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Huge Document Leak Exposes How The Wealthy And Powerful Hide Money

Kevin G. Hall and Marisa Taylor
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — A massive leak of documents has blown open a window on the vast, murky world of shell companies, providing an extraordinary look at how the wealthy and powerful conceal their money.

Twelve current and former world leaders maintain offshore shell companies. Close friends of Russian leader Vladimir Putin have funneled as much as $2 billion through banks and offshore companies.

Those exposed in the leak include the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, an alleged bagman for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close friend of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and companies linked to the family of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Add to those the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Morocco; Middle Eastern royalty; leaders of FIFA, the international body that controls international soccer; and 29 billionaires included in Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s 500 richest people.

Also mentioned are 61 relatives and associates of current country leaders, and 128 ther current or former politicians and public officials.

The leak exposes a trail of dark money flowing through the global financial system, stripping national treasuries of tax revenue.

The data breach occurred at a little-known but powerful Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca & Co., which has an office in Las Vegas, a representative in Miami and presence in more than 35 other places around the world.

The firm is one of the world’s top five creators of shell companies, which can have legitimate business uses but can also be used to dodge taxes and launder money.

More than 11.5 million emails, financial spreadsheets, client records, passports and corporate registries were obtained in the leak, which was delivered to the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich, Germany. In turn, the newspaper shared the data with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Several McClatchy journalists joined more than 370 journalists from 78 countries in the largest media collaboration ever undertaken after a leak.

The document archive contains 2.6 terabytes of data.

As a registered agent, the Mossack Fonseca law firm incorporates companies in tax havens worldwide for a fee. It has avoided close scrutiny from U.S. law enforcement officials.

Mossack Fonseca denied all accusations of illegal activity.

“We have not once in nearly 40 years of operation been charged with criminal wrongdoing,” spokesman Carlos Sousa said. “We’re proud of the work we do, notwithstanding recent and willful attempts by some to mischaracterize it.”

The law firm’s co-founder, Ramon Fonseca, in an interview last month on Panamanian television, said blaming Mossack Fonseca for what people do with their companies would be like blaming an automaker “for an accident or if the car was used in a robbery.”

Yet plenty of criminals are named the documents, like drug traffickers and convicted fraudsters.

“The offshore world is the parallel universe of the ultrarich and ultrapowerful,” said Jack Blum, a white-collar crime attorney and an architect of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The archive, which dates to the late 1970s and extends through December 2015, reveals that 14,000 intermediaries and middlemen bring business to Mossack Fonseca.

No part of the world is untouched, including the United States.

States such as Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming register thousands of corporations annually, often without identifying the true owners. Some of the billions of dollars moving through the domestic economy come from anonymous foreigners who inflate real estate prices in places like Miami, buying properties outright in cash.

“We know (of) upwards to $6 to $10 billion a year laundered through the U.S.,” said Patrick Fallon Jr., head of the FBI’s financial crimes section.

The most extraordinary allegations in the archive revolve around Putin’s closest associates, including Sergey Roldugin), a close friend since the late 1970s when Putin was a young KGB agent.

Roldugin is a cellist for the St. Petersburg orchestra, yet his name appears as the owner of offshore companies that have rights to loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A Russian news service report in 2010 disclosed that he owned at least 3 percent of Bank Rossiya, Russia’s most important bank.

When Mossack Fonseca helped open a bank account in Switzerland on behalf of Roldugin, the application form asked if he had “any relation to PEPs (politically exposed persons) or VIPs.”

The one-word answer was, “No.” Yet, Roldugin is godfather to Putin’s daughter Mariya.

“Roldugin is, by his proximity to a serving head of state, clearly an exposed person,” Mark Pieth, a former head of the Swiss justice ministry’s organized crime division, told the ICIJ team.

The documents show how in 2008 a company controlled by Roldugin had influence over Russia’s largest truck maker Kamaz, joining with several other offshore companies to help another Putin insider acquire majority control of the company. They wanted foreign investment, and German carmaker Daimler later that year bought a 10 percent stake in Kamaz for $250 million.

The offshore company that connects many Putin loyalists is Sandalwood Continental Limited in the British Virgin Islands. Roldugin was a shareholder until 2012, as was Oleg Gordin, a little-known businessman whom incorporation documents describe as linked to “law enforcement agencies.”

The files also mention a company co-owned by Putin friend Yury Kovalchuk, the largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya. Kovalchuk was among those targeted by U.S. sanctions in 2014 in retribution for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Another friend, Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s judo partner and a billionaire construction mogul, openly obtained companies through Mossack Fonseca. The Treasury Department, when sanctioning him in 2014, suggested that the oligarch acted on behalf of “a senior official.”

That was widely believed to mean Putin, whose fingerprints were not on any offshore company.

“When you are the president of Russia, you don’t need a written contract. You are the law,” said Karen Dawisha, an academic, former State Department official and author of the acclaimed 2014 book “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?”

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week that ICIJ was publishing a “series of fibs” that amounted to a media “attack” on Putin. Peskov suggested that unknown “organizations and services” were behind the media reports.

https://www.publicintegrity.org/node/19492/syndication/tracking

This report contains information gathered by reporters working under the umbrella of the nonprofit International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

Photo: Four thousand U.S. dollars are counted out by a banker counting currency at a bank in Westminster, Colorado November 3, 2009.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking 

Answers To 5 Questions About Patriot Act Spying Debate

McClatchy Washington Bureau, (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When the Patriot Act expired Monday, people were left with questions as to what this means for the National Security Agency, for spying, and for the struggling presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

Q: If some of the NSA’s surveillance powers have expired, what does that mean for the terrorists?

A: It doesn’t mean much. The NSA can still track suspects, it’ll just be more difficult.

There are three main provisions that expired.

The first, Section 215, required businesses to turn over data that’s relevant to NSA investigations. That enabled the NSA to collect sweeping amounts of metadata on Americans and store it up to five years. For perspective, most phone companies store call logs only for 18 months.

The second was an unused provision that allowed the NSA to wiretap suspects who weren’t part of larger foreign terror organizations, such as al-Qaida.

The third targeted suspects who often change phones, allowing the NSA to have roving wiretaps that covered any devices the suspects may use. With the expiration, the agency would have to get individual warrants for each communication device used.

But there’s a grandfather clause that applies to all three provisions. The NSA can continue using its authority under the laws for all investigations that began before Monday.

For established terrorists whom the agency has been tracking, the expiration means nothing. But in terms of identifying new terrorists and terror plots, the NSA’s job has become more challenging.

If the USA Freedom Act the House of Representatives passed becomes law, the provisions could be reinstated.

Q: What happens now?

A: Even though the NSA’s spying powers expired at midnight Sunday, chances are they won’t be out of commission for too long. The Senate could call a final vote on the USA Freedom Act and pass that bill as soon as Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. R-Ky., is pushing what he calls “modest amendments,” however, which could extend the bill’s time in Congress. These amendments would require approval from the House before the bill could be sent to the president to be signed into law.

McConnell’s proposed changes include a provision that the director of national intelligence would certify the new system and a requirement that private telephone companies give the government a heads up if they change their data retention policies.

Although these probably won’t meet much resistance, some of McConnell’s amendments are likely to attract more debate, including one that removes the requirement for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make certain surveillance orders public and another that introduces a longer transition period to the new system.

If the Senate approves an amended version of the USA Freedom Act, it has to go back to the House. The original version easily passed a few weeks ago by 338-88.

Q: What spying powers would change in the USA Freedom Act?

A: Generally, the USA Freedom Act is an attempt to overhaul standards for data collection by intelligence agencies, in light of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of bulk data collection by the NSA.

The bill would require requests for access to specify the data to be collected — by person, address or device, for example — instead of sweeping data collection. There’s some disagreement as to whether the bill’s restrictions would really eliminate bulk data collection. Some say the requirements for specificity aren’t strenuous enough to prevent data sweeps.

National security letters, another hotly contested, secretive way in which intelligence agencies collect data, also would require more specificity under the USA Freedom Act. The bill also calls for more oversight of non-disclosure requirements often attached to such letters. In the past, non-disclosure requirements have prevented companies from saying the government requested the information.

Under the current version of the bill, there would be a six-month transition period. The NSA would work with phone companies to create the systems needed to search records quickly and send them to the agency. McConnell is pushing for a yearlong transition period, saying it will take more time for the companies to build and test their new systems.

Under the bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would have to approve all requests for data collection. The act also would provide for an advocate to represent privacy interests in the court.

Significant decisions by the secretive court would have to be declassified under the bill, but there’s an exception for findings that are a threat to national security. Companies who contribute the data are provided with avenues to report statistics on their responses to the requests.

Continue reading

Surveillance since 9/11

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Q: Sen. Paul forced this issue from his libertarian perspective, but what does it mean for his presidential race?

A: Paul’s attempt to block the Patriot Act has put the Kentucky senator in the national spotlight, giving him attention that he badly needs as he tries to revive his lagging campaign and become a front-runner in the crowded Republican presidential field. He’s also trying to raise money on the issue, sending constant fundraising appeals asking donors to stand with him against the NSA surveillance program and send money to his campaign.
But polling suggests Republican voters in early primary states are often hawkish on national security, and while Paul is firing up civil-liberties-minded voters, he’s drawing skepticism from others he’ll need to win the nomination.

Q: How did we even get to this point?

A: The simple answer is Edward Snowden.

Before Snowden, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The act gave the NSA wide freedoms in collecting data.
President Barack Obama renewed the bill in 2011, giving it another four years.

Then in 2013, Snowden, a former federal contractor, revealed that the NSA had been spying on Americans by collecting and storing massive amounts of Internet and phone data, citing the Patriot Act. The documents he leaked generated public outcry and sparked debate.

In May, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the NSA’s collection of phone metadata illegal under the Patriot Act.

But until the act came up for renewal — and Paul filibustered the USA Freedom Act — the law hadn’t changed.

(Samantha Ehlinger, Emma Baccellieri, Daniel Desrochers and Sean Cockerham contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Republican Declares Victory In Alaska Senate Race As Begich Refuses To Concede

by Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage) (MCT)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — As Alaska Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan declared victory early Wednesday, incumbent Democrat Mark Begich was not ready to concede his seat.

The Associated Press called the race for Sullivan after more votes were counted Tuesday, a week after the Nov. 4 election.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve my fellow Alaskans in the United States Senate,” Sullivan said in a statement early Wednesday. “Our campaign was about opportunity — because I truly believe that there is nothing that is wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right with Alaska.”

But as Sullivan and his campaign celebrated, Begich still saw a chance to overcome a large deficit. Begich has chipped away at Sullivan’s lead since Tuesday morning, but he is still down about 8,000 votes. On Wednesday morning, Begich referred questions to his campaign managers.

“Sen. Begich believes every vote deserves to be counted in this election,” Begich campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said in the statement. “There are tens of thousands of outstanding votes and Senator Begich has heard from rural Alaskans that their votes deserve to be counted and their voices deserve to be heard. He will honor those requests and will follow the Alaska Division of Elections as it continues its process and timetable to reach a final count and allow every Alaskan’s vote to speak.”

The Alaska Elections Division counted more than 17,000 votes on Tuesday, following the counting of more than 220,000 votes immediately after the Nov. 4 general election. A victory appears very unlikely for Begich, though tens of thousands of votes remain to be counted. A statement sent by the Elections Division shows a known quantity of more than 30,000 questioned and absentee ballots remain to be counted.

It was the costliest campaign in Alaska’s history. Between Sullivan’s and Begich’s campaigns and the groups supporting them, $50 million poured into the state, much of it in the form of a massive advertising blitz. The stakes were high, and not just in Alaska. In Washington, D.C., Republicans had long ago targeted Begich’s seat in the hopes of flipping control of the Senate out of the hands of Democrats.

“This was a hard-fought race,” Sullivan said in a statement. “As we move forward, I want to emphasize that my door will always be open to all Alaskans.”

Sullivan is a former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner who served in the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush.

Begich had been the first Democrat from Alaska to serve in the Senate since Mike Gravel, who served between 1969 and 1981. A former two-term Anchorage mayor, Begich won his Senate seat in 2008 just one week after the long-serving incumbent, Republican Ted Stevens, was convicted of federal corruption charges that were later invalidated.

Photo: SenateDemocrats via Flickr

Historic Main Gate At Germany’s Dachau Concentration Camp Stolen

dpa

BERLIN — Police Monday were investigating the theft of the historic main gate of the Nazi-era Dachau concentration camp bearing the Nazi slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free).

The theft was condemned on Monday by the head of the memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Nazi-occupied Poland, which was also vandalized five years back when a gate with a similar slogan was stolen by Swedish neo-Nazis.

“This is an attack on a symbol, an attack on remembering,” said Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz foundation. “The history of the Nazi concentration camps began in Dachau.”

He said this theft called for a discussion on the risks to memorials, adding that, across Europe, memorials such as former concentration camps were not adequately funded to ensure security.

The theft at Dachau was discovered on Sunday. Police said the black, wrought-iron gate stolen measured 1 by 2 metres and was part of a larger main gate.

The director of the memorial, Gabriele Hammermann, called that gate “the central symbol for the prisoners’ ordeal.”

Dachau, near the southern city of Munich, was opened in March 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power, to house opponents of the Third Reich and later those it wanted to rid Germany of, such as Jews, gays, Roma, and active Christians.

More than 200,000 people from across Europe were imprisoned at Dachau, which became a model for other concentration camps built by the Nazis during their 12 years in power.

Many inmates were forced into labor gangs working road construction along with gravel pits and, with the approach of war, the arms industry.

An estimated 41,500 people died in Dachau, before it was liberated by U.S. troops in April 1945.

Hammermann said that since 2001 a private agency has been providing the security for the memorial at Dachau.

There is no video surveillance, she said, because it was decided that they didn’t want to make this a “high-security prison.” But that decision would now have to be reviewed, she said.

MCT Photo/Scott Burch

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Two Under Observation At Hospitals After Falling Ill During Flights From Liberia To O’Hare

Chicago Tribune

(MCT) — Two people who arrived at O’Hare International Airport from Liberia have been placed under observation at Chicago hospitals, under the city’s procedures for handling Ebola, after they fell ill during their flights, officials said.
Health officials stressed that “at this time there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola and there is no threat to the general public.”
In fact, the officials said they decided against testing the two for Ebola after initial medical evaluations but did send them to Lurie Children’s Hospital and Rush University Medical Center for observation. They are being kept in isolation.
The two hospitals are among four in Chicago that have agreed to take Ebola patients from other hospitals and health care providers should any cases appear in the area. The others are Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the University of Chicago Medical Center.
The child had vomited during a flight from Liberia to O’Hare, city health officials said. Upon landing, the child was screened by federal authorities and was found to have no other symptoms and no known risk of exposure. The child was taken to Lurie “out of an abundance of caution” and was undergoing observation in isolation.
Following city guidelines, the child’s family was under quarantine until the evaluation was completed.
The other passenger, an adult traveling alone from Liberia, reported nausea and diarrhea during another flight from Liberia. The passenger reported having been diagnosed with typhoid fever in August but had a normal temperature and reported no known risk of exposure to Ebola during a screening.
The person was taken to Rush for medical evaluation and observation, health officials said.
The city released no other details of the passengers or their flights.

AFP Photo/Jay Directo

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Second Dallas Nurse With Ebola Should Not Have Taken Flight, CDC Says

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Geoffrey Mohan and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

DALLAS — The second of two nurses at a Dallas hospital who tested positive for Ebola should not have flown on a commercial airline and is being sent to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment, officials said Wednesday.

The nurse, who had treated Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, flew Frontier Airlines flight 1143 from Cleveland, arriving Monday night in Dallas, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The woman reported symptoms of Ebola on Tuesday morning and was placed in isolation.

“She should not have traveled on a commercial airline,” CDC director Tom Frieden told reporters during a news briefing. The nurse was among a group of about 76 health care workers being monitored for symptoms of Ebola.

Frieden said the agency would work to make sure no other health care workers involved in Duncan’s treatment would be traveling.

The nurse was identified as Amber Vinson, working at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Ebola patient Duncan was treated and died.

Laura Smith, secretary for Vinson’s father, Ronald Schuler of Akron, Ohio, confirmed that Vinson is the nurse being treated for Ebola in Dallas. She said the family was informed by the hospital and did not have any comment.

Frieden, at the news conference, said the nurse did not show any symptoms at the time of the flight, but asked the 132 passengers on the plane to contact the agency to be interviewed. Experts have said that only someone with symptoms could spread the virus, which has killed more than 4,400 people in West Africa.

Passengers were asked to call the CDC at (800) 232-4636.

“Individuals who are determined to be at any potential risk will be actively monitored,” the CDC said.

In a statement, the airline said the plane remained overnight at the airport having completed its flying for the day. At that point, “the aircraft received a thorough cleaning per our normal procedures which is consistent with CDC guidelines prior to returning to service the next day. It was also cleaned again in Cleveland last night,” the airline said.

“The safety and security of our customers and employees is our primary concern. Frontier will continue to work closely with CDC and other governmental agencies to ensure proper protocols and procedures are being followed.”

The report of the second infection, announced early Wednesday, raises new concerns about the spread of Ebola, which has already killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa. It also raises questions about the protocols, practices and training given to doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians in the U.S. to deal with the virus.

Officials said they are still investigating how the two health care workers contracted the virus, both of whom had treated Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.

Officials quickly sought to calm residents.

Judge Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, said local authorities are now fighting a “two-front war” against Ebola in the wake of the second case.

“At the hospital, we have a situation, where two tested positive for Ebola. We have prepared contingencies for more,” he said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

“You can imagine the anxiety of these people. You can imagine the gut shot that this is to the hospital that has taken care of the community for many, many years.”

City officials deliberately announced the new case in time to alert and reassure people as they were waking up, Mayor Mike Rawlings told reporters at the televised briefing.

The city has already begun decontamination efforts at the home of the woman most recently infected, Rawlings said. She lives alone and has no pets, he said.

Outside the massive complex of two-story, stucco apartment buildings called The Village Bend East where the woman lives, residents jogged and snapped photos of news crews and helicopters circling. Dallas police guarded the entrances.

Neighbor James Coltharp, 50, said this was the second time he was awakened by helicopters related to an Ebola case. The first was when Duncan was diagnosed.

On Wednesday morning, Coltharp, who works in real estate, took his two Boston terriers for a walk and stopped at the police tape barricade.

“Obviously they’re on high alert. Hopefully they’re able to contain it,” he said, “I’m just worried about other healthcare workers, that maybe they can contain it. I see a lot of people in scrubs here. We’re near the hospital, a lot of them live over here.”

Rawlings said officials went door to door at the apartment complex, and were handing out information to apartments nearby. A reverse 911 call went out at 6:15 a.m.

“We want to minimize rumors and maximize facts. We want to deal with facts, not fear,” he said.

“I believe Dallas is anxious about this but we are not fearful,” the mayor said. “It may get worse before it gets better, but it will get better.”

Dr. Daniel Varga of Texas Health Resources, which runs Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the cases were reported, discounted the possibility that the second case indicated a systemic problem at the facility.

“Today’s development, while concerning and unfortunate, is continued evidence that our monitoring program is working,” he told reporters.

In statements, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the CDC said the newly diagnosed unnamed health care worker helped treat Duncan, who was diagnosed with Ebola after arriving in Texas from Liberia last month.

Duncan was initially sent home from Texas Health Presbyterian with antibiotics, only to be rushed back three days later on Sept. 28. He died Oct. 8.

“A lot is being said about what may or may not have occurred to cause some of our colleagues to contract this disease, but it is clear there was an exposure somewhere sometime in their treatment of Mr. Duncan,” Varga said.

“We’re a hospital that may have done things different — with the benefit of what we know today, but make no mistake, no one wants to get this right more than our hospital, the first to diagnose this insidious disease that now has attacked two of our own,” he said.

The newly diagnosed worker is in isolation at the hospital, as is Nina Pham, 26, a nurse who treated Duncan and was diagnosed with Ebola over the weekend. A contact of Pham was also in isolation but has not had been diagnosed with the virus, officials said.

A preliminary Ebola test on the second health care worker was conducted late Tuesday at a state public health laboratory in Austin, Texas, and came back positive during the night, officials said. The CDC will conduct additional tests, it was announced.

The CDC also said its experts had taken part in interviewing the second health care worker to identify any contacts or potential exposures in the community.

On Tuesday, Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC, acknowledged that the government wasn’t aggressive enough in managing Ebola and containing the virus as it spread from the infected patient in Texas.

The CDC plans to launch a top-flight response team, which will go to any hospital that reports an Ebola case, he said. It will include health care workers with experience in Ebola outbreaks, he said.

“I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed,” he added, referring to Duncan. “That might have prevented this infection. But we will do that from this day onward.”

Although the CDC sent infectious disease specialists to Dallas after Duncan’s diagnosis, Frieden said, “with 20/20 hindsight,” he might have sent “a more robust hospital infection control team and been more hands-on” at the hospital.

At least 76 people at the hospital might have been exposed to Duncan, and all are being monitored for fever and other symptoms daily, Frieden said.

That group is in addition to the 48 others who had some contact with Duncan before he was admitted to the hospital.

The original group includes 10 people who are friends and family of Duncan, who stayed with his fiancee in the Ivy Apartments in Dallas when he arrived in Texas on Sept. 20.

Nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian have described a confused and chaotic response to Duncan’s arrival in the emergency room, alleging in a statement Tuesday that he languished for hours in a room with other patients and that hospital authorities resisted isolating him.

In addition, they said, the nurses tending him had flimsy protective gear and no proper training from hospital administrators in handling such a patient.

The allegations, made under unusual circumstances, provided the first detailed portrait of Duncan’s second trip to the emergency room, where he arrived by ambulance days after doctors had sent him home with a fever, a headache, abdominal pain and a prescription for antibiotics.

Tuesday’s claims about the initial response came during a conference call with reporters in which none of the nurses from Texas Health Presbyterian spoke directly or were identified to reporters.

A statement outlining a litany of critical assertions was read by Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United. The nurses union does not represent the Dallas nurses, who are non-unionized, but has been vocal about what it says are hospitals’ failures to prepare for Ebola.

Pham became the first person in the United States to contract the disease on U.S. soil as she cared for Duncan.

In a statement released Tuesday, she said she was doing well. The hospital listed her condition as good.

She also received a plasma transfusion from a doctor who recovered from the virus, and the hospital’s CEO said medical staff members remain hopeful about her condition.

Mohan reported from Dallas and Muskal from Los Angeles. Staff writer Nicole Charky contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/ Jewel Samad

Wells Fargo To Pay $5 Million To Settle Discrimination Allegations

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Thursday it has reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo’s home mortgage unit over allegations that the lender discriminated against women who were pregnant or had recently given birth and on maternity leave.

The complaints included allegations that Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest provider of home loans, made loans unavailable based on sex and familial status or forced female applicants to end their maternity leave and return to work prior to closing on their loan.

HUD said Wells Fargo will distribute a total of $165,000 among six families who filed complaints, create a fund of at least $3.5 million to compensate Walls Fargo applicants claiming discrimination in the loan process, and pay 175 other claimants $20,000 each. Wells Fargo has agreed to pay more depending on the number of claims.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Modiano Of France Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

By Dpa Correspondents

STOCKHOLM — Patrick Modiano of France won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday.

The 69-year-old author was awarded “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation,” the academy citation read.

Themes such as memory, oblivion, identity and guilt are central to his works, in which Paris “can almost be considered a creative participant,” according to the academy. His writing shuttles back and forth in time between past and present.

The media-shy author has written more than 30 books, for which he has won multiple awards, including France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt.

Modiano has also written children’s books and film scripts. His latest novel is Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, which was published this year.

Modiano — who was born on July 30, 1945, in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris, to a Jewish merchant father and a Flemish actress mother — is known to draw his material from newspaper articles and interviews and many of his stories are based on autobiographical accounts or events related to the German occupation in World War II.

Modiano, “is not difficult to read,” said the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary, Peter Englund.

“The language is not complicated as such, but the composition of the novel is quite refined,” he said.

Since Modiano does not write very long books, usually about 130 pages, it is possible to “read one of his books in the afternoon, have dinner and read another one,” Englund said.

Unlike other prestigious literary awards, the academy does not publish a short list ahead of the announcement of the winner, making predictions a challenge. Some of the favourites this year were Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, Haruki Murakami of Japan, Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus, and Syrian-born poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said Asbar).

Last year, Alice Munro of Canada won the award.

The week-long announcements of the Nobel winners began Monday with the medicine award, followed by physics and chemistry. On Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize will be handed out, followed by economics Monday.

With the exception of economics, the prizes were endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-96), the inventor of dynamite.

The prize is worth 8 million kronor (1.1 million dollars).

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

‘Roll Call’s’ Ten ‘Poorest’ Members Of Congress For 2014

By Steven T. Dennis, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — Roll Call’s annual list of the 10 “poorest” members of Congress contains one majority whip, one party chairman, one formerly impeached judge and one senator.

As usual, the quirks of the disclosure rules make it impossible to know exactly how poor any one lawmaker is, or how rich he or she might be.

Mortgages must be reported as liabilities, but lawmakers don’t have to list home values — many Americans’ most significant investment — as an offsetting asset. As a result, someone could appear quite poor, even if they have a ton of home equity.

Listed in order of the lowest minimum net worth, the 10 “poorest” members are:

1. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA)

-$3.7 million minimum net worth

Valadao once again tops the list of “poorest” members, although his inclusion on the list could also be seen as a prime example of how imprecise congressional financial disclosure requirements are. Under CQ Roll Call’s minimum net worth calculation, we subtract minimum reported liabilities from minimum reported assets. But because they are reported in broad ranges, Valadao’s actual net worth is a mystery. His interest in a dairy farm is listed in two assets — one worth $1 million to $5 million (counted as $1,000,001 under our methodology), and another worth $500,001 to $1 million, which we count as $500,001. Five separate million-dollar-plus liabilities related to the farm drag him down.

2. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)

-$2.23 million

The longtime lawmaker still has legal debts dating from his impeachment as a federal judge in the 1980s, and still lists a single bank account with more than $1,000 as his only reportable asset. He also has a mortgage.

3. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

-$972,000

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee has a lot of debt. In addition to mortgages on two homes and a home equity line of credit exceeding $250,000, she and her husband listed credit card debt exceeding $15,000 and a personal bank loan exceeding $100,000. Also of note, Wasserman Schultz listed $25,978 in income from her DNC gig.

4. Retiring Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA)

-$943,000

The Armed Services chairman has two mortgages, each exceeding $500,000, and a single personal loan exceeding $10,000 that he’s had for more than a decade.

5. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

-$924,000

Rohrabacher is new to the list, but his spot carries an asterisk. One of his biggest liabilities in the calculation — a mortgage exceeding $500,000 — was paid off during 2013. But reporting rules still require him to list that mortgage under his liabilities. Rohrabacher’s biggest reportable asset is an investment of more than $100,000 in a small biotech firm called ISI Life Sciences Inc.

6. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO)

-$848,000

A business loan from Bank of America exceeding $1 million drags down the net worth of the Methodist minister, who also has another bank loan and a mortgage alongside various pension and investment accounts. He wasn’t on last year’s list.

7. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)

-$780,000

Quigley lists two mortgages and at least $80,000 in liabilities on three credit cards.

8. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

-$722,000

The only senator on the list, Heinrich reports a minimum $128,000 in assets against more than $850,000 in liabilities — all mortgages. Included in the assets was more than $100,000 for a rental property that ceased being used as a rental partway through the year, and assorted mutual funds. He didn’t make last year’s list.

9. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA)

-$700,000

Fattah’s been in the news a lot lately. His son was indicted last month and a former top aide and political adviser pleaded guilty to multiple campaign finance schemes. He reported $100,000 in assets from his wife’s investment in General Electric, against more than $800,000 in liabilities from various mortgages.

10. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)

-$671,000

The newly minted House majority whip has swank new digs in the Capitol, but is a relative pauper. He reported a minimum $4,000 in assets alongside $675,000 in liabilities. His new presence on the “poorest” list comes with a bold asterisk, too. Under the disclosure rules, Scalise has to list every liability he had over the course of the year — and because he refinanced $300,000 in mortgages, that has the effect of double-counting $300,000 in debt. Scalise ended the year with a mortgage exceeding $250,000 and a second mortgage exceeding $100,000. Still, it’s not like he’s sporting a net worth anything close to ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s multimillion-dollar Wall Street payday.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

‘Roll Call’s’ Ten Richest Members Of Congress For 2014

By CQ Roll Call staff

WASHINGTON — They invested in an aquaculture business, a bank and good old blue chip stocks and bonds.

The richest members of Congress found myriad ways to get wealthier in 2013, CQ Roll Call’s annual survey of congressional wealth shows.

Many lawmakers’ portfolios shrugged off the effects of a government shutdown, the civil war in Syria and the botched rollout of the health care law to ride a wave that sent the Dow Jones industrial average to its biggest gain in 18 years.

The ten richest won’t set new standards for diversity. All are white. Two are women.

Although Republicans took the top two spots this year, Democrats filled out the rest of the top ten. The list is dominated by veteran members such as seven-term Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the wealthiest lawmaker, whose car-alarm fortune and high-yield bonds drove his net worth to more than $357 million and earned him the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row.

No. 3 on the list, Democratic Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, increased his net worth by more than 60 percent.

That’s not to say everyone prospered. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) registered a year-to-year drop-off in net worth of more than $20 million, though the actual decline could have been far less given the wide asset value ranges allowed by the reporting system, and an amendment he filed to his 2012 report.

Lawmakers are required to file annual disclosure forms revealing such details as stock market holdings, real estate investments, bank accounts, credit card balances, student loans and other assets and liabilities.

Their minimum net worth is determined by subtracting the total minimum value of all liabilities from the total minimum value of all assets.

The system provides an incomplete picture because valuations are reported in broad categories spanning millions of dollars, making it impossible to ascertain a lawmaker’s precise net worth unless he or she opts to voluntarily break down actual dollar amounts. Few do. Members also are exempted from disclosing the value of personal residences or federal retirement savings accounts.

What the forms do reveal is an unusual variety of ways to get rich, or to try.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), among the youngest members of the financial elite, has a stake of at least $1 million in the world’s only venture capital firm devoted to fish farming, Aquacopia, with more invested in Uber and Japanese senior housing.

The median household net worth in the United States stood at $68,828 in 2011, with 69 percent of households holding some form of debt, according to the most recent U.S. Census statistics.

The Ten Richest Members Of Congress:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Net worth: $357.25 million

Minimum assets: $432.25 million

Minimum liabilities: $75 million

For the second year in a row, Issa tops the list as the richest member of Congress.

Issa lists seven high-yield bonds as being worth more than $50 million — the highest disclosure category. How much those bonds are actually worth is unknown; they could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars each.

But just as his wealth could be many times higher than the picture provided by his disclosure, it also could be far less. Issa maintains two liabilities valued at $75 million — one personal loan from Union Bank that is between $25 million and $50 million and another personal loan from Merrill Lynch that is listed in the highest category of $50 million. That loan could be many times more than Issa is obligated to report. His true rank on our list depends greatly on how much he actually owes to Merrill Lynch.

Before his election to Congress, the Californian made his fortune founding Directed Electronics — based in Vista, Calif. — which manufactures car alarms. Now, Issa appears to make his money through the bond market and high-end real estate.
___

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

Net worth: $117.54 million

Minimum assets: $118.04 million

Minimum liabilities: $0.5 million

McCaul may be, according to his financial disclosure, the second-richest member of Congress, but he didn’t list a single asset in his name — not even a bank account worth at least $1,000. Instead, McCaul’s wealth is entirely connected to his wife, Linda McCaul, the daughter of Clear Channel Communications founder Lowry Mays.

Exactly how much money McCaul and his wife have is a mystery. Several of the holdings in his wife’s name are in the broad spousal asset category of $1 million or more. On his 2011 disclosure, McCaul listed many of those same assets as being worth at least $50 million — the highest category. In that year, his wealth was estimated to be at least $305 million, and even though his wealth has been calculated closer to $100 million for the past two years, there’s no reason to believe he has any less money now than he did in 2011.

But even if some assets are being dramatically undercounted, McCaul’s wealth is still staggering — as is the number of assets listed in his wife’s and children’s names. The McCaul family’s wealth is almost entirely invested in the stock market and in municipal bonds.

The family portfolio shows a wide-range of traditional stocks — AT&T, Wal-Mart, Berkshire Hathaway — as well as investments in a number of government bonds, with a special emphasis on investment projects in Texas.

Even with all the wealth, McCaul does maintain a mortgage debt of between $500,001 and $1,000,000 on his personal residence in Austin, Texas. It happens to be the only thing on his financial disclosure to which he is formally connected; it’s a joint liability with his wife.

___

Rep. John Delaney (D-MD)

Net worth: $111.92 million

Minimum assets: $113.99 million

Minimum liabilities: $2.07 million

One year after gaining notice as the most well-off congressional candidate elected in 2012, Delaney’s minimum net worth soared by almost 64 percent. He’s now the wealthiest Democrat in Congress — and the third-richest overall.

The self-made financier is the only current member who has been a chief executive of a publicly traded company, and he’s held that title at two businesses he created. The son of a unionized electrical worker, Delaney founded HealthCare Financial Partners as a young lawyer in 1993, which specialized in lending money to smaller medical firms. He sold his controlling interest six years later for more than half a billion dollars and used the profits to start CapitalSource of Chevy Chase, Md., which loans to small and midsize businesses that can’t get credit at good rates from bigger banks.

Although he stepped away from the bank’s day-to-day leadership before taking office, CapitalSource continues to be the principal font of Delaney’s riches. His stake in the firm, which topped $25 million the year he was elected, grew to exceed $50 million during his freshman year in the House.

A member of the Financial Services Committee, Delaney has a stake of between $5 million and $25 million in another suburban Maryland financial services firm he helped found: Alliance Partners, which specializes in helping small banks pool resources to invest in big projects. He also has investments of comparable significance in Congressional Bancshares Inc. of Bethesda, Md.; a hedge fund in San Francisco; an equity fund in New York and a money market account at Goldman Sachs. (The values of the last two assets jumped from the minimum $1 million range a year earlier.) He has smaller stakes in 16 other investment partnerships.

Delaney has more than $5 million on deposit with Wells Fargo and lesser balances at six other banks. A family trust owns stock in three dozen companies, from Airgas to Williams-Sonoma. He and the trust have also purchased more than 40 different municipal bonds, about a third of them issued in Maryland.

Last year, Delaney got an influx of cash by exercising $4.7 million in CapitalSource stock options, and his wife, April, sold more than $2.5 million of her shares. The money that would have more than paid for the Capitol Hill townhouse the couple recently bought (without a mortgage). The Delaneys live in Potomac, Md., a half-hour drive from the Capitol but just outside the boundaries of the sprawling district where he spent $2.3 million of his own money to get elected two years ago.

The congressman’s only major liabilities, valued between $1 million and $5 million, are his mortgage on that house and the investment capital he borrowed from a newly formed family trust 16 years ago.

___

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

Net worth: $108.05 million

Minimum assets: $113.55 million

Minimum liabilities: $5.5 million

Rockefeller, an heir of the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, makes Roll Call’s richest list in his last year in Congress, this year climbing up one spot with a minimum net worth of $108 million. That’s an increase of $25 million from last year. The leap is caused by one of his blind trusts increasing in value from the $25 million to the $50 million range.

Rockefeller’s wealth is concentrated in three separate blind trusts: the trusts at JPMorgan and Wells Fargo are each worth at least $50 million, and the third, at United National Bank in Charleston, W.Va., is worth at least $5 million. Because the highest category for disclosure is $50 million or more, Rockefeller’s assets from the JPMorgan and Wells Fargo trusts could be much higher than the minimum amount he was required to disclose. His total assets are worth at least $113 million, up from at least $89 million in 2013.

Recent transactions include the sale of property in D.C.’s Cleveland Park neighborhood by his spouse, Sharon Rockefeller. The five-bedroom, 3.5-bath home was not their primary residence, and the disclosure listed a value of at least $1 million. Sharon Rockefeller also owns more than $1 million in PepsiCo corporate securities stock, and she received compensation of more than $1,000 for serving on PepsiCo’s board.

Rockefeller listed only two liabilities on his disclosure form. The first is a 1998 demand loan from United National Bank in Charleston, W.Va., worth at least $5 million. The second is a 2013 mortgage worth at least $500,000 in Sharon Rockefeller’s name. The mortgage was for a New York City apartment as detailed on previous years’ forms. It was previously worth at least $1 million, indicating the Rockefellers have paid down part of it.
___

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)

Net worth: $95.13 million

Minimum assets: $95.13 million

Minimum liabilities: $0

Virginia’s senior senator, who recently became the junior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, made an enormous fortune as a venture capitalist before he turned 40, which is about when he began spending some of his millions to launch his rapid rise in Virginia politics.

After taking a job out of law school as a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, Warner started ventures in energy and real estate, but really hit it big in telecommunications. He convinced some investors to help him purchase cellular telephone licenses the government was selling for a relative song in the early 1980s and then staked a big and early claim in Nextel, which soon blossomed into one of the biggest wireless service providers. It was swallowed by Sprint Corp. a decade ago, by which point Warner had been state party chairman, staged one closer-than-expected bid for the Senate, had been elected governor and was being touted as a prime presidential prospect. Instead, he cruised into the Senate six years ago on a “radical centrist” platform and is the clear but not quite prohibitive favorite to win his second term this fall.

After big gains in his personal fortune the previous year, Warner’s net worth stayed flat in 2013. His minimum net worth decreased by $1 million since last year — a minuscule fraction of the $95.1 million total. Warner has no liabilities, and his assets remain largely tied up in blind trusts for the benefit of his family — portfolios over which he has no control and minimal awareness of the assets or transactions. The MRW Blind Trust is for the senator’s benefit. The LDC Blind Trust is for the benefit of his wife, Lisa Collis. Their children also have several hundred thousand dollars worth of assets in their trusts.

The senator’s most valuable investments are worth more than $5 million each. All five are part of his blind trust.

Warner sits on the board of directors of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He is also on the board of the Collis Warner Foundation, Inc., the family’s charitable arm run by his wife. He reports no earned income from either position.

___

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)

Net worth: $73.56 million

Minimum assets: $80.09 million

Minimum liabilities: $6.53 million

The youngest lawmaker among the 10 wealthiest members of Congress, Polis has a diverse and unusual portfolio stocked with emerging growth and startup investments.

The Colorado Democrat’s assets include stakes of at least $1 million in the world’s only aquaculture venture capital firm, Aquacopia; the Colorado Internet startup Confluence Commons Inc. (to which he also extended a line of credit worth at least $5 million) and the AIP Japan Fund V, which invests in senior housing in that country. Polis also has a blind trust worth at least $25 million that he set up after being elected to Congress. It delivered more than $1 million of income last year.

Diverse real estate investments in Colorado and Japan yielded at least $480,000 in additional income. And Polis benefited from the run-up in the value of stock in the ride-share company Uber Inc., with a stake now worth at least $500,000.

Polis reported more than $6.5 million in liabilities, including a Merrill Lynch line of credit worth at least $5 million.
___

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Net worth: $62.06 million

Minimum assets: $62.56 million

Minimum liabilities: $0.5 million

Blumenthal may have been the biggest loser year-to-year in Congress, with a minimum net worth that fell more than $20 million and dropped him a few places on the 50 Richest list. However, the Connecticut Democrat filed an amendment last October to his 2012 disclosure form concerning the trust of his wife, Cynthia, the daughter of New York real estate magnate Peter Malkin. The adjustment means 2013 may not have brought nearly as much hardship to the couple as it seems.

Blumenthal’s 2013 filing is speckled with private equity and hedge fund holdings. There’s also a real estate company in Sao Paulo, Brazil, multiple properties in midtown Manhattan and entities that leased and operated the Empire State Building. Blumenthal additionally lists at least $600,000 worth of gold held at JPMorgan.

The senator receives an annual pension for his 20 years of service as Connecticut’s attorney general before being elected in 2010, and he reported a single mortgage of $500,001 to $1 million as a liability.
___

Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA)

Net worth: $45.04 million

Minimum assets: $45.11 million

Minimum liabilities: $0.07 million

The freshman Democrat from San Diego remains among the dozen richest members for a second straight year. He reported minimum net worth of $45 million at the end of his first year in the House, an increase of less than 1 percent since his year as a candidate.

That’s thanks in part to the investments he made with the millions he earned as an environmental attorney in the 1990s representing businesses and government agencies in their regulatory disputes. But it’s also because his wife, Lynn Gorguze, has been successful at the helm of Cameron Holdings, a private equity firm focused on manufacturing enterprises established by her father, former Emerson Electric executive Vincent Gorguze. She holds at least $14 million in assets, mainly investments in mutual funds and manufacturing companies.

Peters, who’s in a tossup race for a second term in one of California’s most politically competitive districts, has so far donated about $72,000 to his campaign. He invested almost $3 million to oust GOP incumbent Brian Bilbray in 2012, and Peters clearly has the resources to spend that much and more this fall. He continues to invest heavily in municipal bonds, with $12.5 million in paper issued all across his home state, along with notes issued by local governments in nine other states and Puerto Rico.

The congressman also reported $21,000 in pension payments from the City of San Diego, where he was a councilman for eight years and a port commissioner for four years. He donated the retirement nest egg to the city’s public library.
___

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Net worth: $43.72 million

Minimum assets: $43.72 million

Minimum liabilities: $0

Not much has changed for Feinstein and her husband, private equity magnate Richard Blum, except that the form published for 2013 did not show the $2 million in liabilities present a year ago.

Feinstein’s a classic case of one of the biggest faults in the reporting requirements: assets in Blum’s name may be reported in a broad category of more than $1 million, so the calculated minimum net worth may be a significant understatement.

Blum’s assets include holdings in Current Media, the company headed by former Vice President Al Gore that was sold to Al-Jazeera. He has significant holdings through Blum Capital Partners in an array of businesses, including the Carlton Hotel chain and OZ Fitness.
___

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA)

Net worth: $37.89 million

Minimum assets: $37.89 million

Minimum liabilities: $0

DelBene saw her wealth increase substantially over the past year as the price of stock in Microsoft, where she and her husband both worked as executives, rose and they sold it off.

The Washington Democrat reported a minimum of $37.9 million in assets in 2014. That’s $14 million more than last year, when the freshman lawmaker first landed on the list. She is the second wealthiest women in Congress and is tops among first-term, female lawmakers.

She and her husband, Kurt, who left Microsoft last year and now oversees the federal government’s online health care enrollment website, HealthCare.gov, made at least $2.5 million last year by selling off their remaining stock in the technology giant. Not surprisingly, Kurt DelBene returned his federal salary to the U.S. Treasury.

The largest new asset the couple listed is their main residence worth at least $5 million in Medina, Wash., a tony enclave just outside of Seattle whose most famous resident is Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They do not hold a mortgage on the property.

Most of their other assets are spread across a variety of investment accounts, including two funds worth at least $5 million apiece. They also have several million dollars invested in both university and municipal bonds. DelBene lists no liabilities.

Photo: stanfordsis via Flickr

NFL Scandal Spotlights Complexities Of Abuse

By Rosalind Bentley, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Well, if he hit her, why did she marry him?

Why hasn’t she left him? Why is she defending him?

Those are a few of the questions buzzing on the Web, in offices, and in homes around the country in light of the graphic new video of now-former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

The questions had been there ever since Rice was initially charged with felony assault in the February incident. They swelled after Rice was initially given a two-game suspension for the attack, which he admitted to. But after the website TMZ released an extended video on Monday showing the actual blow and the coarse treatment of Palmer, now his wife, in the aftermath of the beating, questions about the woman’s apparent choice to stay with her husband grew exponentially. When a statement on Instagram attributed to Rice’s wife accused the media of trying to hurt her marriage and “the man I love,” it seemed the questions wouldn’t stop.

But they are not the right questions, experts on domestic violence say.

“It’s a very destructive question and it’s the wrong question, to ask why she stays,” said Ulester Douglas, executive director of Men Stopping Violence, an advocacy group based in Decatur. “When we focus on her, we make her the problem and we lose focus on holding him accountable.”

Yet as unsavory as the questions might be, they persist. If there is anything to be gained from the Rice episode, it is greater insight into the complexity of a public health problem that is rooted not in a violent act or word, but in the dynamic of power and control, advocates say.

“Many women want the violence to stop, but they don’t want the relationship to end,” said Dr. Nadine Kaslow, president of the American Psychological Association and professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Emory University. “They feel they really love the person, or that no one is perfect and the violence is something they have to put up with.

“They may be afraid that the violence will get worse if they try to leave or that if they leave they will be homeless with nowhere to go with their children. And in some cases this is all they’ve known in their lives because maybe they were abused as children or witnessed domestic violence between their parents. There are just a lot of reasons.”

Since the extended video was released, #WhyIStayed has garnered hundreds of tweets, with women giving various reasons for why they remained in an abusive relationship, from simple fear to a paralyzing state of demoralization.

Leaving a relationship, whether the abuse is physical, verbal or sexual, is a fraught and sometimes dangerous decision for a woman. It takes seven incidents of abuse before a woman leaves or decides to leave a relationship, said Daphne Walker, president and CEO of the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. It can take that long, Walker said, because rarely does the abuse happen all at once or in rapid succession; rather, it may begin gradually and escalate over time, making it easier for a person to rationalize the behavior.

“So you separate it and think, ‘He didn’t mean it,'” said Walker, a former judge in Clayton County who heard domestic violence cases on the bench. “Oftentimes a woman doesn’t recognize the level of abuse she is suffering until she just can’t take it anymore. Each individual has to get to that point in their own time.”

But that point is also the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. That’s because the woman’s decision to leave alters the power dynamic in the relationship, and the abuser reacts to that shift.

The danger of the situation can often be masked by what’s called a “honeymoon period,” the time between episodes when an abuser is apologetic and ostensibly caring.

“That’s why it’s called a cycle of violence,” Kaslow said.

Douglas, with Men Stopping Violence, said he has seen over and over, in courts in DeKalb County, women ask that charges be dropped against their husbands or partners.

“She says that because she has to go back home with him,” Douglas said, pointing out that in Georgia, prosecutors may turn to earlier statements by the victim if she changes her story on the stand. For example, if a woman testifies in court that an incident of violence did not occur, the state may use a tape of the woman’s 911 call to impeach her testimony.

In the case of Rice, who is now indefinitely suspended from the NFL, the ex-star made a deal with prosecutors in which he would go on probation and enter an anger management program. After successful completion of the program, he can apply to have the felony charge expunged from his record.

Questions have arisen over whether he’ll ever play in the NFL again, and sports agent Leigh Steinberg said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he thought Rice could and would, if he gets intensive therapy, shows contrition and works to become an anti-violence advocate.

“But it has to be penance in action, not just words,” Steinberg said.

Douglas said it is possible for an abuser to learn to change his behavior, but it is difficult, intensive work that involves not couples’ therapy, but long-term participation in an educational program with other men trying to clear the same hurdle.

In this moment, however, it is not Ray Rice’s future that should be under consideration, but that of his wife.

AFP Photo/Rob Carr

Actor, Comedian Robin Williams Dies At 63 In Apparent Suicide

By Lauren Raab, Ryan Parker and Nicky Loomis, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Robin Williams, a comic and sitcom star in the 1970s who became an Oscar-winning dramatic actor, died Monday at 63 in Marin County. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office said he appears to have committed suicide.

The news of the beloved actor’s death rocked the nation. Channels broke into their usual programming to make the announcement, and within minutes, he dominated online trending topics.

Williams was hailed as a comic genius and starred in both movies and television for more than three decades. But he also suffered from substance abuse problems.

The actor “has been battling severe depression of late,” his publicist Mara Buxbaum said. “This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

Williams was found unresponsive at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Tiburon at around noon Monday, sheriff’s officials said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Dubbed “the funniest man alive” by Entertainment Weekly in 1997, Williams brought audiences hours of laughter, putting his imaginative spin on characters in film and television. He was lauded for his serious roles as well, winning a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire, the therapist who counsels Matt Damon’s math genius in Good Will Hunting (1997), and receiving nominations for The Fisher King (1991), Dead Poets Society (1989) and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).

Williams was known for being open about his problems with cocaine and alcohol over the years.

The actor spent time on a Hazelden campus in Oregon in 2006. He later explained that drinking had gradually become a problem again after 20 years of sobriety.

“You’re standing at a precipice and you look down, there’s a voice and it’s a little quiet voice that goes, ‘Jump,'” the Mrs. Doubtfire star told ABC News in October of that year. “The same voice that goes, ‘Just one.’ … And the idea of just one for someone who has no tolerance for it, that’s not the possibility.”

This summer, he returned to rehab to “fine-tune” his sobriety.

Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams became one of only two students accepted into John Houseman’s prestigious acting program at Juilliard, the other being Christopher Reeve, who became a lifelong friend.

Williams gained fame as Mork, the bizarre, suspenders-sporting alien on the sitcom Mork & Mindy, a spinoff from Happy Days. Williams departed from the script so often that producers intentionally left blank moments on page for him to have space to indulge his ad-libbing genius.

That talent for ad-libbing functioned as a gift and a shield.

“He was always in character — you never saw the real Robin,” said Jamie Masada, founder and chief executive of the Laugh Factory. “I knew him 35 years, and I never knew him.”

“He was a wonderful guy,” Masada added. “I remember John (Belushi) and Robin, both of them always complained to me — no matter where they were people would recognize them. They sold their privacy to the public. They could be in the middle of talking in the street and someone would come up for an autograph. … He (Robin) didn’t realize how much he sold his privacy to people.”

Williams’ last post on Twitter was about his daughter.

Other celebrities turned to the social media site to mourn him.

“I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul,” fellow actor-comedian Steve Martin said on Twitter.

“Robin Williams was like no other,” actor and director Henry Winkler said. “To watch him create on the spot was a privilege to behold. Robin you are an angel now !!! REST IN PEACE”

“Robin Williams, Peace be Still, Peace be Still,” actress Pam Grier posted.

Photo: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Man’s Fingertip Bitten Off At Beyonce-Jay Z Rose Bowl Show, Police Say

MCT

A 25-year-old concert-goer was taken into custody on suspicion of sexual battery and mayhem after he allegedly groped a woman at Beyonce’s and Jay Z’s “On the Run” tour at the Rose Bowl and then bit off the tip of her boyfriend’s finger during an ensuing fight, police said.

The incident occurred Saturday as an estimated 55,000 fans packed the outdoor venue for the first of two performances over the weekend.

Pasadena police Lt. John Luna told the Los Angeles Times that Robert Alcaraz-Garnica of San Diego bit the boyfriend’s finger during the fight, causing a “serious injury.” In an interview with the Pasadena Star-News, he said the victim “lost the tip of one of his fingers.”

Alcaraz-Garnica was arrested inside the stadium and transferred to the L.A. County jail on Sunday on suspicion of sexual battery and mayhem, police said.

Ten other arrests were made at the concert Saturday — eight related to drunkenness and two related to ticket scalping, police said.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Imprisoned Russian Opposition Activist Begins Hunger Strike

dpa

MOSCOW — Prominent Russian opposition activist Sergei Udaltsov has begun a hunger strike to protest his 4 1/2 year prison sentence, a prison spokeswoman said Friday, a day after he was sentenced.
Udaltsov, 37, is in solitary confinement and is being kept under continuous medical supervision, the spokeswoman told the Interfax news agency.

He was found guilty Thursday along with Leonid Razvozhayez of inciting mass riots against President Vladimir Putin in 2012 during the festivities surrounding Putin’s inauguration. Both men received the same sentence to a prison camp.

Human rights organizations called the case politically motivated, and Udaltsov’s defense attorney said he would appeal.

The head of the opposition Left Front movement has gone on hunger strike during previous imprisonments.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Typhoon Rammasun Kills 38 In The Philippines

dpa

MANILA — The strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, typhoon Rammasun, killed 38 people and left nearly 2 million in the capital and eastern provinces without power for a second day, disaster management officials said Thursday.

Most of the deaths were caused by toppled trees, collapsed structures, and other debris whipped up by Rammasun’s ferocious winds of up to 93 miles per hour and gusts of up to 115 mph, the national disaster risk management agency said.

Eight people were missing, including three fishermen who went out to sea despite the storm warning, the agency added.

The country is still recovering from super typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,200 people and displaced over 4 million in November.

AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez

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Texas Governor Perry Calls For Sending Migrant Children Back Quickly

By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times

McALLEN, Texas — Governor Rick Perry told U.S. House committee members meeting in this border town Thursday that the most humanitarian response to tens of thousands of children from Central America surging across the border was to send them back as quickly as possible.

The Republican governor also criticized the federal government, calling for more resources, including National Guard and more Border Patrol agents, to saturate the Rio Grande Valley and act as a deterrent.

“Some may think that allowing them to stay is a more humane option. I assure you, it is not,” Perry told the House Homeland Security Committee, whose members were gathered in an auditorium at South Texas College in McAllen. “Allowing them to remain here will only encourage the next group of individuals to undertake the same life-threatening journey.”

The governor added that he thought the surge of children, more than 52,000 this fiscal year alone, was “manufactured to some degree by the drug cartels.”

Perry said that if politicians didn’t secure the border, “the American people will address this in a number of ways, electorally and otherwise.”

He also took note of the angry reaction to a plan — or rumors of a plan — to move immigrants detained in Texas to other states.

The tensest episode happened Tuesday in the Riverside County, California, city of Murrieta, where about 100 protesters waving American flags blocked a convoy of three buses carrying 140 detainees, many of them children, from reaching a Border Patrol facility.

“You’re seeing the reaction in Georgia and in California, Pennsylvania, and I think you’re going to see that in a lot of places around the country,” Perry said.

One of the committee members, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), said the surge of children was being portrayed as a darker portent than it actually was.

“This is not a national security crisis,” she said. “This is a humanitarian crisis.”

Jackson Lee said the detained children she had encountered “simply want to be free from the murderous conditions from which they flee” and that a massive deportation policy for children is “not a humane thing to do.”

Most of the children have come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, three countries with unusually high homicide rates, with Honduras considered the most violent in the world.

But Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the committee chairman, said that according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border could jump to more than 100,000 next year.

“Our military bases are turning into refugee camps,” he said. “I never thought I’d see this in the United States of America.”

Several of the committee members called for more law enforcement and even National Guard resources to be placed along the Texas-Mexico border.

Perry said that from El Paso to California, there were about 17 Border Patrol agents per mile, compared with about seven per mile from El Paso east to Brownsville, Texas. He called for working more closely with Mexico and the Central American countries to stem the tide of child immigrants.

But California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat whose district includes part of the San Francisco Bay Area, told Perry that more Border Patrol agents might not be the answer when so many of the young immigrants are simply turning themselves in.

“We were told this was not a matter of catching them,” he said. “These children are running into open arms. Wouldn’t additional Border Patrol agents simply increase the number of arms these children are running into?”

The exchange between Swalwell and Perry served up the only testy moments of the hearing, with the congressman trying to finish his questions and the governor interrupting to say he knew where Swalwell was going.

The visibly annoyed Perry told Swalwell that with the proper resources, the undocumented immigrants wouldn’t get to cross into the U.S to surrender. The conversation about now-stalled immigration reform both of them would like to see “will never happen until we secure the border,” the governor said.

The number of children making the journey from Central American communities through Mexico to the U.S. border has risen dramatically despite the dangers from drug cartels, human traffickers and the punishing terrain, including after the migrants cross into Texas.

One of the speakers, Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra, noted the decomposed body of a Guatemalan boy found June 15 in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Guerra said the boy was 11, though there are reports that he may have been 15. The sheriff also noted that officials responded to 19 immigrant deaths in Hidalgo County in 2012, and that the figure jumped to 25 last year and stands at 14 so far this year.

“The hardest to take are the deaths of children,” he said.

Guerra said the surge in undocumented immigrants had been a challenge for law enforcement but that the children and families turning themselves in at the border are guilty only of the crime of entering the country illegally.

“The vast majority are not committing any state crime,” he said. “The threat to law enforcement is not coming from these immigrants but from criminal elements that have taken advantage of them.”

Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Police Arrest 511 After Hong Kong Democracy Rally

MCT

HONG KONG — Police in Hong Kong on Wednesday arrested at least 511 demonstrators who refused to leave city streets following one of the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the former British territory since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Demonstrators were arrested for “participating in unauthorized assembly and obstructing police officers in an operation,” according to a statement released by Hong Kong police.

“The public meeting on Chater Road on July 1 should have concluded according to the finishing time stated in (the permit letter). After repeated advice and warnings by police including the display of warning banners, those refusing to leave in fact took part in an unauthorized assembly,” the statement said.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the city’s financial district Tuesday afternoon, chanting slogans such as “Universal suffrage!” and demanding a larger say in who runs the city.

As night fell, a group primarily made up of students started a sit-in on Chater Road in the financial district to display their anger toward the city’s unpopular chief executive. The students are among the supporters of a civic group, Occupy Central with Peace and Love, that has been pressing for free elections for the chief executive position in 2017.

Tuesday’s demonstration and the subsequent sit-in were peaceful; pictures circulated on social media websites showed that many protesters held both hands up in an effort to convey to officers that they had no intention to be violent and to not give the police any reason to use force against them.

When the officers started to forcibly remove the demonstrators on Chater Road early Wednesday, some who were being taken away kicked and screamed but there was no reports of any serious injuries.

Police officials did not indicate how long they planned to hold those arrested. Lawyers were not allowed to meet immediately with the detainees, the local Sing Tao Daily reported.

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the annual July 1 mass rally, told a cheering crowd in the financial district that an estimated 510,000 people participated in the demonstration, slightly more than the record crowd of half a million who took part in the 2003 event. That year, many local citizens were up in arms over a proposed piece of anti-sedition legislation that was later shelved.

But police in Hong Kong estimated that only 98,600 participants took part at the peak of Tuesday’s demonstration, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

Tuesday marked the 17th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, a former British territory, to China; agreements between Britain and China’s Communist leaders promised to allow the region of 7 million a wide range of civil liberties and a large degree of autonomy for at least 50 years.

Local residents in Hong Kong have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the way the city’s government operates and how its chief executive is chosen. In June, nearly 800,000 participated in a volunteer, nonbinding referendum on how Hong Kong’s next chief executive should be elected.

Beijing has pledged to allow a citywide vote for the chief executive position, but has said any candidates must “love China and love Hong Kong.” The June referendum aimed at influencing rules for the election was illegal and invalid, Beijing has declared.

“The size of the protest or number of votes cast will not change the central government’s stance, which remains firmly on the side of universal suffrage in Hong Kong,” said Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, the state-owned Global Times newspaper reported.

Tommy Yang and Nicole Liu in the Los Angeles Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

AFP Photo / Philippe Lopez

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