19 Aug

When politician is a dirty word

first_imgDear Tico Times Readers,I am proud to introduce a new monthly column of political opinion that will examine not only Costa Rican politics but also regional and global issues. Like many TT readers who have come to Costa Rica from other countries, I am also away from home: I am a Costa Rican pursuing my doctoral degree in politics at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. No doubt my academic and professional experience will influence my thoughts, but this will be mainly a space for personal opinions. At its core lies my belief that “politics” is something much bigger than the politicians and political parties we see in the news. As citizens, unless we are lonely Robinson Crusoes on a deserted island, we practice politics every day: when we settle a dispute with a neighbor, when we follow traffic rules, or when we meet with friends to discuss a public issue. Politics is a civic exercise that allows us to coexist while respecting each other’s traditions, beliefs and opinions. In this broader sense we are all politicians, and this is how I will approach my readers. Politics matters, and I hope this will become a shared space of analysis and reflection on this essential part of life.In that spirit, I make available to you the email address politicostt@gmail.com, where I am ready to receive your opinions, questions and suggestions of political issues you would like to see addressed here. I hope to hear from you, and that you will keep an eye out for my reflections on the first Monday of each month – beginning with the thoughts below.•A few days ago, the human-rights lawyer Monserrat Solano was elected to the position of National Ombudswoman, or Defensora de los Habitantes, an official elected by the Legislative Assembly to serve as a voice for the Costa Rican people regarding the respect and fulfilment of their rights. The process to fill this coveted post was characterized by a massive number of applications (98 to be exact), last-minute candidacy proposals by the “Christian” parties in the Assembly, and run-of-the-mill political negotiations. In general terms, it looked like a conventional election. However, it was exceptional in discursive terms. There was a phrase commonly repeated by legislators, the media, candidates and Solano herself that caught my attention during the whole process, and that established a precedent for upcoming elections in the Assembly: “The person we should elect must not be a politician.”What does it exactly mean to be a “politician”? Why do the politicians who made these comments insist on cherishing “apolitical” people, thereby denigrating their own occupation? Furthermore, why do we mistrust politicians but trust in their legitimacy to elect the new ombudswoman?  Is there a downside to making “politician” a dirty word?The position of ombudswoman is by all angles political. First, the candidate put her name to public scrutiny. She was running for public office. She was elected by our legislature, the most political entity in any democracy. She will be accountable directly to legislators and indirectly to citizens. She will have to deal with the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, the entire public administration and private citizens to advance her agenda (yes, even she will need to have a political agenda if she is going to define her priorities and achieve her goals). She will have to shake hands, to negotiate, to compromise, to represent the country abroad. She will have to show her achievements and explain her failures. She will have to fight for a budget and for employees. Furthermore, she will have to defend her positions and initiatives from an ideological point of view: her view of human rights, of the powers of the State, of the principles of equality and non-discrimination, of the meaning of the constitutional norms and international treaties, and so on. I don’t know about you, but all this sound quite political to me. Ombudswoman Montserrat Solano. Alberto Font/The Tico TimesNow, if the ombudswoman and all the people involved in her election meant by “politician” a person who has run for office or has the intention to do it later, they should have said so. Yet, I do not see the crime here either. Does this mean that if a person was a legislator, then in the future, he or she can only be a legislator again, a Cabinet minister, a local official or president? And what if he or she was a great legislator? Shouldn’t he or she have been considered, with a discussion that focused on the merits of the person – whether elected before or not – and not on a required “apolitical” background? Having run for, or served in, public office is not inherently shameful; in fact, such a belief is dangerous for our democracy. If we can see this, then we can start having a discussion about what really matters here: how good or bad a politician is; what his or her achievements and failures are; with what degree of ethics and responsibility she runs her office. If, in the end, meritocracy is the goal, then “politicians” should have not been ruled out automatically. That, by all means, was prejudicial.I understand concerns about bringing certain political practices and interests into the Defensoría. However, in order to avoid that, the approach should be different: one which does not demonize politics just because, or (what an irony) for political returns. Politicians, who often accuse others of undermining their work, should be the first ones to realize that their words and statements have an impact. Serious damage is done when we make “politician” into an insult or, even worse, something that looks like a crime on someone’s résumé. Young people, citizens and students are now aware that exercising their political rights may have bad consequences for their future careers – that “politics as a vocation,” in the words of Max Weber, can be a curse rather than a laudable call.Is this the type of political culture we want? I do not think so, and we should start amending these repetitive and erroneous discourses. Otherwise, sooner than later, we will start thinking that politicians should not be electing defensores or justices either or, even worse, enacting laws. We cannot escape reality, and we will not fix the real problems at the core of our political system by stigmatizing public service. Monserrat Solano may have not been a politician a few days ago, but she will be one four years from now. Facebook Comments Related posts:Guatemala’s Pérez Molina to visit Costa Rica Friday 35 years after Somoza’s overthrow, not much for Nicaragua to celebrate Brazil split ahead of presidential election Family demands justice after Mexican student’s body identifiedlast_img read more

19 Aug

One of Costa Ricas sextuplets dies

first_imgDiego, one of the sextuplets born earlier this week in Costa Rica, died Wednesday afternoon, according to hospital authorities.Dr. Roberto Araya, head of neonatal care at San Juan de Dios Hospital in San José, told reporters that the premature infant died at 2:10 p.m. after his lungs could not sustain him, the news site CRHoy.com reported. The child had been receiving respiratory and circulatory assistance since Tuesday afternoon, daily La Nación reported.The 988-gram child was born with his five other siblings Sunday evening after only 28 weeks. Typical pregnancy lasts between 38 and 42 weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health. All six children were born between 900 and 1,100 grams.The late child’s mother did not get to meet him before he died. The mother, Silvia Villegas, was still interned at Hospital México where the birth took place at the time of the death. The sextuplets were split up because there was not enough room for so many premature babies at Hospital México.Local media reported that two of the other infants, Emma and Andrés, were doing well. Andrés was breathing on his own and was expected to start taking milk Thursday. Two others, Valentina and Gabriel, are reportedly in fair condition, while Tomás remains in serious condition, La Nación reported. Facebook Comments Related posts:Second of Costa Rica’s sextuplets dies from respiratory complications Third of Costa Rica’s sextuplets dies from organ failure Costa Rica’s sextuplets drive regulation of fertility treatments Fifth of Costa Rica sextuplets dies following surgerylast_img read more

19 Aug

Gas prices to drop in August

first_imgFuel prices at the pump will be ₡4.74 cheaper per liter starting next month, following orders signed by the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) last Friday.ARESEP officially informed the state-owned Costa Rican Oil Refinery (RECOPE) that it has to lower fuel prices in order to return to the public ₡1,109 million ($2 million) spent improperly.Results from an audit conducted in late 2014 at the request of lawmakers from the Legislative Commission on Public Spending and Income Control found irregularities in expenses reported by RECOPE during the expansion and modernization of its refinery in the Caribbean port of Limón.According to the audit RECOPE improperly included project costs such as salaries, airline tickets, travel expenses and professional services in one of its requests to ARESEP to raise fuel prices. Those expenses should have never been charged to Costa Ricans at gas pumps, the investigation found.The price cut announcement comes just a week after a price hike went into effect. Higher per liter prices ranging from ₡16 to ₡29 entered into force last week for Diesel, Super and Plus gasoline. Facebook Comments Related posts:Gas prices to go up this week Costa Rica’s oil refinery wants to increase fuel prices – again Higher gas prices expected this week Higher gas prices, taxi fares in Costa Rica start Fridaylast_img read more

19 Aug

CONCACAF to review refs after Gold Cup furor

first_imgMIAMI – Football’s North American regional governing body is reviewing its referees department in the wake ofcontroversial calls and a major blunder in the just-concluded Gold Cup won by Mexico.The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) said Thursday that acting president Alfredo Hawit is personally overseeing the review.U.S. referee Mark Geiger faced stinging criticism from Panama players and officials over a series of game-changing calls during a 2-1 semi-final loss to Mexico.“Mr Geiger …  accepted that officiating errors had been made during Wednesday’s match and that these impacted the outcome of the game,” Hawit said last week. “We at CONCACAF regret these circumstances but accept that such human errors are part of the game.”The Geiger controversy came after an earlier controversy in Mexico’s quarter-final with Costa Rica, when El Tri were awarded a dubious penalty deep into injury time after 120 minutes which settled the match.See: Costa Rica football federation requests overhaul of CONCACAF officiatingHawit’s evaluation, approved last week by CONCACAF’s executive committee at a meeting at the Gold Cup final in Philadelphia, includes a look at referee standards across the region, assessing the process of assigning referees to specific matches.“The foundation of our game is fair play, and we must take the required steps to reinforce the importance of this principle,” Hawit said in a statement. “This review will allow the Confederation to take the next step towards improving refereeing across the region.”Mexico defeated Jamaica 3-1 in last Sunday’s final but Mexican coach Miguel Herrera was fired by his federation two days later after allegedly attacking a journalist at the Philadelphia airport the day after the final. Facebook Comments Related posts:FEDEFUTBOL official: FIFA scandal won’t affect Costa Rica’s upcoming matches FIFA arrests transform Blatter heir into face of football scandal Another Gold Cup scandal: ‘CONCACAF es una vergüenza’ FIFA: Sponsor pressure mounts ahead of World Cup drawlast_img read more

19 Aug

The secret lives of leafcutting ants

first_imgRelated posts:The secret lives of leaf-cutting ants The zombie wasp that gives alien spiders nightmares Urban flocks (Part 2): 5 more common birds of San José Urban flocks (Part 1): 5 common birds of San José When looking for wildlife in Costa Rica, it’s easy to become fixated on the unusual mammals and vibrant birds, but one of the country’s most complex creatures lies underfoot.Living in massive colonies of up to 5 million members, leaf-cutter ants (Atta cephalotes*) have walked the Earth for millions of years. The resilient ants can even be found streaming through the street gutters of San José in their characteristic sea of green leaves. Moving along their forged path, each ant will carry a piece of leaf up to three times its own weight.Common sense would indicate that the ants feed on the tiny leaf pieces, but leaf-cutters actually use the clippings to cultivate their own fungal garden. To sustain this production, the ants have evolved intricate societies that are now among the oldest and most elaborate on earth.Three-way symbiosisLeaf-cutter ants’ millennia-long existence can be attributed to their relationships with other organisms. Using leaves cut from trees, the ants cultivate a fungus from which they feed. Studies show that leaf-cutting ants have been cultivating the same strain of fungus for at least 23 million years. Neither the ants nor the fungus can survive without the other, and this link is perhaps the best recognized example of mutual symbiosis, the dependance of two species on each another.The two species are so inter-connected that each new colony begins with both an ant and a fungal growth. A new queen will take a small bit of fungus from the colony where she is born before flying off. The queen will then mate before taking the fungus underground to form the new colony.The first days for a newly anointed colony queen are busy. Along with nursing her young, the queen has to begin growing a new fungal garden by feeding it with her feces. Soon, the queen’s first set of young are large enough to leave the nest to cut leaves to continue to feed the fungus. As the fungus expands, so does the colony.But the ants’ monoculture fungal garden is extremely susceptible to another type of parasitic fungus that the ants cannot ingest. Left uncontrolled, the fungus will form a white growth over the ants’ garden, rendering it inedible and leaving the colony to starve. To combat this threat, the ants — already the world’s first farmers — became the world’s first pharmacists.Female leaf-cutters carry a small patch on their cuticle that grows the bacteria Streptomyces. The ants spread this bacteria over leaves and fungi in the garden to kill other types of fungi. Not only does this particular bacteria ward off parasitic fungi for the leaf-cutters, but it also is found in more than half of the antibiotics in modern medicine today. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)The caste systemTo manage the enormous tasks required for a farming ant colony, leaf-cutters have divided roles, or castes. Leaf-cutters, like many insects, are polymorphic, meaning that within each species there are a number of different body types, each suited to a specific task.Queens, the colonies’ founders, have wings to fly off to start another colony, and are the only fertile female ants in any given colony. Their sole job is reproduction, which is aided by drones, or small, winged males that fly from colony to colony to help queens reproduce.The rest of the ants in the colony are infertile females tasked with protecting the nest and caring for the fungal garden. Soldier ants are the largest in the colony and, as the name implies, are responsible for guarding the other ants from predators. Next down the line are the workers, which forage and cut leaves and carry them back to the colony. There, they pass the leaves on to the smallest ants, the minima, which use their small size to work inside the colony tunnels. These ants are responsible for gardening, feeding other ants, caring for young ants and cleaning other ants and leaves.Leaf-cutters also divide themselves by age and ability. The colonies put their older, weaker ants to work in the colony’s garbage dump. These ants are quickly infected with parasitic fungus and usually do not live long. Their bodies then die in the waste dump away from the healthy ants.Biologists estimate that the ants manage to clear as much as 15 percent of the leaves in Neotropical forests for their fungal gardens indicating massive populations. Today the ants are among the most evolutionary successful creatures on the planet, having survived for tens of millions of years.So the next time you walk through the forest, turn your head from the trees and skies and direct your gaze down for a glimpse at the oldest society on the planet.Originally published on April 3, 2015. Note: There are seven species of leaf-cutting ants found in Costa Rica. Atta cephalotes are the most common.Also Recommended: 6 camouflaged Costa Rican creatures you probably haven’t seenRead more “Into the Wild” columns here Facebook Commentslast_img read more

18 Aug

Montenegro wildfires threaten ancient forest

first_img New high school in Mesa lets students pick career paths Comments   Share   Emergency official Radomir Scepanovic said Monday that “we will stay to protect (the forest) until the rain falls.”Firefighters have been using planes and choppers, but efforts are hampered by hilly terrain and occasional strong winds.The forest is located within the UNESCO-protected Tara river canyon.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) – Firefighters in Montenegro are struggling to contain wildfires that are threatening an ancient pine forest in the northeast of the country.Fires have erupted amid extremely high temperatures in the Balkans, reaching around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Montenegro in the past weeks.Fires have destroyed hundreds of acres of forests and about a dozen houses and stables. Officials say the blaze has reached the outer rim of the Crna Poda forest, where some of the pine trees are 400 years old. Top Stories Sponsored Stories More Valley freeways to be closed this weekend for improvementscenter_img How Arizona is preparing the leader of the next generation Think Tank analyzes the second round of Democratic debates How do cataracts affect your vision? Meghan McCain to release audiobook on conservatism, family 5 treatments for adult scoliosislast_img read more

18 Aug

Congo Rwanda agree to mount force against rebels

first_img Get a lawn your neighbor will be jealous of Associated PressKINSHASA, Congo (AP) – The leaders of Congo and Rwanda have agreed in principle to back a neutral international armed force to combat Congo’s newest rebellion and other fighters terrorizing civilians in the country’s mineral-rich east, and the African Union said it could help by sending soldiers.Congo state television said leaders of the two countries met Sunday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia _ their first meeting since accusations backed by a U.N. report charge Rwanda helped create and arm the new M23 rebels. Rwanda denies the allegations. Jean Ping, the African Union’s outgoing chief bureaucrat, said Sunday that the pan-African organization would be willing to send troops for such an international army fighting in eastern Congo.Congo already has the world’s largest peacekeeping force of nearly 20,000 U.N. soldiers and police. Their primary mandate is to protect civilians, but they also have orders to support Congo’s army in its fight against rebels and militias. In that support role, the U.N. troops often have retreated when Congolese soldiers flee.In New York, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the world body was still looking into the details agreed upon at the AU summit and the Great Lakes region meeting, adding that Congo’s peacekeeping mission “stands ready to support regional efforts to resolve the crisis in eastern DRC within its mandate and capabilities.”The U.N. Security Council late Monday welcomed the Kagame-Kabila discussions to resolve the crisis and encouraged “continued high-level dialogue at the bilateral and regional level.” It urged the governments of Congo and Rwanda to fully implement bilateral and regional “mechanisms” to address insecurity in the east. New high school in Mesa lets students pick career paths Sponsored Stories Patients with chronic pain give advice More Valley freeways to be closed this weekend for improvements Meghan McCain to release audiobook on conservatism, family Joseph Kabila of Congo and Paul Kagame of Rwanda had met for 1 1/2 hours and then endorsed an agreement hammered out at a meeting Thursday of foreign ministers of the 11-nation International Conference of the Great Lakes Region attended also by the defense ministers of Congo and Rwanda.Among several clauses the agreement calls for a regional body, the Great Lakes conference, to work with the African Union and the United Nations “for an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR and all other negative forces in eastern DRC (Congo), and patrol and secure the border zones.”The FDLR or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda is led by Hutus who helped perpetrate Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and escaped to Congo. Some 800,000 Tutsi people and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in Rwanda. Two years later, a Rwandan-backed rebellion erupted in eastern Congo. Back-to-back civil wars drew in the armies of a half dozen nations in what degenerated into a scramble for Congo’s rich mineral resources.Peace was eventually negotiated in 2002, but a low-level conflict simmers unabated in eastern Congo. The Rwandan genocide perpetrators regrouped to attack Congolese Tutsis and allied tribes. The Congolese formed militias to defend themselves against the invaders. Today, eastern Congo is a battleground for numerous groups including rebels from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi and more than a dozen homegrown militias vying for power and control of the mineral resources. The council strongly condemned the M23 attacks, demanded an immediate halt to all violence in eastern Congo and urged that the commanders of M23 including Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted for alleged war crimes by the International Criminal Court, be apprehended and brought to justice.The council reiterated its condemnation of all outside support to armed groups in Congo and demanded that such backing “cease immediately.” It also called on all countries in the region “to cooperate actively with the Congolese authorities in demobilizing the M23.”Kabila’s army _ ill-equipped, ill-paid and demoralized _ is accused of pillaging and rape of civilians as often as are the rebels and militias, putting U.N. peacekeepers in an invidious position. Congo’s soldiers have proved no match for the rebels, who are said to number in the hundreds compared to the army’s 150,000.Ongoing fighting has forced more than 200,000 civilians from their homes, including more than 20,000 across borders into Rwanda and Uganda.U.N. peacekeepers have deployed helicopter gunships to bombard rebel positions in the past week. The rebels allege that civilians were killed in the air raids, but provided no death toll. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the rebels then threatened to view the peacekeepers as partisan, hostile forces unless the U.N. explains their “real mandate.”Three years ago, Kabila had called for the withdrawal of the U.N. mission, accusing it of failing to protect civilians and to help bring peace to eastern Congo. A few hundred U.N. troops were sent home, Kabila stopped his criticism, and neither side has said anything about a withdrawal recently.___Edith Lederer in New York contributed to this report.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) Think Tank analyzes the second round of Democratic debates Comments   Share   Top Stories The vital role family plays in societylast_img read more

18 Aug

Rebels unite in fight for Syrias largest city

first_imgPeter Harling, a Syria expert for the International Crisis Group, said the regime is conserving its manpower in Aleppo and meting out collective punishments through airstrikes on any neighborhoods under rebel control.The lack of progress on the ground and civilian frustration has been part of the impetus for the rebels to put aside their differences and work together, he noted.“They are increasingly faced with anger and frustration in places coming from people who don’t see them making progress that is tangible,” he said. “That’s a driver behind these unification attempts _ I think the opposition needs to show some results and break out of this impasse one way or another.”Yet the new council includes just 80 percent of the estimated 8,000-10,000 rebels fighting the regime in and around Aleppo. The commanders say that Jebha al-Nusra, or the Victory Front, which follows an extreme Islamist ideology and includes foreign fighters, remains outside the council.The powerful smuggler-turned-rebel-leader Abu Ibrahim, who controls the border crossing with Turkey through his Northern Storm brigade, also declined to join with his 700 fighters.He told AP he was invited to join but was withholding his support because the new outfit lacked organization. The new military council was announced Sept. 9. It brings together two of the biggest rebel players in Aleppo and the countryside, and should allow for better coordinated attacks against the 30 percent of the city still in regime hands.The rebels have long been hampered by their division into dozens of competing groups, some with better links to funding and weapons, while others have more manpower. There has been little coherent strategy, and organizing a major assault can often involve negotiations among dozens of independent outfits.“Before we made this council, the military aid used to come to just one man, and the people on the ground would get nothing. By forming this council, now aid comes to everyone, and everyone gets part of it,” said Abdel Aziz Salameh, a former honey trader, based in the town of Tel Rifaat. He runs the biggest network of fighters in the province and is part of the Tawhid Division.He described how assaults often had to be called off when his men ran out of ammunition after days of hard fighting and had to regroup and scrounge for more.No rebel group admits to getting weapons or ammunition from abroad. They say instead that they get funds from Syrians abroad and use it to buy weapons from smugglers. Top Stories Four benefits of having a wireless security system How Arizona is preparing the leader of the next generation Bottoms up! Enjoy a cold one for International Beer Day The uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011, when protests calling for political change were met by a violent government crackdown by government troops. Many in the opposition took up arms, and activists say more than 23,000 people have been killed.Salameh’s one-time rival is Col. Abdel Jabbar Aqidi, a recently defected officer from Assad’s military and the official representative of the Free Syrian Army. He received the lion’s share of the funding from Syrians abroad, but did not have the manpower to take advantage of it.“There were differences among the organizations and now we are united in our structure to improve our fighting,” the blue-eyed officer in smartly ironed fatigues told The Associated Press from the basement of his villa set among olive groves in a village north of Aleppo. “Unity and coordination make us more effective in the revolution.”The rebel assault on Aleppo, a city of about 3 million, began in July after the government crushed a similar attack on the capital of Damascus. In this case, however, the forces were more evenly matched and to the surprise of many, the outgunned rebels not only held on but expanded their hold on the city in fierce urban combat. The barracks was a key government bastion and part of a string of regime strong points being targeted by the rebels, including the military intelligence headquarters as well as the medieval citadel in the center of the city.The response, however, was swift. For three days, government artillery and plans unleashed a withering bombardment of rebel-controlled areas nearby.Human rights groups have reported a spike in civilian casualties as the regime staves off rebel advances with heavy weapons.“A pattern has emerged in recent weeks in areas where government forces, pushed into retreat by opposition forces, are now indiscriminately bombing and shelling lost territory _ with disastrous consequences for the civilian population,” said the London-based Amnesty International in a briefing paper Wednesday.Just two days after taking over the barracks, nearby neighborhoods were constantly buzzed by helicopters and regime fighter jets that lazily circled the city, confident in their invulnerability before diving to bombard a target.Residents report the use of “barrel bombs” that appear to be large drums packed with explosives that can take down whole buildings.Despite occasionally shooting down helicopters, most recently over Damascus on Thursday, the rebels are still struggling to confront this airborne menace for civilians both inside the city and in the country. Associated PressALEPPO, Syria (AP) – Rebels have taken a major stride in uniting their ranks in the battle for Syria’s largest city, giving them hope they could tip the balance after three months of bloody, stalemated combat in Aleppo, one of the biggest prizes of the civil war.The question is how much more destruction the city can bear.Government troops are retaliating against more effective rebel attacks with increasingly devastating bombardment, and civilians are bearing the brunt, with their neighborhoods left in ruins. Comments   Share   “The rebels should be organized like an ordinary military, with the men totally under control of the leadership and each man knowing his role,” he said, dismissing Aqidi and Salameh as weak leaders with little operational control of their men.The problems over unity are also replicated on a broader level across the country. There have been talks under way to unite and reorganize the Free Syrian Army under the leadership of defected Gen. Mohammed al-Haj Ali, but it is not clear if any progress has been made.When asked if he would be part of the effort to unite the rebels, Aqidi only smiled and declined to comment.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) Mary Coyle ice cream to reopen in central Phoenix Sponsored Stories Construction begins on Chandler hospital expansion project Former Arizona Rep. Don Shooter shows health improvement 5 people who need to visit the Ultrastar Multi-tainment Center While the rebels are poorly equipped and lacking much organization, their successes have as much to do with their tenacity as the state of the Syrian army in Aleppo.“Significant weaknesses among the Syrian armed forces have been the primary factor behind the deadlock in Aleppo,” said Torbjorn Soltvedlt, a senior analyst with the Britain-based Maplecroft risk analysis group, explaining that the bulk of the regime’s trusted troops were based around Damascus. Other units are constantly in danger of hemorrhaging men through defections to the rebel cause.“The regime has been unable to use the main highway between Damascus in the south and Aleppo in the north to reinforce and supply its forces,” he said, because of rebel control of the city of Rastan, on the highway, and parts of the Idlib province countryside around it.The Syrian army, whose raison d’etre until recently was a full scale tank war with Israel, is also not accustomed to counterinsurgency tactics in urban environments _ something the rebels, for all their flaws, appear to have adapted to quite quickly.Already there have been some successes, including the overrunning of a military barracks in the northern Aleppo neighborhood of Thakanet Hanano on Sept. 10 that involved several battalions working together.last_img read more

18 Aug

A look at FIFA President Sepp Blatter

first_img 0 Comments   Share   5 ways to recognize low testosterone Former Arizona Rep. Don Shooter shows health improvement ZURICH (AP) — A brief look at Sepp Blatter, who said Tuesday he would resign as FIFA president amid a widening corruption scandal:___Age: 79Country: SwitzerlandBackground: FIFA President since 1998, re-elected for a fifth term on Friday at FIFA congress. Has worked for FIFA since 1975, including 17 years as secretary general. Member of the International Olympic Committee.Corruption scandal: U.S. authorities arrested seven soccer officials in Zurich ahead of the FIFA congress. They were among 14 indicted on corruption charges in the U.S. Blatter was not named in the investigation. In a separate Swiss probe, FIFA’s headquarters were raided in an investigation into wrongdoing related to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests. The Swiss attorney general’s office says Blatter is not under investigation in Switzerland. 3 international destinations to visit in 2019 Top Stories Milstead says best way to stop wrong-way incidents is driving sober 2015 Election: Blatter defeated lone challenger Prince Ali of Jordan 133-73 on Friday at the FIFA congress. Africa and Asia made up the majority of his support. European governing body UEFA was the most vocal opponent, along with Australia and the United States.Resignation: Said he would step down and promised to hold new elections between December and March.Quote: “This mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football.”Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. New Valley school lets students pick career-path academies Sponsored Stories Ex-FBI agent details raid on Phoenix body donation facility FIFA President Sepp Blatter speaks during a press conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Sepp Blatter says he will resign from his position amid corruption scandal and is promising to call for fresh elections to choose a successor. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP) Top holiday drink recipeslast_img read more

18 Aug

Little certainty 1 year after airliner shot down in Ukraine

first_imgA draft version of the final report was circulated this month to representatives of Malaysia, Ukraine, the U.S., Russia, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands for their comments and suggested revisions. Oleg Storchevoi, a deputy chief of the Russian aviation agency, said the agency has complaints regarding both the technical data and the arguments in the report. He did not give details.But a U.S. official told The Associated Press that the draft says the plane was destroyed by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from the village of Snizhne, which was under rebel control. The official, who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.The probe is being led by The Netherlands because 196 of the victims were Dutch, and Ukraine agreed to give Holland formal responsibility for the investigation.CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONA probe by the Dutch national prosecutor’s office aims to establishing who was responsible. This investigation includes authorities from Ukraine, Malaysia and other countries whose nationals were among the victims, but Russia is not a participant.It is unclear whom the investigators are questioning, or the extent of the evidence they’ve collected. The prosecutor’s office released a video calling on witnesses to come forward and indicated the probe is focusing on rebel or Russian involvement. The video asks for information about a Buk-11 missile system that was spotted moving through the rebel territory before and after the crash, then possibly heading for the Russian border. The investigative organization Bellingcat also has devoted attention to this missile-launcher, claiming it can be traced to one that was stored in the rebels’ main stronghold of Donetsk. Ex-FBI agent details raid on Phoenix body donation facility A fog of vehement allegations, macabre claims and self-serving rhetoric shrouds the tragedy.Within hours of the July 17, 2014 crash, a crucial fact appeared clear — the wreckage was strewn over such a wide area that the plane must have broken into bits long before it fell. Most evidence points to the plane, which departed from Amsterdam en route to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, being taken down by a missile over an area controlled by pro-Russia rebels.But whether the missile was fired from a warplane or from the ground remains unclear. As is the question of who fired: the Ukrainian army, the separatist rebels or Russian forces allegedly backing them with troops and arms. An international investigation may be able to answer the first question, but not until at least October. Another probe addressing the second is likely to take until at least next year.A look at where the investigations and theories stand:CRASH CAUSEThe investigation led by the Dutch Safety Board aims only to determine the crash cause, not to ascribe blame. That’s likely to produce a report loaded with esoteric technical detail. A preliminary report from the board in September was able to say only that the plane was destroyed by “high-energy objects” that pierced it from outside. Mesa family survives lightning strike to home ___Lowy reported from Washington, D.C. Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed to this report.Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. New Valley school lets students pick career-path academies FOR STORY UKRAINE MH17 WHERE THINGS STAND – FILE – In this Saturday, July 19, 2014 file photo emergency workers carry the body of a victim at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. A year since a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky over war-ravaged eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people, there has been little definitive progress in determining what brought down Flight MH17. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, file) Arizona families, Arizona farms: A legacy of tradition embracing animal care and comfort through modern technology Top Stories Comments   Share   Despite missile-maker’s statement, Russia’s top investigative body says it regards the warplane as its top theory and claims to be protecting a Ukrainian witness who has identified the plane’s pilot.In any case, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, Ukraine is morally responsible for the crash because it occurred in a war that Russia claims was launched by Ukraine.LOOSE ENDSOne of the enduring mysteries of the tragedy is whether the rebels actually publicly admitted to downing the plane. Just minutes after the crash, a posting appeared on the social media account of then-rebel commander Igor Girkin, saying that the rebels had shot down a Ukrainian An-26 transport plane and it crashed in the same area as MH17. The rebels had shot down several Ukrainian planes in the early months of the war, but apparently with shoulder-fired missiles that could not reach the altitude at which MH17 was flying. The posting was later scrubbed from the account, with the explanation that the post was not by Girkin himself but by someone else with access to the account.Girkin also was notorious for claiming that many of the people on MH17 were dead before the plane took off, which he said was based on witness accounts that the bodies were putrefying immediately after the crash. Here’s how to repair and patch damaged drywall Rebel officials at the time denied having any such missile systems, although Russian news agencies had reported rebel claims of seizing some from Ukrainian forces a few weeks earlier.Russia is opposing a proposed UN Security Council resolution to establish an international criminal tribunal for the crash; Moscow has veto power in the security council.RUSSIA’S THEORIESA few days after the crash, the Russian Defense Ministry showed photos it said proved that Ukrainian surface-to-air systems were operating in the area before the crash. Russian officials also said they had evidence that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet had flown “between 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles)” from the Malaysia Airlines jet.The latter theory was revisited a few months later when state television released a satellite photograph that it claimed showed that a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down MH17. The photo purportedly came from a little-known person who identified himself as an aviation expert. Bloggers following the case quickly claimed the photo was a forgery.In June, the Russian manufacturer of Buk systems said it had concluded the airliner was indeed brought down by a Buk, but an older model no longer in service in Russia. It said such systems were still used by the Ukrainian army, but it was not clear if the Buks reportedly seized by rebels a year earlier would have included that model. Top holiday drink recipes Arizona families, Arizona farms: providing the local community with responsibly produced dairy Sponsored Stories MOSCOW (AP) — A year since a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky over war-ravaged eastern Ukraine — killing 298 people — there has been little official word of progress in determining what brought down Flight MH17. One of the probes under way reportedly points toward a ground-to-air missile fired from a village held by Russia-backed separatist rebels, but the report isn’t to be public for months. Another investigation trudges forward with painful slowness, and contradictory theories emerge from Moscow.last_img read more

17 Aug

American Airlines Jetstar sign codeshare interline agreement

first_imgSource = e-Travel Blackboard: G.A Qantas’ budget airline Jetstar has teamed up with airline giant American Airlines, signing an interline and codeshare agreement set to boost access across New Zealand destinations. Under the codeshare relationship American Airlines will place its AA code on Jetstar flights from Auckland to Christchurch, Queenstown and Wellington, and from Christchurch to Queenstown and Wellington.According to a statement released on the New York Stock Exchange last night, an interline agreement between Jetstar and American Airlines will likely deliver “enhanced customer access for customers to or from the United States across Jetstar’s growing Australian and New Zealand flight networks, now totaling more than 20 destinations”.”The relationship…will add significant value for our customers travelling throughout New Zealand,” American Airlines chief commercial officer Virasb Vahidi said, adding he was “very pleased” with the agreement. Jetstar, too were happy, Group chief executive Bruce Buchanan saying, “Our proposed codeshare agreement with American Airlines will enable its customers to combine travel on Jetstar, American Airlines and other codeshare carriers such as Qantas as part of a single booking,” Buchanan said. “As the second largest airline in New Zealand and the fastest growing in our core Australian market, customers of American Airlines will gain even greater flexibility, convenience and choice of destinations when traveling to or within both countries.” American Airline’s AAdvantage(R) member awill be able to earn mileage credit on all American-marketed flights as will Jetstar flights marketed under the Qantas (QF) code.American Airlines already has a codeshare agreement with its oneworld partner and Jetstar parent, Qantas.last_img read more

17 Aug

Qantas new campaign advocates Spirit of Australians

first_imgSpirit of Australians Qantas Executive Manager Marketing, Lewis Pullen Source = e-Travel Blackboard: P.T Qantas has launched the first chapter of its new advertising campaign; employing a modernised, digitally enhanced and Australian-focused approach. ‘You’re The Reason We Fly’ is the title of the new marketing campaign targeting Australian consumers and encouraging interactive, online involvement and digital advocacy. Speaking at a press conference at Qantas headquarters in Sydney, Qantas executive manager marketing Lewis Pullen said the airline is more than ready to launch a new campaign. “The research undertaken gave us a clear direction on where to go with this campaign,” he said. “Our customers wanted to see us take a different and more creative approach… they wanted us to talk about the people, the spirit of Australians and not just the place.” The core creative idea behind the new advertising strategy is based on simple brand truths according to Mr Pullen. “We carry more Australians than any other airline, we’ve been doing it for longer than anybody else, the spirit of Australia is part of our DNA; it’s on our planes, it is our logo and we feel we know Australian’s better than anybody else.” In support of the new campaign Qantas has added an ‘ns’ to the tag line livery of two of its aircraft, an Airbus A380 and a Boeing B737, which will now fly with the ‘Spirit of Australians’ emblazoned on the side of the plane. Qantas has also invited its customers to be part of the conversation and part of the new campaign by having them upload their name and photo on the Qantas website, giving them the opportunity to become an element of the visual advertising. “Over the next two weeks, we’re asking Australians to upload their photo and name via the Qantas website or by using a specially developed mobile phone or Facebook application,” Mr Pullen said. “Those people will then have the chance to appear in the end frame of our new TV commercial or win the opportunity to have their name painted on the side of an A380 or B737 aircraft.” Applicants will have the chance to win a share of five lots of 500,000 frequent flyer points and Qantas will donate five dollars to Mission Australia for every photo uploaded. “We feel this campaign is highly inclusive, interactive and engaging and incorporates some world firsts in the form of digital advertising,” he added. “We’ll actually serve up a personalised digital banner to every applicant and we are also developing technology which will recognise your involvement in the campaign by projecting your name and photo on our digital billboards if you have the app open when you walk past.” The campaign will be rolled out over the course of the next five months, incorporating a number of print, digital, outdoor and TVC executions. New Digital Advertising Campaignlast_img read more

17 Aug

PO Cruises launches white parties

first_imgThere was a white out at sea last week with P&O Cruises’ first Bianco party lighting up the top decks of Pacific Dawn.   One of four new party concepts to be rolled out across the fleet in the coming months, Bianco, the P&O White Party, is leading the cruise line’s entertainment revolution.   P&O Cruises Entertainment Director Brett Annable said the new concept was well received by guests onboard Pacific Dawn’s seven-night Pacific Islands itinerary from Brisbane.   “With a DJ pumping out tunes from a specially-designed stage on the dance floor, smoke cannons, special white cocktails and party-goers of all ages embracing the white theme, the inaugural Bianco party was a great success,” Mr Annable said.   “The dance floor was full all night, the selfie wall was very popular and the atmosphere was electric, just as we hoped.”   Every cruise of three nights or more will feature the Bianco night while the new Gatsby-themed event, Vegas pool party and Back to School party will occur on cruises of four nights or more. Pacific Island cruises will continue to offer an afternoon island-themed sailaway party.Source = P&O Cruiseslast_img read more

17 Aug

Emirates wins Best International Airline award

first_imgSource = Emirates Emirates’ commitment to working with and supporting the travel industry has again been recognised, with the airline announced as the winner of the Best International Airline (Online) award at the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards for Excellence for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year.Barry Brown, Emirates Divisional Vice President for Australasia, accepted the prestigious award, presented at the NTIA Gala Dinner in Sydney this week, while thanking the travel industry for its support.During the awards Emirates also announced the winner of the 2016 Emirates Travel Consultant Scholarship, recognising a consultant with the potential to grow and lead within the travel trade and who has less than three years’ industry experience.As a Gold Sponsor of the award for three years, Emirates announced George Hedley of Events Worldwide Travel, Victoria as the winner of the Emirates Scholarship.George has been awarded up to $10,000 towards his travel education; as well as a Business Class trip for two to Dubai to explore the city and meet with key Emirates leaders. To top it off, he will also receive a money-can’t-buy invite to the famous Emirates Melbourne Cup marquee at Victoria’s Spring Racing Carnival.The Emirates Sponsorship is just one way that Emirates is committed to the continued growth of the industry by enhancing the skills of the future leaders and entrepreneurs of the travel trade community.The prestigious award follows Emirates being named the World’s Best Airline at the 2016 Skytrax World Airline Awards, earlier this month. Fly Emirateslast_img read more

16 Aug

Tourism Minister launches special cleaning campaign at Assi Ghat in Varanasi

first_imgThe Union Minister of State for Culture (Independent Charge) and Tourism (Independent Charge) and Civil Aviation, Dr Mahesh Sharma launched a special cleaning campaign at the recently renovated historic Assi Ghat in Varanasi. Launching a cleaning drive at the excavated and restored historic Assi Ghat, the Union Minister inaugurated a world class Sulabh public toilet on the occasion. Dr Mahesh Sharma while lauding the effort of Sulabh called upon other organisations to come forward to adopt and clean other ghats. He said a plan is being drafted to clean garbage by using boats as garbage disposal is a major problem in the historic city due to narrow lanes. Now boats will ferry garbage to dump at certain points.Dr Mahesh Sharma said that a comprehensive plan for the all round development and beautification of the Ghats of Varanasi and cleaning of River Ganga is underway to fulfil the wishes of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He announced introduction of a special project for restoration and beautification of the Ghats. The Minister said a plan has already been finalised to hold light and sound shows at Assi Ghat soon.last_img read more

16 Aug

Assam government proposes new plans for tourism

first_imgThe state government of Assam is leaving no stone unturned to take ‘Awesome Assam’ to newer heights. From appointing international star Priyanka Chopra as the state’s tourism brand ambassador to proposing to set up a three-star resort in Majuli, the world’s biggest river island.“Assam is known for its hospitality. We have taken a number of initiatives in this important, revenue-earning sector. The tourist inflow to the state has increased significantly,” said Finance Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma in his opening remarks on tourism development.The Minister, who also holds the tourism portfolio, promised 24×7 power supply in principal tourist destinations of the state. He also announced that the state government would tie up with IRCTC to start ropeway services between Kamakhya Railway Station and Kamakhya Temple.The Minister not only refrained from imposing any new taxes but also got rid of the luxury tax on hotels and lodging houses, including rural homestays. In order to attract tourists to experience rural life in the state, Sarma allotted Rs 3 crore for a special scheme called ‘Amar Alohi’ (our guest) to develop rural homestays.Additionally, Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) has signed a MoU in Guwahati with Rightstay, an alternate accommodation marketplace by MakeMyTrip, to promote the concept of homestay in the state.last_img read more

16 Aug

TRENZ 2017 to take place in Auckland from May 912 2017

first_imgTRENZ 2017 is slated to happen in Auckland from May 9-12, 2017 and will be attended by 377 trade and tourism buyers from 29 countries across the globe, including Australia, the Pacific, Asia, Europe, Scandinavia and North and South America. It is considered an important event for $35 billion of New Zealand’s tourism industry.“These are the most influential buyers in terms of sending international visitors to New Zealand. The buyers are travelling here to negotiate contracts for the coming year. Tourism Industry Association Chief Executive Chris Roberts and meet with 300 of the country’s leading tourism operators who will be showcasing their products and services at TRENZ. In addition to reconnecting with well-established tourism operators, the Buyers will be keen to discover new and different experiences they can sell to consumers in their home markets,” said Chris Roberts, Chief Executive, Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA), which manages TRENZ.According to Roberts, the high interest reflects the buoyancy of New Zealand’s tourism industry which is enjoying record growth. “International and domestic visitor spending is at record levels, worth $34.7 billion in the year ending March 2016, and the industry is well on track to achieve its Tourism 2025 aspirational goal of $41 billion in annual revenue,” he added further.TRENZ Premier Sponsor Air New Zealand had flown the majority of buyers from around the world to attend the event.Air New Zealand’s Chief Executive Officer, Christopher Luxon said, “We’re pleased to play our part in promoting and connecting visitors to the unique destinations and experiences our country has to offer. Ensuring our regional centres get their fair share of tourism’s economic benefits is vital to achieving sustainable tourism growth that’s positive for all New Zealand.”Over the four day event, Sellers and Buyers will have a total of 17,000 15-minute meetings. It is business-focused ‘speed dating’.last_img read more

15 Aug

Commercial Sector Forecasts Show Uptick in 2012

first_img in Data, Government, Origination, Secondary Market, Servicing, Technology December 13, 2011 466 Views Agents & Brokers Attorneys & Title Companies Company News Investors Lenders & Servicers Processing Service Providers 2011-12-13 Abby Gregory The commercial real estate market in the U.S. appears set for an uptick in 2012, but don’t expect a headline-making rise. According to recent research from “”Jones Lang LaSalle””:www.joneslanglasalle.com/, economic indicators are pointing to a modest improvement in the commercial segment, and data from the company also reveals that rumors of a double dip in the sector during the coming year were premature.[IMAGE]Highlights from Jones Lang LaSalle’s “”2012 National Commercial Real Estate Outlook””:http://www.us.am.joneslanglasalle.com/UnitedStates/EN-US/Pages/Research.aspx included predictions tallying transaction volume and movement in the hospitality realm. Numbers from the survey call for an increase in total transaction volume of 15 to 20 percent, and the company’s statistics forecast an estimated $190 billion in volume for 2012.Commenting on the new data, Jones Lang LaSalle’s managing director of research for the Americas, Ben Breslau, said, “”Total investment transaction volume in office, industrial, retail and multifamily will increase by a projected 15-20 percent over the├âÔÇÜ├é┬á2011 forecast total of more than $160 billion, which in itself will represent an approximately 44 percent increase over total volumes in 2010.””[COLUMN_BREAK]Businesses’ future investment interest in the commercial segment also played a role in Jones Lang LaSalle’s evaluation, and the entity noted that it’s likely that businesses around the country will put strong consideration toward commercial real estate during the year ahead, as they focus on investments that are efficient and productive. Additionally, Jones Lang LaSalle noted in a company statement about the report that “”businesses will consider corporate real estate as a greater contributor to corporate social responsibility initiatives in 2012, shifting investments from new construction toward retrofitting existing assets.””The survey addressed global uncertainty, slow employment growth, and changes in the marketplace as important catalysts in driving down the demand for office space. However, Jones Lang LaSalle identified specific areas around the U.S. that seem likely to go against the trend, stating, “”Commodity- and technology-rich markets, such as Texas, Denver and Northern California will lead demand growth.””In the hotel and resort segment, demand is expected to continue its recent increases during 2012, but the company mentioned that the pace of the trajectory will be more “”cautious.”” Jones Lang LaSalle’s results also showed that private equity groups will be at the forefront of asset bidding in the commercial hospitality arena. Continuing his statements on Jones Lang LaSalle’s findings, Breslau added, “”Given concerns in Europe and in some emerging markets, we anticipate the United States recovery to be comparably stable in 2012, though the overall growth trajectory will remain modest. Debt financing will remain available for core real estate, and we expect the current slowdown in commercial mortgage-backed securities will be relatively short-lived, though the recovery in CMBS volumes will be choppy and will take time.””center_img Commercial Sector Forecasts Show Uptick in 2012 Sharelast_img read more

15 Aug

Wingspan Finds Benefits for Lenders in Energy Lease Preservation

first_img March 29, 2013 425 Views “”Wingspan Portfolio Advisors””:http://www.wingspanportfolioadvisors.com/, a diversified mortgage servicing company operating in the Dallas area, says lenders, servicers, and investors are “”leaving money on the table”” by not doing their homework on oil and gas leases.[IMAGE]The company worked in 2012 with oil and gas exploration and production companies to help them preserve energy leases in residential communities. In the process, it was discovered that oil companies hold leases under entire communities permitting drilling processes to recover gas and oil deposits–and servicers are often unaware.””Lenders and servicers are definitely missing a revenue opportunity,”” said Wingspan president and CEO Steven Horne. “”Subordinating a mortgage for an oil and gas lease is not like allowing a typical lien that poses a foreclosure risk. The mortgagee can still foreclose, but it will not wipe out the lease.””Horne went on to explain that oil and gas companies will pay a subordination fee based on the location and productivity of the lease, some of which can run as high as $500 in the oil rich areas of Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.At the same time, properties currently in REO portfolios may have former leases that energy companies would want to renew. “”Tens of thousands of leases were wiped out during the foreclosure crisis,”” Horne said. “”When banks own REO, they are generally unwilling to execute a new lease on a property either because they are misinformed or unaware of the benefits they are passing up. Servicers should also know that leaseholders are motivated to help with costs associated with completing loan modifications if it can help keep a borrower in place and preserve an existing energy lease.””Up to 25 percent of the oil, gas, and mineral leasehold properties in the country may be in danger of losing their leases unnecessarily, Horne said. In order to prevent that, he believes “”the time is ideal for bringing the oil and gas community together with the mortgage industry for the benefit of all.””””We’re in an environment where there is much riding on the success of the oil and gas industry at making us less dependent on foreign energy and on the long-term health of the housing finance system,”” he said. “”Wingspan can help both sides achieve their goals, while enhancing these essential and strategic segments of the economy for generations to come.”” in Data, Government, Origination, Secondary Market, Servicing Wingspan Finds Benefits for Lenders in Energy Lease Preservationcenter_img Share Agents & Brokers Attorneys & Title Companies Company News Investors Lenders & Servicers Processing Service Providers Wingspan 2013-03-29 Tory Barringerlast_img read more