FBI faces questions over previous contact with Boston bombing suspect
Agency admits it interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 ‘at request of foreign government’ but did not find ‘terrorism activity’
Ed Pilkington in Boston and Miriam Elder in Makhachkala, Dagestan
•guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 April 2013 01.50 BST
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is detained by police in the back yard of a house in Watertown, Massachusetts. Photograph: Massachusetts State Police/Reuters
The FBI’s previous contacts with one of the alleged Boston bombers have come under intense scrutiny as questions were raised about whether it missed vital clues that could have prevented the attack, which killed three people and injured more than 170.
The bureau admitted that it had interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 "at the request of a foreign government", presumed to be Russia, which was concerned that he was a "follower of radical Islam". The FBI said that it did not find any "terrorism activity" and appears not to have had any further contact with him since.
FBI agents were scrambling to review a six-month visit to Russia by 26-year-old Tsarnaev last year, during which he stayed with his father in Dagestan and is reported to have visited the family’s ethnic home of Chechnya.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Photograph: Corbis In Boston, special agents trained in the interrogation of high-value suspects were waiting to question the surviving 19-year-old suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who remained in a serious condition in hospital on Saturday.
He was brought late on Friday night to Beth Israel Deaconess medical center – the same hospital where earlier in the day his brother Tamerlan died after a shootout with police. The Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick said on Saturday that Dzhokhar was in a serious but stable condition and was "not able to communicate yet".
As questions were raised about how well known the brothers were to federal investigators, their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, said that the FBI had spoken to the family on multiple occasions. In an interview broadcast by Russia Today before the end of the manhunt on Friday, Tsarnaeva, a naturalised US citizen, said FBI agents had spoken to her in the past.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Photograph: AP "They were telling me that Tamerlan was really an extremist leader and they were afraid of him. They told me whatever information he is getting, he gets from these extremists’ sites." Tsarnaeva, speaking from Dagestan, claimed that the FBI were monitoring her son "at every step", and had been "controlling" him for three to five years. She did not give specific dates.
The White House said Barack Obama had spoken to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as the manhunt came to an end on Friday. "President Putin expressed his condolences on behalf of the Russian people for the tragic loss of life in Boston," the White House said in a statement.
Obama "praised the close co-operation that the United States has received from Russia on counterterrorism, including in the wake of the Boston attack," the White House said.
‘Off the hook’
But there were concerns in Congress that the FBI appeared not to have maintained contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Representative Peter King of New York, a Republican member of the House homeland security committee, asked whether the FBI could have done more. "Did they move too quickly by letting this guy off the hook?" said King, quoted in Newsday. "Should they have looked more carefully?"
People gather at a makeshift memorial for victims near the site of the Boston Marathon bombings a day after the second suspect was captured. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images With a week-long manhunt for the suspects now over, and Boston getting back to normal following a virtual lockdown of the city on Friday, questions were also being raised about the approach of federal prosecutors to the surviving suspect.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not read his Miranda rights, the process under US law that would have informed him of his right to remain silent, when he was detained. Ordinarily that would mean that any confession would be inadmissible at trial, but Carmen Ortiz, US attorney for Massachusetts, cited a public safety exception that is intended to prevent the public from immediate danger. The exception would allow investigators to question Tsarnaev about possible accomplices or networks that might have conspired in the attacks.
Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain supported the decision not to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights, and called for him to be classified as an "enemy combatant".
An expansion of the public safety exception to Miranda by the Obama administration is the subject of controversy, and civil rights advocates expressed concern about how it would be applied. The American Civil Liberties Union said the exemptions should not be "open-ended" and that America "must not waiver from our tried and true justice system".
US attorney Carmen Ortiz speaks during a news conference after the arrest of a suspect of the Boston Marathon bombings in Watertown, Massachusetts. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP US prosecutors are considering how best to press charges against Tsarnaev, given his medical condition. They might wait for him to recover sufficiently to be taken to the federal courthouse in south Boston, or they might even request a federal judge comes to the hospital to charge him at the bedside. US officials said a special interrogation unit specialised in dealing with high-value suspects were waiting to question him.
On Friday the FBI took two men and a woman in New Bedford, Massachusetts, into custody and are questioning them about their links to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The federal public defender’s office in Massachusetts said it has agreed to represent Tsarnaev once he is charged. Miriam Conrad, public defender for Massachusetts, told the Associated Press that he should have a lawyer appointed as soon as possible because there are "serious issues regarding possible interrogation."
Once federal investigators are allowed access to Tsarnaev, they will be keen to quiz him on his connections – in the US, in Dagestan, where his father lives, and Chechnya, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev is thought to have visited last year.
Much of the investigation is likely to focus on the activities of the elder brother. The FBI has revealed that in 2011 Tamerlan was interviewed by its agents at the request of an unnamed foreign government – widely assumed to have been Russia – who asked the bureau to look into whether Tamerlan, then 24, had extremist connections.
In a statement, the FBI said that the foreign government had information that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a "follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups".
No evidence of terrorism
In response to the request, the FBI scoured Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s telephone records, online history, associations with other people, movements and educational history, and agents interviewed him and his relatives. But the bureau found no evidence of terrorism activity either at home or abroad. It passed on its findings to the foreign government.
According to US travel records, Tsarnaev arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on 12 January 2012, returning on 17 July. He spent time in Makhachkala, Dagestan, that summer. "It was 40C and he was wearing these American boots," said Larissa Abakarova, who maintains a shop across the street from the home of the parents of Tsarnaev. "He was stylish, kind, good-looking. I’m in shock."
School number one, which Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended as a child, in Makhachkala, Dagestan. Photograph: Reuters A neighbour, Vyacheslav Kazakevich, said the Tsarnaevs’ parents would travel regularly between the neighbouring republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, where several relatives live, including an aunt. He said that Tamerlan visited Chechnya, just an hour’s drive from Makhachkala, during his trip to Russia in early 2012. "All their roots are there. They had no ties to rebels or to wahhabi," he said, using the accepted Russian term for Islamist fundamentalists.
In the Russia Today interview, the suspects’ mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, claimed they had been set up by the FBI. But by Friday evening, the Tsarnaevs had been questioned by the Federal Security Service, sources said. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva shut off her phone and her husband rarely picked his up after that.
At around 6pm on Friday, a relative drove the two away – some said to Chechnya, others to a secret location in Makhachkala. "She was sobbing last night as she left, you could hear it," said the neighbour, Larissa Abakarova. "She was in hysterics."
By Saturday, more than 50 victims of the Boston bombing remained in hospital, with three in a critical condition.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:22 am
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J.C. Penney faces risk of bankruptcy, BMO warns in downgrade
The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Mar. 25 2013
The future of struggling U.S. retailer J.C. Penney is looking increasingly dire, says BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Wayne Hood, who warns that there’s a chance it could be heading into bankruptcy over the next couple of years.
“We were hoping to become more constructive on JCP following the significant underperformance in fiscal years 2012/2013. However, our research leads us to move in the opposite direction and lower our rating back to underperform from market perform,” Mr. Hood said in a research note.
J.C. Penney’s fourth quarter showed a continued steep deterioration in its business since launching a turnaround strategy nearly a year ago, with same-store sales dropping by 32 per cent.
Mr. Wood sees four potential outcomes for the company over the next 12 to 24 months – and three of the four would be bearish.
In the most bullish scenario, J.C. Penney restores sales growth and maintains sufficient liquidity by throttling back capital expenditures while selling non-core assets.
Mr. Wood’s “base-case scenario” sees the company reversing the steep slide in comparable store sales to post modest sales growth of 0.9 per cent in fiscal 2014. That scenario also assumes capital spending cuts and the sale of non-core assets, but assumes the company will continue to post annual earnings per share losses over the next five years.
The last two scenarios involve bankruptcy filings. One would be a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy that enables the company to become smaller and more profitable. The fourth, and most dire outcome, would be the company being forced into an involuntary bankruptcy in the first or second quarter of fiscal 2014.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Mar 25, 2013 5:44 pm
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Drought-pressed US wheat faces further dry spell
Forecasters hold out little hope for now of relief for US winter wheat seedlings from the dryness which official data showed continuing to deteriorate, to their worst condition on record.
The proportion of the US winter wheat crop in "good" or "excellent" health fell by three points to 36% last week, the lowest rating for the time of year on data going back to 1985, US Department of Agriculture data showed.
The decline was blamed on continued dryness in areas such as Kansas, the top US wheat-growing state, which is still rated 100% in drought, with freezing temperatures seen as posing a test on some farms too.
And, while some parched areas of the Plains, including eastern Kansas, received rains over the weekend, there are no signs of follow-up precipitation on the immediate horizon.
‘Rather tranquil conditions’
Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather, forecast that dry weather would continue for the next fortnight for western areas of the hard red winter areas in the US Plains, where the worst drought since 1956 is lingering.
At WxRisk.com, Dave Tolleris said that "things look pretty quiet over the next five days for all of the Plains and the Midwest", with a high pressure keeping rain away, if with cold temperatures set to stay north of the Canadian border.
And heading into the end of the month, he forecast "rather tranquil conditions for all of the Plains and Midwest" too.
The USDA’s crop condition data extended a picture of struggling crops in the hard red winter wheat areas of the Plains, with seedlings in the Midwest, where drought has largely broken, getting soft red winter wheat seedlings off to a better start.
Even in the Midwest state of Illinois, where the proportion of crop rated "good" or "excellent" sank 6 points during the week amid "warmer and drier weather", that still left the rating at a relatively high 72%.
"Topsoil moisture levels have largely recovered from the effects of the drought," with only 18% rated short, USDA scouts said.
‘In need of rainfall’
The soil conditions contrast with those in the likes of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, of which 100% are rated in drought, and the 85% figure for Texas.
Selected US state winter wheat ratings and (change on week)
Washington: 80%, (+5 points)
Illinois: 72%, (-6 points)
Missouri: 62%, (+8 points)
Kansas: 33%, (-4 points)
Texas: 30%, (-4 points)
Nebraska: 15%, (+2 points)
South Dakota: 3%, (-1 point)
Data: % in good or excellent condition. Source: USDA
"Low soil moisture delayed seeding activities in some areas and left producers in need of rainfall to complete the seeding process," USDA staff in Texas said in their report for the week to Sunday.
"Heat and lack of moisture also impeded the germination and growth of some dry land wheat."
In South Dakota, where only 3% of winter wheat is rated good or excellent, "overall again precipitation was mainly lighter, largely leaving drought conditions unchanged", USDA officials said.
Brian Henry, at broker Benson Quinn Comodities said that South Dakota "has real issues" with its winter wheat crop.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Nov 14, 2012 9:47 pm
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hearing for ‘obvious neglect of duty’ after giving zeros to students
Jake Edmiston | Aug 30, 2012 8:04 PM ET | Last Updated: Aug 31, 2012 11:59 AM ET
More from Jake Edmiston
Rick MacWilliam / Postmedia NewsLynden Dorval was suspended for going against the school’s no-zero policy when grading students’ tests.
Lynden Dorval, Edmonton’s Mr. Zero, gets a lesson in school conduct
When students, as they sometimes do, decide they don’t like a school policy and make a show of defiance — showing up in the T-shirt they were told to leave at home, or with the pink punk haircut that violates the dress code — my general reaction is that they should quit making a spectacle of themselves and do what they’re told. There are rules in society; if you object there are established procedures for communicating and dealing with that fact. It’s hogwash to argue, as is too often done, that any hindrance on an individual’s ability to do whatever they please is somehow a violation of fundamental rights.
Mr. Dorval’s view on the policy was correct: it’s ridiculous to teach students that they can fail to do the work and still get the reward. But respect works both ways: you want it from the students, you have to give it to the principal.
More from Kelly McParland…
Before the courier came to his suburban Edmonton home this week with a letter explaining that his boss wants him fired, high school teacher Lynden Dorval thought his principal had bowed to the media firestorm.
Three months ago, Mr. Dorval went public with his struggle against Ross Sheppard High School’s no-zero policy, making him a lightning rod for a debate on how to teach a generation often billed as having a sense of entitlement.
But on Tuesday, the letter from the superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools informed him his principal, Ron Bradley, requested his termination for “his obvious neglect of duty as a professional teacher, his repeated insubordination and his continued refusal to obey lawful orders.”
Mr. Dorval, 61, is scheduled to appear before superintendent Edgar Schmidt to plead his case next month.
“I had convinced myself with all the publicity that I wasn’t actually going to get fired,” he said. “From the very beginning, I kept telling myself that this was going to be the outcome. But I guess I convinced myself that something else might happen.”
The physics teacher, who colleagues called Captain Zero, spent 18 months disobeying the school’s rule against doling out zeros to students who didn’t complete assignments or tests, which school management sees as a discipline issue, not an academic one.
Kelly McParland: Lynden Dorval, Edmonton’s Mr. Zero, gets a lesson in school conduct
Edmonton teacher may lose job for refusing to let kids skip assignments
Marni Soupcoff: Giving a student a zero shows you care
N.S. school backs off from ban of student’s T-shirt with pro-Jesus message
Mr. Dorval was put on an indefinite suspension after refusing to heed several warnings and reprimands from the school principal — according to the principal’s recommendation, the teacher once went as far as going into the school’s grades database and reentering zero marks that had been changed by a department head.
News of Mr. Dorval’s suspension prompted a public outcry.
“The students need to develop that intrinsic motivation to do it on their own,” said Mr. Dorval, who has been teaching for 35 years.
Mr. Bradley, who spearheaded the school policy, was unavailable for comment Thursday. But according to letters from the principal about Mr. Dorval’s case, the impetus of the program was to avoid discouraging students and to “hold students accountable for completion of work.”
The Edmonton Public Schools board voted in June to review its policies on student assessment “to ensure clarity, consistency and to ensure that students are held to high standards.” That investigation is scheduled for this fall.
But ahead of that review, Mr. Dorval is scheduled to appear Sept. 10 before the superintendent to address the principal’s calls for his termination.
Edmonton school board spokeswoman Cheryl Oxford couldn’t comment on the specifics of Mr. Dorval’s case due to privacy issues. But Ms. Oxford said the dismissal is an employment issue — unrelated to the board’s review of its grading policies.
In his letter to the superintendent, the principal said Mr. Dorval was repeatedly absence in staff meetings — a claim Mr. Dorval says is untrue.
The veteran teacher also sent a staff-wide email condemning the no zero policy, Mr. Bradley said.
“I advised Mr. Dorval that I was not disputing his professional right to express his opinion but … I found his tone and method of communication insubordinate,” Mr. Bradley wrote.
Following the suspension, the principal reported that Mr. Dorval entered the school without requesting permission — part of the terms of his suspension — twice to return unmarked quizzes and assignments, and once to voice concerns about his replacement teacher, Mr. Bradley wrote.
In June, Mr. Dorval told the National Post he chose to fight the policy, in part, because he was planning to retire anyway. But he has decided to continue teaching, regardless of the Sept. 10 decision — because when he was told to clear out his office, he was in the midst of the best semester he’d had in a decade.
“It’s kind of ironic, I had thought about retiring many times until last semester,” he said. “I’ve reconsidered my retirement plan for at least a couple of years.”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:32 am
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Pope’s butler Paolo Gabriele faces prison term for stealing letters
Man who believed Vatican was plagued by scandal could be sentenced to six years in prison
Tom Kington in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 August 2012
The pope’s butler could face up to six years in jail after a Vatican judge sent him to trial on Monday for leaking papal correspondence containing embarrassing allegations of corruption at the tiny Vatican state.
The judge, Piero Antonio Bonnet, also sent a Vatican IT expert to trial for harbouring stolen correspondence on behalf of the butler, Paolo Gabriele, and warned that investigators would continue to track down other culprits in the so called Vatileaks scandal.
"Magistrates do not believe they have finished their investigations," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. "This is a partial conclusion."
Gabriele, 46, confessed to leaking letters to an Italian journalist after he was arrested in May and held in a secure room at the Vatican. The journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who published the letters in a successful book, has said he has been told 20 disgruntled Vatican staffers have released internal documents, shedding light on allegations of corrupt contracting and infighting at the Holy See.
In his confession, Gabriele said he believed the Vatican was plagued by scandal, corruption and "mysteries" and needed the "shock" of seeing its most confidential documents published to force it "back on track". The butler said he believed he was an agent of the holy spirit who could help root out the "evil and corruption" in the church.
After starting to leak documents, he said, "I reached the point of no return and could not control myself any more."
Investigators searching through the "chaotic" collection of stolen papal letters found in Gabriele’s apartment at the Vatican also found gifts meant for Pope Benedict, including a cheque for €100,000 (£78,00), a gold nugget and a 16th century copy of the Aeneid.
Gabriele’s lawyer, Carlo Fusco, said the cheque had ended up between the letters by mistake and that Gabriele had not sought to cash it. Gabriele told investigators he had borrowed the copy of the Aeneid to show his son’s school teacher and intended to give it back.
Experts appointed by the prosecution said Gabriele was subject to paranoia and his decision to leak the letters was driven by a "profound need to win the attention and affection of others". An expert appointed by Gabriele’s lawyer suggested he was prey to "restlessness, tension, rage and frustration" and vulnerable to "external manipulation".
The judge’s report revealed the butler had also shared stolen documents with his "spiritual father", likely a priest to whom he confessed, although the report does not specify whom. Named in the report as ‘B’, the confessor told investigators he had burned the documents Gabriele gave him.
Gabriele also handed a packet of documents to a friend, Claudio Sciarpelletti, the staffer now due to stand trial alongside Gabriele as an accessory after the fact. When Sciarpelletti’s office at the office of the Vatican’s secretary of state was searched and the documents found, he said he had never looked at them. Lombardi described Sciarpelletti’s role as "marginal".
Gabriele and Sciarpelletti will face trial before a panel of three judges, but not before autumn. The Vatican court, which is more accustomed to prosecuting pickpockets arrested in St Peter’s Square and Vatican staffers caught shoplifting at the Holy See supermarket, shuts down for a summer break on Tuesday and will not reopen until 20 September.
Lombardi said he did not rule out the Vatican prosecuting Nuzzi for publishing the letters.
If convicted, Gabriele, who is married with three children, could face up to six years in an Italian jail since the Vatican does not have a prison, but Lombardi suggested the pope could pardon him after the trial.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Aug 13, 2012 8:26 pm
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More than 50 Catholic churches and other sites in 11 Michigan counties could be closed as part of a Diocese of Saginaw reorganization.
MLive.com (http://bit.ly/M4Tcew) reports that the diocese has proposed reducing its 105 churches by more than half by July 2013.
Eighteen additional sites operating along with other churches also are expected to be shuttered.
A planning commission will review closing proposals. The diocese is expected to announce final plans in January.
Declining membership is behind the reorganization. The number of parishioners in the dioceses has dropped by more than 51,000 since 1988. Current membership is close to 109,000.
The diocese has churches in Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Isabella, Midland, Saginaw, Sanilac and Tuscola counties.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:54 pm
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Kazakhstan faces ‘moisture deficit’, UN warns
The United Nations raised concerns for Kazakhstan’s wheat harvest, flagging a moisture shortage in main producing areas, as forecasters warned of continued dryness.
The UN’s food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, forecast an even bigger fall in the Kazakh wheat crop than the 34% plunge predicted by US farm officials, noting dryness stemming from "insufficient snow during winter".
FAO forecasts for major FSU grains crops and (change on year)
Kazakhstan coarse grains harvest: 2.4m tonnes, (-31%)
Kazakhstan wheat: 14.5m tonnes, (-36%)
Russia coarse grains harvest: 34.3m tonnes, (+0.3%)
Russia wheat: 56.8m tonnes, (+1.1%)
Ukraine coarse grains harvest: 32.9m tonnes, (-1.8%)
Ukraine wheat: 14.0m tonnes, (-37%)
"In the main central growing areas, and some northern parts, soil conditions are not adequate due to moisture deficits," the FAO said.
And the country, which last year saw cereals output soar to a record 26.6m tonnes thanks to near-ideal conditions, looks unlikely, with other former Soviet Union countries, to receive moisture soon.
The region’s overall weather pattern "is going to be turning significantly warmer and drier" as a heart ridge builds from Kazakhstan into western Russia and Ukraine this week and into May, WxRisk.com said.
"This will allow temperatures to warm up significantly and for conditions to dry out," with no rain in Kazakh forecasts heading into mid-May, and with little in outlooks for Russia and Ukraine too.
The FAO, using an average yield forecast, estimated Kazakhstan’s wheat crop at 14.5m tonnes, 500,000 tonnes below an estimate from US Department of Agriculture foreign staff.
Former Soviet Union 2012 harvest forecasts and (change on 2011)
Wheat: 85.3m tonnes, (-15.7%)
Coarse grains: 69.6m tonnes, (-2.2%)
Total cereals : 156.6m tonnes, (-10.1%)
Data for Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine. Source: FAO
And it saw the Ukraine wheat harvest tumbling too, by 37% to 14.0m tonnes, sapped by winterkill that "has been higher than normal due to severe low temperatures and limited snow cover".
This figure is in line with many other estimates, including that of the Ukraine farm ministry, although official meteorologists on Tuesday said the crop could come in as low as 11m tonnes.
The UN FAO forecast the overall cereals harvest in the former Soviet Union’s main three producing countries – Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine – falling 10.1% to 156.6m tonnes, with the decline slowed somewhat by reseedings with spring crops of Ukraine area lost to winterkill.
Russia will see a slight uptick in grains production, to 92.3m tonnes, reflecting increasing in the main in wheat output.
Russia’s wheat harvest will rise by 600,000 tonnes, "largely reflecting an increase in plantings in response to continuing strong prices".
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Apr 24, 2012 9:59 pm
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Tree farm faces axe
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the federal government’s shelterbelt program at Indian Head played an important role in prairie agriculture but Ottawa no longer needs to be in the business of distributing trees for farmers to plant.
"Farmers don’t farm like they did 100 years ago when (the shelterbelt program at) Indian Head came into being," Ritz said in an interview in response to changes being made in the wake of the recent federal budget.
"We’re wanting to make sure that government is focused on the right programs for tomorrow’s agriculture."
Current agricultural practices such as continuous cropping means some shelterbelts are today being pulled out, the minister said.
Ritz said the decision to wind down the federal role in growing and providing tree seedlings to farmers – a practice that began in the early 1900s – also means there is an opportunity for interested third parties to acquire ownership of the shelterbelt distribution program and carry it forward.
But the government will continue with the research work that also takes place at the Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head, he said.
Bruce Neill, who retired about a year ago from his role as manager at the agroforestry centre after a 33-year career, said hundreds of millions of seedlings have been grown and distributed to farmers across Western Canada since the shelterbelt program began 111 years ago.
While provided to farmers for free, they had to invest money to ensure seedlings would grow, said Neill, who felt the program remained valuable through the years.
"You don’t carry something on because of its history, its legacy. You’ve got to continue to evolve and I believe the centre has been doing that and trying to do that all along," said Neill.
The trees served many purposes from preventing soil erosion and protecting yards to sequestering carbon. The program went hand in hand with research in areas such as using trees for bioenergy generation, he said.
"You’re going to have to find other ways to incent or to convince, besides information or philosophy, to get (trees) on the landscape," said Neill.
Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said farmers trying to get established see a "real benefit" in being able to access the free seedlings. Even though shelterbelts in fields don’t play the same role due they once did, trees are still needed in some areas – including to protect farmyards from the elements, he said.
"I can see any young farmer that gets involved now would want trees around their yard," said Hall, who hopes the program will continue in some capacity under a private partner.
The federal agriculture department also plans to stop operating community pastures in the coming years. Ritz said they could be better managed by entities such as rural municipalities or farmers who use the pastures.
"Certainly when you look at the value of farmland across Saskatchewan, the growing interest in expanding our beef herd, we think it’s an ideal time for the government to pull back and, again, private sector farmers and producers (could) move into that job description," said Ritz.
There are 60 federal community pastures in Saskatchewan, and most of that land would revert to the province. A spokesman for the provincial government said no decisions have been made yet about what would happen to those pasture acres.
It’s not clear how many agriculture jobs in Saskatchewan will be eliminated as a result of the budget decisions. But the Public Service Alliance of Canada has said 385 of its members working for the Department of Agriculture across the prairies received notices their jobs could be lost, including 30 with the shelterbelt program by the end of 2013.
Regina Liberal MP Ralph Goodale accused the Conservative government Thursday of failing to provide a clear outline of exactly what programs, services and employees are affected because of budget cuts. The pending loss of the shelterbelt program at Indian Head is a blow for agriculture, he said.
"It took an incredible amount of vision for farmers and the Laurier government at the turn of the last century, around 1900, to come up with the concept of what we now call an agroforestry centre but was then a tree farm in the middle of the bald prairies in the Palliser triangle."
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Sun Apr 22, 2012 3:12 am
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Wildlife and farming disaster warning as drought spreads across England
Most of England is now in drought and the dry spell could last beyond Christmas, the Environment Agency will announce on Monday, as government officials started planning for a long-term water shortage that could be disastrous for wildlife, the landscape and farming.
Large swaths of the Midlands and the south-west have entered official drought status, meaning water companies in those areas can apply to place restrictions on water use for households and businesses. This could mean an extension of the hosepipe bans in the south of England.
The drought now extends from Cornwall to Kent, East Anglia to Shropshire and Herefordshire, and as far north as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and North Yorkshire. Even parts of Wales – normally one of the wettest parts of the UK – are reporting ill-effects from the dry spell. The smattering of rain in many areas over Easter gave little respite from low river flows and falling groundwater levels, with only England’s northernmost counties still getting enough wet weather.
While rain over the summer and autumn could alleviate the water shortages, officials are planning for the third dry winter in a row, which could devastate wildlife and farming. Only a very wet autumn and winter could prevent the drought stretching into next year. Soils are so dry that they will need a prolonged heavy soaking to recover, while levels at reservoir across much of England are so low they will take time to replenish.
Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, warned the outlook was bleak. "A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely, and we are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought," he said. "While we’ve had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away and we would urge everyone – right across the country – to use water wisely now, which will help prevent more serious impacts next year."
Households and businesses in areas not yet badly affected, and not under hosepipe bans, are also being urged to save water. Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, said: "As more areas of the UK move into drought it is vital we use less water to protect the public’s water supply in the driest areas of the country. It is for everyone to share the responsibility to save water. We are asking everyone to help by using less water and starting now."
Helen Vale, national drought co-ordinator at the Environment Agency, added: "The amount of water that we use at home and in our businesses has a direct effect on the amount of water available in the environment, for wildlife and for farmers, so we would urge everyone to start using less water now, whether or not they live in an area with a hosepipe ban."
The state of restrictions varies widely. While most of the south-east is under a hosepipe ban, the south-west – despite being now officially in drought – has more reservoirs and fewer people. South West Water has no plans to restrict consumer usage as its reservoirs are at 84% of their capacity.
Farmers, particularly arable farmers and vegetable growers, face a difficult summer as decisions have already been taken on what to grow this year. Further restrictions such as curbs on abstracting groundwater will become more likely if the drought continues. Price rises are likely for thirsty crops such as soft fruit and vegetables, while the price of beer is also expected to increase.
Wildlife is being hard hit across the south of England, with little that can be done for many species. Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts are particularly at risk, as their breeding season has been hit by the drying out of ponds and ditches, and fish have died in large numbers after becoming trapped in diminishing pools as the river flow fell.
Although some fish have been moved from some of the most drought-stricken spots, government agencies lack the means to carry this out on the vast scale that would be needed in a prolonged drought. Species from water voles and wildfowl to dragonflies and wading birds will also be hit, wildlife experts have warned, as the drought reduces their habitats, kills off food supplies and leaves them vulnerable to predators and disease. Wildfires – more likely as vegetation dries out – may also pose a danger if hot weather continues this summer.
Welcome though rain would be, sudden showers also carry risks, the Environment Agency warned, as flash floods become more likely when soil is dry. England needs rain – but the right kind of rain.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Apr 16, 2012 9:52 am
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MF Global scandal has left farmers, ranchers out tens of thousands of dollars
Months later, no indictments have been filed
"Our money was stolen and nobody is being held accountable," farmer says
At center of scandal is Jon Corzine, a Democratic power player
Luverne, Minnesota (CNN) — Dean Tofteland promised to take care of the farm while his father was on vacation.
"I want you to go ahead and enjoy yourself," he told him.
The small private plane carrying Arnie Tofteland never reached its destination. It ran out of gas on the way to Indianapolis, fell from the sky and struck the backstop of a baseball field before slamming nose first into the pitcher’s mound.
Dean, then just 27, had come home to the farm for a short stint; he hoped to enter the world of agribusiness. Suddenly, he was thrust into the role of carrying on his father’s legacy.
Twenty-three years later, he drives through his corn and soybean fields in the southwestern corner of Minnesota. "I’m still taking care of it," he says. "It’s not just a way of life. It’s a part of my life."
Tofteland held the farm together after his father was killed, survived drought and the great flood of 1993. Then, commodity prices sank in the mid-1990s. And like most farmers, he has seen too many friends die young.
Such are the hazards of life on a farm.
But all that Tofteland has worked for was nearly lost in one fell swoop last October. This time, it wasn’t a crisis brought on by tragedy or Mother Nature. It was the work of Wall Street and commodity power players in Chicago, a scandal that has become known simply as MF Global.
Tofteland had $253,000 in an account with the brokerage firm, money he planned to use to cover his farm’s operating loan. As MF Global went bankrupt last fall, customers’ segregated accounts were raided in clear violation of exchange rules. When the dust settled, more than 38,000 MF Global customers — including thousands of farmers, ranchers and grain operators who used the firm to hold money for transactions on the futures market — were out more than $1.2 billion.
On a recent February day, Tofteland points to the stirrups hanging in his barn. They’ve been there since the 1930s, when the first tractor arrived. Nearby, his fields stretch nearly to the horizon.
His seed bill last year was $230,000; fertilizer cost $150,000. In addition to his own land, he farms acreage he rents at a cost of $450,000. He has another $1 million tied up in equipment, plus four full-time employees. "We’re talking big numbers, and you’re taking all these risks," he says. "And you can get hailed out, droughted out, flooded out at any time."
That’s why the MF Global scandal hurt so much: a financial tsunami that nearly wiped everything away. Tofteland had come to rely on the futures market. So eroded is his trust in the system, he hasn’t used it since.
He notes he can track a hog from his farm to somebody’s table. Yet somehow, he ponders, authorities haven’t fully tracked the missing $1.2 billion, or who was behind it.
"It’s either ignorance or fraud," he says. "Money doesn’t vaporize. If my account is empty, somebody else’s is full."
Tofteland opens the door to one of his four hog barns. More than 250 piglets scamper in pens in the climate-controlled barn. The smell is so wretched it takes every ounce of strength for a newcomer not to vomit. The analogy is inescapable: What stinks worse, a hog barn or …?
Tofteland doesn’t even pause to think. "I would say MF Global. Our money was stolen and nobody is being held accountable."
‘Money they just took’
From the cornfields of the Midwest to the cotton fields down South to the large cattle ranches out West, the MF Global scandal has rocked the tight-knit farming community.
Dean Tofteland has withstood farm crises before, but the MF Global scandal nearly wiped him out.
Some farmers lie awake at night, unable to sleep, worried about bill collectors and the system they’d come to trust. As planting season nears, they find themselves still out tens of thousands of dollars. Most don’t want to talk on the record; they don’t want their friends and neighbors to know they’re down big money when they have a crop to put in.
Most of MF Global’s customers have received 72% of their money back. Executives at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade like to tout that fact as a great feat. But they’d better duck if they ever step foot on a farm — they might just get punched in the jaw.
Tofteland is still out $70,000.
"Pocket change for these guys, right," he says with disgust. "This money wasn’t an investment. This was money that they just took. Maybe it’s a fairy tale to most people, but if you lie or cheat or steal around here in this part of the world, you’re out of business."
On this day, Tofteland is on the move. He leaves his farm outside Luverne, a quaint town of 4,700 that still has a theater downtown and a drive-in on the outskirts.
He stops in town to discuss a potential land deal, spins through his wind farm and then drives 23 miles to a feed and grain operator.
At Mouw’s Feed & Grain in Leota, population 222, voices seethe with anger at the mention of MF Global.
"It sucks," says Mike Mouw, who runs the business with his brother, Brad.
The Mouws and their customers are men’s men: leathery hands as tough as the pickups they drive, faces lined with wrinkles from too many hours working in the sun and rain and wind. They’re skeptical of outsiders. They’d prefer to tend to business than speak with a reporter. But now the dam has burst.
Mouw spins around in his feed shop and leans over the counter to look an outsider in the eye. "You got money in a savings account?" he says. "If somebody was to take money out of there — I mean just take it from you — how would you feel?
"You’d hate it, just like we hate it. So that’s why we’re so fired up and pissed off."
Dean Tofteland, center, with Brad and Mike Mouw at their grain shop in Leota, Minnesota.
The Mouw brothers run the business their father founded in 1950. The futures market is essential to their way of life: Hedging grain is what they do.
Farmers use the futures market to set a strike price on their crops before a seed is even planted. However, they can skip the futures market and sell directly to a grain operator, who contracts to buy the grain but uses the futures market himself to offset the price risk.
When word spread that MF Global was going bankrupt, the Mouws were reassured on a Friday that their money was safe: a segregated account had never been lost in the history of the commodity exchange.
By Monday, their $450,000 with MF Global was gone.
"Your business flashes before your eyes when something like that happens," says Brad Mouw. "I thought: This could take us down."
The two nod as they speak. Water fills their eyes. Their business remains strong, but the scandal caused undue stress. They’re still owed more than $100,000, and there’s a pile of legal fees from trying to get their money back.
For an industry that relies on the futures market, it is faith in the system that has been most rattled.
"Are we still safe?" says Brad Mouw. "We don’t know any more."
He peers from beneath a baseball cap with the initials "MFG." He notes that the letters stands for their business — Mouw’s Feed & Grain — not the company that took them for a ride.
On the hallowed ground built by their father, their voices grow animated. They raise pertinent points in spitfire fashion: In their view, the MF Global scandal amounts to the largest bank heist in U.S. history — so where’s the national outrage? Where’s the all-points bulletin for those responsible?
Money doesn’t vaporize. If my account is empty, somebody else’s is full.
The Justice Department, the FBI, federal regulators and Congress have launched multiple investigations into what happened and who is to blame for the missing money. No indictments have been brought. Federal investigators have said the probe has taken months because they’re scrutinizing scores of wire transfers to determine if a crime was committed.
At the center of the scandal is Jon Corzine, MF Global’s CEO at the time and a highly connected Democrat who was once touted as a potential treasury secretary. Corzine also is a former governor of New Jersey and U.S. senator who President Obama once hailed as one of his "best partners" in the White House.
In congressional testimony, Corzine has said he knew nothing about the transfers of customer money.
That doesn’t stop the Mouws from drawing conclusions. In fact, it feeds their questions: Does the lack of justice have anything to do with Corzine’s strong ties to the White House and his former role as a top fundraiser for Obama? Why have the Occupy Wall Street protesters remained silent about the scandal and the eighth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history?
Rod Sas pulls up with a load of corn and strolls through the door. Decked out in a blue jumpsuit, he delivers more than grain on this day. He dishes up a mouthful. He didn’t have money tied up with MF Global; his cash was held by a different firm. But farmers stand in solidarity.
The name Corzine swishes around like bad chewing tobacco. "He’s Obama’s big buddy is what he is," Sas says.
He’s suspicious of any investigations of a Washington insider and millionaire Democrat. That right there, he says, explains why he’s not behind bars.
"Indictments?" says Mike Mouw. "I doubt it’s ever going to happen."
"It was a bail-your-buddies out program," Tofteland chimes in.
"What do they call that? Chicago politics," Sas says. "I don’t see why people can get away with what they did."
As everyone parts this day, Brad Mouw hops in his F-250. "When you get my money back, let me know," he says out his window.
The farmer takes on MF honcho
Dean Tofteland’s Minnesota roots are as firmly planted as his corn and soybean fields. His grandfather, who immigrated from Norway, began as a farmhand before buying his first chunk of land.
But Tofteland, 50, never expected to become the face of farming.
Dean Tofteland says he’s fighting for farmers who are too afraid to speak out on the scandal.
A father of four children ranging in age from 8 to 16, he prefers traveling two hours away to his sons’ hockey games than flying to the nation’s capital. But when the MF Global story hit, he spoke to the local newspaper about his ordeal. Soon, he was on a plane to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee. (The trip cost him $3,000 out of pocket, plus a new suit.)
"Business failures are nothing new. They happen every day on Main Street. The difference in this case is the missing money," he told the committee in December. "We all know if our personal bank account is one penny overdrawn, the bank knows about it. … What they call ‘unlawful comingling’ on Wall Street is called stealing back on Main Street."
Corzine sat just two seats away. He glowered at the farmer as he spoke. When Tofteland finished, he stared back. "Corzine looked down," Tofteland says. "I think he was probably looking down to see if I was going to trip him.
"It was almost surreal, because this man who is blood and flesh like myself and other human beings acted, in my opinion, very arrogant. He affected a lot of people, and his words don’t match up with his actions."
Corzine, who resigned in the wake of the scandal, testified that money from the customer accounts was taken but that he didn’t know it at the time. Terrence Duffy, head of the exchange operator CME Group, testified to the contrary: that Corzine had been aware of at least some transfers.
Almost as soon as the hearing ended, Tofteland made the rounds on cable news shows and business networks: the farmer who stood up to the MF big shot. At the time, he figured MF Global customers would soon get their money back and "the biggest crooks" would be charged.
"I’m asking: Where’s the Justice Department?" he says now, more than two months after his testimony.
Tofteland shrugs. He knows he’s just one farmer up against the system. If other farmers are afraid to speak, he sees it as a moral imperative to speak for all.
"I just keep thinking about all those people out there that are affected and aren’t able to have a say in what happens."
Tofteland’s big rig kicks up dust as it travels the gravel road to his farm. He’s returning from dropping off about 1,000 bushels of corn at a local ethanol plant.
The modern farm is one of complete efficiency. Tofteland’s corn goes to the ethanol plant; the byproduct is then used for livestock feed. The ethanol runs his truck. His soybeans head to a biodiesel plant; his tractors are fueled by it.
Even his hog manure doesn’t go to waste. It’s saved and spread over the fields as fertilizer. He has also helped spearhead farmer-owned wind farms in the region. They hire locally and pour money back into the rural economy, as well as provide green power.
Dean Tofteland checks out a wind turbine in southwestern Minnesota.
"Combines in the sky," he calls the wind towers.
His motto: "The most important thing a farmer can apply to his land is his footprint."
Pride and dignity are ingrained in his blood. His dad was a car salesman and drag racer, won the national championship in 1972. But farming is what he loved. By 1976, he bought the land his son now farms.
At the height of the farming crisis in 1985, the elder Tofteland told his son: "Go do something else." Dean went off to college and got a job at the grain exchange in Minneapolis. He helped create a marketing plan for a road deicer made from a byproduct of corn while in college. Job offers rolled in.
Yet Tofteland wanted to soak up the farm operation before he left for good. His plan: spend a year with Dad and learn the family business.
But then, his father got on that ill-fated flight. He was 50 when he died, the same age Tofteland is today.
He keeps a dusty 1967 Pontiac GTO — his father’s favorite racer — in his machine shop. One of these days, he’ll honor him by restoring it.
Soon, he’ll honor Dad in another way. He’ll till the land and plant for another season. He’ll swell with pride when the fields turn golden brown by October. "It’s a great, great feeling to bring the crop in after you’ve worked on it all year."
Until then, he’ll keep hounding MF Global. He’s used to his boots getting muddy: Fighting for the common man might just become his most lasting footprint.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:03 am
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