Swiss court rules in favor of American account holder

An American client of Switzerland-based bank, UBS, has won an appeal in Swiss court on Friday against providing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States with relevant information about his offshore accounts.

The Swiss court ruled that the man's failure to complete an IRS tax form, no matter how much money it pertained to, was not in itself fraudulent behavior. The case calls into question an agreement made between Switzerland and the United States last year in which Swiss tax authorities would supply the IRS with information on nearly 4,500 suspected tax evaders and their respective accounts.

A further twenty-five similar cases are still pending; the verdicts of which may be influenced by this precedent-setting case.

The Swiss government will meet next Wednesday to discuss how to better implement last year's Swiss-US banking accord. As it pertains to the case at hand, if they so choose, Swiss tax officials can file a further appeal petitioning the court's decision.

UBS and the US Department of Justice both have yet to comment on the matter.

According to the US government, UBS is "hiding" over US$15 billion in assets on behalf of American account holders.http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Swiss_court_rules_in_favor_of_American_account_holder?dpl_id=149154


Tornado touches down in Huntsville, Alabama

A tornado struck Huntsville, Alabama on Thursday, causing widespread damage and injuring around six people. Packing winds estimated at 150 miles per hour, the twister ranked as EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

The tornado occurred at 5:30 P.M., amidst a flurry of severe weather reports in northern Alabama and Tennessee, bringing down trees and power lines.

As many as 10,000 people were left without power, and debris was strewn throughout the hardest-hit areas. "I'm shocked. I lived in this neighborhood all my life. I have never seen this kind of damage," said Amanda Nelson, a resident of Huntsville.

David McCullough was at his home home when the tornado hit. He said, "I could not hear the train, but could hear my house shake. I also hear[sic] my neighbor's roof pounding against my house."http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Tornado_touches_down_in_Huntsville,_Alabama?dpl_id=149126

Although tornadoes in January are rare, they can strike at any time of the year. According to Governor Bob Riley, "The tornado that hit Huntsville last night is a reminder that severe weather can strike anywhere and at anytime."


English policeman accused of being serial rapist

PC Stephen Mitchell, a policeman with northern England's Northumbria Police, has been remanded into custody after going before a court accused of being a serial rapist. Mitchell was arrested in Scotland on Monday and appeared before court yesterday.

Northumbria police made the arrest in Glasgow in connection with a string of attacks between 1999 and 2007 with nineteen alleged victims. He was taken to Northumbria, where officers on Wednesday charged him with seven rapes, seventeen sexual assaults, and nineteen instances of misconduct in a public office, totalling 43 offences.

41-year-old Mitchell, who has served covering the Newcastle and Northumberland areas, was denied bail at Newcastle Magistrates' Court by a district judge and will remain in prison until his next court appearance, before the Crown Court on February 4. He had initially appeared the day he was charged, but the case was adjourned one day to allow time for a bail request to be prepared.

The investigation was conducted by the professional standards department of Mitchell's police force, who are being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. A Commission spokesman described the inquiry as an "ongoing investigation" and asked anyone who might know anything relevant to get in touch with police.http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/English_policeman_accused_of_being_serial_rapist?dpl_id=149124


US President Obama proposes financial reform

Speaking Thursday in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, United States President Barack Obama presented new proposals for financial reform.

"While the financial system is far stronger today than it was a year one year ago, it is still operating under the exact same rules that led to its near collapse," said President Barack Obama. "My resolve to reform the system is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see record profits at some of the very firms claiming that they cannot lend more to small business, cannot keep credit card rates low, and cannot refund taxpayers for the bailout. It is exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary."

Obama's two key proposals were to limit the types of operations that a bank may undertake and to limit the size of the largest financial firms.

Under the proposals banks would be prevented from owning or investing in hedge fund or a private equity fund. Nor would they be allowed to sponsor such funds. To limit size of financial institutions, further consolidation of the financial sector by restricting growth in the market share of their liabilities.

Obama called the restrictions on banking operations the "Volcker Rule" in reference to Paul Volcker, the chair of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. These activities are "unrelated to serving their customers," Obama said.

According to Obama, the current "economic crisis began as a financial crisis, when banks and financial institutions took huge, reckless risks in pursuit of quick profits and massive bonuses. When the dust settled, and this binge of irresponsibility was over, several of the world's oldest and largest financial institutions had collapsed, or were on the verge of doing so. Markets plummeted, credit dried up, and jobs were vanishing by the hundreds of thousands each month. We were on the precipice of a second Great Depression."

The President said his administration is seeking to protect consumers and close loopholes that allowed financial products such as credit defaults swaps without oversight. The goal would be to strengthen capital and liquidity requirements to make the financial system more stable. Another goal of Obama's reforms would be to ensure that the failure of one firm could not take the entire economy.

"We've come through a terrible crisis. The American people have paid a very high price. We simply cannot return to business as usual. That's why we're going to ensure that Wall Street pays back the American people for the bailout. That's why we're going to rein in the excess and abuse that nearly brought down our financial system," Obama said in closing.

Before any of the proposals can go into effect, they will have to be passed into law by both houses of the United States Congress.http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/US_President_Obama_proposes_financial_reform?dpl_id=149022


IPCC claims about Himalayan glaciers were not based on science

Part of a major 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which claimed that the glaciers in the Himalayas were likely to melt within thirty years, has been found to have not been based on scientific data.

The IPCC, a United Nations panel, admitted that the original claim was "poorly substantiated" and that "well-established standards of evidence were not applied properly" in the preparation of this section of the report. "The chair, vice-chairs, and co-chairs of the IPCC regrets the poor application of IPCC procedures", read a statement released by the panel. News reports have suggested that the claim originated in a 1999 article in the popular science magazine New Scientist, and was picked up by the IPCC when it was quoted in a 2005 report by the World Wildlife Fund.
Glaciers and glacial lakes in the Bhutan-Himalaya
Image: NASA.

Jairam Ramesh, India's minister of Environment and Forests, had criticized the estimate when the report was initially released. After the announcement, Ramesh reiterated his criticism and told The Times of India: "The health of the glaciers is a cause of grave concern, but the IPCC's alarmist position that they would melt by 2035 was not based on an iota of scientific evidence."

According to The Times (UK), most glaciologists believe it would take hundreds of years to melt the Himalayan glaciers, with some doubting that it will ever happen. There is evidence of glaciers growing in the neighboring Karakoram mountain range.

Michael Zemp, of the World Glacier Monitoring Service told CNN that, "There are simply no observations available to make these sorts of statements."

"The other thing is that the report says the glaciers are receding faster than anywhere else in the world. We simply do not have the glacier change measurements. The Himalayas are among those regions with the fewest available data", Zemp added.

Nevertheless, the IPCC maintains that the melting of the glaciers is a concern to the region, which is home to over one billion people. It stands by its overall conclusion that "mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges."

The IPCC had recently come under fire during the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, when selectively leaked e-mails, hacked from the University of East Anglia, reportedly showed that some scientists were attempting to suppress findings by other climatologists that did not agree with their own findings.http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/IPCC_claims_about_Himalayan_glaciers_were_not_based_on_science?dpl_id=148892


Storm causes Southern Californian residents to evacuate

A storm in the Los Angeles County, California area has caused reasons for residents in 2009 Station Fire burn areas to evacuate. Californians in these area braced themselves from mudslides and flash floods due to the expected 25 cm (10 in) of rain yesterday. The National Weather Service (NWS) predicted 3.8 cm (1.5 in) per hour in these fire-affected areas.

Charles Beck, Los Angeles Police Department chief, advised residents, "If a Los Angeles police officer comes to your door and tells you to leave: leave. We're not asking you to leave because we think your lawn's going to get dirty, we're not doing it because your carpet's going to get wet. We're doing it because your life is at risk."

Two days prior, the Los Angeles Coast, the NWS issued tornado warnings, a rarity, for the Whittier, South Los Angeles, and and Long Beach areas. There were reports of a tornado touching down at Sunset Beach in Orange County. The tornado reportedly lifted boats from the water. There were other reports of waterspouts in the Pacific Ocean.

Cal State Long Beach closed for the remainder of Wednesday afternoon and will reopen on Friday, January 22. Schools in the La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge areas were also closed yesterday.

In other areas of Los Angeles, the rain caused minor flooding and large puddles – storm drains overflowed. This storm hit strong from about 15:00 PST (23:00 UTC) to about 16:30 PST (0:30 UTC) Wednesday. It started again rather powerfully at about 17:10 PST (1:10 UTC).

A Southern California resident preferring to remain unnamed said this in regards to the storm, "I felt that it was a wonderful change from the super hot weather," in reference to the 26 °C (80 °F) plus temperatures leading into winter.http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Storm_causes_Southern_Californian_residents_to_evacuate?dpl_id=148891


Russian journalist beaten by police officer dies

A middle-aged Russian journalist in Tomsk, Siberia, died Wednesday. He succumbed to injuries suffered when a young police officer allegedly beat him into a coma earlier in the month while in a holding cell reserved for the drunk and disorderly. The injuries included severe damage to many of his internal organs.

Authorities identified this little-known reporter who specialized in economics as Konstantin Popov. Popov was one of the cofounders of a small regional newspaper publisher and a local magazine called Tema. In a country where police brutality and corruption—especially against journalists—is not uncommon, the editor-in-chief of Tema, Konstantin Karpachyov, said it was unlikely Popov's murder was in any way related to his work.
Russian police vehicle. (Circa 2005)

However, Karpachyov went on to say that, "This could happen to absolutely anyone. It demonstrates the police terror is aimed against everybody."

"The only thing different about this case is that he happened to be a journalist, so it became a high-profile public case. But the same thing happens every day," said Svetlana Gannushkina, of Russia's Civic Assistance committee. "Usually the cases are just closed down because there's no evidence, nobody testifies, and it's impossible to get to the bottom of it."

Upon learning Popov's identity, numerous members of the state-controlled media strongly criticized the police for their passive response to the actions allegedly committed by one of their own. Following which, news conferences were called, and before long Popov's case began to draw national attention.

This resulted in the holding cell where Popov's beating occurred being closed down. In addition, the deputy police chief resigned as well as supervisor of the precinct in question. The Tomsk police chief apologized. The suspected officer, Alexei Mitayev, was dismissed from the force, arrested, and is said to have since confessed to this crime. Mitayev cited that "stress due to family problems" is what led to his actions against Popov.

The chairman of the Tomsk branch of the Union of Journalists of Russia said that a source close to the investigation told him that Popov was not only beaten but was also "tortured" and "violated" with a foreign object.

"Hands off journalists!" the journalist union said in a statement on its website. According to the United States-based Committee to Protect Journalists, as far as they know, "since 2000, at least seventeen Russian journalists have been killed due to their work, and the killers have been convicted in only one case."

President Dmitry Medvedev said that such police misconduct was not only angering the Russian public, but was also undermining the state's authority. He called for comprehensive reform and ordered the Interior Ministry to cut its staff by one-fifth by 2012.http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Russian_journalist_beaten_by_police_officer_dies?dpl_id=148896