Blackwater won contracts with web of companies
Network let it obscure involvement from contracting officials and public
By James Risen and Mark Mazzetti
WASHINGTON – Blackwater Worldwide created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts after the security company came under intense criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq, according to Congressional investigators and former Blackwater officials.
While it is not clear how many of those businesses won contracts, at least three had deals with the United States military or the Central Intelligence Agency, according to former government and company officials. Since 2001, the intelligence agency has awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates, according to a United States government official.
Fleet of robots designed to clean up oil
Scientists at MIT have created Seaswarm, which uses super- absorbent ‘nanofabric’ to suck up slick on the surface of the ocean. It’s too late for the gulf spill, but it offers promise for cleaning up future slicks.
By Lori Kozlowski, Los Angeles Times
September 4, 2010
Want to clean up an oil spill? There’s a robot for that. A team of scientists at MIT have developed a fleet of oil-absorbing robots – Seaswarm – that clean the ocean by collecting oil with a super-absorbent “nanofabric.”
First tested in the Charles River in Boston in August, the box-shaped robots are able to stay in water for long periods without making repeated trips back to shore because they function independently, communicating with one another through global positioning systems and wireless communications.
U.S. to temper stance on Afghan corruption
By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010; 8:31 PM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan are developing a strategy that would tolerate some corruption in the country but target the most corrosive abuses by more tightly regulating U.S. contracting procedures, according to senior defense officials.American officials here have not spoken publicly about countenancing potentially corrupt local power brokers. Such a stance would run somewhat against the grain of a counterinsurgency doctrine that preaches the importance of building competent governance.
Wachovia, Bank of America add fees that ‘certainly won’t be popular’
Action comes as U.S. banks adjust to new regulations and try to recoup lost revenue.
By Rick Rothacker | Charlotte Observer
No more waived fees for using another bank’s ATM. Higher monthly account charges. Fees for paper statements with images of canceled checks.
These are some of the changes coming to customers of Bank of America and Wachovia, Charlotte’s dominant banks.
Bank of America will start telling customers next week that it’s adjusting fees as part of an effort to standardize its practices nationwide. Wachovia has been making its own changes, the latest wrinkle from the Wells Fargo merger.
Archbishop of York criticises government inaction on sex trafficking
Dr John Sentamu describes the government decision to opt out of new EU directive on sex trafficking as ‘stunning’
The Guardian, Saturday 4 September 2010
The Archbishop of York has joined critics of the government’s opt-out from the EU’s new directive on sex trafficking, describing the decision as “stunning”.
Dr John Sentamu accused ministers of “sitting on the sidelines” while other countries try to tackle a cross-border problem which is thought to be growing but has seen fewer traffickers jailed this year than at any time since 2005.
The archbishop said that the “evil trade which is nothing less than modern-day slavery” required joint international action with Britain playing a full part. Estimates suggest that some 2,500 foreign women have been pimped into prostitution by gangs.
EU austerity policies risk civil war in Greece, warns top German economist Dr Sinn
Greece’s austerity measures cannot prevent default and will lead to a breakdown of the political order if continued for long, a leading German economist has warned.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Cernobbio, Italy
“This tragedy does not have a solution,” said Hans-Werner Sinn, head of the prestigious IFO Institute in Munich.
“The policy of forced ‘internal devaluation’, deflation, and depression could risk driving Greece to the edge of a civil war. It is impossible to cut wages and prices by 30pc without major riots,” he said, speaking at the elite European House Ambrosetti forum at Lake Como.
“Greece would have been bankrupt without the rescue measures. All the alternatives are terrible but the least terrible is for the country to get out of the eurozone, even if this kills the Greek banks,” he said.
Whisper it, but Netanyahu may just be the man to make history
Hardliner will have to abandon his political base for peace, says Donald Macintyre
Saturday, 4 September 2010
Whatever else two days of high-octane schmoozing in Washington may have achieved, it has failed, at least as far as the outside world is concerned, to answer one of the great diplomatic riddles of the times.
Which is, what did Benjamin Netanyahu tell Barack Obama in July that convinced the US President that it was worth, first applying fierce pressure on the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct negotiations with Israel, with a view to achieving a peace deal within a year, and then launching the talks this week in Washington amid such fanfare. The White House has repeatedly made it clear to those who need to know that something was said – but not what it was.
Hamas condemns ‘direct talks’
Gazan supporters of Hamas rally to mark Al Quds day and to condemn new Palestinian-Israeli talks launched in Washington.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters have rallied in the Gaza Strip to mark Al Quds day and to condemn the direct talks launched in Washington between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Friday’s rally comes a day after armed groups said that they had joined forces to step up attacks against Israel, possibly including suicide bombings.
Al Quds day is an annual event on the last Friday of Ramadan, expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and opposing Zionism.
“The negotiations that the Palestinian people have tried for over two decades are pointless negotiations, the Palestinian people never gained anything from them except the loss of their cause and their rights,” Ismail Rudwan, a Hamas official, told a large cheering crowd.
Afghan withdrawal date ’emboldens’ Taliban, US general says
An influential American general has endorsed a report that criticises President Barack Obama and the Prime Minister’s decision to set a withdrawal date for Afghanistan that “emboldens” the Taliban to fight on.
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Gen Jack Keane, who was one of the prime movers behind the Iraq surge of 2007, has backed a foreign policy think tank paper that warns talk of Western retreat from the country only “emboldens Afghan insurgents”.
The report attacked the political rhetoric of timelines for withdrawal which played into the hands of the Taliban and undermined the Nato military effort.
“It emboldens insurgents to continue fighting, as they are presented with a survival target to reach,” wrote the report’s author George Grant, a counter-terrorism expert.
Married to the mob
By Pepe Escobar
Ten years ago, Taliban Afghanistan – Talibanistan – was under a social, cultural, political and economic nightmare. Ten years ago, New York-based photographer Jason Florio and myself slowly crossed Talibanistan. Those were the days. Bill Clinton was in the White House. Osama bin Laden was a discreet guest of Mullah Omar, and there was no hint of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, or the “war on terror”, or the rebranding of the AfPak war.
We experienced Talibanistan in action, in close detail. This is both a glimpse of a long-lost world, and a window to a possible future in Afghanistan. Arguably, not much has changed. Or has it?
If schizophrenia defined the Taliban in power, US schizophrenia still rules.
Too chicken to change? Satirists taunt Mugabe
By Paul Peachey Saturday, 4 September 2010
He has sparked fury among Muslim theologians, been sued by a furious President Jacob Zuma and dared to poke fun at the father of the nation, Nelson Mandela.
Now South Africa’s foremost political cartoonist, Zapiro, has taken on the leader across the border, and turned Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe into a latex chicken.
Zapiro’s puppet of Rupert Mugabe is the star turn of a satirical music video released this week by the African band Freshlyground that lampoons the 86-year-old President and challenges him to step down after 30 years in power.
Mobile Phone Banking Comes to South Africa. Will It Work?
Vodacom’s M-Pesa mobile phone banking service is all the rage in Kenya, where in 3 years it jumped to 10 million customers in a country of 37 million. But as M-Pesa launches in South Africa, it will find a market full of similar services, from cash-transfer windows at grocery stores to Western Union.
By Scott Baldauf, Staff writer / September 3, 2010
Johannesburg, South Africa
About half of South Africa’s citizens don’t have bank accounts. Nearly 40% are either unemployed or work informal jobs paid in cash. So how do they pay their bills? How do they send cash to relatives during an emergency?
Until recently, South Africa’s poor simply didn’t have any good banking choices. There are plenty of good banks here, but their charges are so high, and their regulations are so strict – such as proof of regular income – that many poor people simply stowed their cash in the mattress.
Now, thanks to mobile phone giant Vodacom, and its money transfer service M-Pesa, poorer South Africans may finally be able to set aside money, pay bills, and send cash. M-Pesa launched in Kenya in 2007, and quickly overtook traditional banks there by gaining 10 million users in a country of 37 million citizens. Now, thankfully for South Africa’s poor, it has come here as well.