Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hundreds line up to see Ted Cruz in Andover, Massachusetts on Saturday, May 30

Two minute video showing people in line Sat., May 30 to see Ted Cruz in Andover, Massachusetts at Jim Lyons Barn posted by attendee:


5/30/15, "Line at Ted Cruz Event at Jim Lyons Barn," You Tube. via Free Republic commenter:

"Attended this event with family, I was surprised at the size of the crowd, considering it was not well publicized. My wife heard about it through a Free Republic post. Cruz was great! Very patient with the crowd, doing pictures and asking questions. He is the real deal, more charismatic than I realized. Let's get people to rally around Cruz before they block him out with large field! I suspect the party fears he will shred their favored candidates on the debate platform so they are pushing more candidates to jump in. Here is a YouTube video of the crowd going in.

1 posted on 5/31/2015, 11:44:18 AM by TimPatriot"
"Texas Sen. Ted Cruz drew raucous cheers yesterday from a crowd of hundreds of Bay State voters gathered at the Andover home of state Rep. Jim Lyons, where the presidential hopeful took shots at presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
And while his jabs at Clinton and Obama were met with cheers from the crowd, Cruz’s opening line may have generated the most enthusiastic hollers: “Tom Brady was framed ... and I have it on good authority that Hillary Clinton did it.”

The heavy turnout at Lyons’ Highvale Lane home, where some were turned away at the door once maximum capacity was reached, came as a surprise, even to Cruz.

“Who would have predicted 500 people in Andover, Mass.?” Cruz asked before echoing the same mantras that have defined his campaign event appearances in recent months; calling for an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, Common Core and Obama’s approach to foreign policy.

“We need to repeal every word of Obamacare,” he said.

The audience erupted as Cruz called for greater religious freedom and laxer gun laws. “We need to defend our constitutional rights,” he said.

“This is not a typical election,” Cruz told the crowd, saying the country faces serious national security and deficit challenges. “The world right now is literally on fire.”

Cruz spoke on the steps of the Lyons’ barn, which was adorned with red-white-and-blue star decorations.

“I’ve stood on this barn’s steps many times. I’ve never seen it look like this,” Lyons said before turning to Cruz and his wife, Heidi, who attended graduate school in the area and saying: “You are among friends in Massachusetts.”

Cruz, who is looking to establish himself as a contender in a Republican field that includes the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, has spent the past few days campaigning in New England, including stops in New York City and Manchester, Ridge and Mont Vernon, N.H.

“We have seen incredible grass-roots support” in Massachusetts, he told a reporter after the rally.

He said if there is one thing he wants audience members to take away from his speech, it’s that he is “deeply optimistic” about his chances of winning.

The candidate — a Harvard Law grad — and his wife were heading to his wife’s class reunion at Harvard Business School after the event, he said."


Saturday, May 30, 2015

In nationwide revulsion of Republicans in 2006 Dennis Hastert was swept out of office and proceeded directly to K Street. No one rejects calls from a former House Speaker. Hastert has resigned from board of Chicago Mercantile Exchange and leadership role at lobbyist Dickstein Shapiro-NY Times, Chicago Tribune

5/30/15, "After Speakership, Hastert Amassed His Millions Lobbying Former Colleagues," NY Times, Jonathan Weisman (5/31 NY print ed. p. A14)

"J. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican House speaker in history, was swept from leadership in 2006 on a wave of Republican revulsion over what critics saw as a legislative favor factory he presided over in Congress. That wave deposited him on K Street, a prime address for the capital’s lobbyists, where his influence and good name kept the favors flowing — including into his bank accounts.

Federal law enforcement agents say Mr. Hastert’s years as a lobbyist and rainmaker explain how he was able to promise $3.5 million in cash to a former student who claims Mr. Hastert sexually molested him decades ago.

A former wrestling coach and high school teacher, Mr. Hastert did not enter Congress rich. Yet he was still was able to amass a small fortune with land deals, one aided by an earmark he secured for a highway interchange.

But it was at his own post-Congress lobbying firm and at the professional services firm Dickstein Shapiro that Mr. Hastert swelled his cash flow, working all sides of issues and glad-handing members of Congress for controversial clients.

That he stands accused of child molestation is almost universally a shock in Washington —a gut blow,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and a longtime friend of Mr. Hastert’s. That he had the money, however, is not so startling in the gilded era of Washington lobbying.

“I’m not surprised he was very successful,” Mr. Cole said. “People less significant in Congress than Speaker Hastert have done exceptionally well afterwards.”

From 2011 to 2014, Lorillard Tobacco paid Dickstein Shapiro nearly $8 million to lobby for the benefit of candy-flavored tobacco and electronic cigarettes, and Mr. Hastert was the most prominent member of the lobbying team.

He pressed lawmakers on climate change for Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, in 2013 and 2014, then switched sides this year and pushed for requiring renewable fuel production for Fuels America. LightSquared, once an ambitious wireless venture, paid his firm $200,000 in the second half of 2011 to watch legislation in Congress on global positioning satellites. Months later, the company fell into bankruptcy after regulators decided its technology would interfere with GPS.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, labeled Mr. Hastert “the eclectic lobbyist.” Some former lawmakers “choose lobbying positions that allow them to focus on certain policy areas, like energy,” the group said after Mr. Hastert’s indictment on charges of bank fraud and lying to the F.B.I. “A look at the clients that used the firm and his services for multiple years from 2009 to 2015 indicates no particular area of specialty.”

There is one common thread: an emphasis on his specialty in Congress, appropriations bills.

For CenterPoint Properties, a large Illinois developer, his team worked on placing a major transportation facility for the Army Reserve. For FirstLine Transportation Security, which screens security guards, he pressed for congressional review of procurement at the Transportation Security Administration, one of the firm’s biggest partners. For the American College of Rheumatology, his focus was the annual labor and health spending bill.
The Hastert era in the House may be remembered for rancorous debates on the war in Iraq, passage of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare and approval of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. But for many Republicans, it was known for loose reins on spending and the extensive use of earmarks, legislation that directed tax dollars to home-district projects.

Mr. Hastert resigned his speakership after the Democratic landslide in 2006 cost Republicans control of the House and Senate, largely as a result of anti-Bush fervor over the Iraq war. But his legacy was largely swept under the Republican rug amid the widespread belief in conservative circles that Mr. Hastert’s tenure had been marred by big spending.

“There was this pent-up demand for public works, and they kind of went crazy,” said Bruce Bartlett, a former Treasury official whose book, “Impostor,” accused Mr. Bush of profligacy.

Mr. Hastert “was a hands-off guy,” he said. He was picked because he didn’t do anything” as speaker to control Mr. Bush’s spending.

The military spending bill for the 2000 fiscal year contained 997 earmarks. By 2005, that number had grown to 2,506. In 2000, the largest domestic spending bill, which funded labor, health and education programs, had 491 pet projects. By 2005, it had 3,014.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, recalled 2005 as the “perfect storm” of the profligate era, with 15,000 earmarks in appropriations bills; the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, which became a symbol of the need for changes to the system; the conviction of Representative Randy Cunningham on corruption charges for his selling of earmarks; and the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

One of those earmarks was Mr. Hastert’s. The speaker secured $207 million in the highway law for construction of the proposed Prairie Parkway near 727 acres of farmland in Kendall County, Ill. The Hasterts, through an obscure land trust, owned 69 acres of that tract and a quarter share of 69 other acres. Four months after Mr. Bush signed the earmark into law, the trust sold the land for $4.9 million to a developer eyeing a 1,600-home project off the new highway. Mr. Hastert netted millions, the watchdog Sunlight Foundation discovered.

Lawmakers and fellow lobbyists compared Mr. Hastert’s qualities as a lobbyist to those he displayed as speaker: affable and low key, but attractive to clients. In the post-earmark world, said Mr. Cole, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Mr. Hastert pressed for policy “riders” in appropriations bills and programmatic changes that broadly helped his clients’ sectors.

“As you’d expect, he was very effective,” Mr. Cole said. “Number one, he knew the process extremely well, and he knew all the players. When the former speaker calls, no member rejects it. With a salary of probably $1 million, compensation for serving on boards of directors, speaker’s fees and a book deal, the money was there to pay in cash what law enforcement officials say Mr. Hastert paid, said former Representative Jack Kingston, a Republican who led the Appropriations Committee.

“Yeah, it’s possible he could amass in a 10-year period a nest egg of $5 to $10 million,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s not that hard.”"



Image caption: "In this Oct. 25, 1975 photo, taken from a newspaper page, Yorkville, Illinois, high school wrestling coach and former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, top left, and Illinois State University wrestling coach Larry Meyer, top right, watch as University High School coach George Girardi, bottom left, demonstrates a move on Yorkville assistant Tony Houle at a technical wrestling clinic in Bloomington, Illinois. AP" 5/30/15, "Source: Ex-US speaker paid to conceal claims of sexual abuse," AP


Hastert has resigned from the board of directors at the Chicago-based futures exchange operator CME Group, a spokesman said.... Dickstein Shapiro also confirmed that Hastert had resigned his position. "Hastert's bio was taken down from the company's website Thursday afternoon."
5/28/15, "Ex-Speaker Hastert charged with lying to FBI about hush money withdrawals," Chicago Tribune, Jason Meisner 

"Hastert was House speaker for eight years and has been working as a consultant and Washington lobbyist since stepping down from office in 2007.

The bombshell charges had immediate fallout for Hastert. On the same day the indictment was announced, Hastert resigned from the board of directors at the Chicago-based futures exchange operator CME Group, a spokesman said.

Later Thursday, a spokesman at the Washington lobbying firm where Hastert had been working, Dickstein Shapiro, confirmed that Hastert had resigned his position as co-leader of the firm's public policy and political law practice.

Hastert's bio was taken down from the company's website Thursday afternoon.

A woman who answered the phone Thursday at the former congressman's Yorkville consulting business, Hastert and Associates, said Hastert told her to refer questions to Dickstein Shapiro.

According to the seven-page indictment, Individual A met multiple times in 2010 with Hastert but brought up the allegations of past misconduct during at least one of the meetings. During that discussion and later meetings, Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to Individual A to conceal the wrongdoing, the indictment alleged....

The longest-serving Republican House speaker in history, Hastert was elected to the U.S. House in 1986 after serving three terms in the Illinois legislature. Hastert was dogged by scandal near the end of his term as speaker over the response of Republican leadership to improper advances toward underage male pages by then-Rep. Mark Foley of Florida
In 2006, the House Ethics Committee found that Hastert and other leaders were "willfully ignorant" in responding to early warnings of the scandal but did not violate any House rules.

The Tribune previously reported that although the panel did not reprimand or otherwise sanction Hastert, it cast doubt on Hastert's public insistence that he was unaware of a complaint about inappropriate email messages Foley sent to a former page in 2005.

Controversy also followed Hastert after he left the speaker's office. A Tribune investigation in 2012 found that Hastert had conducted private business ventures through a taxpayer-financed office."...

Bank withdrawals from 2010 to 2014 were then provided to Individual A. Hastert was picked as Speaker after first choice Rep. Bob Livingston resigned following admission of sexual indiscretions:

5/29/15, "Ex-US House speaker's indictment offers few clues about case," AP, Michael Tarm

"Hastert, who has not been arrested, was a little-known lawmaker from suburban Chicago when chosen to succeed conservative Newt Gingrich as speaker. Hastert was picked after favored Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston resigned following his admission of several sexual affairs....

A statement from the U.S. attorney's office announcing the indictment said Hastert will be ordered to appear for arraignment. The date was not immediately set.

The indictment alleges Hastert withdrew a total of $1.7 million in cash from various bank accounts from 2010 to 2014, then provided the money to Individual A.

The indictment says Hastert agreed to the payments after multiple meetings in 2010. It says that "during at least one of the meetings, Individual A and defendant discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier" and Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to keep it quiet. The indictment suggests he never paid the full amount."

Friday, May 29, 2015

NJ Gov. Chris Christie reverses position on Common Core, says he no longer supports it in New Jersey

5/28/15, "Chris Christie Reverses Position On Common Core, Says He No Longer Supports It In New Jersey," Huffington Post, Rebecca Klein

"New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Thursday he wants his state to dump the Common Core State Standards, nearly five years after its board of education adopted them.

Speaking at Burlington County College in Pemberton, New Jersey, the likely presidential contender said the controversial academic benchmarks are "simply not working." Instead, he called for measures that "are even higher and come directly from our communities."

"It's now been five years since Common Core was adopted and the truth is that it's simply not working," Christie said. "It has brought only confusion and frustration to our parents and has brought distance between our teachers and the communities where they work. ... Instead of solving problems in our classrooms, it is creating new ones."

Christie initially supported the controversial academic standards, but has expressed concerns in recent months about how they have been playing out in his state. The Common Core State Standards -- developed by a group of governors and state education chiefs -- were designed to make sure students around the country are held to similar benchmarks and have been adopted in a majority of states. 

In recent years, the standards have become increasing politically polarized, as conservative activists and politicians cite them as an example of federal overreach. Indeed, while the Common Core Standards were not developed by the federal government, the Obama administration incentivized states to adopt higher [Common Core] standards by tying them to federal education funding.
"I have heard far too many people -- teachers and parents from across the state -- that the Common Core standards were not developed by New Jersey educators and parents, Christie said. “As a result, the buy in from both communities has not been what we need for maximum achievements. I agree. ... In my view, this new era can be even greater by adopting new standards right here in New Jersey -- not 200 miles away on the banks of the Potomac River.”

Christie wants the New Jersey education commissioner, David Hespe, to assemble a group to develop new standards for the state, according to Time. 

When speaking at the 2013 KIPP Schools Summit in Las Vegas, Christie said New Jersey would keep following Common Core. Last year, however, the governor created a commission to review the standards.

"We're doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're gonna continue," Christie said in 2013. "This is one of those areas where I've agreed more with the president than not, and with Secretary [of Education Arne] Duncan. They haven't been perfect on this, but they've been better than a lot of folks have been. ... I think part of the Republican opposition that you'll see in some corners in Congress is that knee-jerk reaction that's happening in Washington right now, that if the president likes something, then the Republicans in Congress don't."  

In reversing his position on the Common Core, Christie's actions mirror those of Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. While Jindal was once a strong advocate for Common Core, he drastically switched positions last year. However, another likely Republican presidential contender, Jeb Bush, maintains support for the standards

Either way, it is not clear how much opinions about Common Core may impact the presidential prospects of Christie or any other potential nominee. When Bloomberg and Purple Strategies interviewed a small, Iowa-based focus group this month about Bush's position on the Common Core, participants didn't seem to care much about the issue. In a February NBC/Marist poll, 65 percent of registered voters in Iowa said they would find it acceptable if a candidate supported the Common Core."


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Last minute exemption from minimum wage increase sought by LA union leaders. "Once again, the soaring rhetoric of helping the working poor is just a cover for city government acting as a tool of organized labor." Gonzalez-LA Times

5/27/15, "L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers," LA Times,

of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.
The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

"With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them," Hicks said in a statement. "This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing."

Coalition representatives said the proposed exemption would ensure the city complies with federal laws which they say give collective bargaining agreements precedence over local ordinances. They also contend that it would keep L.A.'s ordinance consistent with previous city wage laws.

Some business leaders criticized the proposal, however, calling it ironic in light of union leaders' past opposition to special considerations for some employers.

"I'd refer everyone back to the statements of labor leaders over the past seven months that no one deserves a sub-minimum wage," said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president for public policy and political affairs with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the minimum wage increase passed by the City Council.

Gonzalez said the change sought by labor officials could pressure companies into letting employees unionize as a way to seek relief from the mandated wage hike.

"Once again, the soaring rhetoric of helping the working poor is just a cover for city government acting as a tool of organized labor," he said.  

The City Council voted last week to gradually increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 over the next five years. Since then, City Atty. Mike Feuer has prepared an ordinance that would put the increases into effect. The council's Economic Development Committee is scheduled to review the language on Friday.

Last fall, the council approved an ordinance increasing the minimum wage at large hotels to $15.37 per hour. That law says that provisions of the hotel wage hike may be waived in workplaces that have collective bargaining agreements." via Free Rep.


Hamas tortured and killed its own people during and leading up to 2014 war in Gaza Strip per Amnesty International-AP

5/26/15, "Amnesty International says Hamas tortured and killed Palestinians during 2014 Gaza war," AP, Ian Deitch

"A leading international watchdog on Wednesday accused the militant Hamas group of abducting, torturing and killing Palestinians during the war in the Gaza Strip last year, saying some of the actions amount to war crimes.

Amnesty International detailed the abuses in a report entitled "Strangling Necks': Abduction, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict."

According to the London-based human rights group, some 23 Palestinians were shot and killed and dozens more were arrested and tortured by Hamas, which rules Gaza. The Palestinians targeted were either political rivals of Hamas, including members of the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, or people the militant group had accused of cooperating with Israel, Amnesty said.

Wednesday's report highlighted a particularly brutal incident, which it said took place in Gaza on Aug. 22.

"In one of the most shocking incidents, six men were publicly executed by Hamas forces outside al-Omari mosque ... in front of hundreds of spectators, including children," Amnesty said. Hamas had announced the men were suspected "collaborators" who had been sentenced death in "revolutionary courts," the rights group added.

"The hooded men were dragged along the floor to kneel by a wall facing the crowd, then each man was shot in the head individually before being sprayed with bullets fired from an AK-47," the report said of the August incident.

Hamas violently seized Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007, leaving Palestinians bitterly divided — Hamas ruling Gaza and Abbas governing parts of the West Bank. Since then, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at Israel and fought three wars with the Jewish state. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the 50-day war last summer. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.

Hamas used the war to "ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses," Amnesty's Philip Luther said. "These spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes, were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip."

The report said 16 of the people killed by Hamas were already being held by the militant group when the conflict erupted and many of them were waiting to hear the verdict of their Hamas-organized trials. "Many had been sentenced after trials before courts whose proceedings are grossly unfair. A number had said they had been tortured in order to extract 'confessions,'" the report said.

Amnesty's report also said that Hamas abducted and tortured people in an outpatient clinic that was no longer in use, within the grounds of Gaza City's main hospital, Shifa.

"Hamas forces have displayed a disregard for the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law," Luther said. "Torture and cruel treatment of detainees in an armed conflict is a war crime. Extrajudicial executions are also war crimes."

This was not Amnesty's first report on the 2014 Gaza war.

In March, the group accused Hamas of war crimes for launching unguided rockets and mortars from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel, saying that was a breach of international law. 

And in December, Amnesty condemned Israel for flattening four landmark buildings in the final days of the war. Israel dismissed that report, saying Hamas was using the buildings as command centers.

Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official in Gaza, said the incidents mentioned in the report took place 'outside the framework of the law' and Hamas was investigating them."


5/27/15, "Amnesty International: 'Hamas killed and tortured Palestinians'," BBC

"Amnesty International has accused the Palestinian group, Hamas, of a brutal campaign of abduction, torture and killings against its own people.

Amnesty documents more than 20 cases of what it says were extra-judicial executions during last year's conflict with Israel

The organisation says many victims of torture were members of the rival Palestinian movement, Fatah."


FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges and face extradition to US. Among 10+ officials named in indictment are Jeffrey Webb of Cayman Islands and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago-NY Times

5/26/15, "FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to U.S." NY Times,
Swiss authorities began an extraordinary early-morning operation here Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges.

As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich.

The officers went to the registration desk to get keys, then headed upstairs toward the hotel rooms.

The charges allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and officials said they targeted members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, which wields enormous power and does its business largely in secret. 
The arrests were a startling blow to FIFA, a multibillion-dollar organization that governs the world’s most popular sport but has been plagued by accusations of bribery for decades.

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. An election, seemingly pre-ordained to give him a fifth term as president, is scheduled for Friday.

Prosecutors planned to unseal an indictment against more than 10 officials, not all of whom are in Zurich, law enforcement officials said. Among them are Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, a vice president of the executive committee; Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who is also an executive committee vice president and until recently was the president of South America’s soccer association; and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a former member of the executive committee who has been accused of numerous ethical violations.

“We’re struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did,” said a law enforcement official. “It just seemed to permeate every element of the federation and was just their way of doing business. It seems like this corruption was institutionalized.”

The case is the most significant yet for United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who took office last month. She previously served as the United States attorney in Brooklyn, where she supervised the FIFA investigation.

With more than $1.5 billion in reserves, FIFA is as much a global financial conglomerate as a sports organization. With countries around the world competing aggressively to win the bid to host the World Cup, Mr. Blatter has commanded the fealty of anyone who wanted a piece of that revenue stream. He and FIFA have weathered corruption controversies in the past, but none involved charges of federal crimes in United States court.

United States law gives the Justice Department wide authority to bring cases against foreign nationals living abroad, an authority that prosecutors have used repeatedly in international terrorism cases. Those cases can hinge on the slightest connection to the United States, like the use of an American bank or Internet service provider.

Switzerland’s treaty with the United States is unusual in that it gives Swiss authorities the power to refuse extradition for tax crimes, but on matters of general criminal law, the Swiss have agreed to turn people over for prosecution in American courts.

The case will further mar the reputation of FIFA’s leader, Mr. Blatter, who has for years acted as a de facto head of state. Politicians, star players, national soccer officials and global corporations that want their brands attached to the sport have long genuflected before him.

Critics of FIFA point to the lack of transparency regarding executive salaries and resource allocations for an organization that, by its own admission, had revenue of $5.7 billion from 2011 to 2014. Policy decisions are also often taken without debate or explanation, and a small group of officials — known as the executive committee — operates with outsize power. FIFA has for years operated with little oversight and even less transparency. Alexandra Wrage, a governance consultant who once unsuccessfully attempted to help overhaul FIFA’s methods, famously labeled the organization “byzantine and impenetrable.”

Law enforcement officials said much of the inquiry involves Concacaf, one of the six regional confederations that compose FIFA. Concacaf — which stands for Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football — includes major countries like the United States and Mexico, and also tiny ones like Barbados and Montserrat.

Concacaf was led from 1990 to 2011 by Mr. Warner, the longtime head of Trinidad & Tobago’s federation. A key powerbroker in FIFA’s governing executive committee, Mr. Warner had been dogged by accusations of corruption. He was accused of illegally profiting from the resale of tickets to the 2006 World Cup, and of withholding the bonuses of the Trinidad players who participated in that tournament.

Mr. Warner resigned his positions in FIFA, Concacaf and his national association in 2011 amid mounting evidence that he had been part of an attempt to buy the votes of Caribbean federation officials in the 2010 FIFA presidential election. A 2013 Concacaf report also found that he had received tens of millions of dollars in misappropriated funds.

But according to the rules of FIFA at the time, Mr. Warner’s resignation led to the immediate closure of all ethics committee cases against him. “The presumption of innocence is maintained,” FIFA said in a short statement announcing his departure.

No recent incident better encapsulated FIFA’s unusual power dynamic than the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, which many observers found to be flawed from the start: the decision to award two tournaments at once, critics said, would invite vote-trading and other inducements.

Since only the 24 members of the executive committee would decide on the hosts, persuading even a few of them might be enough to swing the vote. Even before the vote took place, two committee members — Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti — were suspended after an investigation by The Sunday Times caught both men on tape asking for payments in exchange for their support. It was later revealed by England’s bid chief that four ExCo members had solicited bribes from him for their votes; one asked for $2.5 million, while another, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, requested a knighthood.

As new accounts of bribery continued to emerge — a whistleblower who worked for the Qatar bid team claimed that several African officials were paid $1.5 million each to support Qatar FIFA in 2012 started an investigation of the bid process. It was led by a former United States attorney, Michael J. Garcia, who spent nearly two years compiling a report. That report, however, has never been made public; instead, the top judge on the ethics committee, the German Joachim Eckert, released a summary of the report. In it, he declared that while violations of the code of ethics had occurred, they had not affected the integrity of the vote.

Within hours, Garcia had criticised Eckert’s summary as incorrect and incomplete, charging that it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts.” Nonetheless, FIFA moved quickly to embrace the report’s absolution of the bid process. Qatar World Cup officials said the review had upheld “the integrity and quality of our bid,” And Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, told reporters, “I hope we will not have talk about this again.”"

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

China solar company founder and country's richest man now under investigation for stock manipulation, Hanergy ranked #23 on MIT list of world's 50 smartest

5/26/15, "CEO ‘profited’ from $24 billion loss,", Frank Chung and wires

"Remember the CEO who lost $24 billion in the space of an hour? It turns out, he might have had the last laugh after all. Last week, it was widely reported that Chinese billionaire Li Hejun lost nearly $24 billion as stocks in his solar energy company crashed.

Beijing-based solar Hanergy Thin Film Power Group (HTF), of which Mr Li owns 80 per cent, saw its share price plummet by 47 per cent last Wednesday, wiping $A23.64 billion of its value.

Its founder and chairman, who was named China’s richest man in February ahead of Alibaba founder Jack Ma, did not attend HTF’s annual meeting in Hong Kong that day.
It has now emerged that Mr Li is under investigation by Hong Kong regulators over allegations of market manipulation in Hanergy shares, The Independent reports.

Mr Li reportedly bet against his own company, increasing his “short” — effectively betting on a fall in the share price — in Hanergy by 796 million shares just two days before the price crashed. It’s unclear how much he stood to profit from the trade.

Before last week, HTF, which develops “thin-film” solar panels that can be used as tinted windows on buildings or integrated into building materials for use on rooftops, saw its share price increase more than 600 per cent in the past year.

That made it the world’s largest solar power company by market value, but questions had been raised about its valuation and revenue sources, according to Bloomberg. An earlier report by the Financial Times said HTF parent company Hanergy Group made its fortune largely through unconventional sales between HTF and itself.

Li set up Hanergy in 1994 to build hydropower projects. It became the first private company to be awarded a contract to build a dam in China when it was picked in 2002 to construct the 2,400-megawatt Jin’anqiao dam.

The company also invested in wind farms but shifted its emphasis in 2009 to solar power. In 2012, it acquired Germany’s Solibro and California’s MiaSole
Last year, Hanergy was ranked No. 23 on the MIT Technology Review’s list of the world’s 50 “smartest companies”.

Li saw his personal wealth nearly triple compared to a year before, according to the Hurun Report’s Global Rich List 2015, which valued his personal fortune at $A26.42 billion ($US20.8 billion). Hanergy’s shares remain suspended on the Hong Kong stock exchange and the company has not commented publicly."


Big Banks closing branches on US Mexico border to avoid money laundering charges-Wall St. Journal

5/25/15, "Big Banks Shut Border Branches in Effort to Avoid Dirty Money," Wall St.Journal, Emily Glazer, Nogales, Arizona

"Chuck Thomas each day ships around 6,000 boxes of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables to U.S. grocery stores from his third-generation family business, which is a stalwart of this border town’s thriving produce industry.

It was a surprise, then, when his longtime bank, J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.27 % & Co., notified him it didn’t want his business anymore.

“First I was pissed off, then I steamed about it for a few days,” he said. “I’ve been with them 40 years and then they have this? It’s a pain.”

Mr. Thomas, 59 years old, isn’t the only one having banking problems in Nogales, a city with a population of about 21,000 and a steel fence separating it from Mexico. In the past several months, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America Corp. BAC 0.12 % and Citigroup Inc. C 0.24 % -owned Banamex USA have shut a total of four branches in Nogales, almost halving the number in town owned by big U.S. banks. Separately, hundreds of Chase and Wells Fargo WFC -0.02 % & Co. customers, some of them second- and third-generation business owners, have had their bank accounts closed.

The bank moves come amid a recent industrywide focus on money laundering. Wall Street wants to avoid the huge fines that could result if financial firms are drawn into the flow of dirty money.

Nogales may be the highest-profile example of how those efforts are playing out in cities along the Mexico border, where drug and human trafficking is a constant worry and money laundering is prevalent.

The trafficking fears aren’t hypothetical here: Authorities have discovered a number of cross-border tunnels in recent years, including a roughly 480-foot passageway found last year that was considered one of the longest and most sophisticated ever detected in Nogales. This activity can unwittingly draw in local banks if traffickers pay their associates and other service providers on the U.S. side of the border. Such deposits are often disguised as being related to legitimate business activities, say bank executives and other experts.

Banks have paid billions of dollars in recent years for transgressions involving everything from mortgage securities to foreign-exchange trading, and have invested heavily in compliance systems, new employees and other steps to head off future problems. While banks have long maintained anti-money-laundering measures, those efforts have taken on fresh urgency in light of updated regulation in November from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, an interagency regulatory body that monitors potential money laundering and terrorist financing.

The update, the first in almost five years, puts greater pressure on banks to flag suspicious customers and shut down risky accounts.

Many in Nogales, though, complain that the crackdown is taking a toll on their economy. A number of local cattle ranchers say they are having trouble paying their employees, many of whom are Mexican nationals and have had their accounts closed in recent months.

“It’s killing our business,” said one rancher. Other businesses say they are being unfairly targeted merely because of their proximity to Mexico.

“I don’t send any money across the border.…All the banking I do is within the United States,” said Mr. Thomas, adding that his grandfather banked with Chase or its predecessors as early as the mid-1960s.

The issue is drawing increased attention. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, asked for hearings and sent letters to banks, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. staffers flew to Nogales earlier this spring to meet local officials and business owners.

Bank executives say Arizona is one of three risky border regions, with the other two being Southern California and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In Nogales, banks are worried about persistent drug smuggling despite efforts by law enforcement to stem the flow, said one bank executive involved in money-laundering issues.

Banks as a result are conducting greater due diligence to understand who their customers are and their stated business. In some cases, it is easier to close accounts than spend the time and money necessary to achieve certainty that an account is safe.

We are picking on Nogales in a way because the drug traffickers are picking on Nogales,” the executive said. “They’re using Nogales to bring their stuff in.…We can only get into trouble for failing to bank them perfectly.”

As in many border towns, the economy in Nogales is intertwined with its Mexican counterpart, a city of roughly 300,000 also called Nogales. Roughly 1,500 trucks pass daily through one of three ports of entry, shuttling produce worth nearly $3 billion in 2013, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, not to mention business from manufacturing companies and the cattle industry.

On what is known as Produce Row on the U.S. side of the border, roughly 180 warehouses line the street between Nogales and nearby Rio Rico, Ariz., loaded with everything from peppers to watermelons to be shipped across the U.S. and sometimes to Canada.

Chris Ciruli’s family company, Ciruli Brothers Inc., which specializes in champagne mangoes, distributes to major retailers such as Safeway Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. WFM -0.61 % Mr. Ciruli says his company recently has had to lend money to employees who had their bank accounts closed and didn’t have access to cash while they searched for new banks.

Worse, he says, his family is stuck with more than 100 acres of raw land it can’t develop because large banks are no longer willing to finance projects in Nogales and smaller banks in the area have what he called “unreasonable” interest rates.

Mr. Ciruli said his father put together commercial real-estate deals with local banks years ago. “Those opportunities certainly don’t seem like they’re here now,” he said.

Many locals have moved their business to Washington Federal Inc., WAFD -0.36 % a bank based in Seattle that bought Bank of America’s two branches and related deposits in Nogales. Other remaining banks include several branches of regional banks, one Chase branch and two Wells Fargo branches.

But many Mexican nationals who work and shop in Nogales are having difficulties. There are more restrictions for U.S. employers, whose banks may limit or prohibit wire transfers to Mexico. Most employers don’t give workers checks, because they often have a hard time cashing them at Mexican banks. Some cattle ranchers use a money-exchange service, which often charges high rates and takes a cut through fees. Or the cattle ranchers sometimes wire money to CIbanco, a Mexico-based bank that has allowed such transfers.

Bruce Bracker, 51, the third generation to run retailer Bracker’s Department Store, which sits about 250 feet from the Mexico border, has seen a drop-off in business over the past several months as banks have closed Mexican nationals’ accounts.

Banks “can’t keep cutting off access to capital and access to banking and expect the economy to grow and communities to thrive,” he said. “Don’t paint us all in the same brush of drug dealers and money launderers. There are legitimate business owners, too.”"

Write to Emily Glazer at

Image: Edomexico

5/25/15, "Big Banks Shut Border Branches in Effort to Avoid Dirty Money," WSJ, Emily Glazer (subscrip.)


Monday, May 25, 2015

Islamic State takeover may mean extinction for rare bird in Syria. Guards who were watching three birds fled to escape ISIS leaving fate of birds unknown-BBC

5/25/15, "IS threat to Syria's northern bald ibis near Palmyra," BBC

"A rare bird may become extinct in Syria because of the capture of Palmyra by Islamic State, experts say.

A tiny breeding colony of the northern bald ibis was found near the city in 2002.

Three birds held in captivity were abandoned last week after their guards fled the fighting. Their fate is unknown.

Officials have offered a reward of $1,000 (£646) for information about the whereabouts of a fourth bird.


The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon told the BBC that finding the missing female, called Zenobia, is crucial. 

She is the only bird who knows the migration routes to wintering grounds in Ethiopia and without her other captive birds cannot be released.

Then the species could go extinct in the wild in Syria, said ornithologists. 

"Culture and nature they go hand in hand, and war stops, but nobody can bring back a species from extinction," said head of the society Asaad Serhal.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says that the species was thought to have been extinct in the region until seven birds were found nesting near Palmyra more than 10 years ago

But despite being protected, their numbers dwindled to just four wild birds. Our correspondent says that this year only Zenobia made it back to the site

Another three captive birds were being kept nearby but it is not clear if they are still safe. 

The fall of Palmyra came just days after IS captured the major Iraqi city of Ramadi.

The capture of the World Heritage site next to the modern city of Palmyra has raised international alarm.

IS militants have destroyed several sites in Iraq - most recently the ancient city of Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological treasures."

Image caption: "A small breeding colony of the northern bald ibis was found near Palmyra in 2002," via BBC