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American Group at Center of Historic Israel-Palestine Effort to Remove Landmines from Bethlehem April 24

San Francisco, Calif.—The San Francisco Bay Area should be proud that one of its own locally headquarted non-profits has assisted in helping bring together–in an historic first–both Israel and Palestine to remove landmines from a residential neighborhood in the holy city of Bethlehem this week.  And, the effort would not have been possible without the financial assistance of Napa Valley winery Spiriterra Vineyards, which founded the landmine removal effort.

Roots of Peace, which spearheaded the historic Palestine and Israel agreement to remove landmines from the City of Bethlehem, will join Israeli and Palestinian officials at a ceremony in Bethlehem to begin safely removing and detonating mines left over from a 1948 territorial dispute in one of the holiest of cities to three of the world’s major religions, Muslim, Christian and Jewish.

Heidi Kühn, founder and CEO of Roots for Peace, a landmine removal advocacy group in the San Francisco Bay Area, will participate in the at 10 a.m. April 24 explosion of the first landmine to be removed from the Husan Village in Bethlehem.

The project began when Daniel Yuval, an 11-year-old Israeli boy who lost his leg three years ago playing in the Golan Heights, appealed to Roots for Peace, an international landmine removal organization, to ensure the explosives were removed so no other child would be harmed.  Present will be a 75-year-old Palestinian shepherd who lost his arm to a landmine as a young boy in the same field.

“This is an historic occasion made possible by the cooperation from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Ministry of Defense, Palestinian Ministry of Defense, and the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian Authority,” said Kühn.  “We are honored to have played a role in bringing these concerned and thoughtful parties together to make this neighborhood safe again for humanity.”

“The 3 acre site, located 4 miles from Nativity Manger Square where Jesus Christ was said to have been born, will be cleared of mines during a one month operation conducted jointly by Palestinian and Israeli militaries working cooperatively.  The area will be replanted with grapes as part of Roots of Peace’s Mines to Vines (Demine~Replant~Rebuild®) program.”

 

Governor of Bethlehem Mr. Abd Al Fattah Hamaye and Roots of Peace CEO Heidi Kuhn

The project cost was donated by well-known Napa Valley vintners Shirley and Paul Dean, owners of Spiriterra Vineyards, to Roots for Peace to pay the military for the mine removal.

“No child should be born anywhere in the world with the risk of losing life or limb to a landmine.  This is an important first effort in the Holy Land and we hope to clear other fields when additional funding becomes available,” Kühn said.

During the past 3 years, Kuhn has worked with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas to gain their support for her landmine initiatives.

Roots of Peace CEO Heidi Kuhn and Israel PM Netanyahu and Daniel Yuval, who lost his leg in a landmine explosion

Interfaith support for the landmine removal includes the Sheikh of Bethlehem. “We are pleased to put our hand in yours to demine The Holy Land and start from Husan Village in The Fields of Bethlehem where Jesus was born and his feet stepped once upon a time so as our children will step in the same place with peace and love,” the Sheikh said.

In a personal letter of support from Dr. Andy David, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, he wrote of the effort: “the work of Roots of Peace is in alignment with the Hebrew phrase ‘Tikkum Olam’ which translates into ‘Repairing the World,’ humanity’s responsibility to make good amongst our nation and others, and bring justice to all mankind.”

There are an estimated 1.5 million landmines and UXO (unexploded ordinance) in The Holy Land. Following the completion of her work in Bethlehem, Kühn aims to broaden the Roots of Peace demining efforts in Qasr al Yahud, the Baptismal Site of Jesus—respected by Muslims, Christians and Jewish alike.

About Roots of Peace

Roots of Peace an international humanitarian, non-political organization works to unearth dangerous landmines in war-torn countries and empowers the local communities scarred by these inhumane weapons. For more information visit www.rootsofpeace.org

 

 

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Chevron Ecuador: Ecuador Environmental Plaintiffs In Trouble as Environmental Consulting Firms Disavows Work for Steven Donziger, Luis Yanza, Pablo Fajardo


Steven Donziger, once the toast of the environmental plaintiffs’ bar, is in deep trouble.

The New York lawyer made history in February 2011 when he engineered what’s grown into a $19 billion verdict against Chevron (CVX) related to oil pollution in the rainforest of eastern Ecuador.

Chevron, which has no assets to speak of in Ecuador, vowed it would never pay a dime. The oil company has claimed that Donziger 
masterminded
 a vast fraud with the assistance of lawyers and judges in Ecuador. Chevron filed a countersuit against Donziger in federal court in New York, alleging he had fabricated evidence, threatened an Ecuadorian judge, and arranged for the ghostwriting of a supposedly independent scientific report, as well as the ultimate judgment.

Donziger, who said he represented some 30,000 indigenous rainforest villagers and farmers, has denied all of the allegations, saying that Chevron simply wanted to deflect attention from its enormous liability.

Now the San Ramon-based company has reached an important settlement with the environmental consulting firm that served as Donziger’s main source of data and analysis in the long-running Ecuador case. Stratus Consulting, based in Boulder, Colo., said in a press release today that it “was misled” by Donziger. Stratus went on to say that the plaintiffs’ legal team used its extensive research as the basis of a 4,000-page report filed with the court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador. The report was supposed to be neutral and independent, but it was not, Stratus said. The consulting firm described a court process in Ecuador that “was tainted by Donziger and the Lago Agrio plaintiffs representatives’ behind-the-scenes activities.”

Chevron had named Stratus as a co-defendant with Donziger in the New York lawsuit. In its press release, Stratus said the damages assessment to which it contributed, as well as other evidence filed in court in Ecuador by the plaintiffs, “were fatally tainted and are not reliable.” The consulting firm disavowed its work and said it would “cooperate fully” with Chevron and “provide testimony about the Ecuador litigation.” Stratus added that it “deeply regrets its involvement in the Ecuador litigation.” Separate court filings indicate that Stratus has not agreed to pay any money to settle Chevron’s claims against it.

Donziger did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Chevron is expected to file more specific declarations from Stratus principals in federal court in New York in coming days. Judge Lewis Kaplan, who’s presiding over Chevron’s civil racketeering suit against Donziger, has scheduled a hearing for April 16.

Donziger’s reversal of fortune over the past two years has been nothing short of breathtaking. Heralded by Amazon Watch and other environmentalists, praised in a highly regarded 2009 documentary film, and heroized by CBS’s (CBS60 Minutes, Donziger now faces the second-largest oil company in the U.S. without the scientists who once backed his pioneering case. His financing has dried up, his public-relations consultant recently left the case, and his room to maneuver appears to be diminishing quickly.

 

From Business Week. Author Paul Barrett, an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, is author, most recently, of 
GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun
.

 

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America’s Cup Refuses to Pay Workers: Will This Impact Upcoming America’s Cup Finals in San Francisco This Year?

by Zennie Abraham

America’s Cup stiffs San Francisco Workers? Read on…

America’s Cup, SF. If you’re as excited about the event being here in San Francisco and the SF Bay Area as I am, then you expect the organization to get everything right, and maintain good relationships with everyone.

And if you’re as excited about the America’s Cup as I am, then you’re going to be as disappointed in America’s CUP CEO Stephen Barclay as I am after you read my blog post.

According to numerous reports and SF City Hall sources, America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay has not authorized the San Francisco America’s Cup organization to pay full contracted union wages to San Francisco-based businesses – in particular, Hartmann Studios.

Hartmann Studios is under contract with America’s Cup Event Authority to set up events related to and help stage the races at the center of what’s called “America’s Cup.” San Francisco ChronicleColumnists Matier and Ross reported today that the America’s Cup Event Authority owes Hartmann Studios almost half-a-million, or $400,000 in unpaid not including the $56,000 in administrative costs the City and County of San Francisco has incurred to date. That’s a total of $456,000.

Matier and Ross quote America’s CUP CEO Stephen Barclay as saying “I’m absolutely unaware of this. I’m staggered.”

Really?

Not according to an extensive email letter dated Sep 25, 2012, and titled “Budget Discussion.” The email specifically mentioned the contracted union wages, or “prevailing wages” that the America’s Cup Event Authority has to pay San Francisco organizations like Hartmann Studios.

The email was from Hartmann Studios President Mark Guelfi, and to Mirko Groeschner, the person’s who’s name is on a number of America’s Cup communications and is Marketing Director of BMW ORACLE Racing, and it was copied for Rosie Spaulding, who manages events for America’s Cup, and for Sam Hollis, America’s Cup Event Authority General Counsel (he’s their lawyer who previously worked on London’s 2012 Olympics Bid before then working for the America’s Cup).

Given that the “Budget Discussion” was with three top America’s Cup executives, and that they all report to and work with America’s CUP CEO Stephen Barclay, for Mr. Barclay to tell Matier and Ross that he’s “absolutely unaware of this” and that he’s “staggered” stretches the imagination.

Indeed, read on and you’ll see the smoking gun that points to this blogger’s assertion that Barclay did know about the prevailing wage costs and the monies owed both Hartmann Studios and The City and County of San Francisco.

Here’s the email, with the email addresses removed:

From: Mark Guelfi 
Date: Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 6:37 AM
Subject: Re: Budget discussion
To: Mirko Groeschner
Cc: Keith Lovitt, Rosie Spaulding , Sam Hollis , *Matt Guelfi Guelfi , *Mike Guelfi Guelfi

Mirko -

Thanks for sending. I am always happy to discuss budgets and hope I was able to clear up some of your questions on our call Sunday morning. I circled back with Keith yesterday and reviewed the budget. Please see below for responses to your questions.

Shipping – These numbers come directly from our vendors to transport product to and from the venue. There is a significant amount of product ordered, which requires tractor trailer transporting. With fuel prices increasing these numbers are becoming significant costs to all of our budgets. We ask our vendors to break out their proposals by equipment, staff, labor and trucking/shipping so we can see and better analyze the detail.

Hartmann Production Staff – With regards to your call-out of Ian’s days onsite, I had the same question. Keith explained that Ian will be managing the load-out of the Yacht Club Peninsula Hospitality, which is planned to extend to October 15th. All of our pre-production time are estimates based on the scope of the project and will be billed as actuals once the project is complete although I don’t expect any surprises.

Hotel Nights/Per Diem/Travel – We normally use 100 percent local staff — both full time and those on our extended project team — however, there is nobody “left standing” in the Bay Area that is available. The city is extremely busy during the next ACWS race with Fleet Week, Blue Grass Festival, the 49ers Game, Giants Playoff Game, North Beach Festival not to mention Oracle OpenWorld. We would have had to book production staff 6 to 8 months ago in order to hire locally. Hotel costs are also significantly higher due to demand during this time period. Oracle OpenWorld alone sells out the entire city and much of the Bay Area. August costs in comparison were about half of what we are paying in October.

Parking Attendants – This was a request from Rosie via the city back in August, encouraging a “friendly face” assisting your security team in directing traffic. The request was made again for the October event.

Daily Maintenance – This was a carry over from August for litter pick-up/general cleaning for all tents on a daily basis. Rosie has since requested that this role is folded under the “greeners” that ACEA is hiring and will be removed on the budget revision.

Audio Labor – This is for the peninsula audio system, which runs the entire length of the peninsula…Nearly a mile, which requires running cable that distance. The 20k number is actually for the install, onsite crew to run the system for the entire week, and to strike the equipment post event. Labor is billed on per day basis, which is why you see a qty of 9…(1 day install, 7 day show (includes rehearsal day), 1 day strike. With the technical aspects of the requests, you have to have crew onsite managing the equipment/show.

Power – The significant portion of this cost, is again labor. Running cable, installing, onsite techs adds up quickly. Fuel is also factored in and with the economic climate this has a significant impact on costs. John Briggs with Race Management has worked directly with our technical director to ensure we are as efficient as possible when spec’ing this equipment.

As I mentioned, labor is a significant part of all event budgets, especially when there are Union Requirements and Prevailing Wage implications. Hartmann’s model is to pass along our costs directly to our clients, plus our management fee (at Oracle discount rate) and we work hard to create relationships with vendors to reduce these costs as much as possible for our clients. I agree with you. We do need to find a way to come up with a plan much further in advance so that we can minimize these costs for future events.

I will follow up, as promised, and send a separate note to you, Sam, Rosie, Keith and I will probably copy Stephen in regards to my concerns about the prevailing wage language in your contract with the City of San Francisco and the Port. The cost of labor is going to skyrocket. A laborer that we are currently paying $12 to $15 to $18 per hour is going to get paid somewhere between $50 and $85 per hour.

As you know, we are responding to the City’s Labor Standards Department’s investigation of labor rates that were paid by my company and by our subcontractors at the August race. We sent a very large stack of payroll records and copies of cancelled payroll checks to the department last week. We have since confirmed that they have received. This department has also been in touch directly with our subcontractors and they have all agreed to supply the same information. We expect the Labor Standards Department to come back to us and identify what the prevailing rate are for each discipline i.e. tenting, staging, janitorial, etc.

We will certainly have a significant amount of of back pay that we will need to send to most of the people that worked on the August project and on the upcoming October project. We are not able to pay prevailing wage at the next race since the Labor Standards Department has not yet given us the prevailing wage rates. We will provide them with our records after the race and wait for them to come back to us. This is a very time consuming process to say the least.

We will not have liability in regards to any theatrical/stagehand work since we gave all of this work to the local stagehand union, IATSE Local 16. Additionally, Hartmann Staff and any vendor staff that performed theatrical work and was not a member of the local, was paid at prevailing rates so we are covered on this front. No back pay will be required.

Please know that the final budgets that we submitted for the August events and the proposed budgets that we have prepared for the October events do not completely reflect prevailing wage. We will submit a invoice in October or November for the balance due based on the direction that we get from the City.

I hope this helps. I am available to discuss today if you have some time to discuss. I can be reached on cell.

Best Regards,
Mark Guelfi

In his response to Mark Guelfi’s email two things become obvious: first, that it becomes clear that Mirko Groeschner has issues with the union wages, and was already seeking a way to lower costs for the America’s Cup event, and second, that he was going to tell Mr. Barclay about it – he refers to him as “Stephen” – as well as Mr. Hollis, or “Sam,” the general counsel. Here’s Mirko Groeschner’s response email:

Hi Mark,

thanks for being available this morning to talk.

Looked more intensively at the budget again. Below are a few points where I would question some of the items or at least – I am not sure I understand fully the reasoning.

Perhaps we have a chance to talk towards the beginning of the week again.

Shipping: 21.400 USD. Do we need that much?
Hartmann Production Staff: as we discussed, pls have a look at the quantities again
Hotel nights, per diem and travel for crew: this is 44.000 USD, can we not have local crew that goes home each day?
Parking Attendant: Do we need that? Almost 6.500 USD
Daily Maintenance: 22.000 USD (what are these guys doing?)
Audio Labor: it says 1 day installation but still there are 20.000 USD – is that ok?
Power: when I add all costs for Labour, generators, shipping, electrician etc. I arrive at an amount of almost 100k USD….

Secondly, I will send to Stephen and Sam a note considering labour costs.

For labour in some areas it looks that we pay about 180.000 EUR. In more detail there is:

Stage Labour: 83.000 USD
Power distribution Labour: 55.100 USD
Audio Labour: 20.000 USD
Daily Maintenance: 22.000 USD

We need to find a way to plan all that a little more in advance and reduce some of these costs to make our events affordable.

Best, Mirko

So from this, it’s clear that America’s CUP CEO Stephen Barclay either wasn’t forthcoming with Matier and Ross or his deputy Mirko Groeschner withheld the information from him – neither direction is a good one, but I’m not believing that Mirko failed to tell Stephen about this issue . Again, the email exchange happened seven months ago – that’s ample time for Mr. Barclay to have known about the wage cost issue, and have done something about it.

As of this writing, it appears the something was to pay nothing to either Hartmann Productions or the City and County of San Francisco.

Stay tuned.

Originally published at: http://www.zennie62blog.com/

 

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Greedy San Francisco Musicians Turn Down Federal Mediator Recommendation of Cooling Off Period, Forcing SF Symphony to Cancel New York Performances

The Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony (who make $165,000 annually, plus platinum healthcare and pension funds and don’t even work 12 months) have rejected a federal mediator’s proposal to resume playing concerts during a “cooling off” period while negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement continue. The Symphony’s administration was willing to abide by the federal mediator’s recommendation, based on developments over the past three days of talks.

As a result of the musicians’ continuing work stoppage, the orchestra’s three-city East Coast tour on March 20-23 will not go forward.  The tour was set to include performances at Carnegie Hall March 20 and 21, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on March 22, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on March 23. The ongoing five-day musicians’ strike has already forced cancellations of four concerts in San Francisco.

Over the past three days of lengthy negotiations, overseen by a federal mediator, the musicians’ union rejected the latest administration proposals and continued their strike.

Several proposals by the administration have been rejected by the musicians’ union.  The most recent proposal offered increases in musician compensation to achieve a new annual minimum salary of $145,979 with annual increases of 1% and 2% for the latest two-year proposal.  Contractual benefits also included a $74,000 maximum annual pension, 10 weeks paid vacation, and full coverage health care plan options with no monthly premium contributions for musicians and their families for three of the four options.  Additional compensation for most active musicians also includes radio payments, over-scale, and seniority pay which raises the current average pay for SFS musicians to over $165,000.

“We are deeply disappointed that the musicians have continued to reject proposals for a new agreement and that the musicians will not proceed with our planned East Coast tour,” said Brent Assink, Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony.  “We have negotiated in good faith since September, have shared volumes of financial information, and have offered many different proposals that we had hoped would lead to a new agreement by this time.  We will continue to work hard to resolve this situation.”

In the current economic environment, the San Francisco Symphony is facing the same challenges that many other orchestras and arts organizations around the country are facing.  For all four years of its most recent collective bargaining agreement with its musicians, operating expenses have outpaced operating income.  The Orchestra has incurred an operating deficit in each of those years.

As a non-profit organization, the Symphony’s financial statements are audited annually by an independent certified public accounting firm.  These statements and related tax filings are publicly available in accordance with the law.  Since negotiations began, the administration has been cooperative in sharing financial records and responded to the union’s requests for information in a timely manner.  Since September, that includes over 50 formal requests for which over 500 pages of documentation were provided.

The administration has also offered to cooperate with third party financial consultants designated by the musicians to review the audited financial statements.  In addition, the administration had offered the musicians the opportunity to have two members join the organization’s Audit Committee of the Board of Governors.

The administration remains willing to continue negotiations with the musicians’ union under the auspices of a federal mediator in an effort to achieve a mutually agreeable contract. The administration will continue to work with the musicians to respond to requests for information, including requests about the Symphony’s finances.

Today’s rejection of the administration’s latest proposal also represents the latest in a series of delays by the musicians’ union in working with the administration on an agreement.  While the administration provided its first proposal October 15, 2012 and offered six subsequent proposals, the musicians’ union did not formally respond to any administration proposal until mid-January 2013. The union did not formally respond to any of this information until just over 60 days ago, weeks after the November 24, 2013 expiration of the four-year contract.

Media may contact Oliver Theil, SFS Director of Communications, for more details on the negotiations at (415) 264-1241, by email atotheil@sfsymphony.org, or visit www.sfsymphony.org/press.

 

For Ticketholders to Cancelled Concerts in San Francisco:

Refunds and exchanges will be offered for all cancelled Davies Symphony Hall concerts. We deeply appreciate your patience during this difficult time.

We apologize again for the inconvenience. Our Box Office opens at 10am on Monday and can help you with the following options for your tickets:

  • Exchange your tickets for another San Francisco Symphony performance this season
  • Donate your tickets, as the total ticket value is tax deductible to the extent permitted by law
  • Exchange your tickets for a Gift Certificate, which can be used at any time
  • Receive a refund for the value of the ticket

Please contact the San Francisco Symphony Box Office with your preferred option in the following ways:

  • email at tickets@sfsymphony.org and include your name and email address, and your preferred option
  • by phone at (415) 864-6000
  • in person at the Box Office on Grove St., between Van Ness and Franklin.

Box office hours this week are 10am – 6pm Monday – Friday, Saturday Noon – 6pm

 

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AutoReturn Uses Cloud-Based Technology to Simplify Police Towing Management and Reduce Municipal Costs in Concord, California

AutoReturn, the nation’s leading municipal towing management and logistics company, has announced the successful implementation of the company’s cloud-based technology, ARIES Online, as a stand-alone technology offering to the City of Concord, Calif.

“We are pleased to bring this technology to municipalities around the country who want to be more autonomous in their towing management, but need our technology to help them,” said AutoReturn CEO John Wicker.  “Our solution transforms the way cities and residents think about municipal services, making them more transparent, efficient, and cost effective.”

AutoReturn has three solutions to assist cities with their towing needs:

  1. AutoReturn Full Service, offering a turn-key municipal towing solution
  2. AutoReturn Logistics, which layers logistics support over our technology solution
  3. ARIES Online, which allows municipalities to utilize AutoReturn’s technology and continue to manage all operations internally.


ARIES Online provides municipalities with the technology to optimize the entire towing life cycle, from the dispatch request to storage and the final disposition of the vehicle. This cloud-based technology helps transform municipal towing services and streamline this important city service, resulting in lower costs for municipalities.

By leveraging Android and iPhone smartphone apps, AutoReturn is able to electronically dispatch tow trucks closest to the call, helping reduce costs incurred by the locally owned tow companies and reducing officer wait times, increasing public safety.

“We are pleased to begin using AutoReturn’s cloud technology in Concord to better serve our citizens,” said Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger. “The decision to work with AutoReturn was based on their strong municipal experience and their leading technology that enables the City to simplify a previously complex system,” he said.

AutoReturn is the leader in municipal towing management and logistics solutions, partnering with municipalities and existing local tow operators to help achieve efficiency, superior service, and increased cost recovery. Founded in 2002 as a technology-enabled towing management and logistics company, AutoReturn has revolutionized municipal towing, making sizable investments in technology, repeatable processes, training programs, and other infrastructure. Learn more at http://www.autoreturn.com.

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Republic Urban Development Moves Full Speed Ahead on Millbrae BART Station Transit-Oriented Development

Immediately after being selected by the BART Board of Directors as the exclusive negotiating partner for the Millbrae BART Station development by a 5-2 vote, Republic Urban has committed its team and attention to establish a process with BART and the City of Millbrae that will result in the entitlement of a Transit Oriented Development at the BART station here. The station currently serves Caltrain and BART and will eventually host California High Speed Rail.

“Republic is honored to have the opportunity to develop a project that everyone will be proud of.” said Michael VanEvery, President of Republic’s West Coast Division. “We have the experience, resources and talent to make this project a national model and a great asset to the City of Millbrae and its citizens.”

Republic has already begun its planning process that will include an extensive community engagement program to ensure that the development satisfies the goals of both BART and the Millbrae community. This process will begin with scoping sessions for public input to be incorporated into planning and environmental review.

Republic’s vision for the site is a transit-oriented project that weaves into the city fabric, complements the city’s downtown and creates an attractive gateway. Republic proposes transforming the Millbrae BART station’s surrounding property into a dynamic mix of housing, retail, office and solar energy generation. This mixed-use concept will leverage the local and regional transit connections provide by SamTrans, CalTrain and BART to become an important symbol of 21st Century, regionally focused urban development.

Republic’s master plan takes advantage of the strong existing components of the Millbrae BART station and provides the best use for BART delivering a TOD that will bring riders to the system.  It adds needed housing to the City of Millbrae to assist the City in its struggle to meet ABAG housing requirements.

About Republic

Republic is a privately owned, full-service real estate investment, management and development enterprise with more than 25 years’ experience delivering quality results throughout the United States. Republic has developed award-winning real estate projects ranging from land development to historic adaptive reuse to shopping malls. The company has developed and invested in real property transactions totaling over 17 million square feet with a value in excess of $4 billion.

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U.S. bolsters missile defenses to counter North Korea threat: Hagel

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at his news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 15, 2013. REUTERS-Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at his news conference at the Pentagon in Washington March 15, 2013.

 

By Phil Stewart and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans on Friday to bolster missile defenses in response to “irresponsible and reckless provocations” by North Korea, which threatened a preventative nuclear strike against the United States last week.

Hagel said the Pentagon would add 14 new anti-missile interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska – an effective reversal of an early Obama administration decision – and move ahead with the deployment of a second missile-defense radar in Japan.

The Pentagon also left open the possibility of creating a site on the East Coast where the Pentagon could field more interceptors capable of striking down an incoming missile. The 14 additional interceptor deployments would cost nearly $1 billion and must be approved by Congress.

“By taking the steps I outlined today we will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Hagel told a news conference.

North Korea issued its threat last week to stage a preemptive nuclear attack against the United States as the United Nations readied new sanctions against Pyongyang in response to its February 12 nuclear test.

Experts say North Korea is years away from being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, despite having worked for decades to achieve a nuclear capability.

But Hagel said the moves announced by the Pentagon were justified to stay ahead of the threat, underscored by the nuclear test and a December rocket launch that analysts believe was aimed at developing technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Hagel also cited North Korea’s display last April of what appeared to be a road-mobile ICBM.

The Pentagon said the United States had informed China, North Korea’s neighbor and closest ally, of its decision to add more interceptors but declined to characterize Beijing’s reaction.

U.S. SAYS SYSTEMS NOT AIMED AT CHINA OR RUSSIA

Officials say its missile defense systems are not designed to counter the large number of ICBMs in arsenals in China or Russia and are focused instead on the threat from North Korea or, potentially, Iran.

Friday’s announcement came with a key caveat – the Pentagon said it would only purchase the extra interceptors if they perform appropriately in tests. The interceptors in question have not hit a target since 2008, a defense official said.

Boeing Co. is the prime contractor of the system. Key Boeing subcontractors include Raytheon Co., which makes the kill vehicle, and Orbital Sciences Corp, which makes the rocket booster.

Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed confidence in the missiles and said he believed the steps taken by the United States would make North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jung-un, think twice before acting on bellicose rhetoric.

“We not only intend to put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objective to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs on them if they do,” he told reporters.

“And we believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that. And if he’s not, we’ll be ready.”

The addition of another 14 interceptors amounts to a reversal of an Obama administration decision in 2010 to stop expansion of the missile interceptor system at 30 interceptors. The Bush administration had planned to deploy a total of 44.

The United States currently has 26 interceptors deployed at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Congressman Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, said the Obama administration had began “to realize the shortcomings of its missile defense strategy.”

“Now that the administration has decided to see clearly, America can get back on the right course,” Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, lamenting lost time and resources.

In a sign of fiscal pressures facing the Pentagon, U.S. officials acknowledged they were also forgoing development of a new anti-missile interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe. They said European defense would be unaffected.

Officials said the United States would move forward with congressionally mandated environmental impact studies for alternative sites in the United States for deploying additional ground-based interceptors, if needed.

Winnefeld said locations on the East Coast were being considered but declined to offer details.

“We’re still looking at sites,” he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and David Brunnstrom)

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Singer Associates Public Relations in San Francisco Wins National Awards as PR Agency of the Year, Issues Management, Media Relations Awards

Sam Singer of Singer Associates Public Relations San Francisco

Singer Associates public relations and public affairs in San Francisco was awarded national honors this week for its work with the City of San Bruno to gain $70 million in restitution for the city after the PG&E explosion and fire of Sept. 9, 2010. Singer received both the award for best issues management campaign and best media relations campaign at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“We are humbled to receive these awards on behalf of our client,” said Sam Singer, president of Singer Associates.  “Our victory was made possible by the work of Mayor Jim Ruane and the City Council of San Bruno, City Manager Connie Jackson, the people of San Bruno, and the law firm of Meyers Nave and its attorneys Steven Meyers and Britt Strottman, and the investment firm of Prager & Co. and its senior advisor Craig Bettencourt,” he said.

PRNews is one of the public relations leading trade publications in New York for professionals in the field of public relations, public affairs, issues management, corporate social responsibility, government relations and non-profit public relations and communications.

Singer’s PRNews awards were won on the heels of the PRWeek Awards in New York City where Singer Associates was selected as the runner up for “Best Public Relations Agency of the Year.” This is the eighth time in 10 years that the agency has been a finalist for this honor, ranking it consistently as one of the nation’s top public relations and public affairs agencies.

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Pistorius Rebutes Murder Charge in Court

By LYDIA POLGREEN and ALAN COWELL From the New York Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — Facing a charge of premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend, Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee track star and one of the world’s best-known athletes, denied on Tuesday that he had intended to take her life when he opened fire at a closed bathroom door at his home last week, saying he did not know that she was on the other side.

“I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder, let alone premeditated,” he said in an affidavit read to the packed courtroom by his defense lawyer, Barry Roux, “I had no intention to kill my girlfriend.”

His assertion contradicted an earlier accusation from the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, that Mr. Pistorius committed premeditated murder when he rose from his bed, pulled on artificial legs, walked more than 20 feet from his bedroom and pumped four bullets into the door, three of which struck his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on the other side.

It was the first time that either the prosecution or Mr. Pistorius had publicly provided details of their radically divergent accounts of a killing that has shocked the nation and made news around the world.

The case broke open last Thursday when the police arrived at Mr. Pistorius’s house in a gated community here in Pretoria to find Ms. Steenkamp dead from gunshot wounds.

Developments since then have been all the more dramatic, since Mr. Pistorius had been an emblem of triumph over adversity, his sporting achievement on a world stage blending with the glamour of celebrity at home. Mr. Pistorius, 26, and Ms. Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate, had been depicted as a golden couple.

“We were deeply in love and I could not be happier,” said Mr. Pistorius’s affidavit, read at a bail hearing. “I know she felt the same way.” As it was read out loud, the athlete wept so uncontrollably that the magistrate, Desmond Nair, ordered a brief recess to permit him to regain his composure.

Magistrate Nair adjourned the case until Wednesday without ruling on whether the athlete would be granted bail.

Mr. Pistorius said he and Ms. Steenkamp had gone to bed early on Wednesday night, but in the middle of the night he heard a noise from the bathroom and went to investigate on his stumps, not his artificial legs.

“I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes,” he said in the affidavit. “I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason I kept my firearm, a 9 mm Parabellum, underneath my bed when I went to bed at night.”

He was nervous, he said, because the bathroom window did not have burglar bars and contractors who had been working there had left ladders behind.

The room was dark, he said, and he did not realize that Ms. Steenkamp was not in bed. He felt vulnerable and fearful without his prosthetics and opened fire at the door, he said, calling to Ms. Steenkamp to telephone the police.

Only then did he realize that she was not in bed, he said. He put on his artificial legs and tried to kick down the door before breaking it open with a cricket bat to discover Ms. Steenkamp.

He carried her downstairs, he said, and “she died in my arms.”

Earlier, Magistrate Nair said he could not exclude premeditation in the killing, so Mr. Pistorius’s bail application will be much more difficult. But he said he would consider downgrading the charges depending on evidence at subsequent hearings.

Mr. Nel said Ms. Steenkamp, who had just made her debut in a reality television show, had been in a tiny room measuring less than 20 square feet when the shots rang out. “She could not go anywhere,” he said. “It must have been horrific.”

“She locked the door for a purpose. We will get to that purpose,” he said.

But Mr. Roux, a lawyer representing Mr. Pistorius, said the defense would “submit that this is not a murder.” He said there was no evidence that Mr. Pistorius and Ms. Steenkamp had fought and no evidence of a motive. He also challenged the prosecution to produce a witness to corroborate its version of Mr. Pistorius’s actions.

“Scratch the veneer” of the prosecution case, he said, and there is no evidence to support it.

“All we really know is she locked herself behind the toilet door and she was shot,” Mr. Roux said.

Mr. Nel, the prosecutor, however, declared: “If I arm myself, walk a distance and murder a person, that is premeditated. The door is closed. There is no doubt. I walk seven meters and I kill.”

He added: “The motive is, ‘I want to kill.’ That’s it.”

If convicted of premeditated murder, Mr. Pistorius would face a mandatory life sentence, though under South African law he would be eligible for parole in 25 years at the latest. South Africa abolished the death penalty in 1995.

Mr. Pistorius was appearing in court for the second time since Friday. He arrived looking grim-faced, his jaw set. But, as during his earlier appearance, he broke down in tears when the prosecutor said that he had “killed an innocent woman.”

As the court went into a midday recess, Ms. Steenkamp’s private funeral service began in the southern coastal city of Port Elizabeth, her hometown, with six pallbearers carrying a coffin swathed in a white cloth and white flowers as mourners expressed dismay and rage. More than 100 relatives and friends attended the funeral at the Victoria Park crematorium.

“Why? Why my little girl? Why did this happen? Why did he do this?” June Steenkamp, the victim’s mother, told The Times of Johannesburg.

Gavin Venter, a former jockey who worked for the victim’s father, a horse trainer, said on Tuesday: “She was an angel. She was so soft, so innocent. Such a lovely person. It’s just sad that this could happen to somebody so good.”

The killing has stunned a nation that had elevated Mr. Pistorius as an emblem of the ability to overcome acute adversity and a symbol of South Africa’s ability to project its achievements onto the world stage.

Mr. Pistorius was born without fibula bones and both of his legs were amputated below the knee as an infant. But he became a Paralympic champion and the first Paralympic sprinter to compete against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics.

But several companies have now withdrawn lucrative sponsorships and his case has played into an emotional debate in South Africa about violence against women.

Members of the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress protested outside the building, waving placards saying “No Bail for Pistorius,” Reuters reported.

Lydia Polgreen reported from Pretoria, and Alan Cowell from London.

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Closing in on Truth and Justice in the Chevron Ecuador Case: Overwhelming Evidence of Fraud by Plaintiffs Against Chevron: The Global Lawyer

On Jan. 28 Chevron Corporation filed overwhelming new testimonial and documentary evidence of fraud by the Ecuadorian plaintiffs who hold a $19 billion judgment against it–including a declaration by a former judge that the judgment itself was procured through bribery. “Truth and justice are elusive,” ran the headline by Thomson Reuters. With all due respect to my former colleague Alison Frankel, who sets the standard for litigation journalism, this reaction is deeply wrong.

The first time I met the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, Steven Donziger, I asked him if he was prepared to denounce the lawyers who rigged their cases against Dole Food Company in Nicaragua. Ironically, he answered yes. In refusing to condemn Donziger, many of us are now failing the same test.

Commentators continue to find balance where there is none, with the honorable exception of Roger Parloff. Human rights advocates, excepting Douglas Cassel, have rallied behind the allegations that Chevron is responsible for an environmental calamity in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Distinguished counsel in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina are avidly seeking to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment. And most disturbingly, the enforcing courts are listening, with an Argentine court ruling on Jan. 30 that 40 percent of Chevron’s local affiliates’ revenues should be frozen pending enforcement.

Plaintiffs spokesperson Karen Hinton fairly notes: “We have not put forth every argument that we will make in briefs and arguments to jury if there ever is a jury trial.” And indeed, for a journalist to weigh evidence that will be considered by a jury is often inappropriate. But in this case it’s imperative. I aim to show here that the documentary evidence of fraud (nevermind the testimony) is now virtually unanswerable. To pretend otherwise is to encourage irresponsible courts to reward the alleged fraud.

Even before last week’s evidentiary bombshells, adjudicators outside Ecuador who have weighed the evidence have consistently condemned the plaintiffs. Eight U.S. courts have now found a prima facie showing of fraud under the crime fraud exception to privilege. In allowing Donziger to be deposed in November 2010, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York found “substantial evidence” of misbehavior. The verdict against Chevron came on Valentine’s Day 2011, and three weeks later Kaplan enjoined worldwide enforcement based on “abundant evidence” that due process had been violated. It is vital to note that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in no way questioned this factual finding when it reversed Kaplan in January 2012 after examining New York’s law on recognizing foreign judgments. (Seehere and here.) Finally, a panel of international arbitrators found the fraud allegations persuasive enough to order the Republic of Ecuador, also in January 2012, to take all measures to suspend enforcement.

In 2010 I disagreed with Roger Parloff that the plaintiffs’ suit was crippled, and I queried whether Chevron’s lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher had “botched the kill step.” The central fraud allegation at the time was that the plaintiffs had ghostwritten the damages recommendation of the main court-appointed expert, which they had for years passed off as independent. Chevron’s evidence on the “Cabrera report” was so strong–the expert was essentially caught on film taking orders–that the plaintiffs eventually admitted this ghostwriting (without admitting to fraud). I was among the first to decry this scandal, and to take seriously the companion allegations of judicial intimidation. But the plaintiffs found new experts, and, when the verdict later came down, they could say it was untainted by Cabrera. I reasoned that Chevron had delivered its knockout punch too soon, and had made a potentially fatal mistake by giving the plaintiffs time to try curing the taint before a final judgment.

My logic was sound. But it seems that I was too kind in assuming that these plaintiffs were capable of taint-free litigation.

After a long windup, the real knockout punch landed last week. Although few noticed except Parloff, Chevron has over the past year amassed serious evidence of ghostwriting in the Ecuadorian judgment itself. Last week Chevron added to that evidence, and a former judge in the case, Alberto Guerra, stepped onto center stage with a firsthand account of the alleged judicial ghostwriting arrangement. Guerra swears that parties routinely paid him (after his own removal from the bench) to ghostwrite orders in their favor for Judge Nicolas Zambrano, and that (after Chevron declined his services) the Ecuadorian plaintiffs paid Guerra to play that role in the Chevron case. Finally, Guerra says that the plaintiffs promised Zambrano a half million dollar bribe to let them ghostwrite the judgment themselves, with a few tweaks by Guerra. At least no one can say that these allegations are curable.

The plaintiffs’ initial response was to deny all, while noting–correctly–that Guerra has been disgraced on multiple counts, and that Chevron is paying him a king’s ransom. Hinton also finds it implausible that Chevron, in all its desperate efforts to discredit the case, never previously disclosed Guerra’s overtures to Chevron.

Personally, I would not expect the bag man to be a boy scout and a philanthropist. But let’s concede for the sake of argument that Guerra’s testimony will be completely discredited by the New York jury that is set to hear Chevron’s claims of fraud and racketeering at a trial before Judge Kaplan starting Oct. 15. And let’s suppose that the jury discounts the egregious Cabrera affair and all the other multifarious allegations that appalled Judge Kaplan and the arbitrators. What is the new documentary evidence of incurable fraud?

Most importantly, Chevron has forensically traced passages on 60 pages of the 188-page final judgment to seven files from Donziger’s hard drive, and one from his associate’s. According to Chevron, these files were not in the court record. This is confirmed by two Chevron experts–one who reviewed the 200,000-page record electronically, and one who reviewed it by hand.

After reviewing most of this evidence in a discovery action, a Maryland federal court concluded on Jan. 25: “Chevron has shown to anyone with common sense that this is a blatant cut and paste exercise.”

The plaintiffs have not shown any pages to the contrary, and they have not produced court-stamped copies of their supposed filings. Plaintiffs’ spokesperson Hinton says, “We believe that those documents were entered into the court record.” However, Chevron says that that plaintiffs have taken no such position in U.S. court, and Hinton was unable to show me otherwise. Instead, she directed me to a July 2011 filing by plaintiffs lawyer Pablo Fajardo in Lago Agrio, where he argued that Chevron must be behind the mysterious alien passages in the judgment. Fajardo reasoned that Chevron knew from my “Botched the Kill Step” column that it needed to discredit the final ruling, and suspiciously began to claim that Zambrano received “secret assistance” on the day after the verdict, before the record could be reviewed. I am flattered that the plaintiffs lawyers are aficionados of my work, and not just overplotted spy fiction.

It seems that the only response plaintiffs can make in court is to grasp at a speculative theory. At a discovery hearing on Dec. 21, a lawyer representing the Ecuadorian parties in New York, Larry Veselka of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, floated the idea that Chevron itself might have secretly “slipped” Donziger’s files to the judge who handed down the $19 billion verdict. Judge Kaplan was bemused: “So they wrote parts of this decision hammering them as bad as anybody in world history has ever been hammered so that they could then attack it because the judge copied the bad stuff from them. Oh, please, Mr. Veselka. No. If I misunderstood you, please tell me….I have to give you credit for imagination on that, Mr. Veselka. I mean, really.”

Besides adding to its unanswered evidence showing plaintiffs’ fingerprints on the final judgment, Chevron last week produced files from Guerra’s hard drive showing that he ghostwrote for Zambrano nine preliminary judicial orders against Chevron, amounting to about 300 pages, and two non-Chevron judgments, including one shortly before the $19 billion verdict.

In response to the evidence from Guerra’s hard drive, Hinton offers a speculative theory similar to the one mocked by Judge Kaplan. “Is Chevron capable of intentionally placing information on Guerra’s computer?” she asks. “Yes. Do we know that? No. Other unethical and illegal conduct by Chevron during and after the trial would lead me to believe it’s possible.” The plaintiffs’ accusations against Chevron are reviewed in recent press releases (here and here), with links to court filings that discuss them more systematically. To date, none of the plaintiffs’ allegations of illegality by Chevron has been accepted by a U.S. court.

To top it all off, Chevron has produced two deposit slips showing $1000 deposits to Guerra’s bank account, with a signature and national identity number that Chevron attributes to an administrative assistant for the plaintiffs. On Oct. 27, 2009, two days before the first deposit, plaintiffs lawyer Fajardo emailed Donziger: “The puppeteer won’t move his puppet until the audience doesn’t pay him something.” Exactly a month later–on the same day as the second deposit–another plaintiffs’ advocate, Luis Yanza, emailed Donziger: “[T]he budget is higher in relation to the previous months, since we are paying the puppeteer.” Chevron interprets other emails to show that “puppet” and “puppeteer” were code for Zambrano and Guerra.

Hinton denies this, and says “puppeteer” may simply have been a bantering reference to one of the plaintiffs’ consultants. She says that no one “representing the Ecuadorians” made a deposit to Guerra, and that both the signature and ID number on the bank deposit slips are too visually obscure to prove the depositor’s identity. (I find the ID number on one slip quite easy to read. Readers can judge for themselves at the bottom of this image.)

So the documentary evidence seems to show that Guerra received two payments from the plaintiffs at roughly the same time that the plaintiffs chatted about paying a puppeteer; that Guerra ghostwrote nine preliminary orders for Zambrano in the Chevron case; that Guerra had a continuing ghostwriting relationship with Zambrano during the relevant period; and that the plaintiffs’ electronic fingerprints are on nearly a third of Zambrano’s final judgment against Chevron. The only significant point in Guerra’s testimony that’s not directly corroborated is Zambrano’s bribe.

Nor is Chevron done. It is seeking further bank records through its discovery action in Miami. Presumably, it will depose Donziger again before the close of New York discovery on May 31. And if Guerra’s arrangement with Zambrano was as extensive as his testimony suggests, then I suspect that Chevron will put into evidence a very large number of other ghostwritten judgments.

If proven, the relationship between Guerra and Zambrano would not be unique. In its 2010 report on Ecuador, the U.S. State Department stated that judges there are sometimes corrupt, and referred to media accounts on “the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and resolution of legal cases and on judges parceling out cases to outside lawyers, who wrote the judicial sentences and sent them back to the presiding judge for signature.” Back in the day, experts for the plaintiffs presciently warned U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan that he should not ship the case back to Ecuador because of pervasive judicial corruption.

All this might incline a jury to credit ex-judge Guerra’s account of bribery. My point is that the existing documentary evidence, on its own, leads inescapably to the conclusion that the judgment is unenforceable as a result of corruption. Of course each party is entitled to a full legal defense on each legal theory in the New York civil trial (and any possible future criminal proceedings). I am not trying to hang the plaintiffs in advance. I am trying to expose the worthlessness of the judgment that, even now, they are racing to enforce.

The “truth” here is not elusive. On the contrary, we will rarely find a case where the truth may be established more fully. It took the discovery of documentary film outtakes due to an on-camera slip by the plaintiffs; the green light given to Section 1782 discovery as a result (see here and here); the near-complete piercing of Donziger’s privilege; and the extraordinarily high stakes that have justified Chevron’s unprecedented commitment of resources and unwillingness to settle.

In calling “justice” elusive, Alison Frankel is on firmer ground. But even there, I do not fully agree.

Some may resist Chevron’s protestations of victimhood because they believe that corporations are evil. It should be self-evident that seeking corporate accountability from this perspective is little better than racist prosecution. Others inexcusably assume that even if the plaintiffs were overzealous, Chevron must be guilty of the underlying charges, because it seems plausible and because the plaintiffs exaggerate so loudly and often. Frankel makes the more respectable argument that we will simply never know.

Actually, we have a large body of scientific evidence. I condemn Texaco (Chevron’s predecessor) for using the long-disfavored industry practices of dumping toxic sludge into unlined pits and pouring the water used in oil production back into the environment. But it cannot simply be presumed that massive contamination spread and led to massive health consequences. I believe that litigation is a horrendous context for scientific sampling, and I hope that the U.N. Environmental Programme’s alternative factfinding model in Nigeria is emulated. But the fact is that even the plaintiffs’ samples show no significant groundwater contamination except below the pits.

After wading into the scientific evidence on both sides–see here and here–I previously concluded that, setting aside the legal defenses, a factfinder in a trial conducted under the rule of law might find Chevron liable for a soil cleanup with a maximum plausible price tag of $1 billion. Douglas Cassel later reached a similar conclusion.

So, no, we will never know the outcome of a just trial on the billion-dollar claim of environmental devastation that passes the straight-face test. I agree with Frankel that this is a great shame. But we do know that the next $18 billion of the judgment is unjust to Chevron–and that wrong can be righted.

By far the greatest injustice is that the indigenous residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon suffer serious health and social problems. But we do not have the evidence to pin much blame for this on Chevron. And we should not forget the responsibility of Ecuador, which has operated the oil project at issue since 1990 and was the majority owner for most of the period when Texaco was the operator. What’s more, Ecuador collected so much in taxes that, when Chevron won an arbitration for diverted oil revenues, the award needed to be reduced from about $700 million to $100 million. Ecuador chose to spend precious little of its oil windfall on social services in the Amazon region. Sadly, this injustice is not amenable to litigation, except at the far frontiers of economic and social rights.

The likely truth of Chevron’s core allegations should now be evident to anyone who studies the evidence without ideological blinders–including the attorneys and judges. If the enforcing lawyers no longer believe in good faith that the judgment is pure, then they should withdraw from the case. That includes Patton Boggs, which is not implicated in any fraud (discounting Chevron’s most aggressive theories), but certainly finds itself in an awkward position. The litigation funder that brought Patton Boggs into the case, Burford Capital, has not only sold its interest, but accused the plaintiffs of defrauding them. Patton Boggs might wish to ponder what its lead lawyer on the case, James Tyrrell Jr., told me in December 2010: “I’m certainly not here to join in any fraudulent effort….My mission is to see that a judgment on the merits, warranting international respect, is entered in Ecuador, and, if we win, to enforce it.”

My most fervent hope is that Ecuador’s National Court of Justice reclaims its nation’s dignity by overturning this disgraceful and doomed judgment in the pending appeal. If it does, the enforcement actions will go away. If it does not, I optimistically believe that the enforcement actions will be dismissed, because they are now too shameful for even the most renegade court to approve.

Come what may, I expect Chevron to seek revenge on the plaintiffs’ team in the New York fraud trial, and to demand in arbitration that Ecuador cover its record legal bills. It would be fitting if Chevron donated such a recovery to environmental and health projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Chevron is closing in on truth and, in a very partial way, closing in on justice.

Clarification: With regard to bank slips that Chevron contends support its accusations of bribery, plaintiffs spokesperson Karen Hinton clarifies that she doesn’t contest that a national ID number is distinctly visible on the documents. Rather, Hinton told us she was referring to an account number that is partly redacted.

By Michael D. Goldhaber

The Litigation Daily

 

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Chevron Ecuador Lawsuit: International Tribunal Cites Ecuador and President Rafael Correa in Breach of its Obligations Under International Law

An international arbitration tribunal issued an award yesterday finding that the Republic of Ecuador and the administration of President Rafael Correa has violated the Tribunal’s prior Interim Awards authorized under international law and a treaty between the United States and Ecuador by not preventing the attempted enforcement of a $19 billion judgment against Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX)  In prior rulings, the Tribunal put the Republic on notice that if Chevron’s arbitration ultimately prevails, “any loss arising from the enforcement of (the judgment) may be losses for which the (Republic) would be responsible to (Chevron) under international law.”

This decision is a stunning rebuke to President Correa and his re-election campaign in Ecuador and casts a pall on all efforts by the plaintiffs in the case  because of the illegal behavior of Ecuador and the plaintiffs.

Convened under the authority of the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (the BIT) and administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, the Tribunal found Ecuador in breach of the Tribunal’s prior rulings and ordered the Republic to explain why it should not be ordered to compensate Chevron for all harm resulting from the plaintiffs’ attempts to enforce a judgment resulting from an environmental trial against the company in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

Almost one year ago, the Tribunal issued a Second Interim Award ordering the Republic of Ecuador—and all of its branches, including the judiciary—to take all necessary actions to prevent enforcement and recognition of the Lago Agrio judgment, both inside and outside of Ecuador.  That award expanded upon a prior award requiring Ecuador to “take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition within and without Ecuador of any judgment.”

“The Tribunal’s decision confirms that the enforcement actions being pursued against Chevron in Argentina, Brazil, and Canada fly in the face of international law,” said Hewitt Pate, Chevron vice president and general counsel.  “Yet Ecuador has consistently aligned itself with American trial lawyers who have used corrupt courts to advance an unprecedented fraud.  It is not too late for the Republic to reverse course, declare the Lago Agrio judgment illegitimate, and address the real challenges facing its citizens.”

Despite the Tribunal’s Awards, the Republic of Ecuador has facilitated the plaintiffs’ pursuit of enforcement in Argentina, Brazil, and Canada.  These actions are the result of Ecuador’s failure to meet its international law and treaty obligations.

Chevron’s arbitration claim stems from the government of Ecuador’s interference in the ongoing environmental lawsuit against the company in Ecuador and its courts’ failure to administer justice in a trial that has been marred by fraud.  Additionally, Chevron maintains that the government of Ecuador has failed to uphold prior settlement and release agreements that the government of Ecuador entered into with Texaco Petroleum Company (now a Chevron subsidiary) when the consortium between Texaco Petroleum and Petroecuador was terminated.

In its ruling, the Tribunal found that “Neither disagreement with the Tribunal’s orders and awards on interim measures nor constraints under Ecuadorian law can excuse the failure of the (Republic), through any of its branches or organs, to fulfil its obligations under international law imposed by the Treaty, the UNCITRAL Rules and the Tribunal’s orders and awards thereunder, particularly the First and Second Interim Awards on Interim Measures.”

In August 2011, a different international arbitration tribunal convened under the BIT awarded Chevron and Texaco Petroleum $96 million, plus interest, in a claim against the Republic of Ecuador related to past oil operations.  The Tribunal found that Ecuador’s courts violated the BIT and international law through their decade-long delays in ruling on certain commercial disputes between Texaco Petroleum and the Ecuadorian government.  A court in the Netherlands has upheld the award and Ecuador has filed a second appeal.

 

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APEX Art Show in San Francisco Featuring Dynamic Artworks from Renowned Street Artist Ends Jan. 12 at 941 Geary Gallery

APEX at 941 Geary Gallery San Francisco

 

941 Geary gallery’s show that features renowned street artist Apex will come to an end Jan. 12. Don’t miss this show which presents some vital and compelling works by the young artist in a show entitled Reflected, a collection of his new works. It opened in Novmeber and its scheduled completion is next week.

Consisting of two 10×6’ and ten 6×6’ latex and spray paint on canvas paintings, 12 framed sketches on transparencies and a large-scale wall mural, Reflected is the next step in the artist’s evolving look into abstraction.

With a focus on mirrored images, the exhibition explores the beauty of symmetry in nature and in design.

The artist’s sharp-edged compositions contain a visual interplay of organic and structural form, Influenced by architecture, graphic design and the Fibonacci sequence.

The multilayered, intricately stylized letterforms appear in Rorschach-like arrangements, characterized by a flurry of self-contained energy. In two paintings, layers of color build upon each other in bright bursts, but for the majority of the work the artist will employ a monochromatic palette, incorporating earth tones into a body of work for the first time.

San Francisco-based artist Apex has quickly made a name for himself in the world of street art, in both the Bay Area and abroad.

Having coined the term “Super Burner,” his pieces are most commonly huge, multi-layered productions, packed with patterns and a vivid array of colors. The relationship his pieces have to the built environment creates moments of intersection, and opens up complex fields of color, as if they have somehow transcended into their own form of architecture. The work is most certainly its own form of typography – his pieces are careful explorations of abstract letterforms.

White Walls Gallery has worked for nearly a decade to exist as the premiere destination for urban art in the Bay Area. Combined with the Shooting Gallery just next door, this 4,000 sq ft space is one of the largest galleries on the west coast. Justin Giarla founded the gallery in 2005 with a commitment to furthering the urban art movement, drawing directly from street art and graffiti culture. Named for its plain white walls, the gallery takes a backseat to the real focus: the work of our artists.

 

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AutoReturn of San Francisco Wins New Contract with Kansas City to Start Municipal Towing Program

Kansas City, MO.– After a nationwide procurement search and selection process, Kansas City selected AutoReturn, the nation’s leading municipal towing management and logistics company, to oversee the city’s towing operations and handle, track, and report on towed vehicles.  Kansas City selected AutoReturn for its unique municipal towing management and logistics program.

Kansas City’s choice of AutoReturn highlights the city’s dedication to transforming its municipal towing services and streamlining city operations. The contract represents a prime example of public and private entities coming together to share best practices to simplify government services.

“We believe our solution fundamentally transforms the way cities and residents think about municipal services,” said AutoReturn CEO John Wicker. “We have been working closely with city officials and the police department in Kansas City to provide superior service and make the sometimes unfortunate experience of towing a lot easier for everyone.”

AutoReturn’s Municipal Towing Management Addresses Safety Logistics Issues

“AutoReturn’s software, people and processes have already addressed some of Kansas City’s most difficult public issues related to towing,” said Gary Majors, manager of Kansas City’s regulated industries division.  “By shortening the time it takes for equipment to reach a tow scene, the city reduces officer wait times, decreases traffic congestion, and limits the chance of secondary accidents, saving money and increasing safety.”  The average response time from dispatch to arrival since going live in October, 2012 has been reduced measurably to approximately 11 minutes.

Additionally, said Lesly Forsberg, Manager of Kansas City’s Tow Services Division, “AutoReturn’s model has relieved Kansas City of the day-to-day management of towing operators and tow requests from the Police Department, allowing city staff and police to focus their time on different important public safety issues.”

AutoReturn Technology Benefits Small, Local, Women and Minority-owned Tow Companies

By leveraging Android applications, AutoReturn is able to electronically dispatch tow trucks closest to the call, helping reduce costs incurred by the small, local, women and minority-owned tow companies.  Timothy Marshall, owner of Recovery Tow Service, Inc., said, “AutoReturn technology runs on our existing smart phones, streamlining our business.  Their fair and transparent process provides me the tools to exceed service level expectations.”

AutoReturn currently manages municipal towing and logistics operations in Baltimore County, Maryland, San Francisco, San Diego and, now, Kansas City, Missouri.

The company was founded a decade ago in San Francisco and continues to grow its business nationally. AutoReturn has been praised by cities and municipalities for bringing transparency and efficiency to what the notoriously disorganized business of municipal towing.  AutoReturn uses a proprietary computerized system and software that allows the company to efficiently tow vehicles, reducing time and manpower of police departments and municipal staff while at the same time creating fast and efficient service in returning cars to owners. AutoReturn is expected to continue to grow as other municipalities, police departments, city and regional government review the advances that AutoReturn has made to the industry.

About AutoReturn

AutoReturn is the leader in municipal towing management and logistics solutions, partnering with municipalities and existing local tow operators to help achieve efficiency, superior service, and increased cost recovery. Founded in 2002 as a technology-enabled towing management and logistics company, AutoReturn has revolutionized municipal towing, making sizable investments in technology, repeatable processes, training programs and other infrastructure. Learn more at http://www.autoreturn.com.

 

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California Center for Sustainable Energy Roadshow Guides Californians to Home Energy Savings

Center for Sustainable Energy’s mobile Energy Center travels around California.

 

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) wrapped up the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow on Sunday, Nov. 18 in Cupertino, California, the eleventh stop on the energy education tour. The program, Energy Upgrade California, took energy education for homeowners on the road with the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow, a statewide mobile exhibit on energy efficiency. The roadshow started in San Diego on Nov. 1 and ended in Cupertino last Sunday reaching hundreds of homeowners throughout the state.

The Roadshow spent the last two weeks of November traveling the state to educate homeowners on the Energy Upgrade California program, how to increase home efficiency, provide energy cost savings and improve home comfort.

The roadshow made eleven stops in nine cities including Woodland Hills, Pacific Palisades, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, San Francisco, Antioch, Oakland and Cupertino. The stops included local farmers markets, community workshops and UC Santa Barbara. In the Bay Area, the Roadshow stopped at the Greenbuild Global Conference in San Francisco, a Contra Costa Homeowner Workshop at the Antioch Community Center, Oakland Tech High School and Sears at the Vallco Shopping Center in Cupertino.

Energy Upgrade California provides a “whole house” approach that focuses on a house as a system and looks at how various elements affect energy use. The program presents residents with an array of improvements to increase home health, comfort and safety while saving money on their utility bills.

The program educates homeowners on basic improvements to increase home efficiency and provides eligible homeowners a chance to sign up for an assessment, the first step towards improving their home and receiving rebates. Rebates range from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on the energy savings achieved.

Eligible California homeowners can sign up for a home assessment by visiting the Energy Upgrade California website at EnergyUpgradeCA.org and typing in their county name or zip code.

About Energy Upgrade California

Energy Upgrade California™ is a program of the California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission to reduce residential energy use, curb greenhouse gas emissions and create more comfortable and healthy homes. For more information on Energy Upgrade California, visit www.energyupgradeca.org.

About Energy Upgrade California Roadshow

The Energy Upgrade California Roadshow is a mobile exhibit in a trailer designed to inform and inspire Californians to learn about and install energy-saving improvements in their homes. The Energy Upgrade California Roadshow is funded in part by the Department of Energy in support of the goals of its Better Buildings Neighborhood Program. It was built by CCSE, an independent nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions, based in San Diego.

About the California Center for Sustainable Energy

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) is an independent, nonprofit organization that accelerates the adoption of clean and efficient energy solutions via consumer education, market facilitation and policy innovation. For more information and workshop listings, visit www.energycenter.org or call (866) 733-6374.

 

 

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MadMaps Introduces The Definitive Scenic Map Of The West Coast



Third in the RIDES OF A LIFETIME SERIES is  complete with over

3,000 miles of scenic roads from San Diego to Seattle


MadMaps — the San Francisco-based producer of back roads maps for bikers, RV owners, weekenders and out-of-towners – just introduced the definitive map of the 3,000 mile Pacific Coast.  The newest map is the 3rd in their RIDES OF A LIFETIME series.   The Pacific Coast map includes off-the-beaten-track attractions, scenic rides, and turn-by-turn directions from San Diego to Seattle

“We spend years compiling information from our customers, and are constantly adding great rides and attractions that are unknown to most travelers,” according to Jenny Lefferts, Founder of MadMaps.  “The Pacific Coast map is the culmination of three years of research and a great addition to the Route 66and Southwest maps in our RIDES OF A LIFETIME SERIES.”

With a portfolio of over 1000 US routes, MadMaps relies on scouts from coast to coast to find the most interesting and fun experiences for travelers.    Each map has turn-by-turn directions and mileage calculations, along with suggested roadside attractions; inter-connectable routes and roadhouses that make each road experience a unique ride tailored to the curious off roader in every corner of the country.

The map retails for $16.95 and is printed on heavy-duty, water-resistant stock.  All three maps in the RIDES OF LIFETIME series are available in a tri-fold nylon case that perfectly fits into a glove compartment or backpack.



To purchase, or for additional information, contact www.madmaps.com

 

 

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Airbnb Study Finds Online Travel Service Has Positive Effects on San Francisco Economy, Neighborhoods

Airbnb, the world’s leading marketplace for booking, discovering, and listing unique spaces around the world, today released a study that highlights Airbnb’s impact on local economies.

The study was conducted by HR&A Advisors, an industry-leading real estate and economic development consulting firm, and demonstrates that Airbnb provides a major economic boost both to its users and the neighborhoods and cities where they visit and live.  HR&A conducts sophisticated economic impact analyses for a wide variety of industries and clients, and cities around the United States come to HR&A for guidance on fostering strong and sustainable local economies and attracting new sources of economic activity.  Drawing on this expertise, HR&A developed a customized approach to quantify the unique impacts of the new kinds of tourism that Airbnb brings to San Francisco.

The study found that people who rent their homes on Airbnb use the income they earn to stay afloat in difficult economic times. Additionally, the study determined that travelers who use Airbnb enjoy longer stays, spend more money in the cities they visit, and bring income to less-touristed neighborhoods.

“Airbnb represents a new form of travel,” says Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky. “This study shows that Airbnb is having a huge positive impact – not just on the lives of our guests and hosts, but also on the local neighborhoods they visit and live in.”

The economic impact study underscores the significant benefits that Airbnb, a pioneer of the new sharing economy, has on cities and their residents. Some highlights from the study’s findings:

- From April 2011 to May 2012, guests and hosts utilizing Airbnb have contributed $56 million in total spending to San Francisco’s economy, $43.1 million of which supported local businesses throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

- 90% of Airbnb hosts rent the homes they live in to visitors on an occasional basis, and nearly half the income they make is spent on living expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, and other bills).

- Airbnb guests stay an average of 5.5 days and spend $1,045 during their stay on food, shopping and transportation, compared to hotel guests who stay an average of 3.5 days and spend $840.

- 72% of Airbnb properties in San Francisco are located outside the central hotel corridor. More than 90% of Airbnb guests visiting San Francisco prefer to stay in neighborhoods that are “off the beaten track.” Over 60% of Airbnb guest-spending occurs in the neighborhoods in which the guests stay.

Founded in August of 2008 and based in San Francisco, Calif., Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world – online or from a mobile phone.  Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point, in more than 30,000 cities and 192 countries.  And with world-class customer service and a growing community of users, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.

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Blu Homes Protest Greets 30,000 at Pacific Coast Builders Conference Opening Day in San Francisco

The 30,000 attendees today at the annual Pacific Coast Builders Conference (PCBC) were greeted by a major protest from the employees of a green home building company seeking unionization of its northern California production facility.

More than 100 Blu Homes employees and members of the Carpenters Union Local 180 armed with giant 30-foot tall inflatable effigies of The Grim Reaper and a pig leafleted outside the largest gathering of the home building industry in the western United States today, the opening day of PCBC.

Blu Homes’ production workers are in a labor dispute with Blu Homes after company management has refused to recognize the union even after 38 of 45 workers at the company’s Vallejo signed a petition this year demanding representation by the Carpenters Union. More than 17 unfair Labor Charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board against Blu Homes.

The Carpenters Union charges that Blu Homes’ President Bill Haney and his behavior toward its workers and environmental practices do not match the pro-environment and pro-worker projects that have marked Mr. Haney’s career or the efforts of people on the company’s Board of Advisers, including Robert Kennedy, Jr., whose father played a pivotal role in the unionization of California farm workers.

Blu Homes Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that designs and builds pre-fabricated single family green homes, opened a new facility inside Vallejo’s historic Factory Building 680 on Lennar Mare Island in December 2011.

Shortly thereafter, workers approached Carpenters Local 180, asking for help in resolving issues of poor bathroom facilities, lack of gender specific bathrooms, job safety and the lack of a retirement plan.  The overriding factor was a lack of respect for the workers from management, according to Carpenters representatives.

Haney has been described in the NY Times as one of America’s leading environmental entrepreneurs.  In addition to his business and investment successes that made him a multi-millionaire, he is also a documentary filmmaker, taking his camera to places where social injustice was met with resistance by those on the ground.

From the Dominican Republic, where he focused on the struggle of Haitian sugar workers in “The Price of Sugar,” to the mountains of West Virginia, where he chronicled a community’s fight against mountain top removal mining, Haney’s films emphasize the power of ordinary people. Along the way, he has spoken forcefully against the evils of corporate greed, against environmental degradation and union busting, and for the powers of workers organizing into a union.

Haney, being interviewed about his documentary, “The Price of Sugar” and the struggle of Haitian sugar workers in the Dominican Republic said: “…one of the most interesting things that took place for me was to be present at the birth of a union. It was extraordinary to see the power and vitality of a union and how desperate these workers were without it and what improvements could be ripped from the plantations owner’s hands if there was one…”

Haney, commenting on Massey Energy and the fight against mountaintop removal mining: “…you know, there are miners working there who are getting a pathetic fraction of what they would have gotten even 10 years ago when they had protection with the unions. So, they’ve destroyed the unions, they’ve beaten up on the environment, they’ve violated federal health and safety standards, to what appears to be really the enrichment of a very small number of people, primarily the executives of the company.”

The Carpenters’ union thinks Haney is a hypocrite. Haney has positioned himself as a champion of the environment, an ally of the poor, and a defender of unions. So one must ask: why can’t he live up to his own words at his own company?

The Blu Home workers in Vallejo have overwhelmingly petitioned for union representation and they are being denied this right by the very same man that encouraged unionization in the Dominican Republic and in the hills of West Virginia. That’s not irony–that’s hypocrisy, some on the picket line said today.

In March 2012, Blu Homes raised $25 Million in Capital from new investors Brightpath Capital Partners and The Skagen Group in the Netherlands. According to the company, this brings total investment in Blu Homes to $50 million since 2007.

One can only hope that Mr. Haney and Robert F. Kenney Jr. and the other board members will recognize the right of workers to organize and have decent and safe working conditions and benefit from the growth of Blu Homes.

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On the Scene with Bill Wilson at the Church of Sant’Ancieto

Text and photo by Bill Wilson

Church of Sant’Ancieto is on the second level of the Palazzo Altemps

Church of Sant’Ancieto is on the second level of the Palazzo Altemps

If one has the wealth and clout to have a church, not the usual chapel, but a full church with relics of a saint and everything, installed in your own palace then I guess a chance to spin a little history doesn’t much matter.

General view of the Church of Sant’Ancieto

General view of the Church of Sant’Ancieto

The church was built by Giovanni Angelo Altemps starting in 1603 and was completed by 1618. Sant’Ancieto was one of the early popes from 154-167 AD.  And he is seen on the north wall pleading with authorities for his life. Except it is not really believed that the Pope died that way. So why would he be portrayed that way? Therein lies a tale of love, family pride, and devotion to duty.

Frescoes by Pomarancio showing Christ on the way to Calvary, the martyrdom of Sant’Ancieto and a woman gathering innocent blood that has fallen on Roman soil.

Frescoes by Pomarancio showing Christ on the way to Calvary, the martyrdom of Sant’Ancieto and a woman gathering innocent blood that has fallen on Roman soil.

Giovanni’s father was Roberto Altemps the illegitimate son of Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps. When Sixtus V became Pope in 1585 he tried to clean up the corruption and graft. He became known as the law and order Pope. Roberto was accused of adultery, a crime that in those days was a capitol offense. Ordinary the punishment would have been to require Roberto to marry the woman, but in this case that was not possible since Roberto had just been married to a member of the Orsini family. Unfortunately this was the  same Orsini family that Pope Sixtus V held responsible for the death of his nephew.

 Close up of Pope Sant’Ancieto

Close up of Pope Sant’Ancieto

Roberto Altemps was punished by beheading in 1586. Did Roberto get a fair hearing? Was he the victim of the Pope’s reluctance to show favor to any one? It depends on what history you read, but clearly the Altemps family felt him innocent and his son chose to honor Sant’Ancieto in a way that would remind people of that innocence.

View from the church window of the Painted Loggia which contains the Gallery of the Twelve Caesars.

View from the church window of the Painted Loggia which contains the Gallery of the Twelve Caesars.

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On Scene with Bill Wilson Ludovisi’s Marbles

Text and Photos by Bill Wilson

In the years 1621 to 1623 Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi assembled a collection of ancient marble sculptures that have become known as the Boncompagni Ludovisi Marbles to be displayed at his villa. These sculptures were to have a great influence on the Baroque culture. Having been restored by sculptors like Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, they were reproduced in various medium and served to inspire artists such as the Spanish painter Velazquez, who saw then while staying in Rome and John Singleton Copley who used them in the background of his elegant portraits.
 
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When Rome was named the Capitol of the unified Italy in 1861 there was pressure to build in the area of the Villa Ludovisi because its open parkland provided much needed space. The collection was dispersed but the Italian state was able to acquire much of it in 1901. Currently the sculptures are part of the display at the Museo Nazionale Romano/ Palazzo Altemps. In addition to the sculptures that were kept part of the collection, also on display is the famous “Ludovisi Throne” which was discovered in the area of the villa in 1887.

 

The front of the Ludovisi Throne showing the birth of Aphrodite  

The front of the Ludovisi Throne showing the birth of Aphrodite

In the English version of the guidebook, Museo Nazionale Romano, Nunizo Giustozzi explains, “It is now generally agreed that the craving on front represents the mythical birth of Aphrodite from foam, the perhaps not so allusive fruit of the severed genitals of Uranus after his son Cronus threw them into the sea…she is helped to emerge by the young and strong arms of the Horai.”
 

The left side is adorned with a Flute player

The left side is adorned with a Flute player


 
The right side is adorned with a bride.

The right side is adorned with a bride.


 
There isn’t the same general agreement on how it might have been used, where it came from or when it came to Rome.

The Juno Ludovisi is another famous part of the collection that has inspired poets, artists and writers. Goethe declared her his first Roman love. In a story by Henry James she comes alive.
 

Juno Ludovisi

Juno Ludovisi


 
Most scholars have identified this head as a young and idealized portrait of Antonia Minor, the Emperor Claudius’s mother, who was deified after her death in 37AD. Others think it may be the head of Livia the wife of Emperor Augustus. 
 
The front of the Grand Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus

The front of the Grand Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus


 
This Sarcophagus found in Rome in 1621 is one of the largest ever found. The theme of victory over the Barbarians is a common one in decoration of sarcophagi from the second half of the 2nd century to the first half of the 3rd century AD. The deceased is the figure in the center with his arm outstretched.
 
The Palazzo Altemps contains so many things to see at every turn

The Palazzo Altemps contains so many things to see at every turn


 

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On the Scene with Bill Wilson: A walk in Rome


A close up of the statue of the Virgin Mary that sits atop an ancient Roman column in Piazza Mignanelli, which is adjacent to the Piazza di Spagna.

A close up of the statue of the Virgin Mary that sits atop an ancient Roman column in Piazza Mignanelli, which is adjacent to the Piazza di Spagna.

We took our usual afternoon walk through the neighborhood, but today we picked a more distant neighborhood. A bus ride from the Tiburtina station took us to Via Del Tritone were we got off just before Via Del Babuino. That put us in a direct line to the Piazza del Popolo with the Piazza di Spagna along the way.

The view of the Colonna dell’Immacolata from the Piazza di Spagna.

The view of the Colonna dell’Immacolata from the Piazza di Spagna.

The statue of the Virgin Mary was put atop an ancient roman column in 1857 to celebrate Pope Pius IX’s declaration of the doctrine of Immaculate Conception. The statue was visible most of our walk along the Via Del Babuino. One of three roads called the Trident that converge at the Piazza del Popolo.

The condition of the Fontana del Sileno lead people to call it Babuino (the  baboon) and gave the street its name.

The condition of the Fontana del Sileno lead people to call it Babuino (the baboon) and gave the street its name.

Easter is considered the start of the tourist season in Rome. If our excursion was any indication it is off to a good start. The Spanish steps were covered with tourists. It was a beautiful sunny day that made the colors of the building seem even more vivid.
Fernando Orlandi stands in front of the Spanish steps in the Piazza di Spagna.

Fernando Orlandi stands in front of the Spanish steps in the Piazza di Spagna.

The guidebooks recommend a very circuitous route around this world famous shopping district, but the shops along the Via Del Babuino were enough for us. There were a great variety of shops, some of the names of which Americans would recognize.

A famous American name

A famous American name

A recognizable Italian name

A recognizable Italian name

It was fun to just walk along this street because you never knew what the next window might bring. You also never saw a price.

This little ring can inflict a lethal bite to the budget of unwary tourists.

This little ring can inflict a lethal bite to the budget of unwary tourists.

Before the camera became portable and easy as a click, a painting was the only way to share a view of what you had visited.

Before the camera became portable and easy as a click, a painting was the only way to share a view of what you had visited.

 Not made necessarily for comfort, they sure look good

Not made necessarily for comfort, they sure look good

Household items of quality available here

Household items of quality available here

Shopping isn’t the only reason to walk along the Via Del Babuino. The international flavor of Rome is reflected in the area. The Piazza de Spagna was named because when Spain had it s Embassy to the Holy See in the area it was considered Spanish territory. Along the Via Del Babuino is the All Saints Church, which holds Anglican services.

This photo was taken several blocks from the Piazza del Popolo, but looking back to where we started. The Virgin Mary statue can just be seen in the distance.

This photo was taken several blocks from the Piazza del Popolo, but looking back to where we started. The Virgin Mary statue can just be seen in the distance.

“Porta del Popolo” The door of the People was at the end of our walk.

“Porta del Popolo” The door of the People was at the end of our walk.

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On the Scene With Bill Wilson: Europe


Golden Gate view from the air after take off from SFO.

Golden Gate view from the air after take off from SFO.

Yes, we took a chance flying on April 1, but the fools were the ones who didn’t take advantage of the lower fares that started April 1. We were on our way to Rome for a 2 /2 month stay with my husband’s mother. Our flight took us through London’s Heathrow. Leaving San Francisco in the afternoon we arrived in London in the morning.

Buckingham Palace stands aloof from its London surroundings, but will soon be the center of attention during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June.

Buckingham Palace stands aloof from its London surroundings, but will soon be the center of attention during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, marking her 60 years on the throne, is currently underway as she takes tours of areas of Britain and various boroughs of London. With the Jubilee events in June and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games coming in July and August, a busy travel season is expected for London this year. We didn’t have a long delay getting into Heathrow only a ten minute wait before heading down the Thames and getting a bird’s eye view of the sites famous world-wide.

30,000 plus feet above Paris makes the landmarks hard to detect, but the Seine is clearly visible as it winds its way through the city.

30,000 plus feet above Paris makes the landmarks hard to detect, but the Seine is clearly visible as it winds its way through the city.

The flight from London to Rome is a little more than two hours and takes you directly over France, the Alps and northern Italy.  The alps are almost always a breathtaking sight. Even on cloudy days some of the higher peaks can be seen rising above the clouds.

The Alps higher peaks break through the cloud cover

The Alps higher peaks break through the cloud cover

Once across the Alps the countryside of northern Italy is visible and the beautiful green countryside of Tuscany comes into better view as the descent into Rome’s Fumicino  airport begins. At the risk of being a little bit sentimental. I am really looking forward to this trip.

The northern Italian countryside from the plane on the way to a landing at Rome’s Fumicino Airport.

The northern Italian countryside from the plane on the way to a landing at Rome’s Fumicino Airport.

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San Francisco named Cleantech Capital of North America

Mayor Edwin M. Lee announced today that San Francisco has been named the Cleantech Capital of North America by the Cleantech Group, a leading cleantech industry research firm. The Cleantech Group presented the Mayor with the award at the EcoCity Showcase during the 10th Cleantech Forum conference being held in San Francisco this week.

“Through bold policy leadership and aggressive economic development efforts, San Francisco has become a leading center for the cleantech industry,” said Mayor Lee. “Thank you to the Cleantech Group for recognizing San Francisco as the ‘Cleantech Capital of North America.’ I am deeply proud of this important milestone, and I believe this is just the beginning as we are committed to making San Francisco’s cleantech ecosystem even stronger, more sustainable and more robust.”

“Cleantech Group is proud to name San Francisco the ‘Cleantech Capital of North America’ in recognition of the City’s ongoing support for all things clean and green,” said Cleantech Group CEO Sheeraz Haji. “No other city has done more to foster the innovation and deployment of cutting edge clean technologies.”

The Cleantech Group reported that San Francisco is home to 208 cleantech companies and cleantech investors – one the largest and most concentrated cleantech clusters in the world. This number does not include cleantech partners, sustainable construction and other green companies which would increase this number even further.

“From passing a tax exclusion for cleantech companies to recruiting international renewable energy firms, the City has made supporting the growth of the clean tech industry a priority,” said San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development Director Jennifer Matz. “San Francisco offers leading cleantech firms access to top talent, unmatched proximity to investors and partners, and a City government which actively supports the cleantech sector.”

“A thriving clean tech sector is necessary to further San Francisco’s ambitious sustainability goals,” said San Francisco Department of Environment Director Melanie Nutter. “With the cutting edge products and services from our clean tech entrepreneurs, San Francisco continues to serve as hub for innovation, growth and sustainable excellence.”

Eleven companies in the Cleantech Group’s Global Cleantech 100 have locations in San Francisco, the most of any city. Seven of these cleantech firms are headquartered in San Francisco. The Global Cleantech 100 Companies located in San Francisco are: Adura Technologies, Mission Motors, Nexant, Project Frog, RelayRides, SCIenergy, SunRun, AMEE, Harvest Power, Heliatek and OPower.

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Mayor Lee announces the return of “Sunday Streets”, beginning March 11th

Mayor Edwin M. Lee has announced the return of the popular Sunday Streets program with a full schedule of car-free events starting Sunday, March 11th, along the Embarcadero. The eight-month Sunday Streets 2012 season opens streets to pedestrians, cyclists and people-powered wheels of all kinds by temporarily removing vehicular traffic on select Sundays, transforming street-space usually reserved for cars into recreational space for everyone to enjoy safely.

“Sunday Streets not only showcases San Francisco’s commitment to sustainability and innovation, it is a proven cost-effective way to better health for San Franciscans,” said Mayor Lee. “We’re committed to ensuring the program’s continued growth and success in 2012 and beyond. We look forward to returning to Chinatown, doing a more frequent Mission route, and adding a new route in the Southwest neighborhoods of our City to bring the benefits of Sunday Streets to more San Francisco neighborhoods.”

Founded in 2008, Sunday Streets has grown from two events to 10 and creates miles of car-free space on City roads. San Francisco was the third city in the United States to premier this free, community-oriented initiative. Since then it has become the nation’s largest, and one of the City’s most exciting initiatives promoting benefits such as biking, walking, recreation, and community-building. The program was one of only eight programs in the country to be selected for possible inclusion in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign.

Highlights this year include:

Continuing and possibly expanding the new Chinatown event;

Increasing the popular Mission District event to four consecutive events held on the first Sunday of May, June, July and August; and

Introducing a new route in Southwestern neighborhoods.

Sunday Streets is presented by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Livable City, Sunday Streets’ non-profit fiscal partner. The 2012 season is co-presented by Bank of America. The Mayor’s Office, San Francisco Police Department, Department of Public Works and the Recreation and Parks Department. “We are proud to host our most ambitious Sunday Streets program to date,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin. “The Sunday Streets program has a tremendous impact on San Franciscans and visitors alike, who have started to envision the streets in a whole new way; not just as a means to get from place to place, but as an opportunity to create a healthier, more connected City for all.”

“Sunday Streets brings tens of thousands of people outside to explore more than 20 distinct neighborhoods of San Francisco. As a global company founded in San Francisco, Bank of America is proud to support this wonderful event,” said Bank of America San Francisco and East Bay Market President Martin Richards. “Sunday Streets and Bank of America share a commitment to building economically strong, connected, healthy communities in San Francisco and to celebrate the many diverse communities that benefit from the program.”

Financial partners include: AT&T, Shape Up SF, Kaiser Permanente, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, California Pacific Medical Center, PG&E, Lennar, Park Merced, The Seed Fund, The California Endowment and UCSF. Neighborhood sponsors include Sports Basement, Mikes Bikes, REI, CH2MHILL, Clif Kid, The New Wheel, Darling International, Bi-Rite Markets, and The Exploratorium. Major in-kind support is provided by The American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter, which provides Emergency Medical support, City CarShare and Parkwide LLC. The San Francisco Examiner and Clear Channel Radio are media sponsors. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition runs Sunday Streets’ volunteer program.

Business community support includes Fisherman’s Wharf, Tenderloin and Fillmore Community Benefits Districts, Lower 24th Street (Mission), Bayview, Taraval and Outer Sunset and Valencia Corridor Merchant Associations, San Francisco and Chinese Chambers of Commerce, and dozens of community groups representing host neighborhoods along Sunday Streets routes.

Sunday Streets 2012 Season Schedule (subject to change):

March 11: Embarcadero- Season kick off

April 15: Great Highway/Golden Gate park- new route through the park

May 6: Mission

June 3: Mission

July 1: Mission

July 22: Bayview

August 5: Mission

August TBA: Chinatown

September 9: Western Addition/N. Panhandle Alamo Square

October 21: Outer Mission/Excelsior


Click here to become a Volunteer for Sunday Streets 2012: Volunteer

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Gold Dust Landmark Submission is Pyrite Effort Property Owners Speak Against ‘Historic’ Designation for Tourist Bar

The tenants of the Gold Dust Lounge, a tourist bar since 1966, are seeking historic landmark status, but the owners of the property call the effort a mockery of historic preservation.


The Handlery family, which owns the Elkan Gunst Building at 301 Geary Street, already designated a Category 1 Significant Landmark, is speaking out to oppose the application by their tenant, the Gold Dust Lounge, to have the bar inside the building listed as an historic landmark itself.


“The attempt to use San Francisco’s important landmark process to give historical status to the Gold Dust Lounge is a cynical attempt to misuse the process in a landlord and tenant dispute,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the Handlery family which owns the property.


The proposal by the Gold Dust Lounge for historical preservation comes on the heels of the landlord providing notice to the Bar, according to the agreed upon conditions of their lease, that it had 90 days to find a new location for their establishment. The land marking effort is a tactic by the bar to remain in the building, but it won’t work because the lease for the Gold

Dust Lounge expires in early March and they must be out by that date or face significant legal and financial penalties.


The materials to landmark the bar, submitted by the Gold Dust Lounge, appear to be grasping to pull together a comprehensive history of this schizophrenic bar. In the report the author tried to explain how the bar is an example of an “American’ cocktail lounge of the mid-twentieth century’ with art deco overlaid by ‘Gay Nineties’ and a bar ‘associated with important aspects of the San Francisco nightlife culture.’” The description begs the question, what exactly is the historical importance of the Gold Dust Lounge?


Back in the 1985 submittal to landmark the entire Elkan Gunst Building, the interior of the Gold Dust Lounge was rated as “fair/poor” and was not deemed worthy of inclusion into the historical designation of the Handlery’s building as a character-defining feature then, and should not be considered one now, Singer said.


The 1960’s bar does not convey, nor contribute to the historical significance of the Elkan Gunst Building. The baroque style of the historic building and the Kearny-Market-Mason-Sutter Conversion District is historically respectable unlike the tawdry exterior of the Gold Dust Lounge, he added.


The proposition that the bar could be individually eligible for the land marking status under the well-established National Register Criteria is meritless and is discouraged by the Office of Historic Preservation and various National Register Bulletins. The criterion for this honor applies to properties significant for their design or construction, including such elements as architecture, landscape architecture, engineering or artwork. It cannot be sufficient that a bar is an example of an “American’ cocktail lounge of the mid-twentieth century,” as suggested – there is no scarcity of those. There, Singer added, the landmark status should be rejected by the preservation board.



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On the Scene With Bill Wilson – In the Wake of Queen Elizabeth

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2012

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Detail of the No Stopping sign in front of the Cruise Terminal. Bill Wilson photo

Queen Elizabeth was in San Francisco just a day ahead of the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the English throne. Of course it was the ship, Queen Elizabeth not the actual monarch, but it makes a wonderful connection to the story I was going to write anyway, just to show off my royal portrait of the Queen.

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The Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth as viewed from the Butterfly Restaurant’s outside seating. Bill Wilson photo

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were five days into a five month around the world trip when her Father, King George VI passed away in his sleep. They had arrived in Kenya and were spending a private day in a remote area watching wildlife. They had spent the night at a place called “Treetops” where high above a water hole they could observe the wild animals come to drink.

Tradition says that once a reigning monarch’s heart stops their heir becomes monarch in that instant. Princess Elizabeth remained unaware that she had become Queen for several hours. It was only realized that the King had died when his staff was unable to wake him. The message that the King had died was sent in code to the various officials, however the person who had the codes was on his way to meet the Princess so it wasn’t until reporters traveling with the Princess were called by people at their papers that the Princess’ staff was made aware of the situation. It was Prince Phillip who broke the news to her that her father had died.

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Queen Elizabeth 2 dressed in mourning descends the steps of the plane that returned her from Africa to London. Prince Phillip is five steps behind.

In a book, whose title I’ve forgotten, on the Queen’s coronation, the author observed that it might be considered morbid if someone was to pack black clothes in their travel bags, but for Princess Elizabeth, it was just a matter of duty. In a recent story (January 9) in the “Daily Mail” reporter Chris Slack revealed that there was a mix up about the clothes. He wrote, “Arrangements were quickly made for the Royal party to return to London, with a plane flying them from Nanyuki, a nearby town, to Entebbe where a plane was waiting. During the flight, another problem arose in that the Queen’s mourning outfit had already gone ahead and she only had a floral dress to wear. The aircraft decided to land in North Africa where a message was sent ahead and a second black outfit was taken to London airport. Upon the flight’s arrival, the dress was taken aboard after it stopped in the remote area of the airport. The Queen changed quickly before emerging, meeting a line-up including her uncle the Duke of Gloucester and Churchill.”

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During her 1976 visit to Washington, DC I was able to get this photo of the Queen as she did a walk about at the Lincoln Memorial. Bill Wilson photo

Back to the ship, the Queen Elizabeth is Cunard’s newest ship having just been put into service in 2010. It is the second largest ship in the Cunard fleet, second only to the Queen Mary 2. In making her maiden call to the Port of San Francisco the Queen Elizabeth follows in the wake of her sister ships, the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria.

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The Queen Mary 2 does fit under the Golden Gate Bridge on February 4, 2007 just five years to the day before the QE maiden call to San Francisco Bill Wilson photo

The Queen Mary 2 is Cunard’s largest ship and thousands of people on both land and water came to witness and welcome her as she traveled under the Golden Gate Bridge on February 4, 2007. It wasn’t as close a fit as some had speculated it might be.

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A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the lounges on the Queen Victoria which made her maiden call to the port of San Francisco on January 27, 2010. Bill Wilson photo

The Queen Victoria made her inaugural stop in San Francisco on January 27, 2010. Invitation only tours were given of the ship and her beautiful interiors in an effort to give people a taste of cruising.

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The upper decks of the Queen Elizabeth tower above the Pier 35 where she docked in San Francisco.

The stop in San Francisco is part of the world cruise that Queen Elizabeth is currently on. Spending little more than 13 hours in Port by 9pm she was on her way to Hawaii.

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The Bridge of the Queen Elizabeth can be seen through the windows of the Cruise Terminal at Pier 35.

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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