Canada train blast: Blame game over Lac-Megantic disaster

9 Jul

_68606400_68606399It is feared the crash could be Canada’s worst rail disaster in 50 years

A rail firm and fire department appear to be pointing the finger at one another over a Canada oil train blast that has killed at least 13 people. Investigators say the tragedy may have been caused by a chain of events stemming from an earlier fire.

Shortly after fire crews put out a blaze on the train, it experienced brake failure, ran away and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic. About 40 people remain missing in the disaster zone. Some 1,200 of the 2,000 people evacuated from Lac-Megantic are being allowed home on Tuesday.

‘Focal point’

The coroner’s office has asked families of the missing to provide items such as toothbrushes and combs that might offer DNA samples to help identify the bodies. Eyewitnesses say the streets “were filled with fire”

The train, carrying 72 cars of crude oil, was parked shortly before midnight on Friday in the town of Nantes.

An engineer apparently left the train with four of its five locomotives shut down, but kept the final one on to ensure the brakes were engaged.

Officials in Nantes then received a call about a fire on the train. Transportation Safety Board investigator Donald Ross said: “The extent to which [the fire] played into the sequences of events is a focal point of our investigation.”

Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert said that while his crews tackled that blaze, the final locomotive was shut down. He said this was the standard operating procedure agreed with the train’s US owner, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA).

MMA says the decision to shut off the locomotive to put out the fire could have disabled the brakes. Shortly afterwards, the driverless train rolled downhill seven miles (11km) before derailing and exploding in Lac-Megantic. Fire officials said they notified a regional dispatcher for the train company immediately after the initial blaze was put out.

Chief Lambert told reporters: “We told them what we did and how we did it. There was no discussion of the brakes at that time. “We were there for the train fire. As for the inspection of the train after the fact, that was up to them.” But MMA’s chief executive, Ed Burkhardt, said firefighters should have called an engineer to ensure the train was secure after the blaze.

“If they had actually talked to an engineer he would’ve known immediately what to do about that,” Mr Burkhardt said. The Chicago-based rail executive is expected this week to visit Lac-Megantic, where he could face a hostile reception. Media reports quote him as saying he has received a number of hate messages.

At least 30 buildings were destroyed by the fireball that resulted from Saturday morning’s explosion, including a store and the public library. Maude Verrault, a waitress at the Musi-Cafe, a nightspot razed by the blast, was outside smoking when she spotted the runaway train.

“I’ve never seen a train moving so fast in my life, and I saw flames,” she told the Associated Press news agency. “Then someone screamed, ‘the train is going to derail!’ And that’s when I ran.”

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Can social media get you fired?

27 Jun

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We’ve all been there. Scanning one of your social media profiles, you notice a photo posted by a respected colleague in a less-than-professional situation. Maybe you cringed a bit, knowing the photo didn’t match the professional persona you know your colleague wants to convey.

Increasingly, as personal and professional lives become more enmeshed, even talented professionals run the risk of getting fired or not getting a new position because of what they post on social networks.

Laws in different countries are still evolving in terms of what employers can and cannot do with what they find via social media sites. But it is not uncommon for both candidates and employees, especially in the United States, to be asked to hand over their personal passwords so supervisors or human resources can access their profiles. A recent ruling in the US protected some speech on social networks from retaliation by employers, but it doesn’t cover everything.

Even so, there is little doubt — whether found accidentally or purposefully — that what you post online can impact your career. One in 10 job seekers between the ages of 16 and 34 have been rejected for a job because of something posted on their profiles, according to a recent survey from London-based mobile research firm On Device Research. That figure is expected to grow. Two-thirds of the 6,000 jobseekers in the US, the United Kingdom, China, Nigeria, Brazil and India who were polled for the survey said that they were not concerned that their current use of social media could harm their career prospects.

But now more than ever, it is important for the career-minded to retain tight control over their social media profiles.

One in 10 job seekers between the ages of 16 and 34 have been rejected for a job because of something posted on their profiles.

What is acceptable?

What passes for acceptable to one person may not be to others who scan a profile. While most people realize a professional network like LinkedIn is not the right place to post about a wild party, not everyone recognizes the danger of doing so on sites like Facebook or Habbo.

“Whether it’s their views about religion and politics to personal feelings, some people don’t understand what’s appropriate and inappropriate to post on social media,” said Heather R Huhman, founder and president of Washington, DC-based consulting firm Come Recommended.

One gauge: ask yourself if you would want your grandmother to see the information, said Kathleen Brady, a New York City-based career management coach and author of GET A JOB! 10 Steps to Career Success. If not, refrain from posting.

Complaining about a boss or your job on any social media website is almost always a mistake. Many people think their employer will never see such posts, but you never know when someone will forward something you have posted or simply repost it elsewhere. Such behaviour on Twitter or Facebook could end up costing you a job, said Huhman.

Among the casualties: recently, a Taco Bell employee in California was fired after a photo of him licking a stack of taco shells made its way to the company’s official Facebook page. And a government employee in New Zealand was fired a few years ago after a Facebook posting about her role as a “very expensive paperweight” and described the time she wasted and stationary she stole from the office. Even social media editors are not immune — a Bloomberg social media editor lost his job this spring after a Twitter contact shared a private direct message he had sent about frustrations at work.

Some social media networks allow you to have separate profiles for your personal friends and family and a more professional page for acquaintances and anyone browsing the web looking for information about you. But this is no guarantee that inappropriate posts or photos from your personal page won’t be shared by someone with more lax privacy settings.

If you do find out that racy photos of you or your negative comments about your boss ended up being shared, you should try to delete them. Remember, though, that content on the Internet rarely disappears for good and the wrong person may have already seen it.

“No excuse can cover up one of those mistakes,” Huhman said. You’re much better off admitting the mistake and letting your boss know that it won’t happen again, she said.

The right way

Being found on social media is important to building a career, establishing a presence as an expert in your field and keeping in touch. But sharing too much personal information online is always a mistake. Over-posting can be problematic, too, since it can make you appear unproductive. Having too little information in an online profile can be interpreted as trying to hide something or as a sign you aren’t well-established in a career or community. The key, say experts, is striking the right balance.

Establish yourself on a number of platforms, but make sure to maintain each of them appropriately. For more professional profiles, on LinkedIn or XING for example, you can simply post links to relevant articles to create a presence for yourself or join discussion groups and participate — professionally — in conversations that apply to your line of work or expertise. Keep in mind, your comments on articles and blog posts can often be found in search engines. So be careful what you type when commenting.

You can also draw attention to your more professional profiles by being selective about where you post, said Dan Schawbel, author of the upcoming book Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success. Do you really need a profile on Facebook, MySpace and Google+ to keep up with friends and one on LinkedIn to keep up with your career? Consider culling the number of profiles you maintain.

Take advantage of tools like Hootsuite.com and SproutSocial.com, which allow you to manage all of your profiles from one place, suggested Schawbel. That way, you can be sure to maintain consistency in how you present yourself — or in how you selectively present personal information. Make a spreadsheet of the social networks you’re on and mark the date when you update each profile so you can ensure they are consistent and current.

And don’t forget to Google yourself regularly. A 2012 survey from Connecticut-based ExecuNet found that 90% of recruiters type candidates’ names into search engines to get more information about them than what is on their resume.

Berlusconi verdict opens volatile new phase for Italy government

25 Jun

People of Freedom (PDL) party member and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wipes his forehead as he attends the Upper house of the parliament in Rome

Silvio Berlusconi’s conviction on charges relating to underage prostitution has opened an unpredictable chapter for Italy’s fragile coalition government just as signs of uncertainty have returned to euro zone financial markets.

The 76-year-old leader of the centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party, already fighting a four-year jail sentence and a ban on holding public office for tax fraud, meets Prime Minister Enrico Letta for discussions on Tuesday.

His furious reaction to the “incredible” seven-year sentence handed down on Monday for paying for sex with former teenaged nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, alias “Ruby” and for abuse of office to cover up the affair, suggests a rocky time ahead.

Although he is not expected to withdraw support for Letta’s left-right coalition of traditional rivals, at least for now, the tensions that already exist over economic policy are likely to widen, bringing a risk that even modest reforms get stalled.

Berlusconi’s PDL and Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) are already at odds over the centre-right’s demand for the scrapping of a housing tax introduced by former prime minister Mario Monti, despite pressure on strained public finances and the need to keep within European Union borrowing limits.

Andrea Mazziotti, justice affairs spokesman for Monti’s Civic Choice party, which also backs Letta’s government, said the policy disagreements could be used as a weapon in the battle over Berlusconi’s future.

“It’s obvious that he would never bring the government down using this as a justification but there are already those in the PDL who are preparing the excuse of economic policy to fight Letta,” he said.

While the creaking wheels of the Italian justice system are expected to guarantee at least two years of appeals during which the “Rubygate” sentence will remain in suspension, Berlusconi faces other legal battles that could be an even greater threat.

The tax fraud conviction, linked to his Mediaset broadcasting empire, could see him driven from parliament and barred from holding public office if the final appeal, expected by the end of the year, goes against him.

Judges in Naples are also due to hold a preliminary hearing this week on charges that Berlusconi bribed a senator to change sides to undermine the centre-left government of then-prime minister Romano Prodi in 2006.

 

Letta, grappling with Italy’s longest postwar recession and a youth unemployment rate of more than 40 percent, has kept quiet so far, unwilling to risk the future of a government that was born only after weeks of bitter wrangling.

But the latest bout of uncertainty has come at a particularly difficult time, just as a period of stability on financial markets seems to be drawing to an end.

Investors are on edge over the U.S. Federal Reserve’s indications that it will withdraw monetary stimulus programs. An auction of two-year Italian bonds on Tuesday saw borrowing costs at their highest level since September.

That is still some way off the genuinely dangerous levels seen at the height of the euro zone crisis in 2011 but enough to underline the risks posed by more political uncertainty.

President Giorgio Napolitano, who oversaw the formation of the Letta government following last February’s deadlocked national elections, warned on Tuesday that “political agitation” was at a danger level and called for calm.

But the parties themselves are badly fractured, with the PD facing growing strains over whether to maintain its alliance with the scandal-plagued Berlusconi and the PDL increasingly angry at what it sees as persecution by leftwing magistrates.

“No one understands, not Letta, not Napolitano nor the left the moral and political drama we are going through, we parliamentarians in the PDL,” Sandro Bondi, a senior party official, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We all feel the need to do something, we’re just not sure what.”

Longtime Berlusconi enemies, such as former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, are gnawed by a suspicion that the man who has dominated Italian politics for the past two decades will engineer yet another escape.

“It’s obvious that the next move will be the usual, specially tailored personal law to save this individual from his legal problems,” he wrote in his blog.

So far, there has been no suggestion of any serious move in this direction and the uproar that would cause would probably bring down any government that included the centre-left.

But any hopes of more substantial reforms requiring concerted political support may be just as unrealistic.

By Reuters

Resolution of the European Parliament: About presidential candidate Ilqar Mammadov

22 Jun

Azerbaijan chief paints rosy picture on EU visit

22 Jun

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http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I079685

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso gave Azerbaijan chief Ilham Aliyev an easy ride on human rights in Brussels on Friday (21 June).

Speaking at a joint press briefing, Aliyev claimed there are no political prisoners in his country.

“None of my political opponents is in prison. This is absolutely the wrong information … Let me tell you, there are absolutely no political prisoners in Azerbaijan,” he said.

“Freedom of assembly is fully provided for. Freedom of media also,” he noted.

He invited EU monitors for presidential elections in October.

But he added: “We fully comply with all our obligations with respect to democratic development.”

The picture he painted is far from reality.

One political prisoner is Ilgar Mammadov.

The 43-year-old presidential candidate was arrested in February for “inciting a riot” after he went to an anti-Aliyev protest in Ismailly, a small town.

He is in pre-trial detention and he is unlikely to get out before the vote.

A family friend, who asked not to be named, told EUobserver: “There are other political prisoners, but Ilgar is symbolic: He was already nominated [for the election]. He is demanding Western values. He is the candidate for Western values.”

NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, say around 20 people are in detention for their political views.

Khadija Ismayilova, a Baku-based journalist with the RFE/RFL news service, noted that dozens more go in and out of cells, but the “revolving door” tactic makes them hard to count.

She said Azerbaijan bears a striking resemblance to Belarus, an international pariah.

Belarus also imprisons presidential candidates.

Both regimes have recent cases of unsolved murders of government critics.

Both control TV, radio and print media, but both have struggled to contain popular dissent on the Internet and on the street.

In Ismayilova’s case, state security services last year put hidden cameras in her home then uploaded a video on the web of her having sex with her boyfriend in an attempt to demoralise her.

“I am a journalist. I hate being put in the shoes of an activist. But we have to fight for our rights, so we are put in those shoes,” she said.

Unlike Azerbaijan, Belarus, which is under a pile of EU sanctions, does not have oil or gas, however.

Aliyev on Friday noted he will “next week” decide which one of two gas pipeline projects to the EU he aims to back.

“We have more than 2 trillion cubic metres of proven reserves … This will change the energy map of Europe,” he said, referring to EU attempts to reduce dependence on Russia.

For his part, Barroso declined to challenge Aliyev’s statement on political prisoners.

He said “we in Europe are also not perfect.”

He noted that Azerbaijan is a young country which is more free today than it was in Soviet times just 20-or-so years ago.

He also said: “I am personally convinced … President Aliyev is committed to the modernisation of his country and that he cares very much about the image and reputation of his country.”

The meeting’s sole purpose was to create a feel-good factor: No EU-Azerbaijan agreements were signed. No decisions were made.

Ismayilova said she felt “insulted” when Barroso implied that post-Soviet Azerbaijan is not mature enough, politically, to be more free.

But for Mammadov’s friend, Barroso was right to err on the side of caution.

“Aliyev has a nervous temperament and Mammadov is still behind bars. If Barroso had mentioned the case in public, you never what might happen to him,” she said.

Meanwhile, EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele summed up the state of play in EU-Azerbaijan relations in a letter to German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok on 23 May.

The memo – seen by EUobserver – said there is an “overall worsening” on human rights in the run-up to elections, but Aliyev also denies it in private.

Fuele noted that unlike Armenia or Georgia, Azerbaijan does not care about EU integration because “it is self-confident due to its energy reserves.”

But he added that it does want Western help to protect itself from Iran and Russia.

“He [Aliyev] made clear that his country’s relations with Russia have deteriorated and that he counts on the support of the EU to be able to balance the forces at play in the Caspian region,” the commissioner said.

He also said Baku wants a “Strategic Modernisation Partnership” treaty with the EU – a move that would give Aliyev prestige on the international stage.

“A draft of this document was presented to Azerbaijan [in May] and is open for consultation with member states,” he noted.

Pictures of the Week

21 Jun
June 15, 2013. Chinese authorities display bear paws after 213 were seized from two Russian smugglers in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. Some in China consider the paws a delicacy.

June 15, 2013. Chinese authorities display bear paws after 213 were seized from two Russian smugglers in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. Some in China consider the paws a delicacy.

 

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Richard Morningstar: Continue to support civil society

11 Jun

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The American edition “Foreign Policy” published an article criticizing the USAID for providing a million grant for the pro-governmental NGO in Azerbaijan, which prepares a reactionary amendments restricting rights and freedoms.

    How to explain the allocation of funds for measures to restrict democracy? Answering this question  from Turan, the  U.S. Ambassador, Richard Morningstar, said that all grants are given with a single purpose – to support democracy. However in this case the talk is not about it, it is about the effectiveness and implementation of these grants.
   No one is saying that the development of democracy  is a simple process. “I can say that we will continue to work actively with civil society towards the development and promotion of democracy. We also continue to work with the government in this direction,” he said.
  Being asked about the fate of the National Institute for Democracy (NDI), the ambassador said he had already spoken on this topic a few days ago.
  “The Azerbaijani authorities have  told me  that the question on NDI has been solved,  and this organization will continue to support civil society. I gave this response after clarification of how the million dollars  were spent,” said the ambassador.