Friday, January 7, 2011

Darfur peace talks end with Sudan exit

A Sudanese official says his government has withdrawn from peace talks with Darfur rebel groups, but it is still committed to making peace.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir threatened to call off the talks in Qatar and return negotiations to Sudan if agreement was not reached by Thursday, and he carried out his threat.

Chief government negotiator Ghazi Salaheddine says the Sudanese delegation will leave for Khartoum on Friday.

Ahmed Hussain Adam, a rebel spokesman, described the move as "a declaration of war" in remarks to Al-Jazeera TV.

Last minute disagreements foiled a goal to reach an accord by the end of the year.

The talks were also marred by renewed clashes between government and rebel forces. Thousands were displaced during the new fighting.

CalPERS spent $550,000 dodging divestment laws

When the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) submitted its annual report on its efforts to divest from companies that operate in Sudan, its officials proudly pointed out that they were able to implement the state-mandated program at “relatively little cost.” IPERS liquidated $4.1 million in shares in two energy corporations tied to Sudan—a region where oil profits fund the ongoing genocide in Darfur—without incurring staff overtime or third-party contracts. IPERS staff even went beyond their mandate and wrote letters to 31 corporations to demand transparency so the fund could compile a definitive do-not-invest list.
The total bill: $10,330.37.

Since the mid 2000s, dozens of states have passed legislation requiring public pension funds to shed investments in companies working in Sudan as well as Iran, an increasingly hostile threat to global stability and U.S. national security. Most pension systems have reported fairly smooth transitions to what are sometimes described as “terror-free portfolios.” The Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement system, for example, “not only met, but exceeded the schedule for divestment.”

In California, the narrative goes a bit differently. At the end of December, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) staff presented an estimate of what it spends annually “complying” with mandates to divest from companies in Sudan and Iran.

The total bill: $550,000.

CalPERS has a funny definition of “compliance.” It has not divested any stock nor honored the short “do not invest” list it released in 2006, complaining it would hurt the fund. In fact, CalPERS’s board passed a policy in February 2009 stating that it would not divest from companies as the law demands, period. As CityBeat reported last year, CalPERS failed to disclose this decision to the state Legislature in its annual report.

CalPERS left a lot out of those reports—including a breakdown of exactly how much money it has invested in these corporations, a detail required under statute. Then-California Attorney General Jerry Brown demanded a complete accounting and an Assembly committee grilled CalPERS leaders twice over its failure to divest. CalPERS argued that writing “engagement” letters to the companies was sufficient.

CalPERS’s latest reports to the legislature, dated Dec. 31, 2010, indicate they have made little progress. As of Nov. 30, 2010, CalPERS had $23 million invested in two companies operating in Sudan which it says are immediately subject to divestment and $347 million invested in companies in Iran that also must be divested.

But CalPERS still hasn’t divested, despite the $550,000 spent on “compliance.”

“If that’s really true, they’re incompetent,” says John Harrington, president of Harrington Investments, who has specialized in “socially responsible investing” for more than 30 years. “We’re talking about a very sophisticated retirement system. It’s ludicrous. I’d be embarrassed if a report came out telling that’s how much I would be spending on a transition like this.”
However, not only were the figures inflated, but, also, much of the money was spent on finding ways to avoid divestment.

Approximately $425,000 of the estimate was for internal staff time. No new hires were made, no overtime paid out—CalPERS simply estimated how much time a staffer spent on the projects. For example, CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Joseph Dear spent 5 percent of his time working on Sudan-Iran divestment and 5 percent of his salary is $28,346. It’s unlikely Dear would take the equivalent pay cut if the legislation were repealed.

The remaining $125,000 was paid out to three independent contractors (CalPERS could not provide a cost breakdown before CityBeat’s deadline):

• RiskMetrics / MSCI was hired to screen investments for connections to Sudan and Iran. In 2009, the firm screwed up when it declared that CalPERS held $49 million in China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, when the investment was actually in China Petrochemical Development Corporation, which has nothing to do with either nation.

Melany Grout, director of Conflict Risk Network (CRN), which screens companies for ties to Sudan and negotiates with companies on behalf of investors (including California State Teachers’ Retirement System), questions the list CalPERS derived from RiskMetrics. The list seems incomplete and outdated compared with CRN’s regularly updated “Sudan Company Report.” For one, she says, CalPERS lists Wartsila OYJ as one of the two companies subject to divestment; CRN recently removed Wartsila from its list.

What’s more alarming, Grout says, is that CalPERS “concluded” its investigation into Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical and determined it did not warrant divestment of $2.1 million in shares. Sinopec Shanghai is a subsidiary of China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (also called Sinopec), which is prohibited under both the Sudan and Iran legislation, and virtually every other comparable pension system in the country includes Sinopec Shanghai on do-not-invest lists.

“Sinopec is one of the largest operators in Sudan,” says Grout, whose organization grew from the Sudan Divestment Task Force, whose lobbying efforts in California were recorded in the documentary Darfur Now. “In our reading of the California legislation, the definition of ‘company’ extends to subsidiaries like Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical.”

A spokesperson for RiskMetrics declined to comment for this story.

• Wilshire Consulting was contracted to estimate the impact of divestment on CalPERS’s portfolio: between $6.9 million and $28 million in transaction costs and an annual impact between $155 million and $237 million in either direction. Experts in the field aren’t buying Wilshire’s analysis.

“Wilshire has been their apologist for years,” says Harrington, who promoted investment boycotts to combat Apartheid in the 1980s. “They were telling CalPERS what they wanted to hear on South Africa. They’re paid to get CalPERS whatever they want, and if Wilshire is still their boys, they will continue to do that. These firms have no credibility with me.”

Mark Langerman, CEO of Terror Free Investing in Scottsdale, Ariz., goes one better.

“Have them call me and I’ll do the transaction for a fraction of that,” Langerman tells CityBeat. “There are transaction costs that are going to be incurred. Those are nominal. They’re always nominal…. It’s done all day every day throughout the world. It’s pretty simple and these guys need to wake up and do the right thing.”

A spokesperson for Wilshire declined to comment for this story.

• The final recipient of the funds was unnamed “external fiduciary counsel.” CalPERS says the firm advised the board that, based on Wilshire’s estimates, divestment would be “inconsistent with the Board’s constitutional fiduciary duties.”

Cliff Berg, a lobbyist for the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, which backed the Iran divestment legislation, questions whether CalPERS is acting in good faith.

“Rather than finding a way to make it work, they’re hiding behind the ‘fiduciary duty’ argument,” Berg says.

Berg says J-PAC will make this one of their priorities in 2011 and is skeptical of CalPERS’s claim that it will reexamine its position on Iran, considering that the pool of companies working in Iran shrank in 2010.

“CalPERS’s foot-dragging and failure to divest is inconsistent with the desires of the public, the state Legislature and the governor and is providing aid and comfort to a terrorist regime,” Berg says.


Pro-Israel lobbyist sues over pol ads

A pro-Israel lobbying group is accusing an ex-employee of using its mailing list and logo to target voters for California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.
The Whitman campaign used the American Israel Public Affairs Committee logo twice in ads this year, even though AIPAC doesn't endorse political candidates, AIPAC claims in a lawsuit.
Arie Lipnick, a Brooklynite and former AIPAC staffer, allegedly admitted to using the mailing list and logo without permission, and refuses to give them back.
See also


How Zionist lobby shapes UK politics

The wealthy Jewish lobby in Britain working under the title of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) has been tipped as the Conservative Party's paymaster.

The CFI as described by British political analysts is beyond doubt the most well- connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups. It works in support of the interests of the Israeli regime.

The CFI's finances may be legal but they are hardly transparent as the lobbying group is an unincorporated association. This is how the British media report about CFI's financial transactions.

The register of MPs' interests shows that CFI board members and their businesses gave the Conservatives over 2 million pounds in the last 8 years.

The reports also say more than 30,000 pound from CFI members went to campaign funds of the members of Prime Minister David Cameron's team when he was first elected as the party leader in2005.

Also in 2005, Cameron himself had received 15,000 pound from a pro-Israeli lobby facilitator. The facilitator had also donated 50,000 pounds to the Conservative Central Office.

“Donations from all CFI members and their businesses to the Conservative Party of Britain have topped over 10 million pounds over the past 8 years”, according to reliable sources inside the UK.

Here's an example of how the pro-Israeli lobby works in the UK.

After the 22-day Israeli war on the Gaza Strip a fact-finding team was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the war and identify the culprits.

A few weeks since the UN was to vote on a resolution following judge Goldstone's report who condemned Israel for abusing human rights in Gaza, the CFI ran up to now foreign secretary William Hague office and after consulting with David Cameron, he gave them this quote:

“Unless the draft resolution is redrafted to reflect the role that Hamas played in starting the conflict we would recommend that the British government vote to reject the resolution”.

But, it was under former Prime Minister Tony Blair that the Israel lobby first acquired real influence in government.
Former chairman of the Labour friends of Israel John Mandelson boasted:

“Zionism is pervasive in new Labour, it's automatic that Blair will come to Labour friends of Israel's meetings”.

Shortly before Blair became Labour party leader in 1994 he met Michael Levy the pop music millionaire at a social event arranged by the Israeli embassy. They became friends, played tennis and Levy became Blair's fundraiser. It's estimated that he raised almost 15 million pounds for Labour before the row over cash for peerages.

When Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, he awarded Michael Levy a life peerage and made him his special envoy to the Middle East, but because Levy was unpaid and working directly to the prime minister, what he negotiated between the Israeli entity and Arabs on behalf of Britain was kept secret.


PMA Group

The PMA Group is a defunct lobbying firm based in Washington D.C. It was founded and owned by ex-House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense staffer Paul Magliocchetti. The firm's annual lobbying income climbed steadily to its 2006 peak at $16,060,000. In November 2008 the PMA Group's offices were raided by the FBI. The subsequent investigation into illegal pay to play activities has led to the resignation of five of its senior lobbyists who started their own firm and brought clients with them. As a result, the firm ceased operations on March 31, 2009.

History and Personnel

The PMA Group was founded by Paul Magliocchetti in 1989. For a decade, Magliocchetti worked as a senior staffer on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee under its chairman, U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). In September 2007, the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) ranked Murtha, a congressman for thirty-six years, one of the twenty-two "most corrupt" members of Congress, due to "alleged ethics violations stemming “from abuse of his position on the subcommittee to benefit the lobbying firm of a former long-term staffer and for threatening to block earmarks of other members for political purposes." Since Magliocchetti's departure from the defense subcommmittee, PMA and its clients have established themselves as "major contributors to Murtha's campaign committee," donating well over $200,000 to the 2002, 2004, and 2006 campaign cycles, for a total of $2.37 million.
Consequently, PMA's clients have received notable benefits from Murtha's earmarks. In 2006, for example, PMA clients were given "at least 60 earmarks totaling $95.1 million." Other congressmen contacted by PMA included Pete Visclosky and Jim Moran. In 2007 and 2008, Murtha, Visclosky, and Moran directed $137 million in government purchasing to PMA's clients. PMA's clients donated $1.36 million to Visclosky and $997,348 to Moran over the past ten years.
On or around November 25, 2008 FBI agents raided PMA's offices and removed records of the firm's political action committee and files from some of its employees. According to the Washington Times, the FBI is probing the appointment by Magliocchetti of two people from Florida, a hotel wine steward and a hotel golf director, to PMA's board of directors, along with his daughter and a PMA accountant whom Magliocchetti married in 2008. All of them, as well as several relatives of Magliocchetti's, made large campaign donations, raising the question of whether Magliocchetti has illegally reimbursed them.


Magliocchetti sentenced for illegal campaign contributions

Former superlobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, once the master of getting defense earmarks for his clients from members of Congress, was sentenced Friday to 27 months in prison for making hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions.

U.S. District Court Judge T. S. Ellis III sentenced the 64-year-old Magliocchetti in federal court in Alexandria for devising what prosecutors called "one of the largest, most extensive and long-running campaign finance schemes ever."

"You made this choice for one reason: greed," said Judge Ellis, who also ordered Magliocchetti to spend two years on supervised release and pay $75,000 in fines.

The Justice Department had sought the maximum sentence of 57 months in prison for Magliocchetti, while his lawyers had asked for home confinement, probation and a $10,000 fine.

Sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of 46 to 57 months, but Magliocchetti's lawyers argued that he was physically and medically ill and had psychologist David Blackmon testify during the three-hour sentencing hearing that Magliocchetti suffers from the early stages of a cognitive impairment that would be aggravated by time in prison.

Judge Ellis did not seem persuaded to lessen the sentence because of the health arguments alone, but defense arguments that a lenient sentence would be more in line with other election cases did seem to resonate with him.

"I'm a bit dismayed that the government hasn't pursued all these cases with the same vigor," he said.

Magliocchetti pleaded guilty in September to violating federal campaign laws by using "straw donors" — friends, lobbyists and family members — to funnel $386,250 in illegal contributions to members of Congress, including key members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee who provided millions of dollars in earmarks for his lobbying clients.

It came out in the hearing that prosecutors think the total of the illegal contributions may have been over $1 million, which the defense disputed.

Wearing a blue sports coat and looking weary, Magliocchetti read a prepared statement to the judge. Several of his family members and friends were present in the courtroom.


H&R Block spent $500,000 lobbying in 3rd quarter

NEW YORK (Lobbying Activist) — H&R Block Inc. spent $500,000 in the third quarter to lobby the federal government on legislation regulating tax preparers and other issues, according to a disclosure report.

That was up 5 percent from the $475,088 that the nation's largest tax preparer spent in the year-earlier period and flat with its second-quarter 2010 spending.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based company also lobbied the federal government on legislation creating a consumer financial protection agency, consumer credit protection, Wall Street reform and tax simplification.

Tax return free-filing, refund anticipation loans and access to a code that the Internal Revenue Service discontinued that let tax preparers know if an individual would receive their entire expected refund were also on the agenda, according to the report filed Oct. 19.

In the July-to-September period, H&R Block lobbied Congress, the Treasury Department, IRS and Securities Exchange Commission, according to the report filed with the House clerk's office.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The battle for hearts and minds

A decade ago, you'd never expect to see a piece of legislation being pushed with election-season media tactics. But the strategy has become so common -- in fights over health care and education funding, a tax on sugared beverages, and wine sales in liquor stores -- that even before taking office Gov. Andrew Cuomo began shifting the gubernatorial playbook to match it.
Over the past several years, many of the city's most prominent lobbying firms have added or expanded public relations and communications divisions, and the new governor will utilize his $5 million war chest to respond in kind.
"The notion that government is influenced by people smoking cigars in back rooms is a joke, a caricature," said Darren Dopp, who in 2007 started the communications arm of the lobbying firm Patricia Lynch Associates. "What really turns public policy debates is a compelling communications campaign. And as part of such a campaign, you need careful analysis, polling and coalition building."
The 1999 fight over the Health Care Reform Act is considered the first case study. Hospital owners and their unionized workers were facing a governor ready to gut a bill that controlled the lifeblood of their existence -- state funding -- and formed an unprecedented alliance to fight back.
In addition to the usual convincing, cajoling and occasional arm-twisting of legislators, the "health care education project" used the same tactics it did in electoral campaigns: Blistering television advertisements; letter writing; rallies.
"I think everyone was pleasantly surprised to see the level of interest in creating health insurance for a group of New Yorkers," said Jennifer Cunningham, then the political director for SEIU 1199, which represents hospital workers. "It had been a positive experience, I think, for everybody. It was a way to build a relationship with New Yorkers beyond the confines of the union membership. It seemed to be a very good model."
What the public thinks of as public relations -- "public affairs" is the preferred industry term -- has exploded. Firms specializing in the field offer to do everything from calling journalists and brokering meetings with editorial boards to placing paid advertisements in print, radio, television and on the Internet.
The rise of social media has added a new dimension, as Facebook and Twitter allow instant mobilization and engagement around the issues.
"We are seeing increasing numbers of organizations, for-profit and not-for-profit, who are expending their resources on communicating in ways that even three years ago weren't even thought of," said Sean Casey, who manages the Albany office of Eric Mower and Associates. "There is so much information out there, so many issues are so very complex, that it creates amazing challenges for organizations."
For example, Dopp said Patricia Lynch Associates now has about a dozen communications clients. PLA has been involved in lobbying for same-sex marriage and against the soda tax. Since its 2001 founding, the firm has risen to become the second-largest-grossing firm in town. (In December, the firm paid a $500,000 fine to settle matters related to Cuomo's investigation of the state pension fund.)
Other traditional lobbying firms have acquired public relations arms. Empire Public Affairs, a partnership of Kyle Kotary and Tom Nardacci, formed an "affiliated partnership" with Marsh, Wassermann & McHugh. In 2008, Hinman Straub Advisors acquired Carr Public Affairs.
The trend also runs in the other direction, as traditional public relations firms branch into lobbying. DKC Communications, a Manhattan-based firm founded by Dan Klores, opened a lobbying business in the fall of 2009, when it poached Allison Lee from Lynch's firm. The move allows DKC to offer its clients -- many of whom found their needs stretching into lobbying -- a broader array of services.


Shaun Says LOVE

In response to requests by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and four provinces, fuelled by lobbying by groups opposed to prostitution and human trafficking, Craigslist recently removed the “Erotic Services” section of its Canadian websites. The action mirrors Craigslist’s removal of “Adult Services” from its U.S. websites following an open letter by 17 state attorneys-general lamenting its support for the “scourge of illegal prostitution.”

While illegal in most of the U.S., prostitution is legal in Canada. Communicating for the purpose of prostitution only constitutes an offence when it happens in a “public place,” such as the street or a park, not a newspaper or website.

Some Canadian politicians were concerned Craigslist “could facilitate” crimes involving child exploitation and human trafficking. Charges should be and are laid in Canada against persons who advertise for, and profit from, such exploitation. But persons can only be charged with aiding or abetting if they encourage anyone to commit an offence or do, or omit to do, anything for the purpose of aiding another to commit a crime. There is no evidence that Craigslist has such a purpose. In fact, Craigslist has a strong record of co-operating with police by providing electronic information used to track down suspected abusers.

Shutting down “Erotic Services” is counterproductive and in bad faith. Following the section’s removal, traffic to other less-monitored websites advertising sex services spiked. This scattering effect hinders investigation and prosecution of actual cases of exploitation.

Governmental intimidation of Craigslist is a heavy-handed move that will likely result in increased violence against sex workers. The Ontario Superior Court recently struck down as unconstitutional several prostitution laws, including the communication provision, on the basis that they “materially contribute to the decreased personal security” of sex workers. Online advertising is crucial to sex-worker safety because it allows for effective client screening. Many sex workers require new clients to provide referrals from existing clients, references from other sex workers, and confirmation of identity.

The anti-Craigslist campaign is part of a backlash against progressive developments toward decriminalization of prostitution-related activities. Concerns about exploitation mask the larger goal of eradicating sex work per se. In casting all sex workers as coerced women and children, the anti-prostitution lobby homogenizes a diverse industry that includes consenting adult men, women and transgendered persons.

Targeting Craigslist perpetuates a strategic narrative of saving and punishing, where vulnerable women and children are saved and parasitic pimps, johns and traffickers are punished. The impulse to punish and save lies at the heart of Western theological and colonial traditions. Viewed in this light, the conservative approach to sex work is part of a civilizing mission that reduces participants to either saved or fallen, victim or perpetrator.

This simplification denies the complexity and prevalence of transactional sex. It thereby restricts the range of social and political responses to the root causes of real vulnerabilities. Alternatively, improved immigration policies and support services for trafficked persons, empowerment of first nations communities, increased funding for drug addiction and mental-health services, and implementation of a national childcare plan are measures likely to decrease sex industry-related exploitation.

We should all be concerned when government uses its power to pressure private corporations to excessively limit legal forms of expression.

Lisa Kelly, a Trudeau scholar, and Heidi Matthews are doctoral candidates at Harvard Law School.


Shaun Says LOVE & OTHER DRUGS Is Sexy, Classy But Predictable

When searching for directors who craft unerringly human romantic comedies that never patronise their viewers, who do we turn to?

The list can be counted on one hand; Cameron Crowe (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Jerry Maguire), Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan), perhaps even Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy), and most recently Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer). What we certainly don’t expect is for Edward Zwick, best known for his impressively mounted epics and actioners (Glory, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance), to come out with this refreshingly honest, if occasionally too treacly stab at the genre.

We meet Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he is a lowly, albeit charming, electronics store employee in the mid-90s. Having dropped out of medical school, he instead decides to become a pharmaceutical representative, lobbying doctors through various means to prescribe his favoured brands of medication. In this stead he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), an early-stage Alzheimer’s patient, with whom he embarks on a casual relationship driven largely by sex. However, the commitment-weary Jamie soon finds himself falling for Maggie, and the two uneasily must decide whether a relationship is possible with Maggie’s sure-to-worsen condition.

It is important to remember that Zwick’s very first film, About Last Night, a romantic dramedy, in fact, trod similar ground to Love and Other Drugs; it dealt with an emotionally shallow man discovering that he may or may not have a heart, and consequently how he changes as a result. Though Zwick hasn’t touched the genre in two-and-a-half decades, the humanism that infuses all of his works ensures that he is not out of his depth, and while it may reach for an audience-grabbing “You had me at hello” moment a little too eagerly, this is ultimately an actor’s film diguised as a fluffy crowd pleaser.

Zwick takes a two-pronged approach to his subjects; the film begins as a light and entertaining stab at the pharmaceutical boom of the 1990s, when Viagra revolutionised an industry and truly commodotised well-being, before turning to explore more character-based concerns, as the finality of Maggie’s condition comes home to roost. More successful as an honest character piece rather than a barbed satire, the film never explores in enough detail the industry as a whole, and instead presents it often as window-dressing for us to gawp at these two beautiful young people cavorting around naked without feeling too lascivious.

And yes, there is a lot of nudity. Though the two unquestionably own their roles here, Hathaway especially dives into hers by flaunting her undeniably fantastic figure for the camera at seemingly every errant opportunity; it never feels exploitative, though, because the relationship is all about sex, and when we see them lying around in the nude, talking about their lives, it feels more intimate and more real. For any criticism the film might earn about its predictable nature, that sanitised Hollywood sheen peels away as their clothes do; it is more emotionally raw than most of its equally star-studded, glossy contemporaries.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, who previously worked together on Brokeback Mountain, exhibit potent chemistry which keeps us invested in the emotional stakes through the few portions that drag their feet a bit. As separate components, they are good – Gyllenhaal is a slam dunk as the charming and arrogant rep, while Hathaway knocks it out of the park as a cynical young woman that has flashes of some of Diane Keaton’s roles – but together, they are great. Their likeability and evident chemistry makes it easy to root for these people, and groansome moments are hard to come by, making even genre cynics unlikely to dismiss this effort entirely.

It balances the comic and dramatic elements a little gingerly, and never probes as deep in its satirical bent as it should, but Gyllenhaal and Hathaway go to bat for Zwick big time, and the result is a pleasing if predictable work that isn’t a classic, but is a more emotionally potent, truthful and sexy film than the vast majority of the year’s rom-coms.


Roads Could Be Shut Due To Weather Damage

Some of Britain's roads could be closed due to serious damage caused by freezing weather conditions, the AA has told Sky News Online.

A road damaged by potholes in rural Hertfordshire
The situation may be worse than last spring when a spate of potholes led to the Local Government Association successfully lobbying ministers for an extra £100m for essential repairs.
Weather forecasters are warning that the cold snap could return in the next few weeks and this will add to the difficulties on Britain's road system.
AA spokesman Paul Watters told Sky News there "could be more (problems) this year. Temperatures have been lower and the winter has been longer. The roads could take a beating."
Mr Watters said: "We could see complete lengths of road failing. This happened in Salisbury last spring. Roads gave up completely. They became undulating.
"There were very uneven surfaces and whole roads broke up."
This makes them very dangerous and vehicles could be restricted to driving at 20mph, he added.
And he said if roads get very bad then "technically some of them could be closed".

There are fears of more potholes appearing
He said Britain may find itself in this situation if there are freezing temperatures, then a rapid thaw, heavy rain and then mild temperatures.
He explained that a pothole is a weakness of the road that is aggravated with water expanding and contracting.
There is water under the surface and as the water freezes, it will expand the hole and then crumble it. The water then breaks it open in the thaw and that is when it becomes a pothole.
The more it rains, the more it exposes the surface, and the wet gets down deeper and it makes the pothole bigger. It is known as a freeze-thaw cycle, and traffic use will make it worse.

Workmen pictured repairing potholes
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, recently said: "The situation is already bad, but there is a real possibility this is only the beginning of our problems.
"Given that the financial situation is as bleak as the weather motorists should expect more problems.
"Road maintenance isn't a sexy subject, but filling in potholes is vital to keeping the country moving and is a priority amongst motorists, freight operators and voters.
"Last year, the Government provided an extra £100m to try and stem the tide of repairs.
"But this year that money won’t conveniently be found down the back of the sofa. Indeed, the regular annual budgets of highways authorities have already been cut.
"And even if another £100m was available it would only be a drop in the ocean when compared with the estimated multi-billion pound cost of dealing with the backlog of work built up over many years."
We are not even half-way through winter. When we come to March and April, the roads will be pretty shocking.
Matthew Lugg from the UK Roads Liaison Board
Matthew Lugg works for the UK Roads Liaison Board, which advises the Government.
He said the freeze and thaw effect was causing considerable damage to the roads this winter.
He told Sky News Online: "We are not even half-way. When we come to March and April, the roads will be pretty shocking.
"The money for the highway maintenance budget is being cut. The local authorities are going to have a difficult time."
And a spokesman for the Local Government Association pointed out that the Department for Transport (DfT) will cut funding for road maintenance by 19% over four years.
He said: "Councils have less money to fix roads. With the next cold spell, the problem is not going away.
"The Government gave them £100m last year. This time around there is no promise of extra funding."

Snow and ice has caused road damage
A DfT spokesperson said: "We know how important it is that local roads are well maintained.
"That is why, despite the need to make in-year budget reductions, we have protected day-to-day funding for local road maintenance this year and will invest £3bn in maintenance over the next four years.
"However, local councils should manage the maintenance of their roads throughout the year and in view of the last two winters we would expect winter maintenance to be a priority for them.
"It is too early to assess whether any exceptional damage has been caused by the recent weather."


GOP Freshman Holds Lavish Fundraiser for DC Lobbyists

Capping a season of lavish fundraising events where Republican members of Congress raised huge sums from lobbyists, corporate donors and special interests, one Republican freshman is holding a major bash, at $2,500 per person, complete with live performance by Leigh Ann Rimes, $50,000 all-inclusive package deals and luxury suites at the W hotel. Despite Tea Party opposition to corrupt corporate-interest politics, Rep. Jeff Denham is openly positioning himself to be the go-to rainmaker for fellow Republicans.

The party is aimed at collecting donations from major lobbyists and lobbying organizations, on the eve of the Republican party’s being sworn in to serve in the majority in the House of Representatives. Despite a vicious campaign year alleging corruption in Washington and the need to throw out incumbents and vote in the everyman, the Tea Party’s numerous Mr. Smiths have turned out to be more aggressive and more prolific at DC-centered special interest fundraising than any freshman class in recent memory.

One critic of the fundraising said tonight that the higher price of these parties, with the specific focus on lobbyists representing for-profit interests, appears to be attributable to “the higher quality of the services being offered”. The Republican party is reported to be “cringing” at the inauguration-eve banquet, because it so wildly flies in the face of the populist image the party has sought to cultivate to win Tea Party support for the 2010 midterm election, but Rep. Denham’s fundraiser appears par for the course.

The 112th Congress will be sworn in with most Republican freshmen having aggressively courted massive donations from Washington insiders. The Republican party has been orchestrating a coordinated exchange of ideas, money and relationships between members of Congress, corporate interests, campaign donors and special interests more broadly.

According to Politico:

House Speaker-elect John Boehner, whose name was featured on the invitation, is nonetheless skipping the event at the W Hotel, where lobbyists, political action committee managers and others paying the $2,500 ticket price will be treated to a performance by country music star LeAnn Rimes (a $50,000 package includes a block of eight tickets and a “VIP suite” at the W). The office of incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor, another featured invitee, was noncommittal Monday night when asked whether he’d attend.

“If incoming GOP freshmen were hoping to bring fiscal responsibility and ‘family values’ to Washington, they may have gotten off to an interesting start,” conservative blogger Matt Lewis noted, citing the event’s steep ticket prices, as well as Rimes’s confessed extramarital affair and her recent appearance in a “Sexy Santa” outfit at a gay men’s chorus Christmas performance.

The question is: what will the huge flood of special interest cash being donated to new members of Congress get them? Would any of those pseudo-populist Republicans who took those donations be courageous enough to say those donations have no actual value for those that made them? Would they be courageous enough to admit they do actually mean something?


Abbott lobbying budget rises to $910,000 in 3Q

WASHINGTON (AP) — Drug and medical device maker Abbott Laboratories spent $910,000 in the third quarter to lobby the federal government on policies affecting its products.

The North Chicago, Ill.-based company's spending was up from $650,000 in the second quarter and $770,000 in the prior-year period.

Abbott lobbied on a bill aimed at updating the U.S. patent system. The pharmaceutical and medical device industries have argued that reform efforts must not weaken patent protections on medical products by reducing infringement penalties. The reform effort has largely stalled in Congress.

The company also lobbied on bills designed to improve the FDA's system for monitoring food safety and preparations for a flu pandemic. Separately the company lobbied on child nutrition programs sponsored by the federal government. Abbott sells the leading infant formula, Similac.

Abbott lobbied on funding for government programs to screen and treat patients with AIDS and hepatitis, diseases for which the company sells test kits.

The company's advocates also lobbied on a bill that would prohibit agreements between brand-name and generic drug firms that delay the launch of low-priced generic alternatives to drugs already on the market. Regulators say the agreements are anti-competitive, though both generic and brand-name drug manufacturers argue they are a necessary business practice.

Abbott also lobbied on various tax and trade issues.

Along with Congress, Abbott lobbied the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a disclosure form filed with the House clerk on Oct. 20.


Ivory Coast turmoil spurs more lobbying work for K Street firms

lassane Ouattara — recognized as the winner of the African country’s Nov. 28 presidential runoff by the United Nations, the U.S. government and others — has hired lobby firm Jefferson Waterman International (JWI), according to Justice Department records filed last week.
Details of payment for the firm have yet to be worked out since “compensation for these undertakings will await the full and effective establishment of my powers and those of my government, in accordance with the will of the Ivorian people and the international community,” according to a letter to JWI from Ouattara that was filed with Justice.
“We have an oral agreement and we anticipate an eventual formal agreement. That is why we are putting our backs into this so hard,” Ken Yates, senior vice president at JWI, told The Hill.

The firm has already set up a website,, to have visitors “join the world in repudiating former President [Laurent] Gbagbo’s stunning disregard for human rights and Ivory Coast’s democratic ideals.”

“We are trying to build the kind of the understanding that will lead to the smooth running of the government, as well as good relations with the U.S.,” said Yates, a former Foreign Service Officer.

Forces allied with Ouattara and Gbagbo have skirmished since the election, putting the country on the brink of civil war. On Dec. 2, the Ivory Coast’s elections officer declared Ouattara the winner. But the next day, the head of the Constitutional Council, considered a close Gbagbo ally, threw out election results from Ouattara strongholds in the north of the country, leading both men to claim the presidency.

West African leaders have been meeting to try to find a solution to the standoff but have made little progress so far, with Gbagbo refusing to cede power.

Like Ouattara, Gbagbo has turned to K Street for help.

Gbagbo hired former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis to provide “legal advice and legal representation in Washington,” according to Justice records. But Davis terminated the $300,000, three-month agreement last week.

Davis said he was not hired to take sides in the dispute, but to find a peaceful resolution between Gbagbo and Ouattara, which he says he came close to accomplishing. Davis ended the agreement last week after the State Department told him that Gbagbo refused to take a phone call from President Obama.

“I pleaded with the embassy to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to take the phone call from President Obama,” Davis said.

Davis is a columnist for The Hill as well as a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog.
Gbagbo has hired other people to help advance his cause. Justice Department records show that Augustin Douoguih, a lawyer born in the Ivory Coast but now a U.S. citizen, has been hired “to act as a liaison between any hired public-relations firm or publicity agent” and Gbagbo.

Douoguih said Gbagbo was “legitimately reelected” and lawmakers need to take “a critical look” at what happened in the Ivory Coast.

“Our purpose is not to hire lobbyists. The purpose is to have the American public and decisionmakers hear the truth. If we have to hire lobbyists [to do that], we will do that as well,” Douoguih said.

Pascal Kokora, a former Ivory Coast ambassador to the United States and Georgetown University professor, is also working in support of Gbagbo. He declined to answer questions from The Hill but e-mailed an analysis of the elections that said that they were unfair.

The White House has been clear that Gbagbo should leave the presidency since he lost the election. In a press briefing last month, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration was considering imposing sanctions on Gbagbo and his family.

“That election was clear. Its result was clear. And it’s time for him to go,” Gibbs said.


J&J spent $2.4 million lobbying in 3rd quarter

NEW YORK (Lobbying Activist) — Johnson & Johnson, the maker of health products from baby shampoo to birth control pills, spent $2.4 million in the third quarter to lobby on legislation affecting its medicines, medical devices and other business interests.

The company's lobbying budget for the period increased over 40 percent from $1.7 million in the third quarter of 2009, and was more than double the $1.15 million it spent in the second quarter of 2010.

The company lobbied on a range of bills that would impact its medical products, including:

— Legislation to tighten regulation of dextromethorphan, a cough-suppressing drug found in several Tylenol formulas

— Legislation that would make it easier for patients who have been injured by medical devices to sue the manufacturer

— Legislation to increase inspections of foreign drug and device manufacturing plants.

The company also lobbied on patent reform legislation, on multiple tax issues and on legislation to tighten regulation of certain complex financial investments, such as ones to protect against unfavorable swings in currency exchange rates. Those can be a big problem for companies like J&J that generate much of their revenue from international sales.

The world's biggest maker of health care products lobbied to eliminate some price discounts it now must give on prescription medicines paid for by Medicare, according to the disclosure form filed Oct. 20 with the House clerk's office. It lobbied on multiple bills related to regulations for lawsuits, including ones concerning sealing of information in civil lawsuits. That's an issue because drugmakers often are sued by patients alleging their products caused harm, and the companies try to keep details of such cases secret.

The New Brunswick, N.J.-based company, which uses solar power and other clean energy in many of its facilities around the world, also lobbied in support of funding for water pollution control programs and creating clean energy jobs.


THE INFLUENCE GAME: Safety, trade interests clash

WASHINGTON -- An Obama administration proposal aimed at preventing air shipments of lithium batteries from causing fires in flight is drawing fierce opposition from some of the United States' top trading partners, who say it would disrupt international shipping and drive up the cost of countless products.

The European Union, China, Japan, South Korea and Israel are lobbying against requiring air shipments of lithium batteries and products containing them to meet hazardous cargo regulations, diplomatic and industry officials told The Associated Press.

At a minimum the proposal could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and disrupt the flow of products such as cellphones, laptops, medical devices, water meters and electric car batteries, among others, these governments say.

But the Transportation Department estimates its proposal would cost only $9 million a year. Pilot unions want the additional safety precautions, saying it's only a matter of time before the batteries cause a plane crash.

The fight over the regulations is an example of how lobbying often works - out of sight and taking advantage of relationships, institutional knowledge and politics to promote well-heeled financial interests. And it's become a test of the administration's resolve to place safety first.

Lithium batteries can short-circuit and catch fire. Government testing has shown lithium battery fires burn extremely hot and are exceptionally difficult to put out.

A United Parcel Service plane loaded with electronics crashed in Dubai in September. The two pilots, who were killed, reported a cargo compartment fire and smoke so thick they couldn't see their cockpit instruments. Investigators suspect lithium batteries either started the fire or worsened it.

"We take a back seat to no one when it comes to safety" has been Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's mantra.
But Michael O. Moore, a professor of economics and international affairs at The George Washington University, said it's not always easy to balance safety needs and trade interests.

"Certainly any sensible administration would be careful when you are irritating that list of trading partners," Moore said.

The final say on the regulations rests with the White House Office of Management and Budget. Last month, its officials held separate meetings with Japanese and South Korean government officials and industry leaders, and their lobbyists, even though the official comment period had been closed for months.

The meetings were arranged by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a Korean official told the AP, adding that the budget office's final review now will likely be delayed by weeks and perhaps months. The official asked that his name not be used because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.


Eli Lilly bumps up 3Q federal lobbying 5 percent

WASHINGTON (Lobbying Activist) — Drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. punched up its spending on federal lobbying in the third quarter as it focused on market access and pricing reform in Europe, trade issues and the healthcare overhaul, among other matters.

The Indianapolis drugmaker spent $2.1 million in the three months that ended Sept. 30, a 5 percent increase from the same quarter last year and a jump of more than 30 percent from the $1.6 million it spent in this year's second quarter.

Lilly lobbied on trade issues involving China, Russia and Vietnam. It also lobbied on pricing reform in Germany and Greece and market access in Poland and Italy, according to a report filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives. It lobbied on hospital discounts, patient safety issues, counterfeit medicines, financial derivatives and the healthcare overhaul, which promises more customers for drugmakers by covering millions of uninsured people. Congress passed the overhaul in March, and it will be rolled out over the next several years.

Besides Congress, Lilly also lobbied the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Patent and Trademark Office and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, State, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, according to the disclosure report filed Oct. 18 with the House clerk's office.