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Northerners thawing out from a bitter freeze may get rewarded with shimmering northern lights the next couple of days.
The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute predicts much of Canada and the northern fringes of the U.S. should be able to see the northern lights. Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle and Des Moines might see the shimmering colours low on the horizon.
U.S. federal space weather forecaster Joe Kunches said the sun shot out a strong solar flare late Tuesday, which should arrive at Earth early Thursday. It should shake up Earth’s magnetic field and expand the Aurora Borealis south, possibly as far south as Colorado and central Illinois. He said the best viewing would probably be Thursday evening, weather permitting.
The solar storm is already causing airline flights to be diverted around the North Pole and South Pole and may disrupt GPS devices Thursday.
The northern lights are a result of charged particles from the sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. As particles from the solar wind enter the Earth’s upper atmosphere, they collide with the individual atoms of our atmosphere to produce the spectacular light show.
A public official chosen by President Obama’s former chief of staff to oversee the finances of a major U.S. city faces more than a decade in jail for operating a huge kickback and money-laundering scheme as Ohio’s deputy state treasurer.
Nevertheless Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s good pal and one-time White House chief of staff, hired the corrupt official, Amer Ahmad, to be Chicago Comptroller. If you recall, Emanuel left his presidential job to become mayor of the Windy City in 2011. Before joining the Obama administration Emanuel served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and as a senior advisor in the Bill Clinton White House.
Yet, Emanuel claims through aides that he had no idea he was hiring a crook to supervise the city’s finances, though the mayor refuses to comment on his friend’s bribery scandal. A Chicago newspaper reports that City Hall hired a law firm to vet Ahmad and it confirmed no criminal wrongdoing by the former Ohio deputy state treasurer. Ahmad, who resigned abruptly as Chicago Comptroller in July, joined the Emanuel administration in 2011.
This week in a Cincinnati federal court Ahmad pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering and wire fraud. The feds say he used his Ohio government job to secure “lucrative state business” for his high school buddy in exchange for more than half a million dollars in kickbacks. Besides facing up to 15 years in prison, Ahmad agreed to pay more than $3.2 million in restitution and $500,000 in fines, according to his plea agreement.
Attached to the plea document is the federal complaint outlining Ahmad’s illicit kickback scheme. Even though he was Ohio’s Chief Financial Officer and Deputy Treasurer, Ahmad was the president of one company and partial owner of another, the complaint says. Those are the businesses that were used to funnel the state money. The purpose of the conspiracy was clear, the complaint says; for the defendants to enrich themselves, their friends and associates.
This is hardly the first scandal to rock the Emanuel administration in its short tenure at the helm of Chicago City Hall. Emanuel got in trouble for unlawfully accessing the private information of Chicago public employees in an effort to get their support for his mayoral candidacy. Union leaders were up in arms and city employees accused him of invading their privacy. Then, the co-chair of Emanuel’s mayoral campaign, a high-level state employee, quit abruptly for illegally using public resources to conduct political business.
For his many transgressions, Emanuel has also appeared on Judicial Watch’s annual most corrupt politicians list. In 2010 Emanuel teamed up with his then Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina to interfere with Senate elections in two states by offering federal appointments to persuade candidates not favored by Obama to abandon their campaigns. Emanuel was also Obama’s chief negotiator with convicted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich as he tried to illegally sell Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder, according to sworn testimony during Blagojevich’s federal trial. Judicial Watch covered both of Blagojevich’s trials in Chicago federal court. The jury deadlocked in the first trial and convicted him of 17 corruption charges in the second. The disgraced politician is serving a 14-year sentence in a Colorado federal prison.
This Saturday, Canadians and Americans will gather outside the Canadian Consulate in Minneapolis to build a united wall of opposition to pipelines, reckless tar sands expansion and runaway climate change.
The event is the first of over 90 confirmed Defend Our Climate, Defend Our Communitiesrallies to take place outside of Canada. According to Carolyn Pennisi, the host of Saturday’s event, these aren’t just Canadian issues. “These are not even just North American issues,” she says, “They’re global issues.”
Pennisi is a self-identified “Canadian American” who grew up in Canada and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. Though she’s lived south of the forty-ninth parallel for most of her life, she says she still feels very Canadian in her heart.
Both the Alberta and federal governments have been pushing hard to sell Alberta’s oilsandsin the country her family now call home. In fact, Alberta Premier Alison Redford is in Washington, D.C., this week pushing Alberta’s “responsible energy development and… strong environmental policies” according to a media release from Redford.
Redford and representatives from the Harper government have been lobbying President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project. Obama has said he will not approve the project if it increases greenhouse-gas emissions, so Canadian representatives have been arguing KXL won’t increase GHG emissions by driving up bitumen production.Documents obtained from Alberta under Access to Information legislation and released last week by The Globe and Mail dispute this argument.
According to Pennisi, “Our countries are historically friends. But on this issue, Canada’s getting some bad press.”
“I recently apologized for being Canadian, for the first time ever,” admits Pennisi.
“What we keep hearing is Canada is putting in the pipelines and Canada wants to send all this oil down here and Canada this and Canada that… we don’t all want to push our oil on the U.S. Some of us object. But it’s not Canada. It’s just some people in Canada.”
A recent poll from Canada 2020 and the University of Montreal found that a majority of Canadians understand that humans are contributing to global warming and they overwhelmingly believe that the federal government should take the lead on combatting climate change.
In addition to the Keystone XL which would increase total capacity of the pipeline to 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen per day, Enbridge filed plans to Monday to build the $2.6B Sandpiper pipeline project across northern Minnesota. If approved, the project will move 225,000 barrels per day of unconventional oil to Minnesota, and 375,000 barrels to Wisconsin. Pennisi notes there are local groups fighting both projects.
Pennisi is concerned that our government’s massive lobbying efforts to push the oilsands are having a detrimental impact. “I’m concerned that our reputation has started to tarnish. For Canada to start being seen as this big greedy polluter is not good for either country.”
Pennisi has participated in activism before: She once took an overnight bus trip to Nebraska to testify for the Keystone XL hearings. But she’s never hosted an event like this before.
At first Pennisi was anxious about drawing folks out to Saturday’s action, but she’s feeling really encouraged at the response from her community.
“I actually have people rallying around me,” Pennisi said, adding that one man from her daughter’s school said he would try to make it despite it being the Sabbath, and others promised to help spread the word on Facebook.
“It’s happening, and it feels so good to have people in my corner rather than to feel like I’m fighting climate change alone.”
Whistleblower lawsuit says CN is cooking its books – CBC News – Latest Canada, World, Entertainment and Business News
A whistleblower lawsuit in the United States is accusing CN Rail of fudging its numbers to increase executive bonuses and to make it appear to be North America’s most efficient railroad for investors.
Tim Wallender, a former CN trainmaster based at the company’s Harrison Yard in Memphis, Tenn. has filed a lawsuit under the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act — which was passed into law to protect whistleblowers following the Enron scandal in the early 2000s.
CN is asking that Wallender’s claims that it routinely reported fraudulent efficiency statistics to shareholders and customers be thrown out. CN claims he repeatedly reported train movements falsely and got fired for it.
Wallender, 42, does not deny fudging the numbers but insists he was ordered to by his boss.
He alleges in his suit that his managers made large bonuses, and the company was able to promote itself as being 20 to 25 per cent more efficient than its competitors, by creating favourable statistics that “were based on a persistent and pervasive fraud.”
None of these allegations has been proven in court.
“My (general) superintendent was always talking about how he had carte blanche to do whatever he had to do to make it work in Memphis,” Wallender told CBC News in an interview in Mobile, Ala. where he’s now working for a different railroad. “He would talk about how him and [then-CN vice president] Keith Creel were so tight and how they talked every day and he had permission to do whatever he needed to do.
“What do I do? — that’s my livelihood, this job. Without it I have no insurance, no pay, no benefits, nothing. “
Wallender outlines how to misreport ‘efficiencies’
Wallender claims he and other lower-end employees were asked to tamper with “dwell time” statistics — an industry measure of how long freight trains sit in a yard — to make it appear that trains moved quickly. The crucial reporting time was 5 a.m., and if trains arrived later their dwell time clocks would not start until the next morning.
The goal, Wallender alleges, was to get trains out of the yard just before 5 a.m., or have them arrive just after, either by moving the train so it could trigger time-stamp sensors, or by adjusting the clock in the company computers.
They also reported cars were either broken or delivered to the customers — so they would be taken off the clock — when in each case they would still be in the yard, he claims in his lawsuit.
Another trick was to move a train onto a ghost or dummy track which did not get monitored on the company’s computer, he claims.
“I’m telling you everybody knew about this,” said Wallender, who originally hails from Wisconsin. “It’s a common practice. I know it happened in Chicago, Champagne, Memphis, Jackson — it happened all over the U.S.”
According to CN documents related to the case, the company did audits of the Memphis yard — three times before Wallender’s dismissal in September 2012 — and indeed found several employees were falsifying efficiency records.
“I am extremely disappointed to learn about these reporting infractions,” wrote Creel in a February 2012 letter. The letter acknowledged other reporting scams at CN, not listed above. “It cannot and will not be tolerated. We have an obligation to our customers and shareholders to continue our pursuit of ‘service excellence.'”
But Wallender says Creel’s letter was just “lip service” to the idea that the company cared about accurately reporting its efficiency ratings to the stock market.
“The allegations in this matter are unfounded and factually incorrect,” said Creel, who is no longer with CN. “I have, and always will, hold all employees to the highest ethical standards and the facts in this case will reflect that.”
Because of a December 2011 audit, Wallender was to be disciplined. He brought a tape recorder with him to the meeting with his boss, general superintendent Andrew Martin.
“I was supposed to be [suspended] for two days, lose two days’ pay, and [they were going to] put a letter in my file,” recalls Wallender.
CBC has obtained a copy of the recording in which Martin can be heard saying: “I’m suspending you for two days, but I’m suspending you for two days to put you on your off days… I have to draft this letter. I’m going to give you a copy of this letter. I ain’t gonna never send it” to human resources.
“He never told me to stop,” said Wallender, echoing arguments in his lawsuit. “He just said ‘Don’t be so perfect on the report next time.'”
A complaint against Martin from another railway worker in the summer of 2012 led to the investigation that led, Wallender claims, to his demise at CN.
Wallender handed over emails of the instructions he had received to fudge CN’s numbers, and his audiotape of his discussion with Martin, to CN’s human resources investigator.
He recalls telling the investigator: “I’m done lying. If I get fired for this, which I expect to do, at least I can walk away with my head up, that I got fired for telling the truth.”
He was fired the following month, CN claims, for continuing to fudge the numbers. After his dismissal, he pointed out to his bosses how others were continuing to fudge the numbers, and his access to CN’s computers was cut off.
Wallender’s lawyer, Bill McMahon of the Chicago law firm Hoey & Farina, said Martin got a slap on the wrist after the review, “and continues to be employed at CN. The only person who got terminated, who lost his job, is the man who came forward with the concrete irrefutable evidence of the statistical manipulations of efficiency ratings in the Harrison yard.”
CN told CBC News yesterday, in a three-page email from spokesman Mark Hallman, that CN “collects data to make informed business and operational decisions. The notion that CN would condone any misreporting in that context is untenable.”
CN ignored many of the CBC’s requests, including a question about why their computer software is so easily manipulated to change data, but they did say that through their auditing process CN has found “only a limited number of reporting issues which did not affect the integrity of the data that the Company has reported to the rest of the rail industry.”
Although it boasts of its dwell time and train speed on its website and heralded a five-percent drop in dwell time in this week’s third quarter report to the market, CN says its “operating metrics such as yard dwell are performance indicators that are not included in any part of CN’s audited financial reports that are sent to shareholders and securities regulators.”
Hallman added that the Montreal-based company’s “decision to terminate Mr. Wallender was fully warranted given his history of misreporting, management’s repeated admonishments for such misreporting, and Mr. Wallender’s brazen disregard and continued misreporting of data even after he was ordered to cease such practices. Mr. Wallender’s termination illustrates the seriousness of CN’s approach to insure data integrity.”
Former CN employees back Wallender claims
However, two former employees of the Memphis yard have come forward to CBC to back up some of Wallender’s claims.
Toby Lehman, a former CN yardmaster in Memphis, put in the aforementioned complaint about Martin because he and others were constantly being harassed to falsely report the efficiency statistics of the yard, such as by inputting false arrival and departure times. When nothing was done for three months, he sent a complaint further up the chain of command, and an investigation commenced that, he believes, led to Wallender’s dismissal.
“I apologized to Tim — he was just backing me up with his evidence,” said Lehman, who has since left CN for another company. “Even after Tim got fired,” the manipulation of the train’s arrival and departure times continued, said Lehman.
A former clerk at the Memphis yard, Sara Welch Wood, also jumped to Wallender’s defence, saying employees shouldn’t be made to choose between their jobs and doing the right thing.
She remembers the fear that went through the office if employees didn’t find a way to make cars disappear so they wouldn’t be on the 5 a.m. report.
“There were a lot of different times that I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting chewed out,” recalls Wood, 30, who is now a nursing student. “At 4:45 those cars were miraculously gone. There were several times I’d show them at a different yard,” though they were still at Harrison in Memphis, she said.
“I felt bad because I knew I was lying about it. So you’re in between making your supervisors happy and lying. That was one of the reasons it was such a stressful job. It never feels good to lie.”
In his lawsuit, Wallender alleges that “Creel — whose compensation substantially depends on a high price for Canadian National’s shares — protected Martin from discipline, gave a green light for Martin’s misconduct, and gave Martin carte blanche to continue the misconduct that protected and increased the value of his stock options.
Martin, who remains the general superintendent of the Harrison Yard, did not respond to messages.
Wallender’s lawyer, McMahon, said the victim in this case is just not Wallender, who suffered the indignity of being fired, losing his income and his health insurance for himself and his daughter who is suffering from a chronic illness, but all employees of CN.
McMahon said that what the U.S. has learned from the Madoff, Enron and Worldcom scandals is that the “real victims that we know from this type of corporate malfeasance are the employees, their families and the people that rely upon these corporations to accurately and professionally manage their businesses in order to provide a job.”
Wallender got a job with another railroad in the southern U.S. where he is happy to accurately report figures on the company’s efficiency, but he wishes CN well. “There are a lot of good people there. The problem I had with all the cheating is you can’t fix anything unless you know it’s broken.
“And by us hiding everything, nobody knows it’s broken.”
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