The Lookout
  • madoffYesterday we told you about a lawsuit accusing JPMorgan Chase of being "at the very center" of Bernie Madoff's $50 billion Ponzi scheme. The suit (pdf), filed by the trustee representing victims of the fraud, seeks $6.4 billion in profits and damages from the bank.

    In unusually dramatic language, the lawsuit calls Chase, which for over 20 years, served as the principal banker for Madoff's operation, "complicit" in his crimes. But how, exactly?

    In short, the trustee, Irving Picard, alleges that Chase should have known that Madoff's profits were fraudulent, and failed in its duty to adequately monitor his account's activity. The suit documents how senior bank executives expressed serious suspicions about Madoff's operation, but continued to do business with him anyway. Picard's complain also charges that when Chase finally did begin to remove most of the money it had invested in Madoff-linked funds, the bank still didn't alert government regulators to its suspicions, or freeze Madoff's account.

    Read More »from Chase exec in 07: Madoff returns ‘are speculated to be part of a Ponzi scheme’
  • AP101001140769A controversial imam who was serving as an adviser to Park51—the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero—is stepping down from his post.

    "It is important for me now to devote my time to the completion of my book which assists English readers in understanding and facilitating the language of the Quran," said Shaykh Abdallah Adhami in a statement. "I wish the project leaders well."

    Adhami drew criticism for past comments suggesting that people who leave Islam should be imprisoned and for saying homosexuality was often rooted in a history of sexual abuse. He was appointed to the post a month ago.

    (An early conceptual sketch of Park51's design: AP)

    Read More »from Controversial Park51 imam out
  • Global food prices rise to unprecedented levels

    chinese food marketFood prices worldwide rose for the seventh straight month in January, up 3.4 percent from December 2010. Food prices in the global market are now the highest they've ever been. And don't look for prices to trend downward anytime soon, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which put out the report.

    So what's behind the surge in prices? The FAO cites a few likely factors, chief among them extreme shifts in weather patterns: intensely hot summers, longer, bitter winters, extended droughts and heavy rains. All these conditions lead to crop damage—and smaller harvests make for higher prices. Meanwhile the use of agricultural products for industrial applications—such as the transformation of corn into biofuels—has also hurt. More corn channeled into ethanol production means less corn to feed people.

    The New York Times also notes that even with supplies diminishing, expanding prosperity in places such as China and India has spiked the global demand for food—especially for meats and high-quality grains—compounding the upward price pressures.

    Read More »from Global food prices rise to unprecedented levels

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  • Turkey's Erdogan "glad" to return U.S. Jewish group award: ambassador

    Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would be glad to return an award given to him by a Jewish-American association a decade ago, a letter released by his office showed on Tuesday, and it called on the U.S. group to condemn the Israeli government's policies. The New York-based American Jewish Congress said in a letter to Erdogan last week that he had become the world's "most virulent anti-Israeli leader" and it demanded that he return an award it had given him partly for his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. "Prime Minister Erdogan will be glad to return the award given back in 2004," Turkey's ambassador to Washington Serdar Kilic said in the letter addressed to American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen. Erdogan's office released a copy of the letter to the media, describing it as Turkey's official response.

  • Obama mulls large-scale move on immigration
    Obama mulls large-scale move on immigration

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as they grapple with an immigration crisis at the Mexican border, White House officials are making plans to act before November's elections to grant work permits to potentially millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, allowing them to stay in the United States without threat of deportation, according to advocates and lawmakers in touch with the administration.

  • Ebola can spread like 'forest fire,' US warns
    Ebola can spread like 'forest fire,' US warns

    The deadly Ebola virus can spread like a forest fire, US health authorities said Monday, urging travelers to West Africa to take extra precautions amid the largest outbreak in history. Since March, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Two Americans -- one doctor and one healthcare worker -- in Monrovia, Liberia have come down with the virus, characterized by fever, joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting and often fatal bleeding. "The likelihood of this outbreak spreading beyond West Africa is very low," admitted Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

  • Russian Oligarchs Are Tired of Funding Putin’s Land Grab
    Russian Oligarchs Are Tired of Funding Putin’s Land Grab

    The international community continued to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday for fanning the flames of war in Ukraine. “Leaders agreed that the international community should therefore impose further costs on Russia and specifically that ambassadors from across the EU should agree a strong package of sectorial sanctions as swiftly as possible,” UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced after his country, Germany, Italy and France imposed the new penalties.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the penalties even before they arrived, saying earlier on Monday that Russia would “overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength.”  According to multiple reports, Russia has upped the supply of weapons to the rebels.

  • Israel knocks out Gaza power plant, digs in for long fight
    Israel knocks out Gaza power plant, digs in for long fight

    By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel knocked out Gaza's only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave on Tuesday, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict. Health officials said at least 79 Palestinians were killed in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since the Israeli offensive began in response to Hamas rocket fire. The Israeli assault intensified following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict ahead. Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza's energy needs.

  • With new default looming, Argentina urges calm
    With new default looming, Argentina urges calm

    Argentina admitted Monday it may default on some of its debts but downplayed the consequences, just two days before time expires in negotiations with hedge funds demanding full payment on their bonds. Argentine officials traveled to New York to take a fresh stab at breaking the impasse with the so-called holdout hedge funds, who refused to join the restructuring plan reached after Buenos Aires stopped paying its more than $100-billion debt in 2001, the largest default in history. A US judge has blocked payments on the restructured debt as long as Argentina refuses to pay the holdouts, which it brands "vultures."

  • Britain plans major exercises in Poland amid Ukraine crisis
    Britain plans major exercises in Poland amid Ukraine crisis

    Britain on Monday announced major joint manoeuvres in Poland in October, part of a string of NATO exercises in the region aimed at reassuring eastern Europe members jittery over a resurgent Russia. "I can announce today exercise Black Eagle, which will be a significant Polish and UK armoured exercise with over 350 British armoured and other vehicles and some 1,350 British personnel," British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in Warsaw. The deployment will be the "largest British contribution to exercises in eastern Europe since 2008," he said at a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Poland's foreign and defence ministers. Ex-communist NATO members have asked the alliance for permanent boots on the ground in the region amid the sharp escalation of fighting between Kiev government troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

  • Islamic State video wages psychological war on Iraqi soldiers

    By Michael Georgy BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State, the al Qaeda spin-off that seized wide swathes of Iraq almost unopposed last month, has released a video warning Iraqi soldiers who may still have some fight in them that they risk being rounded up en masse and executed. Iraq's army unraveled when the Sunni insurgents staged a lightning advance through northern towns and cities, building on territory their comrades captured earlier in the west of the country, a major OPEC oil producer. Thousands of soldiers fled, prompting Iraq's top cleric to call on compatriots to take up arms against the radical faction that has declared a mediaeval-style caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and aims to march on the capital Baghdad. The 30-minute video clip, circulated during the holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, sheds light on what tactics the Islamic State is likely to employ as it presses ahead with its campaign.

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