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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mount Stromlo Director's Residence opens to public after being destroyed in 2003 Canberra bushfires

Mount Stromlo Director's Residence opens to public after being destroyed in 2003 Canberra bushfires 666 ABC Canberra By Louise Maher Updated 43 minutes agoFri 30 Jan 2015, 3:52pm Director's Residence The Director's Residence at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, circa 1928. (Supplied: Mildenhall Collection, National Archives of Australia) Image 1 of 11 Director's Residence in 1928 The remote location of the Mount Stromlo Observatory meant the director had to live on site. (Supplied: Mildenhall Collection, National Archives of Australia) Image 2 of 11 Director's Residence in 2001 The Braddick family was living in the residence before it was gutted by the bushfire. (Supplied: ANU) Image 3 of 11 Director's Residence in 2003 The Mount Stromlo Director's Residence soon after the fires swept through in 2003. (Supplied: Tom Borough) Image 4 of 11 Director's Residence today The restored Mount Stromlo Director's Residence was finally opened 12 years after the bushfire. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson) Image 5 of 11 Mount Stromlo Observatory The Mount Stromlo Observatory has been restored, with the last scientific building reopening last year. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson) Image 6 of 11 Inside reopened Director's Residence A projection screen showing a bushfire inside the reopened Mount Stromlo Director's Residence. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson) Image 7 of 11 Mount Stromlo ruins The scars of the 2003 Canberra bushfires can still be seen at the Mount Stromlo Observatory. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson) Image 8 of 11 Inside Mount Stromlo Director's Residence A grapevine and an old doorhandle inside the residence. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson) Image 9 of 11 Inside the Director's Residence today Parts of the Mount Stromlo Director's Residency have been left untouched since the bushfires swept through. (ABC News: Jonathon Gul) Image 10 of 11 Interior of Mount Stromlo Director's Residence The Director's Residence is one of the most iconic ruins of the 2003 Canberra bushfires. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson) Gallery: The Mount Stromlo Observatory Director's Residence Related Story: Mt Stromlo Observatory rises from ashes Map: Mount Stromlo 2611 One of the most recognisable ruins of the 2003 Canberra bushfires has opened to the public as a poignant memorial more than 12 years after being destroyed. The historic Mount Stromlo Observatory Director's Residence was gutted when the fire swept through the Brindabella mountains and into Canberra on January 18, 2003, destroying about 500 homes. Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics director Matthew Colless said visitors can again appreciate the historic significance of the building. "I hope they get a sense of the long history of Stromlo and the very varied purposes its been put to," Professor Colless told 666 ABC Canberra. "A feeling of the national capital, the lovely architecture of the federation period. "I hope they also feel some of the scientific activity that is still very much alive and ongoing here today." The observatory was decimated as the fires, fanned by winds of up to 200 kilometres an hour, tore through the surrounding area, west of Canberra. "It was just a sad and sorry object and, of course, it's one of the few buildings on Stromlo that you can see from down in Canberra," Professor Colless said. "So one of my first objectives when I came back as director was to try and find a way to fix it up. "I am delighted that after a lot of hard work ... we've got this remarkably changed vista in front of us." Rich history of a grand residence The Director's Residence, originally known as Observatory House, was completed in 1928 as a home for the founding director Walter Geoffrey Duffield and his family. It was designed by the Federal Capital Commission and was regarded as one of the grandest homes in Canberra, complete with a Steinway grand piano, an elaborate jarrah staircase and individually designed fireplaces and sinks in the bedrooms. Professor Matthew Colless and Amy Jarvis at the entrance of the former living room of the Mt Stromlo director's residence. Photo: Professor Matthew Colless and Amy Jarvis at the entrance of the former living room of the Mt Stromlo director's residence. (666 ABC Canberra: Louise Maher) The garden included fruit trees, rosebushes and a croquet lawn. Walter Duffield and his wife Doris were closely involved in the home's design. ANU heritage officer Amy Jarvis said they also contributed some of their own money to add additional features to the house. "It really showed the grandeur of the director here and, I guess, the prominence of the observatory at that time in Canberra's history," she said. The residence was a key social venue in the early days of Canberra playing host to prime ministers, politicians, industry chiefs and even international royalty, including the Prince of Siam. Over the years it was home to seven other observatory directors and several other families, including the Braddick family, who occupied the home when the 2003 firestorm hit. Though the facade of the house has been restored to its former glory, the inside remains a shell showing the fire's scars, including bare brickwork now stabilised by steel beams, scraps of tiles and remnant plasterwork. A young grapevine grows from the dirt in the former living room while a series of audio-visual displays recounts the building's role and history, including oral history recordings of former residents. "It's very evocative because it's still in its post-fire condition," explained Ms Jarvis. "What you see is quite a stark contrast to the outside but I think it's important that it tells the story of the fire as a layer of the site's history and doesn't try and hide that that happened." Topics: science-and-technology, astronomy-space, bushfire, mount-stromlo-2611, act, canberra-2600 ===========

Fuel price falls better than an interest rate cut: Fitch

By business reporter Michael Janda Posted 37 minutes ago Fri 30 Jan 2015, 11:57am Discounted petrol in Perth drops below $1. Photo: Some petrol prices have fallen below $1 a litre in major centres. (ABC News: Graeme Powell) One of the world's leading ratings agencies says the fall in petrol prices has been better for household finances than an official interest rate cut. With average petrol prices falling by around a quarter over the past year, Fitch has estimated that the saving for the typical household using 40 litres a week is $61.38 a month. The ratings agency said that is equivalent to a 35-basis-point interest rate cut on the average mortgage balance of $210,625. The benefit is even bigger for those households with less owing on their mortgages, but households with large mortgages would still get more out of a rate reduction - the typical petrol price savings are only equivalent to a 15-basis-point cut on a $500,000 mortgage balance. Obviously, the savings from cheaper petrol only assist those who own a car, however that is a larger proportion of the population than those who still have a mortgage outstanding. The ratings agency said self-employed people may be getting an even bigger benefit, with many relying on a vehicle for work and using much more fuel than average. Fitch does caution that petrol prices are more volatile than interest rates, and savings can quickly be eroded if oil prices turn around and start heading higher. However, with petrol prices looking set to stay low for at least the first few months of the year, Fitch said cheaper fuel will help offset the usual post-Christmas debt hangover. "Fitch expects such an expense reduction to benefit Australian families in the first quarter of 2015, and to partially offset the negative impact of Christmas spending on mortgage delinquencies," the report noted. ======================= BHP workers set to lose jobs in South Australia to ‘safely reduce costs’ Olympic Dam. (AAP) Olympic Dam. (AAP) 9NEWS BHP Billiton has announced plans to cut jobs at the Olympic Dam operation for a restructuring process to help build a “viable business”. The number of workers set to be made redundant has not been confirmed but the company said a number of workers would be redeployed to other BHP operations. “Over the past few months, Olympic Dam has been focused on identifying opportunities to safely reduce costs in order to build a strong, viable business,’’ spokeswoman Emily Perry said in a statement. “A number of positions will be made redundant, however the impact of these redundancies will be minimised through some redeployments opportunities. We are unable to determine a net figure for workforce redundancies until the redeployment process is completed later this year. “Our priority is to support all affected employees and where possible, alternative positions will be offered. This will include roles required to support our growth ambitions in the Southern Mine Area as well as opportunities within the broader BHP Billiton organisation.’’​ Read more at http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/01/30/12/18/bhp-workers-set-to-lose-jobs#RPDdYfUbUhOSXW3E.99 ==========================

New York City train derailment caused $9 million in damage: NTSB

New York City train derailment caused $9 million in damage: NTSB Tue, Jan 14 17:20 PM EST image By Marina Lopes NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York commuter train derailment that killed four people in December caused more than $9 million in damage, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday. A preliminary report issued by the federal agency found the train's signal system, brakes and other mechanical equipment were functioning normally when all seven of its cars derailed in the Bronx. The finding may bolster allegations that train engineer William Rockefeller, 46, was to blame for the crash. Investigators say Rockefeller told them he "zoned out" as the train sped through a curve at 82 miles per hour, (132 km per hour), nearly three times the speed limit. The crash also critically injured 75 of the 115 people on board and snarled travel for the roughly 26,000 regular commuters on the Metro-North Hudson line, which serves suburbs north of New York City. The report could be instrumental in determining whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent of Metro-North, will be held liable for the crash, legal experts said. While the new information in the report adds evidence that human error may have caused the derailment, the MTA could still be held liable for the negligence of its employees under a common-law doctrine known as "vicarious liability," experts said shortly after the crash. Michael Lamonsoff, a lawyer who represents 10 people injured in the derailment who have given legal notice they plan to sue, said the accident could have been prevented if an alert system had been properly installed. "All these people were assuming they were traveling safely, but they were playing Russian roulette with the possibility of a human error that could have occurred," Lamonsoff said. While the train was equipped with an alerting system in its rear car, sources told Reuters, the driver was running the train from a "control cab" at the front of the first passenger carriage. (Reporting by Marina Lopes; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Steve Orlofsky) =================================== Analysis: Two factors key to lawsuits over New York train crash Thu, Dec 05 01:03 AM EST image By Andrew Longstreth NEW YORK (Reuters) - For lawyers preparing to sue over Sunday's deadly New York commuter rail accident, their success in court may depend largely on two factors: whether human error caused the derailment and if state or federal law governs railroad safety in the case. Tens or hundreds of millions of dollars could be at stake, based on previous cases. A Cook County, Illinois, jury in 2009, awarded more than $29.5 million to a Chicago woman injured in a 2005 commuter train derailment. The investigation into the Metro-North derailment in the Bronx, which killed four and critically injured 11, has centered on the actions of the train's engineer, William Rockefeller. He told investigators he lost focus right before the crash, his labor union leader told Reuters. Investigators have said the seven-car train was traveling at 82 mph, nearly three times the speed limit for the curved section of track where it crashed. A lawyer for Rockefeller was not immediately available for comment, and the National Transportation Safety Board has said it has not reached a conclusion into the accident's cause and would continue its work for weeks, if not months. Authorities have not found any mechanical problems with the train so far, but a safety system designed to keep an engineer alert was not installed in the car from which Rockefeller was controlling the train, a source familiar with the railroad's operation told Reuters. If government investigators determine human error caused the derailment, the agency operating the train could be held liable for the negligence of its employees under a common-law doctrine known as "vicarious liability." That doctrine could apply, experts say, even if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent of Metro-North, can say it had no reason to question the engineer's competence. "The case will turn on his conduct, not on the conduct of the MTA," UCLA law professor Richard Abel said. If the accident is deemed to have been caused by a mechanical failure, liability could be spread among several possible defendants, including manufacturers of any parts found to have failed and various contractors. No lawsuits have yet been filed in the wake of the crash, but New York plaintiffs' attorney Michael Lamonsoff told Reuters on Wednesday he had notified Metro-North that he planned to file a negligence suit on behalf of two injured passengers. Another lawyer, Joel Faxon of New Haven, Connecticut, said he had consulted with two families about potential claims. The MTA "own the crash" if there was personnel error, he said. A spokesman for the MTA declined to comment about the agency's potential liability. Metro-North carries $10 million in liability insurance coverage and the MTA has an additional $50 million through a subsidiary, an MTA official said. The agency also has $350 million in coverage through commercial markets, the official said. FEDERAL OR STATE LAW? But there is a way for Metro-North to avoid liability - by arguing that federal law, not state law, governs the case. Defendants can argue that claims typically brought under state law, including negligence, are in fact barred if the conduct at issue is governed by federal laws and regulations. The doctrine is known as federal pre-emption, and a number of federal statutes address railroad safety and maintenance issues. If a defendant prevails on the pre-emption issue, it can avoid liability if it can show it complied with federal requirements. The challenge for the plaintiffs in the New York case is to plead claims that avoid citing conduct covered in relevant federal laws and regulations, said Mike Danko, a California plaintiffs' attorney. "That's where the fight is going to be," he said. Metro-North, in fact, raised that argument in lawsuits filed earlier this year by people injured in a May collision of two of its trains in Connecticut. Those lawsuits are still in their early stages and the pre-emption issue has not been resolved. Even if it loses on all those issues, Metro-North is likely to argue that as a public entity, it is immune from punitive damages. In civil litigation, judges or juries often award damages to the winning plaintiffs both to compensate them for their injuries and to punish the defendant. But government agencies are often shielded from punitive damages. Metro-North has also raised that defense in the litigation stemming from the May accident. If the railway is sued and loses, federal law allows awards of up to $200 million in total to rail passengers for all claims arising from a single incident. (Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Eric Effron, Peter Henderson and Peter Cooney) ===========================

Home ownership dreaming

Home ownership dreaming show transcript Sunday 1 February 2015 8:05AM Darren Kynuna Image: Darren Kynuna on the verandah of his home in Yarrabah, Queensland. he wants to convert his current lease to freehold. (Ian Townsend) As of 1 January 2015 residents of Indigenous towns in Queensland have the option to buy their homes and convert communal land to freehold. Many want ‘the great Australian dream’, but it will extinguish native title and may expose communities to the open real estate market for the first time. Ian Townsend reports. Indigenous communities in Queensland are being given the option of converting communal land to freehold title in a move that some fear will erode native title. I've had a connection with this land for so long, it's important to keep it in my family and to ensure it’s here for my children and their future generations. Alisa Lively, Yarrabah resident It’s the latest step in a nation-wide policy to encourage private home ownership on communal land in Indigenous communities, with the objective of tackling overcrowding. Queensland has been encouraging people to apply for 99-year leases in more than 30 Indigenous communities as part of a program to get people to buy back their rented government-built homes. It’s been a slow process. Communities now have the option to convert those leases to freehold through the state’s Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Land (Providing Freehold) Act 2014, which came into effect on January 1. The new law has some traditional owners worried, because granting freehold on traditional land will extinguish hard-fought for native title. ‘Gunggandji people fought hard to get native title,’ says Henrietta Marrie, a traditional owner at Yarrabah, near Cairns, and an associate professor at Central Queensland University. ‘For a generation to make a decision to simply say, “We will turn some land into freehold,” a lot more thought needs to go into it.’ ‘It’s a step much further to complete freeholding,’ says Greg Marks, an associate expert with the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of NSW and a visiting fellow with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. The Northern Territory has also been offering 99-year leases on communal land, with the first home loan written in 2009 in the town of Nguiu, now Wurrumiyanga, and 15 people now have mortgages there. ‘In the Northern Territory the land will remain, at least on the books, as inalienable aboriginal title,’ says Greg Marks, ‘but in Queensland it becomes completely on the open market, doesn't it. It’s a huge step’ The concern about the freehold option in Queensland is that it will eventually lead to an open real estate market in Indigenous communities such as Yarrabah. Yarrabah is close to Cairns and potentially prime real estate with its sandy beaches and Coral Sea views. It’s a former aboriginal mission, now controlled by the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council. Until recently, the people living there have only ever been able to rent houses from the council or government. This article represents part of a larger Background Briefing investigation. Listen to Ian Townsend's full report on Sunday at 8.05 am or use the podcast links above after broadcast. One of the barriers to building private homes has been a complex system of land tenure arrangements, involving overlapping native title, leases, sub leases and Indigenous land use agreements. Without a private housing market, the community has relied on governments to build houses, and the building hasn’t kept pace with population growth. More than 3000 people are now crowded into fewer than 450 homes in Yarrabah. Late last year, Ailsa Lively became the first person in Yarrabah to get a special 99-year lease, and then be granted a $130,000 mortgage to buy the house she’s been renting for years. ‘It’s for security,’ she says, ‘I've had a connection with this land for so long, it's important to keep it in my family and to ensure it’s here for my children and their future generations.’ The Yarrabah community is yet to decide if it will allow its new homeowners to convert their leases to freehold. The new Queensland Act states that only people with a close connection to the community will be allowed to convert a lease to freehold, but once freehold is granted, there’ll be no restrictions on who can buy a house in the community. That has some residents worried. ‘A lot of people are a bit skeptical [of] outsiders coming in,’ says Darren Kynuna, another Yarrabah resident who has applied for a 99-year lease on the land under his house. He hopes to eventually convert it to freehold, but not to sell it. ‘We want to keep it an Indigenous cultural community, the way it is, for our future, mate. We’ve got to make sure Yarrabah’s a safe place for our children.’ It’s an issue the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council is grappling with. It’s one of the three trustees of the land which will decide in consultation with the community and traditional owners whether to allow freehold. ‘That’s the challenge for us, to create opportunities, while also protecting the community’s unique culture,’ says Yarrabah mayor, Errol Neal. He says freeholding will be a matter for the traditional owners to decide. ‘They own the land; they have the final say.’

Exclusive: New Iran U.N. envoy appointee expected to get U.S. visa - sources

. Reuters By Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi 55 minutes ago UNITED NATIONS/ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran's newly appointed U.N. ambassador is set to receive a U.S. visa so he can take up that key post, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday, likely removing a major strain on Tehran's tense relations with Washington. Washington had infuriated Iran's leadership last year by rejecting its previous appointee as head of its sole diplomatic mission on U.S. soil over his suspected role in a 1979-81 hostage crisis. Iran's state-run Tasnim news agency carried an official announcement on Wednesday that Iran had appointed career diplomat Gholamali Khoshrou, whose surname is also spelled Khoshroo, as its United Nations envoy. But it did not say whether he had been approved by Washington. Several diplomatic sources, including a senior Iranian official, told Reuters on condition of anonymity it was almost certain that Khoshrou, a U.S.-educated veteran diplomat with close ties to the reformist camp of former president Mohammad Khatami, would be approved by the United States. An Iranian official told Reuters that the appointment had already been discussed at a senior level by U.S. and Iranian officials prior to the Iranian announcement. "Khoshrou has already been at the Iranian mission (to the United Nations) with the rank of ambassador and unless something crazy comes up, he's going to get his (U.N.) accreditation," a Western diplomatic source said. The United States, which hosts the United Nations, said in April that Iran's initial candidate, Hamid Abutalebi, was unacceptable given his role in a 444-day crisis in which Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. Abutalebi said he acted only as a translator. U.S. officials told Reuters that Abutalebi was not the first Iranian diplomat to be refused a visa to work at the Iranian U.N. mission, though his case was the first to be publicized. Washington's refusal to issue a visa for Abutalebi last year came at a sensitive time for the two countries. Both the United States and Iran have been involved in negotiations on a long-term nuclear agreement under which Tehran would curb sensitive nuclear work in exchange for a gradual end of sanctions. Iran and major powers this month agreed to step up efforts to reach a political understanding by the end of March with a view to clinching a full-blown nuclear deal by their self-imposed deadline of June 30. The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That makes the Iranian U.N. mission a crucial operation. While the United States officially uses Switzerland to deliver messages to Tehran, it uses the U.N. mission as an unofficial channel to discuss issues ranging from Iran's nuclear program to U.S. citizens detained in the Islamic Republic, diplomatic sources told Reuters. "We are aware of reports that Iran has appointed Gholamali Khoshrou as its permanent representative to the U.N." a U.S. official told Reuters. Asked whether Khoshrou's visa would be approved, the official said: "All visa applications are reviewed individually in accordance with the requirements of U.S. law." Khoshrou served as a deputy foreign minister under Khatami from 2002 to 2005 and was a senior diplomat at the Iranian U.N. mission from 1989 to 1995 with the rank of ambassador. Since Khoshrou was previously granted a U.S. visa as a senior diplomat, the sources said, Washington had already been able to conduct a thorough background search to make sure he had no links to the U.S. hostage takers in 1979-1981. It was not clear when Washington would formally approval Khoshrou's acceptance and when he would arrive in New York. He was not immediately available for comment. Khoshrou has degrees from Tehran University and the New School for Social Research in New York City. (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

At least eight killed as gunmen storm hotel in Libyan capital

At least eight killed as gunmen storm hotel in Libyan capital Tue, Jan 27 17:06 PM EST image 1 of 2 By Ahmed Elumami TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Two heavily armed gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Tripoli favored by Libyan officials and visiting delegations on Tuesday, killing at least eight people including four foreigners before blowing themselves up with a grenade. Officials said shooting erupted inside the five-star Corinthia Hotel and security forces evacuated guests, including Tripoli's prime minister and an American delegation, after the gunmen blasted through the building's security and reception. It was one of the worst assaults targeting foreigners since the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi and fractured the oil-producing North African state into fiefdoms of rival armed groups with two national governments both claiming legitimacy. A militant group associated with Islamic State insurgents in Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the attack as revenge for the death of a suspected Libyan al Qaeda operative in the United States, according to the SITE monitoring service. But Tripoli officials who have set up their own self-proclaimed government blamed Gaddafi loyalists bent on killing their prime minister, who was at the hotel, and said he was rescued without injury. "The attackers opened fire inside the hotel, killing four foreigners, two men and two women, who are believed to be from East Asian countries," Omar Khadrawi, head of Tripoli security, told Reuters. "When the attackers were completely surrounded by the security forces, one of them detonated a grenade, but we don't know if it was deliberate." Tripoli security spokesman Essam Naas told Reuters later that an American and a Frenchman were among those killed. He said other foreigners in the line of fire in the hotel were Asian but gave no nationalities. Two U.S. officials earlier said they were investigating whether an American was killed in the attack. A security officer was also killed in the clashes and three guards died when the attackers set off a car bomb in the car park outside the hotel. Libya is caught in a conflict between two rival factions, one allied with the internationally recognized government, the other with "Libya Dawn" forces who took over the capital Tripoli in the summer and set up their own government. But in Libya's post-revolution chaos, armed groups, from brigades of former rebels to federalist fighters and Islamist militants, have grown in power and control more territory. Islamist militants, some who claim loyalty to Islamic State, operate in pockets of Libya, especially eastern Benghazi and Derna. Foreigners and embassies have been targeted in shootings, kidnappings and bombings. In 2012, militants attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. U.S. officials blamed a Libyan Islamist group, Ansar al Sharia, for orchestrating that attack. "GADDAFI LOYALISTS" Most foreign governments closed their embassies and pulled staff out of Tripoli after factional fighting erupted last summer. But some diplomats, business and trade delegations still visit the capital. Envoys from the United Nations, which is holding talks in Geneva with some of Libya's warring parties to try to end hostilities, also visit Tripoli. Khadrawi said security forces had spirited the Tripoli government's premier, Omar al-Hassi, from the 22nd floor of the hotel where he was staying. "The attackers were attempting to assassinate him," he said, blaming Gaddafi loyalists. But SITE monitors, citing social media, said a militant group had claimed the attack as revenge for the death of Abu Anas al-Liby, a suspected al Qaeda member accused of helping plan the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Liby died in a New York hospital this month ahead of his trial. The Libyan national was snatched by U.S. special forces from Tripoli in 2013. Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Gaddafi, Libya has struggled to find stability and a conflict has gradually emerged between two loose confederations of politicians, armed groups and regional factions. Tripoli is controlled by a faction that is allied to the city of Misrata and their powerful armed forces, but also includes some Islamist-leaning former rebel fighters and politicians allied to the Muslim Brotherhood. They are faced by the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and the elected parliament who now operate out of the east of the country. (Writing by Patrick Markey and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich) ================================= You are here: Home » Security » National Security » Officials confirm Baghdad airplane shooting Officials confirm Baghdad airplane shooting Officials confirm Baghdad airplane shooting An Iraqi Airways plane lands at Baghdad International Airport Jan.27, 2015. Airlines from at least three countries suspended flights to Baghdad on Tuesday after bullets hit an airplane operated by Fly Dubai as it was landing on Jan. 26. Company officials said Iraqi Airways and Iran's Caspian Airlines were operating flights to Baghdad on a normal schedule. (THAIER AL-SUDANI/Reuters) By Staff of Iraq Oil Report Published Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 One child was injured in a surface-to-air machine gun shooting of a Fly Dubai flight as it descended toward Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) late Jan. 26, the Transportation Ministry said on Tuesday. The acting head of the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) denied the incident altogether both Monday and Tuesday, despite the confirmation by the Transportation Ministry, to which ICAA belongs, and BIAP officials and workers. "Yesterday evening, an aircraft of Fly Dubai was hit while ... ==================================================== UPDATE 1-Leader of Libyan Islamists Ansar al-Sharia dies of wounds Fri, Jan 23 09:40 AM EST (Adds details, quote, background) BENGHAZI, Libya, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The leader of Libyan Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia has died of wounds suffered when fighting pro-government troops several months ago, his family and officials said on Friday. Mohamed al-Zahawi, who founded a brigade of Ansar in Benghazi after helping to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, had been in hospital since he was hurt, members of his family told Reuters. Fadhl al-Hassi, a Libyan military commander, said Zahawi had died from wounds sustained in an ambush in September. "I saw myself how he got wounded in his car," he said. There was no immediate statement from Ansar al-Sharia. There had been speculation for months over Zahawi's fate, after he disappeared from public view. The United States blames Ansar al-Sharia for an assault on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Former army general Khalifa Haftar declared war on Ansar al-Sharia in May, pushing it out of much of the eastern city. Fighting is still going on between Haftar's troops, which have now merged with regular army forces, and Islamist fighters in the port area and other districts of Benghazi. The struggle is part of a wider conflict between former rebel groups who helped topple Gaddafi and are now competing for control of the major oil producer. Libya has two rival governments and parliaments. The internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has been forced to work out of the east since a faction called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August. (Reporting by Libya staff; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Roche) ======================

Monday, January 26, 2015

Obama's nuclear gift to Modi is shrewd investment

Obama's nuclear gift to Modi is shrewd investment | Considered View | Breakingviews 26 January 2015 | By Andy Mukherjee

Barack Obama’s nuclear gift to India looks like a shrewd investment. By agreeing to a workaround that protects power station builders from civil liabilities in the event of a meltdown, the U.S. president has effectively unblocked New Delhi’s reactor programme. The bigger bet is on ending India’s energy crisis.

The agreement, struck on the first day of Obama’s visit to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, could bring new orders for equipment makers like GE-Hitachi, Toshiba’s Westinghouse and France’s Areva. About 4 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear power capacity is under construction in India; another 40GW is planned over the next 10 years. Even if only half of it gets built, that’s worth $35 billion in contracts.

But a more potent opportunity for U.S. businesses may be the jolt to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign. Lack of power is the single biggest obstacle to making India a manufacturing force. Electricity supply in northern parts of the country, which are poor and bursting with surplus labour, fell 6 percent short of demand in December.

Mining more coal will remain Modi’s first priority. But nuclear power will play an important supporting role. Currently it accounts for just 3 percent of India’s total electricity consumption; a legacy of the country’s pariah status in the global market for fissionable materials. That ended in 2008 with a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States. But the reactors that were conceived got stuck after India passed a law in 2010 making global equipment makers liable for accidents.

Obama has cut Modi some slack by agreeing to a compromise whereby state-run Indian insurers share the liability. Though it’s unclear how much they will charge for that insurance, this looks like a transfer of risk from manufacturers to Indian taxpayers. The President also dropped the U.S. demand that it retain the right to inspect Indian facilities that are under international safeguards.

Doubling India’s 5GW of nuclear power capacity could make low-cost manufacturing in India a viable option before Modi is due for re-election in 2019. By backing a man who until last year wasn’t welcome in the United States, Obama is betting big on the India opportunity.

India and the United States reached an agreement on Jan. 25 to unblock a civilian nuclear power deal as President Barack Obama visited the country.

The deal has stumbled since New Delhi passed a law in 2010 making nuclear equipment suppliers like GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse liable for any accidents. The financial risk will now be borne by Indian state-owned insurers.

According to Indian newspaper reports, Obama also used his executive authority to drop the demand that U.S. authorities be allowed to inspect Indian nuclear plants that are already under safeguards enforced by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

India wants to more than double the share of nuclear power in electricity production to 6.4 percent by 2032, from about 3 percent at present.

Power supply in India fell 3.2 percent short of demand in December. The deficit was as high as 6.4 percent and 16 percent in the country’s north and northeast, respectively, according to the Central Electricity Authority in New Delhi.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

HOME NEWS Top News Business Canada Sports Entertainment Technology WORLD INDICES Products & Services Support About Thomson Reuters Australia knights Prince Philip, sparking national outrage

Mon 26 Jan 2015 | 0:27 ESTYou are here:Home > News > Top News > Article HOME NEWS Top News Business Canada Sports Entertainment Technology WORLD INDICES Products & Services Support About Thomson Reuters Australia knights Prince Philip, sparking national outrage Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:19pm EST Email This Article | Share This Article | Print This Article [-] Text [+] Britain's Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip bid farewell to Singapore's President Tony Tan and his wife Mary Chee at Buckingham Palace in central London October 23, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Jackson/Pool 1 of 1Full Size By Morag MacKinnon PERTH (Reuters) - Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has awarded Australia's highest honor to Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, sparking a barrage of criticism across the country on its national day of celebration. Prince Philip was made a Knight of the Order of Australia, awarded as part of the country's honors system announced on Australia Day, with Abbott saying it paid "tribute to an extraordinary life of service". The award grated with republicans who want to sever ties with Britain and appoint an Australian president. "It's a time warp where we're giving knighthoods to English royalty," Opposition leader Bill Shorten told Australian radio. Commentator and associate editor of the national daily, The Australian, Chris Kenny tweeted, "Just another own goal and an embarrassment for Australia on our national day". Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch its head of state who acts in predominately a ceremonial manner but has the power to approve the abolition of parliament, which happened in 1975 toppling the then government. Australians also questioned the procedure for issuing knighthoods, which are awarded solely on the recommendation of the prime minister to the queen. Any Australian can nominate a fellow citizen for other honors. Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment. At the time he said they were intended to recognize "pre-eminent Australians". Abbott, whose popularity has fallen sharply in recent months, said he stood by the decision to award the knighthood to 93-year-old Prince Philip because "the monarchy has been an important part of Australia's life since 1788". (Reporting by Morag MacKinnon; Editing by Jeremy Laurence) © Thomson Reuters 2015 All rights reserved. NEXT ARTICLE: At least 17 killed in protests on anniversary of Egypt uprising MORE NEWS Three Malian soldiers killed in clash with gunmen in north At least 17 killed in protests on anniversary of Egypt uprising Afghan air force ascent slow, imperiling battle with Taliban Morocco arrests suspected Algerian militant tied to Frenchman's murder More...

Reinsurers Axis Capital, PartnerRe to merge in $11 billion deal

Reinsurers Axis Capital, PartnerRe to merge in $11 billion deal Sun, Jan 25 20:49 PM EST (Reuters) - Axis Capital Holdings Ltd (AXS.N) and PartnerRe Ltd (PRE.N) have agreed to an $11 billion merger to create one of the world's largest reinsurers, PartnerRe said on Sunday. The move is the latest indication that fierce competition and falling premiums in the reinsurance sector has led market players to consolidate. Reinsurers help insurers pay large damage claims in exchange for part of the profit. The combined company will have gross premiums topping $10 billion, total capitalization of more than $14 billion, and total cash and invested assets of more than $33 billion, according to the PartnerRe statement. PartnerRe shareholders will own 51.6 percent of the new company, and Axis holders, 48.4 percent, according to the statement. Net income at the top 31 reinsurers rose to $14 billion in the first six months of 2014, up 12 percent from the same period the prior year. (Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

The Real Estate of Oil

By Andrew Beattie | November 10, 2014 The oil industry goes far beyond simply extracting crude from the ground. On top of the companies drilling and pumping oil, there are dozens more providing services like hauling, maintenance, safety services, refining and so on. The bigger the oil reserves, the more economic ripples it causes. In this article, we’ll take a look at how the oil industry can affect real estate. Lease Land Lease land is the most obvious connection between oil drilling and land values. When an area is found to be productive for oil, gas or another mineral, the lease price on adjacent lands tend to rise rapidly. Once fracking made the Marcellus and Eagle Ford shale productive for oil and gas, the lease prices on acres in Texas and Pennsylvania shot up. The leases also pay royalties, making millionaires out of people who were ranchers and farmers before the boom. The lease prices are paid by oil and gas companies looking to drill, but that new source of potential income impacts the price for all land sales in those areas, even if it is for development or agricultural purposes. The fact that an oil company could end up leasing and producing off the acres for sale gets baked into any future sales in those regions. The Labor Pull Without a doubt, the big money is made in land leases and royalties, but there is an equally strong upward pressure on real estate prices from the influx of labor needed to extract oil and gas from productive fields. As mentioned before, there all sorts of oil service businesses that support exploration and extraction. That said, it goes far beyond businesses with a direct oil connection. The influx of workers requires more restaurants, more hotels, more mechanics, more clinics, more traffic lights, more roads, more of everything - including housing. There are several deposits in North America that are expected to be producing for decades. Mobile labor flows into these areas to earn money and many end up settling nearby their work. Whether it is Midland, Texas, or Grande Prairie, Alberta, the price of existing and new homes rise due to the strong local economy. With oil wages available to many people with relatively basic skill sets, other sectors need to raise wages to compete. This means that the labor needed to build new homes also goes up, adding to the upward pressure on real estate. Bottom Line Oil and gas extraction can be lucrative for the companies doing it, but it also has economic benefits that ripple throughout the active drilling regions. The discovery of a new deposit or the introduction of new technology to unlock existing deposits can represent a huge windfall for landowners. Buying and building to accommodate a booming population is a different way for landlords to profit. When it comes to real estate, it is location, location, location - and a location with oil or gas underneath may be the most attractive type of all. TAGS: Commodities Crude Oil Energy Oil & Gas Refining & Marketing Oil Economy Real Estate Development Sector - Mining Quarrying Oil and Gas Extraction

Options, 'Convertible Security' : convertible bonds or convertible preferred stock

Option DEFINITION of 'Option' A financial derivative that represents a contract sold by one party (option writer) to another party (option holder). The contract offers the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call) or sell (put) a security or other financial asset at an agreed-upon price (the strike price) during a certain period of time or on a specific date (exercise date). Call options give the option to buy at certain price, so the buyer would want the stock to go up. Put options give the option to sell at a certain price, so the buyer would want the stock to go down. INVESTOPEDIA EXPLAINS 'Option' Options are extremely versatile securities that can be used in many different ways. Traders use options to speculate, which is a relatively risky practice, while hedgers use options to reduce the risk of holding an asset. In terms of speculation, option buyers and writers have conflicting views regarding the outlook on the performance of an underlying security. For example, because the option writer will need to provide the underlying shares in the event that the stock's market price will exceed the strike, an option writer that sells a call option believes that the underlying stock's price will drop relative to the option's strike price during the life of the option, as that is how he or she will reap maximum profit. This is exactly the opposite outlook of the option buyer. The buyer believes that the underlying stock will rise, because if this happens, the buyer will be able to acquire the stock for a lower price and then sell it for a profit. ================================================= Conversion Factor A factor used to equate the price of T-bond and T-note futures contracts with the various cash T-bonds and T-notes eligible for delivery. This factor is based on the relationship of the cash-instrument coupon to the required 6 percent deliverable grade of a futures contract as well as taking into account the cash instrument's maturity or call. Convertible securities Convertible Security DEFINITION of 'Convertible Security' An investment that can be changed into another form. The most common convertible securities are convertible bonds or convertible preferred stock, which can be changed into equity or common stock. A convertible security pays a periodic fixed amount as a coupon payment (in the case of convertible bonds) or a preferred dividend (in the case of convertible preferred shares), and specifies the price at which it can be converted into common stock. INVESTOPEDIA EXPLAINS 'Convertible Security' Convertible securities usually have a lower payout than that offered by comparable securities that do not have the conversion feature. Investors are willing to accept the lower payout because of the conversion feature, which is tantamount to a call option on the common stock. The conversion price - the preset price at which the security can be converted into common stock - is usually set at a price significantly higher than the stock's current price. The performance of a convertible security is heavily influenced by the price of the underlying common stock. The degree of correlation increases as the stock price approaches or exceeds the conversion price. Conversely, if the stock price is languishing far below the conversion price - a busted convertible in market parlance - the security will likely trade as a straight bond or preferred share, since the prospects of conversion are viewed as remote. ==================================== Conversion Option DEFINITION of 'Conversion Option' A clause associated with some adjustable-rate mortgages that allows the borrower to convert the variable interest rate to a fixed rate within a certain time period, or at certain future dates. The conversion option is not free; an adjustable-rate mortgage with a conversion option will typically have a higher margin, and therefore higher fully indexed interest rate, or higher costs than an adjustable-rate mortgage without a conversion option. INVESTOPEDIA EXPLAINS 'Conversion Option' To analyze the economics of a conversion option, borrowers should total up the cost of the conversion option (an initial higher interest rate and/or higher loan costs) plus the cost of the actual conversion to a fixed rate, then compare this total to the costs of refinancing into a fixed interest rate at a future date. Remember that a fee must often be paid to convert to the fixed rate, and the fixed rate that the ARM is converted to is typically based upon the market rate at the time of conversion plus a certain percentage. If the future refinancing costs are estimated to be less than the total costs of the conversion option, then the conversion option is not economical. The borrower would be better off with a traditional ARM with the intent to refinance into a fixed interest rate at a future date.

Land deal keeps ICAC digging

THE corruption watchdog in South Australia has vowed to pursue any evidence of corruption in a contentious land deal. Why Is There No ICAC In The ACT? OPINION Keywords: australian capital territory icac The corruption scandal currently unravelling in NSW should given Canberrans pause for thought,... Complications for Stokes' BC Iron deal Fresh from playing havoc with the federal budget, Clive Palmer is digging in again, refusing to budge in a battle with the WA government over a... LNP (The Liberal National Party (LNP) is a political party in Queensland) promises big spend on health THE Newman government would spend more than $500 million over three years hiring 2654 more doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Steve Keen: Australian housing bubble to continue growing this year; Slowdown in China doesn’t have to mean a slowdown in demand for Australian real estate

Quote: Steve Keen says the Australian property bubble could keep going through 2015 Jonathan Chancellor | 21 January 2015 Steve Keen, head of economics, politics and history at London’s Kingston University, envisages the RBA making a couple of cuts this year - "and possibly more than that". "The unemployment in Australia now is the worst it’s been in 10/15 years, and the only thing keeping it up is the housing bubble because that is pumping borrowed money into the economy, people are spending that money, and of course also foreign buyers pumping money and buying real estate," he told Lelde Smits from the Finance News Network . "Those are really the only two massive inflow sources into the economy. "If the housing bubble pops then that inflow also stops and we therefore have a downturn driven by having finally a housing bubble bursting. "So those dangers are there, you can see plenty of reasons for the cash flow spigot to be turned off, I can’t see many ways of turning it on anymore." He would be surprised to see it below the 2%, but wouldn’t be amazed. He suggests what he sees as the bubble could keep going, "but what it means is we are more and more fragile on the bubble continuing indefinitely". Asked for the catalyst for the property bubble to pop, Keen sees two things. "Partly the economy itself slowing down so much that the negative returns in rental become excessive. "Those people are having carrying costs and of course passing those carrying costs on to the Australian public through negative gearing, but they none the less have those carrying costs to handle. "And also, if there is anything going wrong in China. "Things going wrong in China can go in both directions, we have a serious downturn in China, then it’s quite possible Chinese capital could respond by going offshore and do more buying overseas. "So a slowdown in China, because it is a speculative slowdown, doesn’t have to mean a slowdown in demand for Australian real estate." Read more: http://www.propertyobserver.com.au/forward-planning/investment-strategy/pro...keen-says-the-australian-property-bubble-could-keep-going-through-2015.html

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

50 US law enforcement agencies use radar to see inside homes

The US has secretly equipped at least 50 law enforcement agencies with radars that enable their officers to see through the walls of the houses. The agencies, including the FBI and US Marshals Service, began using the handheld Range-R devices more than two years ago without public disclosure, USA Today reported. Using the device enables the officers to determine the number of the people in a house and their locations. The device uses radio waves to detect motion as slight as human breathing from more than 50 feet away. The use of the surveillance device has raised questions about Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted police searches. "Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have," said Christopher Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Earlier in 2001, the Supreme Court said that police normally need a search warrant before they may draw upon thermal cameras and advanced radar sensors. "The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what's inside is problematic," Soghoian said. "Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have," he added. A Marshals Service spokesman, however, claimed that the device has been used to arrest dangerous criminals "based on pre-established probable cause in arrest warrants." Since 2012, the agency has spent at least $180,000 on the devices, according to federal records.

Debunking three dangerous myths about the conflict in Libya

Debunking three dangerous myths about the conflict in Libya For the first time in years, there is a new hope that the fragmentation of Libya can be averted, thanks to new rounds of UN mediation efforts. There is a danger, however, that the media coverage accompanying these talks will actually fuel the conflict by perpetuating three fictions about the ongoing strife. Reports of the situation in Libya usually describe a war between two groups. On one side is the anti-Islamist “internationally recognised government”, based in the eastern city of Tobruk and, on the other, “radical Islamists” who control a Tripoli-based government in the west. This simplistic account empowers hardliners on all sides of the conflict, making a negotiated settlement less likely. The truth is far more complicated. Fiction one: this is a two-sided conflict International coverage of the situation in Libya assumes that decisions are made from the top down, as they so often are in the west. But in fact, Libya’s political groups are organised less as hierarchies and more as networks. Their leaders are only one voice among many and decisions are based on consensus. Near the end of the 2011 revolution, there were 236 fighting groups operating in Misrata, the country’s third-largest city. Each had its own command structure and identity, and ranged in size from nine to 1,727 fighters. On the western front of Misrata, 146 groups co-ordinated attacks and defence, but there was no leader. Instead, a group of 14-20 prominent commanders met every night to discuss strategy and decide on next steps. Members would voice different opinions, and a consensus would emerge through hours of discussion. Some voices carried more sway, but there was no leader making choices on behalf of the group. The political parties in Libya function in a similar way. They rely on consensus-based decision making among relative equals. The Tripoli-based coalition (sometimes called the Libya Dawn) is in fact a temporary alliance between dozens of political factions and hundreds of military units, each with its own identity and interests. It only decided to join the UN mediation efforts after days of group consultations and side discussions. The Tobruk-based government is no different. There is an alliance of convenience between its political and military factions but the two have competing interests at times. And even within the military forces there are further divisions. What is often described as the Libyan National Army, is better understood as a coalition of local federalist-leaning militias, tribal-oriented confederations, disaffected military units, Zintani revolutionary battalions and Qaddafi-era military personnel. Neither “side” in the conflict should be seen as a cohesive bloc, even though it is in the interest of these coalition leaders to portray themselves as unified groups. Fiction two: the issues are national Thanks to the densely networked and relationship-based makeup of Libya’s different political groups, the violence there is almost exclusively fuelled by local, not national, concerns. The 2011 revolution may have appeared to be a single uprising but it was actually more like a series of parallel, city-based armed revolts. Each had its own particular historic and political tensions. Today’s violence is just as balkanised. The unrest in southern Libya, for example, plays out between two ethnic minorities – the Tebu and Tuareg. They clash over lucrative smuggling routes and control of oil installations. Similarly, the clashes in Benghazi between General Khalifa Haftar’s coalition and an array of armed groups – ranging from Islamist-leaning militias to outright religious extremists – have parochial roots. ((Narrowly restricted in scope or outlook; provincial: parochial attitudes.)) General Khalifa Haftar. EPA Click to enlarge . The only purely national conflicts are political, not military. These include disputes over who controls the nation’s oil and its central bank. The battle for legitimacy between Libya’s two duelling parliaments is being fought in the national and international media, which makes improving the accuracy of reporting crucial. As things stand, few Libyans see either parliament as legitimate. Fiction three: Islamists v anti-Islamists With the help of a partisan national media and a largely uninformed international press, Haftar has successfully demonised all his opponents as Islamist terrorists. Many Misratan military commanders are now equated with Islamic State – something they find comical and baffling. The international media’s fixation on this simplistic dichotomy between anti-Islamists and religious extremists is problematic. Many Misratan commanders argue it trivialises the very real threat posed by Libya’s various extremist groups. There are varying degrees of conservatism between the political and military groups on all sides. The commanders in Misrata acknowledge that many of its members are more conservative. But as one Misratan commander explained Some of the groups are more conservative but they believe in democracy, which is all that matters to me. Besides, I would say most are less religiously conservative than the Republicans in the US Congress. Most Libyan leaders occupy a middle ground and this tendency to pit two extremes against each other reduces their chances of negotiating a settlement. It empowers hardliners who use the rhetoric to justify their own aspirations for power. A negotiated settlement is Libya’s only hope at this stage. Without one, violence will escalate. And with the increased media attention paid to UN mediation efforts, it is critical that we take more care in writing and reading about the situation there. This will empower moderates on all sides, increasing their chances of success. An opportunity like this is unlikely to appear again soon.

Windows 10: What can consumers expect?

Windows 10: What can consumers expect? Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY 5:49 p.m. EST January 21, 2015 Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella MORE REDMOND, Wash. — Holograms. An 84-inch, 4K display. A bigger stage for the Cortana voice assistant. Microsoft left little doubt that Windows isn't just for traditional PCs anymore. Indeed, when Microsoft first announced in September that it was skipping the Windows 9 moniker and instead naming the next version of its venerable operating system Windows 10, the move spoke volumes. The company seemed to be suggesting that it couldn't move past Windows 8 fast enough. At a media gathering Wednesday on its campus here, Microsoft spilled more of the beans for doing just that, with a major emphasis on how Windows 10 will affect consumers. The Windows 10 interface will be tailored for the devices on which it will run — touchscreen computers, phones and tablets, though it doesn't end there. For instance, Windows 10 will mesh with Xbox One. You'll be able to stream games from an Xbox One console to computers with Windows 10. The really mind-altering, science-fiction-y stuff, potentially anyway, comes with Microsoft's ambitious move into the world of holograms, via a new head-mounted contraption called Microsoft HoloLens. It has sensors, see-through lenses, spatial sound and what Microsoft refers to as a "Holographic Processing Unit." The company says it will arrive around the time that Windows 10 itself reaches the masses. That's most likely in the fall, and when the new operating system shows up it will be a free upgrade for anyone with a Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 computer or tablet, or a Windows Phone 8.1 handset, at least for the first year. Microsoft hasn't specified what happens in year two and beyond. But the new Windows largely resides in the cloud with Microsoft pushing the services end of Windows, so I suppose some sort of subscription model is not out of the question. The current version of Windows, Windows 8, hasn't been the unmitigated disaster that was Windows Vista. But it hasn't exactly been widely embraced either. According to Net Applications.com, Windows 7 still claims more than 56% of the PC desktop market, compared to about 13% for Windows 8 and 8.1 computers. Even Windows XP, an operating system Microsoft no longer officially supports, still has more than an 18% share. Traditional Windows customers never took to the schizophrenic nature of an operating system that was trying to appeal to PC users as well as the tablet crowd, a balancing act that confused and in practice didn't fully satisfy either constituency. Microsoft hopes to fix that with Windows 10. One goal is to make it easy to stop working on one Windows 10 device and pick up where you left off on another. Through a feature called Continuum Mode, Microsoft wants to make the transition seamless if you're switching on a "2-in-1" computer from, say, PC mode to tablet mode or vice versa. "We want to make Windows 10 the most loved release of Windows," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. One of the things I'm excited about is Cortana's expanded role. Microsoft's impressive voice assistant, which first appeared on Windows Phones, moves to PCs and tablets. Cortana gets to know you and customizes her responses. (Catering to the local crowd, she predicted a major victory for the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.) On a PC, you might ask her to play music or launch a PowerPoint presentation. Incidentally, PowerPoint is one of the so-called "universal apps" that will function across all kinds of Windows 10 devices, from computers to tablets. Along with its touch-capable Office siblings, Word and Excel, it will be pre-installed on Windows 10 computers. So will other universal apps: Photos, Videos, Music, Maps and People & Messaging and Mail & Calendar. Microsoft also showed off a new browser under the code name Project Spartan. Though I haven't gotten to try it yet, you'll be able to mark up the browser with handwritten notes, and turn on a reading mode (similar to what Apple has in its Safari browser) that promises to eliminate distractions as you read. Consumers shouldn't get too excited about the 84-inch 4K display called the Microsoft Surface Hub, not that it isn't cool. (There's also a 55-inch version.) But it is designed more for the boardroom than living room, at least initially. Nadella told me he refers to it as an "enterprise TV," though longer term he didn't rule out home use. Surface Hub is essentially a big integrated computer with a display you can write on. You can use it as a digital whiteboard, run Skype, conduct remote meetings and employ it in conjunction with Office 365. Microsoft hasn't said what it will cost. Nadella seems to be taking Windows along the right path, and Microsoft is promising a lot. But the new Windows is still many months away, and whatever symbolic statement Microsoft is making in jumping from Windows 8 to Windows 10, the ultimate proof will be in how the company pulls it all off. Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

How Parsons operates in Middle East: Some facts about its Strengths, Weakeneses, Risks

Clashes hit Yemen capital again as Houthis pursue political gains

7 shocking facts about Saudi Arabia under ‘modernizing’ reign of King Abdullah Published time: January 26, 2015 07:47 Edited time: January 26, 2015 13:54 Get short URL Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (Reuters/Zainal Abd Halim ZH/DL) Al-Qaeda, Human rights, Law, Modernization, Opposition, Politics, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism Taken aback by the fulsome praise the recently deceased King Abdullah has garnered from world leaders, RT has decided to assess whether his record stands up to scrutiny. READ MORE: Saudi King Abdullah dead – state TV The majority of eulogies went beyond the requirements of diplomatic etiquette, while some epithets used by Western politicians made people believe they had stepped through the looking glass. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the monarch, who died at 90, “strengthened understanding between faiths,” while IMF chief Christine Lagarde called him “a strong advocate of women,” albeit a “discreet” one. And almost all political grandees seemed to agree that the scion of the House of Saud, was – in the words of Tony Blair – “a skillful modernizer,” who “led his country into the future.” READ MORE: #JeSuisAbdullah? Critics slam glowing Western eulogies for ‘reformer’ Saudi king One is invited to do a reality check and examine how far the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques really brought his country into the 21st century. 1. No elections, no parties, no parliament, no dissent Continuing its consistent decades-long record, Saudi Arabia received the lowest possible marks for civil and political freedoms in the annual Freedom House rankings in 2014. The countries placed alongside it were North Korea, Turkmenistan, and smattering of the most brutal African dictatorships. The regime’s disregard for any accountability to its people is brazen. There are no national elections, no parties, and no parliament – only a symbolic advisory chamber, known as Majlis al-Shura. Criticism is strictly forbidden: only last year, prominent opposition activist Abd al-Kareem al-Khoder joined hundreds of the country’s political prisoners, when he was sentenced to eight years for demanding the changeover to a constitutional monarchy. Just days before King Abdullah’s death, blogger Raif Badawi was given the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes – for calling for free speech on his blog. King Abdullah introduced municipal elections upon his official ascension to the throne – as a largely symbolic valve mechanism. At the same time, high-profile petitions demanding greater reform a decade ago landed their authors in prison. The country's sizable and restive Shia minority in the east - which led a series of public protests from 2011 onwards - is also systematically starved of political representation, somewhat inevitably, in a country led by a single Sunni family. 2. Equality: Jobs for the Saud boys – all 7,000 of them The grip of the House of Saud on the country’s levers of power and purse strings would be the envy of any medieval court. More than 7,000 princes bearing that family name are alive – with some experts speculating that the real number of titled family members approaches 30,000. Every single one has to be allocated a job commensurate with his lineage – creating hundreds of sinecures – while conversely, all talented candidates are shut out from key jobs if they do not bear the correct surname. Saudi Princess Lulwa Khaled Al-Saud (L) (Reuters/Fahad Shadeed) 3. Power transfer: Half Brezhnev-era USSR, half Game of Thrones Ironically, with such a large pool of descendants to choose from, the House of Saud is crippled by particularly outdated succession laws. Instead of primogeniture – where the title is inherited by the first-born son of the ruler – Saudi Arabia uses agnatic seniority, or the passing of power across to one’s brothers. This means that the 90-year-old Abdullah has been succeeded by 79-year-old half-brother Salman, while Crown Prince Muqrin turns 70 this year. Saudi King Salman (Reuters/Yuya Shino) Underneath the geriatric cadre of leaders, there exists a viper’s nest of intrigue, as the exponentially bigger younger generation plans to stake its claim on the throne, with factions aplenty split among the different branches of the sprawling family. It is not obvious how such a system guarantees the increasing prosperity and stability of a 21st-century state, and King Abdullah did little to reform its basic tenets. 4. Law: Scimitars and whips It may have become almost an online clichĂ© to compare the legal systems of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State, but the links between the two are fundamental. Both use the same ultra-conservative Hanbali school of jurisprudence, and many of the IS “judges” are Saudis, due to their familiarity with this concept of justice. Among the punishments distributed is anything from hands and feet being chopped off for theft, lashes for adultery and other “social” misdemeanors, to beheading, which can be handed down for crimes as varied as sedition, carjacking, sorcery and drug smuggling. Eighty-seven people are thought to have been beheaded in 2014, which is in line with the national average over the past five years, despite ever-growing external pressure on Saudi Arabia. Only this month, a video emerged online, showing an executioner repeatedly hacking away at the neck of a screaming condemned woman, as people looked on open-mouthed. Unlike solving some of Saudi Arabia’s deep-seated problems, the curtailing of such “justice” would have just required one firm intervention from King Abdullah. It is clear, this was not a priority for him. 5. Human rights: Torture and gavel There is no legal code in Saudi Arabia, leaving it to individual judges to set the punishment for a crime in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic scriptures. This gives them unlimited power, creating arguably one of the most inconsistent justice systems in the world, in which crimes and punishments are simply made up, leaving the convicts no obvious way to appeal. In addition, much of the legal process hinges on a “confession” from the defendant, which in turn encourages torture. In practice, the information obtained this way is even less reliable than that received from inmates at Guantanamo, as instead of trying to extract provable data, the torturers are merely demanding admissions of guilt – by all means available. King Abdullah attempted to rationalize the system, by creating more appeal courts, and introducing a stricter selection of judges. However, he did not question the value of the legal system as a whole, and all judges that have been appointed in the past two decades have been personally approved by him. 6. Women’s rights: Female (non-)drivers Over the past decade, the battle lines have been drawn on the symbolic issue of women drivers in Saudi Arabia. The Gulf monarchy is the last country in the world, where women are still not allowed to drive. Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser The issue is not near resolution, and women caught behind the wheel – whether during a symbolic protest, or an ordinary drive – can still end up sentenced to lashings. In fairness, King Abdullah did intervene in at least one case in 2011, to commute a punishment. But of course, for the majority of Saudi women, driving is the least of their problems. Many would prefer to be able to leave the house, make a purchase, sign any legal document – in fact perform almost any official action, from agreeing to surgery, to signing up to a class – without the consent of a guardian, either the husband or the father. Yet, even these suffocating measures give only scant impression of the status of Saudi women in a society where even their court testimony is worth half of that of a man. King Abdullah encouraged more women to go into education, and allocated them a fifth of the seats in his advisory chamber, also allowing them to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections. As with other reform areas, these are top-down symbolic gestures that have done little to affect most Saudi women, who - outside of warzones - remain some of the most disadvantaged anywhere in the world. Still, Abdullah’s admirers can hope that his first steps will lay the foundation to profound change, not patronizing concessions. Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser 7. Terrorism fight: Friend or foe? A voluntary $100 million donation to the UN’s counter-terrorism center last year was a show of generosity from Riyadh, but what the Saudis give with one hand, they seem to take away with the other. According to the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2010, the US regards Saudi Arabia as the biggest source of Sunni terrorism funding in the world, and a “crucial” piggy-bank for Al-Qaeda and other radical groups. While much of its funding comes from private individuals, their identity is unlikely to have been a secret to King Abdullah, who did nothing to rein in his family members. In fact, one could be tempted to feel that the House of Saud is only against the “wrong” kind of terrorist – mostly Shia, but also splinter Sunni groups that threaten its hegemony over the region. When the “right” kinds of terrorist – Russia’s Chechen militants, or anti-Assad rebels – appear, then those in Riyadh palaces not only support them with funds, but see them as a legitimate tool for spreading influence and the favored Wahhabi ideology. Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carry their weapons during a parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the border with Turkey January 2, 2014. (Reuters/Yaser Al-Khodor) ========= Yemen crisis is first big test for Saudi Arabia's King Salman Mon, Jan 26 04:54 AM EST image By Angus McDowall RIYADH (Reuters) - The turmoil hitting Saudi Arabia's neighbor Yemen will pose the first big test for King Salman, and provide a glimpse as to whether his approach to hotspots in a fragmenting region will differ from that of his late brother. Yemen is at risk of breaking up with the ascent of the Houthi movement, a group whose main strategic alliance is with Riyadh's great regional foe Iran, in a country also home to Sunni al Qaeda's most active affiliate. In that respect, Yemen reflects what has happened across the Middle East, with Tehran's Shi'ite Muslim allies dominating war-torn Iraq and Syria, and Saudi Arabia attempting to back Sunni groups without bolstering its Islamist militant enemies. Under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia constructed a dual-track regional policy of attempting to contain Iranian influence while at the same time opposing the growth of Sunni political Islam which it saw as an ideological threat to dynastic rule. That does not look likely to change, although the arrival of a younger man may make for a more active approach, possibly including a new effort to reach out and engage local players in Yemen, analysts say. Foreign policy in Saudi Arabia is a team job for the clique of ruling princes, even though it is the king who has the ultimate say. Salman was an integral part of Abdullah's team, and he brings many of the same princes into his own. "They are not going to get involved in a quagmire. I don't think there will be major change. It's about containment," said a Saudi close to policymakers. However, the fact that he is 11 years younger than Abdullah, and able to give more direct attention to the big issues, may mean Saudi policy will become more proactive, particularly in Yemen, where there have been years of quiet disengagement. "I think they're going to go to Yemen with open eyes and will try to contact all parties in the crisis and not exclude anyone," said Mustafa Alani, a security expert with close ties to the kingdom's Interior Ministry. After decades buying the support of tribes, politicians and clerics in Yemen, the Al Saud watched as their patronage network fell apart during a 2011 uprising and have now fallen back on a defensive security policy. Riyadh is constructing a tough series of border defenses to insulate itself from its turbulent neighbor and has cut off funding to Sanaa, hoping that will eventually persuade Yemen's new rulers to compromise. FOREIGN EXPERIENCE Sunday editions of the main Saudi newspapers ran at more than triple length, as companies bought full-page adverts to express their condolences for the late Abdullah and allegiance to King Salman and his two designated heirs. Both Crown Prince Muqrin, who was intelligence chief from 2005-12 and whose mother was Yemeni, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is Interior Minister, have been closely involved in Saudi Arabia's Yemen policy. It is Prince Mohammed, whose main focus is on assuring the kingdom's domestic security, who has been most prominent in shaping its Yemen policy in recent years, working closely with Sanaa against al Qaeda, but also strengthening border defenses. "The Saudis are looking for a real partner. They are very, very confused," said a source close to Yemen's government, adding that they would not support any government that the Houthis shared in. A more proactive Yemen policy might mean reaching out to former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Islah party, erstwhile allies of Riyadh but whose unreliable track record and ties to the Muslim Brotherhood later became anathema to Abdullah. Salman may feel less worried about Islah, which beside the Brotherhood is also tied to tribal players and street leaders of the 2011 uprising, and may consequently adjust Riyadh's attitude towards it as one potential partner in Yemen, say analysts. Any change in attitude towards Islah would be closely watched by Egypt, where President Abdel Fatteh el Sisi has ruthlessly crushed the Brotherhood with the vocal encouragement of Abdullah and still seeks Saudi economic support. However, Riyadh views Yemeni politics as distinct from those of the wider region, so its behavior towards Islah or the Houthis might not reflect wider stances towards the Brotherhood or Iran. "I don't think their policy towards Yemen is reflective of their policy towards the world. It's their back yard and very particularistic and idiosyncratic," said Bernard Haykel, professor of near east studies at Princeton. IRAN RIFT There seems little chance that the region-wide tussle for power with Iran will abate, despite brief visits by its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday and Saturday for Abdullah's funeral and the formal paying of respects. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has pushed for better ties between the two countries, whose rivalry has been a factor in conflicts across the Middle East. Zarif and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal met at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. Tehran has attacked Prince Saud for his harsh words towards Iran's policy in Syria, and diplomats say the Islamic republic views him as a hardliner who is obstructing detente. However, Prince Saud, who had an operation in the United States on Sunday, state media reported, does not set foreign policy alone. While his voice is important, he just one among several top princes who contribute, with the king having the final say. The senior ranks of the Al Saud regard Tehran's continued support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an immovable obstacle to rapprochement, and the crisis in Yemen has only served to further harden them against Iran's call for detente. "Salman is quite hawkish on Iran. He's personally quite hawkish. The Iranians would have to do a lot for him to change his policy," said Haykel. (Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Sanaa and William Maclean in Dubai; editing by Philippa Fletcher) ========= Yemen risks disintegration as south rejects Shi'ite group's takeover Sun, Jan 25 06:43 AM EST image By Yara Bayoumy SANAA (Reuters) - No sooner had Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced his resignation than his country's tenuous political fabric began to disintegrate. Provinces across a nation barely held together by a complex web of tribal and religious alliances said they would no longer take military commands from Sanaa after the Iranian-allied Shi'ite Houthi group besieged Hadi's home and palace this week. The emerging fragmentation of the Arabian Peninsula country has sparked fears of the "Somalization" of a state which is home to a revitalized al Qaeda insurgency as well as a neighbor to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia. For Washington, Yemen's splintering would make it hard to carry out a counter-terrorism strategy against al Qaeda plotters who have targeted it and its ally Saudi Arabia and claimed responsibility for the Jan. 7 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Through Hadi, a supporter of U.S. drone strikes on al Qaeda, Yemen was a top U.S. ally in the Washington's fight against islamist militancy. For Yemen's neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, the rise of the Houthis resembles yet another fallen domino in capitals where allies of regional rival Iran have risen to power - including Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad. The Houthi fighters, a guerrilla force drawn from a Shi'ite minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen's highlands until 1962, first seized the capital Sanaa in September. They managed to coexist with Hadi until last week, when fighters crushed the president's guards and deployed outside his home. Although Hadi signed a deal acceding to many of the Houthis' demands, that attempt to defuse the crisis failed and he unexpectedly resigned soon afterwards. ANGRY, SCARED His move sparked a chain reaction from other provinces, some home to powerful military divisions, to dissociate themselves with the capital, where the Houthis are ostensibly in control even if they have not quite figured out a way to govern. "People are angry, people are scared. The worst is that it could turn into a civil war," a diplomatic source said. "It's chaos," said another diplomat. In the southern city of Aden, once the capital of a Marxist independent South Yemen, the local security committee said it would no longer receive orders from the capital Sanaa. Yemen's north and south united in 1990 but civil war broke out four years later, with then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh crushing southern secessionists to maintain the union. Now, various leaders of a long stagnant separatist movement have announced their secession. None speak for the entire region, comprised of eight provinces, sparking fears of further localized fighting among southerners. "WE REJECT THE COUP" In Aden, local groups raised the flag of the south in the general security building. In Mukallah, the capital city of the Hadramout province, militia fanned out across the city. In Ateq, capital city of the restive Shabwa province, local media reports said joint patrols by a secessionist group and local security had also taken over security of the area. In the eastern oil-rich province of Marib, which has emerged as a flashpoint between the Houthis and Sunni tribesmen in recent months, local political and security officials denounced the Jan. 19 events as a coup and said they would no longer take orders from Sanaa either. In Taiz and Ibb, thousands of anti-Houthi protesters also took to the streets. "We reject the coup," they said, in festive street protests reminiscent of the 2011 "Arab Spring" demonstrations that brought down Hadi's long-serving predecessor, Saleh. Even in Sanaa, factional fighting is a possibility with the army torn in its loyalties to the ousted Saleh or to the orders of the Houthis. The political vacuum showed no signs of easing as parliament indefinitely postponed its session to approve or reject Hadi’s resignation as backroom political dealings carried on to negotiate a way out of the crisis. PARALYSIS In recent days the capital has seen the first serious rejection of Houthi rule since their takeover. Many Sanaa residents have complained as fighters have set up checkpoints, taken over government ministries and spray painted their green-and-red Iranian-inspired "Death to America, Death to Israel" slogans on mosques and the wall around the Old City. Initially there was little public action in a country that has gone through numerous cycles of instability. But this week saw the largest anti-Houthi demonstration since the movement took over the capital. "We say no to the coup. No to Abdelmalek al-Houthi," said Samar, 35, referring to the Houthis' leader, whose family name is carried by the group. In a sign the Houthis might be losing patience, witnesses said they broke up a small protest outside Sanaa University on Sunday, firing shots in the air and arresting eight protesters. For Ahmed Ali, an elderly corn seller on the busy streets of Sanaa, the protests are no use. "The Houthis are bulls. I support these protests but what is the use? The Houthis deal with force." (Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff) ===================== Tue, Jan 20 17:13 PM EST By Yara Bayoumy and Mohammed Ghobari SANAA (Reuters) - Fighters from the Houthi group battled guards at the Yemeni president's private home and entered the presidential palace on Tuesday, witnesses said, as a second day of violence in Sanaa raised fears the country was descending into chaos. In a speech on live television, Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi suggested two days of fighting involving his men, condemned by U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, were part of an attempt to protect a power-sharing deal meant to steer Yemen to stability. His speech was repeatedly critical of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally with whom Houthi has been at odds over a draft constitution intended to help end decades of conflict and underdevelopment. He said no one, including Hadi, was above any steps when it came to implementing the power-sharing accord, which was negotiated after his men seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in September. Houthi prizes the accord as it grants his group participation in all military and civil state bodies. "We ... will not hesitate to impose any necessary measures to implement the peace and partnership agreement," said Houthi, whose Shi'ite Muslim group is widely seen as an ally of Iran in its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia. TENSIONS The emergence of the Houthis as Yemen's top power in September has scrambled alliances and stoked tensions across Yemen's political spectrum, raising fears of deeper instability in a country that has one of al Qaeda's most active branches. Yemeni Information Minister Nadia al-Saqqaf said the clashes at Hadi's residence amounted to an attempt to topple Yemen's government, a charge denied by a senior official of the Houthi group. The clashes followed some of the worst fighting in Sanaa in years on Monday. Guards loyal to Hadi fought artillery battles near the presidential palace with the Houthi, which has been in conflict with Hadi over political and constitutional issues. "Yemeni president under attack by armed militias seeking the overthrow of the ruling system," Saqqaf said on Twitter on Tuesday evening. Residents said later the fighting had died down. A government official said two people had been killed. The minister did not identify the militias, but she said they were firing from nearby houses. Hadi lives in his private home and not in the palace. Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, said his group had no plans to target Hadi. "Ansarullah has no intention of targeting President Hadi or his house," Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the group's politburo, told Reuters, using the group's official name. He said what happened at Hadi's house was the result of a "provocation" by Hadi's security and that the incident has been contained. Earlier on Tuesday, Houthi fighters had entered Yemen's presidential palace after a brief clash with security guards, witnesses and security sources told Reuters. DENIAL Bukhaiti said the Popular Committees acted at the presidential palace on request from officers who had asked them to help stop a local officer from stealing weapons from the compound. In Washington, Obama's senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the president was following the situation in Sanaa. "He's obviously is in touch with the folks on the ground, our embassy, he's getting regular updates from his national security team," Jarrett, said speaking in a television interview on MSNBC. Asked whether there was a plan in place to evacuate U.S. embassy staff or other Americans, Jarrett said she had no specific comment but added: "We are in close touch with our embassy." U.S. officials have expressed worries about Iranian support, including weapons, for Houthi's Shi’ite fighters. They had hoped that the power-sharing deal struck in September between the country’s political factions would calm the situation. Washington has made clear in the past that it sees chaos in Yemen as creating conditions that al Qaeda can exploit to strengthen its support and let it use the country for plotting attacks on Western interests. Even amid the growing turmoil of recent months, U.S. policy makers have considered Yemen’s government a model of regional collaboration on counterterrorism for its support of U.S. drone strikes and special forces operations against militants. (Writing by Sami Aboudi, Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan, Larry King) ==================== URL : https://gulfanalysis.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/the-federalism-dimension-in-yemens-draft- Excerpts from : Reidar Visser's analysis The partition of the north into four separate subunits is known to have prompted strong objections from the Shiite-leaning Houthi movement, which senses it will be left short-changed in a way that is not commensurate with its recent military successes. provisions for 40% representation of the two southern regions in the first parliament (article 139) and a requirement that senate decisions must enjoy support of at least a third of southern senators (article 143). The president (who, unlike Iraq, will be the main executive) and his deputy are to be elected on a single list representing more than one region (article 180), The most important issue concerns division of power between the different levels of government. The Yemeni draft is unsatisfactory in this respect, exactly like the Iraqi constitution that was adopted in 2005, and arguably a lot less clear than the recently published Libyan draft constitution. The problem is the unsatisfactory way in which the concept of residualism is tackled. In most federations, division of power is defined by a list of powers that are reserved for either the centre or for the subunits exclusively – with everything else (the “residual”) by implication being reserved for the other. There appears to be an attempt at establishing residualism in favour of the regions for anything not specifically mentioned at any level. On the other hand, a noteworthy item among the powers reserved exclusively for the regions (article 337) is the right to sign deals for trade and investment. But other “exclusive” areas are less exclusive in reality. On top of this, article 341 seems to establish the principle of residualism in favour of the regions for whatever competencies are not enumerated specifically for either the central government or the local subunits. One would think that oil and gas could be one such residual area but that is not the case in the Yemeni constitutional draft. Instead, separate sections (articles 357 and 387-90) address energy issues, but only by way of generalities, leaving the designation of revenue distribution and the management of the oil sector for future legislation. With vague concepts like “a just (adila) distribution” the Yemeni draft constitution offers even less in terms of guidelines than the hapless Iraqi one from 2005, and much less than the relatively clear Libyan constitutional draft that was released recently. It has been suggested that fury simply over the proposed administrative divisions and the six-way federal scheme was a contributing factor behind the recent moves of the Houthis against the Yemeni president. ===============

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Canada fights back in Buy America feud : Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act

Canada fights back in Buy America feud BARRIE McKENNA OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail Published Monday, Jan. 19 2015, 12:28 PM EST Last updated Monday, Jan. 19 2015, 7:03 PM EST ** The Canadian government signed an order on Monday under the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, barring companies from complying with the requirement that only U.S. steel be used on the project in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Trade Minister Ed Fast said. (http://bit.ly/1CdpYmV) Ottawa has invoked a rarely used anti-sanctions law after Alaska refused to void Buy America purchasing rules in the rebuilding of a B.C. ferry terminal. The Canadian government signed an order Monday under the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, barring companies from complying with the requirement that only U.S. steel be used on the project in Prince Rupert, B.C., Trade Minister Ed Fast said. More Related to this Story • Steel industry calls for Canadian content in Champlain Bridge project • Canada, U.S. keep talking in Buy America standoff • Canada’s Trade Minister ‘disappointed’ by passage of Buy American bill “We have been clear: the application of protectionist Buy America provisions on Canadian soil is unacceptable and an affront to Canadian sovereignty,” Mr. Fast said in a statement. Nonetheless, he added that Ottawa would continue to try to convince the U.S. government to waive the Buy America restrictions. “We are prepared to exercise this order to defend Canadian interests,” he added. “Buy America provisions deny both countries’ companies and communities the clear benefits that arise from our integrated supply chain and our commitment to freer and more open trade. We call upon our American friends to join with us to end the harm such policies are doing within our shared North American economy.” In spite of weeks of high-level talks to reach a compromise, Alaska Governor Bill Walker told Canadian officials over the weekend that he won’t seek a waiver of the purchasing rules. The state of Alaska, which runs the Alaska Marine Highway System, is now slated to close bids on the project Jan. 21 and then award a final contract. The Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, a federal anti-sanctions law, has been used only once, in 1992, to counter the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. The law gives the federal Attorney General the power to issue orders, making it illegal for bidders on the project to comply with the Buy America rules. Canadian officials, including Ambassador to Washington Gary Doer, had urged the U.S. and Alaska to waive the rules or delay the project. But those efforts proved fruitless. U.S.-only purchasing rules, mandated by Congress, continue to be politically seductive, and very difficult for U.S. politicians and officials to publicly oppose. The catch this time is that the Alaska ferry project, funded mainly by the U.S. government, seeks to apply those rules in Canada, on land owned by the Canadian government. The port of Prince Rupert, located nearly 800 kilometres north of Vancouver near the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle, sits on Canadian Crown land. But it’s leased back to the local port authority, which recently sublet the ferry terminal to the Alaska Marine Highway System under a 50-year lease that expires in 2063. Bidding documents posted on the Alaska Department of Transportation website make clear that “all iron and steel products associated with this project are subject to the Buy America provisions.” The $10-million to $20-million (U.S.) terminal and wharf project, is slated to be completed in 2016.

Goldman deviates back to bad old standard: Fat Tailed Statements

Fat-Tailed: Fat-tailed distribution, phenomenon of approximately normal probability distributions that emerge in practice By Antony Currie

Goldman Sachs reported fourth-quarter net income of $2.17 billion on Jan. 16. On a call with analysts and investors, finance chief Harvey Schwartz was asked about the fallout in the currency markets from the Swiss National Bank’s decision on Jan. 15 to stop pegging the franc to the U.S. dollar.

He responded, “I haven’t confirmed any of these stats, but just going through with some of the folks, the single largest move in a day of any developed country. I think it was something like a 20-plus standard deviation move. And I think it was after three-plus years of 2 percent volatility. So, you’re right to call it extraordinary, but again, no issues here.”

His words echoed those of his predecessor, David Viniar, who in 2007 said of the financial crisis, “We were seeing things that were 25 standard deviation events, several days in a row.”

CFO Harvey Schwartz says the Swiss currency mess was “a 20-plus standard deviation move.” That’s a daft assessment. Predecessor David Viniar was similarly soft-headed in 2007. A bit of rhetorical flourish is fine, but not if execs look as if they don’t understand risk.

Goldman Sachs is deviating back to a bad old standard. On Jan. 16 Finance Chief Harvey Schwartz described the Swiss currency mess as “something like a 20-plus standard deviation move.” That’s a daft assessment devoid of any practical use. He’s not the first Wall Street executive to trip up on such a statement. In fact, his own predecessor, David Viniar, was similarly soft-headed when describing the storm in the markets in 2007.

Viniar talked of “25 standard deviation events, several days in a row.” Let’s put that in context. A seven standard deviation event is only supposed to occur once every 3.1 billion years, according to the 2008 research paper “How Unlucky is 25-Sigma?” written by several British and Irish academics.

A 20 standard deviation event, meanwhile, explain academics Kevin Dowd, John Cotter, Chris Humphrey and Margaret Woods, “corresponds to an expected occurrence period measured in years that is 10 times larger than the higher of the estimates of the number of particles in the Universe.” As for Viniar’s assertion, it would require that the “decimal point moved 52 places to the left!”

Using such terms to describe market movements might sound clever. But it actually exposes wrong-headed thinking on risk management. Schwartz, for example, was basing his 20-plus standard deviation estimate on the overall volatility of the Swiss franc being around 2 percent during the three-plus year life of the peg. Last Thursday’s 30 percent shift in the value of the franc against the euro may well fit that.

But the franc was far more volatile before the peg was introduced. Granted, the Swiss National Bank had called the peg a cornerstone of its policy days before ditching it. Risk managers, though, should be looking beyond three years of supine stats: the chance of the peg ending may have been low, but the pre-2011 numbers showed that the event risk was high.

Supine: 1. Lying on the back or having the face upward. displaying no interest or animation; lethargic 2. Having the palm upward. Used of the hand. 3. Marked by or showing lethargy, passivity, or blameworthy indifference: "No other colony showed such supine, selfish helplessness in allowing her own border citizens to be mercilessly harried" (Theodore Roosevelt).

It’s a similar story with other measures like value-at-risk. This relies on data either from the past one, three or five years, depending on the whim of the firm. In any event, it means that the more stable the environment becomes over time, the less the model is going to expect a problem. That path can lead to taking excessive risks –an impression Schwartz and other executives would be wise to avoid giving.

A Goldman Sachs sign is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in the Manhattan borough of New York January 24, 2014. Germany's Schaeuble: Swiss franc move won't have lasting impact on euro Tue, Jan 20 05:58 AM EST NEW DELHI (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday that the Swiss National Bank's surprise decision last week to remove its cap on the Swiss franc was a "special case" that should not have a long-term effect on the single European currency. "Switzerland is a special case," he said during a visit to India. "It is not something that will have a long-term impact, especially on the euro. It shows that you cannot act against the markets in the long term." The removal of a three-year-old cap on the franc sent the Swiss currency soaring against the euro, which is under further pressure ahead of an expected move by the European Central Bank this week to buy government debt to boost the euro zone economy. (Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Stephen Brown in Berlin; Editing by Madeline Chambers) BRIEF-EFG International comments on market developments relating to Swiss franc Tue, Jan 20 01:26 AM EST Jan 20 (Reuters) - EFG International AG : * Comments on market developments relating to the Swiss franc * Euro-Denominated assets under management (AUM) and revenues represent approximately 20 percent of total EFG International AUM and revenues Zurich, 20 January 2015. Following the market developments triggered by the SNB decision on 15 January 2015 to discontinue the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro, EFG International would like to clarify the following points: * Assuming that 2015 average exchange rate were to remain at current levels following the SNB decision, this would translate into a single digit percentage impact on EFG International's profit before tax Swiss franc-denominated AUM and revenues represent approximately 4% of total EFG International AUM and revenues, while Swiss franc-denominated operating expenses represent approximately 30% of the total cost base (down from over 40% in December 2011, as a result of the strategic and cost-efficiency measures undertaken as part of the Business Review, initiated in the second half of 2011). Swiss franc-denominated AUM and revenues represent approximately 4% of total EFG International AUM and revenues, while Swiss franc-denominated operating expenses represent approximately 30% of the total cost base (down from over 40% in December 2011, as a result of the strategic and cost-efficiency measures undertaken as part of the Business Review, initiated in the second half of 2011). * Impact due to the changes of the CHF/GBP exchange rate are not significant, as costs and revenues are broadly in balance. Source text - http://bit.ly/1Eke0HR Further company coverage: (Gdynia Newsroom) The impact on capital ratios is immaterial. EFG International will report its 2014 full-year results on 25th February 2015. Contacts – EFG International Media Relations Investor Relations +41 44 226 1217 +41 44 212 7377 mediarelations@efginternational.com investorrelations@efginternational.com About EFG International EFG International is a global private banking group offering private banking and asset management services, headquartered in Zurich. EFG International's group of private banking businesses operates in around 30 locations worldwide, with circa 2,000 employees. EFG International's registered shares (EFGN) are listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange. =========