Bond Kit Bond
Boasting About The Stimulus
Which He Voted Against
While Touting Missouri
A Swiss Bank Is Set to Open Its Secret Files
By LYNNLEY BROWNING
Published: February 18, 2009
In the hush-hush world of Swiss banking, the unthinkable is happening: secrets are spilling into the open.
UBS, the largest bank in Switzerland, agreed on Wednesday to divulge the names of well-heeled Americans whom the authorities suspect of using offshore accounts at the bank to evade taxes. The bank admitted conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and agreed to pay $780 million to settle a sweeping federal investigation into its activities.
It is unclear how many of its clients’ names UBS will divulge. Federal prosecutors have been examining about 19,000 accounts at the bank, but UBS ultimately may disclose the identities of only a few hundred customers.
Pakistani Accord Appears Stalled
Government, Extremists Make No Move To Formalize Their Pact on Islamic Law
By Pamela Constable, Karen DeYoung and Haq Nawaz Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 19, 2009; Page A09
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 18 — A controversial, closely watched peace agreement designed to end Taliban violence in the scenic Swat Valley hung in limbo Wednesday amid criticism in Pakistan and rising concern in Washington.
Neither the Pakistani government nor the Islamist extremists were willing to formalize the accord, announced by Pakistani officials Monday. The proposed pact marks an unprecedented and risky attempt to disarm about 2,000 Taliban fighters, who have invaded and terrorized a once-bucolic area of 1.5 million people in northwestern Pakistan, by offering to install a strict system of Islamic law in the surrounding district.
Obama Proposes Package To Stave Off Foreclosures
Multibillion-Dollar Plan Aims to Help Modify Mortgages
By Michael D. Fletcher and Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 19, 2009; Page A01
MESA, Ariz., Feb. 18 — President Obama unveiled a foreclosure-prevention package Wednesday that would pour more than $75 billion into arresting one of the root causes of the nation’s economic spiral by helping as many as 9 million homeowners obtain more affordable mortgage terms.The package, part of the Obama administration’s multibillion-dollar effort to jolt the nation out of its deepening recession, goes beyond what some analysts had expected and was welcomed by many of the nation’s top lending institutions. But it also drew criticism from some housing experts and consumer advocates, who argued that it does not go far enough in addressing some critical aspects of the foreclosure crisis. Many key details of the plan will not be released until early next month.
Border drug war is too close for comfort
Tiny Columbus, N.M., a haven for baby boomer retirees seeking cheap living, small-town values and solitude, can’t quite believe that a bloody brawl has broken out on its doorstep.
By Scott Kraft
February 19, 2009
Reporting from Columbus, N.M. — The day began gently here on the U.S.-Mexico border. The cold, starry sky gave way to the orange smile of a sunrise.
Over at the Pancho Villa Cafe, short-order cook Maria Gutierrez whipped up her egg and chopped tortilla special. Down the street, Martha Skinner, still in her housecoat, brewed a pot of coffee for guests at her bed and breakfast. Her husband, the local judge, walked two blocks to his courtroom to hear the week’s entire caseload: one pet owner cited for keeping her dog chained up, another for allowing her dog off-leash.Columbus, a settlement of 1,800 people clinging to a wind-swept patch of high desert in southern New Mexico, was a picture of tranquillity.
But less than three miles south, in the once-quaint Mexican town of Palomas, a war is being waged. Over the last year, a drug feud that has killed more than 1,350 people in sprawling Ciudad Juarez has spread to tiny Palomas,
Corruption and incompetence cripple reconstruction effort, say aid workers
• Profiteering undermines Nato’s fight against Taliban
• Use of free market policies to blame, says contractor
Clancy Chassay in Kabul
The Guardian, Thursday 19 February 2009
Chronic mismanagement and profligacy are blighting reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, international aid officials have warned, wasting up to a third of the $15bn (£10.55bn) in funding already delivered and deepening local resentment towards foreign troops stationed there.
Senior British, US and local aid workers have described a number of problems including bribery, profiteering, poor planning and incompetence. The overall effect has been to cripple the development effort structured under the Bush administration’s insistence on an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction.
“The major donor agencies operate on the mistaken assumption that it’s more efficient and profitable to do things through market mechanisms,” a senior American contractor working in Afghanistan told the Guardian on condition of anonymity.
Charm offensive: Why India’s snake men (and their serpents) are taking to the streets
A 1,000-year-old tradition is at risk as police start to take the law seriously and animal welfare activists want the music to stop. Andrew Buncombe reports from Delhi
Thursday, 19 February 2009
For many people who close their eyes and dream romantic thoughts of India, amid the imagined scenes of desert palaces and colourful chaos is that of the snake charmer – a man playing his flute while a dancing cobra rises and twists from its wicker basket.
In truth, there are fewer charmers than one might imagine. Government legislation dating back almost 35 years gives police the right to apprehend (or more likely, in many cases, take a bribe from) anyone using a wild animal for such entertainment purposes. The charmers that do operate in tourist centres and large cities, live a largely furtive existence, bothering a few coins out of passers-by whom they confront with their anguine companions.
Israel demands release of captured soldier in return for Gaza deal
• Blockade will be retained until sergeant’s release
• Egyptian mediators taken aback by new demand
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Thursday 19 February 2009
Israel toughened its conditions for a ceasefire with Hamas yesterday, saying no deal could be reached before the Palestinian Islamist group freed an Israeli soldier captured nearly three years ago.
In an unanimous decision, Israel’s security cabinet agreed to maintain the tough economic blockade on Gaza and hold back from a truce agreement until the release of Gilad Shalit, the army sergeant who was captured in June 2006 close to the Gazan boundary fence.
Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said at the cabinet meeting: “I don’t think we need to open the crossings until the issue of Gilad Shalit is resolved.”
Hamas has demanded Israel release 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in return for handing over Shalit, who is thought to be still alive. Few believe a deal is likely in the short term, which means reconstruction materials, including concrete, metal and glass, are unlikely to enter Gaza to rebuild the damage after Israel’s devastating war in the territory last month.
Europe opens covert talks with ‘blacklisted’ Hamas
By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor
Thursday, 19 February 2009
European nations have opened a direct dialogue with Hamas as the US intensifies the search for Middle East peace under Barack Obama.
In the first meeting of its kind, two French senators travelled to Damascus two weeks ago to meet the leader of the Palestinian Islamist faction, Khaled Meshal, The Independent has learned. Two British MPs met three weeks ago in Beirut with the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan. “Far more people are talking to Hamas than anyone might think,” said a senior European diplomat. “It is the beginning of something new – although we are not negotiating.”
Mr Hamdan said yesterday that since the end of last year, MPs from Sweden, the Netherlands and three other western European nations, which he declined to identify, had consulted with Hamas representatives.
Russia and Ukraine at odds after ambassador’s ‘unfriendly’ remark
From The Times
February 19, 2009
Tony Halpin in Moscow
The Russian Ambassador to Ukraine has been summoned for a dressing-down after describing the country’s feuding leaders as a pair of scrapping dogs.
The Foreign Ministry in Kiev threatened to expel Viktor Chernomyrdin for the remarks about President Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, in a Russian newspaper interview.
The ambassador’s comments were “incompatible with the status of the head of a diplomatic mission in the country”, the ministry said in a statement.
The row worsened when Moscow warned angrily of “a corresponding reaction” if the ambassador, a former Russian Prime Minister, was ordered to leave.
Britain has most expensive train fares in Europe
Britain’s rail fares are by far the highest in Europe with some commuters paying more than four times the amount for comparable journeys on the continent.
By Nick Allen
Last Updated: 8:36AM GMT 19 Feb 2009
Average season tickets and day returns in the UK cost almost twice as much as the next most expensive country, according to a comprehensive study by the rail watchdog Passenger Focus.
A passenger on a short commute into London each day could expect to pay almost £2,000 for an annual season ticket, it said.
The annual cost of an equivalent commute in France would be less than £1,000 and in the cheapest countries, less than £500.
Its report also said the structure for long distance rail fares in Britain was “complicated and not logical” with huge variations in ticket prices, and passengers were “baffled” by huge gaps in fares on the same train.
Zimbabwe state employees to be paid in US dollars
From The Times
February 19, 2009
Jan Raath in Harare
Zimbabwe’s impoverished public servants received a surprise bonus yesterday when the new unity Government announced that they would be paid in US dollars rather than the worthless local currency.
In a deft move designed to outflank President Mugabe, Tendai Biti began his reign as Finance Minister by introducing US dollar vouchers for 130,000 soldiers, teachers, police and other civil servants.
Mr Biti said that state employees would receive a minimum of $100 (£70) this month, redeemable at designated banks. Soldiers received their pay cheques on Tuesday. Police, teachers and most of the Civil Service were paid yesterday and health workers can expect to collect their salaries today.
Civil servants such as teachers, nurses, doctors and even soldiers had earlier gone on strike demanding to be paid in hard currency.
Kenyan school offers Somali refugees a modern – and moderate – education
Fathu Rahman Primary School is a rare source of moderate Islamic values in a community riven by war.
By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the February 19, 2009 edition
NAIROBI, KENYA – Nestled in a quiet little compound in the gritty, noisy streets of Eastleigh – a suburb of Nairobi – Fathu Rahman Primary School looks like any other public school in Kenya.
Its students – all Somali refugees – learn a mixture of secular subjects like math, science, and English, along with a more traditional dose of spirituality, including classes on the Koran. In a refugee community displaced by war and famine, divided by clan identity, and preyed upon by brutal warlords and radical Islamists alike, Fathu Rahman is a gentle reminder of what Somali society used to be like – tolerant, peaceful, pragmatic – and what its founders hope it can be once more.
“This is a battle for the minds of Somali children,” says Sheikh Mohammad Moallem Hussein, a moderate Islamic cleric and principal of Fathu Rahman. As an Islamic scholar and practitioner of Islam’s Sufi sect, which emphasizes a deeply emotional and personal love for God, Sheikh Hussein worries that Somalia’s Sufic culture is fast being replaced by alien teaching, particularly the Salafist teaching espoused by militants like Osama bin Laden.
Colombia militia leader confesses to milking public treasuries
Right-wing paramilitary commander details extortion of money from hospital and municipal officials, who could be killed for resisting.
By Chris Kraul
February 19, 2009
Reporting from Barranquilla, Colombia — Having gotten 602 killings off his chest, paramilitary leader Edgar Ignacio Fierro has moved on to dollars and cents: how he and other leaders looted municipal treasuries, hospitals and even schools to finance their armies and enrich themselves.
Like thousands of other leaders of the right-wing militias, Fierro is testifying in compliance with a 2005 disarmament accord under which the commanders were promised light sentences in exchange for their surrender, full confessions and a promise not to return to a life of war and terrorism.
Fierro spent his first days on the stand last year meticulously reviewing hundreds of killings, a litany that included university professors, union leaders, peasants accused of giving aid and comfort to leftist guerrillas. Family members of victims, many of them in tears, watched via closed-circuit video.