Category: ttokqqci

  • First Day of Islamic Year on Sunday October 26

    Rabat – Muharram 1st of the new Hegira year 1436 will correspond to Sunday, October 26, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has announced on Friday.In a statement, the ministry said that it has contacted Friday evening its delegates and the Royal Armed Forces units which confirmed the non-sighting of the lunar crescent of the month of Muharram.The month of Dhu Al Hijjah will complete 30 days and Muharram 1st of the new hegira year 1436 will correspond to Sunday, October 26, 2014, it said.

  • New thinking needed to rebuild Afghan agriculture UNsponsored book says

    “Reconstructing Agriculture in Afghanistan,” co-published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the British publishing house Practical Action Publishing, is an attempt to advance development theory for fragile states by putting food security at the heart of a twin-track approach that integrates short-term emergency response to longer-term food security interventions for sustainable development. The impact of recent history is significant on a country where 85 per cent of people rely on agriculture and which witnessed the destruction of irrigation systems by the Soviet army occupying it from 1979-89 and the subsequent migration of rural workers, the emergence of the Taliban regime and a countrywide drought that blighted wheat yields as well as livestock, savings and land. At the same time however, the book argues that the brutal state-building of the 19th century and the influence of empires then predominant in the region, chiefly Russia and Britain, have all helped shape the agricultural landscape, creating a diverse legacy of different ethnic and regional identities, local economies and administration, self-interest and illicit trade. These provincial markets and networks help explain the “extraordinary resilience” of the Afghan people, in repeatedly rebuilding their livelihoods despite a historical backdrop of disruption and political instability, the book argues. As an example of cultural traditions and their impact, one chapter discusses the often-misunderstood role of women in helping shape the agricultural landscape. “The position of women has been a potent symbol of Afghanistan to the outside world,” co-editor Adam Pain said. “There is a perception that women are completely powerless, but women are more powerful and are a lot more economically active than people give them credit for, in agriculture and elsewhere.” The book also examines the role of the opium trade, which dominates so much debate on a country that accounts for more than 90 per cent of the world’s illegal output. Any approach to eradicating the trade needs to take into consideration local economies and power structures, where limited access to land and credit have left many farmers with little or no alternative to opium cultivation. Development initiatives are taking place across the country, including an FAO project helping villagers set up their own businesses providing high-quality seed to farmers, and another developing a national agricultural information network that tracks food pricing, crop yields and weather warnings. The book stresses that it is through long-term planning and good government, local and national, that Afghanistan can push forward, while education is also crucial. 17 September 2007Efforts to rebuild the rural economy of Afghanistan must start with a better understanding of the country’s complex history, social background and extraordinary resilience of the Afghan people in repeatedly rebuilding their livelihoods, according to a new United Nations-sponsored book. read more

  • As world population nears 7 billion top UN official vows to focus

    1 February 2011With the world’s population slated to top the milestone 7 billion mark by late 2011, the new head of the United Nations agency that helps countries use population data for policies to reduce poverty pledged today to focus on the largest global youth generation ever. “Investing in youth, their reproductive health and gender equality can help put countries on a path to accelerated economic growth and equitable development,” UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said in his first address to the UN Development Programme (UNDP)/UNFPA Executive Board.“A world approaching a population of 7 billion is marked by new dynamics to which UNFPA must support countries to respond,” he added of the agency mandated to assisting States with reproductive and maternal health, and population development.“UNFPA will place a special emphasis on today’s large generation of young people… Every person should enjoy human rights and human dignity, and have the opportunity to make the most of his or her potential,” he said, citing rapid urban growth in Africa and Asia, declining fertility with variance across regions – with Africa home to the highest birth rates – unprecedented ageing, and the world’s largest youth population. There are an estimated 1.8 billion adolescents and youth in the world today, accounting for nearly a third of the world’s population, with just below 90 per cent living in developing countries, a proportion that will increase during the next 20 years. “They need increased support, and they want freedom, participation and dignity,” he said. Advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health remains at the heart of UNFPA, Dr. Osotimehin declared. “To garner greater progress, we will advocate for investments by countries and donors for a comprehensive package of integrated sexual and reproductive health services, as well as comprehensive sexuality education.” He reaffirmed UNFPA’s core principles that “every person has the right to sexual and reproductive health, every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person has the education and services to grow up healthy, every girl is treated with dignity and respect, and violence against women should and can end.”A former Nigerian health minister with wide experience in fighting HIV/AIDS, Dr. Osotimehin, who has also served as African spokesperson for the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, became UNFPA’s fourth Executive Director on 1 January, succeeding Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. read more

  • Retailers pull wasp trap from shelves after photos show it caught birds

    Some Canadian retailers are pulling a wasp trap from their shelves after reports emerged that it was trapping birds and killing them.The TrapStik for Wasps is advertised as catching wasps by luring them to its sticky surface with a bright pattern.But in a Facebook post shared tens of thousands of times, photos appear to show small birds stuck to one of the traps.Phoenix Pike of Toronto says her aunt, who lives in Waterloo, Ont., took the photos, and she shared them on her Facebook page.Pike says her aunt bought the trap because her 10-year-old son is afraid of the wasps in their backyard.But she says the boy went outside to find seven small birds stuck to the trap.Pike says the birds all died.After the photos surfaced online, Home Hardware said it would be pulling the product from store shelves.A representative for Home Hardware said the company hadn’t received any reports about the TrapStik before seeing the pictures, but decided to pull the product because it was deemed “unsafe.”Loblaw is also reportedly pulling the product from its shelves.Representatives for the manufacturer of TrapStik, RESCUE!, posted a written statement online, saying that it’s rare for birds to be caught in the trap.“In the 5 years since this product was introduced in the U.S., we’ve sold over 1 million TrapStiks, and have been alerted to a bird catch about a dozen times,” the statement says.“While rare, we acknowledge that this is an upsetting and traumatizing sight for anyone to see,” it reads.The company says TrapStiks should be kept away from trees and other places where birds are likely to fly, and should be hung from man-made structures.Pike says her aunt hung the trap from an eavestrough, and followed all of the instructions.“I was really sad for the birds. My heart hurt knowing that they suffered, and that’s how they had to die,” she says. read more

  • Student Justice Centre holds campus food drive

    The Student Justice Centre is holding a food drive for the student food bank until Oct. 11.If you’re cupboard overfloweth with chickpeas and tuna, the Student Justice Centre is hopeful you’ll share your stash.The centre is holding a campus-wide food drive until Oct. 11 to help stock the student food bank for the year.Non-perishable food items can be placed in bins located at the Collabratorium, General Brock Store, Campus Store, Walker Complex, BUSU offices and the Schmon Tower entrance.Not near any of those locations? Students from the centre will come by staff and faculty offices to pick up donations. Email foodbank@brocksjc.com to arrange a pickup.

  • Toyota raises annual forecasts as quarterly profit jumps 23 per cent

    AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. raised its fiscal year profit forecast Tuesday to triple what it eked out for the disaster-struck previous year, as the world’s top automaker continued on a comeback roll as sales surged, especially in the U.S.Toyota’s October-December profit jumped 23 per cent to 99.91 billion yen (US$1.09 billion), compared to the same period the previous year. Quarterly sales edged up 9 per cent to 5.3 trillion yen ($58 billion).Underlining its solid recovery, Toyota is now expecting fiscal year profit of 860 billion yen ($9.3 billion). It had initially expected a 780 billion yen ($8.5 billion) profit. It had marked a 283.5 billion yen profit through March 2012.Toyota also raised its sales forecast for the fiscal year through March, to 21.8 trillion yen ($237 billion), up 17 per cent from the previous fiscal year.Toyota is also expecting a perk from a favourable exchange rate. The yen has been weakening on expectations the prime minister who took office late last year will push for inflation targets and other monetary policy designed to weaken the yen. A strong yen hurts giant exporters like Toyota by erasing the value of overseas earnings.Toyota gained 50 billion yen ($543 million) in operating income in October-December from the weak yen.Toyota’s recovery tale is being repeated at other Japanese automakers, which saw production disruptions from the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake in northeastern Japan.The Japanese maker of the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan and Lexus luxury cars rose once again to the world’s top automaker in global vehicle sales last calendar year, overtaking U.S. rival General Motors Co.For the fiscal year through March 2013, Toyota is now expecting to sell 8.85 million vehicles, up from the previous forecast for 8.75 million vehicles, because of strong North American sales.The recent recovery follows difficult years for Toyota. It had a massive recall crisis from late 2009 through 2010, affecting various regions, but especially in the U.S., that resulted in millions of vehicles being recalled for braking, gas pedal, floor mat and other problems.The recall fiasco threatened to tarnish Toyota’s once sterling reputation for quality. However, its popularity in the U.S. shows customers still have faith in the brand, although the company still faces lawsuits over accidents.Toyota has been trying to beef up quality controls, speed up response to defects and become more transparent.“We believe that our efforts have been bearing fruit and that we are finally on the road to sustainable growth,” said senior managing officer Takahiko Ijichi. “We will continue our efforts to build ever-better cars.”Besides the U.S., Toyota’s vehicle sales improved in Asia, with the exception of the ailing Japanese market.Toyota could end up doing even better than its forecasts, as it is counting on the dollar averaging at 81 yen for the fiscal year, while it’s already at 92 yen levels in recent sessions and could rise further.In January, Toyota was among the automakers enjoying a sales recovery in the U.S., soaring 26.6 per cent from the previous year behind strong numbers for the Camry and Corolla cars.Toyota’s sales have suffered in China, where anti-Japanese sentiments flared up over a territorial dispute in recent months.But Toyota has made up for such sales losses with strong demand in other Asian nations, such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.“Toyota experienced the year of the dream come back in 2012,”said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst at TrueCar.com.“Virtually all of the metrics by which we define an automaker’s performance improved dramatically for the company after a couple years of a roller-coaster ride.”Honda Motor Co. lowered its full fiscal year profit forecast last week, citing the China woes, while reporting a nearly 63 per cent rise in quarterly profit to 77.4 billion yen ($850 million).Mitsubishi Motors Corp., which did not break down quarterly results, reported Tuesday that nine-month profit through December totalled 17.3 billion yen ($188 million), up 27 per cent from the same period the previous fiscal year.Japan’s No. 2 automaker Nissan Motor Co. reports earnings Friday. by Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press Posted Feb 5, 2013 4:29 am MDT Toyota raises annual forecasts as quarterly profit jumps 23 per cent read more

  • Sinn Féin must be ready for government says Adams

    first_imgFor our part Sinn Féin needs to be ready for government in this state on our terms, agree our policy priorities and political platform and our commitments need to be deliverable.“We are ambitious for change and believe we can deliver on jobs, housing and health.“But we will not do what the Labour Party has done — we will not enter government merely to give cover to the agenda of conservative parties. That’s the old failed political system.”Adams called for a “realignment of politics” and said the party will meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the North.He accused the DUP of not ‘having the appetite for the challenge’ of dealing with the past.Read: Ó Cuív defends asking for a man convicted of manslaughter to be moved to an open prison THE LEADER OF Sinn Féin says the party must be ready to lead the country.The party will hold a major party conference in Dublin today which brings together many of its recently successful local government and EU candidates from across the island, as well as the party leadership.In his keynote address, Adams will tell the party faithful that they have now become a “major player” on both sides of the border.He also takes aim at the parties in the Republic.“It’s time Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil stopped pretending they are different. They are not. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are conservative soul mates. They should be in government together.last_img read more

  • Naked MoleRats May be Immune to Aging

    first_img Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend Stay on target There are a rare few species that can apparently dodge the effects of aging. Jellyfish are, quite famous examples, as are some trees and tortoises, but now we may need to add the naked mole-rat to that list.Bizarre as they are, a new study shows that mole-rats might not succumb to age-related diseases, at least for far longer than you’d expect given their small size. Many rodents live out their lives in a few short years. But the study followed 3,000 mole-rats of varying ages for years. After taking detailed records of the population, the scientists noted that their death rate didn’t increase as the rats got older.Age-related diseases like cancer, also didn’t show up any more often as the mole-rats ages. Even more surprising, the oldest rats were still more than capable of reproduction with females not exhibiting any signs of menopause — another major departure from other small mammals.“This is the first mammal in which there is a lack of intrinsic mortality with increasing age,” study author Rochelle Buffenstein told Gizmodo.Scientists have known that mole-rats are prodigiously healthy for years, suspecting that they are the only species to successfully interbreed themselves out of many of their diseases. Over three decades covered by the study, fewer than one-sixth died of natural causes.“[These] animals die with signs of periodontal disease, kidney disease or muscle wasting, but this can occur at any age,” Buffenstein said. That means that mole-rats could survive for as long as they avoid getting sick or hurt. It’s possible, too, that beyond 30 years mole-rats suddenly begin aging, but for as long as we’ve studied them, at least, they’re pretty resilient.The ultimate goal, of course, is figuring out ways to delay the aging process in humans, and Buffenstein admits as much.It’s worth considering that all of this was done under the umbrella of a Google-backed research company dubbed Calico. The purpose of the subsidiary is to use “advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan.”So, that said, don’t be surprised if in 15 years you have to sell your soul and total access to your email accounts, search history, and YouTube viewing patterns so that data can be fed into a massive neural network that vomits ads into each new year of your artificially-lengthened life.center_img Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img read more

  • New suspected cases of Chikungunya and dengue fever in TCI

    first_imgFacebook Twitter Google+LinkedInPinterestWhatsAppProvidenciales – New suspected cases of Chikungunya and dengue fever are being recorded in the TCI and Magnetic Media is informed too that there are residents not going to hospital with these mosquito borne viruses. We await hearing from officials on that official number, but our sources indicate that the figure is significant. None of these suspected cases are confirmed but in a season when stagnant water remains on the ground, now two weeks since TS Cristobal and where mosquito infestations are reported in Provo, North Caicos and Middle Caicos… it is concerning. Residents also concerned that only one fogger is working Providenciales. These questions have been sent to Premier Rufus Ewing, who heads the committee formed in the aftermath of the storm and who is acting Minister of Health. No updates up to news production time. Meanwhile stores have reported that stocks on repellent are running low or have already run out. Related Items:Chikungunya, Dengue, Ts cristobal ZIKA Press Release TCI Health warns against Zika as Caribbean counts five cases Facebook Twitter Google+LinkedInPinterestWhatsApp Mosquitoes on the attack; residents run, one school closed up Recommended for youlast_img read more

  • Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveils new 38 billion budget

    first_img Updated: 10:34 PM Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveils new $3.8 billion budget Posted: April 12, 2018 Sasha Foo, Sasha Foo center_img April 12, 2018 Categories: Local San Diego News, Politics FacebookTwitter 00:00 00:00 spaceplay / pause qunload | stop ffullscreenshift + ←→slower / faster ↑↓volume mmute ←→seek  . seek to previous 12… 6 seek to 10%, 20% … 60% XColor SettingsAaAaAaAaTextBackgroundOpacity SettingsTextOpaqueSemi-TransparentBackgroundSemi-TransparentOpaqueTransparentFont SettingsSize||TypeSerif MonospaceSerifSans Serif MonospaceSans SerifCasualCursiveSmallCapsResetSave SettingsSAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Mayor Kevin Faulconer says his spending plan for 2019 makes San Diego neighborhoods a top priority.Using the backdrop of a new library under construction in Mission Hills, the Mayor said his nearly 4 billion dollar budget proposal will preserve the city’s core services with only modest budget cuts.The Mayor’s spending blueprint contains $553 million for capital improvements, with $76 million set aside to repair the equivalent of 390 miles of streets.Public safety gets a big boost, with $28 million going to the San Diego police department for recruitment and retention. Chief of police David Nisleit said the increase in compensation will give officers a 25 percent pay hike.“Prior to this compensation, we were at the very bottom, when you did a study of the region. With this competitive pay package over the next two years, it’s going to bring us into the top third. That makes us competitive,” Nisleit said.To find housing for those who are now living on the street, the Mayor proposed spending close to 8 million dollars on programs and services, which will include money for the three large bridge shelters.Bob McElroy, whose organization, Alpha Project runs one of those bridge tents said it’s essential to have a stable source of funding.The spending plan also puts money into other city initiatives, including $4 million for “Clean SD,” a program to clean up neighborhoods and the San Diego River.$121 million is allocated for “Pure Water San Diego,” a program that turns wastewater into drinking water.This year, there is little talk of a budget ax. One city official likened the budget-cutting process to the use of a scalpel, saying reductions were made strategically across various city departments.According to the Mayor’s director of finance, Jessica Lawrence, “We ensured that we weren’t hitting core services, so, within all the mayoral departments, we were able to really take a scalpel approach.” last_img read more

  • Water main breaks in Hillcrest

    first_img KUSI Newsroom 00:00 00:00 spaceplay / pause qunload | stop ffullscreenshift + ←→slower / faster ↑↓volume mmute ←→seek  . seek to previous 12… 6 seek to 10%, 20% … 60% XColor SettingsAaAaAaAaTextBackgroundOpacity SettingsTextOpaqueSemi-TransparentBackgroundSemi-TransparentOpaqueTransparentFont SettingsSize||TypeSerif MonospaceSerifSans Serif MonospaceSans SerifCasualCursiveSmallCapsResetSave SettingsSAN DIEGO (KUSI)- A water main break has left many Hillcrest residents without water. An eight-inch diameter concrete water main broke near the intersection of Robinson and 3rd Avenue, about 50 people in the area lost water service.The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department crews were on scene working on repairs. November 23, 2018 Posted: November 23, 2018 Water main breaks in Hillcrest KUSI Newsroom, Categories: Local San Diego News FacebookTwitterlast_img read more

  • Activision Blizzard incentivises staff to share reproductive health data

    first_imgSomething for the weekend: Video game organisation Activision Blizzard is paying female employees $1 a day to track their reproductive health via an app, with the US-based organisation receiving anonymised and aggregated data on employees’ fertility.According to The Washington Post, Activision Blizzard has partnered with family planning and wellness app Ovia to give female employees access to a voluntary digital pregnancy tracking service. Staff that use the app are incentivised with a $1 reward for every day they engage with the programme; this value is loaded onto a gift card for employees to use as and when they wish.Health data collected from the app is then presented in an aggregated form on an internal website for the employer, accessible by HR staff. This information includes when women are first trying to conceive through to early motherhood.The organisation says the driving force behind the unusual initiative is to help female staff have healthy babies, to avoid the lack of concentration and stress of having a child who requires neonatal care. The programme also aims to reduce Activision Blizzard’s medical costs.Milt Ezzard, vice president of global benefits at Activision Blizzard, told The Washington Post: “I want [female staff] to have a healthy baby because it’s great for our business experience. Rather than having a baby who’s in the neonatal [intensive care unit], where she’s not able to focus much on work.”Ezzard told the American newspaper that around 20 women who were diagnosed as infertile have since conceived after using the app; approximately 50 female employees are using Ovia to monitor their reproductive health.Activision Blizzard is no stranger to collecting employee data. Since 2014, the organisation has incentivised the use of Fitbits and other tracking devices to gather information on employees’ mental health, sleep, diet, autism-related needs, exercise and cancer care.Ezzard told The Washington Post that the collected health information is handled by a third-party data warehouse and is, therefore, strictly controlled to prevent the organisation identifying employees.“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry. But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff and eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to [their heads] and we’re going to reward [employees] if [they] choose to do it. People’s sensitivity has gone from: ‘hey Activision Blizzard is Big Brother’, to ‘hey, Activision Blizzard really is bringing me tools that can help me out,’” Ezzard concluded.Here at Employee Benefits, we think this sounds like fertile ground for an invasion of privacy. The fact that the programme is voluntary gets a thumbs up from us, though, as it puts the ball firmly in the employees’ court.last_img read more

  • LETTER TO THE EDITOR Suzanne Sullivan Will Get Things Done Will Make

    first_imgDear Editor,In 2001 I was asked to do a cancer study in my town of Wilmington for one of my healthy children.  This information was needed as a comparison against the children being stricken with cancer in our area.  Little did I know that I would be doing it again within a short time for my own child stricken with leukemia in 2003, losing his battle in 2006. My family and I will never know fully how our son contracted this dreaded disease, but I do know that the cancer rate for children in Wilmington at that time was about 2-½ times higher than the national average.  Meanwhile, high levels of carcinogens were found in our water wells in south Wilmington that same year, 2003. Our drinking water wells were shut down immediately–but not soon enough.  The carcinogen would never have even been sampled for if no one raised the question. Fortunately, someone did: Suzanne Sullivan. It is vital to ask these questions no matter how difficult or uncomfortable they are.  Otherwise, we will never know how to properly control the contamination that continues to sit on the Olin site today. Suzanne is not afraid to ask those difficult questions.So let us ask some of those questions.  Has Wilmington been responsive to this tragedy? Yes—- Wilmington tested and acknowledged problems stemming from one of its contaminated waste sites, and opposed the New England Transrail  plan for redevelopment. Is there still more to do? Absolutely! I, for one, do not want this issue buried for obvious reasons. There is no one better qualified to state how difficult it is to talk about this.  I didn’t want to believe this of my town. We must complete the ongoing studies of the groundwater contamination in south Wilmington and the childhood cancer study my family participated in almost twenty years ago! We must document them for future reference and learn from past mistakes so it will never happen again.  Wilmington has a chance to resolve and complete these studies in order to prevent further contamination of our land and our homes before this site can be used again. We have come far; but we need to finalize these studies in order to understand and take the next step toward completion of this process.  This issue has been held back far too long; progress forward must be our goal; it is time for our town to be a town that truly cares for its future development and more importantly, the citizens it has been elected to represent, protect and champion. Wilmington needs people with a strong background in community service. This is just one reason I will be casting my vote for Suzanne Sullivan and her continued service to this town.  She was one of those individuals who came into my life when my son was so ill, and I saw firsthand how she truly cares. Her knowledge and passion for what the needs of the town are can only benefit Wilmington’s future needs and the needs of its citizens.  Even when it means taking a less popular stance on issues. This town must have a well-rounded Board of Selectmen willing to explore all options and then make informed decisions.  Suzanne understands the needs of the town and has the knowledge and foresight to get things done. She is not just a one-issue candidate, however.  Her dedication and strong work ethic shows through with her continued involvement in various community concerns since her last tenure on the Board of Selectmen.  Her knowledge, dedication and foresight to serve her constituents in all aspects of community will only serve to improve the quality of life in Wilmington. Suzanne Sullivan deserves a seat on the BOS and we deserve the right to have someone who is willing to work for all the citizens of Wilmington on many of its hard issues.  Lee BrooksLike Wilmington Apple on Facebook. Follow Wilmington Apple on Twitter. Follow Wilmington Apple on Instagram. Subscribe to Wilmington Apple’s daily email newsletter HERE. Got a comment, question, photo, press release, or news tip? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com.Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… RelatedLETTER TO THE EDITOR: Selectman Mike McCoy Endorses Suzanne Sullivan For SelectwomanIn “Letter To The Editor”A VOTER’S GUIDE To Selectwoman Candidate Suzanne SullivanIn “Government”SELECTMEN DEBATE RECAP: Bendel, Caira, Fasulo, Maselli & Sullivan Debate The Issues (with VIDEO)In “Government”last_img read more

  • Syria peace talks restart in Geneva

    first_imgUnited Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (L) greets Syrian government negociator Bashar al-Jaafari ® before a meeting during Intra Syria talks at the UN in Geneva. Photo: AFPA new round of Syria peace talks opened on Tuesday in Geneva, the latest United Nations push to resolve a six-year conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people.Five previous rounds of UN-backed negotiations have failed to yield concrete results and hopes for a major breakthrough remain dim.Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has strengthened his position on the ground, with the rebels reeling from a major setback in the capital Damascus.Assad has also recently called the Geneva process “null”, telling Belarus’s ONT channel that it had become “merely a meeting for the media”.The Syrian leader has however given more credit to a separate diplomatic track in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, which is being led by his allies Russia and Iran along with opposition supporter Turkey.The Astana track produced a May 4 deal to create four “de-escalation” zones across some of Syria’s bloodiest battlegrounds.The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has dismissed suggestions that the Astana negotiations were overshadowing the Geneva track.“We’re working in tandem” he told reporters on Monday.Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari was holding an initial meeting with de Mistura at the UN on Tuesday.The main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), led by Nasr al-Hariri and Mohammad Sabra, was due to meet the UN envoy later in the day.The UN negotiations are focused on four separate “baskets”: governance, a new constitution, elections and combating “terrorism” in the war-ravaged country.With Assad’s negotiators and the HNC expected to be in the Swiss city until the weekend, de Mistura said he wanted to drill down on several issues in hopes of generating solid proposals.But one issue—Assad’s fate—remains a daunting roadblock.The HNC has insisted the president’s ouster must be part of any political transition, a demand unacceptable to the Syrian regime.Regime gains in DamascusAron Lund, a fellow at The Century Foundation, said the Geneva talks were revolving around the “dead end” issue of Assad and were not “moving forward in any visible way.”De Mistura, who has lasted as Syria envoy far longer than his two predecessors, has consistently tried to resist pessimism.The alternative to peace talks is “no discussion (and) no hope”, he said.The opposition position has weakened since the last round ended on March 31 after the government secured the evacuation of three rebel-held districts, bringing it closer to exerting full control over the capital for the first time since 2012.Another shifting force influencing the talks is the role of the United States, an erstwhile opposition supporter that largely withdrew from the process under President Donald Trump.De Mistura said Monday he was “encouraged by the increasing engagement, the increasing interest, by the US administration in finding a de-escalation”.However, Washington late Monday warned Russia to not turn a blind eye to Assad’s alleged crimes, with the State Department releasing satellite images that it said backed up reports of mass killings at a Syrian jail.The head of the opposition delegation to the talks welcomed the US statement, but complained it had come too late.“This is but a drop in the ocean. What happens in the regime’s prisons is much uglier than this,” Nasr al-Hariri said.last_img read more

  • 500000 Rohingya children face uncertainty

    first_imgTen Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village. Photo: ReutersHalf a million Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar are anxious about their futures as they have little access to education.“The obligation we have as a global society is immense to give children and young people the world has defined as ‘stateless’, the education and skills they need to build decent lives for themselves,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.She made the remark following a two-day mission to Cox’s Bazar on 25-26 February with the United Nations secretary general’s humanitarian envoy, Ahmed Al Meraikhi, according to a press release of UNICEF.“This is crucial work, but a drop in the bucket of need. This is an untenable situation,” Fore said. “A generation of Rohingya children and young people cannot be left without the education and skills to build a life for them. If they become self-sustaining, their communities will also become self-sustaining, and flourish. With the right investment, the Rohingya can be an asset to their community and to the world.”The massive humanitarian effort led by the government with international support has saved countless children’s lives.There is no viable solution in sight for these Rohingya children, who live in the world’s largest and most congested refugee settlement. The vast majority were forced to flee for their lives from Myanmar into Bangladesh in August 2017.In Myanmar, the majority have no legal identity or citizenship. In Bangladesh, children are not being registered at birth, they lack a legal identity, and they lack a refugee status.Until conditions in Myanmar lead to those eligible returning home, Rohingya children remain status-less minority. This excludes these children from learning a formal education curriculum and they are desperately in need of marketable skills.The results of a survey completed in December 2018 of 180,000 Rohingya children between four and 14 years old now enrolled in “Learning Centers” across the Cox’s Bazar area, show the extent of the need for education.More than 90 per cent were shown to have learning competencies at the pre-primary to grades 1-2 level. Just 4 per cent were at grade levels 3-5, and 3 per cent at grades 6-8. By the end of 2018, just 3 per cent of Rohingya between 15 and 24 years old were getting any education or vocational skills.“We must agree now, and collectively, to invest in this generation of Rohingya children, so that they can better navigate their lives today, and be a constructive part of rebuilding Myanmar’s social fabric when they are able to return,” said Al Meraikhi. “Today, without a legal identity, they are at the mercy of traffickers and drug dealers.”UNICEF is now reaching 155,000 children between four and 14 years with a learning programme that includes higher quality and more structured learning and skills. The priority for 2019 is to reach older adolescents with foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, and relevant vocational skills. There will also be a much stronger focus on support for the local host community in Cox’s Bazar, one of the poorest districts.UNICEF Bangladesh appeals for $152 million in 2019 to provide 685,000 Rohingya refugees and host community residents with critical support.As of February, UNICEF receives 29 per cent of the fund against the appeal.last_img read more

  • Sandra Blands Mom Returns To Texas To Urge Police Reforms

    first_imgAP Phoro/Kiichiro SatoFILE — Geneva Reed-Veal, left, mother of Sandra Bland, a black Chicago-area woman who died in a Texas jail after a contentious traffic stop last summer, talks about the $1.9 million settlement in their wrongful death lawsuit, at family’s attorney’s office, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, in Chicago. Bland died in her cell at the Waller County Jail three days after she was arrested by a white Texas state trooper for a minor traffic offense in July 2015. Her death was ruled a suicide, and Bland’s family later sued the county and the Texas Department of Public Safety.The mother of a black woman who died in a jail near Houston following a confrontational traffic stop in 2015 returned to Texas on Tuesday to back a sweeping police reform bill named after her daughter that influential law enforcement groups are fighting.It was the first time the family of Sandra Bland, whose death became a flashpoint in the national Black Lives Matter movement, has testified before Texas lawmakers who meet only once every two years. The “Sandra Bland Act” as drafted would revamp racial profiling laws, officer training and other police accountability measures.Bland was found dead in a jail outside Houston three days after being pulled over by a white state trooper for not signaling a lane change. Her death was ruled a suicide and the trooper, who pulled Bland out of her car while threatening her with a stun gun, was fired.“I need this bill to move forward so that it will prove to people who say that Texas is the most awful state to live in. And to me that’s true, because Texas is a place of pain for me,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, who lives in the Chicago area. “So I need you to think about what you have the power and ability to do today.”She went on to tell the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee that the legislation wasn’t anti-police.“I don’t hate police. I hate the fact that we do not understand that this has been going on for too long by those who have been charged to serve and protect us,” she said.But the bill faces obstacles to reaching the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott with less than two months before the Texas Legislature adjourns until 2019. Police associations oppose key provisions, including one that would prohibit drivers being arrested for low-level misdemeanors that are punishable only by fines.Enhanced police protections — and not police accountability — is also the priority of Republican leaders in the Texas this year after a sniper killed five Dallas police officers last summer. The Texas Senate has already passed bills that would provide $25 million to purchase bullet-resistant vests for police and create an alert system that would notify the public when an officer is wounded or killed.Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman, who is carrying the bill, acknowledged he wrote the original, lengthy legislation filed in March with a “bias against police” but said he is now committed to working with law enforcement groups and negotiating changes.“This is the best way to make progress that is not punitive to those who protect us,” Coleman said. Sharelast_img read more

  • How A South Texas Bureaucrat Became A Multimillionaire Amid The Rush To

    first_imgCourtesy The MonitorThe county is now suing Godfrey Garza, the former general manager of Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1, claiming he should not have received a commission on the federal money — and that he should have disclosed that project contractors hired his children’s company to work on the project.A decade ago, Congress gave officials at the Department of Homeland Security a year to build 60 miles of fence in the Rio Grande Valley to protect the Texas-Mexico border.They faced determined resistance. Political leaders denounced the border fence as wasteful and ineffective. Landowners refused to sell their property for its construction. Environmentalists argued it would slice up habitat for endangered species in one of the most biodiverse regions in the country.The officials found a savior in a politically savvy bureaucrat named Godfrey Garza Jr.A shrewd county insider, Garza ran an obscure agency that had plans to repair 22 miles of crumbling dirt levees running along the Rio Grande, the riverine border between Texas and Mexico. Garza helped negotiate a deal: If Homeland Security would pay to fix the levees, the feds could build their fence on top of them.For Homeland Security, it was simple, one-stop shopping — no protests, no environmental hurdles, no need to buy land. Over the next several years, the federal government poured more than $174 million into the bank accounts of the Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 to build a fortified levee. The result was unique among the 654 miles of fence constructed by the agency across the U.S.-Mexico border: a looming, 15-foot-high vertical wall of concrete, topped in places by another 18 feet of rusty metal fence.What the federal government didn’t know was that Garza negotiated an unusual contract with county commissioners that earned him 1.5 percent of every dollar the drainage district spent on the levee project — in addition to his six-figure salary. In the end, Garza’s personal yield totaled at least $3.5 million, according to county records.The payouts didn’t stop there. To oversee the project, the drainage district hired Texas construction giant Dannenbaum Engineering, whose chief executive is one of the biggest GOP donors in the state. Dannenbaum and other project contractors, in turn, subcontracted with a company owned by Garza’s children — and later his wife — sending at least a million dollars to his family.In its haste to beat the congressional deadline, Homeland Security failed to follow basic safeguards designed to protect public money, according to a Texas Tribune and ProPublica review of previously unreleased court files, sworn depositions, emails and public records. The federal government also ignored repeated warnings that Garza was personally enriching himself and his family with federal dollars, the review found.The project left behind shredded accounting records, allegations of hush money in the form of tickets to a Pitbull concert and concerns over the possible drowning of ocelots, the review found.Homeland Security’s grant to the county for the levee-fence called for “substantial federal involvement” and required the the agency to approve all contractors and subcontractors on the project. But Homeland Security officials have told Hidalgo County that they did not know about Garza’s compensation agreement or the payments to his family’s firm until the county launched its own investigation in 2014, according to county officials.The federal government also paid little heed when a local whistleblower stepped forward to report her concerns over Garza’s deal. The district’s chief financial officer went to the FBI as early as 2008 and to Homeland Security several years later. Even as project costs doubled, the agency continued to send money into a region infamous for its corrupt patronage politics.In fact, Homeland Security officials suggested that it would not probe too deeply into how the drainage district spent the money as long as the work got done on time.“We expect the County will do whatever it takes to complete the concrete wall segments by December 01, 2008,” the agency wrote just before approving the deal with Garza and the drainage district.Now, a decade later, Homeland Security is refusing Hidalgo County’s request for the final $2.9 million reimbursement for the project, accusing the county of failing to perform due diligence.The county, in turn, is suing Garza in state district court in Hidalgo County for breach of contract and conspiracy to commit fraud as it tries to recover some of the money it asserts was misspent on payments to Garza and his family. Garza has counter-sued, alleging the county owes him more than $1 million in back pay.Garza has defended his actions by saying that everything he did was approved by county attorneys and by the Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court, which convenes as the Hidalgo Drainage District No. 1 when making decisions about local drainage issues. He said his fee applied to any construction costs incurred by the drainage district — whether federal or local money was involved.His supporters portrayed the contract as a cost-savings arrangement. Garza would provide the drainage district with the expertise of a highly experienced manager. In return, the county would only have to pay him a 1.5 percent fee, instead of the 3 percent to 5 percent charged by professional engineers on contracts.“The contract was nothing but transparent and was approved by the entire board,” Garza wrote in a letter to current County Judge Ramon Garcia.Reached by phone, Garza referred further questions to his attorney, Ethan L. Shaw, who called the whistleblower an unreliable witness upset by bad job performance reviews from Garza. He also said the federal government made no objections to Garza’s compensation package.“I’m personally unaware of the federal government ever objecting, even to this day,” he said.A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversaw the project for Homeland Security, said the agency carefully reviewed spending on the levee-fence project. He said the agency had no role in hiring the contractors who built it.The drainage district “was responsible for awarding and administering all contracts associated with design and construction for the levee wall project,” said the CBP spokesman, who requested anonymity.Callie Richmond for The Texas TribuneThe border fence sits atop a levee on the periphery of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo County in February 2017.Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff did not return repeated requests for comment on a detailed list of questions.Hidalgo County officials do not dispute approving Garza’s 1.5 percent fee as part of his compensation package. But they say the fee applied only to county money, not federal dollars. They also said they were not aware that contractors on the project had hired Garza’s sons’ company.Former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, the county’s top elected official when Garza’s package was approved, said the board trusted Garza to do what was right.“Obviously, I didn’t micromanage,” said Salinas, now a corporate lobbyist for AT&T. “I’m not sure the day-to-day operations of what he was doing. As far as I remember, he did a good job.”The rainmakerA Detroit native, Garza went to high school in the Valley, served in the military and returned to southern Texas to take classes at the local University of Texas campus.He worked for local engineering firms before he was hired as the drainage district’s general manager in the late 1990s, according to a sworn deposition from Garza filed in the county’s lawsuit against him. It might not have been the most exciting place to work, but in Hidalgo County, it was one of the most important.Like all counties in the lower Rio Grande Valley, Hidalgo was prone to destructive floods. Texas’ southernmost tip is a flat, fertile delta wedged between the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico, making it vulnerable to inundation from both hurricanes and the river.The drainage district was created to lessen the impact of such disasters. Garza oversaw a network of hundreds of miles of ditches designed to draw floodwater toward the Gulf. He had tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money at his disposal every year.While county commissioners — acting as the drainage district board — had ultimate authority, they rarely questioned recommendations from Garza, who called himself the “eyes and ears” of the commission and was considered the county’s foremost expert on drainage issues.“He’s been in the Valley for 30 years,” said Mark Lupher, an executive with TEDSI Infrastructure Group, which did work on the levee-fence project. “He’s about as clean a man as you can find.”On Oct. 3, 2000, Garza resigned from his position. The same day, the drainage district board voted to give an exclusive contract to a company called Integ Inc. to take over the duties of general manager. Integ’s president and sole owner was Garza.It was an unusual deal, but the district’s elected officials had an explanation. By increasing Garza’s pay and allowing him to pursue outside opportunities, the board said it prevented Garza from leaving and retained his expertise on drainage issues.To outsiders, it looked as though no change had taken place — Garza still ran the district. He still had a county office, a county email address and county staff that reported to him.But Garza’s bank account told a different story. When he resigned in 2000, Garza had been making an annual salary of $71,715. After he became a contractor, the amount the drainage district paid Integ each year quickly ballooned. By 2006, his total compensation was $134,573, including allowances for a car and cell phone.That summer, Garza told the drainage district commissioners that the district’s levees and drainage network needed $563 million worth of repairs.The levees had been constructed decades before, more than 100 miles of dirt mounded 15 feet high, paralleling the Rio Grande. They were all that stood between Hidalgo County’s 700,000 residents and the river, and they were in poor shape.Garza convinced the drainage board to put a $100 million bond measure on the fall ballot, with $10 million devoted to fix the levees. He started driving up and down the county, making presentations to different towns and cities to convince voters to approve the measure.In September 2006, his campaign got an unexpected boost. The Federal Emergency Management Agency — concerned about the nation’s levees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — informed the county that it was going to declare that the aging levees would not withstand a sizeable flood on the Rio Grande. County officials estimated that if FEMA designated the county’s levee system unsafe, flood insurance costs for homeowners and businesses would soar by as much as $150 million per year.That November, the voters in one of poorest counties in the nation overwhelmingly approved a tax increase to finance the bond.As Garza mapped how to spend the bond money, he figured out how he could earn some of it for himself. In February 2007, just months after the bond’s passage, Garza negotiated a new contract with the county.It was similar to his previous contracts, but with one lucrative difference: On top of his six-figure salary, Garza’s company would also collect 1.5 percent of every dollar spent on construction costs for projects in the county’s master drainage plan — which included levee repairs. A year later, when Garza began to work with Homeland Security to fix the levees and build the fence, he reasoned that his company’s commission extended to that project, too.At the time of the vote, county officials heard testimony from another engineering firm that they were getting a deal because a typical engineering manager charged 4 percent to 5 percent of construction costs. With little debate, Salinas and the rest of the board approved the new contract.A month later, Salinas and Garza journeyed to Washington, D.C. They were accompanied by a representative from Dannenbaum, which had been selected by the board to do the levee repairs. The group met with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and other elected officials and asked for federal money to help fix the levees. Cuellar assured them he would help.“This visit to Washington, D.C. will pay big dividends for Hidalgo County taxpayers in the near future,” Cuellar declared, according to a press release from his office.Cuellar did not respond to requests for comment.A hunt for moneyThe drainage district’s hunt for cash happened to coincide with the federal government’s hunt for land.A month after the Hidalgo delegation’s trip to the capital, Chertoff approvedfinal plans for the footprint of the border fence. It would rise along 700 miles of the nation’s 2,000-mile long border with Mexico. Nearly 60 miles would be builtin Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.There, Homeland Security officials knew they faced a special challenge. Residents of the mostly poor, mostly Hispanic and mostly Democratic Rio Grande Valley were opposed to the border fence, and most of the land the government needed was in private hands.That meant the agency was going to have to seize property by using eminent domain — a process that would take time and cost money since the government had to pay compensation for any land taken.The Homeland Security task force charged with building the fence, called the Secure Border Initiative, was determined to avoid delays.“This project must be completed by December 01, 2008,” read task force notesfrom early 2008. “There will be no time extensions.” The deadline, inserted by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, was designed to ensure the fence was complete before George W. Bush left office in 2009, according to one of her former senior staffers. Hutchison, now the U.S. ambassador to NATO, declined comment.Salinas saw the benefits of helping the federal government build its fence — if it was combined with the county’s planned levee repairs.“If they used the money to fix our levees, we get one, jobs, two, we fix our levees and they’re not going to break, three, we get mandatory flood insurance lifted from some of the most humble people in the United States,” Salinas said in an interview. “You minimize the amount of land the federal government is going to grab, right?”Customs and Border Protection officials didn’t initially embrace the idea.Chief Ron Vitiello, then head of the Rio Grande Valley sector, now CBP’s acting deputy commissioner, wrote a memo to headquarters after meeting with Garza, Salinas and Texas Sen. John Cornyn warning that the levee-fence idea would be “hugely more expensive.”In November, the agency made its position official. The combination border fence and levee fix “was not considered a viable alternative, and will not be carried forward,” the agency declared.But the politicians were not ready to give up.Ready to move forwardIn the following months, Texas’ political establishment lobbied Homeland Security to approve the levee fence. Hidalgo County and local cities passed resolutions in favor of the project. Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote directly to Chertoff to praise it. Cornyn called it a “win for Valley residents.”After meetings in December 2007 and January of the following year, officials with the Secure Border Initiative warmed to the deal, even as Customs and Border Protection officials continued to express concerns.On a typically balmy day in the Rio Grande Valley in February 2008, Chertoff flew down to Edinburg to make it official. With Cornyn and Perry by his side, Chertoff announced what he called a “win-win” for federal and local government.Homeland Security would pay Hidalgo County to build the levee-fence, which would stretch for 22 miles — roughly a third of the total border fence miles scheduled for the Rio Grande Valley. Hidalgo would kick in some money and make sure the project was completed on time. Under the initial terms of the deal, Hidalgo would pay $48.2 million from local bond money, while the federal government added $67.7 million.“I don’t want anyone to mistake the fact that we are determined to get this job done,” Chertoff said during a news conference.One problem remained: Nobody knew exactly how to get the money to Hidalgo County. Congress had appropriated funds for a border fence, not a levee. Homeland Security had no contractors ready to go. Finally, required environmental reviews could take years and drive up the project’s cost.“This was a pretty big deal and a lot of money,” said Greg Giddens, head of the task force and a longtime federal employee. “We were concerned. How was the county going to do this with proper management and oversight?”The answer came from Tiffany Hixson, a top procurement specialist at Homeland Security. The agency could issue a grant to Hidalgo County, she suggested. The money would flow directly to the county, and Homeland Security would rely on county officials to issue contracts to build the project.A senior Homeland Security official called Garza and told him to file a grant application. It would be approved.“Call Hidalgo and tell them we can do this,” the senior official told colleagues at a meeting at the end of March, according to a partly redacted email. The official gave verbal approval to spend tens of millions of dollars, an almost unheard of act in the paper-loving federal bureaucracy.In April 2008, Chertoff used special powers granted to him by Congress to overcome final hurdles to the deal. He declared that in Hidalgo County, the federal government could mingle federal funds appropriated to build the border fence with the county’s money to repair the levees. He also waived all environmental regulations.Callie Richmond for The Texas TribuneScott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign, stands in front of a concrete levee topped by the border fence in Hidalgo County. Environmentalists, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, say the barrier endangers wildlife because animals can’t reach dry land during floods.The following month, Hixson issued the grant. To ensure “substantial federal involvement,” the grant required DHS to approve “sub-awards/subcontracts and changes to contract and sub-contracts prior to execution.”All of the money would pass through the hands of a man who stood to directly benefit from the spending: Garza.As the checks flew from the U.S. Treasury into a special account at the First National Bank of Edinburg, the federal government’s costs quickly soared. The project was more complex than anticipated. The drainage district, run by Garza, requested and received additional funds. Homeland Security added additional miles of levee-fence to the project.The overall bill for the project ballooned over the next several years to $232 million. The drainage district paid out $58 million. The federal share came to $174.4 million — more than double the original agreement.Garza’s company’s commission: $3.5 million from 2008 to 2012, documents show. Most of the rest of the money flowed to Dannenbaum Engineering and other construction companies on the project.The companyDannenbaum, which builds highways, airports, bridges and housing developments throughout Texas, had earned a reputation for generosity to the Republican Party. Since 2006, records show, CEO Jim Dannenbaum and his wife have contributed $2.8 million to candidates in local, state and national elections, 88 percent of it to members of the GOP.Records show the drainage district selected Dannenbaum as project leader. Dannebaum, in turn, subcontracted with a company called Valley Data Collection Specialists — a manpower agency that provided engineering, construction and mapping experts, among other services. Other contractors on the levee-fence project did the same.At the time, Valley Data was owned by Garza’s two sons, Godfrey Garza III and Jonathan Garza, public records show. Later, company ownership passed to Garza’s wife, Annie Garza.Beyond kinship, Garza’s Integ Inc. and Valley Data were intertwined in other ways: The two companies shared office space at one time. And Integ once provided Valley Data with an interest-free loan of around $100,000, according to court depositions filed by Garza and his wife.Lupher, of TEDSI Infrastructure Group, said many construction firms in the Rio Grande Valley employed Valley Data at one time or another. He said he knew the company was owned by Garza’s sons but never felt any pressure to hire the firm.“I needed a crew. So I used them,” Lupher said in a brief interview.Garza said “a lot of the elected officials” also knew about his familial ties to Valley Data.“It was not something that was being hid by anybody,” Garza said in his deposition. County commissioners “would attend political functions, barbecues, because they were working with some of the engineers, so the elected officials were aware.”A lawyer representing Annie, Jonathan and Godfrey Garza III did not respond to a request for comment.It remains unclear how much Dannenbaum and the other subcontractors paid Valley Data. County lawyers overseeing the lawsuit against Garza say it could be as much as $15 million.In April, FBI agents raided Dannenbaum offices across the state, including in McAllen. Neither the FBI nor the company would comment on the raids.Bill Miller, a spokesman for Dannenbaum and one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists, noted the company was not a defendant in the county’s lawsuit regarding the levee-fence. He turned down a request for an interview with Jim Dannenbaum.“All work for the levee improvement project was approved by the county,” Miller said.Dannenbaum completed the project in spring 2009. It transformed Hidalgo County’s natural environment.During a major flood seven years ago, the levee-fence did its job, keeping the overflowing Rio Grande from inundating low-lying neighborhoods in Hidalgo County.But the towering structure drew criticism from environmentalists who worried that the new vertical concrete wall would impede the movement of endangered and threatened species.Callie Richmond for The Texas TribuneThe border fence and levee pass through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo. Share After the floodwaters receded in 2010, U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists reported that “hundreds” of Texas tortoise shells had been found along the new levee fence — the reptiles apparently drowned while attempting to reach dry land. The agency worried about the fate of the highly endangered small wildcats that call the region home, ocelots and jaguarundis.“The Service fears any ocelots or jaguarundi that may have been caught in these areas when water began to rise may have been malnourished, injured or perished,” the report said.Concerns about the operations and financing of the levee-fence project remained hidden — at least, until Lora Briones decided to start talking.The whistleblowerA no-nonsense county employee, Briones had been hired as the chief financial officer of the drainage district in November 2003.One of her jobs was to calculate the 1.5 percent fee due to Garza, who provided her the invoices she needed to figure out the total, according to a sworn deposition Briones provided as part of the county’s lawsuit against Garza. She regularly sent checks to his firm, knowing that the compensation arrangement had been laid out in his contract and approved by the drainage district.Then, in early 2009, with federal money flowing into the district for the levee-fence project, Garza gave her a mass of invoices. Briones found herself writing an enormous check to Integ Inc.: $1.67 million.It struck her as strange and excessive, according to her deposition. She said she thought Garza’s contract called for the commission to be paid on county — not federal — dollars.Her concerns about Garza were further aroused by a private conversation she had with an administrative employee at Dannenbaum, who told Briones that the firm had hired Valley Data as a subcontractor on the project, according to Briones’ deposition.Briones was afraid to confront Garza directly — he was, after all, her boss. She said she decided instead to pay a visit to the FBI’s local office in McAllen, where she brought check registers, according to her deposition. She said she made several additional visits but never received any indication that the agency would investigate. An FBI spokeswoman declined to respond when asked if the agency had any record of the visits.A year later, Briones said she went to the county auditor. He told her he didn’t have the authority to audit the drainage district, according to a statement he provided the county. Garza had earlier convinced the drainage board to hire an outside auditor.At last, Briones said she decided to air her concerns directly to Homeland Security. She spoke to Scott Recinos, a Homeland Security contractor who visited Hidalgo County to monitor progress on the levee-fence project. In her deposition, she says Recinos told her he already knew about Garza’s commission arrangement, as did Hixson, the grant manager.According to a sworn affidavit that Briones signed in 2014, she said that Recinos said Hixson “was livid and that she could not believe he (Godfrey Garza) was getting money. Further, she said that this is something that could come out in 60 Minutes,” the popular investigative television show.In her deposition, Briones had trouble specifying the date of the conversation with Recinos. She told county attorneys that it took place between late 2012 and early 2014. Briones declined to comment. Neither Recinos nor Hixson responded to requests for comment.In 2014, Garza began berating Briones over her job performance — a step that Briones took as retaliation for her whistleblowing, according to her deposition.Briones feared for her job. Luckily for her, an election had brought in a new county judge, whose job included an automatic seat on the drainage district board — and he had his own suspicions about Garza’s deal. His name was Ramon Garcia.The unravelingGarcia had served as county judge from 2003 to 2006. During that time, he had strongly supported the $100 million bond to fix the county’s drainage issues. He returned to office in 2010 with an overriding question: Where had the money gone?His inquiries eventually led him to Briones, who told him the same concerns she had related to the FBI, the county auditor and Homeland Security. Garcia had voted to approve Garza’s contract and knew about the 1.5 percent commission. But after speaking to Briones, he began to investigate why Garza had received a commission on a project largely bankrolled by the federal government. And why Garza hadn’t disclosed that Valley Data was a subcontractor on the project.With backing from the drainage board, Garcia acted quickly.He hired a private attorney to analyze Garza’s contract. He changed Briones’ job so that she reported directly to the board, rather than to Garza. And he began to ask Garza tough questions at drainage district meetings.At a December 2014 meeting, Garcia grilled Garza after discovering that the drainage district had destroyed more than 140 boxes of records since October 2013. Among the documents were accounting records, personnel files and information about the bond measure.Garza told Garcia there was “no malintention” and that the destruction of the records was mere housecleaning. When Garcia continued to press, Garza introduced his secretary, Sylvia Sanchez, and stepped back from the podium.“Sylvia, my question is: Who made the decision to shred these documents?” Garcia asked.“I did,” Sanchez said, explaining that the records were old and, besides, the county was running out of space to store them.In her deposition, Briones testified that Sanchez took the fall for Garza’s decision to shred the records. As a reward, she said, Garza gave Sanchez tickets to a Pitbull concert. Sanchez did not respond to a request for comment.In a brief phone interview, Garza said Briones’ account was untrue.Shaw, his attorney, questioned Briones’ credibility. He noted that she had difficulty recalling the dates of her whistleblowing complaints and described the concert ticket allegation as false and “pretty bizarre.”Briones retaliated against Garza after he gave her negative performance evaluations, he said. And he noted that the drainage district’s attorney, Steven Crain, had ruled that Garza could apply his commission to federal money spent on the levee-fence.He emphasized that Hidalgo County commissioners had repeatedly approved Garza’s contract and said the board was aware that Valley Data Services was hired for the project.“County commissioners are basically saying, ‘Godfrey Garza tricked us into paying him,’” Shaw said. “It’s hard for me to understand how he was able to hypnotize four or five county commissioners to get them to do what he wanted to do.”Local watchdog groups were angry at Garza — and the county commissioners who approved his compensation deal.“When it hit us — what had happened and how much ridiculous money he was getting — we realized that every single one of the commissioners and [County Judge J.D. Salinas] signed off on it,” said Virginia Townsend, co-founder of Objective Watchers of the Legal System — or OWLS. “You were the people in charge, and you sat there and went along with it.”By late 2014, newspaper editorial boards and watchdog groups were calling for Garza’s ouster. He resigned in February 2015. A few months later, Garza started another business — GG Consulting — whose clients include some of the engineering firms that hired Valley Data, according to his court deposition.In May 2015, Michael Lee, the private attorney hired to examine Garza’s contract, delivered his report. It confirmed Garcia’s suspicions: While the county had indeed approved Garza’s contract, the 1.5 percent fee was supposed to apply only to local bond money, not Homeland Security funds. A later report showed that Garza also had failed to disclose to the drainage board that contractors had hired his family’s company for the levee-fence project.To Garcia, it looked as though both the county and the federal government had been hoodwinked by an entrenched bureaucrat. In January 2017, the drainage board filed the lawsuit against Garza to recover the misdirected money.Meanwhile, Garcia was trying to convince Homeland Security to release a $2.9 million payment to the drainage district it had withheld over a technical issue dealing with the start date of construction work on the levee fence.Homeland Security officials asked to see the county’s documentation on Garza’s contract. After reading Lee’s report, the officials told Garza they were reluctant to give the county any more money.In a November 2016 conference call, a Homeland Security contracting official told Garcia that Garza’s 1.5 percent commission was probably prohibited by federal law, according to two people familiar with the call — apparently referring to regulations that generally forbid the federal government from paying a fixed percentage of contract costs.It didn’t matter that Homeland Security had signed the deal with Garza years before. Or that the agency was required to approve all contractors and subcontractors on the levee-fence project.Another Homeland Security official on the call told Garcia the federal government was not inclined to pay out any more money to the county, given the “conflict of interest” with Garza and his family’s firm, the people familiar with the call said. The officials also expressed frustration about the increase in project costs under Garza’s watch.Today, Hidalgo’s drainage system still needs tens of millions of dollars in repairs. The county’s lawsuit against Garza is scheduled to go to trial in late February.Looking back, Garcia said he wished that the county — and the federal government — had done more to investigate Garza and his actions.“We relied on him,” Garcia said. “We expected him to act in the best interests of the district. Obviously, he didn’t do that.”last_img read more

  • State of mind

    first_imgOxford Bookstore Connaught Place hosted the eighth edition of Zubaan, series of critical conversations, How Juvenile is Juvenile, on 25 August. The panelists included Joachim Theis (Chief Child Protection, UNICEF India), Achal Bhagat (psychiatrist and psychotherapist), Suneeta Dhar (Director, JAGORI), Atiya Bose (Director, Policy and Advocacy, AANGAN Trust). The discussion was moderated by Enakshi Ganguly Thukral (Co-founder and Co-director, HAQ Centre for Child Rights). Also Read – ‘Playing Jojo was emotionally exhausting’The session focussed on certain question like – Who is a juvenile and who is not? Can age be the only defining factor to determine an issue that has such wide ranging implications and ramifications? How does one look at the juvenile justice act that is currently under discussion? How will it impact consensual sex? Will it bring greater number of people under the ambit of the criminal law? How do we look upon the issue of ‘maturity’ and ‘criminality’ in a young person? Is not the idea of a ‘heinous offender’ of 16 years a reflection of a society determined to punish rather than reform? Can we ensure safety of women and society by punishing juvenile offenders like adults? Zubaan is an independent feminist publishing house based in New Delhi. It was set up as an imprint of India’s first feminist publishing house, Kali for women, and carries forward Kali’s tradition of publishing world quality books to high editorial and production standards. It works in the areas of the humanities, social sciences, as well as in fiction, general non-fiction, and books for children.last_img read more

  • Two straight men who are best friends have tied the knot to

    first_imgTwo heterosexual men in Ireland have tied the knot in the ultimate marriage of convenience.Matt Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan, who are both straight, married each other in order to avoid paying inheritance tax.  eTN Chatroom for Readers (join us) The move was totally legal too as O’Sullivan checked with police, revenue commissioners and a former attorney general who confirmed that he should have no issue regarding the tax when the time comes.Talking to the Irish Mirror, Murphy explained that O’Sullivan is “always so concerned about me”.O’Sullivan added about his older friend: “Eventually, Matt said the only way he could pay me was to leave me the house.“I told him that it was a great idea but that I would have to sell the house as I would have to pay inheritance tax, massive tax.”Related: Two straight Irish men plan to marry ‘to avoid inheritance tax’The father of two daughters and a son from previous relationships, added: “I love Matt… but not in a sexual way.“He’s one of the nicest people that anyone will ever meet in your life.”The couple officially wed in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital Registry Office in Dublin with 11 witnesses present.However, Murphy has said that his new husband is still allowed to date women.His family is on board, and asked whether he would tell women he will date about their marriage, he said: “Probably so, of course I have to tell her!”The Republic of Ireland legalised same-sex marriage in November 2015 six months after a majority of its citizens voted for it in a referendum.Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… Best friends Michael O’Sullivan and Matt Murphy ahead of civil marriage in order to avoid inheritance tax. More @IrishMirror pic.twitter.com/skGJLeqoxN— Emma McMenamy (@emmamcm) December 22, 2017The decision for the pair to marry came as 58-year-old O’Sullivan is the carer of his best friend, Murphy, 83.The two men have been neighbours and best friends for the past 30 years, and as Murphy grows older and struggles more with poor health he decided he wanted to make sure that his friend would be looked after.Murphy agreed that he would leave O’Sullivan his house after he passed away.Related: Why Bermuda’s ban on same-sex marriage will not live happily ever afterHowever, the pair realised that they would have to pay €50,000 in inheritance tax.So the pair decided to tie the knot in order to bypass the fee. Why do so many gay men get married to women in India?19 gay, lesbian and bi actors who gave amazing performances in straight rolesHow to find love and sex as a gay or bisexual man after 50PINK NEWS-last_img read more