of the Day
- January 14, 2010
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
Haiti quake survivors sought amid 'unimaginable' destruction
Entire hillsides of homes appear to have tumbled during Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake, which may have killed thousands. President Obama says the U.S. will help however it can.
by Tina Susman and Joe Mozingo and Ken Ellingwood
January 14, 2010
Reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and Mexico City -- The capital of Haiti lay in ruins Wednesday, shattered by an earthquake it was not built to withstand. With most international aid yet to arrive, bodies lined the streets, the injured gathered at hospitals devoid of doctors or functioning equipment, swaths of the city were reduced to rubble and even the presidential palace -- long a symbol of whatever stability the country could muster -- was damaged and sagging.
Most telecommunications were down, making it next to impossible for the government and aid agencies to count the casualties or assess the extent of damage from the magnitude 7.0 quake that struck Tuesday afternoon.
President Rene Preval described the destruction as "unimaginable" and predicted that the death toll would reach into the thousands. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said a preliminary assessment led him to fear that the number of dead could be "well over 100,000."
Rescuers, often equipped with little more than their hands, hunted for survivors amid a grim tableau of destruction. Entire hillsides of homes appeared to have tumbled, while in other areas structures stood unaffected next to piles of dusty debris. Some buildings lay in pancake-like concrete heaps.
Relief workers said it could take a day or two to know how many of Haiti's 9 million residents need assistance.
Homeless or fearful survivors took shelter under tarps on the grounds outside the prime minister's office and elsewhere across the capital. As night fell, crowds filled downtown streets. People sought open-air spots to spend the night, either because they were afraid to be indoors or had no home left.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is a place where misery is an everyday condition and disasters -- of both the natural and man-caused variety -- are not uncommon. At best, the government has made only halting progress toward improving the lives of its citizens. The quake, said to be the strongest in the country in 200 years, caused death and destruction of a whole new magnitude.
In a predominantly Catholic country that already relied heavily on United Nations relief, the dead were reported to include the archbishop of Port-au-Prince and at least 16 U.N. personnel, possibly including the head of the U.N. mission. Both the hotel that served as U.N. headquarters and the city's main cathedral were heavily damaged, as were the Parliament building, schools, hospitals and other hotels.
The U.N. reported that the main prison also had collapsed and that inmates escaped.
Some looting was reported, and about 3,000 police officers and international peacekeepers were trying to maintain security.
U.S. officials said most of the damage appeared to be concentrated around Port-au-Prince, a teeming city of 2 million that sits like a hive of gray concrete that creeps up a mountainside rising out of the Caribbean. The homes are mostly made of cheap, porous concrete made with sand from nearby quarries.
In the aftermath of the quake, entire big-box apartment blocks had collapsed along roads carved into the hills. Rubble had blown out onto the roads. Next to the debris lay bodies, their faces dutifully covered by sheets.
On Martin Luther King Avenue, just past a sign reading, "Bienvenue a Port-au-Prince," the slender legs of three young children poked out from under sheets. The bodies of three adults were strewn nearby.
At two badly damaged hospitals in the capital, there were virtually no doctors or medical workers in sight.
Outside St. Esprit Hospital, bodies lay on the street, including that of a woman whose white hair showed above the sheet covering her, with a small child next to her.
But behind the compound's iron doors, the scene was worse: people dead and apparently dying on the ground as their relatives stood by helplessly, watching them. Some of the injured wept in pain; others lay silently.
One man dragged visitors to see his mother, who lay on her back wearing only a light yellow flowery robe. She was on the street just outside the hospital gate, one leg clearly broken.
"I don't know what to do," another man lamented as he dragged visitors over to look at his cousin, who lay on the ground covered only with a towel.
Many of those on the ground had been hooked up to IVs from the hospital, but apparently by their own relatives.
President Obama called the earthquake a "cruel and incomprehensible tragedy," and promised that the U.S. would help in any way it could.
"This is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity we all share," Obama said in televised remarks from the White House. "With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us, Haitians are our neighbors in the Americas and here at home."
The U.S. military deployed a 30-member team to assess the damage and help manage the response. U.S. Coast Guard helicopters evacuated four severely injured U.S. Embassy employees to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said more than 100 of the estimated 45,000 Americans in Haiti had gathered at the airport to be evacuated. Officials said they had heard no reports so far of widespread casualties among U.S. citizens.
The United States also sent two 72-member urban search-and-rescue teams, including a specialized rescue team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. U.S. military aircraft began arriving Wednesday, and the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson was due to reach Haiti today.
Officials also were planning to send an amphibious ship with 2,000 Marines, and have alerted a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in North Carolina, about 2,500 soldiers, to prepare to help.
Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said the military's immediate goals are to help restore telecommunications and get the airport up and running. The control tower was heavily damaged, and many commercial flights were canceled.
The L.A. County rescue team was to fly to Port-au- Prince on Wednesday night, officials said. It includes paramedics, structural engineers, search dogs, physicians and firefighters trained in using sophisticated equipment to find and free people trapped in collapsed buildings.
Kimberley Shoaf, associate director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters, said residents of Haiti were likely to face an increased risk of dengue fever, malaria and measles. She also warned that the lack of healthcare could lead to complications among the injured.
Haiti's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, said that the "silver lining" was that the earthquake struck shortly before 5 p.m., when many office workers had gone home for the day.
The body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot was found in the ruins of his office, said the Rev. Pierre Le Beller of the St. Jacques Missionary Center in Landivisiau, France, who spoke to the Associated Press by telephone. He said that fellow missionaries in Haiti had told him that they had found Miot's body.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the head of the U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince, Tunisian diplomat Hedi Annabi, was killed along with other U.N. personnel when the organization's headquarters in the Christopher Hotel collapsed. Kouchner said the information came from the Haitian ambassador to France. U.N. officials said 100 to 150 U.N. personnel were missing, including Annabi.
Troops from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, mostly Brazilian, worked through the night to try to reach those trapped in the hotel. Rescuers recovered several bodies and seriously injured people.
The U.S. is expected to lead the international aid effort.
Obama said he had directed his administration "to respond with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives."
Rajiv Shah of the U.S. Agency for International Development will coordinate the response, Obama said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton canceled a trip to the Pacific and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates put off plans to travel to Australia in order to deal with the quake's aftermath.
"The situation is horrific and, unfortunately, we do not have the kind of information yet that gives us a road map as to how we're going to be able to respond effectively, although we are moving a lot of our assets to position them to do so," Clinton said before scrapping the planned visit to Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Former President Bill Clinton, who serves as the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, called on people around the world to donate money to relief organizations or the U.N.
"We do not have the logistical or organizational capacity right now to handle a lot of things, even if we need those things," he said. "What we need now is food, water, supplies for first aid and shelter."
Bodies lining Haiti's roadsides are the grim tally of disaster
The earthquake left some hillside homes demolished while leaving other buildings seemingly untouched. Outside assistance, and relief efforts, appear nonexistent.
by Tina Susman and Joe Mozingo
January 14, 2010
Reporting from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
As darkness fell on Haiti's capital Wednesday, crowds sought out the relative safety of the streets and open spaces.
In a hillside neighborhood just above downtown Port-au-Prince, they gathered under a spectacularly starry sky. And they sang. Like a huge school choir, earthquake survivors broke out in loud communal song, a soothing sound in a city with no power, little water and untold numbers of bodies hidden in rubble or strewn along the roadsides.
But the songs turned to screams as a strong aftershock hit, shaking the buildings that survived the magnitude 7.0 earthquake Tuesday and jolting the streets.
In moments, the crowd on the streets grew. Many of those who had risked remaining inside ran from their shaky shelters, away from the walls and ceilings that had caused such destruction a day earlier. People loitered, some looking at nearby buildings or collapsed walls.
Then the singing and chanting continued -- Catholic, Protestant, voodoo. "God, all of our hope is in you!" one man cried.
Across Port-au-Prince, the damage seemed nearly random.
Some homes covering hillsides looked as if they had simply crumbled into the dirt. Major government institutions and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Other buildings, such as the cheerful-looking Rose Restaurant, appeared untouched.
Officials could only guess at the number of dead and injured. Along the city's roadsides, the bodies were neatly lined up, some covered in white sheets and some not.
The corpses included that of a girl, perhaps a teenager, in pink shorts; a couple lying next to each other; a man covered in a sheet save for his horribly swollen feet.
There was virtually no sign of outside assistance other than a few United Nations vehicles passing by. There was little police presence, no water being handed out, no encampments, except those set up by people apparently left homeless by the quake or those too afraid to go back into their ramshackle homes.
Tent and tarp cities sprang up wherever there was shade or open space. Virtually no shops were open, leaving residents in the street with no apparent means of finding food.
Outside the Canape Vert Hospital, a crowd surged toward the entrance. A few bodies covered with sheets lay nearby on the road. From the streets, choked with cars and pedestrians, one could hear a person screaming in the medical facility.
At the St. Esprit Hospital, a knot of people gathered at the gate seeking treatment for the injured.
"They take them out here because they can't pay," said Colas Enelson, 36.
Enelson said his pregnant wife had suffered broken legs. Neighbors had pulled her out of the rubble of their home.
Like other anxious relatives gathered at this spot and in the open around the city, he feared that she might die here, staring up at the stars.
Many of the injured had hideous wounds. Outside a makeshift Doctors Without Borders center a short walk from St. Esprit, one young woman, her foot impaled on a large wooden stake, lay on a refrigerator door being used as a stretcher.
A clearly harried worker in the guarded compound said there was no means to treat severely injured people. Only bandages and other equipment to provide basic care were available, the worker said.
The most formal kind of "triage" in plain sight was on the grounds of the once-lavish Villa Creole hotel, which had been turned into a makeshift outdoor hospital. The grounds were covered with injured: swollen, bloody limbs; crying children; others too weak or injured to make a sound.
"Ask him if he can wiggle his toes," a man who appeared to be a doctor said to a woman as a young boy slumped in one of the hotel's lounge chairs.
Some of the worst damage appeared to be in hillside neighborhoods such as Petionville, a suburb of the capital. People used sledgehammers and their bare hands to dig through a collapsed shopping center, tossing aside mattresses and office supplies, according to news reports. More than a dozen cars were entombed, including a U.N. truck.
Elsewhere in the capital, structures lay collapsed like giant sandwiches, with layer upon layer of concrete and remnants showing through: mattresses, shreds of clothing, chairs.
On the gentle hillside near downtown, two young women lay on mattresses with makeshift IVs supported by sticks and cinder blocks, apparently crafted by a nurse.
The brother of one of the women said a house had fallen on them.
Around the women, as night fell and the stars came out, the fearful and dispossessed settled down to sleep.
Tectonics and poor construction conspired to create devastation in Haiti
The earthquake was a massive, shallow eruption beneath a heavily populated area that lacked stringent building standards, resulting in catastrophe.
by Cara Mia DiMassa and Alexandra Zavis
January 14, 2010
The catastrophic quake that struck Haiti on Tuesday involved a collision of lethal circumstances: a massive, shallow eruption below a densely populated city with few, if any, building codes.
The magnitude 7.0 quake occurred near the boundary between two major tectonic plates, the Caribbean and North American plates.
Most of the movement along these plates is what is known as left-lateral strike-slip motion, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, with the Caribbean plate moving eastward in relation to the North America plate.
Kate Hutton, a seismologist at Caltech, said the quake was similar to those seen along the San Andreas fault: It was shallow, a fact that enhances the intensity and makes it more localized to the region right along the fault.
"We are not surprised by any of it," Hutton said.
The Haiti quake had many similarities to the 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California. That quake, said Tom Heaton, director of Caltech's Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory, "caused a lot of damage, but it wasn't a disaster like this in terms of the number of people injured and killed."
For engineers and others well versed in the strict guidelines that California, Japan and other quake-prone zones mandate, the devastation seen in Haiti -- and other developing countries that have been hit by similarly sized temblors -- is horrifying but understandable. They blame the high numbers of earthquake fatalities in developing countries on poor building construction and rapid urban growth.
Before about 1950, a given-sized earthquake would do about the same amount of damage in the developed and underdeveloped world, said Ross Stein, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. Now the loss of life is typically 10 times higher in developing countries and the damage can be as much as 100 times higher, he said.
When a magnitude 7.9 earthquake rocked China's Sichuan province in 2008, schools, hospitals and other public buildings collapsed, contributing to the huge toll -- about 87,000 dead and missing. Shoddy school construction was blamed for the deaths of about 5,000 children.
The Chinese government was criticized for failing to impose strict building regulations, which it pledged to remedy.
Farzad Naeim, president of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, said that the quake in Haiti demonstrates "the same bad history, the nightmare, being repeated over and over again."
Naeim said that older construction in the region was built at a time when "people didn't know better." And new construction, he said, has not kept pace with advances in earthquake engineering, including reinforcements that are standard for new construction in California.
Turkey had a "very advanced code" in 1999 when a magnitude 7.4 earthquake killed at least 17,000 people, said Stein, who has worked extensively in the country. But the government left it to contractors to do their own inspections, he said.
In a city like Istanbul, "you are not really going to get anywhere by making rules," he said. "Many, many people are just pouring into the area without anything, and they knock down some trees and put a tent up. And the next year it's a shack. And the next year it's kind of a building. And the next year they start adding a floor as their family grows or other relatives come into the area.
"So here I am worrying about construction standards, but in reality so many of the buildings are built without any ownership, without any architect or engineer or anything," Stein said.
"What you have to do is train people to build stronger buildings with the means at their disposal."
Brian Tucker heads a Palo Alto-based group, GeoHazards International, that works with communities in developing countries to do just that. But he said that people "tend to treat earthquake disasters as God-given and controlled by God," especially in countries with many other pressing problems.
"I try to respectfully tell people that the earthquake disaster is in our hands," he said. "It's not like a comet coming from out of space that you have no way of anticipating."
Stein, of the USGS, said that part of the problem is that scientists have spent much of their time trying to understand the earthquake risks in California, Japan and other well-off parts of the world with high seismic hazards, while ignoring poorer and more densely populated parts of the world.
That's why the United Nations Development Program and other international agencies have been helping vulnerable countries -- including Jordan, Bhutan, China, Fiji, India and Iran -- to improve planning for earthquakes. The U.N. advises governments to upgrade schools, hospitals and other public buildings to better withstand earthquakes; to impose stricter building codes; and to develop evacuation, rescue and contingency plans.
Jordan Ryan, director of the UNDP crisis bureau, said his agency estimates that 60 million people have been affected by quakes in the last 10 years.
Ryan said there had been progress in getting the issue onto the agenda of some governments. "It's a very difficult argument to make," he said.
"It's like the old insurance argument: 'Who cares about prevention? We don't have enough money. We're a poor country.' "
U.S. suspends deportation of Haitians
The decision to temporarily halt deportee flights to the quake-devastated nation affects thousands of Haitian illegal immigrants in the U.S., officials say.
by Sebastian Rotella
January 14, 2010
Reporting from Washington
As a result of the chaos and death caused by the earthquake in Haiti, U.S. immigration officials have decided to temporarily suspend the deportation of Haitians, the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday.
The decision to suspend flights carrying deportees back to Haiti has ramifications for thousands of Haitian illegal immigrants in the United States, officials said.
"Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton today halted all removals to Haiti for the time being in response to the devastation caused by yesterday's earthquake," DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said. "ICE continues to closely monitor the situation."
About 30,000 Haitians in the U.S. have been given final orders of removal and were slated for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to DHS officials. About 160 are held in lockups by ICE; others have been granted alternatives to detention, officials said.
In addition, an unknown number of other illegal immigrants from Haiti are involved in immigration proceedings that could soon result in deportation orders.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON RESCUE EFFORTS IN HAITI
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. This morning I want to extend to the people of Haiti the deep condolences and unwavering support of the American people following yesterday's terrible earthquake.
We are just now beginning to learn the extent of the devastation, but the reports and images that we've seen of collapsed hospitals, crumbled homes, and men and women carrying their injured neighbors through....
...the streets are truly heart-wrenching. Indeed, for a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the many Haitian Americans around our country who do not yet know the fate of their families and loved ones back home.
I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives. The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble, and to deliver the humanitarian relief -- the food, water and medicine -- that Haitians will need in the coming days. In that effort, our government, especially USAID and the Departments of State and Defense are working closely together and with our partners in Haiti, the region, and around the world.
Right now our efforts are focused on several urgent priorities. First, we're working quickly to account for U.S. embassy personnel and their families in Port-au-Prince, as well as the many American citizens who live and work in Haiti. Americans trying to locate family members in Haiti are encouraged to contact the State Department at 888/407-4747. I'm going to repeat that – 888/407-4747.
Second, we've mobilized resources to help rescue efforts. Military overflights have assessed the damage, and by early afternoon our civilian disaster assistance team are beginning to arrive. Search and rescue teams from Florida, Virginia and California will arrive throughout today and tomorrow, and more rescue and medical equipment and emergency personnel are being prepared.
Because in disasters such as this the first hours and days are absolutely critical to saving lives and avoiding even greater tragedy, I have directed my teams to be as forward-leaning as possible in getting the help on the ground and coordinating with our international partners as well.
Third, given the many different resources that are needed, we are taking steps to ensure that our government acts in a unified way. My national security team has led an interagency effort overnight. And to ensure that we coordinate our effort, going forward, I've designated the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Rajiv Shah, to be our government's unified disaster coordinator.
Now, this rescue and recovery effort will be complex and challenging. As we move resources into Haiti, we will be working closely with partners on the ground, including the many NGOs from Haiti and across Haiti, the United Nations Stabilization Mission, which appears to have suffered its own losses, and our partners in the region and around the world. This must truly be an international effort.
Finally, let me just say that this is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share. With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us and a long history that binds us together, Haitians are neighbors of the Americas and here at home. So we have to be there for them in their hour of need.
Despite the fact that we are experiencing tough times here at home, I would encourage those Americans who want to support the urgent humanitarian efforts to go to whitehouse.gov where you can learn how to contribute. We must be prepared for difficult hours and days ahead as we learn about the scope of the tragedy. We will keep the victims and their families in our prayers. We will be resolute in our response, and I pledge to the people of Haiti that you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America today and going forward.
May God bless the people of Haiti and those working on their behalf.
Thank you very much.
Focus on Haiti: Full coverage of the quake and its aftermath
Helping Haiti help itself
Devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, the country will need emergency aid -- and then help to build an actual, functioning state.
January 14, 2010
Haitians have long been prey to hurricanes and coups, their nation ravaged by erosion and corruption, mudslides and marauders, poverty and violence. Now the few economic and political gains made over five years of relative stability have been buried along with thousands of corpses in the rubble of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The presidential palace, parliament, government ministries and hospitals -- indeed most of the capital of Port-au-Prince -- are in ruins. An already dysfunctional state now lacks even the edifices of government. Gone too are some of the buttresses: the archbishop and his cathedral; the head of the United Nations mission and some of his top aides, who died when their headquarters collapsed.
Not even a developed country could completely withstand such a powerful temblor so close to the Earth's surface and city center. Yet the full extent of Haiti's devastation is a result of its broken state, where 80% live below the poverty line. Port-au-Prince quadrupled to nearly 3 million people in the last 25 years as Haitians fled a denuded countryside in search of food and work. They built shanties out of watered-down concrete on precarious hillsides. They didn't have water and electricity, let alone zoning and inspectors to insist on safety. The international community has made some headway in building a civilian police force to provide security, but not as much in bolstering a civilian government to provide for its people. A school to train magistrates was to reopen this month; parliamentary elections were to be held in March and a presidential election in December. Tentative investments were trickling in to tourism and industry. All of that came to a screeching halt in seconds.
Of course the United States and the international community must respond to the terrible emergency first. They must tend to the wounded, provide shelter for tens of thousands of homeless and bury the dead. But they also must plan now for rebuilding the capital and, even harder still, creating a functioning state. Yes, that's nation-building. It is the urban planning that never took place. It means working with the government to build adequate housing and schools. It requires job creation -- and not necessarily in the capital. This is an agricultural country that must be able to farm and feed itself.
For decades, the United States has turned its attention to Haiti only sporadically, only in times of crisis, when too many boatloads of hungry Haitians washed onto Florida shores or when a government was about to fall -- but then lost interest to another crisis. If the U.S. has the will and resources to build up governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, even Yemen, surely it can show leadership in building a functioning country on an island just a few hundred miles from the coast of Florida. Enough is enough for this failed state.
Mitrice Richardson's family files multimillion-dollar claim against L.A. County
January 13, 2010
The family of Mitrice Richardson, who has been missing since she was released from the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff's station at 12:30 a.m. Sept. 17, has filed a multimillion-dollar claim against Los Angeles County, alleging that Sheriff's Department personnel acted negligently.
The claim mentions a number of officers who interacted with Richardson, 24, from the time she was arrested at Geoffrey's, a Malibu restaurant, for not paying her $89 dinner bill, until her release into the night without her car, cellphone or purse.
Staff at the restaurant said she was behaving bizarrely and speaking gibberish. The restaurant staffer who called the Sheriff's Department said she was “acting crazy.”
In the months since her disappearance, homicide investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department say, they have found evidence in her diaries and text messages that she was suffering from severe bipolar disorder.
“We feel they had a duty to keep her there,” said attorney Leo Terrell, who filed the claim on behalf of Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton; her father, Michael Richardson; the missing woman; and her estate. “If they felt she had a mental issue, they had an obligation to hold her.”
The deputies could have held her for a mental evaluation. But the Sheriff's Department has steadfastly maintained that in the hours it did detain her, she appeared and talked rationally. A department spokesman has said the department felt, if anything, that it had a legal obligation to release her in a timely manner.
The claim, which was filed last week, alleges negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death, according to Terrell.
LAPD Homicide Det. Chuck Knolls, who has been investigating the disappearance of the Cal State Fullerton graduate for months, expressed surprise that wrongful death was included.
“As far as we know, she's a missing person,” said Knolls, who was part of an extensive search of the Malibu Canyon area Saturday. No sign of Richardson turned up, nor is there any evidence she was a victim of a crime.
Terrell acknowledged the possibility that she could turn up alive — in which case, he said, he would remove the wrongful death portion of the claim as well as the reference to Richardson's estate. But he filed the claim as he did, he said, to make the six-month window after the alleged negligence occurred.
Terrell expects to follow the claim with a lawsuit.
Obama plans to tax big banks to cover losses from bailouts
About 50 big financial firms, even some that didn't receive aid, would face a levy to recoup about $100 billion in expected losses for the $700-billion TARP fund.
by Jim Puzzanghera
January 14, 2010
Reporting from Washington
President Obama plans to propose today a new tax on about 50 of the nation's largest financial institutions to recoup about $100 billion in expected losses on infusions of federal bailout money.
The expected proposal comes a day after the heads of four giant banks admitted making mistakes and expressed regret for the financial crisis before a special panel investigating the causes of the massive meltdown.
The new "financial crisis responsibility fee," which must be approved by Congress, would generate about $9 billion a year for at least 10 years, said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan had not been formally unveiled. The annual tax -- equal to 0.15% of a company's liabilities excluding insured deposits -- would be assessed on banks, insurance companies and other financial firms with at least $50 billion in assets.
The levy, which would take effect June 30, would hit many banks that have repaid all of their infusions from the $700-billion bailout fund -- and some that never received any of that money. Notably, the fee would not be assessed on automakers General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group, which have received about $64 billion in bailout money and are projected to account for a large share of the losses. Such a fee would be logistically difficult to impose on a manufacturing company, the administration official said.
Large banks, anticipating the proposal, have complained that a new tax on them to cover losses from the Troubled Asset Relief Program would be unfair not only because most of them have repaid their TARP money but also because the Treasury Department projects a profit on its bailout investments in banks after counting dividends they paid to the government as well as increases in the value of stock warrants the government received when making the infusions.
"I think it would be very hard to have the industry pay for the auto companies," Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said Wednesday. "At some point, you've got to be fair."
But the Obama administration contends it's only fair to ask that firms that helped cause the crisis and have benefited from the bailouts cover any losses from the fund -- especially now that many of the largest banks are again making large profits and plan to award millions of dollars in bonuses.
"It is our belief that major financial institutions were both significant causes of the historic financial crisis that has inflicted widespread harm on the economy and have been beneficiaries of extraordinary efforts to stabilize the economy," the senior administration official said. "It is in many ways offensive . . . to suggest that they can today afford excessive, often outlandish bonuses for their top executives but cannot afford to make whole the taxpayers who put forward public policies that they have benefited from."
The administration's move, which Obama is expected to announce this morning, reflects continued anger over the behavior of large Wall Street firms in helping trigger the crisis and the return of normalcy to the financial industry while many average Americans are still struggling.
That outrage also has prompted Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to set hearings this month on executive compensation and on possibly increasing taxes on large bonuses.
"The question of compensation for people in the financial industry is a legitimate cause of concern in the country as a whole, and we are going to address it," Frank told reporters Wednesday.
"There may be, in some of these financial institutions, people capable of playing Major League Baseball. I'm not aware of any," he said. "But absent that, I don't know where they would go to get comparable forms of compensation."
Dimon and executives from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp. largely defended their compensation practices Wednesday at the first hearing of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, but said they understood the public's anger at their industry.
The executives didn't accept direct blame for causing the financial crisis. They said their firms were among the many players, from financial giants to average consumers, who took on too much risk in the boom of the last decade, believing the good times would not end.
"We did eat our own cooking, and we choked on it," John Mack, chairman of Morgan Stanley, said about large bets the industry placed on a continued rise in the housing market.
"Somehow we just missed that home prices don't go up forever," Dimon told the panel in admitting that his company never tested its exposure to a 40% drop in home prices even though it tested almost every other market scenario.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Brian Moynihan, the new CEO of Bank of America, were the other initial witnesses as the congressionally appointed commission began the public portion of its yearlong investigation.
"We're after the truth, the hard facts," Phil Angelides, the commission's chairman, said in kicking off the first two days of hearings. "People are angry. . . . They have a right to be. If we ignore history, we're doomed to bail it out again."
Angelides, a former California state treasurer and 2006 Democratic nominee for governor, swore in the four executives and told them the commission would use its subpoena power when necessary -- unneeded Wednesday because the witnesses testified voluntarily -- and refer any wrongdoing it uncovered to the authorities.
The questioning was contentious at times, and Angelides was the most aggressive of the 10 panel members. He wondered whether the crisis was "purely a perfect storm" or "a man-made perfect storm in which the clouds were seeded."
The answers, which the commission must provide to Congress by Dec. 15, will be difficult to determine, Peter J. Solomon, a New York investment banker, told the panel in the second session later in the day.
"There's no silver bullet here," he said of the cause of the crisis. "If you listed all the villains in this tale, you wouldn't get to the plot."
Angelides focused his questioning on Blankfein, whose firm has been criticized for selling securities containing subprime mortgages and then shorting those same investments to hedge the firm's risk.
Blankfein said the practice was "improper" and that "we regret the consequence that people may have lost money." But he also defended the actions, saying they were what "market maker" firms such as Goldman do in creating a mechanism to trade shares and in minimizing the risks.
"I'm just going to be blunt with you," Angelides responded. "It sounds to me a little bit like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy" on the person who buys the car.
The sparring between the two was the most contentious part of the first three-hour session. Blankfein said it was difficult to look at risk in hindsight after a major crisis. He noted that a person's assessment of the risk of a hurricane was greater after a season in which four major hurricanes hit.
"Acts of God are exempt," Angelides shot back. "These were acts of men and women."
Blankfein, Mack and Dimon -- all of whom headed major companies as the financial crisis approached -- testified on Capitol Hill for the second time since the crisis began.
They said Wednesday that poor government regulation played a role in the crisis and pressed for changes, including new oversight of risk in the broader financial system and a way for large firms to fail without seriously damaging the economy. The Obama administration has proposed such changes in an overhaul of the financial regulatory system now moving through Congress.
"We cannot and should not take risk out of the system; that's what drives the engine of our capitalist economy," Mack said. "But no firm should be too big to fail."
Dimon said he wanted to be clear that he was not blaming regulators, but the companies, for their problems. "I blame the management teams 100% and no one else," he said.
JPMorgan Chase should have been more diligent about lending standards and about financial firms becoming over-reliant on short-term financing, Dimon said. In addition, "excessive leverage, even from consumers, pervaded the system" leading up to the crisis, he said.
Moynihan, who took over Bank of America this year, said he understood the public's anger and was grateful for the $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money the company had received. He noted the firm had repaid the entire amount, along with $3 billion in dividends and other payments. The other three companies also have repaid their bailout money.
Still, Moynihan said: "We as managers need to run our companies so this never happens again."
Blankfein credited government support as being crucial in stabilizing the financial system -- "and we benefited from it." But he did not agree with Angelides that Goldman only survived because of the aid.
"I can't stand here and tell you what would have happened . . . but we were going to bed every night with more risk than any responsible manager should want to have either for your business or for the system as a whole," he said.
The commission was created by Congress last year and patterned on the bipartisan panel that investigated the causes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Congress also launched a similar inquiry, known as the Pecora Commission, after the Great Depression, and those findings led to major financial reforms.
Angelides was appointed by congressional Democratic leaders to head the panel. Republicans chose former Central Valley Rep. Bill Thomas, a onetime chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as the vice chairman. The panel has six Democratic appointees and four Republicans.
Parts sent to Iran could be used for nuclear weapons development
A Glendale resident and two others are charged with shipping sophisticated components to Iran and lying on customs forms about their contents and value, U.S. officials say.
by Scott Glover
January 14, 2010
Three men, including an Iranian-born chemical engineer living in Glendale, have been charged in an alleged scheme to smuggle sophisticated industrial components into Iran that could be used in the development of a nuclear weapon, authorities said Wednesday.
The case, which comes as the U.S. is rallying allies to block Iran's nuclear ambitions, has drawn interest at the highest levels of government, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Times.
Authorities allege the men were attempting to smuggle high-grade vacuum pumps and other items into Iran in violation of federal trade laws regulating the export of some technology to unfriendly nations and U.S. sanctions against Iran. Investigators' suspicions were heightened by the great care the defendants took to hide their alleged activities.
"These were educated men," said Louis Rodi, a top supervisor in the Los Angeles customs office. "These individuals knew what they were doing."
According to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Jirair Avanessian, 56, of Glendale was paid several hundred thousand dollars to ship "high-dollar vacuum pumps and pump-related" equipment to Iran.
The parts, which were mislabeled and significantly devalued on shipping manifests, were initially sent to the United Arab Emirates, federal authorities said. A co-defendant would then forward the items to a third defendant in Tehran, according to court papers.
Rodi stressed that investigators do not know what the vacuums, valves and other components were ultimately going to be used for, but said he had been briefed by scientists on their potential uses, which include "development of nuclear capabilities."
Avanessian was indicted Dec. 30, along with Farhad Masoumian, 42, of Tehran following a joint investigation by the customs agency, the FBI and the IRS. The pair are charged with smuggling and money laundering. A third man, Amirhossein Sairafi, also of Iran, was charged separately in a criminal complaint filed last week. He was arrested this week in Frankfurt, Germany, according to authorities. None of the defendants could be immediately reached for comment.
Authorities said Masoumian, based in Iran, would place orders with Avanessian, who owns an import-export company called XVAC on Winchester Avenue in Glendale. Avanessian would ship the material to the United Arab Emirates, where Sairafi would send them on to Iran, the indictment alleges.
The defendants would "relabel the contents of the shipments in order to mask the true contents and to avoid interception by U.S. customs officials," according to the indictment. In most cases, Avanessian described the material on airway bills as "spare parts" and falsely declared that their value was under $2,500, the threshold for filing requirements that would have drawn greater scrutiny from customs officials.
Throughout the alleged conspiracy, which authorities said began in June 2005 and lasted until April 2009, Masoumian transferred several hundred thousand dollars into Avanessian's U.S. bank accounts, authorities allege.
The investigation was launched in February when customs officials inspected four wooden crates bound for Dubai via LAX, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by an FBI agent working the case. The shipment, sent by XVAC, was described as containing "spare parts" and had a declared value of $2,318. But it weighed more than 1,300 pounds.
Based on the generic description and apparent discrepancy between the weight and declared monetary value, authorities opened the crates, court documents state. Inside they discovered vacuum pumps and related equipment valued at nearly $190,000. The shipment was immediately seized by authorities.
Investigators began looking into Avanessian's past shipments and found 16 between 2006 and 2008 that, on paper, were "strikingly similar" to the seized shipment. In a search of Avanessian's house, agents found a laptop computer hidden underneath a dresser in his bedroom. The computer contained an e-mail to Sairafi regarding one of the shipments, court papers state.
Virginia Kice, a customs agency spokeswoman, said the investigation is ongoing and involves multiple federal agencies in addition to the FBI and IRS.
"It's a very significant case for a variety of reasons," Kice said. "These guys weren't exporting sewing machines, after all."
When 'life' is cruel
California may end the practice of sentencing some juvenile criminals to life without parole.
January 14, 2010
The United States is the only nation in which someone can be locked up forever, with no chance for parole, for a crime committed in his or her youth. The Supreme Court is expected in coming days or weeks to rule on whether states may continue this costly, foolish and cruel practice of extinguishing a youth's hope and chances at redemption, even in cases in which no one died.
California has 250 people in this position -- condemned to stay in prison until they die for crimes they committed at ages as young as 14; only Pennsylvania and Florida have more. But this state outstrips even those two in racial disparity of prisoners sentenced in youth to life without parole.
This week, however, California moved one small, cautious step toward a more rational policy. On Tuesday, an Assembly committee approved a bill to permit a judge, 10 years or more after the initial sentencing, to consider whether to resentence the offender to 25 years to life. It's a rational, and welcome, action.
SB 399, written by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), stops well short of adding California to the growing number of states that prohibit the sentence of life without parole for juveniles. Under Yee's painfully modest legislation, the inmate would be unable to even ask for a hearing until a decade had passed. Then, even if the hearing is granted, a judge must find that resentencing is warranted. Even if resentencing is granted, a parole board need not grant supervised release. And even if it does, the offender can't be released until he or she has served at least 25 years in prison. That's hardly a recipe for the release of criminal hordes.
The Times recognizes that some people who commit crimes before they have developed a resistance to peer pressure and an adult's brainpower, judgment and moral capacity may remain dangerous even after years of punishment and repentance. Yee's bill does not compel judges to grant parole when it's inappropriate. But it demonstrates California's faith that not every person whose life got off to a destructive start remains irredeemable. It offers a window of hope to imprisoned teenage offenders and gives them an incentive to learn, reform and aspire to a productive life.
It also demonstrates California's commitment to do something, however minuscule, to get a handle on prison costs. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate but got hung up in the Assembly. Now that it is back on track, we urge lawmakers to complete their work and send it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
From the Daily News
To profile or not to profile? American Muslims targeted
by Hussam Ayloush
Hussam Ayloush is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greater Los Angeles Area.
THE Christmas Day attempted bombing aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, thankfully disrupted, has set into motion vehement calls for religious profiling and misguided policies that do little to protect our nation.
The Transportation Security Administration last week implemented new guidelines that require travelers from 13 Muslim-majority nations and Cuba to go through additional security checks before flying. The guidelines are a form of back-door profiling and will target American Muslims looking to reconnect with relatives in those countries or traveling to Mecca to perform religious rites.
But before we debate the effectiveness and legality of profiling, let's step back and ponder what went wrong in the hours and days leading up to the attempted bombing.
Existing security procedures failed to catch alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab, although behavior profiling - a legitimate tool - would have worked. For instance, Abdulmuttallab's father had become concerned about his activities and reported him to Nigerian and American authorities. His name was then added to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center's watch list, but to no avail. He reportedly bought a one-way ticket with cash and had no checked luggage - both red flags. He was also, to Americans' shock and dismay, able to bring a powerful PETN explosive on board.
President Obama said that the security system failed in "a potentially disastrous way" and that proper intelligence-sharing before the bombing wouldn't have allowed Abdulmuttallab to board the plane.
In the face of this security system failure, those who jump to advocate racial and religious profiling are either shortsighted, or are seeking to exploit fear of Muslims and give a false sense of security.
Simply put, racial and religious profiling does not work. How can it?
For one thing, there is no one profile of a Muslim or Muslim American. Muslims hail from all races and backgrounds - Caucasian, black and every shade of color in between. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Arabs are a minority of the Muslim population worldwide - 18 percent. Middle-Eastern Jewish and Christian minorities would falsely fit the profile, too.
Even extremists do not fit a profile. The hijackers behind the 9-11 attacks were clean-shaven and frequented night clubs. Al-Qaida member Adam Gadahn, who wears a beard and a turban, is Caucasian and has Jewish roots. Jose Padilla - convicted of aiding terrorists - is Latino. And would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid is half English, half Jamaican.
What is the profile of a terrorist when we know they come in all ages, races and nationalities?
Even the Bush-era Justice Department acknowledged that profiling is not an effective law enforcement tool, and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in an interview that the Christmas Day bombing "illustrates the danger and the foolishness of profiling."
Moreover, profiling is an insult to the basic freedoms granted to all Americans by our time-honored Constitution. Are we going to let the terrorists make us abandon the freedoms our country was founded upon?
The right way to protect our nation is by conducting a thorough assessment of our security procedures, address the holes in our security system and revamp ineffective and outdated policies. For instance, the infamous Counterterrorism Center's watch list of more than 500,000 names, including Abdulmuttallab's name, is ineffective and must be cleaned up. Hurdles to proper and timely information-sharing among law enforcement and intelligence agencies must be dealt with.
Profiling is counterproductive and serves to alienate American Muslims, who constitute one of the first lines of defense in protecting our homeland.
So, let's do the right thing by advocating good security, not profiling.
Help for Haiti
Quake-ravaged country needs us to step up and offer assistance
A major earthquake in a densely populated area is always a tragedy. Despite our best efforts - and the rigorous building codes imposed in California - buildings collapse and people die when the ground heaves in high-magnitude waves.
Yet Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake in Haiti is more heart-wrenchingly tragic because of the history and state of this troubled Caribbean nation. It's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is still recovering from two destructive hurricanes. It has few resources to cope with the problems of day-to-day living, so the devastation wrought Tuesday is far beyond its capacity to cope. Haiti desperately needs the world's help.
From all news accounts, the country is in chaos. Bodies are stacked in the streets, buildings have pancaked, and untold numbers of people are trapped in the rubble with no equipment to get them out.
Thousands, maybe millions, of Haitians are homeless - including the president, whose palace and home were destroyed. There are no hospitals and no medical care available to aid those who are hurt.
For many, even immediate help will come too late. Haitian officials estimate that at least 100,000 people died in the quake, but there's no way to know yet just how high that number will climb. And these early casualty estimates don't include those whose lives might be severely shortened because of the lack of medical care or the breakdown in public sanitation.
President Obama vowed Wednesday that the United States will provide substantial aid to Haiti, continuing a long history of the American people coming to the rescue.
"They are our neighbors and we have to be there for them in their hour of need," Obama said.
Even before the day was out, help was mustering from ever corner of the globe. Los Angeles County, with its knowledge and expertise in earthquake response, sent its search-and-rescue teams, along with more than 25 tons of equipment.
Individuals can help, too. Times might be tough for Americans, but even our worst times cannot compare with the reality of millions of Haitians.
If you'd like to help by giving cash, one of the best ways to do so is through the American Red Cross. The international relief organization has pledged $1 million in cash, supplies and staff to Haiti. You can donate by texting "Haiti" to number 90999. You can make a donation by calling 1-800-REDCROSS, or 1-800-257-7575, or online at www.redcross.org .
From the Wall Street Journal
Web Site to Help Find Haiti Missing
The International Committee of the Red Cross has launched a Web site to help Haitians find loved ones missing in the devastating earthquake that hitPort-au-Prince.
The Red Cross says it hopes the dedicated site will help restore contact between separated family members.
Robert Zimmerman, deputy head of the group's tracing unit, said Thursday that people in Haiti and abroad can use the site to register the names of missing relatives.
The site is at http://www.familylinks.icrc.org/WFL_HTI.NSF/DocIndex/locate_eng?opendocument
Painful, Frustrating Quest for News From Home
by CHRISTOPHER RHOADS and SUZANNE SATALINE
No one was sending money to relatives Wednesday afternoon at TAP Services Corp., a money-transfer company in Flatbush. The neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., is home to a large Haitian community.
"Nothing is working" in Haiti, said clerk Shirley Victor. Her boss, Paul Nicolas, said he had been calling phones in the country for hours and getting no response.
Around 3 p.m., he tried again. "It's ringing for the first time," he said, his ear pressed to a cellphone. But there was no answer. Ms. Victor fretted about not knowing the whereabouts of her 82-year-old mother in Port-au-Prince. "I cannot reach her at all," she said.
The earthquake that decimated Haiti knocked out about half of the country's international communication links. Haiti has about 20 connections running out of the country—by satellite, overland routes through the neighboring Dominican Republic and one fiber link connected to the capital, Port-au-Prince. Two of those were down entirely, and eight were damaged and not operating properly, according to an analysis by Renesys Corp., a network-security company in Manchester, N.H.
What remained was congested with phone calls, tweets, video, emails and texts from Haitians abroad and at home trying to find and share information about loved ones, as well as by rescue groups trying to coordinate efforts.
Social-media Web sites were put to the test by the disaster. Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc., as in past crises both political and natural, were swamped with messages and photos. Carel Pedre, a deejay and television personality in Haiti, has been regularly updating his Twitter feed, including with images of cars crushed by debris and citizens running from the wreckage in tears.
The largest cellphone provider on Haiti, Digicel, with more than two million subscribers, said its network had been damaged but remains operational. Two staff members were killed in the tragedy, a company spokeswoman said. The company, based in Jamaica, dispatched a team Wednesday morning to assess the damage.
The United Nations Foundation said it has deployed to Haiti a team of about 10 people, together with the U.N. World Food Program and Telecom Without Borders, to help get communication links up and running again. Telecom Without Borders is a nonprofit agency that brings telecommunications services to crisis zones.
"A phone line can be a life-line for moving supplies and getting help to where it's needed most," said Adele Waugaman, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Foundation.
"The extent of devastation surpassed our wildest expectations," said Ricot Dupuy, station manager at Radio Soleil, a Creole-language station in Flatbush.
He said he had been trying to reach family members for 15 hours, since the quake hit. His two aunts and cousins are alive. "A niece of mine in Montreal managed to connect with them," he said, by reaching families on home phones. He said there has been intermittent cellphone service. The station has been getting live feeds from Haiti from the only station that has been operating there.
Given the magnitude of the earthquake, Renesys and other network companies were concerned it could damage undersea fiber links across the Caribbean, disconnecting countries and disrupting economies, as was the case following a large 2006 earthquake near Taiwan. That didn't appear to be the case following Tuesday's earthquake.
One reason for that, perhaps, is how relatively unconnected experts say the impoverished country is.
Quake Strikes Haiti
"If you had an event of that size in Miami, most of Latin America would be off the air," said Jim Cowie, chief technology officer of Renesys, referring to the extensive communication links that pass through that city.
A group of graduate students from Boston were in the country for a project on mobile banking when the quake hit. Their classmates in Boston, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, were finally able to reach them six hours later, learning all were safe, according to Patrick Meier, a Fletcher graduate student. But there has been no communication since that call Tuesday night, he said.
Mr. Meier also works for a nonprofit company, Ushahidi.com, that compiles online information collected from crisis zones via text, tweet, email or any other method, a technique called crisis mapping.
The Web site, which was started by Kenyans to disseminate news in response to the political turmoil in their country, has been deluged with online information from Haiti, including photos of the destruction and descriptions, said Mr. Meier.
Andre Jean-Baptiste, owner of Impeccable Barber Shop in Brooklyn, said he was able to reach a friend who works in Haiti and talk for two minutes before the line went dead.
Insurgent-Caused Civilian Deaths Jump in Afghanistan
by ANAND GOPAL
KABUL—The number of civilians killed by spiraling violence in Afghanistan hit a record high last year, although civilian deaths caused by U.S. and allied forces dropped by nearly a third, the United Nations said, indicating that coalition efforts to cut down on civilian casualties are having an impact on the battlefield.
The number of civilians killed by the Taliban and its allies was up sharply, by about 40%, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan found, according to a survey released Wednesday. The overall drop in deaths resulting from allied action and the corresponding spike in deaths attributed to insurgents could help Western forces win support in from wary Afghans.
The U.N. reported that 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009, a 14% increase from the previous year. Another 3,566 civilians were wounded. Insurgent attacks were responsible for the "vast majority" — about 66%—of total casualties, the report said.
U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces were behind about a quarter of the civilian casualties; about 8% of the casualties couldn't reliably be attributed to either side.
The number of civilian dead paralleled a rise in battlefield deaths over the past year as fresh coalition forces poured into volatile parts of southern Afghanistan to confront the Taliban, and as the insurgents pressed into previously peaceful parts of the country. The number of U.S. and NATO soldiers killed climbed to 520 last year, up from 295 the previous year.
The U.N. report found that most civilian deaths also occurred in southern Afghanistan. But it noted that areas until recently largely unaffected by the insurgency, such as the north, saw an increase in civilian deaths too.
Of the deaths attributed to the Taliban and its allies, the U.N. found that 44% were caused by suicide attacks and roadside bombs, both now staples of the insurgency. Roadside bombs are often meant for foreign troop convoys but can accidentally detonate when a civilian vehicle passes by.
Yet it is coalition forces that have often come in for the harshest criticism from Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, and Afghan civilians, following a series of high-profile incidents—most of them air strikes—that resulted in large numbers of civilian dead.
Afghan officials say such deaths undermine support for the government, and coalition forces have in recent weeks faced a series of angry demonstrations against foreign troops over civilian deaths. The Taliban, for their part, have been quick to capitalize on reports of civilians killed their propaganda.
Responding to the criticism and the Taliban propaganda, U.S. and allied military commanders have repeatedly pledged to reduce the number of civilians killed. Over the summer, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued new rules of engagement that sharply curtailed the circumstances under which allied forces could call in air strikes, among other changes.
Since the new rules came into force, the proportion of civilian casualties caused by foreign forces has dropped, the U.N. said.
Some experts cautioned that the actual civilian death toll could be much higher because of the difficulties faced in accessing many areas of Afghanistan to collect an accurate tally.
"This is the tip of iceberg," said Mudassir Rasuli, spokesman for Afghan group Against Civilian Casualties, an umbrella organization of groups monitoring civilian casualties. "Every day we are working with families harmed in the conflict whose stories never see the light of day," he said.
From the Washington Times
U.S., Mexico hunt elusive 'El Chapo'
by Sara A. Carter
As Mexican authorities make huge strides against some of the nation's most deadly and violent drug cartels, U.S. authorities say there is one senior crime boss they want to put out of business — "El Chapo."
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman — nicknamed "Shorty" in Spanish for his stature — is still Mexico's No. 1 problem, despite President Felipe Calderon's aggressive stance against the drug cartels, which has led to the death of a top crime boss this past month, and Tuesday's capture of cartel czar Teodoro Garcia Simental, known as "El Tio" — "the Uncle" — in the beach town of La Paz, Mexico.
Garcia is said to be responsible for the gruesome killings of more than 300 people, many of whom he disposed of in vats of acid.
However, Guzman, a rival of Garcia and head of Mexico's top Sinoloa cartel, has still eluded authorities in both nations.
Several U.S. law-enforcement officials and Michael Braun, former assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said in an interview that Guzman's days are numbered. They say he is being trapped into a corner by aggressive joint operations between Mexico and the U.S. and expect his capture soon.
"We're aggressively going after El Chapo," Mr. Braun said. "I'll make a prediction that he'll be captured within 90 days."
Violence in Mexico has escalated to extreme proportions, U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement officials said. Last year, there was an estimated 6,500 drug-related killings, which included nearly 400 beheadings. By the end of December, the border town of Ciudad Juarez held the record for the highest number of killings, with more than 2,500 slayings.
"If the government of Mexico could find 'Shorty,'" said another U.S. law-enforcement official with knowledge of cartel operations in Mexico, "it would go a long way with the U.S. as a solid political statement and commitment. We'll have to wait and see."
Like other cartel members, Guzman is known for his violent crimes, ranging from beheadings to dismemberment and torture. His connections and bribery extend deep into Mexico's federal government, according to numerous U.S. law-enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"Calderon should be congratulated for what he's already done," one of the U.S. officials said. "Still, the question is 'why haven't they captured El Chapo?'" He claimed El Chapo has eluded the net by bribing Mexican federal officials and judges.
DEA spokesman Michael Sanders said that while Guzman is at the top of the agency's list for capture, the DEA is not solely focused on him, but on numerous other drug cartel czars who have plagued Mexico and the U.S. with violence.
"We would love to see him out of business," Mr. Sanders said. "We are pursuing him, but it's not our single focus."
According to a second U.S. official, Tuesday's arrest of Garcia was an example of better and closer cooperation between U.S. and Mexican officials.
"We provided intelligence to Mexico and worked in conjunction with Mexican law enforcement to arrest El Tio," the U.S. official with knowledge of the operation said. "It's what we're doing now with Guzman."
Mr. Braun said Guzman's violence of late has taken on new levels. On Friday, Mexican officials confirmed the death of 36-year-old Hugo Hernandez, who was cut into seven pieces and left in Los Mochis, with a note to members of the Juarez cartel that said, "Happy New Year, because this will be your last."
Mr. Braun, who said he has seen the photo of the victim, said members of the Sinaloa cartel skinned Hernandez's face and stitched it onto a soccer ball.
From Fox News
America's Toughest Sheriff Faces New Fight
by William La Jeunesse
January 13, 2010
He is Arizona's most popular politician and arguably America's toughest sheriff, but today Joe Arpaio faces his biggest challenge: a grand jury investigation that could cost him his office.
“It is not right for law enforcement to abuse its authority in this way,” said Paul Charlton, a former US Attorney now representing one of Arpaio's legal targets. “If you find yourself living in a place where law enforcement investigates its enemies and accuses judges who rule against them of crimes, you are either living in a third world county or Maricopa country.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is America's fourth largest sheriff's department. For 18 years is has been run by Joe Arpaio, a flamboyant former Las Vegas cop and DEA agent who turned a local law enforcement agency into a national headline machine.
Arpaio forced inmates to wear pink underwear, claiming the color ‘calmed' them. He created the nation's first female chain gang. He reduced inmate meals from three to two a day, claiming to serve the cheapest prisoner meal in the U.S. at just 15 cents each.
Arpaio eliminated coffee, salt and pepper from inmate meals and banned skin magazines from jail cells. Inmates' TV choices: the Disney Channel and C-SPAN. He created a tent city to handle inmate overcrowding. Those who complained about the heat got this from Arpaio. "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."
Arpaio declared war on illegal immigration, by using local deputies to enforce federal immigration crimes. Sweeps and targeted enforcement in Latino communities led to massive arrests but charges of racial profiling.
Often called the P.T. Barnum of law enforcement, Arpaio's actions are not without critics. And now his political opponents may have found an ear in Arizona's newly appointed US Attorney, former chief of staff for then Governor and now Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano.
“You have other folks who have gone to Washington to get the federal government to interfere with constitutional officer of the State of Arizona who is enforcing the law – if that is not corruption, I don't know what is,” says Arpaio supporter and state senator Russell Pearce.
The sheriff is accused of abusing his police powersand using his “Public Corruption Task Force” to go after political enemies and critics. Officials currently under investigation by the Sheriff include:
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon
Chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors Don Stapley
Supervisor and the county's leading Hispanic politician Mary Rose Wilcox
State Attorney General Terry Goddard
County Manager David Smith
Presiding Criminal Judge Gary Donahoe
“It is beyond the ken of reasonableness, it not consistent with our ideas of justice for law enforce to accuse judges of crimes when all they have done is rule against law enforcement,” says Charlton, who now represents Stapley.
But others see the grand jury probe as retribution and a way to get Arpaio to back off – not just the politically powerful and well connected but to stop his high profile and effective sweeps against illegal immigrants.
“I applaud what Joe is doing,” says Pearce. “It is about time someone has courage to stand up for America. Citizens have a constitutional right to expect those (immigration) laws to be enforced. The public is on his side.”
At least three witnesses have been called to testify on Wednesday. The Grand Jury, typically composed of 16 to 30 citizens, can hear the evidence for several weeks. If it believes there is sufficient evidence a crime has been committed, the panel can return an indictment. If not, the case is usually dismissed.
100 Parolees Back Behind Bars After Illinois Prison Crackdown
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. —
More than 100 parolees released from prison early are back behind bars because of an extraordinary crackdown by a Quinn administration stung by denunciations of a secret program that freed 1,700 inmates weeks ahead of time.
The Corrections Department confirmed it has begun "intensive compliance checks" on parolees released under the program known as "MGT Push," beginning with those who committed violent crimes.
State records reviewed by The Associated Press show that the department has picked up 110 of the parolees in the last ten days, most of them serving sentences for unlawful weapons charges or battery.
They've likely gone back to lockup for violating terms of their discharge, but officials will not comment on the reasons or say how many have been apprehended.
The recent spate compares with 57 MGT Push parolees put back in lockup from the time the MGT Push release started, in September, through the end of the year.
All parolees still on the street are being required to follow strict new regulations — far stricter than anything seen before by law enforcement officials familiar with the Illinois' parole system. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the regulations publicly.
The new rules require parolees to verify where they are and what they're doing through daily phone calls to an automated statewide parole system, according to a copy of the form parolees must sign. The form says they must visit a parole office — in some cases, hundreds of miles away — twice a week, and refrain from drinking liquor or having any alcohol at their homes.
One of the law enforcement officials said the rules were unprecedented, adding that routinely, parolees who have committed more heinous crimes have fewer requirements to follow.
Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said Wednesday she isn't certain that all of the MGT Push parolees have to adhere to the strictest of the guidelines, but all face more severe rules than typical.
By making the parolees walk a straight line, the Quinn administration simultaneously improves public safety and reduces the chance of a public relations debacle that would follow a horrendous crime by one of the released prisoners.
Gov. Pat Quinn is fending off vicious attacks from political opponents over the program, particularly from state Comptroller Dan Hynes, his challenger in the Feb. 2 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Officials did not immediately respond to a question about how much the compliance checks are costing.
MGT Push was a cost-saving program in which Corrections dropped a long-standing requirement that inmates serve at least 61 days before being eligible for up to six months' of good-conduct credit, or "meritorious good time."
The Associated Press revealed the program's existence in mid-December. Quinn immediately suspended it, appointed a team to study the issue, then reinstated the 61-day rule and announced other reforms on Dec. 31.
Quinn's staff initially defended the program when asked about it by the AP. After the AP report, the governor said he knew about MGT Push in advance but still halted it. Later, he said he was unaware of it and blamed the "big mistake" on Corrections Director Michael Randle.
The new rules apply to MGT Push parolees "to ensure public safety," Smith said. She added that the administration "is aggressively monitoring this entire population" and that it "will continue unabated."
Parole agents are visiting each of the offenders, starting with those convicted of violent crimes, Smith said. Then they must check on them, unannounced, twice per month.
Some of the MGT Push parolees are going back to prison for testing positive for drug use or even just smelling of alcohol, transgressions that rarely land someone back behind bars, according to the law enforcement officials.
State records show that through Wednesday morning, 110 had gone back since Jan. 4, mostly for violent offenses. Forty-two returnees had been convicted of unlawful use of weapons and 17 for domestic or aggravated battery, according to an AP review. Others who have landed back in prison committed such crimes as repeat drunken driving, theft and financial fraud.
Smith declined to comment on the reasons the parolees were returned to custody and refused to say whether there were more than 110 back in cells, citing the "ongoing law enforcement proceeding."
Officials have acknowledged that by the end of December, 57 of the parolees had been returned to prison, nine for new crimes and 48 for technical parole violations.
The AP reported last week that at least 17 of the 48 rule-breakers had been accused of new, violent crimes, including attempted murder and armed robbery.
From the White House
Help for Haiti
Posted by Jesse Lee on January 13, 2010 at 09:53 AM EST
The President has been receiving updates on the urgent situation in Haiti late into last night and throughout the day, and top members of his team have been convening to formulate the government response.
You can also help immediately by donating to the Red Cross to assist the relief effort. Contribute online to the Red Cross , or donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting "HAITI" to "90999." Find more ways to help through the Center for International Disaster Information .
Families of Americans living in Haiti are encouraged to contact the State Department at 888-407-4747.
From the Department of Homeland Security
Just as you are at home, we at the Department are closely monitoring the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the island nation of Haiti last night. The USGS reports an initial magnitude reading of 7.0 on the Richter scale, and while we don't have a full assessment of the damage, initial reports and military over flights suggest the loss of life and destruction of property to be severe.
The President spoke this morning , extending "the deep condolences and unwavering support of the American people" to Haiti, and committing the resources of the Federal government "to respond with a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort to save lives."
The Secretary released a statement shortly after the President's remarks. Here's an excerpt:
"The entire Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extends its sympathy for the devastation and loss of life in Haiti following last night's earthquake--a disaster that has called the world to action in response. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are leading DHS actions to support the larger assistance effort. Several Coast Guard cutters and aircraft have mobilized and are on the ground to assist the humanitarian effort as needed. FEMA has been in close contact with the State Department and USAID, the lead U.S. federal response agencies, and stands ready to provide assistance as requested."
The United States Coast Guard has deployed the Forward and Mohawk, two 270-foot medium endurance cutters to Haiti to render assistance. They are joined by two C-130 Hercules fixed wing aircraft conducting over flights and patrols, and two Coast Guard helicopters are forward deployed in the area to provide rescue or other assistance. These assets will be supplemented by the cutters Valiant and Tahoma, both standing by in the United States to join the effort as needed. The Coast Guard is in close contact with the Department of Defense , the Department of State , and the U.S. Agency for International Development (the U.S. entity tasked with coordinating U.S. efforts), as the situation develops.
In addition, many other DHS operational components – including FEMA, Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services – are all responding with assets to assist in the relief effort.
Americans seeking information on family members in Haiti should contact the State Department at 888-407-4747.
We'll continue to provide operational updates as we have them.
How you can help
Individuals wishing to offer immediate financial assistance may do so by texting "HAITI" (42484) to "90999," which will donate $10 to the American Red Cross. The amount will be charged to your cell phone bill.
You may also donate online to the Red Cross and the Mercy Corps , both of which are actively engaged in disaster relief efforts.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and much of its population subsists without the modern communication and health care resources that we would rely on during a disaster. The President said today that "this is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share. With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us and a long history that binds us together, Haitians are neighbors of the Americas and here at home. So we have to be there for them in their hour of need."
The department will continue to work with our federal partners to stand up assets to assist the people of Haiti. We'll keep you updated as the search, rescue, recovery, and relief efforts continue
Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
January 13, 2010
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
"The entire Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extends its sympathy for the devastation and loss of life in Haiti following last night's earthquake--a disaster that has called the world to action in response. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are leading DHS actions to support the larger assistance effort.
Several Coast Guard cutters and aircraft have mobilized and are on the ground to assist the humanitarian effort as needed. FEMA has been in close contact with the State Department and USAID, the lead U.S. federal response agencies, and stands ready to provide assistance as requested. I am being kept closely apprised of the developing situation, and the Department will continue to support the people of Haiti and others affected by this tragedy.
I encourage the American people to donate what funds they can afford to disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross to allow these voluntary groups to provide goods and services to disaster survivors as quickly as possible."
The Coast Guard Cutter Forward arrived off Port Au Prince this morning and was the first U.S. asset on the scene. The cutter is equipped with a helicopter flight deck, satellite communications equipment, and the ability to provide coordination to military aircraft in the area. The Coast Guard cutter Mohawk is scheduled to arrive this afternoon.
Two Coast Guard C-130 airplanes are flying the coast of Western Haiti this morning doing damage assessments and searching for people in need of assistance. Two Coast Guard helicopters are also forward deployed in the area to provide rescue or other assistance.
From the FBI
Haitian Earthquake Relief Fraud Alert
The FBI today reminds Internet users who receive appeals to donate money in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before responding to those requests. Past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization and/or a good cause.
Therefore, before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, to include the following:
- Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
- Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group's existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
- Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
- Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
- Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
Anyone who has received an e-mail referencing the above information or anyone who may have been a victim of this or a similar incident should notify the IC3 via www.ic3.gov .