Sunday, November 28, 2010

Haiti: Humanity First's Canadian aid shipment to Haiti languishes at a Port-au-Prince port

Canadians generously opened their wallets after the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Haiti, a Caribbean nation that remains the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Individuals donated a total of $220 million to Canadian charities, an amount matched by the federal government.

Humanity First team working in Haiti
Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: CBC | News
By Amber Hildebrant | November 26, 2010

For months, Humanity First Canada's shipments to help Haitians affected by the earthquake have languished at a Port-au-Prince port, racking up storage fees as the company fills out costly paperwork and pays taxes.

"We were trying to help the people in Haiti, and the government itself is making problems," said Hassam Naeem, the agency's logistics director.

Naeem is in Haiti for the third time trying to free the shipments. Each day that passes, the port charges him an additional $20 storage fee for each of two large containers there and is seeking thousands of dollars in taxes.

"They're trying to get as much money out of our pockets as possible," said Naeem, who worries the funds are lining the pockets of officials.

Where's the aid?

Canadians generously opened their wallets after the Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Haiti, a Caribbean nation that remains the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Individuals donated a total of $220 million to Canadian charities, an amount matched by the federal government.

About one-third — $146 million — went to emergency shelter, medical aid, water and sanitation in the immediate aftermath, but a large portion of the total $440 million has yet to be spent.

Ten months later, the slow pace of progress worries some people who want to help Haitians.

Martine Ste. Victoire is among those feeling disillusioned. The Montreal woman organized several big fundraisers for aid agencies, including the Red Cross, but stopped in March.

"The reason why I stopped doing fundraisers is I didn't know where the money went."

Ste. Victoire says she asked the Red Cross for a breakdown of how the money was spent, but the information wasn't detailed enough for her.

"Anybody who is giving money to an NGO has the right to demand to see where it goes."

Additional frustrations, she says, were the share of donations spent on salaries, the inefficiencies in relief efforts and the lack of local help on projects.

Jim Scott, president of the Windsor, Ont.-based company Ground Effects Inc., is in a similar boat. He says he gave up trying to get shipments into Haiti. About 380 of his temporary housing units arrived in March and sat at the airport until June.

There were plans to send 10,000 units and train 150 Haitians in how to assemble them. Instead 20 Haitians were trained and 380 units assembled.

"What we thought was going to be a two-year project in Haiti was a two-month project," he says.

Scott's company, which started up a year ago, sells its housing units to Angola and Sri Lanka and is trying to secure a contract in Senegal. Haiti, by comparison, was "3,000 times more difficult," to get products into, he says.

Pre-earthquake, more than 10,000 non-governmental organizations were operating in Haiti, according to the World Bank. It's the second highest number of NGOs per capita after India.

It's unknown how many have flooded into the country since the quake. Some NGOs are well-established in the country, while a number of Christian missions and small groups dot the landscape.
Getting results

Critics say the patchwork of agencies working single-mindedly on their own projects causes a lack of co-ordination and focus in relief efforts, hindering a rapid response. Meanwhile, the government is criticized for slow action on reconstruction and on the cholera epidemic.

Karen Huxter, a Newfoundland woman running an orphanage and school in rural Artibonite province, thinks her small-project approach gets results and is more accountable.

"You'll see photos, you'll get reports and you can even go down and be part of it," Huxter said of her donors.

Since the earthquake, the 65-year-old, fondly nicknamed Helicopter by her staff, has been busy rebuilding and fixing structures on her Hands Across the Sea Haiti Mission compound near Deschapelles. Huxter focuses on hiring local Haitians and keeping children in-country, rather than trying to get them adopted by people in other countries.

All money donated to the Canadian-registered charity goes to the cause specified, says Huxter, unless it sent in as a general donation.

"If I didn't need the whole thing, I would write and say, 'OK, here's all the bills. This is what it cost. May I use that for something else?'"

For example, about half of the $50,000 donation received from St. John's City Council in late August has already been spent on projects such as rebuilding walls at the school and on a new water tower.

Costs of running her mission, including the school and orphanage, are $12,000 to $15,000 a month. That pays for 11 orphanage staff, eight full-time teachers and 10 part-time teachers at the 303-student school. Huxter doesn't take a salary herself and began the project 10 years ago with $78,000 of her own savings.

Haiti's poor shape before the earthquake — when latrines, sanitation, clean water and other basics were lacking — has complicated efforts to rebuild. The United Nations is trying to tackle those larger issues during reconstruction.

"We're not rebuilding. It's transformation," says Nigel Fisher, a Canadian who heads United Nations humanitarian efforts. "It's something new."

Canadians, he says, should have no doubt their donations make a big difference in establishing basic services and helping people with their daily needs.

"It kept 1.5 million people sheltered. It's kept people from January until now getting regular clean water that's chlorinated …it has enabled people who never had latrines before to have latrines in camps so that you don't get diarrhea."

The Canadian Red Cross says it has experienced few logistical challenges, thanks to co-operation with the Haitian Red Cross, though there have been backlogs at Customs. Of the $200 million received, Richard Clair, the agency's country representative, says about $71 million has been allocated.

"We're working as fast as we can in the conditions we have," Clair says. Projects include 353 shelters being built in La Piste area of Port-au-Prince. Deaf, displaced people will be the first to inhabit the five-person homes when a section opens in January.

Clair says a small portion of donations — about five to seven per cent — goes to administrative overhead. Shipping and logistics can be expensive, but he adds that, "Those are the costs of business."

For Karen Huxter, the visibly slow pace of progress in Haiti's capital is frustrating.

"I cannot go to Port-au-Prince without crying … because I don't see any advancement. I don't see where things have changed. So I'm asking the same questions, where is the money?"

But large aid agencies say rebuilding a better Haiti is a long-term commitment that could take a decade or more.

Nigel Fisher of the United Nations urges Canadians to not give up.

"In a sense, stay with us because you don't turn around [a country] overnight."

Video: China seeks to ease Korean tension ITN NEWS

European Banks and the Irish Bailout

David Goldman
(…) Short-term, disentangling the banking problem could be ugly.
Credit Suisse points out that Spain is the key:
We think the key to the situation is Spain. Spain is key, given that it accounts for 11% of Euro-area GDP (65% larger than Portugal, Ireland and Greece) and that there are $876bn of foreign bank assets in Spain according to the BIS (75% of which are accounted for by European banks, with 40% – around $340bn – held by German and French banks alone). We note that recently CDS spreads have risen to previous peak (with bond spreads not far behind).
However, we suspect the situation in Spain is sustainable – and probably will not need to resort to the EFSF. Even despite the recent rise in bond yields…
The trouble is that a country whose private liabilities stand at 250% of GDP and whose real estate market has turned to mush may not be so simple to sustain. The FT Alphaville blog cited a Fitch ratings report concluding that Spanish banks are cherry-picking bad loans out mortgage-backed securities they have issued and putting them on their own books. Why take the losses? Because otherwise the securities would be downgraded and no longer qualify as loan collateral at the European Central Bank, which is the only institution that wants to lend money to PIIGS’ banks.
That’s the financial equivalent of a derelict selling blood to buy booze. Spain will have to cut government spending drastically. The trouble is that government is nearly 50% of GDP, so that the economic effect of cuts in government spending and its adumbrations upon the failing real estate market are all the worse.
Each time the European governments announce a new bailout, markets will breathe a great sigh of relief, and each time the bailout gets back into trouble, they will shudder. The bad news is that it won’t work; the good news is that Europe really doesn’t matter that much.
[From European Banks and the Irish Bailout]

Christopher Hitchens 1-0 Tony Blair - Staunch atheist wins over audience in debate with Catholic convert over whether religion is a force for good in the world

Paul Harris in Toronto, Saturday 27 November 2010
Former British prime minister Tony Blair (left) and author Christopher Hitchens before their debate on religion. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

In theory it was not an event that should have created a stir: a philosophical debate on the moral merits of religion. In an age of reality TV drama and Hollywood blockbusters loaded with special effects it would seem hard to get the masses to flock to witness such an old-fashioned, high brow spectacle.

But when the two debaters are the world's most famous recent Roman Catholic convert in the shape of Tony Blair and the charismatic yet cancer-stricken sceptic Christopher Hitchens suddenly it becomes easier to sell tickets.

Two thousand seven hundred tickets to be precise. For that was the size of the crowd that packed the space age-looking Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto late last night to watch the two ideological foes – when it comes to religion – spar and trade verbal blows.

The occasion was part of the Munk Debate series, organised by the Aurea Foundation group, and the motion was simply: "Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world".

Both men were unabashedly stalwart in their positions. Hitchens, one of the leading "new atheists" and author of the hit book God Is Not Great, slammed religion as nothing more than supernatural gobbledegook that caused untold misery throughout human history. "Once you assume a creator and a plan it make us subjects in a cruel experiment," Hitchens said before causing widespread laughter by comparing God to "a kind of divine North Korea".

Blair, perhaps not surprisingly, was a little less forthright. On the backfoot for much of the debate he kept returning to his theme that many religious people all over the world were engaged in great and good works. They did that because of their faith, he argued, and to slam all religious people as ignorant or evil was plain wrong. "The proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable," he said. Blair called religion at its best "a benign progressive framework by which to live our lives".

Throughout the 90-minute debate Hitchens seemed to have the crowd's sympathy. That might have been to do with his ill appearance due to cancer, but was far more likely to be down to the sharpness of his verbal barbs and the fact that 57% of the audience already agreed with his sceptical position according to a pre-debate poll, while just 22% agreed with Blair's side. The rest were undecided.

But the true winner of the debate was most likely the organisers. The high-profile debaters and controversial subject matter ensured not only a packed hall but an overflow location where people who could not get tickets were able to watch it on TV monitors. Tickets sold out weeks ago and were selling on eBay for several times their cover price. The debate was also trailed on the front pages of some Canadian newspapers and covered by local television.

It even attracted a small but vocal knot of anti-Iraq war protestors accusing Blair of war crimes. Demonstrators unveiled placards that read "Arrest Blair" and "War criminals not welcome here", proving that, as with the merits of religion, some arguments are unlikely to ever be settled with a single night's debate.

U.S. Assures China That Naval Exerices In The Yellow Sea Are Only Directed At North Korea

U.S.-South Korean Naval Drill Aimed Only at North Korea, Pentagon Assures China -- FOX News

Responding to China's first official protest over plans by the U.S. and South Korea to hold joint military exercises, the Pentagon assured the communist country Friday that the naval drill is aimed only at North Korea, Reuters reported.

The Pentagon also said that the U.S. military has routinely operated in waters off the Korean peninsula "for years," Reuters reported.

The exercise involves the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and is planned to happen on Sunday in the Yellow Sea.

Read more ....

Update #1: China Warns U.S. as Korea Tensions Rise -- Wall Street Journal
Update #2: China urges Korean calm, warns over naval drills -- Reuters

My Comment: The Chinese are still not sure on how to respond with this weeks events. Bottom line .... they have no stomach to cut assistance or aid to North Korea, a sequence of events that they know will only bring disaster to their dysfunctional neighbor, and a flood of refugees to their northern provinces.

The North Korean leadership are also well aware of this lack of will from China to make the hard choices ..... hence they do what they want to do. But after the events of this week, I suspect that China is now realizing that they will have to make it clear to the North Koreans that there is a certain red line that they cannot cross .... at least that is what I am hoping for.

As for China's concerns about a U.S. carrier group only a few hundred miles off their shore .... I am sure they are not happy about that. They understand why the fleet is there, but the hardliners in their military and government are concerned, and to placate them this criticism must be made. We should also not be surprise if the Chinese Navy receives a bigger boost in their budgets in the next fiscal year.

U.S. State Department Letter to WikiLeaks

November 28, 2010 in U.S. Department of State

The Legal Adviser United States Department of State

  • 2 pages
  • November 27, 2010
The Legal Adviser
United States Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
November 27, 2010
Via Electronic Mail
Ms. Jennifer Robinson
Attorney for Mr. Julian Assange
179 Great Portland Street
London WIW 5LS
Dear Ms. Robinson and Mr. Assange:
I am writing in response to your 26 November 2010 letter to U.S. Ambassador Louis B. Susman regarding your intention to again publish on your WikiLeaks site what you claim to be classified U.S. Government documents.
As you know, if any of the materials you intend to publish were provided by any government officials, or any intermediary without proper authorization, they were provided in violation of U.S. law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action. As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing.
It is our understanding from conversations with representatives from The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Speigel, that WikiLeaks also has provided approximately 250,000 documents to each of them for publication, furthering the illegal dissemination of classified documents.
Publication of documents of this nature at a minimum would:
  • Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals – from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security;
  • Place at risk on-going military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms, violent criminal enterprises and other actors that threaten global security; and,
  • Place at risk on-going cooperation between countries – partners, allies and common stakeholders – to confront common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability.
In your letter, you say you want – consistent with your goal of “maximum disclosure” – information regarding individuals who may be “at significant risk of harm” because of your actions.
Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials. If you are genuinely interested in seeking to stop the damage from your actions, you should: 1) ensure WikiLeaks ceases publishing any and all such materials; 2) ensure WikiLeaks returns any and all classified U.S. Government material in its possession; and 3) remove and destroy all records of this material from WikiLeaks’ databases.
s/ Harold Hongju Koh
Harold Hongju Koh
Legal Adviser

Report: Favre May Have Pneumonia or Sinus Infection

The Washington Redskins secondary will be facing a Brett Favre who is less than 100 percent on Sunday. It’s not a matter of a shoulder, foot or ankle injury. It appears the Minnesota Vikings quarterback is suffering from a sinus infection or worse.

Even the most hardened of athletes are subject to the common ailments us mere mortals are and Favre is no exception.

The Vikings quarterback said Wednesday that he thought he was coming down with the flu and apparently his condition has worsened.

ESPN’s Ed Werder believes Favre may even have pneumonia.

Father Attempts Suicide - Amber Alert Out for 3 Boys

Police and neighbors were searching for three young Michigan boys Saturday who have been missing since their father claimed he dropped them off with a woman before trying to kill himself a day earlier.

The father survived his suicide attempt and is being cared for in a mental health facility, said Morenci, Michigan, Police Chief Larry Weeks on Saturday.

But Michigan authorities do not know what has happened to his boys -- 5-year-old Tanner Skelton, 7-year-old Alexander William Skelton and 9-year-old Andrew Skelton -- prompting them to issue an Amber Alert on Friday.

Weeks said that the boys' father, John Skelton, told police that he dropped the boys off Friday morning with a woman he identified as Joann Taylor -- in part to ensure they didn't see him while and after he tried to commit suicide.

John Skelton told police that the woman, whom he allegedly met on the internet, was supposed to drop the boys off at their home in Morenci, a southern Michigan town of about 2,400 people about 40 miles west-northwest of Toledo, around 3 p.m. Friday.

But the boys never went home and, Weeks added, authorities still aren't sure if John Skelton's story -- including Joann Taylor's existence -- is true or a fabrication.

"We have not been able to locate a Joann Taylor or confirm that she even exists," Weeks told reporters Saturday evening.

The last non-family member saw the boys at 5 p.m. on Thursday, according to the chief.

Their mother, Tanya, has been with police "virtually the entire day" on Saturday, answering questions and serving as what Weeks called a "valuable resource at this time."

Weeks said Tanya Skelton had "contact with someone alleging to be Joann," adding only that this communication was not necessarily by phone or in person.

According to the Amber Alert, Taylor may have been from Jackson or Hillsdale counties and may be driving a silver van. Still, Weeks reiterated that they have yet to confirm she is real and, if so, if she is with the boys.

Saturday's press conference was crowded with media and residents of Morenci, many of whom have been searching for the young boys. Dozens spent Saturday searching along Bean Creek, Wakefield Park and the Riverside Natural Area -- all in Morenci -- according to Toledo-based CNN affiliate WUPW.

"We just hope they're somewhere safe and warm playing video games," volunteer Carol Garcia told WUPW.

But authorities thus far have offered few tips pointing community members to places where the young Skeltons might be.

"We understand their drive and desire to be out there," said Weeks. "The fact is, I cannot tell the community there's a specific location they should be searching."

The alert notes that Tanner is 3 feet, 6 inches tall, has strawberry blond hair, has blue eyes and weighs about 40 pounds. Alexander is 3 feet, 9 inches tall, has brown hair and eyes, weighs about 45 pounds and has scars on his hairline and chin. The oldest brother, Andrew, is 4 feet, 1 inch tall, has brown hair and eyes and weighs roughly 57 pounds.


The Christmas Tree Bomber

Here’s another one for your already bulging Oh for F*ck’s Sake file folder.
Via: AP:

The teenager accused of attempting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., was acting on his own initiative and not at the direction of any foreign terrorist organization, a law enforcement official said Saturday.