian and other hackers have stolen from the computers of singers and music producers. They aren't just any old tracks, but a treasure trove for the music industry: songs that aren't even on the market yet.

#32) Savor That Chocolate While You Can Still Afford It
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-12 20:33:54
(Read 8647 times || comments)

In the not-too-distant future, chocolate will become a rarefied luxury, as expensive as caviar.

John Mason, a Canadian expert on cocoa, first made this prophesy six years ago from his base in West Africa, the epicenter of production. He was confident enough to repeat it, over and over, to the directors of the biggest chocolate companies in the world.

“Sometimes they were rude. Sometimes they were polite,” he said. “Behind me, they were sort of snickering.”

Today they treat him like a guru. An influential set of senior industry heavyweights flew to Ghana last week to hear him speak; the talk ended with an unprecedented agreement between industry competitors and the government to establish a working group that will map out a sustainable future. It is the first such agreement of its kind in the cocoa world.

“Not that many year ago, this would have been impossible,” said Mason, executive director of the Nature Conservation Research Center, a non-profit devoted to sustainable development and resource conservation. “People were not sufficiently aware of the magnitude of what is on the horizon, how serious the future is.”

The industry has been ignoring a looming supply problem, one that’s been brought into sharp focus by a political eruption in Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa-producing nation.

Productivity on farms is not keeping pace with demand. Fatal diseases plague the crops. The soils cocoa grows in are depleted. Consumer demand, though, is growing. As standards of living improve in China and India, their new taste for chocolate keeps pace, feeding a worldwide consumption increase of about 2 per cent a year.

#33) May 21, 2011 - Judgement Day
Posted By: JWSmythe 2011-05-11 19:15:19
(Read 8516 times || comments)

  For those who may not be aware, May 21, 2011 is "Judgement Day".  

  Harold Camping announced that Judgement Day, the end of our world, and return of one of his biblical figure, would happen on May 21, 2011.  He also made the prediction for Sept. 6, 1994, which apparently didn't happen.  He cited a "mathematical error".

  Here at Free Internet Press, we will be preparing for the end of the world with free drinks for all the staffers, and tinfoil hats. 

  If, for some strange reason, we do see May 22, 2011, we'll begin preparations for Dec 21, 2012.   Again, free drinks and tinfoil hats will be distributed to all staffers.  We suggest that our readers make their own arrangements for their favorite drinks, and procurement of tinfoil hats.

  For those unfamiliar with the dates cited, you can find more information through Google or your favorite search engine.

#34) Life After The Americans - Uncertainty Reigns As Baghdad Enters New Era
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-07 15:10:41
(Read 7980 times || comments)

Iraq finally has a new government after months of deadlock, but the cynical horsetrading has damaged the image of politics. Residents of Baghdad no longer trust their fellow citizens and have withdrawn into private life. They pray that a civil war will not break out.

The situation in Iraq may have normalized somewhat, but it is still a little disconcerting when you check into a hotel and are asked for a personal password "in case we have to negotiate with your kidnappers." The man at the reception has the unlikely name Tex Dallas. He is a former member of the elite British SAS military unit. Today he runs a guesthouse for journalists in the center of Baghdad.

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism, 73 tourists visited Baghdad in 2009 -- not including pilgrims from Iran, of course. The number was even lower the year before: just seven, apparently. "By the way, it's better if you don't spend more than 30 minutes in one place," warns Tex Dallas. He says that all Westerners have a price on their head: "a six-figure price." That's the way people in the security industry talk. It will take some time for Baghdad to transition from terrorism to tourism.

General elections were held on March 7, 2010. But it took more than nine months for Iraq to get a new government led by the Shiite former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "U.S.-led coalition forces" officially ended their combat operations four months ago. Since then, Iraqi anxiety has been growing on an almost daily basis about the consequences of being left all alone.

#35) Why Isn't Wall Street In Jail?
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-20 05:01:38
(Read 7376 times || comments)
Intellpuke: This article was written by Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi; it was posted on Rolling Stone's website edition for Wednesday, February 16, 2011, but I didn't want to let it fall through the cracks. I first heard of it when Mr. Taibbi turned up as a guest on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Mahr" program. It's well worth the read. Mr. Taibbi's article, which does sparingly contain the f-word, follows:

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."

Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth - and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom - an industry-wide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities - has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.

Invasion of the Home Snatchers 

Instead, federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies that tried to burn the world economy to the ground get off with carefully orchestrated settlements - whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small fines without even being required to admit wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice. "If the allegations in these settlements are true," says Jed Rakoff, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, "it's management buying its way off cheap, from the pockets of their victims."

To understand the significance of this, one has to think carefully about the efficacy of fines as a punishment for a defendant pool that includes the richest people on earth - people who simply get their companies to pay their fines for them. Conversely, one has to consider the powerful deterrent to further wrongdoing that the state is missing by not introducing this particular class of people to the experience of incarceration. "You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street," says a former congressional aide. "That's all it would take. Just once."

But that hasn't happened. Because the entire system set up to monitor and regulate Wall Street is fucked up.

Just ask the people who tried to do the right thing.

Wall Street's Naked Swindle

Here's how regulation of Wall Street is supposed to work. To begin with, there's a semigigantic list of public and quasi-public agencies ostensibly keeping their eyes on the economy, a dense alphabet soup of banking, insurance, S&L, securities and commodities regulators like the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), as well as supposedly "self-regulating organizations" like the New York Stock Exchange. All of these outfits, by law, can at least begin the process of catching and investigating financial criminals, though none of them has prosecutorial power.

The major federal agency on the Wall Street beat is the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC watches for violations like insider trading, and also deals with so-called "disclosure violations" - i.e., making sure that all the financial information that publicly traded companies are required to make public actually jibes with reality. But the SEC doesn't have prosecutorial power either, so in practice, when it looks like someone needs to go to jail, they refer the case to the Justice Department. And since the vast majority of crimes in the financial services industry take place in Lower Manhattan, cases referred by the SEC often end up in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Thus, the two top cops on Wall Street are generally considered to be that U.S. attorney - a job that has been held by thunderous prosecutorial personae like Robert Morgenthau and Rudy Giuliani - and the SEC's director of enforcement.

#36) German Intelligence Agency's Murky Past - The Nazi Criminals Who Became German Spooks
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-16 17:29:35
(Read 6890 times || comments)

Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, is having historians look into its shadowy early years, when the organization hired former Nazi criminals. The coming revelations could prove embarrassing for Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats and may even tarnish the legacy of former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

They called Johannes Clemens the "Tiger of Como." When an SS captain bore a nickname like that, it rarely meant anything good. Clemens belonged to a squad that shot 335 civilians in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome in 1944, one of the worst massacres on Italian soil during World War II.

Former chief inspector Georg Wilimzig also had blood on his hands. His 300-member squad, known as IV/2, murdered thousands of men, women and children following the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

After 1945, Clemens and Wilimzig both found themselves working for the same employer -- the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency.

It's no secret that intelligence agencies don't like to disclose too much information about their own histories. There is even less transparency when that history involves mass murderers among the ranks. For this reason, it is all the more remarkable that the current BND head, Ernst Uhrlau, has been pushing for years to have more light cast on the early years of his organization, as part of Germany's ongoing efforts to come to terms with its Nazi past. Uhrlau, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has been trying since 2006 to move the issue forward.

#37) Koch Brothers: Secretive Billionaires To Launch Vast Database With 2012 In Mind
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-11-07 15:48:38
(Read 6532 times || comments)

The secretive oil billionaires the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons' political influence and that could prove significant in next year's presidential election.

The database will give concrete form to the vast network of alliances that David and Charles Koch have cultivated over the past 20 years on the right of U.S. politics. The brothers, whose personal wealth has been put at $25 billion each, were a major force behind the creation of the tea party movement and enjoy close ties to leading conservative politicians, financiers, business people, media figures and U.S. Supreme Court Justices.

The voter file was set up by the Kochs 18 months ago with $2.5 million of their seed money, and is being developed by a hand-picked team of the brothers' advisers. It has been given the name Themis, after the Greek goddess who imposes divine order on human affairs.

In classic Koch style, the project is being conducted in great secrecy. Karl Crow, a Washington-based lawyer and Koch adviser who is leading the development, did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did media representatives for Koch Industries, the brothers' global energy company based in Wichita, Kansas.

But a member of a Koch affiliate organization who is a specialist in the political uses of new technology and who is familiar with Themis said the project was in the final preparatory stages. Asking not to be named, he said: "They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they're getting Themis off the ground."

#38) Did Palin's Rhetoric Encourage Shooting?
Posted By: JWSmythe 2011-01-09 15:03:15
(Read 6397 times || comments)

  There is a big question out there right now.  Did Sarah Palin's rhetoric, including her map of targets and words encouraging violence that started with her White house campaign, encourage the shooting? 

Experts and lay people have written a lot about this since the shooting.  The general consensus is pretty clear.  Most people see this kind of noise and recognize it as just noise.  No, you shouldn't go shoot someone just because they have different beliefs.  Unfortunately, "most people" doesn't include everyone.  If even a small percentage of the audience aren't clear minded reasonable individuals, such statements and imagery can encourage them to do the worst.

#39) Koch Company Declared 'Substantial Interest' In Keystone XL Pipeline
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-10-05 17:01:35
(Read 6027 times || comments)

In recent months Koch Industries Inc., the business conglomerate run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, has repeatedly told a U.S. Congressional committee and the news media that the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline has "nothing to do with any of our businesses."

But the company has told Canadian energy regulators a different story.

In 2009, Flint Hills Resources Canada LP, an Alberta-based subsidiary of Koch Industries, applied for - and won - "intervenor status" in the National Energy Board hearings that led to Canada's 2010 approval of its 327-mile portion of the pipeline. The controversial project would carry heavy crude 1,700 miles from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.

In the form it submitted to the Energy Board, Flint Hills wrote that it "is among Canada's largest crude oil purchasers, shippers and exporters. Consequently, Flint Hills has a direct and substantial interest in the application" for the pipeline under consideration.

To be approved as an intervenor, Flint Hills had to have some degree of "business interest" in Keystone XL, Carole Léger-Kubeczek, a National Energy Board spokeswoman, told InsideClimate News. Intervenors are granted the highest level of access in hearings, with the option to ask questions. The Energy Board approved Canada's segment of the pipeline with little opposition, and Flint Hills did not exercise its right to speak.

#40) Canadian Franchises For KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell Files For Bankruptcy Protection
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-31 15:59:35
(Read 6005 times || comments)

It may be finger-lickin’ good, but it was not making money in Canada.

Priszm Income Fund, the income trust that owns more than 400 KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut franchises across Canada, headed for a brief appearance in a Toronto courtroom Thursday and to obtain protection from its creditors under the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act.

The struggling, debt-laden income trust says the move is meant to make it possible to complete the sell-off of all of its restaurants, which employ 6,500 people across the country. Well-known Toronto business figure John Bitove, Priszm’s executive chairman, resigned Thursday, as did the rest of the company’s board and trustees.

The move comes after several years of losses and declining sales at Priszm’s restaurants, and a failed attempt to refinance the company. Bitove also blamed a lack of co-operation from the owner of the franchise rights, the Canadian arm of international fast-food giant Yum Brands Inc.

The franchise agreements with Yum called for Priszm to make major investments in upgrades to its many aging restaurants -- upgrades the struggling income fund could not afford, making a sell-off the only way out, Mr. Bitove said.

#41) Kafka In Tehran - Iranian Film Director Is Victim Of Paranoid Regime
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-09 17:42:47
(Read 5973 times || comments)

Director Jafar Panahi is facing six years in prison in his native Iran, where the regime feels threatened by his films such as 2006's "Offside". The organizers of the Berlin International Film Festival, which begins Thursday, have expressed their support for Panahi by including him in the jury, even though he will not be able to attend.

Perhaps, says Abbas Bakhtiari, he will make a movie one day. Something autobiographical about his escape from Iran in the early 1980s -- an escape that became unavoidable after soldiers had shot a friend and his pregnant wife had a miscarriage after being abused with the butts of rifles. Bakhtiari and his wife escaped in a small boat that took them across the Strait of Hormuz to Dubai. He has been living in exile in Paris since 1983.

Bakhtiari, 53, a slim man in a collarless black suit, is a professional actor, musician and composer. Today he runs a French-Iranian cultural center on the Saint-Martin canal in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. A few scenes of the film "Amélie" were shot outside the cultural center.

But at the moment Bakhtiari's main occupation is being the voice of his friend Jafar Panahi, the prize-winning Iranian director. Panahi cannot speak for himself, because he has been barred from talking to foreigners and journalists. If he did, it would only make his situation worse.

Shortly before Christmas, a court in Tehran sentenced Panahi to six years in prison and barred him from working in his profession for 20 years, for allegedly attempting to commit "crimes against the national security and engaging in propagandist activities against the system of the Iranian Revolution." In fact, the director had merely tried to make a film.

#42) Forbidden Love - Taboos And Fear Among Muslim Girls In Europe
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-06 14:00:53
(Read 5936 times || comments)

Young Muslim women are often forced to lead double lives in Europe. They have sex in public restrooms and stuff mobile phones in their bras to hide their secret existences from strict families. They are often forbidden from visiting gynecologists or receiving sex ed. In the worst cases, they undergo hymen reconstruction surgery, have late-term abortions or even commit suicide.

Gulay has heard it from her mother so many times: An unmarried woman who has lost her virginity might as well be a whore.

Gülay, 22, lives in Berlin's Neukolln, a district that is home to a high number of Muslim immigrants, and has little in common with the cliché of the "girl with the headscarf." She wears tight jeans, low-cut blouses and has long hair that she doesn't keep covered. She is self-confident and looks people in the eye. Gulay plans to begin a training program to work as an airport ground hostess next year. At first glance, she comes across as a poster child for successful integration.

Nevertheless, she is adamantly opposed to seeing her name in print, just as she would never meet a journalist for an interview in one of the hookah bars in her neighborhood that are so popular among Arab and Turkish immigrants. She is worried that someone could overhear her talking about her family's strict morals, and about the rigid code of honor in her social environment that prevents girls from having sex before marriage and forbids them from having boyfriends.

Gulay is thinking about how best to sum up her dilemma. She nervously stirs her tea before launching into a litany of complaints. "The boys can screw around as much as they want, but if a girl does it she can expect to be shot," she says. "That's just sick." She first had sex five years ago, and it completely changed her life. Since then, she has been deathly afraid of being branded by her family as a dishonorable girl -- or, worst yet, punished and cast out.

#43) WikiLeaks: The Gazprom Cables - 'Not A Competitive Global Economy'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-05 22:36:53
(Read 5914 times || comments)

Gas giant Gazprom was meant to catapult Russia back into its role as a global superpower. Executives dreamed of the "most valuable company in the world." But secret cables from the U.S.  Embassy in Moscow provide a different picture: The Americans consider the mega firm to be chaotically organized and corrupt.

High-ranking representatives of Russian gas giant Gazprom are hard to pin down for appointments. So when American diplomats finally got the chance, they cut right to the chase: What are the giant energy company's actual business aims?

The Gazprom man was candid. The first priority, he said according to U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and shared with Spiegel and other partners, is to provide reliable and affordable gas to the domestic population. The second, he said is to "fulfill its social obligations," including charitable projects all across Russia.

The American envoys persisted in their questioning. Was it not also the goal of the company to maximize its shareholder value and its market share? Yes, of course. The cable cites the official also adding a third priority to his company's goal: to maximize "control over global energy resources."

A "Gazprom official describes the company as a socialist rent-seeking monopolist," the U.S.  envoys reported after a September 2008 meeting in a dispatch cabled to Washington.

'Huge Wealth, but Inefficient'

That's the tenor of a number of secret U.S. Embassy reports about the model Russian company, cables that are filled with critical American assessments about a bureaucracy that has gone overboard and a mafia-like political system in Russia.

#44) A New Ark For Humanity - Floating Hotel Could Survive Rising Sea Levels
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-05 22:33:23
(Read 5890 times || comments)

The rising sea waters caused by global warming have inspired a Russian architect to design a hotel that could be built on water as well as land. The eco-friendly "Ark" could be constructed in just a few months anywhere in the world, the designer says.

It's called "The Ark", but looks more like a ship sitting upside down on the water. A new design by Russian architect Alexander Remizov challenges the tradition of land-based hotel living and would provide a refuge in the future -- should the world face a modern-day flood of Biblical proportions.

Remizov designed the hotel as part of a program on architecture and disaster relief through the International Union of Architects (UIA). He collaborated with a German design and engineering firm and the Moscow-based scientist Lev Britvin, who, according to Remizov, has developed energy-saving solutions for space stations. They are now searching for investors to make the design a reality.

The building of the hotel could be fast and simple, Remizov told Spiegel Online. "Prefabricated sections could be put together in three to four months," he said. The versatile structure could be constructed in most corners of the earth, even in earthquake-prone areas. Constructing "The Ark" -- which would include 14,000 square meters (151,000 square feet) of living space -- would cost roughly the same as building an energy-efficient house.

The self-sustaining structure would be built around a central pillar, connecting wind generators and heat pumps on its roof with the basement, where solar, wind, and thermal energy could be stored and turned into electricity.

#45) The Battle For Publishing's Future
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-27 16:01:12
(Read 5818 times || comments)
When Apple Inc. unveiled the iPad last year, co-founder Steve Jobs, with his characteristic aggrandizing touch, called it nothing short of “magical.” But he wasn’t the only one who thought so. Publishers were also hoping that the iPad would have the mystical power to turn back time.

Newspapers and magazines are still feeling the impact of the economic downturn, but their woes stretch back years, to the popularization of the Internet as a way to consume news. The publishing industry still struggles to stand out from a churning sea of unpaid online content. Few publications have enjoyed much success in persuading their readers to pay for digital products. The reader-friendly tablet, publishers thought, could be the device to change all that.

Now it seems they should have been more careful what they wished for. Apple’s long-awaited system to sell subscriptions on the iPad, unveiled this month, gave publishing companies a new way to charge for magazines and newspapers. But the response was not entirely friendly. Almost immediately, the industry, which had been looking to the iPad as its possible savior, attacked the terms as onerous: if subscriptions are bought through iTunes – and many readers will surely prefer to do it that way, given its popularity – Apple will take 30 per cent of the price, and will keep most of the subscriber information for themselves.

“This trips us up pretty good,” said Earl Wilkinson, the executive director and chief executive officer of the International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA), a not-for-profit industry group made up of news media companies from around the world. Within days of the Apple announcement, the group held a roundtable at which publishers from Europe, Britain and Canada expressed their fears over the new model.

While much has been made of the 30-per-cent levy, it’s the least of the industry’s problems. After all, traditional newsstands selling products on paper keep a much larger share, roughly half of the cover price for most magazines. Most publishers are actually much more concerned about other restrictions, Mr. Wilkinson said. Under Apple’s rules, for example, publishers can’t offer a discount to customers who bypass iTunes and buy digital subscriptions through their own websites.

#46) Breaking News: Huge Quake Hits Christchurch, New Zealand
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-21 20:18:13
(Read 5795 times || comments)
A large 6.3 magnitude earthquake has struck Christchurch, with reports of buildings down and serious injuries, five months after the city was badly damaged by a 7.1 magnitude quake.

Witnesses said there were buildings down all around Cathedral Square in the city, with the church destroyed.

People are trapped in buildings, witnesses told local television.

"It is huge. We just don't know if there are people under this rubble," a priest standing outside the rubble of the damaged cathedral told New Zealand television.

Christchurch resident Sean Scanlon said it was by far the biggest shake since the original September 4 earthquake. The power was out and phone lines jammed.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker says today's quake left people in the city council building injured, and he had heard reports of other serious injuries throughout the city.

#47) Accident Near Lorelei - Sulfuric Acid Tanker Capsizes On The Rhine River
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-13 16:40:12
(Read 5571 times || comments)

Local authorities are still searching for two crew members from a German tanker containing sulfuric acid following an early morning accident on the Rhine River. The cause of the accident, which happened near a narrow bend in the river, remains unclear.

A German tanker containing 2,400 tons of sulfuric acid capsized on the Rhine River early Thursday morning. Two of the four crew members are missing with local rescue workers using a helicopter with a thermal imaging camera to search for them in the icy waters. The river has been temporarily closed to shipping.

Local authorities said they did not know what caused the tanker to capsize. With the water temperature hovering around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degress Fahrenheit), the missing men could not be expected to survive long, they said. The two rescued crew members were brought to a nearby hospital and were in good condition, said local authorities.

There were no indications that the ship was leaking, and testing on the Rhine downstream showed no abnormalities, the Associated Press reported. Sulfuric acid is soluble in water and has many uses in the chemical industry, including for lead-acid car batteries and oil refining. The ship was traveling from Ludwigshafen in southern Germany to Antwerp, Belgium.

The accident occurred near the picturesque Lorelei rock, which sits on the eastern bank of the Rhine near the town of St. Goarshausen. The narrow bend in the river near the rock has strong currents and a rocky bottom, and has been the site of many maritime accidents.

#48) Six former Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Executives Charged With Fraud
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-16 23:51:18
(Read 5530 times || comments)

The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought civil fraud charges against six former top executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying they misled the government and taxpayers about risky sub-prime mortgages the mortgage giants held during the housing bust.

Those charged include the agencies' two former CEOs, Fannie's Daniel Mudd and Freddie's Richard Syron. They are the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

Mudd and Syron led the mortgage giants when the housing bubble burst in late 2006 and 2007. The four other top executives also worked for the companies during that time.

The case was filed in federal court in New York City. Lawyers for Mudd and Syron couldn't be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Fannie told investors in 2007 that it had roughly $4.8 billion worth of subprime loans on its books. The SEC says that Fannie actually had about $43 billion worth of products targeted to borrowers with weak credit.

Freddie said about 11% of its single-family loans were subprime in 2007. The SEC says it was closer to about 18%.

#49) Fukushima Fallout - How Dangerous Is Japan's Creeping Nuclear Disaster?
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-28 15:46:32
(Read 5444 times || comments)

The destroyed reactors at Fukushima have been releasing radiation for weeks. According to model calculations, the stricken nuclear plant could already have released one-tenth of the amount of radiation unleashed in the Chernobyl disaster. How serious a risk does the disaster pose to humans?

The technicians had for days to restore electricity to the remains of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. But then it was ordinary rubber boots, of all things, that would come to symbolize their desperation, helplessness and defeat.

On Thursday, the three men had made their way into the basement of the turbine building for reactor No. 3 to examine the situation there. When they returned later, they came fully equipped with tools and protective gear that included helmets, masks, rubber gloves and raincoats on top of their radiation suits.

The one thing the men were not prepared for was that suddenly they would be wading through more than a few inches of water. Two of the workers were only wearing ankle-high boots, which allowed the water to seep in. With wet feet, the men spent three-quarters of an hour working on the cables, despite the fact that their dosimeters were beeping for a long time.

The workers are now under observation at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences. The water at Fukushima was so contaminated that radioactive beta radiation burned their skin. In less than an hour, they were exposed to about 180 millisievert of radiation, or nine times as much as one nuclear power plant employee is exposed to in an entire year. "These kinds of burns will be causing problems for the men for a long time to come," says Peter Jacob, director of the Institute for Radiation Protection at the Helmholtz Center in Munich, Germany. Commenting on the exposure, a coworker of the three men said laconically: "We do pay attention. But now we have to be even more careful as we work."

The incident revealed, once again, how little experts know about the dangers that still lurk on the grounds of the ill-fated plant. No one had expected the radiation level in the water in the basement to be as high as it was. The levels of radiation in water in the basement of reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reached record highs, with water at No. 2 measuring 1,000 millisieverts per hour. This was due to a partial core melt. Also, the containment vessel for the third reactor was apparently damaged, representatives of the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency concluded. Could this mean that there is a crack in the barrier between the highly radioactive core and the surrounding environment?

#50) Germany's New Wirtschaftswunder - Does The Euro Crisis Threaten Berlin's Economic Miracle?
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-01 13:57:59
(Read 5399 times || comments)

There seems to be a lot of unanimity in Germany about the country's economic prospects for 2011. But while a chorus of optimists in business and government circles make rosy predictions of continued growth, some worry that the euro crisis could put an end to Germany's post-crisis euphoria.

German President Christian Wulff and his wife Bettina recently threw a minor wrench into his country's economic upswing.

It was mid-December, and the presidential couple was touring the manufacturing facilities of Sick, a sensor producer in the small southwestern German city of Waldkirch. The honored guests had a hard time making their way past the assembly tables and conveyor belts and an even harder time holding a conversation with any of the workers. In this instance, the production halls loudspeakers were not to blame. Instead, the engineers and technicians simply had no time to chat. They were under a lot of pressure; they had orders to fill.

"Given the state of our order books, we simply can't stop the machinery," says company head Robert Bauer, adding that Wulff got a taste of "the actual situation on the ground." Indeed, Wulff may be president, but the customer is still king.

For Sick, the reality of the economic boom has been a 25 percent year-on-year increase in orders in 2010 as well as 200 new employees in its German plant. Indeed, in recent months, the demand for light barriers and sensor technology has risen so rapidly that there are now shortages in materials. "We're working at full capacity," Bauer says.

#51) XXL Toys For The Super Rich - Yacht-Building Business In Germany Booms
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-28 23:18:00
(Read 5376 times || comments)

The seriously rich are living it up in decadent style on luxury yachts. And they particularly value German craftsmanship. Shipyards like Lürssen and Blohm & Voss are backed up by dozens of smaller companies that cater to the billionaires' every whim -- even on-board showers that squirt champagne.

Not many people in Germany have as illustrious a circle of acquaintances as Oliver Treutlein. The native Rhinelander knows Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as well as Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam, American software billionaire Larry Ellison, the Saudi Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, as well as members of the Horten department store dynasty.

Treutlein doesn't brag about the people he knows. In fact it's something of an embarrassment for him. But what can he do? He just happens to meet many of them on a regular basis. Not their staff, but them in person.

Forty-something Treutlein certainly wasn't predestined to rub shoulders with the super-rich. He originally trained as an auto mechanic, though he soon discovered a passion for luxury materials. In the 1980s he drove his old VW Passat around Germany visiting dye works and spinning mills to get quality goods and turn his hobby into a career.

Today he has realized his dream, though he still dresses casually and wears his wide shirt outside his pants. Sitting at the head of a long table in the foyer of his company in Meerbusch near Dusseldorf, he keeps bounding up to pull samples out of white boxes stacked on the ceiling-high shelves around him. Each box bears photos of yachts with names like Octopus, Rising Sun, Al Salamah, and Carinthia.

These are among the largest, most expensive and most splendid private ships on the planet. And even though there will be some wonderful examples on display at this week's "Boot" trade fair in Dusseldorf, they will have as much in common with Treutlein's customers' boats as a sack of coal has with mahogany marquetry.

#52) Canada's Slave Lake Reeling After Alberta Fires Cause 'Devastating' Destruction
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-05-16 16:09:37
(Read 5300 times || comments)

The northern Alberta town of Slave Lake is partially in ruins after a devastating, fast-moving wildfire caught community officials off guard.

The damage is catastrophic. Hundreds of homes, churches and businesses have been destroyed. So too has the town hall, library and radio station. The power is out, cellphone service has been spotty, and 7,000 residents were forced to flee through a single road, the only highway open as fires rage on all sides.

Fire crews had little control – they managed to save the south part of the town, but remained at the mercy of strong winds, gusting up to 100 kilometers an hour.

“It’s extremely devastating, our loss. It’s difficult to articulate,” Slave Lake Mayor Karina Pillay-Kinnee said late Sunday. “A lot of things we’re battling now.”

There were no reports of injuries.

At the multiplex in Athabasca, about 130 kilometers southeast of Slave Lake, some 600 people spent the night on blow-up mattresses and foam mats set up on the centre’s indoor soccer field, said Terry Smith, manager of the emergency reception center.

#53) Japan's Catastrophe - Hundreds Believed Dead In Earthquake, Tsunami
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-11 14:59:01
(Read 5186 times || comments)

The Japanese government has declared an emergency after a nuclear power plant was damaged by Friday's massive earthquake. Hundreds are reported dead in the temblor and tsunami, with officials believing the death toll could rise to more than 1,000 in one of the country's worst-ever natural disasters.

Rescue efforts continued in shell-shocked Japan on Friday night following the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Police are reporting the discovery of hundreds of bodies in the wake of the natural disaster that struck the northeastern part of the country.

The horrendous damage caused by the 8.9 magnitude tremor is visible in large areas: In the coastal region around the city of Sendai alone, 200 to 300 bodies have been found with another 110 confirmed killed and 350 missing. Police say 544 people have been injured. On Friday evening, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported officials fear the death toll could rise to more than 1,000.

Nuclear Plant Scare

Meanwhile, thousands of residents are being evacuated from the area around a nuclear power plant which was damaged in the huge earthquake. The Japanese government declared a state of emergency in the area around the site.

The emergency cooling system at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is having to run on batteries, which are only able to supply power for a few hours, the Association for Plant and Reactor Safety (GRS) in Cologne reported. "In the worst case, this could threaten a meltdown," said GRS spokesman Sven Dokter. The exact situation at the plant, however, is still unclear, although officials said there was currently no sign of a radioactive leak.

#54) Stepping On The Gas - New Drilling Technologies Shake Up Global Markets
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-03 18:38:28
(Read 5167 times || comments)

While the world fears a new oil price shock, the entire energy market is on the verge of a revolution. Companies are using increasingly sophisticated technology to tap new sources of natural gas. Drilling is also underway in Germany, where both the potential and the risks seem enormous.

It was May when globalization came to Lebien, a small town in Poland. The telephone rang and Elzbieta Religa answered. The caller said she represented Lane Energy, a subsidiary of a British company that invests in natural resources. She said her boss wanted to speak with Religa and told her that the company had found something interesting in the earth beneath Lebien's homes and farms.

Religa is a sturdy-looking farmer with three hectares (7.4 acres) of land, 20 hogs and three dogs. Lebien is in the northern Polish region of Kashubia, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Gdansk. The town has 960 inhabitants and only its main street is paved. Most of the houses were built by Germans before World War II.

"The woman said there's gas here," says Religa. "Thousands of meters below the earth, locked into the rock, but somehow they can get it out." Religa is currently serving her third term as the Soltys, or mayor, of Lebien. She invited the people from Lane Energy to a meeting at town hall. They arrived in small buses, managers and engineers, Americans, Britons, Canadians and one Indian. The guests paid for a lavish buffet.

The company built its first drilling rig a few months later. One evening, Religa saw a bright light on the other side of a forested area. Lane was burning off the first of the gas being pumped out of the well. The flames were as tall as houses.

#55) Germany's Chicken Wars - The Controversial Practices Of Poultry Mega-Factories
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-18 17:18:44
(Read 5166 times || comments)

Industrialized chicken farming has become a booming business in Germany, delivering hundreds of millions of birds a year to customers around the world. But the methods they use are controversial -- and opposition is growing.

A turkey chick is fighting its way into life, hatching somewhat more slowly from its shell than the others. Its egg, perhaps, was a little too far from the top.

There are 125 others, all hatchlings looking at their new world for the first time. Their nest is a plastic box, 85 by 60 centimeters with narrow slits in the sides -- the legs and beaks of those buried further down stick out.

The chicks are thrown out of the box onto a steel chute, from which they fall onto a conveyor belt, at least the ones that look acceptable. But in every box there are a few chicks that don't quite make it to the top, flounder or are still struggling to emerge from their shells. Sometimes hatchery workers give those chicks a few extra minutes.

But if they still can't stand up properly, the chicks are placed back into the box. Between the remains of shells, stillborns and ailing chicks, there is another conveyor belt that moves upwards to a ramp. Behind a sheet of Plexiglas, the struggling turkey chick has finally pulled itself completely out of its egg and is peeping as it looks around.

But it is late. Too late.

The box is tipped and the chick, together with a pile of eggshells, slides into a grinder. Its life is snuffed out just as it was about to begin.

#56) .XXX Adult Entertainment Domain Approved By ICANN
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-19 18:44:46
(Read 5158 times || comments)

Plans to establish a new internet domain specifically for pornography are to proceed after internet regulators approved the .xxx suffix for adult entertainment sites, three years on from a decision to block the move.

Proposals to create a new adults-only domain date back as far as 2003 when moves to open up the number of major domain names were announced by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which administers millions of internet addresses.

However, Icann blocked the plan in 2007 after long deliberations and threats in the US from the Bush government, which opposed the creation of .xxx on moral grounds and said it would override Icann if necessary.

On Friday, the board of Icann said that it would allow the .xxx domain to be overseen by ICM Registry – the backer of the scheme – although a number of board members reportedly opposed the resolution.

The backers of the scheme said that it will provide reassurance to those visiting pornography websites that they are protected from the risk of viruses, identity theft, credit card fraud and inadvertent exposure to child abuse images.

#57) Carnival Of The Obscene - Investigators Pursue The Internet Activists Of Anonymous
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-17 17:06:22
(Read 5148 times || comments)

Now that the WikiLeaks wave has subsided, the fight for Internet freedom is entering a new phase. Investigators are zeroing in on activists belonging to the group Anonymous, a loose organization which launched attacks on websites which crossed WikiLeaks. But who are they? And what can they be charged with?

It's a rainy winter morning at the heavily guarded Belmarsh high-security prison in London. A hearing on the possible extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is underway in the courtroom inside. His supporters are outside, with signs, a megaphone, dreadlocks, flyers, candles -- the usual.

Six demonstrators, though, stand out. They are wearing masks depicting the grinning face of Guy Fawkes, the man who plotted to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. The mask was popularized by the 2006 anarchist thriller "V for Vendetta".

"We are Anonymous," says one of the masked demonstrators. "We don't forget, and we don't forgive," says another. "We are legion." Their muffled words are hard to understand, and not just because the masks have only a small breathing slit.

Anonymous is the name of an international activist group that has kept the authorities on their toes for months. It plans its campaigns on the Internet -- and most of its "raids" take place there too.

In December, for example, the group shut down the websites of PayPal and Visa, because these companies had blocked accounts used for donations to WikiLeaks. The so-called denial-of-service (DOS) attacks were primitive but effective. DOS attacks do not require the expertise of hackers, but merely a piece of software called "Low Orbit Ion Cannon," which sends a huge volume of pointless inquiries to a website until its servers are shut down.

#58) Tsunami Hits Japan
Posted By: JWSmythe 2011-03-11 03:58:32
(Read 5143 times || comments)
HIROSHIMA - A massive earthquake struck the eastern coast of Japan Friday afternoon, triggering powerful tsunamis that washed away property and cars and will likely cause substantial casualties.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake measured magnitude 8.9. Aftershocks as strong as 7.1 magnitude continued for hours after the first quake.

Television stations showed footage of tsunami waves, measuring upwards of 10 feet, pulling cars and cargo tanks into the water. Waves crushed the mostly rural shoreline near the epicenter, leveling buildings. Even in Tokyo, 235 miles south of the epicenter, rail lines were halted and business workers headed outdoors, terrified by the aftershocks. Phone lines were down.

The quake, according to initial reports, struck roughly 81 miles off the coast, east of Sendai Prefecture on Japan's largest island. Tsunami warnings were quickly issued for most countries in the Pacific.

Read More

#59) The Right Wing And The Roma - E.U. Presidency A Test For Tolerance In Hungary
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-01 13:57:35
(Read 5061 times || comments)

Hungary will assume the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in January and the government is pledging to forge a policy for addressing the Roma in all of Europe. But the country has its own troubling history with the Roma, who have been deeply impoverished and pushed to the margins of society since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Csaba Csorba is standing in scrubland beside the burned-out shell of a small house. He points to the spot amid the tall grass where he found his son Robert bleeding in the snow almost two years ago. Nearby lay the body of his four-year-old grandson Robi. The small boy had been shot through the head, his face was unrecognizable.

The murders of Feb. 23, 2009 saw the Hungarian village of Tatárszentgyorgy become synonymous with hate, hatred towards Europe's Roma people. Robert Csorba, a 27-year-old father of three, had gathered up his young son in his arms and ran out to escape the flames that engulfed his house, the last one on the edge of the village. Unknown assailants had attacked under the cover of night, throwing Molotov cocktails at the door and then opening fire when those inside tried to flee. Robert was shot in the lungs and lived for another hour, dying on the way to the hospital. His six-year-old daughter Bianka was injured but survived, while his wife Renata and younger son escaped the blaze.

There is no indication that the murderers even knew who their victims were. "The attackers didn't really care who they killed," Robert's father says today.

Csorba, a short stocky man who is missing many teeth, looks at least 10 years older than his 47 years. He believes his son might have survived if he had received proper medical attention. "The ambulance only came an hour and a half after we called, even though the hospital is five minutes away, and it didn't have oxygen," he claims. And he alleges that when the police arrived, they said the fire had been caused by electrical problems, and that the doctor claimed his son's wounds had been caused by nails from falling beams and not gunfire.

#60) Conoco Seeks Tax Cuts In Alaska Even As Profits Grow
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-27 17:51:17
(Read 5060 times || comments)
Conoco Phillips on Wednesday announced its profits from Alaska grew to $1.74 billion last year, even as oil production declined. The same day the company argued to the Alaska AFL-CIO and state legislators that oil taxes need to be cut so more oil can be produced.

"I think Alaska is at a point it has to decide: Do we want to try to do something to incentivize and mitigate that production decline or not?" said Wendy King, Conoco's vice president for external affairs.

King and Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who defends the oil tax, argued their positions at a forum held by the Alaska AFL-CIO at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau. Several legislators of both parties showed up to the first forum on the issue to be held during a 90-day session of the Alaska Legislature that's expected to be dominated by debates over the oil tax.

Oil money built the Alaska Permanent Fund, accounts for about a third of the jobs in the state, and provides for 80 to 90 percent of general state government revenue, King reminded the audience. She said Alaska needs the long decline in North Slope production to be at least slowed.

Conoco is Alaska's biggest oil producer, and biggest taxpayer.

"In Alaska we have not drilled an exploration well for two years in a row ... the first time since 1965 that Conoco Phillips had not drilled an exploration well in the state of Alaska," King said.

#61) Air France Flight AF 447 Investigation: Recording Indicates Pilot Wasn't In Cockpit During Critical Phase
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-05-23 17:12:27
(Read 5038 times || comments)

What happened on board the Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic en route from Rio to Paris? According to information obtained by SPIEGEL from the analysis of flight recorder data, pilot Marc Dubois appears not to have been in the cockpit at the time the deadly accident started to unfold.

The fate of Air France Flight 447 was sealed in just four minutes. That short time span began with the first warning message on one of the Airbus A330 aircraft's monitors and ended with the plane crashing into the Atlantic between Brazil and Africa, killing all 228 people on board.

Since last week, investigators from France's BEA civil aviation safety bureau have been analyzing the flight data and voice recordings extracted from the cockpit of the Air France flight that crashed on June 1, 2009 while traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. What they have learned from the recordings seems to suggest both technical and human failure.

Sources close to the investigative team have revealed that the recordings indicate that Marc Dubois, the aircraft's 58-year-old pilot, was not in the cockpit at the time the trouble began. It is reportedly audible that Dubois rushed back into the cockpit. "He called instructions to the two co-pilots on how to save the aircraft," the source with inside knowledge of the investigation told SPIEGEL.

#62) Women And Power - Why Germany Needs A Gender Quota
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-04 18:00:34
(Read 4941 times || comments)

The number of women in senior management positions is appallingly low at Germany's leading companies. Voluntary agreements have done little to improve the situation. It is time for lawmakers to take action.

We had never thought of planning a career at SPIEGEL. If there was a plan, it was to be a journalist -- to travel, to meet people, to write, to become deeply involved in important topics. It's a wonderful existence, at least most of the time -- and if you should end up having children, your days are packed. They start before 6 a.m. and end just before midnight. All in all, it's a good life.

It's impossible, though, to be at work all the time during ordinary working hours. We simply wouldn't see our children enough. Working part-time is the solution. It's difficult to find such models, but somehow it works, provided we are willing to put in more hours when it becomes necessary. And it wouldn't work at all without the fathers. Plus, our parents live in a kind of permanent standby mode, so that they can take care of the grandchildren when it's absolutely necessary. It's often necessary.

On Monday mornings at 11 a.m., editors, department heads and executive editors meet for a conference to discuss the current issue. It's called the "magazine critique." It takes place in a large conference room with a view of the Hamburg harbor. The editors sit on upholstered benches by the windows, while the department heads and executive editors sit around a long table in the middle. SPIEGEL has two editors-in-chief, a deputy editor-in-chief and an executive editor -- all male. Then there are 30 department heads -- 28 of which are men. All told, there are 32 men and just two women seated at the table in the middle. More department heads are gay than are female.

The fact that there are two women in such senior positions is a sign of progress. And people -- in the cafeteria, over coffee -- are constantly saying that they do their jobs well. They sound relieved that such a thing is possible.

Very Much Alone

For decades, SPIEGEL was almost entirely male. A young woman who began working at the company 12 or 14 years ago would have felt very much alone. Today woman make up 28 percent of the editorial staff.

There are moments during those Monday morning meetings when you're sitting on a padded bench by the window, looking at the gentlemen sitting around that table in the middle, and you think to yourself: nice suits. And well-tailored. At least most of them are. But why only men's suits? Why only men? You look from one to the next, but there is no one on whom to pin the blame. No one can really say why it is, and still it's unfair, aggravating and humiliating. 32 to 2. How is that possible? It shouldn't be. Article 3 of Germany's constitution, written 62 years ago, says it shouldn't be. It says that men and women are equal.

#63) Iranian Parliament Members Say Ahmadinejad Broke Law In Oil Ministry Takeover
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-06-01 16:57:12
(Read 4934 times || comments)

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is locked in confrontation with Iran's Majilis (parliament) members after being warned he acted illegally by declaring himself caretaker oil minister in what his critics called an unconstitutional power grab.

Iranian media reported that the majlis, which has repeatedly clashed with the president over key policy issues in recent weeks, voted 165-1 to approve a report by its energy committee, which declared Ahmadinejad's move an "obvious violation of law".

The vote was triggered by the president's sacking of the oil minister, Massoud Mirkazemi, which was part of a plan to merge eight ministries into four to cut their overall number to 17. Observers said it was unclear whether there was now a real threat that Ahmadinejad could be impeached. But it was the latest spat in an increasingly ugly struggle between the president and his onetime mentor, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Aides to Khamenei have castigated Ahmadinejad's controversial chief-of-staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie as representing a "deviant current" moving Iran away from Islamic principles.

#64) Earth's Magnetic Field Shifts, Forcing Airport Runway Change
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-08 15:33:55
(Read 4909 times || comments)

The magnetic north pole is currently hovering over the North Sea and moving toward Siberia. This means two Florida airports are renumbering their runways.

Odd as this connection may appear on the surface, the adjustments underway at Tampa International Airport and beginning next week at Peter O'Knight Airport are the result of a natural, ongoing process.

Earth's Magnets

The Earth has an iron core, and movement within its outer part is likely responsible for sustaining a magnetic field, which constitutes much of what we measure at the Earth's surface. As a result, the Earth resembles something of a giant magnet with two poles: magnetic north and magnetic south. However, its field is not perfectly symmetrical and has undulations that are always moving around, according to Jeffrey Love, a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Geomagnetism Program.

The magnetic poles don't line up with the geographic ones, and the difference between them is an angle called declination. As if this wasn't enough of a nuisance for navigators, the Earth's magnetic field drifts, causing the angle of declination to change over time.

In fact, it drifts about one-fifth of a degree a year at lower latitudes, such as Florida. "So that means if you wait five years, the compass will be off by one degree," said Love.

For long-distance air travel, an error of only a couple of degrees could translate to arriving in the wrong airport, said Love.

#65) Zero Hour In The Middle East - What The Arab World's Past Can Tell Us About Its Future
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-08 17:41:31
(Read 4843 times || comments)

The world is looking on with fascination and fear as the Arab world goes through the political transformation of the century. But will the region's future be marked by democratic peace or civil war? Four past upheavals contain lessons for what comes next.

The riches, power, and honor of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor or contemptible.


It's hard to think of a more peaceful place in the Middle East than the calm and orderly port town of Sohar in Oman, where hibiscus bushes bloom year-round and residents relax over water pipes and tea. All of this was true until Sunday, Feb. 27, when 2,000 men staged a protest at a large roundabout. The police shot and killed at least one protester. He and his fellow protesters had demanded higher wages and complained about rampant corruption in the government of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, 70.

Until Thursday, Feb. 24, Qatif, an oasis city in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, was distinguished mainly by palm trees, sand and -- ever since the world's largest oil field was discovered there 60 years ago -- oil. But then a group of Shiites took to the streets to demand the release of three of their fellow Shiites. King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, 86, had never experienced anything quite like it in his realm.

Benghazi in Cyrenaica, the verdant, remote eastern region of Libya, is about a 1,000-kilometer drive along the coastal road from the capital Tripoli. Colonel Moammar Gadhafi ruled the region for 41 years. Until two weeks ago, that is, when men drove through the city, dressed, like in a Carnival parade, as Gadhafi. "Libya is free," they chanted. "God is great."

It seems today that the reign of this Middle Eastern dictator, at least, will end in 2011. Former U.S.  Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called Gadhafi a "dead man walking," and the Kremlin spoke of a "walking political corpse".

Completely Unpredictable

Their predictions may still prove premature, however. If the events of the last few weeks, from Tunis to Cairo, from Bahrain to Benghazi, have proved one thing, it is that political events are entirely unpredictable. No one anticipated that the self-immolation of unemployed fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi in a small Tunisian city would lead to the overthrow of the most powerful ruler in the Middle East in Cairo only a few weeks later.

But what comes next, after the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak? And what will come after Gadhafi's possible downfall? Will Libya turn into a "giant Somalia," as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned? Will major oil producer Saudi Arabia descend into chaos? Where will the new freedoms take the Arab world?

The Middle East has dominated global politics for decades, to a degree disproportionate to its geographic size and population. Reports of war, violence and terror between North Africa and the Persian Gulf have become background noise in the lives of an entire generation.

The region has experienced well over a dozen international wars, numerous civil wars and military coups, and thousands of terrorist attacks and political assassinations since 1945 alone. If these conflicts had unfolded in another corner of the world, the West would probably have done little more than quietly express its regrets.

But the conflicts of the Middle East occur in a region that sits on top of close to 60 percent of the world's oil and more than 40 percent of its natural gas reserves. Israel's security is an important factor in the foreign policy of countries like the United States and Germany, and almost all countries in the international community are united in their concern over a possible war over Iran's nuclear program. When the Middle East burns, the West simply cannot afford to express its regrets and look the other way.

#66) The Web Vs. Putin - Taking On Russia's Old Guard With New Technology
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:11:55
(Read 4819 times || comments)

The disputed elections in Russia have unleashed a wave of rage and sparked the largest anti-government protests since the end of the Soviet Union, organized via the Internet. The Kremlin seems powerless to stop the online activists as Russians lose their fear. For the first time, Vladimir Putin seems vulnerable.

Ilya Varlamov was in his early 20s when he landed his first $3 million contract. Today, the 27-year-old is head of an information technology company in Moscow that creates intricate three-dimensional architectural models for its clients. His office has all the trappings of success: an Apple computer flanked by an iPhone and modern Russian art hanging on white walls.

It was Varlamov who gave shape to the future Olympic stadium in the city of Sochi where Russia will host the 2014 Winter Games. That was a government contract -- one of many that have made him a wealthy man. Varlamov is one of the winners under Vladmir Putin's ongoing 11-year reign. He likes to travel to the West when he goes on vacation. In interviews, he carefully avoids saying anything negative about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev.

It was the same story when Medvedev, who loves to pose with his iPad for photographs, broke his promise that there would be "no censorship on the Internet as long as I am in the Kremlin." Varlamov held his tongue for a long time, but now that's over.

Russia Wakes Up  

The fraudulent election on Dec. 4 seems to have jolted the country out of its slumber, and the Russian people appear to be overcoming their fear of the regime and of control and repression. Now, the new Russia is combating the old one: Blogs and other online campaigns are exposing the lies propagated on TV and the oppression inflicted by the police and intelligence agencies, while Twitter users are protesting against the hackers that the Kremlin allegedly hired to silence reports of electoral fraud.

#67) Tsunami Warning Issued For At Least 20 Countries
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-11 03:52:02
(Read 4782 times || comments)
Authorities in at least 20 countries and numerous Pacific islands issued tsunami warnings Friday after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck Japan, the National Weather Service said.

The wide-ranging list includes Russia and Indonesia, Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica and the U.S. state of Hawaii.

Authorities in the U.S. territory of Guam said a tsunami could hit the island as early as 7:09 p.m. (4:09 a.m. ET).

Authorities in the Philippines said a tsunami could hit by 6 p.m. (5 a.m. ET).

Tsunami warning sirens sounded in Hawaii around 10 p.m. Thursday (3 a.m. ET).

Chip McCreary of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said officials estimated a tsunami could cause wave magnitudes of up to 2 meters above normal sea level.

#68) How A Big U.S. Bank Laundered Billions From Mexico's Murderous Drug Gangs
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-04-03 15:17:42
(Read 4730 times || comments)

On 10 April 2006, a DC-9 jet landed in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, on the Gulf of Mexico,  as the sun was setting. Mexican soldiers, waiting to intercept it, found 128 cases packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100m. But something else – more important and far-reaching – was discovered in the paper trail behind the purchase of the plane by the Sinaloa narco-trafficking cartel.

During a 22-month investigation by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and others, it emerged that the cocaine smugglers had bought the plane with money they had laundered through one of the biggest banks in the United States: Wachovia, now part of the giant Wells Fargo.

The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveler's checks and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts. Wachovia was put under immediate investigation for failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. Of special significance was that the period concerned began in 2004, which coincided with the first escalation of violence along the U.S.-Mexico border that ignited the current drugs war.

Criminal proceedings were brought against Wachovia, though not against any individual, but the case never came to court. In March 2010, Wachovia settled the biggest action brought under the U.S. bank secrecy act, through the U.S. District Court in Miami, Florida. Now that the year's "deferred prosecution" has expired, the bank is in effect in the clear. It paid federal authorities $110 million in forfeiture, for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50 million fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.

More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4 billion – a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico's gross national product – into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business.

"Wachovia's blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations," said Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor. Yet the total fine was less than 2% of the bank's $12.3bn profit for 2009. On March 24, 2010, Wells Fargo stock traded at $30.86 – up 1% on the week of the court settlement.

The conclusion to the case was only the tip of an iceberg, demonstrating the role of the "legal" banking sector in swilling hundreds of billions of dollars – the blood money from the murderous drug trade in Mexico and other places in the world – around their global operations, now bailed out by the taxpayer.

#69) Naked Bodies And A New Messiah - Green Groups Try To Sex Up Climate Change
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-03 14:35:06
(Read 4708 times || comments)

The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keeps going up and up, but public interest in climate change is sinking. Environmentalists are trying to come up with new ways to make the issue sexy. But shock tactics can backfire all too easily.

Climate change used to make headlines. But these days the issue appears to have largely fallen off the radar.

World leaders recently negotiated a new climate agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, but public interest in the issue was limited. It was a marked contrast to the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, which had been declared of historic importance in the run-up to the meeting, only to then fail spectacularly. The theft of e-mails from the University of East Anglia had badly damaged the image of climate research shortly before the summit.

Environmentalists and scientists are concerned about the massive drop in public interest in the topic over the last year. Now they are looking for new strategies to turn the tide. They're searching for so-called "mind bombs" -- highly emotional images that reduce a complex problem down to one core message.

Fountains of Blood

Some environmental organizations are placing their bets on the shock factor. One commercial in a campaign by the British-based environmental organization 10:10 showed a teacher blowing up two students who were skeptical about cutting their carbon emissions, with fountains of blood spraying the others in the class. Other 10:10 videos have the same fate befalling recalcitrant office workers and footballers. But the campaign proved a dud -- it sparked massive protests and was quickly withdrawn.

#70) Ex-Palin Aide Rips Her In Leaked Manuscript
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-19 18:06:37
(Read 4665 times || comments)

A leaked manuscript by one of Sarah Palin's closest aides from her time as governor charges that Palin broke state election law in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign and was consumed by petty grievances up until she resigned. The unpublished book by Frank Bailey was leaked to the media and widely circulated on Friday.

The manuscript opens with an account of Palin sending Bailey a message saying "I hate this damn job" shortly before she resigned as Alaska's governor in July 2009, less than three years into her four-year term. The manuscript goes on for nearly 500 pages, a mixture of analysis, gossip and allegation.

Copies of the manuscript were forwarded around Alaska political circles on Friday. The Anchorage Daily News received copies from multiple sources, the first from author Joe McGinniss, who is working on his own Palin book. McGinniss didn't respond to a message asking where he obtained the manuscript and the reason he circulated it.

Bailey, a political insider who joined Palin's 2006 campaign for governor and became part of her inner circle, has never before told his version of the Palin story. Bailey has consistently refused requests for interviews and did so again Friday. The book was co-written with California author Ken Morris and Jeanne Devon. of Anchorage, who publishes the popular anti-Palin website Mudflats.

Devon wrote on her website that the "draft manuscript" was leaked without the knowledge or permission of the authors. She said they are shocked and horrified.

Bailey wrote in the book that he and his co-authors put together the manuscript with the help of more than 60,000 e-mails he sent or received while working for Palin.

#71) Occupy Protesters Disrupt U.S. Ports
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:08:51
(Read 4580 times || comments)
Protesters chanting, "Whose port? Our port!" protested at West Coast ports on Monday, temporarily shutting down some of the facilities in a protest against what they called corporate greed.

The protesters, affiliated with the nationwide "Occupy" movement, set out in the pre-dawn hours in Oakland, California; Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, to shut down ports in an effort to "disrupt the economic machine that benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations," according to organizers.

Long Beach police arrested two people during the demonstration there, police Chief Jim McDonnell said. Port operations were not significantly impacted beyond some traffic delays, he said.

A spokesman for the port in Portland, Oregon, said the protests had partially shut down the port there. In Oakland, the port said in a statement that operations were continuing "with sporadic disruptions for truckers trying to enter and exit marine terminal gates."

About 80 protesters demonstrated outside the gate of San Diego's port, but caused no disruption because, said port spokesman Ron Powell.

#72) Inside The Dioxin Scandal - The Criminal Machinations Of The Feed Industry
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-10 13:15:00
(Read 4563 times || comments)

Once again, contaminated animal feed is threatening the health of consumers. The control system is too lax, and information policy is a disaster. The most recent dioxin scare shows that the authorities have learned very little from the food safety scandals of the past.

Belgium, the spring of 1999: Inspectors find high levels of dioxin, along with other toxins, in eggs. An oil-and-fat recycling company had supplied a feed producer with fats that contained high levels of dioxin, and the toxic substance found its way into chickens, pigs and cattle -- and eventually into the stomachs of German consumers.

The losses were in the billions. The German Health Ministry was outraged over the Belgians, and the European Union announced drastic changes.

German, the winter of 2011: Eggs remain unsold on supermarket shelves. Mothers are concerned about giving their children cow's milk to drink. The authorities shut down close to 5,000 farms and order hundreds of thousands of eggs destroyed. Some 150,000 tons of feed were contaminated with fat containing dioxin supplied by a producer in Uetersen near Hamburg.

German Consumer Protection Minister Isle Aigner says that she finds it "truly deplorable that an entire industry is affected by individual offenders." Aigner, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats, announces talks with the German states aimed at improving consumer protection in the future.

The images, the complaints and the pledges to improve conditions are all too similar.

#73) U.S. Cuts Put British-Backed Afghanistan Hydro-Power Project In Doubt
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:06:20
(Read 4560 times || comments)

Cuts to the U.S. government's Afghanistan development program have put in doubt the future of a 220-ton hydroelectric generator that British forces hauled across the desert of Helmand more than three years ago.

The September 2008 operation to sneak the heavy machinery across 100 miles of hostile territory in northern Helmand to the Kajaki dam was acclaimed by the British army as one the most daring operations of its kind since the second world war.

The operation, in which at least 100 insurgents were killed, was also touted as a turning point in the battle to win hearts and minds in southern Afghanistan by bringing electricity to the region.

In adding a third turbine to the hydroelectric station at Kaiaki, one of the most delayed aid projects in history would finally be completed. U.S. engineers constructed a power plant in the 1970s with two turbines but left a space for a third.

Three years after the British delivered it, the £3 million turbine remains packed up and its future in doubt as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ponders whether installing it makes financial or strategic sense.

#74) The Original Sherlock Holmes - How A French Doctor Helped Create Forensic Science
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-21 15:43:59
(Read 4530 times || comments)

A 19th-century French medical examiner and criminologist was even more skilled than the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. A new book recounts his biggest case, which heralded the age of forensic science.

On a good day, Joseph Vacher could win over a woman with his disarmingly innocent demeanor. In these states of mind, he wrote letters in an ornate, rounded feminine handwriting and amused children by making faces at them.

But then Vacher would go into uncontrolled rages. Once, he beat his small dog to death with a club because it wasn't eating its food.

His crimes against human beings were much worse. In remote forests and barns, Vacher, the son of a farmer, raped and murdered a total of 11 people, most of them children.

In late 19th-century France, this diminutive serial killer epitomized ordinary citizens' fears of the evil that lurks in the darkness. At the time, the guillotine was still used to execute dangerous criminals in France. In the Vacher case, however, the judges were hesitant to impose the death penalty. Was the mass murderer "a cannibal" who had to be beheaded, or was he a "certifiably insane person" who was to be locked up in an asylum?

#75) Iran Says It's Recovering Data From U.S. Drone
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:06:51
(Read 4525 times || comments)
Iranian experts are in the final stages of recovering data from the U.S. surveillance drone captured by the country's armed forces, state TV reported Monday.

Tehran has flaunted the capture of the RQ-170 Sentinel, a top-secret aircraft with stealth technology, as a victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States in a complicated intelligence and technological battle.

President Barack Obama said Monday that the U.S. was pressing Iran to return the aircraft, which U.S. officials say malfunctioned and was not brought down by Iran. But a senior commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard said on Sunday that the country would not send it back, adding that "no one returns the symbol of aggression."

Iranian lawmaker Parviz Sorouri, a member of the parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said Monday the extracted information will be used to file a lawsuit against the United States for what he called the "invasion" by the unmanned aircraft.

Sorouri also claimed that Iran has the capability to reproduce the drone through reverse engineering, but he did not elaborate.

State TV broadcast images Thursday of Iranian military officials inspecting what it identified as the drone. Iranian state media have said the unmanned spy aircraft was detected and brought down over the country's east, near the border with Afghanistan.

#76) President Obama Has Kept His Promises To Native Americans
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-17 15:54:33
(Read 4478 times || comments)
Speaking to 500 people representing 320 tribes, President Barack Obama pledged last month that he wouldn't forget his campaign trail promise to give native communities a greater voice in the White House.

"I said that so long as I held this office, never again would Native Americans be forgotten or ignored," he said. "And over the past two years, my administration, working hand-in-hand with many of you, has strived to keep that promise."

For the most part, tribal leaders say the president has been true to his word. And they've been watching, intent on holding accountable the president that many of them helped elect, said Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. They took careful notes during the president's first Tribal Nations conference in 2009; at Obama's second summit last month, they checked to see what goals had been met in the first year as well as what remains undone.

"There is this feeling that there is traction, that we're having a true dialogue," said Johnson Pata. "We're not saying, 'Check the box, you totally won.' We're saying we've got a great foundation, and now we've got to build upon that."

Some of the work has been symbolic - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar early in the administration restored the historic painting "Navajos Breaking Camp" in his office, after it had been mothballed during the Bush administration, for example.

#77) eG8 Summit In Paris - Activists Fear Sarkozy's Efforts To Tame Web
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-05-24 17:28:45
(Read 4471 times || comments)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is holding a summit in Paris this week with some of the world's most powerful online luminaries. Netizens worry that Sarkozy's motives might be suspect -- and that he could leave a legislative mess like the one in Germany.

Nicolas Sarkozy is all too familiar with the pitfalls of the Internet. It wasn't long ago that the French president became the victim of an online attack himself, when unknown hackers hijacked his Facebook account and, in his name, circulated the false report that he would not be running for another term in office.

Sarkozy reacted with surprising equanimity to the hacker attack, poking fun at the many spelling errors in his adversaries' message.

But, since Monday, Sarkozy has been having a chance to discuss the attack in front of some very important people. He has invited three of the world's most powerful Internet luminaries to a forum in Paris: Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, the world's largest search engine; Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and head of Facebook, the world's largest social-networking site, with more than 650 million users; and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer.

This is a rare gathering of such important figures. And the fact that Sarkozy, who is no stranger to the limelight, will actually be the one basking in the glow of great names is a particularly striking sign of the true importance of these online demigods. Indeed, people might not be able to point Paris out on the map, but they do know where the virtual realm of Facebook is: everywhere.

#78) Japan's Chernobyl - Fukushima Marks The End Of The Nuclear Era
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-03-14 15:04:23
(Read 4437 times || comments)

Japan was still reeling from its largest recorded earthquake when an explosion struck the Fukushima nuclear plant on Saturday, followed by a second blast on Monday. Despite government assurances, there are fears of another Chernobyl. The incident has sparked a heated political debate in Germany and looks likely to end the dream of cheap and safe nuclear power. This article was written by Spiegel journalists who are listed at the end of this news article.

Japanese television brought the catastrophe into millions of living rooms throughout the country, where viewers watched in horror as an explosion struck a nuclear reactor in Fukushima. 

The explosion on Saturday blew off the roof of the reactor building, sending a cloud of thick white smoke into the air. When the smoke had dissipated, only three of what had been four white reactor buildings were still visible.

Nothing but a ghostly shell remained of the fourth building.

The outside walls of the reactor 1 building had burst. The steel shell that contains the red-hot fuel rods apparently withstood the explosion, but it was unclear if a major disaster could still be averted. In addition, four other reactors in Fukushima's two power plant complexes were not fully under control.

Second Explosion

Then, on Monday, a second explosion hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant, this time involving the facility's reactor 3. The blast injured 11 workers and sent a huge column of smoke into the air. It was unclear if radiation leaked during that explosion, which was apparently caused by a build up of hydrogen, with the plant's operator saying that radiation levels at the reactor were still below legal limits. The US reacted to Monday's explosion by moving one of its aircraft carriers, which was 100 miles (160 kilometers) offshore, away from the area, following the detection of low-level radiation in its vicinity.

#79) French Diplomats Denounce Sarkozy
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-23 17:19:12
(Read 4418 times || comments)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing an unprecedented revolt by French diplomats who warn that his foreign policy gaffes have left France pathetically diminished on the world stage.

After weeks of embarrassing French slip-ups – including Paris blindly standing by the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships until the last minute – a group of diplomats have published a scathing attack on the president in Le Monde.

The anonymous letter from serving and former diplomats warns: "France's voice in the world has disappeared." They accuse Sarkozy of amateurism, acting on impulse, ignoring ambassadors and caring more about how he looks on TV than the fundamentals of foreign affairs.

They claim France risks losing its footing on the world stage and becoming insignificant. "Africa escapes us, the Mediterranean snubs us, China has crushed us and Washington ignores us!" the letter says.

The timing of the diplomatic rebellion is particularly damaging: Sarkozy is the current president of the G8 and G20 economic forums and is preparing for a re-election bid next year.

#80) Commentary: The Durban Climate Agreement 'Is Almost Useless'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:10:33
(Read 4382 times || comments)
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Spiegel Online journalist David Crossland, writing under the German news magazines column "The World From Berlin", which includes editorial comments by various German news organizations. It was posted on Spiegel Online's edition for Monday, December 12, 2011.  

The climate talks in Durban ended with an agreement to agree on a new agreement on emissions cuts in coming years. The outcome was hailed as historic by the organizers, but German commentators say the pledges remain too vague and the progress too slow -- while global warming is accelerating.

Countries from around the globe agreed on Sunday to forge a new deal forcing all the biggest polluters for the first time to limit greenhouse gas emissions. A package of accords agreed after two weeks of United Nations talks in Durban, South Africa, extended the 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- the only global pact enforcing carbon cuts -- allowing five more years to finalize a wider pact.

Delegates agreed in the early hours of Sunday to start work next year on a new, legally binding accord to cut greenhouse gases, to be decided by 2015 and to come into force by 2020. The process for doing so, called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, would "develop a new protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force." The phrasing was vague enough for all parties to claim victory.

Countries also agreed on the format of a "Green Climate Fund" to help poor nations tackle climate change. "We have made history," said South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who chaired the talks.

German media commentators beg to differ. Most argue that the best that can be said of the Durban agreement is that it kept global climate talks alive. Some even question whether the U.N. is the right forum for climate talks, since the so-called accords have produced only meager results, while the world's climate continues to heat up inexorably.

#81) Bank Of Canada Governor Carney: Canadians Consuming Beyond Means
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:09:07
(Read 4362 times || comments)
Canada’s fiscal advantage puts it in a better position for the coming years as other advanced nations struggle to reduce even greater debt loads, but the country must seize on this by refocusing the economy away from unsustainable household spending and toward greater business investment, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said Monday.

The United States and Europe face several years of daunting fiscal and structural adjustments that will crimp global economic growth, said Mr. Carney, but events since the 2008 crisis have also lessened Canada’s “margin of maneuver”.

Household debt has climbed by 13 percentage points relative to income in Canada, and even as foreign investors snap up Canadian bonds – partly as a vote of confidence in the economy and the government’s fiscal management – too much of the capital coming in is being used to fund household spending instead of building productive capacity, he said.

“We might appear to prosper for a while by consuming beyond our means,” Carney said in the text of a speech he was delivering at a luncheon in Toronto. “Markets may let us do so for longer than we should. But if we yield to this temptation, eventually, we, too, will face painful adjustments.”

Indeed, Carney noted that even though Canada was in the best fiscal shape of all Group of Seven nations at the time of the Lehman Brothers collapse three years ago, conditions during the country’s fiscal adjustment period in the 1990s were arguably more favorable than they are today. Specifically, the population is aging and the work force shrinking, productivity growth is sluggish, and much of the world is in the throes of a multi-year process of spending and consuming less.

#82) President Obama Hails Mubarak's Resignation, Cites 'Moral Force Of Non-Violence'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-11 21:39:18
(Read 4351 times || comments)
Bowing to 18 days of a popular revolt that showed no sign of slowing down, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned Friday and handed over power to the military, an ignominious end to his 30 years of U.S.-backed authoritarian rule.

The streets of Cairo erupted with celebratory gunfire, honking car horns and cheers from hundreds of thousands of protesters who'd braved tear gas, rubber bullets, attacks from government-allied thugs and communications disruptions to organize a revolt that was unprecedented in Egypt's modern history.

In Washington, President Barack Obama, after meetings with his national security advisers for hours, hailed the developments and promised that the United States "will continue to be a friend and partner."

"It was the moral force of non-violence that bent the arc of history toward justice once more," said President Obama . "Today belongs to the people of Egypt."

"The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same," he said.

The announcement that Mubarak had stepped down was made by Vice President Omar Suleiman on state television Friday evening, less than 24 hours after a defiant Mubarak had refused to go.

Mubarak reportedly fled Cairo for his home in Sharm el Shekih at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.

#83) Sir Isaac Newton's Personal Annotated Copy Of Principia Mathematica Goes Online
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:08:12
(Read 4313 times || comments)

Cambridge University is putting the papers of Sir Isaac Newton online for the first time, including his own annotated copy of his greatest work, Principia Mathematica, with notes and calculations in his handwriting revising the book and answering critics.

So far, more than 4,000 pages, about 20% of the university's Newton archive, have been put into digital form as part of a program that will eventually give the public access to the papers of other famous scientists, ranging from Darwin to Ernest Rutherford. Included in the papers are the handwritten notes made after Newton's death, in 1727, by his colleague Thomas Pellet, who was asked by relatives of the great scientist to examine the papers with a view to publication.

Pellet's dismissive note, saying "Not fit to be printed", can be seen on some pages – which are now, inevitably, among those most closely studied. It is thought Pellet was attempting to censor some of Newton's more juvenile calculations and, more urgently, stifle his unorthodox religious views.

Grant Young, the university library's digitization manager, said: "You can see Newton's mind at work in the calculations and how his thinking was developing. His copy of the Principia contains pages interleaved with the printed text with his notes.

"The book has suffered much, pages are badly burned or water-stained, so it is very delicate and rarely put on show. Before today anyone who wanted to see these things had to come to Cambridge and get permission to see them, but we are now bringing Cambridge University library to the world at the click of a mouse."

#84) Occupy Vancouver Plans 12-Hour Port Blockade
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:08:36
(Read 4294 times || comments)

A few dozen protesters set up brief blockades Monday at entrances to Vancouver's port in solidarity with Occupy protesters along the U.S. West Coast.

Anti-Wall Street protesters in the United States have launched a movement called Wall Street on the Waterfront, and Occupy Vancouver protesters say they'll block the local port in solidarity with fellow Occupiers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Tacoma and Seattle.

Vancouver protesters planned to be back at the port later Monday for a full 12-hour blockade.

On Monday morning, demonstrators held up a large banner proclaiming solidarity with long-shore employees involved in a dispute at the U.S. Washington state port of Longview.

The disruption lasted for about an hour before the protest moved to a second gate into the port, which was blocked for less than 30 minutes before protesters moved on.

#85) China's Navy Coming Of Age
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-16 16:21:50
(Read 4259 times || comments)

When the Soviet Union began building the aircraft carrier Varyag more than a quarter of a century ago, the 300-meter ship was expected to one day sail provocatively into the Mediterranean Sea, a Cold War challenge to American naval dominance in that part of the globe.

When it finally sets to sea under its own power some time this year or next, the Varyag will have a very different master and mission. Today, the construction project that began in 1985 in what is now the Ukrainian port of Mykolaiv is being completed in the Chinese hub of Dalian.

A world and an era away from its original intended purpose, the Varyag will instead feed fears and suspicions between the United States and China, its latest military rival.

The Varyag is far from the pinnacle of China's naval ambitions. In fact, it's not clear that the ship will ever be anything but a floating test runway for the pilots and planes that will eventually be transferred to a larger and indiginously developed aircraft carrier that China hints could be mission-ready by 2015. As many as six aircraft carriers are believed to be either planned or under construction by the People's Liberation Army Navy.

The status of the Varyag (a Cold War relic that once appeared fated to become a floating casino in Macao) is now of major concern in Washington, and among neighbors such as Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. This fact speaks to a lingering truth about international relations: Even in a world of satellite weaponry and cyberwars, naval power remains as relevant in 2011 as it was in centuries past.

Despite all the advances in diplomacy, communications and military hardware, the way a superpower expresses its displeasure hasn't changed much since 1841, when an iron-sided British warship appropriately named the Nemesis sailed up the Yangtze River during the First Opium War, helping force the Chinese to cede Hong Kong Island to Queen Victoria's empire.

#86) Interview With Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit - 'There Is No Reason For Exuberance'
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-02 17:44:14
(Read 4236 times || comments)

During the financial crisis, U.S. taxpayers bailed out Citibank to the tune of 45 billion dollars. Now, the bank is once again profitable. SPIEGEL spoke to CEO Vikram Pandit about what he has learned from the crisis, the future of banking in the U.S. and why Indians make good bankers.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Pandit, you just announced a profit of over €10 billion for 2010. But your investors were disappointed because they had expected more. Is the financial crisis already over?

Pandit: It is still too early to draw conclusions because we can't tell yet how sustainable the recovery will be. As you know, the development of the banks is linked to the economic recovery. In addition, regulators across the world are just designing new rules for the financial sector. This could change the business model of some financial institutions.

SPIEGEL: The economic recovery is still sluggish, at least in the U.S. The unemployment rate is high. Yet business on Wall Street is booming once again.

Pandit: There is no reason for exuberance. That would be inappropriate given the still difficult situation. In spite of the good numbers, the upswing is still fragile. But it is normal that an upswing starts with the recovery of the financial sector and the stock market -- and that as a result, job creation can follow later on in other areas, too. Everybody benefits if the banks are doing better, because companies need a functioning banking system to provide them with sufficient capital.

SPIEGEL: One could also say, though, that the country is still paying the price for what happened. The banks however -- which created the chaos in the first place -- have returned to business as usual. Your bank, for instance, was bailed out with $45 billion in federal money.

Pandit: We owe a debt of gratitude to the American taxpayer for the investment in Citigroup. The US government and thus the taxpayer sold the last of its shares last year and made $12 billion in profits.

SPIEGEL: Citigroup is a prime example for all the things that went wrong in the run-up to the financial crisis. The company lost a whopping $27.2 billion in 2008 due to the failure of highly complex financial bets. Now it is again making a nice profit. How did you turn your company around?

Pandit: Prior to 2008, we operated as a "financial supermarket" and tried to be all things to all people. Since then, however we concentrated on our core business and sold other businesses and assets that we consider not to be part of our strategic growth plans, for instance the retail business in Germany. All in all, we sold 40 percent of our company.

SPIEGEL: You also slashed over 100,000 jobs during this radical restructuring.

#87) Trapped In The U.S. Web -- Daimler Upset With Over-Eager American Oversight
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-13 17:46:54
(Read 4232 times || comments)
n April 2010, U.S. authorities forced Daimler to pay $185 million due to corruption allegations. But the SEC is still monitoring the German car maker, with former FBI head Louis Freeh leading the American team. Daimler executives complain that his aggressive style is bad for business.

For years, Ernst Lieb was seen as the prototype of a Daimler manager. Lieb, referred to simply as Ernst at the Stuttgart headquarters, worked for the car maker for 36 years, most recently as the head of its important U.S. operations. In addition to knowing his way around expensive cars, Lieb is a connoisseur of good food and wine. He cultivated the persona of a "Mister Mercedes" and lived in a company-owned mansion in New Jersey. Many of New York's wealthy and important people were invited to his parties.

Now Lieb is gone, after having been dismissed in October. He is still considered the prototypical manager, but of the type Daimler no longer wants to see in its ranks.

The former Mercedes executive was simply charging too many items to his employer's tab, including a home theater for $89,000 (€68,000), a home gym for about $22,000, a washing machine, a dryer and a bed, a built-in barbecue system, his membership in a country club, and much more.

There was a time when Daimler would have taken care of the matter on the quiet. It would have issued a brief press release, stating that the head of its U.S. operations was leaving the company "on amicable terms," and that would have been that. But now Daimler is in litigation with its former executive in a Stuttgart labor court, and the details are being discussed openly, including the charge that Lieb had his employer reimburse him for several thousand dollars to cover the electricity costs for an elaborate Christmas lighting display at the New Jersey mansion.

#88) Riding The Wave Of Islamaphobia - The German Geert Wilders
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-06 14:01:58
(Read 4195 times || comments)

A former member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats has formed a party to attract voters enthralled by Thilo Sarrazin and disappointed by Germany's existing parties. Berlin politician René Stadkewitz's new Freedom Party aims to leverage fear of Islam for political ends.

The 52 men and women meeting in a conference room at the Hotel Maritim in Berlin's Tiergarten district were determined to remain undisturbed. No one else was privy to the location and time of the meeting, in a deliberate attempt to prevent protesters and journalists from showing up at the scene. The only outsider present was Daniel Pipes, an American author, critic of Islam and adviser to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who happened to be in the city.

The Hotel Maritim is on Stauffenbergstrasse, near the Memorial to the German Resistance. It is an historic point of reference that the 52 attendees would likely have drawn encouragement from. Like would-be Hitler assassin Claus von Stauffenberg, after whom the street is named, they too hope to protect Germany against what they perceive to be pending disaster. The group drafted a set of bylaws and discussed a 77-page party platform, which includes such statements as: "We will do everything in our power to oppose the Islamization of our country."

They gave their party a grand name, a name worth fighting for: "Die Freiheit" (Freedom).

The 52 men and women chose as their party chairman an unprepossessing man with a short haircut and melancholy eyes, the 45-year-old manager of a company specializing in alarm systems and security technology and a member of the Berlin state parliament, René Stadtkewitz.

#89) Death In Venice - An Italian Idyll Fights For Its Very Existence
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-02-25 17:26:55
(Read 4187 times || comments)

The city of Venice absorbs 20 million tourists each year. In addition, rising water levels have meant an increasing number of floods each year. A new barrier aims to keep Mother Nature at bay, but Venice faces an equally big problem: Its population is shrinking dramatically as Venetians flee the city.

They cast off near the old fish market, relaxing in gondolas, sitting on velvety black benches, dressed in Mickey Mouse, mermaid and pirate costumes. A rock band is playing music while a porn star exposes her fake breasts in the middle of the Grand Canal. The Venetian Carnival is just around the corner. This isn't some merry parade, however, but a bitterly angry demonstration against the impending demise of a grand old city.

It's not Japanese tour groups or enchanted Germans taking snapshots of gondoliers singing "O sole mio" who are sitting in the gondolas. Instead, they are young Italians who were born in Venice and grew up in a city that now feels like Disneyland to them.

An official with the city's cultural agency is dressed as a rat. "The flood is driving the rats onto land," he says. He isn't just referring to Venice's winter floods, which have been transforming St. Mark's Square into a big puddle more and more frequently. He also means the rising human flood of 20 million tourists that inundate the city every year. The city accepts them because they are the type of flood that brings in revenue.

"Venice is drowning," says the rat, "and we are becoming extinct."

The protest fleet docks at Piazzale Roma. The square is the gateway to Venice. Those who arrive there are likely to search in vain for the places depicted in the glossy photos of tourist brochures, the sites where Thomas Mann or Donna Leon wrote eulogies. The bridge to the mainland begins at the square, the terminal station discharges armies pulling their trolley cases and buses from the mainland spit out commuters by the minute at the ferry dock. The new high-tech "People Mover" elevated train picks up day trippers from the parking garages. The Benetton Group has bought the old railroad building and is converting it into a shopping center.

#90) Commentary: Lesson From Durban - How To Create A Successful U.N. Climate Summit
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:09:56
(Read 4164 times || comments)
Intellpuke: The following commentary was written by Spiegel journalist Christian Schwagerl and was posted on Spiegel Online's edition for Monday, December 12, 2011.  

Once again, a U.N. climate summit has ended with limited results. In the end, the blockers and procrastinators prevailed. That's why the next global meeting must be transformed into a forum for mutual learning and not just one for haggling and meaningless legalese.

After two weeks of talks at the United Nations climate summit in Durban, South Africa, participants were only truly united on one issue: They just wanted to get home and away from the soulless conference center as soon as possible.

Yet another United Nations summit has failed to yield the results necessary to stop run-away global heating of the atmosphere and oceans. At the end of the conference, success was measured by the number of years a global climate treaty can be delayed -- a truly grotesque development given the approaching threat. Ultimately, it was the procrastinators -- mainly delegates from the United States and India bent on keeping every option open instead of restructuring their economies -- who prevailed at the summit.

It would be wrong to pile all the blame on the U.N. for this. The reason climate conferences are so contentious is that they are a venue where stubborn national interests collide. Rich nations want to defend a prosperity that is fired by coal and oil. Meanwhile, emerging nations want to be given the chance to catch up economically. And the poorest countries want to avoid becoming victims of unchecked climate change. The outcome in Durban is the mirror image of these differences.

But there are nevertheless pressing challenges for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his strategists following Durban. The U.N.'s leadership needs to reform the format of future climate negotiations to render better outcomes more likely.

#91) British Leader Under Pressure - Cameron Insists E.U. Membership 'Vital' To Britain
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:05:29
(Read 4125 times || comments)

British Prime Minister David Cameron, under fire in Europe for blocking a key E.U. treaty change, defended his move on Monday and said E.U. membership remained 'vital' to the U.K. He faces pressure from euro-skeptics who want Britain to quit the bloc -- while his pro-European coalition partner is fuming.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday defended his decision to refuse to join the other 26 European Union member states in a fiscal union, and dismissed growing calls in his Conservative Party for Britain to leave the E.U., saying remaining in the bloc was vital to Britain's national interests.

"Britain remains a full member of the E.U. and the events of the last week do nothing to change that," Cameron told parliament during a debate on last week's European Union summit. "Our membership of the E.U. is vital to our national interest. We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs."

"We are in the E.U. and we want to be," he added.

Cameron's decision not to take part in an E.U. treaty change aimed at tightening fiscal rules for euro-zone member states has isolated Britain in the 27-nation bloc and opened a rift in his government coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrat party.

Cameron said he voted against amending the Lisbon Treaty to enshrine new debt rules because his call for safeguards for the financial sector had been rejected by E.U. partners at the summit. He added that he had not sought the safeguards just for Britain but for the whole E.U., to protect the competitiveness of banks. "The right answer was no treaty," he said. "It was not an easy thing to do but it was the right thing to do."

#92) Air France Pilots Fought With Controls
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-05-28 14:56:54
(Read 4107 times || comments)

Air France pilots lost control of their Airbus A330 over the South Atlantic and spent more than three minutes apparently struggling to figure out what was wrong before the aircraft smashed into the sea, killing all aboard on June 1, 2009.

A preliminary report by French accident investigators paints a grimly disturbing picture of an undamaged aircraft with engines working, falling vertically for nearly 12 kilometers as three Air France pilots held the airliner in a nose-high attitude. While speed and other instruments gave confusing readings, the aircraft controls were working.

The disaster began about 2½ hours into the Rio de Janerio-to-Paris flight, and about nine minutes after the captain, the senior of three pilots on board, left the cockpit for a routine rest period. He designated the junior of the two first officers as the “pilot flying.”

First the Air France pilots flew straight into a towering series of massive thunderstorms – the only flight that night on a South America-to-Europe route that didn’t divert around the dangerous weather.

Then the speed sensors apparently failed – possibly choked by ice crystals – and the autopilot clicked off. That’s a problem but hardly creates an unrecoverable emergency. It does, however, require the pilots to take control and “hand fly” the big Airbus A330, something supposedly practiced routinely to keep pilots from becoming overly reliant on automation.

#93) A 'Ringer'? Mikhail Prokhorov To Challenge Putin For Presidency
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:03:32
(Read 4069 times || comments)
Russia's third richest man has said that he would seek to challenge Vladimir Putin for the presidency, prompting speculation that the surprise move could be part of a Kremlin attempt to channel growing middle class opposition to Putin's regime.

"I have made a decision, probably the most serious decision of my life," the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov told journalists during a hastily called press conference on Monday. "I am going to run in the presidential election." Prokhorov said he would seek to appeal to the disenchanted middle class with his candidacy and made sure to avoid direct criticism of Putin, who has drawn the ire of a growing protest movement hoping to challenge his authoritarian rule.

But the announcement appeared to some analysts to be a Kremlin attempt to redirect protesters' ire from the streets, organized by the unauthorized opposition, into a liberal project controlled by the corridors of power. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told that Prokhorov – who has a history of involvement in Kremlin-inspired politics – was "a pure fake and bluff". Prokhorov presented his statement as a challenge to the Putin era. "Society is waking up, whether you want it or not," he said. "If the powers, in the widest sense of the word, don't carry out a dialogue [with the protesters], then those powers will soon have to go."

However, his presidential bid presents a total about-face regarding Putin's handling of the government. Just last week, as the first signs of the protest movement began to emerge, he took to his blog to say: "Whether you like it or not, Putin is so far the only one who can somehow manage this ineffective government machine."

Prokhorov has survived a series of scandals to build a fortune of an estimated £11.5 billion. He was forced to sell his stake in the metals giant Norilsk Nickel on the eve of the financial crisis in 2008, after becoming embroiled in a prostitution scandal in France. He now owns part of a major gold producer and the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the U.S.

#94) Naughty Nurses And Bunga Bunga - Italy Finally Loses Patience With Berlusconi
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-25 16:17:25
(Read 4066 times || comments)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in embroiled in yet another sex scandal, involving accusations of prostitution and abuse of power. But the biggest question is how long the country will continue to put up with its leader.

The public prosecutor's office in Milan is housed in a massive, forbidding building from the Mussolini era not far from the city's world-famous Duomo cathedral. The Latin word "IUSTITIA," or "justice," is inscribed in huge letters above the main entrance. Behind this building's gun-slit-like windows lies the conscience of the nation, the other Italy.

Milan's prosecutors have spent the last six months investigating a case newspapers have dubbed "Rubygate." They have been digging through interrogations and recorded telephone conversations of people who attended parties at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's villa in Arcore, outside Milan.

Their work has yielded a 389-page dossier, which was submitted to parliament in Rome last week. It is now up to an investigative committee to determine whether additional searches of the premier's private property can be conducted. Berlusconi himself has been summoned to appear for questioning in Milan and was given his choice of three dates. This time around, things are not looking good for the Italian prime minister.

'The Old Guy' With The Money

The once-secret dossier is no longer secret. In fact, all of Italy is familiar with it, thanks to the fresh and increasingly sordid details the papers are revealing each day. Indeed, with each passing day, it seems like the prime minister is being pulled farther and farther off his pedestal. The image of the virile, omnipotent ruler, of the hedonist who loves women, is beginning to crumble. One reason behind this shift is that many of the girls caught in wiretapped telephone conversations speak in such contemptuous terms about the man who has fascinated Italians for so long.

#95) Right-Wing Extremism - The Village Where The Neo-Nazis Rule
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-01-03 14:36:14
(Read 4058 times || comments)

Hitler salutes in the street and firing practice in the forest: Neo-Nazis have taken over an entire village in Germany, and authorities appear to have given up efforts to combat the problem. The place has come to symbolize the far right's growing influence in parts of the former communist east.

Horst and Birgit Lohmeyer have been working on their life's dream for six years, renovating a house in the woods near Jamel, a tiny village near Wismar in the far northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Birgit Lohmeyer writes crime novels, her husband is a musician, and both try to pretend everything is normal here in Jamel.

It wasn't easy to find their new home. The Lohmeyers spent months driving out to the countryside every weekend, heading east from where they lived in Hamburg, but most of the houses they saw were too expensive. Then they came across the inexpensive red brick farmhouse in Jamel. Slightly run-down, but not far from the Baltic Sea, the house sits surrounded by lime and maple trees, near a lake.

The Lohmeyers knew that a notorious neo-Nazi lived nearby -- Sven Kruger, a demolition contractor and high-level member of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). What the Lohmeyers didn't know was that other neighbors felt terrorized by Kruger. He and his associates were in the process of buying up the entire village.

Jamel is an example of the far-right problem that has plagued Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for years. The rural region, once part of communist East Germany, has a poor reputation in this regard -- the NPD, which glorifies the Third Reich, has been in the state parliament since 2006 and neo-Nazi crimes are part of daily life. In recent months, a series of attacks against politicians from all the democratic parties has shaken the state. Sometimes hardly a week goes by without an attack on another electoral district office, with paint bombs, right-wing graffiti and broken windows.

#96) Newburgh Four: Poor, Black And Jailed Under FBI 'Entrapment' Tactics
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:13:03
(Read 4051 times || comments)

Imam Salahuddin Muhammad could hardly miss Shahed Hussain when he first appeared three years ago at his mosque in the dilapidated town of Newburgh, just 60 miles up the Hudson River from New York.

Hussain was flash, drove expensive cars and treated people to gifts of cash and food. He also had radical opinions that stood out in a mosque that welcomed Shia and Sunni followers and had good relations with local Jewish and Christian communities.

"This guy said women should not be heard, not be seen. I thought that was strange," Muhammad told the Guardian newspaper as he sat in his office inside Newburgh's mosque." Muhammad, who is a black American convert, had no idea how strange things would get.

Hussain would make Newburgh's Muslim community famous when earlier this year four other black Newburgh Muslims were jailed for 25 years for a 2009 plot to fire a Stinger missile at U.S. military planes. They also planted car bombs, packed with lethal ball bearings, outside Jewish targets in the wealthy New York suburb of Riverdale.

Prosecutors painted them as America-hating terrorists bent on slaughter. All four followed the instructions of Hussain, who meticulously organized the scheme: from getting the missile and bombs, to reconnaissance missions, to teaching the tenets of radical Islam.

The "Newburgh Four" now languish in jail. Hussain does not. For Hussain was a fake. In fact, Hussain worked for the FBI as an informant trawling mosques in hope of picking up radicals.

Yet far from being active militants, the four men he attracted were impoverished individuals struggling with Newburgh's grim epidemic of crack, drug crime and poverty. One had mental issues so severe his apartment contained bottles of his own urine. He also believed Florida was a foreign country.

Hussain offered the men huge financial inducements to carry out the plot – including $250,000 to one man – and free holidays and expensive cars.

#97) U.S. Supreme Court To Rule On Arizona's Controversial Immigration Law
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:11:32
(Read 4050 times || comments)

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to rule on Arizona's controversial law targeting illegal immigrants.

The justices said they will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked several tough provisions in the Arizona law. One of those requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person's immigration status if officers suspect that they are in the country illegally.

The Obama administration challenged the Arizona law by arguing that regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states. Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also are facing administration lawsuits. Private groups are suing over immigration measures adopted in Georgia and Indiana.

The court now has three politically charged cases on its election-year calendar. The other two are President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and new electoral maps for Texas' legislature and congressional delegation.

Justice Elena Kagan will not take part in the Arizona case, presumably because of her work on the issue when she served in the justice department.

The immigration case stems from the administration's furious legal fight against a patchwork of state laws targeting illegal immigrants.

#98) North Carolina Storm Damage Could Add Up To Millions
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-04-19 15:46:54
(Read 4030 times || comments)

Josh Creighton got an ominous warning Saturday.

It was a meteorologist, calling to tell Creighton, head of emergency operations for Wake County, North Carolina, that a storm was coming. And it wasn't a typical springtime shower.

"He said, 'This has an Oklahoma-type signature, and it's coming your way'," Creighton said Monday, recalling the conversation that took place hours before Saturday's major storm system battered much of the eastern part of the state.

Two days later, North Carolina played a grim numbers game Monday.

The vicious system that killed at least 22 people and injured at least 130 in the state also damaged or destroyed at least 800 homes and left thousands facing the possibility of another night in the dark.

#99) Infiltrating The Far Right - German Intelligence Has 130 Informants In Extremist Party
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-12 18:06:02
(Read 4014 times || comments)

Following revelations about a neo-Nazi terror cell believed to have murdered at least 10 people, Germans want to see the right-wing extremist party NPD banned. But new figures reveal just how hard that would be. SPIEGEL has learned that German intelligence has fully 130 informants in the party.

The detection of a neo-Nazi terrorist cell in Germany last month sparked fresh calls for a ban  on the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). But before any attempt to ban the party can be carried out, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, will first have to deactivate its informants within the party. A previous attempt to ban the party failed because of the presence of paid informants within the NPD.

Now, the scale of the challenge that such a move would pose has become clear. SPIEGEL has learned that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has over 130 informants active within the controversial party, some of them in senior positions. The magazine arrived at the total by analyzing information about sources that the authorities have released over the past few weeks. The total includes officials in leadership positions on both the state and national levels, as well as ordinary members of the party.

In the event of a new attempt to ban the party, the domestic intelligence agency would have to deactivate over 100 of these informants.

Failed Attempt  

Germany has already tried, and failed, to ban the party. In 2003, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court rejected a move to outlaw the party when it was revealed that intelligence agency informants held senior positions within the NPD. The court argued that it was possible that the party's policies had partly been shaped by informants working for the intelligence agency.

#100) Germany's President Gambles Credibility - Controversy Mounts Over Private Loan
Posted By: Intellpuke 2011-12-13 17:50:21
(Read 3963 times || comments)

German President Christian Wulff has denied accusations that he misled the Lower Saxony parliament in 2010 about a private loan he had arranged. But many questions remain unanswered, and the controversy could damage the credibility of the Germany's official head of state.

It was meant to be a nice winter trip. Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait -- German President Christian Wulff and his wife Bettina have been visiting the Arabian Peninsula, getting in and out of electric cars, touring old Bedouin sites.

There have been great photo opportunities in the blazing sun. But the mood is likely to have darkened on the last stop of their trip, Kuwait, on Tuesday after a controversial chapter from Wulff's past caught up with him. He has had to field awkward questions about a €500,000 ($659,000) loan and whether he deliberately lied to the parliament of Lower Saxony in February 2010, when he was governor of the northern German state.

The president, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, is defending himself and denying the allegations. But the tabloid Bild, which broke the story on Tuesday, writes: "The president has a problem."

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