Monday, August 6, 2012

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Obama campaign: Romney fundraising edge means ‘we’re in trouble’


By Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News | The Ticket – 
President Barack Obama speaks at a July 24 campaign fundraiser in Portland, Oregon (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Imag …
President Barack Obama's re-election campaign warned supporters in an email plea for cash on Monday that Mitt Romney's vast fundraising edge means "we're in trouble" with scarcely three months to go before Election Day.
"We got beat three months in a row," the campaign said in the unsigned message. "If we don't step it up, we're in trouble."
The appeal came hours after the two sides released their July fundraising totals, revealing that Romney and the Republican Party scooped up $101 million against the $75 million hauled in by Obama and the Democrats.
"Can we win if we're outspent? YES, but we've got to close that gap as much as we can," the president's campaign said in the message, which painted casino mogul Sheldon Adelson as a villain to be defeated.
In one section, the message said it would take 188,679 Obama donors giving the average $53 contribution in July to equal "One Sheldon Adelson with a $10,000,000 pledge." The Las Vegas Sands Corporation CEO was represented by a large red figure wearing a bow tie. In a subsequent section, the figure appears again with the message that donations to Obama mean "fighting people like this."

Was the Sikh temple shooting domestic terrorism?

Members of the Sikh community in Wisconsin hold up a photo of the suspected gunman. (Darren Hauck/Getty)

The FBI is treating a mass shooting on Sunday at a Milwaukee-area Sikh Temple as a possible act of domestic terrorism, officials announced in a press conference Monday. Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran and suspected white supremacist, is believed to be the gunman and was killed at the scene of the crime.
Domestic terrorism is defined by the U.S. Patriot Act as a dangerous action that is intended to intimidate or coerce a "civilian population," influence government policy by intimidation or affect a government's actions by "mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping." Terrorism can be the work of one isolated individual, or a larger network of criminals.
While authorities haven't disclosed a possible motive for Page to open fire in a Sikh temple an hour before services began, law enforcement sources and advocacy groups say that Page was a longtime white supremacist who played in a white power band called "End Apathy." This fact could make his crime different from, for example, the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., two weeks ago, when a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater seemingly for no reason at all. Police have also refused to release a motive in the Colorado case, but it's harder to imagine how that attack could have been intended to influence government policy. However, Page's alleged crime could have been designed to send a message that the government should exclude nonwhite people from America, or any number of anti-minority messages.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Sikhs have sometimes been mistaken for Muslims and have increasingly found themselves the target of anti-Muslim hate crimes in America. It's possible that Page could have mixed up the temple with a mosque and started his attack as a way to make a political statement against Muslims—another political act that seems to fit the bill of terrorism.
Prabhjot Singh, the co-founder of the Sikh Coalition in New York, told Yahoo News that he thinks it's too soon to talk about whether the attack should be treated as terrorism or a hate crime.
"How we categorize it is not so important right now," Singh said. "It's that the nation comes to heal collectively."
The coalition was founded when hate crimes against Sikhs escalated after 2001, including the murder of gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi in Mesa, Ariz., by Frank Roque. The killer was reportedly out for "revenge" for the 9/11 attacks and wrongly assumed the Sikh man was Muslim.
The discussion around what counts as terrorism has been charged since 9/11, when Muslim-American communities were subjected to surveillance and heightened scrutiny out of fear that more terror attacks were on the way.
Domestic terrorism is actually at a four-decade low, according to Gary LaFree at the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. (LaFree doesn't count plots that were thwarted before they were ever attempted.) Between 1980 and 2001, non-Islamic American extremists carried out about two-thirds of all terrorism in the United States, according to FBI statistics cited by the Council on Foreign Relations. Between 2002 and 2005, that figure jumped to 95 percent. In the 10 years following 2001, only 6 percent of terrorist acts in America have been the work of Islamic extremists.
Even so, some scholars say the common perception is that most homegrown terrorists in America are Muslims adhering to a violent brand of Islamist extremism. People are less likely to understand that violent white supremacism can also be terrorism.
"I think that [white supremacist attacks] should quality as terrorism just as much as an individual who's a Muslim who abuses that faith to say 'I want to kill these people to further my political agenda,'" said Sahar Aziz, an associate professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. White supremacy is also a political message, she added.
Aziz says that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has shifted to focusing law enforcement resources on Islamic extremism, possibly to the detriment of preventing white supremacist attacks and other dangerous extremists.
"I think one of the issues that had bothered me in the aftermath of the Colorado incident and that has bothered ... many Muslim, Sikh, Arab and South Asian civil rights advocates is the ease with which the terrorism label applies to some individuals and some incidents and the assumption that if you have a person who isn't from certain communities then that label isn't appropriate," Dawinder "Dave" Sidhu, a Sikh-American law professor at the University of New Mexico, told Yahoo News.
Sidhu added that he thinks terrorism should be redefined to focus on a perpetrator's actions, not his or her motivations. Terrorism represents "a disregard for human life and a killing of innocents," he says, not the rationale of a killer that may be unknowable.

Cuba offshore oil exploration suffers another setback


Cuba's offshore oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico has suffered another setback with the failure of a well drilled by a Russian-Malaysian consortium, state-run oil company Cupet said Monday.
Cupet said geological studies of the exploratory well drilled by the Scarabeo 9 offshore platform show the presence of "an active petroleum system" but in rocks too dense to release oil and gas in commercial quantities.
Russia's Gazprom Neft and PC Gulf of Malaysia "continue to evaluate the information" gathered from the four blocks it contracted to explore.
But the Scarabeo 9 platform has been passed to Venezuela's state oil giant PDVSA to drill in its assigned block.
The Spanish oil company Repsol, which used the Scarabeo platform to drill for oil in a block assigned to it off Havana, abandoned its efforts in June after failing to find oil.
Cuba's economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico was divided into 59 blocks, 22 of which were put under contract to companies from Angola, India, Malaysia, Norway, Russia, Spain, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Some studies estimate that the 112,000-square-kilometer (43,243-square-mile) area has probable reserves of between five and nine billion barrels of crude oil, although Cuban authorities say there could be as much as 20 billion barrels.
Cuba produces oil from wells on land and in shallow water, but they are reaching their capacity limits.
It also imports 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela, a close ally that supplies oil to Cuba on easy terms.

Standard Chartered may lose NY license over Iran ties

(Please be advised that paragraph 6 contains reference to language some readers may find offensive)
NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a rare move, New York's top bank regulator threatened to strip the state banking license of Standard Chartered Plc, saying it was a "rogue institution" that hid $250 billion in transactions tied to Iran, in violation of U.S. law.
The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) on Monday said the British bank "schemed" with the Iranian government and hid from law-enforcement officials some 60,000 secret transactions to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fees over nearly 10 years.
At the same time, it exposed the U.S. banking system to terrorists, drug traffickers and corrupt states, the department said.
The loss of a New York banking license would be a devastating blow for a foreign bank, effectively cutting off direct access to the U.S. bank market. Standard Chartered processes $190 billion every day for global clients, the New York bank regulator said.
In an unusual look inside a bank, the regulator described how Standard Chartered officials debated whether to continue Iranian dealings. In October 2006, the top official for business in the Americas, whom the regulator did not name, warned in a "panicked message" that the Iranian dealings could cause "catastrophic reputational damage" and "serious criminal liability."
A top executive in London shot back: "You f---ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we're not going to deal with Iranians." The reply showed "obvious contempt for U.S. banking regulations," the regulator said.
Standard Chartered is the third British bank to be ensnared in U.S. law-enforcement probes this summer. Barclays Plc agreed to pay $453 million to settle U.S. and UK probes that it rigged a global benchmark in June. A month later, a U.S. Senate panel issued a scathing report that criticized HSBC Holding Plc's efforts to police suspect transactions, including Mexican drug traffickers.
In a statement Standard Chartered said the bank "does not believe the order issued by the DFS presents a full and accurate picture of the facts."
The bank said it shared with U.S. agencies an analysis that demonstrated it "acted to comply, and overwhelmingly did comply" with U.S. regulations. Standard Chartered put the total value of Iran-related transactions that did not follow regulations at under $14 million.
"The group was therefore surprised to receive the order from the DFS, given that discussions with the agencies were ongoing," Standard Chartered said. "We intend to discuss these matters with the DFS and to contest their position."
DFS declined further comment.
The Iranian Embassy in Washington was not immediately available to comment. The Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces U.S. economic and trade sanctions against targeted countries, declined to comment.
Standard Chartered, a financier in emerging markets, is the sixth foreign bank since 2008 to be implicated in dealings with sanctioned countries such as Iran in investigations led by federal and New York law-enforcement officials.
Four banks -- Barclays Plc, Lloyds Banking Group, Credit Suisse Group and ING Bank NV -- have agreed to fines and settlements totaling $1.8 billion. HSBC Holdings Plc currently is under investigation by U.S. law enforcement, according to bank regulatory filings.
The New York regulator, headed by former prosecutor Benjamin Lawsky, ordered Standard Chartered to explain why the bank should not lose its state license and the ability to process dollar transactions. Lawsky also ordered the bank to bring in an outside consultant to monitor its transactions.
"Standard Chartered Bank operated as a rogue institution," Lawsky said in the order.
In an unusual move, the regulator also found fault with an outside consultant -- Deloitte LLP -- because the firm "apparently aided" the bank in its deception.
A report by Deloitte had "intentionally omitted critical information" when submitted to regulators, it said. A Deloitte spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Deloitte was hired to conduct a review after Standard Chartered in 2004 was ordered by New York and federal regulators to correct anti-money laundering lapses. The review, known as a "look back," was supposed to identify suspicious transactions between 2002 and 2004. But at one point, Standard Chartered asked Deloitte to "delete" references to certain improper Iranian transactions, according to the New York order.
In a subsequent email, a Deloitte partner said the firm had "agreed" to the request because it was "too politically sensitive for both (Standard Chartered) and Deloitte. That is why I drafted the watered-down version."
In 2007, that report enabled Standard Chartered to show regulators in had corrected flaws in its anti-money laundering systems.
In a statement on Monday, Deloitte said its financial advisory service division "performed its role as independent consultant properly and had no knowledge of any alleged misconduct by bank employees. Allegations otherwise are unsupported by the facts."
Lawsky's investigation is extraordinary because probes into how banks carried out transactions tied to Iran primarily have been led by the district attorney's office in Manhattan and the U.S. Justice Department.
His probe is another sign that the regulator intends to join the New York attorney general and Manhattan district attorney in being a top financial watchdog. The DFS was created in October 2011, effectively assuming oversight of two former banking and insurance regulatory agencies that were abolished.
Probes by the Manhattan district attorney and U.S. Justice Department date to 2006 and have targeted some nine banks. Britain's Barclays agreed to pay $298 million in 2010 after admitting it processed payments for clients tied to Cuba, Sudan and other countries. Lloyds and Credit Suisse agreed to pay settlements of $350 million and $536 million.
In June, ING agreed to pay $619 million to settle allegations that it, too, violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran and other countries. It was the biggest fine levied against a bank for sanctions violations.
The Justice Department, working with the FBI in New York, is also investigating Standard Chartered's activities for violations of U.S. sanctions.
Standard Chartered, founded in 1853, is headquartered in London, but it specializes in financing in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Lawsky said Standard Chartered moved money through its New York branch on behalf of Iranian financial clients, including the Central Bank of Iran and state-owned Bank Saderat and Bank Melli, that were subject to U.S. sanctions.
Monday's order alleged that Standard Chartered removed codes on money transfers and altered message fields, inserting phrases such as "NO NAME GIVEN" to hide the nature of the transactions.
At the center of concern were alleged "U-Turn" transactions, involving money moved for Iranian clients among banks in Britain and the Middle East and cleared through Standard Chartered's New York branch, but which neither started nor ended in Iran.
Such transactions were permissible until November 2008, when the Treasury Department prohibited them on concerns that they were being used to evade sanctions, and that Iran was using banks to fund nuclear and missile development programs.
The New York order also alleged that even as some banks exited the U-Turn transactions, Standard Chartered hustled to "take the abandoned market share." In a December 2006 memo titled, "Project Gazelle, Report on Iranian Business," bankers discussed how to increase "wallet share" with Iranian clients.
Standard Chartered's stock fell 8 percent in the final 15 minutes of trading in London amid reports of the U.S. probe. Standard Chartered shares closed down 6.2 percent at 14.70 pounds ($22.91).
Chairman John Peace, CEO Peter Sands and Finance Director Richard Meddings could not be reached for comment, and the bank declined to comment beyond its brief statement.
(Additional reporting by Dena Aubin, Joseph Ax, Emily Flitter, Nate Raymond in New York, Aruna Viswanatha in Washington, D.C. and Steve Slater in London; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Alwyn Scott and Leslie Gevirtz)

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