BP fumes at Obama’s reparation demands

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama was to come face-to-face with BP executives for the first time just hours after describing their company’s actions in the Gulf of Mexico as ”reckless”.At the core of their discussions was to be a multibillion-dollar compensation fund proposed by the White House to finance the clean-up of the Gulf coast along with restoration of the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen and small-business owners.BP is said to have bridled at the size of its expected contribution to the fund and at Mr Obama’s insistence it be managed by an independent trustee.But BP’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, and its chief executive, Tony Hayward, were likely to get short shrift from the President at their meeting, scheduled to start yesterday.The President told Americans in a prime-time television address on Tuesday he would not rest until BP paid for the damage to lives, businesses and shorelines. He warned, however, that it would takes years to set things right.”But make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.”Invited by the media to ”get angry” during the eight-week crisis, and chided by political opponents as having been slow to grasp the enormity of the brewing environmental and economic catastrophe, Mr Obama used the address to spruik his administration’s efforts so far.While it revealed little new, he also took the opportunity to call on Americans to end their addiction to fossil fuels and to help hasten the country’s transformation to renewable clean energy. Noting that the US, with just 2 per cent of the global population, consumed 20 per cent of the world’s oil, Mr Obama said: ”The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean-energy future is now.”Mr Obama’s 18-minute address was the first he has delivered from the Oval Office in his 17-month presidency, and the first such address to mention energy since Jimmy Carter’s pledge in 1979 to end America’s dependence on foreign oil.Though the speech is likely to have soothed some anxieties, the President was unable to tell Americans what they have been anxiously awaiting: exactly when the leak will be stopped.Mr Obama said he expected BP would be able to capture around 90 per cent of the oil flow ”’in the coming weeks and days”, before a relief well was completed some time in August.Earlier, the government increased for the fifth time its estimate of the oil flow to as much as 60,000 barrels a day.In the early stages of the leak, in late April, BP suggested oil was gushing at just 1000 barrels a day.A statement issued by BP said: ”We share the President’s goal of shutting off the well as quickly as possible. We look forward to meeting with President Obama for a constructive discussion.”Some members of Congress have insisted that BP should inject $US20 billion ($23 billion) into a compensation fund.A BP America executive, Lamar McKay, told a House of Representatives committee hearing on Tuesday the issue remained unresolved.”We’re going to pay all legitimate claims [but] a decision on whether to do a trust fund or account hasn’t been made yet.”Mr Obama said he would tell BP’s chairman he must set aside ”whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness … This fund will not be controlled by BP.”

Consumers lambs to slaughter as wider drought lifts prices

AN INCREASE in drought across the state and a record price paid for lamb this week has fuelled concern that some food prices could rise.Rainfall across most of the state over the past six months has helped farmers, and conditions for pastures and winter crops are the best in two decades.However, drought figures to be released today reveal almost half the state remains on the brink of drought, with the area already in drought creeping up by 4.5 per cent last month to 13.9 per cent.Even before winter, the price of lamb had already eclipsed the highs seen last July, when prices usually rise. Beef prices have increased over the past few months and are also tipped to rise due to winter shortages.The Minister for Primary Industries, Steve Whan, said lamb was already too expensive for many families to buy.”This week a new lamb price record was set for NSW, with a pen of lambs at Forbes selling for $193 per head. There’s no doubt this spike in price is due to limited supply,” he said.”This is good news for our farmers who have been battling drought, but in the end the cost will be passed on to consumers at their butcher’s shop.”The sheepmeat industry leader for Industry and Investment NSW, Ashley White said the drought increased production costs. ”The prices of lamb have been $5.50 to $6 a kilo, carcass weight – prices used to be $3 to $3.50,” he said.”It was 1916 since our sheep numbers were this low and that’s been mainly drought-related so people have been cutting back their breeding ewe numbers, but on top of that export and domestic demand has been good and stayed the same.”Mr White said farmers were faced with a catch-22 decision: whether to sell female lambs and get high prices or keep them as breeders for the coming seasons.”Financially they have done it really hard ever since 2002, but this season is shaping up better.”Crop planting began after the rains in May. Most of the state’s canola crop and 70 per cent of the wheat crop are now planted, but stock farmers still had concerns, Mr Whan said.”Stock water remains an issue for many farmers, particularly in southern regions where there is still great variability in both water supplies and pasture condition,” he said. “Pastures remain poor in most southern areas and the northern tablelands and growth is expected to stall now that cooler conditions have set in.”The president of the NSW Farmers Association, Charlie Armstrong, said that while 87 per cent of the state was not in drought, farmers had to contend with locust plagues and small returns on crops already planted.”Certainly over a period of time and if we divert into a greater proportion of drought that does mean food prices go up,” he said.”We’re being cautious because the figure for marginal [drought] was about 50 per cent and that says you’re on a knife-edge. It doesn’t take very much lack of rain to tip people back into drought.”

From hunting elk to bagging bin Laden

ISLAMABAD: The US has spent nine years and billions of dollars trying to hunt down Osama bin Laden amid the rugged, lawless badlands along the Pakistani-Afghan border.But, according to Pakistani officials and his own family, Gary Brooks Faulkner of Denver, Colorado, thought he could get the job done himself, with a pistol, a dagger and night-vision goggles.Mr Faulkner talked with family members about his quest, and at Denver International Airport on May 30, he was asked what his family should do if he came back from Pakistan in a body bag.Mr Faulkner, 50, and his younger brother, Scott, discussed Gary’s desires for cremation.Scott snapped a farewell picture on his BlackBerry. Then Gary, a construction worker with failing kidneys, boarded a plane for Pakistan.On Tuesday, Pakistani police said they had arrested Mr Faulkner in a remote, mountainous region near the Afghan border. ”He’s not insane,” Scott told reporters in Denver on Tuesday. ”He’s just very passionate.”Since the September 11 attacks, Scott said, his brother – a devout Christian with no military training – has taken at least six trips to Pakistan to find bin Laden.”After Osama mocked this country on 9/11 and it seemed that the military wasn’t doing enough, it became his passion -his mission – to track down Osama and kill him or bring him back alive,” Scott Faulkner said. A physician, Scott described his brother, who is divorced with one adult son, as charming, chatty and in fine mental health.Pakistani police quoted Gary Faulkner as telling them he was ”on a mission to decapitate bin Laden”. He had been staying at a hotel in the town of Bumburate in Chitral since June 3. Local police were providing security for him, not uncommon in border regions where kidnappings and killings of foreigners have occurred.But on Sunday, he sneaked out of the hotel.After a 10-hour manhunt, he was picked up on a mountain path as he was trying to make his way into Nuristan, an eastern Afghanistan province that abuts Chitral, according to Pakistani officials. He was moved to the city of Peshawar for questioning, they said.It is one of the areas where bin Laden is rumoured to be holed up. Scott Faulkner said his brother had developed intelligence from sources he would not reveal that bin Laden may be on a specific mountain honeycombed with caves and rocky hiding spots. Gary Faulkner had seen armed men with two-way radios patrolling the area and wanted another look.An avid outdoorsman and hunter raised north of Denver, Gary Faulkner had learnt how to live off the land in the mountains of Colorado. He thought, Scott Faulkner said, that his hunting skills would help him track down bin Laden.During his initial trips he ran into mercenaries hoping to collect the $US25 million ($29 million) bounty the US has placed on the al-Qaeda leader’s head. But in recent trips it seemed no one was looking any more.The journeys were risky, though Gary always secured Pakistani visas and was in the country legally, Scott Faulkner said. One time, the Taliban discovered the hotel where his brother was staying and shot the guard there ”between the eyes”.Gary Faulkner fled. Scott wired him money and the US embassy helped get him out of the country.”The first couple of times, it was a shock to the family,” Scott Faulkner said of his brother’s travels. ”We don’t go to Pakistan looking for mass murderers.”The family grew to accept Gary’s obsession and decided it was in character for a man who spent years in Central America, repairing hurricane damage and building churches, or who would vanish for days on a hunting trip and abruptly bring back an elk.Colorado media reported that Gary was convicted of burglary and larceny charges in the 1980s, but his brother would not answer questions on that issue.Last year, Gary Faulkner was diagnosed with a severe kidney ailment and placed on dialysis. He was unable to continue his construction work, which had financed his previous travels to Pakistan. He moved into an apartment in a building owned by Scott, who thought his brother’s hunt for bin Laden was over.However, Gary Faulkner sold his construction equipment and bought a return ticket to Islamabad, leaving on May 30 and due to return Monday.A spokesman for the US embassy, Richard Snelsire, said the embassy had been notified of the arrest of a US citizen, and was working on arranging a consular visit with that individual. Mr Snelsire declined further comment. Scott Faulkner said he was in touch with the State Department, which he believed was working to secure his brother’s release.Gary Faulkner had called Scott last week to report he had received dialysis in southern Pakistan and planned to return north to resume his search.”Gary is a Christian,” Scott Faulkner said. ”He understands that, if he dies, I will see him again in heaven. A lot of people live in fear. My brother does not have that fear.”Los Angeles Times

Bullying played part in suicide of Alex, 14: coroner

Alex Wildman … took his own life.Bullying by fellow students played a ”significant” role in a 14-year-old boy’s decision to take his own life, a NSW coroner has found.

Alex Wildman was found dead by his mother, Justine Kelly, in the garage of the Lismore family home early on Friday morning July 25 in 2008.

Today, the deputy state coroner Malcolm MacPherson found that the NSW Department of Education’s policies to protect students from bullying had ”failed” in Alex’s case.

”The question is why did the system fail Alex?” Mr MacPherson said at Glebe Coroner’s Court.

He detailed the months of verbal and physical bullying to which the Year 9 boy was subjected in the lead up to his death, including an assault on Kadina High School grounds two days prior.

There were also online threats and ”hurtful and spiteful” taunts from fellow students.

Alex was called ”mono nut”, ”gay”, a ”dickhead” and a ”faggot”.

”On 23 July 2008, in front of a large number of other students, [two students whose names cannot be published for legal reasons] assaulted Alex at Kadina by grabbing his hair and hitting him in the face and head,” Mr MacPherson said.

”Two days later Alex was dead.”

The Coroner made nine recommendations, including that public schools with 500 or more students employ a full-time counsellor and that a dedicated email address, text message and/or chatroom accounts be established for all schools where students and parents can report bullying.

He also recommended compulsory meetings of school executives take place when students who have previously seen a school counsellor transfer to another school.

Mr MacPherson said the department should revise its anti-bullying policies to make it clear when police should be called to deal with physical assaults, threats and intimidation.

He said the Police Force should consider employing more school liaison officers.

After the findings were handed down, Alex’s mother and his stepfather Bill Kelly, who were at the court, asked the media to respect their privacy.

Those seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 131114 or SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263).

If he’d had a gun he would have shot to kill, say police

A man accused of committing a violent rampage through western Sydney says he would have killed people if he had been carrying a gun, police allege.

Charlie McGee, 24, has been charged with 27 offences including four counts of attempted murder, for an alleged crime spree that began at 2pm at Lalor Park.

It ended about an hour and a half later in Doonside following a police pursuit during which a car driven by McGee allegedly hit two schoolgirls.

During that time, McGee is accused also injuring three men while attempting to steal their cars including attacking one man with a hammer.

He allegedly asked another of his male victims to look under the front of car for damage before driving directly at him.

McGee did not appear before Blacktown Local Court today but the magistrate was told McGee was displaying psychotic symptoms.

In police documents tendered before the court, it is alleged when interviewed by officers McGee showed no remorse for his actions.

He is also alleged to have made repeated comments that “if he was in possession of a firearm he would have killed multiple persons during his rampage”.

McGee is accused of stealing two cars – a white Toyota ute and a Toyota Paseo – during the crime spree, while attempting to carjack three others.

He is alleged to have beaten the owner of the ute, Jamal Yassin, with a hammer he had also stolen.

He is accused of then attempting to steal four other cars without success before threatening to kill a woman if she did not give him the keys to her Paseo outside a McDonalds.

McGee was allegedly driving the Paseo when he was spotted by police and told officers he drove the car at the two schoolgirls hoping it would prompt the officers to stop.

He crashed into a nearby ditch filled with workmen a short time later and allegedly put up a struggle when officers tried to arrest him.

The Blacktown Local Area Commander, Superintendent Mark Wright, told the media that there was no motive for the alleged crime spree at this stage.

“It was a fairly random attack,” he said.

McGee did not apply for bail and is due to appear at Penrith Local Court on August 13.

Blair hails easing of Gaza blockade

JERUSALEM: Israel is expected to significantly ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, officials said, in an attempt to blunt the widespread international criticism.Cabinet ministers were meeting yesterday to limit restrictions to a short list of goods, such as cement and steel, which Israel says militants could use against it. Even those goods would be allowed in to an undetermined extent in co-ordination with the United Nations, the officials said.Israel, with Egypt’s co-operation, has blockaded the Palestinian territory by land and sea since Hamas militants seized control of Gaza three years ago. For the most part, only a limited amount of humanitarian goods have been allowed in.The blockade was designed to keep out weapons, turn Gazans against their militant Hamas rulers and pressure Hamas to free a captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.It did not achieve those aims, however, and weapons and goods continued to flow into the territory through a large network of smuggling tunnels built under the Gaza-Egypt border.But although the blockade deepened the poverty in Gaza and confined 1.5 million people to a tiny patch of land, it did not provoke an international outcry until Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists two weeks ago during a raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla.The newspaper Haaretz yesterday quoted the international envoy Tony Blair as hailing the expected vote by the Israeli ministers. ”It will allow us to keep weapons and weapon materials out of Gaza, but on the other hand to help the Palestinian population there,” the former British prime minister was quoted as saying. ”The policy in Gaza should be to isolate the extremists, but to help the people.”The Israeli government has also been accused of failing 9000 settlers it forcibly evacuated from Gaza almost five years ago, making them ”refugees in the homeland”.A state commission of inquiry, which delivered its 488-page report on the fate of the settlers to the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was damning of the bureaucracy and delays surrounding the rehabilitation of those evicted in Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005.”A very grim picture emerges on the ground,” the report said. ”Most of the evacuees still reside in temporary trailer parks – the unemployment rate among the evacuees is double that of the general public; some of the evacuees’ financial state is dire.”Associated Press, Guardian News & Media

‘None of your business’ – Tiger says it’s about the Open, not his life

PEBBLE BEACH: Tiger Woods returns to the scene of perhaps his greatest triumph this week with his focus firmly on his hunt for more major success.He wants everyone else’s focus there, too.Two days before the start of the US Open championship, Woods slammed the door on questions about his private life.”That’s none of your business,” Woods brusquely told one reporter who had the temerity to ask about the state of his marriage, moving on to discuss the state of his health and his game with some optimism.Woods said the sore neck that forced him to pull out of the fourth round of The Players Championship had improved.”The neck is better – it’s not where I want it, but it is better, no doubt,” Woods said, adding that a key for him was that, even though it still got sore, he could recover to play or practise the next day.”I haven’t had any days where I couldn’t go the next day. That’s a big step in the right direction.”Woods said his game was moving in the right direction as well, after struggles since his return in April from a five-month absence to deal with the fallout from his marital infidelities.”The more I play, the more I get my feel back … Where I was in the beginning of June is where a lot of the guys are in January and February, the amount of rounds they played in,” he said.”So I’m just starting to get my feel back. And I know I have to be patient with it.”The 14-time major champion will play the first two rounds at Pebble Beach with England’s Lee Westwood and South African Ernie Els.Els had a ringside seat in 2000 when Woods blazed to a 15-stroke victory in the US Open here that still stands as a record winning margin for a major championship.The South African, who went into the record books as the distant runner-up, said that wire-to-wire win helped change the face of golf.”That was really a wake-up call for a lot of guys,” Els said. ”A lot of guys started changing their game a lot. And a lot of guys took their physical fitness to another level.”And 10 years later here we are, and we’ve got a lot of strong, physical, athletic guys out here on tour. I think it’s really brought the game a long way from that tournament.”Woods’s personal woes since December have gone some way towards dimming the aura that the 2000 US Open triumph – which was followed by victories in the British Open, PGA Championship and 2001 Masters for the ”Tiger Slam” – helped to create.Now Woods’s chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships seem less assured.Nicklaus has said he thinks 2010 could be a turning point in that chase, with the US Open here and the British Open to follow at St Andrews next month.Woods indicated he was not in a now-or-never frame of mind.”I think every year’s a big year, any time you have a chance to win four major championships,” the 34-year-old said. ”Certainly the venues do set up well and some years they don’t. But it doesn’t mean you can’t win on them.”AFP

Haussler brought down to earth and may miss Tour

THE speedsters of the pack aren’t holding anything back as they sharpen their edge for next month’s Tour de France.That was clear in stage four of the Tour of Switzerland to Wettingen on Tuesday. It ended with a high-speed crash that resulted in NSW-born German sprinter Heinrich Haussler being taken to hospital.For sprinters such as Haussler (Cervelo), finding peak form for the Tour is different than for the overall contenders, who test themselves sparingly to save energy and avoid the risk of crashing. Sprinters revel in bunch sprints that usually highlight the first week of the Tour and where the pack races elbow to elbow at speeds of up to 75km/h.And the best way to find that form is to tap into it in lead-up races such as the nine-day Swiss tour.Stage four showed that there is no shortage of sprinters willing to subscribe to the theory – and the price that can be paid for it.Haussler, who won a stage in last year’s Tour de France, faces the prospect of missing the Tour.He was the principal victim of the spill with 50 metres to go. It was caused by Briton’s Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia), who veered into his line. He was taken to hospital with a deep cut to his right elbow that needed stitching and severe grazing to his right hip, backside and back. ”I didn’t see Cavendish coming,” Haussler said. ”He drove into my wheel and before I knew it, I went down and was lying on the ground. I could have won the stage.”The crash also took down Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and Tom Boonen (QuickStep), who were also vying for the win, and involved up to 15 others as they sped blindly into the mayhem.The stage was won by Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), who had given himself little chance. ”I was far behind, and I didn’t have any chance to win otherwise,” he said.Cavendish, meanwhile, was slapped with a 25-point deduction in the sprinters’ competition that Haussler leads and 30 seconds on general classification. He was also fined 200 Swiss francs ($204.70).In a bitter twist for Haussler, the uncertainty he faces about his start in the Tour is not new. He had only just recovered from a knee injury that cruelled his Spring classics campaign to return at the Swiss tour and was in need of a strong ride to secure his berth for a Tour start.Haussler produced it with a stage win with which he also took the points competition lead. But as he begins his recovery, the question is whether he has done enough.The crash also left many overall Tour contenders in the race grateful they are of a different mix. The Swiss tour leader, Germany’s Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia), said: ”I could tell it was going to be a nervous sprint, caused partly by the wind and a narrow path between the barriers.”Martin’s teammate and leader for the Tour de France, Australian Michael Rogers, was happy for having already left the race to resume high-altitude training. Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) posted on Twitter: ”What a day. Nasty crash in the sprint that involved many. Damn, this game is dangerous. Hope all the guys are OK.”

We might have guessed: Dear Leader powered a gallant loss

BEIJING: Tears streaming and biting his lip to stop himself from bawling, the striker Jung Tae-se was unable to sing as his teammates belted out, ”Let’s devote our body and heart for this glorious Korea.”And devote their bodies and hearts they did. Malnourished North Korea – ranked 105th in the world of soccer – held the world’s best and most flamboyant team, Brazil, to no score at half time before gallantly going down 2-1. They gave the world a glimpse of grit and patriotism inside the world’s most secretive, oppressive and perhaps miserable nation.”I saw the North Korean national flag rising and, finally, I had made the World Cup,” said Jung, explaining yesterday why he had cried as he lined up to sing the anthem before North Korea’s first World Cup match in 44 years.In Beijing, opposite the east gate of North Korea’s vast embassy in Beijing, a grocery store owner shook his head with awe at the performance he had stayed up all night to watch. ”They were so strong-willed, hard-playing … what a comparison with the Chinese national team,” he said. ”The [North Korean players] came to my shop after … a training camp at Xiang He [a Chinese national team facility], before heading to South Africa, and they told me: ‘How terrific your facilities are, how can you not play well?”’The way the North Korean team’s leaders tell it, the secrets behind their football revival are not limited to steely determination and methodical preparation. Kim Jung-su, the secretary of the North Korean Soccer Association, has previously credited the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, for ”profound” tactical advice such as ”consider each player’s physical characteristics”. North Korea’s most deadly football weapons, however, were made in Japan.Jung Tae-se – the striker who cried before the match and set up the country’s goal – and two other teammates were raised in the 600,000-strong ethnic Korean ”Zainichi” community in Japan. Their ancestors came (or were taken from) Korea during Japan’s 35-year-occupation in the first half of last century.The crowd at the match was a sea of yellow and green, punctuated by two small clusters of red-uniformed Koreans who looked as if they had been drafted straight from the Pyongyang bureaucracy. North Korea reportedly sold most of its modest allocation of tickets to tour agencies in China.

Whincup to take new set of wheels for a spin as he tries to regain top ranking

REIGNING V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup will drive a new Holden race car in Darwin this weekend as he strives to leapfrog Ford driver James Courtney at the top of the rankings.Whincup won the opening race in Darwin last year driving a Ford and switched manufacturers at the end of the season after winning his second consecutive drivers’ championship.The TeamVodafone driver said his new Triple Eight Commodore could prove decisive in ”clawing back the momentum” snatched by Courtney and his Jim Beam Racing team during rounds in New Zealand and at Queensland Raceway.On softer compound sprint tyres Courtney made it a clean sweep in Hamilton and Queensland and heading into this weekend at Hidden Valley leads the championship by 114 points.”Everyone thinks we’re in a bit of a slump, but we’re second in the championship and we’re going well, we’ve had a good start to the year,” Whincup said.”I’m really pleased there’s this massive expectation on us and [the belief] when we don’t win a race there must be something wrong – that’s a good thing and I want to be in that position.”After a winning start to this year in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Whincup said there had been ”a few little challenges with moving manufacturers”, such as a black flag and zero points at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide and an engine failure in Queensland.”We’re not leading the championship, but we’ve had a very fast, competitive car and won 50 per cent of the races,” he said.”There’s 29 cars out there and one car has won 50 per cent of them, so we’ve had a fantastic start to the year and want to continue that here in Darwin.”Toll HRT drivers Garth Tander (fifth in the series) and Will Davison (15th) will also debut new cars in Darwin.Whincup’s TeamVodafone partner, Craig Lowndes, a former winner of the round, sits third in the championship. Lowndes is expected to unveil his new Commodore at Phillip Island in September.Qualifying for this weekend’s two races begins tomorrow. All teams will have one set of sprint tyres, which can be used only in Sunday’s 200km race.Round seven of the championship in Darwin will also be the first time all the V8 Supercars teams run the control camshaft, which has been designed to decrease costs and increase engine life.