Massachusetts officials on Wednesday announced plans to move millions of dollars in state investments out of some of the nation’s biggest banks to protest credit card interest rates.
State Treasurer Timothy Cahill said the state has removed Bank of America, Citi and Wells Fargo from a list of institutions approved for new state investments. Massachusetts, which is the only state to make such a move, is also beginning to divest $243 million in funds held at those banks, though the process could take up to six months.
“We want to bring some fairness into the issue,” said Cahill, who is running for governor. “I don’t think what we’re asking is . . . out of line.”
The announcement — made at a raucous rally on Capitol Hill organized by the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a network of religious and citizen advocacy groups — is part of a wave of consumer backlash over the banking industry’s role in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Congress has enacted sweeping credit card reforms that limit how and when issuers can raise rates and is in the midst of debating the creation of an agency dedicated to protecting consumer rights.
That has reignited advocacy groups that support creating a national usury law after a 1978 Supreme Court decision found that interest rate caps could apply only to state-chartered lenders. As a result, many banks moved their headquarters to states with looser usury laws, such as Delaware, allowing them to bypass limits set in other states.
Massachusetts law caps interest rates at 18 percent. In the fall, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization began urging officials from the state Treasury department to tackle the usury issue. Last week, state officials met with officials from Bank of America, where Massachusetts has $231 million in investments, to request that it meet that cap for state residents. When the bank declined, Cahill said, his office decided it would shift the funds into other accounts. Massachusetts also has $9 million invested with Citi and $3 million with Wells Fargo.
Spokespeople for Bank of America and Wells Fargo said their firms regretted the state’s decision. Bank of America noted that it charges interest rates of about 15 percent for about 70 percent of its customers. Citi did not return a call requesting comment. Credit card companies have said that they face higher costs from increased consumer delinquencies during the recession, which translates into higher interest rates for customers in good standing.
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) said Wednesday that he intends to introduce a 15 percent national cap on credit card interest rates through an amendment to the financial regulation reform bill being debated in the Senate. Six states, including Maryland, have considered bills this year that would have given community banks preference in providing government financial services, but none of them passed.
In Massachusetts, the state treasurer has sole authority over a $7 billion fund composed of contributions from municipalities; the investments at Bank of America, Citi and Wells Fargo are part of that fund. Cahill said the state still maintains other financial relationships with those banks, such as cash management.
Several other labor and religious groups also announced Wednesday that they plan to move money from large banks. Lutheran churches in Missouri said they moved $25 million in investments into community banks, while Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000 said it also would consider a shift.
“We’ve come to tell them all today: Time is up,” the Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, leader of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, said at the rally Wednesday. “Move those dollars,” the crowd chanted in response.
Two Palestinian citizens of Israel have won $8,000 in damages from Israel’s national carrier, El Al, after a court found that their treatment by the company’s security staff at a New York airport had been “abusive and unnecessary.”
Brothers Abdel Wahab and Abdel Aziz Shalabi were assigned a female security guard who watched over them at the airport’s departure gate for nearly two hours, in full view of hundreds of fellow passengers, after they had passed the security and baggage checks.
Later, El Al’s head of security threatened to bar Abdel Wahab, 43, from the flight if he did not apologize to the guard for going to the toilet without first getting her approval. Abdel Aziz said he had been humiliated and “cried like I’ve never cried before in public.”
Although surveys of Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise one-fifth of Israel’s population, show that most have suffered degrading treatment when flying with Israeli carriers, few bring cases to the Israeli courts.
The brothers are now planning to sue El Al and its New York staff in the United States over Israel’s racial profiling of passengers in a country where the practice is illegal.
“I’d rather go to New York by donkey than fly with El Al again,” said Abdel Aziz, 44. “We will keep fighting this case until Israel is embarrassed into stopping its policy of discriminating against its Arab citizens.”
The brothers, who live in northern Israel, were the only Arabs in a party of 17 Israeli insurance agents on a two-week business trip to Canada and New York in 2007.
They arrived four hours early at John F. Kennedy airport in New York for their return flight with Israir, an Israeli charter company, to allow time for the additional checks they expected from El Al’s security staff.
El Al has special agreements with most countries’ airports to carry out its own security checks for passengers flying with Israeli airlines.
The brothers said they were questioned, searched and had to wait two hours while their bags and carry-on luggage were subjected to lengthy inspections.
“The Jews with us went through in minutes,” said Abdel Aziz, in his home in the village of Iksal, near Nazareth. “The difference in treatment was very clear.”
After they had passed the checks, an El Al security guard, Keren Weinberg, was assigned to them until they boarded the plane. They were told to make sure she could see them at all times.
When Abdel Wahab visited a toilet without her permission, a noisy argument broke out between the two, with Weinberg accusing him of “roaming freely.” He said he told her to “either arrest me or go away.”
Ilan Or, the head of El Al security, was then called and issued him an ultimatum that he apologize or be prevented from catching the flight. Abdel Wahab told a magistrate’s court in Haifa this month that he broke down in tears and finally said he was sorry.
“I was in shock. One minute I was made to feel like a terrorist and then the next like a naughty child,” he said.
Judge Amir Toubi said the security staff had admitted that neither brother was deemed a security threat and that Israeli law did not allow checks to continue after passengers had passed the security area.
“With all due understanding of security needs, there is no justification for ignoring the dignity, freedom and basic rights of a citizen under the mantle of the sacred cow of security,” the judge ruled.
El Al told the court that it had been “asked by the state to conduct security checks abroad on behalf of [charter companies] Arkia and Israir airlines, and is acting under the security guidelines set by official bodies of the state.”
Abdel Wahab praised the court’s decision but said the damages were minor and would not act as a deterrent against El Al repeating such behavior in the future. He said the brothers would appeal to a higher court in Israel and were planning to initiate a legal action in New York, too.
“I will not rest until we get an apology from El Al and they acknowledge that what they did is wrong,” he said. He called on all Arab citizens to boycott El Al until it committed to stop its discriminatory policy.
A 2007 report on racial profiling by Israeli carriers, published by the Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism, concluded: “This phenomenon is so widespread that it is hard to find any Arab citizen who travels abroad by air and who has not experienced a discriminatory security check at least once.”
The two groups found that Arab and Muslim passengers typically faced long interrogations and extensive luggage searches, and were also regularly subjected to body and strip searches, had items including computers confiscated, were kept in holding areas and were escorted directly on to the plane.
The report noted that foreign countries that allowed Israel to carry out its own security checks at their airports failed to supervise them and preferred to “ignore their discriminatory nature and the human rights violations committed on their own soil.”
New York’s JFK airport was one of the airports that refused to answer questions from the groups about incidents of discriminatory treatment of Arabs and Muslims.
Israel has also come under harsh criticism for the standard racial profiling policies it uses against its own Arab citizens and foreign Arab nationals at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
The practice of putting different color-coded stickers on Jewish and Arab passengers’ luggage ended three years ago. However, airport guards still write a number on uniform white stickers indicating the level of security threat. Critics say higher numbers are reserved for non-Jews.
Faced with a lawsuit from Israeli human rights groups, Menachem Mazuz, the attorney general at the time, instructed the airports authority in early 2008 to implement “visible equality” by ending discriminatory screening policies.
However, observers have noticed no change in practice. “This was a very cynical exercise. ‘Visible equality’ simply means making it look like there’s equality when the inequality persists,” said Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Association for Human Rights, based in Nazareth.
In December an airport official told the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper: “Profiling makes the biggest difference. A man with the name of Umar flying out of Tel Aviv, whether he is American or British, is going to get checked seven times.”
Two years ago Israel’s racial profiling policy made headlines when a member of an American dance troupe with a Muslim-sounding name was forced to dance at the airport to prove he was who he claimed.
The incident with the Shalabi brothers follows on the heels of a diplomatic crisis between Israel and South Africa over revelations that spies posing as El Al staff have been operating at Johannesburg airport, gathering information on non-Jewish passengers visiting Israel.
El Al has threatened to close the route after South African officials stopped providing the airport guards with diplomatic immunity.
South African TV reported last month that two of the Mossad assassins suspected of killing a Hamas commander in Dubai in January may have used Johannesburg airport to fly back to Israel.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
This optimistic statement was made on June 24, 1982 aboard a British Airways B-747 airliner bound from London for Auckland with stop-overs in Bombay, Madras, Kuala Lumpur, Perth and Melbourne.
The airliner, however, failed to reach its destination. At 8:40 p.m. Jakarta time, south of Java in the Indian Ocean, co-pilot Roger Greaves and flight engineer Barry Townley-Freeman noticed St. Elmo’s fire appearing on the windshield. St. Elmo’s fire is a special kind of coronal discharge originating from a high-voltage electrical field in the atmosphere. From inside it looked as though tracer bullets were hitting the plane. Soon the aircraft commander, Eric Moody, also noted the phenomenon. He had returned to the cockpit after a short absence.
As a rule, St. Elmo’s fire indicates thunderstorm clouds nearby, but the weather radar displayed nothing of the sort. Still, the crew switched on a de-icing system for safety’s sake and “fasten your belts” lights went on in the cabin.
There was no thunderstorm in the region, however. It appeared that the airliner, flying at an altitude of 11,000 meters, entered a cloud of volcanic ash suddenly spewed by the Javan volcano Galunggung.
Fumes began building in the passenger cabin. Knowing nothing of the volcano, the general conclusion was that it was cigarette smoking – in those days smoking was allowed on aircraft. Soon, however, the fumes thickened, setting off an alarm in the cabin. Crew members set about searching for the cause, but naturally failed to find any.
Meanwhile, many passengers looking out the aircraft windows spotted an unusually brilliant glow on the body surface and particularly on the engines as though each carried a lamp illuminating the way ahead through compressor blades, which created a stroboscopic effect. This glow came from electrified dust particles that had settled on the surface of engine nacelles and on the compressor blades.
At about 8:42 p.m. Jakarta time, engine No. 4 failed because of a flameout. The co-pilot and flight engineer went into the immediate procedure of shutting the engine down, cutting the fuel supply and, just in case, activating a fire-extinguishing system. In the meantime the commander handled the controls, trying to cope with uneven thrust.
The passengers also noticed long yellow glowing streaks emanating from the remaining engines. Less than a minute after shutting down engine No.4, there was a blowout in engine No.2, which also stopped.
Before the crew could initiate the process of cutting down the engine, there was a blowout in the remaining engines, No.1 and No.3, and the windshield went opaque. The flight engineer exclaimed: “I can’t believe it – all the engines have stopped.” It was at that moment that Eric Moody made the statement quoted at the beginning of the article – with a characteristically British sense of humor.
The heavy airliner headed back to Jakarta, hoping to make an emergency landing. But to reach the capital of Indonesia, it was necessary to re-start at least one engine. The alternative was ditching in the far from welcoming waters of the ocean filled with all kinds of dangers – high waves could make the rescue of the crew and passengers difficult, and strong currents could scatter the safety rafts far adrift, not to mention sharks.
An aircraft with a take-off weight of 380 tons became a glider. With the engines shut down, a Jumbo Jet (the nickname of the B-747) can glide 15 km per each kilometer in lost altitude. Commander Moody calculated that from an altitude of 11 km the airliner could glide for 23 minutes, covering a distance of 169 kilometers.
But the descent was more rapid. Air pressure in the cabin dropped: the cabin pressure compressors were driven by the engines which had stopped. Given these bleak realities, the plane was unlikely to negotiate the mountains and land in Jakarta. The crew began preparing to splashdown in the ocean.
The aircraft exited from an ash cloud at 8:56 p.m. Jakarta time, after about 13 minutes of gliding. At that point, it was at 12,000 feet in the air. At this height, the crew managed to fire one engine and then the three others (one engine, however, later went dead again when the Boeing climbed and reentered the cloud). The aircraft was able to successfully land in Jakarta.
The mechanics who broke down the engines found a great mass of molten ash in the turbines that had plugged the lines. All four engines had to be replaced.
Another volcanic incident also involved a Boeing-747, this time flown by KLM on the Amsterdam-Tokyo route. While on approach to Anchorage, Alaska, the airliner hit a cloud of ash spewed by the volcano Mt Redoubt. All four engines failed. But the aircraft captain, Karl van der Elst, managed to save the day – after descending more than 4,000 meters the crew succeeded in restarting the engines.
Both cases show the dangers of volcano eruptions for aircraft but in both cases the aircraft suddenly found themselves in dense ash clouds while in direct proximity to fire-spewing mountains where the concentration of hard particles was the highest.
At a considerable distance from a volcano, the ash concentration in the air falls off by many orders of magnitude, and such a large-scale closing of air space in Eurasia, following the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallojokull, is more reminiscent of hysteria than a real assessment of danger.
Seen against this background, the quiet operation of Russia’s Aeroflot, which continues its flights despite any volcanoes, is worth noting.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have today announced that two “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” leaders have been killed in an air strike carried out by American troops. A major flaw in the story that seems to have been overlooked, is that both of the men have already been reported captured and killed on several occasions, with U.S. officials also having previously declared one of them a “fictional character” that was invented by the other!
The Washington Post reports:
The deaths of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of an umbrella group that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, should disrupt insurgent attacks inside the country, officials said. Their slayings could also provide Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (pictured above) with a decisive political boost at a critical time.
“The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq said in a statement. “There is still work to do but this is a significant step forward in ridding Iraq [of] terrorists.”
The two insurgent leaders were said to have been killed on Saturday in a night raid involving Iraqi and American forces.
United States military officials confirmed that Iraqi security forces had killed the two men. “The death of these two terrorists is a potentially devastating blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq,” the American command said in a statement.
He (the Iraqi prime minister) said the house was destroyed, and the two bodies were found in a hole in the ground where they had apparently been hiding.
Bizarrely, the Reuters piece quotes the Iraqi prime minister pinpointing the location of the raid as “a house in Thar-Thar, a rural area 50 miles west of Baghdad that is regarded as a hotbed of Qaeda activity”, however, the Washington Post report quotes U.S. officials saying the raid occurred “a few miles southwest of Tikrit”. If you look at a map of Iraq, those two descriptions do not entirely add up, unless you consider “a few miles” to be over 100. Certainly a more specific location could have been given.
However, that is perhaps the least of the problems surrounding this story.
Anyone who reads the news should be feeling a profound sense of déjà vu, because almost a year ago to the day, al-Baghdadi was reported captured by Iraqi security forces. His arrest was confirmed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the same man now purporting that Baghdadi has been killed in a raid.
Al-Baghdadi was the replacement al-CIA-da boogie man for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was also previously reported captured and killed on several occasions, after al-Zarqawi was laid to rest for good by the PR arm of the Pentagon in 2006.
The announcement of al-Baghdadi’s capture year ago, jarred with multiple previous reports over a two years period, detailing his arrest, his death and even questioning his existence altogether.
In March 2007, the Interior Ministry of Iraq claimed that al-Baghdadi had been captured in Baghdad. This was reported by AP and picked up by the likes of CNN, whose report stated that another insurgent had positively confirmed al-Baghdadi’s identity.
The U.S. military denied that al-Baghdadi was in their custody, however, and one day later Iraqi officials retracted their statements regarding his arrest.
Indeed this back and forth announcement of capture and later retraction occurred three times in the space of one week.
Then one month later, on May 3, 2007, the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that al-Baghdadi had been killed by American and Iraqi forces north of Baghdad.
However, in July 2007, the U.S. military declared that al-Baghdadi had never actually existed and was, for all intents and purposes, a myth.
A reportedly high ranking “Al Qaeda in Iraq” detainee identified as Khaled al-Mashhadani, then claimed that al-Baghdadi was a fictional character created to give an Iraqi face to a foreign-run terror group, and that the “Islamic State of Iraq” was a “virtual organisation in cyberspace” created by al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayub al Masri.
The person claiming to be Baghdadi continued to release video and audiotapes attacking U.S. occupation of Iraq, but refused to show his face.
The U.S. military’s claim that Baghdadi is a fictitious character was then challenged in May 2008 after a police chief in Haditha said Baghdadi’s real identity is Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi. “He was an officer in the security services and was dismissed from the army because of his extremism,” the police chief told al Arabiya television.
A year later, in April 2009, following his latest capture, the Iraqi government displayed a picture of Baghdadi for the first time, adding that they were attempting to glean information from him.
The Al Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State of Iraq denied the government reports that al-Baghdadi had been captured, and according to the SITE Institute, released a “genuine” recording of Baghdadi announcing that he was still at large.
But Iraqi officials then released a video of Baghdadi’s interrogation, in which he claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra in February 2006, and also described how his terrorist group was funded.
However, tapes and messages continued to be released throughout 2009 in the name of Baghdadi, claiming that he had not been captured and spurring on militants in Iraq. Up to the present day in 2010, such messages continued to be reported on by mainstream sources, such as the Associated Press, without any explanation as to how a captured terrorist could be releasing the material.
Now Baghdadi has been reported killed again!
The story becomes even more intriguing given that the second man reported to have been killed and found in a ditch last Saturday was Abu Ayub al Masri – the “creator” of the fictional character of al-Baghdadi.
Prime Minister al-Maliki’s presumed amnesia over the fact that he already annouced Baghdadi captured less than twelve months ago becomes more suspect when you take into account that he is trying to negotiate support for his State of Law coalition following parliamentary elections in which it emerged only as the second largest bloc.
Presumably the ridiculous loose ends of this soap opera will now be tied off and memory holed – although we cannot put it past al Masri and his imaginary friend to rise from the grave one more time a year down the line, particularly given that the Baghdadi character keeps being resurrected and acknowledged by the Iraqi government, the U.S. military and the mainstream media.
This saga is another example of how a manufactured smoke and mirrors propaganda veils reality. The “war on terror” mantra continues to be propagated as justification to wage permanent occupation and control over the middle east by the global elite.
Already Joe Biden is parading around, announcing the news as a “devastating blow” delivered to Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, al Zarqawi, al Baghdadi and the legions of other al qaeda operatives who have been reportedly captured and killed over and over are used as interchangeable PR tools.
Are or were any of them ever real? Possibly. Was there more than one Baghdadi? Maybe. However those facts matter little now.
Once again 99% of the corporate media will no doubt enthusiastically champion the latest killings as a key victory in the continuing war on terror, and the majority of Americans who even notice will not take a second glance at the ludicrous back story.
Queen’s University in Belfast has been told by the Information Commissioner to hand over 40 years of research data on tree rings, used for climate research.
Douglas Keenan, from London, had asked for the information in 2007 under the Freedom of Information Act. Mr Keenan is well-known for his questioning of scientists who propose a human cause for climate change.
Queen’s University refused his request saying it was too expensive, but it is now considering its position. The university claimed that as the information was unfinished, had intellectual property rights and was commercially confidential information, it did not have to pass it on. After a series of counter claims from Mr Keenan and the intervention of the Information Commissioner, Queen’s have now been told that they could be in contempt of court if they do not hand the data over.
In his legal decision, the commissioner said that Queen’s had failed in its procedural requirements and had wrongly used legal exemptions to withhold the requested information.
Mr Keenan, who hopes to use the data to reconstruct temperatures during the Medieval Warm period, said “this has taken three years, but it is worth it. “It is an important victory for FoI on research data,” he said.
Tree ring data is used by climate scientists to study historical climate information.
BBC environment correspondent Richard Black said Mr Keenan’s victory has a wider context.
“This is the latest development in an on-going process that has seen ‘climate sceptics’ attempting to obtain raw data and documentation on methodologies from researchers, especially those working to understand the climate of the past, ” he explained.
“The sceptics’ contention is that academics have, through error or will, mis-represented Earth’s temperature record so as to portray a picture of a warming planet.
“The on-going series of reviews into climate science at the University of East Anglia – the so-called ‘ClimateGate’ affair – has concluded that scientists ought to have been more open with data than has typically been the case.”