Monday, March 31, 2008

SEC: Countrywide execs to get millions in stock

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The two top executives at struggling Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, are slated to receive a combined $19 million in payouts, a regulatory filing shows.

Angelo Mozilo helped lead Countrywide as it grew into the nation's largest mortgage lender.

The payments are part of the company's pending takeover by Bank of America.

Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo is set to receive $10 million in stock, and President David Sambol will get about $9 million, according to documents Bank of America filed this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sambol will receive another $28 million in cash and stock to stay with the combined company, the document states.

Their compensation is tied directly to the performance of the company via stock and options that the executives have held over time, according to the filing.

Bank of America agreed in January to buy Countrywide for $4 billion.

Mozilo and Sambol, along with ex-Citigroup chief Charles Prince, came under fire this month by members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who chastised the executives for helping foster the current mortgage crisis.

Lawmakers accused the executives of leaving homeowners at risk of losing their homes while fattening their own wallets. In their defense, the executives said they also lost billions of dollars in the subprime meltdown.

Mozilo, Sambol and Prince made headlines in the past year for their lofty compensation after their companies suffered heavy losses in the U.S. housing market.

Between 2002 and the close of 2006, the three executives were paid $460 million, according to a report issued by the House committee in March.

Mozilo, who grew Countrywide from its modest beginnings into the nation's largest mortgage lender, reportedly stood to collect a windfall of $115 million after his firm agreed to a yet-to-be-completed sale to Bank of America.

After facing heavy criticism from lawmakers, Mozilo forfeited $37.5 million in payments tied to the deal.

Original here

Muslims more numerous than Catholics: Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Islam has overtaken Roman Catholicism as the biggest single religious denomination in the world, the Vatican said on Sunday.

Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican's newly-released 2008 yearbook of statistics, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world's population and Catholics 17.4 percent.

"For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us," Formenti told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006.

He said that if all Christian groups were considered, including Orthodox churches, Anglicans and Protestants, then Christians made up 33 percent of the world's population -- or about 2 billion people.

The Vatican recently put the number of Catholics in the world at 1.13 billion people. It did not provide a figure for Muslims, generally estimated at around 1.3 billion.

Formenti said that while the number of Catholics as a proportion of the world's population was fairly stable, the percentage of Muslims was growing because of higher birth rates.

He said the data on Muslim populations had been compiled by individual countries and then released by the United Nations, adding the Vatican could only vouch for its own statistics.

Original here

Katrina victims may have to repay money

Contractor says it rushed to deliver aid; agency to collect overpayments

Bill Haber / AP
New Orleans City Council members, Shelley Midura, Stacey Head Arnie Fielkow, from left, and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco listen to Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, right, before the opening the Road Home office in New Orleans in this Aug. 22, 2006, photo. The private contractor is under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims.

NEW ORLEANS - Imagine that your home was reduced to mold-covered wood framing by Hurricane Katrina. Desperate for money to rebuild, you engage in a frustrating bureaucratic process, and after months of living in a government provided-trailer that gives off formaldehyde fumes you finally win a federal grant.

Then a collector announces that you have to pay back thousands of dollars.

For thousands of Katrina victims, this may be a reality.

A private contractor under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims says that in the rush to deliver aid to homeowners in need some people got too much. Now it wants to hire a separate company to collect millions in grant overpayments.

The contractor, ICF International of Fairfax, Va., revealed the extent of the overpayments when it issued a March 11 request for bids from companies willing to handle "approximately 1,000 to 5,000 cases that will necessitate collection effort."

The bid invitation said: "The average amount to be collected is estimated to be approximately $35,000, but in some cases may be as high as $100,000 to $150,000."

The biggest grant amount allowed by the Road Home program is $150,000, so ICF believes it paid some recipients the maximum when they should not have received a penny. If ICF's highest estimate of 5,000 collection cases — overpaid by an average of $35,000 — proves to be true, that means applicants will have to pay back a total of $175 million.

Original here

Kent air crash: Five people feared dead

At least five people are feared dead after a private jet crashed into a housing estate in Farnborough, near Orpington in Kent.

  • In quotes: Eyewitness accounts of the Kent air crash
  • Were you there? Send us your accounts | Send us your pictures
  • The Cessna Citation 501 aircraft
  • Officers were called to Romsey Close, off Broadwater Gardens, at around 2.40pm after a twin-engine Cessna Citation 501 crashed into two houses.

    Crash site in Kent

    The two pilots and three passengers on board the jet, which was destined for France, have not been accounted for. There have been no reports of fatalities on the ground, while two people were taken to hospital suffering shock.

    Neighbours said the owners of the home which bore the brunt of the crash, named locally as Pat and Ed Harman, were on holiday at the time, and were due back tonight.

    A spokesman for nearby Biggin Hill private airfield said the plane had taken off from there but had then experienced difficulties, made a Mayday call and was attempting an emergency landing.

    Eyewitnesses described the jet coming in very low over the estate and almost clipping a number of roofs before crashing into two homes.

    Early indications suggest the pilot averted what could have been a more serious tragedy by steering the aircraft towards the edge of the estate.

    Google Map of the crash site
    Google Map: The plane hit 5 Romsey Close before crashing. 4 Romsey Close caught fire in the aftermath of the crash

    Resident Ashley Cheeseman, who lives near the crash site, said: "He (the pilot) done everything he could to keep that plane away from public people. He made a very good judgment call, tragically they didn't bring down the plane safely.

    "He was banking left to right where he was trying to keep that plane up in the air."

    Another resident, Jason Murrell, 39, said the plane was so low moments before the crash that he could see into the terrified pilot's eyes.

    "I looked into the eyes of the pilot and a female passenger just seconds before it crashed because the plane was heading straight for my house in Hale Close," he said.

    "I thought it was going to hit our house and kill us but looking up I could see the terror in the plane passengers' eyes as they whizzed past us.

    "The pilot was struggling to bank away from our house and a terrified woman was staring straight at me. I will never forget that sight. The plane banked to the right and it followed a line of houses towards some woods. The pilot was trying to clear the estate - he was a real hero. You could tell that from the crunching sound and the path it took as he battled to avoid the houses."

    Mr Murrell added: "The pilot did all he could. Had it hit my house, because we're detached in a row of five or six houses, then it would have been a catastrophe and many people would have been killed. I know it sounds horrible but in a way this could turn to be a miracle that more people were not injured or killed."

    A pilot, who gave his name only as John, was flying a four-seater aircraft ahead of the doomed plane and heard the pilot's mayday call, in which he described severe engine vibrations.

    "I was on final approach about 30 seconds from touchdown, and I heard the pilot in the other plane declare mayday," he said.

    "You could hear the alarms in the background in the cockpit.

    Choking back tears, he added: "The pilot came back over the radio and said 'we're going in going in' and the radio stayed live. Then as I turned off the runway I saw the plane and it just nose-dived basically out of the sky and the radio went dead and black smoke all plumed up."

    Wreckage of plane after Kent air crash
    The wreckage of the plane after the crash

    He added that the engine vibrations could have been caused by bird strike, or some internal mechanical failure, and would have rendered the engine virtually unusable. Weather conditions were clear, he said.

    Carl Mills, who lives across the road from the crash site, said there was a huge hole in the road and smoke was billowing from several houses.

    "I didn't see the plane but I heard it. It's the loudest noise I have ever heard, like a ball of thunder," he said.

    "I have looked out the window and all I could see was a big, big ball of fire and just smoke pluming from the house. It's unbelievable."

    Another eyewitness told Sky News he heard a loud aeroplane engine overhead before the jet crashed seconds later.

    He said it appeared the jet was aiming to land in nearby woods or playing fields in an attempt to avoid the residential area.

    "It tried to miss the houses as best as possible," he said.

    Katheryn Simnett, a resident of a nearby house, told the BBC: "We looked out of the bedroom window and we saw it (the plane) flying really low, as though it was in trouble.

    The crash site and the airport
    Click to enlarge: Crash site and airport

    "It swerved our house. It looked like it was trying to land in the nearby woods, the nearby fields ... but it crashed into two of the houses on the block and we saw two big balls of black smoke and could smell the air fuel."

    John Waite, a member of the local residents' association, said he had been concerned about planes landing so close to the nearby Princess Royal Hospital.

    "They come over the hospital about 700ft above it," he said.

    "We have been trying to enable the Bromley Council to resist the expansion.

    "I am just worried about those people in the plane. And all those people who were in the houses. I hope nobody was in the house at the time."

    Mr Waite, who lives a quarter of a mile from where the plane came down, said he was sitting in his garden when he heard the jet roar past.

    "There was black smoke which was pouring out for about five minutes after the crash.

    "At the moment the area is full of helicopters. One has landed at the back of the school which is nearby."

    Original here

    Nanomaterial turns radiation directly into electricity

    Materials that directly convert radiation into electricity could produce a new era of spacecraft and even Earth-based vehicles powered by high-powered nuclear batteries, say US researchers.

    Electricity is usually made using nuclear power by heating steam to rotate turbines that generate electricity.

    But beginning in the 1960s, the US and Soviet Union used thermoelectric materials that convert heat into electricity to power spacecraft using nuclear fission or decaying radioactive material. The Pioneer missions were among those using the latter, "nuclear battery" approach.

    Dispensing with the steam and turbines makes those systems smaller and less complicated. But thermoelectric materials have very low efficiency. Now US researchers say they have developed highly efficient materials that can convert the radiation, not heat, from nuclear materials and reactions into electricity.

    Power boost

    Liviu Popa-Simil, former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear engineer and founder of private research and development company LAVM and Claudiu Muntele, of Alabama A&M University, US, say transforming the energy of radioactive particles into electricity is more effective.

    The materials they are testing would extract up to 20 times more power from radioactive decay than thermoelectric materials, they calculate.

    Tests of layered tiles of carbon nanotubes packed with gold and surrounded by lithium hydride are under way. Radioactive particles that slam into the gold push out a shower of high-energy electrons. They pass through carbon nanotubes and pass into the lithium hydride from where they move into electrodes, allowing current to flow.

    "You load the material with nuclear energy and unload an electric current," says Popa-Simil.

    Space probes

    The tiles would be best used to create electricity using a radioactive material, says Popa-Simil, because they could be embedded directly where radiation is greatest. But they could also harvest power directly from a fission reactor's radiation.

    Devices based on the material could be small enough to power anything from interplanetary probes to aircraft and land vehicles, he adds.

    "I believe this work is innovative and could have a significant impact on the future of nuclear power," says David Poston, of the US Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. However perfecting new nuclear technologies requires years of development, he adds.

    Popa-Simil agrees, saying it will be at least a decade before final designs of the radiation-to-electricity concept are built.

    Original here

    Those who control oil and water will control the world

    New superpowers are competing for diminishing resources as Britain becomes a bit-player. The outcome could be deadly

    History may not repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain observed, it can sometimes rhyme. The crises and conflicts of the past recur, recognisably similar even when altered by new conditions. At present, a race for the world's resources is underway that resembles the Great Game that was played in the decades leading up to the First World War. Now, as then, the most coveted prize is oil and the risk is that as the contest heats up it will not always be peaceful. But this is no simple rerun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, there are powerful new players and it is not only oil that is at stake.

    It was Rudyard Kipling who brought the idea of the Great Game into the public mind in Kim, his cloak-and-dagger novel of espionage and imperial geopolitics in the time of the Raj. Then, the main players were Britain and Russia and the object of the game was control of central Asia's oil. Now, Britain hardly matters and India and China, which were subjugated countries during the last round of the game, have emerged as key players. The struggle is no longer focused mainly on central Asian oil. It stretches from the Persian Gulf to Africa, Latin America, even the polar caps, and it is also a struggle for water and depleting supplies of vital minerals. Above all, global warming is increasing the scarcity of natural resources. The Great Game that is afoot today is more intractable and more dangerous than the last.

    The biggest new player in the game is China and it is there that the emerging pattern is clearest. China's rulers have staked everything on economic growth. Without improving living standards, there would be large-scale unrest, which could pose a threat to their power. Moreover, China is in the middle of the largest and fastest move from the countryside to the city in history, a process that cannot be stopped.

    There is no alternative to continuing growth, but it comes with deadly side-effects. Overused in industry and agriculture, and under threat from the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers, water is becoming a non-renewable resource. Two-thirds of China's cities face shortages, while deserts are eating up arable land. Breakneck industrialisation is worsening this environmental breakdown, as many more power plants are being built and run on high-polluting coal that accelerates global warming. There is a vicious circle at work here and not only in China. Because ongoing growth requires massive inputs of energy and minerals, Chinese companies are scouring the world for supplies. The result is unstoppable rising demand for resources that are unalterably finite.

    Although oil reserves may not have peaked in any literal sense, the days when conventional oil was cheap have gone forever. Countries are reacting by trying to secure the remaining reserves, not least those that are being opened up by climate change. Canada is building bases to counter Russian claims on the melting Arctic icecap, parts of which are also claimed by Norway, Denmark and the US. Britain is staking out claims on areas around the South Pole.

    The scramble for energy is shaping many of the conflicts we can expect in the present century. The danger is not just another oil shock that impacts on industrial production, but a threat of famine. Without a drip feed of petroleum to highly mechanised farms, many of the food shelves in the supermarkets would be empty. Far from the world weaning itself off oil, it is more addicted to the stuff than ever. It is hardly surprising that powerful states are gearing up to seize their share.

    This new round of the Great Game did not start yesterday. It began with the last big conflict of the 20th century, which was an oil war and nothing else. No one pretended the first Gulf War was fought to combat terrorism or spread democracy. As George Bush Snr and John Major admitted at the time, it was aimed at securing global oil supplies, pure and simple. Despite the denials of a less honest generation of politicians, there can be no doubt that controlling the country's oil was one of the objectives of the later invasion of Iraq.

    Oil remains at the heart of the game and, if anything, it is even more important than before. With their complex logistics and heavy reliance on air power, high-tech armies are extremely energy-intensive. According to a Pentagon report, the amount of petroleum needed for each soldier each day increased four times between the Second World War and the Gulf War and quadrupled again when the US invaded Iraq. Recent estimates suggest the amount used per soldier has jumped again in the five years since the invasion.

    Whereas Western countries dominated the last round of the Great Game, this time they rely on increasingly self-assertive producer countries. Mr Putin's well-honed contempt for world opinion might grate on European ears, but Europe is heavily dependent on his energy. Hugo Chávez might be an object of hate for George W Bush, but Venezuela still supplies around 10 per cent of America's imported oil. President Ahmadinejad is seen by some as the devil incarnate, but with oil at more than a $100 a barrel, any Western attempt to topple him would be horrendously risky.

    While Western power declines, the rising powers are at odds with each other. China and India are rivals for oil and natural gas in central Asia. Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have clashed over underwater oil reserves in the South China Sea. Saudi Arabia and Iran are rivals in the Gulf, while Iran and Turkey are eyeing Iraq. Greater international co-operation seems the obvious solution, but the reality is that as the resources crunch bites more deeply, the world is becoming steadily more fragmented and divided.

    We are a long way from the fantasy world of only a decade ago, when fashionable gurus were talking sagely of the knowledge economy. Then, we were told material resources did not matter any more - it was ideas that drove economic development. The business cycle had been left behind and an era of endless growth had arrived. Actually, the knowledge economy was an illusion created by cheap oil and cheap money and everlasting booms always end in tears. This is not the end of the world or of global capitalism, just history as usual.

    What is different this time is climate change. Rising sea levels reduce food and fresh-water supplies, which may trigger large-scale movements of refugees from Africa and Asia into Europe. Global warming threatens energy supplies. As the fossil fuels of the past become more expensive, others, such as tar sands, are becoming more economically viable, but these alternative fuels are also dirtier than conventional oil.

    In this round of the Great Game, energy shortage and global warming are reinforcing each another. The result can only be a growing risk of conflict. There were around 1.65 billion people in the world when the last round was played out. At the start of the 21st century, there are four times as many, struggling to secure their future in a world being changed out of recognition by climate change. It would be wise to plan for some more of history's rhymes.

    · John Gray is author of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, published by Allen Lane in paperback on 24 April

    Original here

    Fresh Tibet protests reported as diplomats visit

    DHARAMSHALA, India (AFP) — Tibet's government-in-exile reported fresh mass protests in Lhasa on Saturday as foreign diplomats visited the tense city following recent deadly unrest over Chinese rule.

    As EU foreign ministers called for an end to violence, the exiled Tibet body said "thousands" had joined demonstrations in Lhasa, although a spokesman stressed details were hard to confirm.

    "Around 2:00 pm (0600 GMT) local time in the afternoon, Tibetans gathered for a protest in front of Ramoche Monastery," said a statement posted on the exile government's website.

    "Also, nearby, in front of Tsuglag-khang (Jokhang) temple and Beijing East road, protests were started, and thousands joined in the protests within no time."

    Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who earlier urged the world community to help end the turmoil, said he was following developments.

    "I heard people of Lhasa came out in protest again today," he said after returning to his base here.

    The area around the Jokhang temple was cordoned off by Chinese police shortly after the demonstrations began, a man told AFP citing information from Lhasa. He did not want to be named to protect his sources.

    Diplomats from 15 foreign embassies, including those of the United States, Britain, France and Japan, visited Jokhang temple on Saturday as part of a one-day tour organised by Beijing.

    "Obviously this has been a highly managed visit," a Western diplomat said.

    Monks denouncing Chinese rule converged on the temple, one of Tibetan Buddhism's holiest shrines, on Wednesday during a similar guided visit for foreign journalists.

    Activists began rallying on March 10 to mark a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Demonstrations erupted into widespread rioting in Lhasa on March 14, and spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.

    Beijing says rioters killed 18 civilians and two police officers. Exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at 135-140 Tibetans, with another 1,000 injured and many detained.

    The unrest has prompted widespread concern with hundreds demonstrating in Madrid and 80 Tibetans arrested in Kathmandu in the latest expressions of support on Saturday.

    Greek authorities clamped a tight security cordon around the Olympic torch, due to be handed to organisers of the Beijing Games, preventing more protests after activists disrupted this week's lighting ceremony.

    EU foreign ministers meeting in Slovenia urged talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, but failed to agree on any boycott of the Olympics or its opening ceremony on August 8.

    "No one is in favour of a boycott of the Olympic Games (as a whole) ... and regarding the opening ceremony nobody wished to speak about it," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner after the talks.

    China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to "liberate" the region from what it said was feudal rule.

    Tibetan rights groups have vowed to pile pressure on China over its controversial rule in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, when the world's spotlight will be put on the nation's communist rulers.

    The Dalai Lama has accused China of "gross" human rights abuses in Tibet but has also condemned the unrest and repeatedly called for talks with Beijing.

    The protests are the biggest since 1989, when current Chinese President Hu Jintao was the Communist Party chief of Tibet.

    Original here

    Policeman who exposed forced marriages faces sack for 'shaming' his city

    A former police inspector who has spoken out about the forced marriages endured by thousands of girls is today facing dismissal.

    Police support worker Philip Balmforth - praised last week by MPs - has been removed from his duties and faces a disciplinary hearing next week after telling newspapers how Asian children are going missing from schools in Bradford, West Yorks.

    Mr Balmforth, seen as an authority on so-called honour violence, is accused of “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to journalists without consent.

    Scroll down for more...

    Exposed: Highlighting the problem of forced marriages has won praise for Philip Balmforth in the Commons

    The force - which investigated 176 forced marriages in the past 12 months - is understood to have acted on a complaint from Bradford council, where senior figures are said to attacked Mr Balmforth's work as detrimental to the city's image and “bad for regeneration”.

    His post as “vulnerable persons officer (Asian women)” is partly funded by Bradford social services.

    Mr Balmforth's help has been sought by more than 2,000 Bradford women in recent years and he was praised last week by 56 MPs in a Commons early day motion tabled by Keighley's Ann Cryer, a campaigner for ethnic-minority women's welfare.

    The motion commended the police “for having the foresight to engage Philip 12 years ago, thus enabling him to give so many young women the right to choose whom and when to marry”.

    Mrs Cryer described Mr Balmforth as “a knight in shining armour”.

    Most of the victims of forced marriage are taken to Pakistan or Bangladesh to wed someone who is often a first cousin.

    Mr Balmforth spoke to the Times newspaper this month after the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence found that 33 pupils had vanished from Bradford schools.

    He said every UK education authority should be asked how many local children had gone missing. Government inquiries later showed 2,089 pupils aged under 16 had gone missing during the past year in 15 local authorities where forced marriage is seen as a problem.

    Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana, a charity which helps victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence, said today she was disgusted at the move to sack Mr Balmforth.

    “He's fallen victim to people who are more concerned about issues of cultural sensitivity and political correctness than they are about helping vulnerable young women,” she said.

    Bradford council declined to comment and a West Yorkshire Police spokesman said the force did not discuss internal disciplinary matters.

    Original here

    What was under the table has been revealed…there's even more!!

    The Post was updated till day 6 and that's when AlMaliki's rage episode on his dear friend Muqtada was over...hundreds of Iraqis died for nothing!!

    What I feared few days ago has unfortunately happened.
    I was getting in my car to get home from the clinic when I saw one of the clinic's guards running toward me…"Doc. Leave now and try to get home as fast as you can…it's getting really dangerous" he said. I was so surprised and I asked him "what's wrong? What happened?" he said" It has gone really bad in Sadir City, it has really gone out of control… and it's spreading everywhere and it's spreading pretty fast…there are fierce confrontations between AlMahdy army and Badir brigade" I thanked him and stepped on it…On my way home I paid attention to the streets and I noticed that there are huge number of police, army and US Humvees roaming the street pretty fast and one can easily know that they are really tensioned…At that time I knew he wasn't kidding…as I reached my neighborhood, there was nothing wrong in it so I though it might be a small confrontation and the dispute might get settled soon…but I was so wrong…I had no electricity to watch news so I had lunch and took a nap.
    At the noon I met one of my neighbors and I asked him about it (he works near Sadir City) and he told me that it was something really scary…he told me "Out of a sudden we saw tens of Pickup trucks with armed men wearing plain clothes…they started shooting randomly and asked us to go back…they said that if we don't get back we might get killed…but where could we go? It's closed, everywhere…there was no road we can escape through…but thanks to some mechanics who opened one of the closed alleys and people managed to escape".
    Muqtada announced civil disobedience…and his army is back in action…their demands are to stop killing and arresting AlMahdy army members because they are not in action and the army is frozen, and the hidden demand as I think is giving him the control over Basrah which is the chicken that gives golden eggs…it has been a long time of dispute between him and Badir Brigade.
    There are so many neighborhoods that are closed now and curfew is announced in them…like Hai `Oor , AlSaidia, AlGihad, AlMashtal, Abu-Dsheer and of course Sadir City…as one of my friends told me that Mahdy Army members have knocked on every door in his neighborhood and told the residents not to go out of their homes or go to work because they will put themselves in troubles and they will be considered resistant to and against AlMahdi Army!!
    Another friend who lives in Hai `Oor told me that AlMahdi Army have taken control over the police and army checkpoints and they are using their tanks and armored vehicles!!
    AlMaliki in Basrah leading the battle against AlMahdi Army announced from his position that anyone who will not attend his work will be considered with and loyal to AlMahdi Army (How silly) and he called for back up from Karbalaa.
    While Muqtada ordered his followers to distribute copies of Quran with olive branches to every police or army checkpoint they meet!!! What a controversy with the civil disobedience! But that was what he said in public and god knows what his real orders were.
    I had some errands to do in the afternoon so I was driving my car and I don't know why the streets' conditions reminded me of Samaraa explosions of the two Askari shrines…the streets are empty and gloomy…caution is in the air…and one can easily feel there's something wrong…it was so creepy, I got back home as soon as I could.
    I'm so sad that these things happened; I knew it was coming but I hoped that it will not or it will at least be delayed.
    Only god knows what will happen next…I'm sure there are so many things coming on the way…
    And we have AlMaliki saying that who will not go to work will be considered loyal to AlMahdi army…what could the civilians do? Go to their work and get killed by AlMahdi army…or put themselves in big troubles and might be killed if they don't go to work? It's a real mess.

    Actually, as I'm writing this post now, I can hear the sounds of the bullets while the jet fighters and helicopters are flying over my house ...I'm expecting a curfew in all Baghdad soon.
    Is it the beginning of the era of Shiite-Shiite conflicts? Does this prove that it's not about sect or religion? Does this prove that it's all about interests and benefits?
    I'll update this post when anything happens.

    *Update* Day 2

    Escalation continued today…in the morning there was some movement in the streets but it's far from normal and it continued diminishing until 4pm when the streets became almost empty especially in the disturbed areas…Most of the shops and markets are closed today…majority of the doctors and staff didn't attend work today and they told us that we can skip work tomorrow and we will not be asked about it, "It's too dangerous, and there is no water…so you will not be asked if you didn't show up tomorrow" the Manager said.
    Majority of Baghdad is without electricity or water today and even in the areas that received electricity they got it not more than 1 hour…and there is no water in the tub and even in the areas that have water it was more like mud than water…I believe it's our sweet, kind and nice government punishing us!!
    The sounds of confrontations almost didn't stop till this moment…jet fighters roaming Baghdad's sky all the time … far explosions are heard every while.
    Today was a really bloody day, it begun raining mortars again… mortars targeted Palestine St. and damaged the commercial street leaving many destroyed shops and casualties behind…Al-Karada was also targeted with mortars as same as Al-Jihad, Al-Risala, Al-Jami`a , Green Zone and Al-Salhia districts but the number of casualties wasn't announced except for the Green Zone in which 3 were dead.
    Confrontation between AlMahdi Army and Badir Brigade with the Iraqi army and police extended into other areas like Al-Sha`ab district and Palestine St. but the really shameful thing that the government isn't announcing the number of casualties as if they want us to be in the dark not knowing what's happening on the ground…Shame on them but I think they are used to be ashamed!
    Sadir City is under siege and curfew for vehicles and individuals has been announced since yesterday and till this moment while nobody (from the people I know) knows what's really happening there and what is the final result of casualties.

    While in Basrah where the real battlefield is, AlMaliki gave Muqtada followers 3 days to surrender and drop their weapons and whoever will do that will be forgiven!! (I don't believe that) and Muqtada replied to him that his army will give up his weapons only to a fair government and when the occupation is out of Iraq, The government announced that Muqtada asked AlMaliki to get out of Basrah and negotiate with them while Muqtada's spoke man said that these things aren't true and it's just a rumor from the government and we never asked for negotiation…Also in Basrah many high ranked officers in the police, army and national guard where forced to resign and will face justice for collaboration with AlMahdi army and allowing them to gain the control they have now…the count of casualties for civilians in Basrah as announced by the government is 40 deaths and 240 wounded…I'll never believe those are the real numbers.

    Back to Baghdad were many offices for AlDa`wa party and the higher council of the Islamic revolution party were burned or destroyed in various areas of Baghdad by AlMahdi army and I heard many rumors about some of the checkpoints or police stations were ordered by their officers not to attack AlMahdi army and supply them with weapons and whatever they need!!! That simply proves how penetrated is the army and police by AlMahdi army…Today I went to Baghdad/Alrisafa health department in Bab AlMo`atham near the ministry of health which is under total control of the Sadri political current because I have an urgent business there…I couldn't know Bab AlMo`atham, it was so empty, it was like a nuclear bomb had stroke it…and when I entered the department I couldn't do anything because all the managers haven't attended work!!! They are all Muqtada's followers!!

    I think that Muqtada wants to show his best in this fight…he wants to get the respect and his demands fulfilled…he wants to have control and give a lesson to everyone that if his orders or demands aren't answered then you will be all in trouble!!
    It's really getting worse…I'm afraid if this continues it will reach my neighborhood tomorrow or the day after…today I noticed that there are more police cars in my district and there are soldiers distributed in the streets but according to their number I can't believe that can do anything…they are few for such a big trouble.

    *Update* Day 3

    Today was terrible, really electricity all day so i could only hear the 7pm news...the water barely comes out of the tub, it actually drops, the Internet was really bad with lots of troubles.. not much mentioned in the news, it seems like the government don't want anyone to know anything...but AlMaliki announced that there will be no negotiations with AlMahdi Army or Muqtada Alsadir while it rained 7 mortars on the green zone and I'm sure there were more areas targeted with mortars but they didn't announce it because I heard 3 loud explosions and the green zone is so far away from me...nothing much is said but from my home I think that the troubles aren't more than 2 or 3 Km away from me...I was able to hear the bullets from the early morning...I though that I'd see AlMahdi Army in front of my door in the noon but thank god that didn't happen...but I saw the US troops in the commercial St. in my neighborhood...they blocked the street and went on foot...they seemed really aggressive I passed by them when I was going to the market.. "two bullets were fired at them but none of them was injured" as my friend told me, they stayed for an hour and then they left.
    I went to buy food supplies from the market near my home and I noticed that majority of the shops are closed although there is nothing in my neighborhood but it seems that people are really scared and they prefer to stay home rather than going to work (and I see that it's the right thing to do) and also the street is much emptier than yesterday, if this continues few more days Baghdad will be a city of ghosts...almost there are no cars...I went to buy fruits and vegetables but i couldn't find anything good and most of the items are missing because AlAlwa (which is the main market for fruits and vegetables) are closed so some of the grocers couldn't reach there and some reached there but couldn't bring anything because it's closed!! I bought all I need and got back home safe.

    *Update* Day 4

    I woke up on the sound of the Iraqi army speakers announcing that today there is a curfew for vehicles and persons and it will continue till Sunday and everyone is obligated to obey, they also gave phone numbers to call in case anyone sees or hears something suspicious or notice a breach for the curfew.
    Confrontations continued in Basrah with help of the US jet fighters and the British forces, AlMahdi army is supported now by its former enemy AlFathila party. Iraqi officials in the ministry of anterior announced that they have captured Iranian agents helping AlMahdi army, AlMaliki also announced that armed men can give their weapons and they will be rewarded with money in case they did that before April 8th and they will not face any legal consequences and also confirmed that there will be no negotiations with the criminal gangs referring to AlMahdi army.
    More mortars targeted the green zone while the US troops searched AlRisala, AlWashash and some other districts searching for members in AlMahdi army where confrontation took place.
    There was also protests in Kathomia supporting Muqtada and calling AlMaliki "The new dectator".
    The siege and confrontations continued in Sadir city which is headquarter of AlMahdi army and the US jets attacked launching pads for Katiosha missiles for AlMahdi army preparing to enter it.
    also the jet fighters bombed AlKathomia and some other neighborhoods.
    I watched the news today in AlArabiya and they have some really good videos, I think they have the best coverage for the events among all other news channels…I saw the Humvees of AlMahdi army!!! It's painted in white and written on it "Ya Mahdi" or "Ya ka`im al Mohammed!! They were jumping on it and shooting in the air!! the video on the top is in Basrah and it's different from the one I was talking about.
    Today I felt something strange I don't know why but my feelings got back five years from now…I don't know why I remembered the days of war…the same weather…the same silence interrupted by explosions every while and the sounds of far bullets…it's so silent no sound for cars or people, no electricity so there is no noise from any electrical device…it's so silent.
    Yesterday I forgot to buy bread!!! I didn't know that there will be a curfew, so I went to the main street wishing to find the baker shop opened…I was so thankful that the shop was opened I also went to buy a box of cigarettes from a small shop inside the neighborhood and the bastard sold it to me much higher than its real price, he is seizing the chance and making use of the situation!! But I bought it in case the curfew will be continued after Sunday; I don't want to stay without cigarettes.
    I finally knew what was wrong with my was my Internet was damaged by a bullet or a shell...I'm so glad that I have an old one that I was able to use although it's not good but at least it is working!
    We had electricity for two hours today and the water is a bit better than yesterday.
    while I was writing this update I heard a jet fighter and then there was a was a bit loud and seconds later my friend in Adhmiya called me and he was asking if it was near me because it is so loud from his position so I think it was in Kathomiya....and here is another one another bombing by a jet fighter at this moment....WOW,here is another has been like this all day...jets bombing...bullets...explosions and the annoying thing is that I don't know where exactly and what really happened.

    *Update* Day 5

    At about 2am last night I woke up on the sound of a very fierce confrontation…there was no millisecond without a bullet and it was so so near, then helicopters started to fly over the area but they didn't shoot so I think they didn't have a clear target…the confrontation continued for about half an hour and suddenly it stopped and it was silent again and we were able to get back to sleep.
    Today was a lot better than the days before…it was a bit silent and we had about 6 hours of electricity and the water was good.
    AlMaliki said while he was meeting some of the tribes' Shaikhs in Basrah "The armed groups that fight the government forces are worst than AlQaida, they are acting according to foreign political interests that tries to make the political experiment in Iraq fail….we were talking about AlQaida while there was who are worst than AlQaida among us, in fact they created AlQaida…..We blame ourselves and take responsibility for being easy with them while the armed militias grew stronger…we have been tolerant and endurance for so long and I believe we are responsible…we were supposed to say NO from the beginning and stand for it….We didn't come to basrah to be against a political current or a specific party because we don't want to interfere in politics through a military confrontations"!!!! when and how did you become so smart Maloooki? What happened to you? Where is the old Maliki we know? I'm afraid the he have multiple personality disorder…but If he means it then that's great although there is nothing easier than talking big words…trust can't be gained like this and that fast.
    In Baghdad there have been confrontations in over 13 districts mainly Sadir city and Palestine St.
    And now Muqtada announced his willing to negotiate with the government but at the same time Muqtada asked his followers to surrender and give up their weapons only to a government that can take the occupation out, but AlMaliki promised that the security forces will continue fighting the outlaw militias in Barah till the end despite the thousands who went out in protests asking Maliki to resign in Sadir city and Kathomiya…While there were protests in Basrah but to support the government and people were saying and carrying sign "Yes, yes to the law"….also I heard some unconfirmed information that the SWAT team in the ministry of anterior have hanged and then burned 5 people in Karbala…and that 45 police officer have joined AlMahdi army.
    Joad AlBolani the minister of anterior have announced that the operation is going as planned and that anyone (in the ministry) who will not do his job well…will face justice.
    And now I have just heard in the TV that the curfew will continue till further notices!! I just want to know how people are supposed to live! I thought that there will be curfew and I bough food supplies but what about those who weren’t ready? How about the poor people who earn their living by their daily work? How can they buy food? What will they do and what will they eat? I'm so sick of sitting home and the fuel for the generator will be finished soon, I feel like a prisoner but I will endure it and I'll be so glad and happy if in the end there will be something good for the Iraqis, if there will be less killing, kidnappings or explosions, if Iraq and Baghdad is militias-free…for that I'm ready to be a prisoner in a hole for a year, I really do.

    *Update* Day 6

    Today's morning my door bell rang and it was my neighbor which is a very old women and she lives alone, she asked me if I can go to the market and buy some food supplies for her, I really felt sorry for her because she have no one to help her so I decided to go and help her and on my way I can buy things for me.
    I went to the market and I was surprised to see that most of the shops are opened and there were a good number of customers, but few things to buy!! There is absolutely no single vegetable to buy there…I couldn't even find one leaf of lettuce, no meat, no eggs I could only found bread and canned food…I heard that I might find eggs but the box is sold for 25,000 ID that's about 21$!! It was sold for 4,000 ID before the curfew that's about 3$...I got back and bought everything I though she will need from the things I could find.
    Today there were fewer explosions that I could hear and fewer helicopters flying in the air. In the market I talked with many shop owners and customers about the situation…most of them were worried about the people with the daily wage and how could they survive and they were also worried about themselves because they will finish what they have soon if the curfew continued and they would have to close their shops…They were also worried that goods will be depleted from the market and people will not have anything to eat but all of them were eager to see the end of AlMahdi army and all the militias, all of them were eager to see the end for the violence and safety back in Baghdad and all Iraq…all of them were ready to die in hunger if the criminals, gangs and militias are finished off and by the way the market I went to is in a Shiite area and most of the people are met are Shiites…one of the shop owners said" if this curfew continued we will die in hunger" I told him " No you will not…you can eat anything and survive, but you will not survive if you were targeted by a militia" he nodded his head and said" you are so right, son…hunger can be tolerated but we had enough of violence, we had enough of sectarianism" I smiled at him and said "well said"….while I was getting back home I was hearing people talking with each other about what will happen and whether will the government draw back at the last moment! They were eager to know what will happen.
    The news today was very contradictory and one can't really know what will happen or what has happened but I strongly believe that there are many things being done also UNDER THE TABLE….
    Muqtada made an announcement through his spoke man in which there were 9 points and I'll mention them briefly:
    1-Stop all armed confrontations.
    2-The government should stop the random arrests and targeting the members of AlSadri current.
    3-Release all the prisoners who weren't convicted especially from AlSadri current.
    4-We are not responsible for those who carried their weapons and fought the government, and we are irresponsible for anyone who continues to do that.
    5-We are ready to help the security forces and back them up.
    6-AlSadri current do not own any heavy weapons.
    7-Returning all the displaced residents due to the recent events back to their homes.
    8-Considering the human rights in the security procedures.
    9- Completing and starting projects that help the Iraqi people and the Iraqi infrastructure.
    And I noticed that he never mentioned the word "Jaish AlMahdi" he never did in his announcement.
    So now we have Muqtada saying that he had nothing to do with anyone raising weapons on the security forces and he had nothing to do with the criminal gangs…and the one who follows me should drop their weapons to preserve the Iraqi's lives and Iraq's union!! Muqtada, haven't you said yesterday that you will drop the weapons only to fair government that can take the occupation out? What happened to you? Are you that silly and such a weak personality…at least keep your word for two days! But why wondering you have been like this since you were born…you were called Muqtada Play Station before the war because you loved it so much and had a Play Station shop in Najaf and now you tell your followers that it's a sin to play with Play Station.
    And we have Ali-Aldabag (the Iraqi government spokesman) saying" The ones who will not obey Muqtada is trying to scar his image…so the government is forced to apply the law on the ones who don't obey the government and Muqtada"!!! he also said "Muqtadad's announcement is showing his responsibility and as a government we see this effort beneficial to Iraq, and the government is welcoming this announcement"!!!
    And one of Muqtada's spokesmen announced that the negotiations is going very well and it will lead to end this conflict…Do you know where did this meeting took place? It was in Qoum…yes, it was in Iran (headquarter of the current Iraqi government).
    It rained mortars again on different parts of Baghdad including AlKarada wich was targeted with 5 mortars, while the minister of health said that announcing the number of casualties is of the ministry's competence only?? And now the procedure of giving up the weapons to the government and receiving the money reward has been announced: the owner of the light and medium weapons should attend by him self and receive a receipt so that he can get his reward later as for the heavy weapons owners they should inform the nearest checkpoint about it and they should accompany him to give it up and receive a receipt also.
    I'm so extremely angry, I'm so sad…why did all those people died (whom number isn't announced)…they died for nothing…we have been trapped in our homes for nothing…many Iraqis went through a humanitarian crisis for nothing…but majority of them were so ready to tolerate all this and even more if AlMahdi army was destroyed or at least pursued.
    Nice work Maliki…you fooled us again, you killed so many Iraqis for your and Iran's interests…can't you be ashamed of your self for once, yesterday you were so determined on finishing AlMahdi army and saying that they are the worst and worst than AlQaida and you blame your self for that and now you agree to negotiate and you finished everything and agreed to release their prisoners? Damn it, I feel so sad and silly because I believed you once despite knowing what you really are…you convinced us…you are a great actor…I just want to know what did we gain now…you controlled all Iraq after these curfew days and the Iraqi army was doing great and so close to finish AlMahdi army but I strongly believe you don't want that….I think I know what was the cause of this now…I think AlMaliki and Muqtada had a dispute and they disagreed on something and Muqtada though that he is stronger then AlMaliki wanted to show him that he is the strongest and Muqtada should always obey and fear him…so it's just a show business nothing more, nothing less, and now Muqtada is convinced that Maliki is stronger and he will give him what he wants.
    AlMaliki is a joke now…even in the news the presenter was announcing the last news which was about a high ranked Iranian official called AlMaliki "dear and honorable" and she laughed in a sarcastic way.
    I'm afraid that the coming days will the worst…I believe there will be so much innocent's blood in the streets.

    Original here

    Mukilteo hacker gets 3 years over fake 911 call

    A Mukilteo man has been sentenced to three years in a California prison for tricking 911 dispatchers into sending a SWAT team to the Orange County home of a randomly selected family.

    Randal T. Ellis, 19, was sentenced Thursday in Orange County Superior Court after pleading guilty to felonies including false imprisonment by violence and falsely reporting a crime. He also was ordered to pay $14,765 in restitution, nearly all of it to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

    Ellis was arrested last year after hacking into a telephone network and impersonating a caller from a Lake Forest home, saying he had murdered someone in the house and was threatening to shoot others. The technique in which a prank call is made to 911 dispatchers is known among hackers as "SWATting."

    The Sheriff's Department dispatched a SWAT team and surrounded the home with dozens of officers, dogs and a helicopter.

    As the children of Stacey Cerwin-Bates and Doug Bates slept, Doug Bates thought he heard a prowler outside and grabbed a kitchen knife. When he entered the backyard, deputies armed with assault rifles confronted Bates and handcuffed him and his wife until officers were able to determine that the report was fake.

    Authorities spent more than six months tracking down Ellis.

    Original here