Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Desperation in Gaza

US policy in Palestine hinders basic human infrastructure. A democratic election was held in Palestine. The elected government was not to US government liking. Sanctions continue on the country and its human population. At some point will the palestinian populous realize to vote the american ticket?

Flood of Sewage in Gaza Kills at Least 4
Published: March 27, 2007

At least 4 people were killed today in the northern Gaza Strip and more than 30 injured when a sewage system collapsed, flooding a village with waste water, according to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
The agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which helps Palestinian refugees and their families, posted photographs on its Web site showing Palestinians wading through the muck, and waters rising about half way up structures in the area known as Um al-Nasr.

The local Palestinian news agency, Wafa, reported that at least nine people were killed and scores wounded. Hundreds of houses were flooded or damaged, the U.N. agency and Wafa said.

“The waters destroyed houses, tents, shelters, everything in its way,” Musa Jaber, a 28 year-old Palestine refugee and father of five, told the U.N. agency. “It was very high, more than a meter. And horrifying! Women and children were screaming at the top of their lungs for help.”

The U.N. agency estimated that between 3,000 and 6,000 inhabitants would evacuate as the flood waters spread to outlying areas. The agency dispatched staff to the area, as well as water and food supplies. Bulldozers were sent to create earth barriers.

Village children clung to wooden doors floating on the putrid waters and rescuers paddled through the village in makeshift boats in search of victims, Agence France-Presse reported. It said Palestinian television called the flood a “sewage tsunami.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company {GSSC}

One Voice

A building sits on its own island of land in Chongqing Municipality, China. The homeowner has refused to sell to a developer, who went ahead with construction around the site.

Published: March 27, 2007
CHONGQING, China, March 23 — For weeks the confrontation drew attention from people all across China, as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news, of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont-Saint-Michel in northern France, in the middle of a vast excavation.

Newspapers dived in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media after the government, bloggers here said, decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

Still, the “nail house,” as many here have called it because of the homeowner’s tenacity, like a nail that cannot be pulled out, remains the most popular current topic among bloggers in China.

It has a universal resonance in a country where rich developers are seen to be in cahoots with politicians and where both enjoy unchallenged sway. Each year, China is roiled by tens of thousands of riots and demonstrations, and few issues pack as much emotional force as the discontent of people who are suddenly uprooted, told that they must make way for a new skyscraper or golf course or industrial zone.

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station and return home only to find their house already demolished. How did this owner, a woman no less, manage? Millions wondered.

Part of the answer, which on meeting her takes only a moment to discover, is that Wu Ping is anything but an ordinary woman. With her dramatic lock of hair precisely combed and pinned in the back, a form-flattering bright red coat, high cheekbones and wide, excited eyes, the tall, 49-year-old restaurant entrepreneur knows how to attract attention — a potent weapon in China’s new media age, in which people try to use public opinion and appeals to the national image to influence the authorities.

“For over two years they haven’t allowed me access to my property,” said Ms. Wu, her arms flailing as she led a brisk walk through the Yangjiaping neighborhood here. It is an area in the throes of large-scale redevelopment, with broad avenues, big shopping malls and a recently built elevated monorail line, from whose platform nearly everyone stops to gawk at the nail house.

Within moments of her arrival at the locked gate of the excavated construction site, a crowd began to gather. The people, many of them workers with sunken cheeks, dressed in grimy clothes, regarded Ms. Wu with expressions of wonderment. Some of them exchanged stories about how they had been forced to relocate and soothed each other with comments about how it all could not be helped.

From inside the gates a government television crew began filming.

“If it were an ordinary person they would have hired thugs and beat her up,” murmured a woman dressed in a green sweater who was drawn by the throng. “Ordinary people don’t dare fight with the developers. They’re too strong.”

Earlier this month the National People’s Congress passed a historic law guaranteeing private property rights to China’s swelling ranks of urban middle-class homeowners, among others. Some here attributed Ms. Wu’s success to that, as well as her knack for generating publicity.

“In the past they would have just knocked it down,” said an 80-year-old woman who said she used to be a neighbor of Ms. Wu’s. “Now that’s forbidden, because Beijing has put out the word that these things should be done in a reasonable way.”

Between frenzied telephone calls to reporters and city officials, Ms. Wu, who stood at the center of the crowd with her brother, a 6-foot-3 decorative stone dealer who wore his brown hair in jheri curls, stated her case with a slightly different spin.

“I have more faith than others,” she began. “I believe that this is my legal property, and if I cannot protect my own rights, it makes a mockery of the property law just passed. In a democratic and lawful society a person has the legal right to manage one’s own property.”

Tian Yihang, a local college student, spoke glowingly of her in an interview at the monorail station. “This is a peculiar situation,” he said, with a bit of understatement. “I admire the owner for being so persistent in her principles. In China such things shock the common mind.”

Ms. Wu will in all likelihood lose her battle. Indeed, developers recently filed administrative motions to allow them to demolish her lonely building. Certainly the local authorities are eager to see the last of her.

“During the process of demolition, 280 households were all satisfied with their compensation and moved,” said Ren Zhongping, a city housing official. “Wu was the only one we had to dismantle forcibly. She has the value of her house in her heart, but what she has in mind is not practical. It’s far beyond the standards of compensation decided by owners of housing and the professional appraisal organ.”

With the street so choked with onlookers that traffic began to back up, Ms. Wu’s brother, Wu Jian, began waving a newspaper above the crowd, pointing to pictures of Ms. Wu’s husband, a local martial arts champion, who was scheduled to appear in a highly publicized tournament that evening. “He’s going into our building and will plant a flag there,” Mr. Wu announced.

Moments later, as the crowd began to thin, a Chinese flag appeared on the roof with a hand-painted banner that read: “A citizen’s legal property is not to be encroached on.”

Asked how his brother-in-law had managed to get inside the locked site and climb the escarpment on which the house is perched, he said with a wink, “Magic.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company {GSSC}


The capitalization by ICF of the situation in New Orleans is unconscionable. It is appalling that the Washington Times writer, doesn't acknowledge the withdrawal of the Governor of Louisiana from the governor's race. Neither is mentioned the possible run by John Breaux. Both omissions acknowledge the awaiting of business as usual to fully stamp its approval on the demise of Louisiana.

Louisiana State Senator Edwin Murray in a special session committee meeting in December 2006, resolved to have the Security & Exchange Commission determine if the Road Home contract advanced ICF's standing in the global market.

Katrina contract buoys ICF stock
By Tom Ramstack
March 27, 2007

ICF International took on a huge contract last summer to administer a federal Hurricane Katrina recovery program in Louisiana that has been hounded by complaints about the time it takes to distribute grant money.
Nevertheless, the Fairfax consulting company's stock value is up by more than 20 percent in the past six months.
Last June, ICF International won a contract valued at up to $756 million over three years to administer grants to homeowners in Louisiana to rebuild their homes after the 2005 hurricane.
The $7.5 billion program, called the Road Home, provides up to $150,000 to each homeowner in federally funded block grants, which are administered by the state.
ICF International beat out BearingPoint and Affiliated Computer Services in a bid for the contract to screen applicants and distribute the money.
By January, ICF International was being criticized by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and others for a slow response and unnecessary bureaucracy. The company reportedly received 103,000 applications but gave out fewer than 400 grants. State auditors also raised questions about what appeared to be excessive legal fees and travel expenses.
The company said it was dealing with software problems and disputes with applicants over property values, but denied being behind the state government's schedule. ICF officials also said the size of the Hurricane Katrina recovery is unparalleled. The Road Home program required using more than 2,000 employees, about 700 directly employed by ICF International and the rest by 23 subcontractors.
"It was the largest contract we ever won," said Doug Beck, ICF International's senior vice president of corporate development.
The company normally operates with 2,100 employees internationally, about half in the Washington area.
For the Road Home program, they tried to hire as much local talent as possible.
"Given the amount of devastation, they're very aware of how much money goes back into Louisiana to help the local economy," Mr. Beck said. "We've tried very, very hard to have as much of a Louisiana footprint as possible. Ninety percent of the employees are from Louisiana and 70 percent are storm victims whose homes were damaged."
ICF International officials announced Feb. 28 that they gave out 2,268 grants for the month, prompting Louisiana's governor to tone down her earlier criticisms of the company. The company says it is on schedule to have given out a total of about 6,000 grants by the end of this month.
"I expect continued positive results and will not be satisfied until the application of every homeowner is complete," Mrs. Blanco said. "We jump-started this program by removing roadblocks and holding ICF International accountable."
ICF International has 38 years of experience handling government housing assistance programs. It helped in the recovery after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and after Hurricane Andrew devastated central Florida in 1992.
However, until the Road Home, its contracts for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were valued at a total of just under $50 million since 2001.
The company has administered other government contracts for environmental work, defense, energy and human services. One of them was announced last week, when the Homeland Security Department awarded ICF International a $22.1 million, five-year contract for consulting services on how to protect U.S. infrastructure, such as power plants, railroads and telecommunications equipment.
The company said it would help the government deploy resources to "offer the most benefit for mitigating risk" from terrorist attacks.
Its stock hit a 52-week high last week after it announced its fourth-quarter revenue more than doubled. ICF International's stock, ICFI on the Nasdaq Stock Market, rose to $18.90 per share yesterday, up 59 cents or 3 percent from Friday's closing price.
The company reported net income of $9.2 million (65 cents per diluted share) on revenue of $113.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2006. One year earlier, it lost $1 million (11 cents) on revenue of $51.8 million, which it blamed largely on tax charges.
Financial analysts say Road Home was a watershed event for ICF International, but one that is unlikely to sustain its earnings for long at the same level as the fourth quarter of 2006.
Nevertheless, the company is making steady progress in winning other government contracts, said Joseph A. Vafi, a research analyst for the financial firm Jefferies & Co.
"Given a double-digit increase in backlog, we feel the base revenue will re-accelerate somewhat over the next several quarters," Mr. Vafi said in a research note. "At the same time, a material slowdown post-Road Home anniversary could be a risk in 2008."
Copyright 2007 The Washington Times {GSSC}

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