Daily Archives: March 13, 2011

Mexico lawmakers demand answers about guns smuggled under ATF’s watch

A legislator says at least 150 Mexicans have been killed or wounded by guns trafficked by smugglers being tracked by U.S. agents from the ATF. The charges may exacerbate already rocky U.S.-Mexico relations.

Los Angeles Times | Mar 10, 2011

By Kim Murphy and Ken Ellingwood Reporting from Seattle and Mexico City

Lawmakers in Mexico are demanding an investigation into a U.S. law enforcement operation that allowed hundreds of weapons to flow into the hands of Mexican drug cartels amid claims from a ranking legislator that at least 150 Mexicans have been killed or wounded by guns trafficked by smugglers under the watch of U.S. agents.

U.S. authorities say manpower shortages and the high number of weapons sold resulted in their losing track of hundreds of guns, from pistols to .50-caliber sniper rifles, though a federal agent deeply involved in the Phoenix-based operation said it was “impossible” that U.S. authorities did not know the weapons were headed for Mexico.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has acknowledged that at least 195 weapons sold in Arizona under Operation Fast and Furious have been recovered in Mexico, traced as a matter of routine via serial numbers after their recovery from crime scenes, arrests and searches.

The Mexican lawmaker did not say how the new casualty statistics were calculated. But the estimates, which could not be independently confirmed, provide troubling new fallout from an investigation in which guns sold to suspected smugglers in the U.S. already have been linked to the deaths of two U.S. law enforcement agents.

Humberto Benitez Trevino, a federal deputy who chairs the justice committee in the lower chamber of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, said in comments released by Congress this week that “we have 150 cases of injuries and homicides with arms that were smuggled and passed illegally into our country.”

Benitez said the figure came from “sources,” but he did not specify who the victims were or where shootings took place.

“This was an undercover program that wasn’t properly controlled,” Benitez said.

A U.S. law enforcement official on the border, who is a defender of the ATF program, said he didn’t know how Mexican officials came up with the casualty figure. “It’s probably just a good political thing to say, and how are you going to refute it?”

Nevertheless, the new information is bound to complicate U.S.-Mexico relations at a rocky time. Mexican President Felipe Calderon is already upset at U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual over a series of leaked diplomatic cables citing shortcomings in Mexico’s 4-year-old war against drug cartels.

Mexican politicians have criticized the ATF program as a violation of Mexico’s sovereignty and evidence of U.S. arrogance toward its southern neighbor.

Lawmakers from all of Mexico’s main political parties have demanded to know whether Mexican authorities were aware of the program.

“This is a serious violation of international law,” said lawmaker Carlos Ramirez Marin, a member of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party and president of the Chamber of Deputies. “What happens if next time they need to introduce trained assassins or nuclear weapons?”

The Mexican Senate wants the nation’s ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, to return from Washington to discuss the matter.

The new claims came amid growing demands for an independent investigation in the U.S.

In Washington, Senate investigators are trying to determine whether the gun used in the attack that killed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata in February — purchased at a Texas gun store in October — was smuggled into Mexico by buyers who were under investigation by ATF agents.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the ATF why the purchasers of the gun used in the attack on Zapata were not arrested in November, a month after they bought the weapon.

“After the delivery of the illegal weapons, the three men were stopped by local police. Why were these traffickers not thereafter arrested in November?” Grassley said in a letter to the agency, which asked whether the gun made its way into Mexico after this initial contact with law enforcement agents.

“Naturally, this raises questions about whether the ATF strategy of allowing [smugglers] to continue to operate in hopes of making bigger cases may have contributed to the shooting of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata.”

Thomas Crowley, ATF spokesman in Dallas, said it was not known when the gun was transferred to Mexico.

Full Story

Land Grab: John Malone Overtakes Ted Turner as Largest Individual Landowner in the U.S.

Land Grab: Media Mogul John Malone recently became the largest individual landowner in the U.S., edging out old friend, Ted Turner.

Forbes | Mar 10, 2011

By MONTE BURKE

When asked about the source of his lust for land, John C. Malone laughs. “My wife says it’s the Irish gene. A certain land hunger comes from being denied property ownership for so many generations.”

Malone, the 70-year-old billionaire chairman of Liberty Media, has well sated that hunger. He started his land feast slowly nearly two decades ago, collecting parcels in Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. By the beginning of last year he had nearly 1 million acres. But in the last seven months, as property prices and the cost of borrowing have dropped, the hard-bargaining cable magnate’s land grab shifted into overdrive.

In August Malone bought the 290,100-acre Bell Ranch in northeastern New Mexico, after waiting years for it to drop to what he says was a “rational price.” (The ranch was initially listed in 2006 for $110 million, then for $83 million last year. Malone is rumored to have gotten it for closer to $60 million.) Then in February he made his biggest splash, snapping up 1 million acres of timberland in Maine and New Hampshire for a “fair price.”

With that acquisition Malone became the largest private landowner in the U.S., at 2.2 million acres, according to The Land Report, which tracks sales. He surpassed his fellow billionaire Ted Turner, who had held the title for the previous 15 years. Turner owns 2.1 million acres in the U.S. and has an additional 100,000 acres in South America.

The turnover at the top is fitting. Malone (worth $4.5 billion) and Turner (worth $2.1 billion) are longtime acquaintances and business partners. Malone served on the board of Turner Broadcasting in the 1980s and bailed out Turner’s company in 1987. In 2007, through Liberty Media, Malone became the owner of the Atlanta Braves, Turner’s old baseball team. (“I will always think of them as Ted’s team,” says Malone.) The two have neighboring trophy ranches in northern New Mexico (Malone’s 250,000-acre TO Ranch runs east from Turner’s 591,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch.) And it was Turner, 72, who “first gave me this land-buying disease,” says Malone, when the duo flew a helicopter over Vermejo. Says Turner: “Over the years I’ve shared my experiences with John. I consider him a good friend and have great respect for him.”

So no Hatfield-McCoy here. Malone recently visited Turner, who was “down in the dumps because I still have lots of dry powder and he’s pretty tapped out,” jokes Malone. “I think if it was a race, Ted would concede.”

Turner seems happy to do just that, saying he was glad to see Malone make his latest acquisition. “We’re working toward the same goal–to be stewards of the land and make sure it’s preserved for future generations,” says Turner.

But though their conservation ends may be the same, their means differ. “Ted’s idea of tradition is to go back to pre-European times,” says Malone. Turner famously poisoned a stretch of Cherry Creek–which runs through his Flying D Ranch in Montana–to rid it of the invasive brown and rainbow trout. (He replanted the stream with native cutthroat trout.) At Turner’s ranch bison roam free over land that’s been cleared of most signs of human habitation.

Malone, on the other hand, says, “I tend to be more willing to admit that human beings aren’t going away.” So he believes that trees can be harvested without damaging the ecology and wildlife. (“I’m not an extreme tree-hugger,” he says.) He will continue the sustainable forestry operation on the Maine and New Hampshire land (purchased from GMO Renewable Resources, a private equity firm). Malone is also looking at wind-power opportunities on the property and will keep the land open for public recreation, a Maine tradition. Malone takes the same “working farm” philosophy with his western properties, like the Bell Ranch, where he raises cattle and horses.

Malone wants to “break even” on his land, but there is more than economics involved. “There’s the emotional and intellectual aspect of walking the land and getting that sense of awe,” he says. “I own it, sort of, for my lifetime.”

Like Turner, he has plans to conserve most of it for beyond his lifetime, through perpetual conservation easements. “But I’m not going to kid myself and think that 500 years from now, with population growth, that the government won’t start putting people on the land,” he says. “But at least I tried.”

Landowners

(Members of the Forbes Billionaires list in bold)

1. John Malone: 2.2 mn acres—With this year’s purchase of one million acres in Maine and New Hampshire, became the new top dog. Liberty Media chairman also owns property in New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado.

2. Ted Turner: 2.1 mn acres—Land in seven states. Strident environmentalist has more than 50,000 bison. Has begun renewable energy plant (solar) in New Mexico.

3. Red Emmerson: 1.722 mn acres—Runs family-owned timber company Sierra Pacific Industries, founded by father, “Curly.” Biggest landowner in California. Recently has begun placing some land in conservation easements.

4. Brad Kelley: 1.7 mn acres—Discount cigarette billionaire owns land in Texas, New Mexico, and Florida, mostly used to propagate rare animal species, like the pygmy hippo and okapi.

5. Irving family: 1.2 mn acres—Through the timber company, Irving Woodlands, the Canadian family owns forest land in Maine, most of which is sustainably harvested.

6. Singleton Family: 1.11 mn acres—Children of Dr. Henry Singleton, founder of Teledyne, Inc., run ranchland in New Mexico. Avid participants in local rodeos.

7. King Ranch: 911,215 acres—Land in Texas and Florida. Farm sugarcane, vegetables, citrus and pecans. The ranch produced 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault.

8. Pingree heirs: 800,000 acres—Family’s Seven Island Land Company owns tract of land in Maine bigger than state of Rhode Island. Heirs of David Pingree, a 19th century shipper.

9. Reed family: 770,000 acres—Through Simpson Lumber Company, owns timberland in Pacific Northwest.

10. Stanley Kroenke: 740,000—St. Louis Rams and Arsenal owner owns cattle and recreational ranches in Montana and Wyoming.

Japan ground cracking open and moving (CNN video)

Japan ground cracking open and moving (CNN video) – March 11th 2011

Gordon Brown’s Government arranged a meeting with Prince Andrew’s convicted pedophile friend Jeffrey Epstein


Jeffrey Epstein. When police and the FBI discovered around 40 under-age girls who were recruited to service Epstein’s sexual desires, some lured to his Palm Beach mansion from a local school, a judge in Manhattan classified him as a Level 3 sex offender. Photo: REX

“The morals of any person meeting with and doing business with a convicted paedophile, while they are still on probation no less, should be questioned. If this meeting was to be with British government officials, they should be ashamed.”

Mystery over Jeffrey Epstein’s meeting with Under Secretary to the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Records of the movements of Ministers in the Labour Government have been transferred to the National Archive at Kew and will not be available for public inspection for many years.

A senior Minister in Gordon Brown’s Government arranged a meeting with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein while he was being held under house arrest at the end of an 18-month jail term.

Mystery over Jeffrey Epstein’s meeting with a Labour minister

By Jason Lewis, Robert Mendick and Jacqui Goddard in Florida

Telegraph | Mar 13, 2011

The disclosure comes in the wake of the controversy over the Duke of York’s close friendship with the disgraced financier. In December, the Duke was photographed walking through central park with Epstein following his release from jail, triggering demands for him to quit his post as the UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment.

A court transcript raises new questions about the reach of Epstein’s power and influence.

The legal documents reveal that Epstein applied to a US judge for special permission to leave his Florida home, where his movements were strictly controlled, in order to fly to New York for a “hands on” meeting with a Labour minister. The identity of the minister has not been revealed.

Epstein requested Florida Criminal Court Judge Jeffrey Colbath grant a motion for “authorization to travel” for an urgent meeting with the unnamed minister.

Epstein’s lawyer Jack Goldberger said the meeting was important but was strongly opposed by Barbara Burns, Florida Assistant State Attorney,

Ms Burns told the special probation hearing on 30 November 2009 at the Palm Beach County Courthouse: “It’s a social event, Judge. He wants to visit with the government official from London.”

However, Mr Goldberger denied this. He said: “It is not a social visit. It is a meeting with a governmental official. He’s actually the Under Secretary to the Prime Minister of Great Britain.”

He added that the meeting had been called to discuss “the university system in Great Britain”.

He told the judge: “That individual cannot travel to South Florida. They need to have a hands on meeting. It would be up and back on the same day.”

But Ms Burns added: “Judge, the problem is he is on house arrest, and house arrest is not something that should be bypassed for this type of thing. I can understand why he wants to go to New York because he is helping his attorney on his civil lawsuit, and I don’t have a problem with that because he has to look at exhibits, exhibits that can’t leave New York.

“I do have a problem with him visiting the Foreign Minister from England.”

The judge agreed and dismissed the request and the meeting never took place.

Mystery surrounds who he was due to meet at the on the weekend of the 12 and 13 December 2009.

Officials in the Florida Assistant State Attorneys office says they were never given the name of the British minister. They said they did not inquire further because the meeting had nothing to do with Epstein’s legal case and so his request to travel was therefore deemed to be unacceptable.

Records of the movements of Ministers in the Labour Government have been transferred to the National Archive at Kew and will not be available for public inspection for many years.

Officials at the British Embassy in Washington could find no trace of any Labour Ministers who were due to have been in the US that weekend.

Intriguingly Lord (Digby) Jones, a former trade minister and one-time business adviser to the Duke of York, was engaged on a speaking tour of Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston on Dec 14, 15 and 16 which had been arranged by UK Trade & Investment, the Government’s business promotion arm.

His spokeswoman said Lord Jones had no knowledge of Epstein prior to recent reports and pointed out the cross-bencher had resigned as a minister in 2008, more than a year before Epstein applied for his meeting. He quit as the Duke’s business adviser in 2007 after being appointed a minister for trade.

They maintain that an extraordinary plea agreement struck between prosecutors and defence lawyers in 2008 that saw Epstein escape with just an 18-month sentence in exchange for him pleading to just two charges and them dropping the rest was unlawful.

Epstein appears on sex offender registers in Florida, New York and the Virgin Islands, where he owns homes.

Based on the 2008 case against him, when police and the FBI discovered around 40 under-age girls who were recruited to service Epstein’s sexual desires, some lured to his Palm Beach mansion from a local school, a judge in Manhattan classified him as a Level 3 sex offender.

Level 3 is the most serious ranking on a basic scale of one to three, and is applied to a sex offender considered to pose a “high risk of repeat offence and a threat to public safety”.

Attempts to set up a meeting between Epstein and a representative of the British government even while he was still on probation and under house arrest in November 2009 prompted horror among many familiar with the case.

Spencer Kuvin, one of the Florida lawyers representing Epstein’s victims, said: “The morals of any person meeting with and doing business with a convicted paedophile, while they are still on probation no less, should be questioned. If this meeting was to be with British government officials, they should be ashamed.”