Daily Archives: January 4, 2008

Jesuits settle Indian boarding school abuse claims

Associated Press | Jan 3, 2008

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – The Jesuit Order of Roman Catholic priests says it will pay about $5 million to 16 people who say they were sexually abused by clergy while attending a boarding school on the Colville Indian reservation.

The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuit Order of priests, also pledged to raise an additional $200,000 for a homeless shelter or homeless services in the Omak area.

The Jesuits operated St. Mary’s Mission and boarding school near Omak until turning it over to the Colville Confederated tribes in 1973.

The 15 women and one man claimed they were sexually abused while pupils by the school’s superior, Father John J. Morse and Brother James Gates, a Jesuit worker, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The settlement was announced today by lawyers for the claimants and the Very Rev. John D. Whitney, head of the Oregon Province of Jesuits.

Morse was removed from public ministry after the allegations surfaced last April. He continues to deny abusing children.

Morse and Gates both live in supervised Jesuit homes, where their movements are constantly monitored.

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Microsoft Seeks To Patent System To Spy On Workers

The application describes a program that would watch users’ computer activity, automatically offering help and letting supervisors monitor users.

InformationWeek | Jan 3, 2008

By J. Nicholas Hoover

An invention described in a newly published Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) patent application aims to make sure workers meet their deadlines and do what they’re supposed to.

The patent application, published Dec. 27, describes a program that would monitor users’ computer activity, automatically offer help solving problems or links to information resources, and even allow supervisory monitoring of users to make sure they’re working or so others can give employees’ guidance if they’re stuck on a certain task.

The application centers on “activity-centric monitoring,” which could be anything from “designing a new ad campaign” to “resizing an image.” Either way, the program as described would be capable of monitoring related activity and providing advice or gentle nudging to carry out the task properly.

The program would even be able to determine performance levels across a group of employees and identify lower performers who might then be given additional training, be reassigned to other tasks, or, potentially, even be fired because they can’t keep up with the work.

It’s all reminiscent of a hyperactive and potentially more controversial version of Microsoft’s maligned “Clippy” Office assistant that would pop up on the screen and interact with users, asking them if they’d like help writing the letter that they’re apparently trying to write.

However, such a system wouldn’t be all bad news for workers. In addition to weeding out the low performers, it also could single out good workers who do their jobs well, allowing higher-ups to identify future group leaders and reward those who excel.

The system also could find the right person to help another with a task. For example, Microsoft describes a situation in which a worker might need to replace a toner cartridge in a printer, but doesn’t know how to do so. If the system monitors toner changes, it could assess who’s changed the toner most and with the most success and recommend that employee to help the one who’s having problems.

Prisoners to face mobile “death vans” instead of a bullet to the head

 

Police officers rehearse executing prisoners with a shot to the head. Now lethal injections will be used more

The Times | Jan 1, 2008

Jane McCartney, China Correspondent

China is to increase the use of lethal injections for condemned prisoners to replace execution by a bullet in the back of the head.

The decision by the country that probably executes about four times more people a year than the rest of the world combined was taken on humanitarian grounds, authorities said. Jiang Xingchang, vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court, said: “It will eventually be used in all intermediate people’s courts.”

At present China’s Supreme Court regulates carefully the allocation of the cocktail of drugs needed to carry out lethal injections. Local court officials must come to Beijing to obtain doses of the drug, a cost that may deter many judicial authorities and encourage them to stick with the less time-consuming gunshot.

Mr Jiang said that this would now change. The Supreme Court, he said, would “help equip intermediate courts with all required facilities”.

The use of lethal injections has risen steadily since they were introduced in the southwestern city of Kunming in 1997 after careful experimentation. Nonetheless, it is believed that as many as 60 per cent of all executions are still carried out by firing squad.

At least under the newer method the family of the condemned prisoner will not be expected to pay for the drugs. In the past the family of the condemned prisoner would be sent a bill for the bullet used in the execution. It is believed China uses a three-drug mix similar to the one used in most US states: sodium thiopental to bring on unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to stop breathing and potassium chloride to halt the heart. State media have described the cocktail as a drug that brings about death without pain. Special vans have been designed to serve as mobile execution units that can travel between remote towns and cities.

The number of people executed in China remains a highly guarded state secret. Amnesty International estimates that the country put to death at least 1,010 people in 2006 out of a worldwide total of 1,591. That figure is based on executions that were reported publicly and is thought to exclude many other cases that went unmentioned by local media. The human rights group cites some sources as putting the real figure at between 7,500 to 8,000 people.

China says that the number of executions dropped in 2007 after a rule introduced last January required the Supreme People’s Court to review every execution order. The decision by the top court to withdraw a power it had relinquished to provincial courts during a crime-fighting campaign in the 1980s came after several widely publicised wrongful convictions triggered a wave of public anger.

Lethal force

— 69 countries practise execution by shooting

— 30 executions by shooting were recorded last year: 15 in Afghanistan, 8 in Yemen, 3 in Somalia and 1 each in Belarus, Ethiopia, Indonesia and North Korea. China does not publish figures, but is thought to have executed about four times as many people as the rest of the world combined

— 68 crimes are punishable by death in China. They include murder, publishing pornography and killing a panda

— 30p is the average cost of a bullet used to execute Chinese prisoners – for which the relatives were expected to pay

— £33,000 is the cost of mobile “death vans” in which lethal injections are administered in China

China tightens its grip on internet with video ban

The Times | Jan 4, 2008

Jane Macartney, China Correspondent

China is to further tighten its grip on internet use by restricting the broadcast of videos on the web to only those run by state-sanctioned companies.

In the government’s latest clampdown on cyberspace, all sites that provide video programming or allow users to upload video must obtain a government permit, with the only companies permitted to apply being those that are state-owned or state-controlled. The new rules, which – crucially – apply to video-sharing websites too, also require providers to report questionable content to the government.

Executives at Chinese video-sharing sites spoke with caution but said the move not unexpected and would likely have a much greater impact on new entrants to the market, such as Google’s popular YouTube.com that has yet to formally register in China.

The manager of one popular Chinese site, who declined to be identified, said he expected smaller providers to be unaffected – at least at first – while bigger players would probably form partnerships with state-linked operations. He said: “This is China, the companies always seem to find a way to get around new regulations.”

The new rules, which come into force on January 31, mark a fresh attempt by Beijing to curtail the internet habits of an increasingly web-savvy population that has become accustomed to decades of state intervention. Officials have long ensured that traditional media, including television and newspapers, conform to their view of what the Chinese people should see, read and know.

Already, providers vet all videos uploaded onto their sites for pornographic or politically dissenting content to avoid attracting the wrath of the censors.

The new regulations state that: “Those who provide Internet video services should insist on serving the people, serve socialism … and abide by the moral code of socialism.”

The policy will ban providers from broadcasting video that involves national secrets, hurts the reputation of China, disrupts social stability or promotes pornography. Providers will be required to delete and report such content.

The concern of China’s censors to protect the country’s people from outside points of view was particularly evident during a five-yearly meeting of the Communist Party leadership late last year. Many sites were blocked for about two to three weeks around the time of the congress with YouTube being among the most prominent casualties. Access was allowed again once the meeting was over.

Few analysts expected such popular Chinese video-sharing sites as tudou.com, 56.com and Yoqoo to disappear after January 31, but they also agreed that the main aim of the new rules are to censor the Internet.

On occasions though, the vetting process can fall short. Last week, television host Hu Ziwei became an overnight internet sensation after she marched on stage, grabbed her husband’s microphone as the camera was rolling, and accused him of adultery. Video of the interrupted show, being recorded for broadcast on China’s main sports channel, has become one of the most viewed items in the Chinese blogosphere.

The video clip has since been removed from such major state-linked sites as sina.com but is still a hot viewing item on smaller private video-sharing suppliers and has become the most talked about event in Chinese cyberspace this week.

Putin’s men ‘lined pockets’ from state funds

It is good to be dictator. The state’s institutions have become the tools of Putin’s circle, claims former aide Andrey Illarionov

Telegraph | Jan 4, 2008

By Will Stewart in Moscow

A former aide to Vladimir Putin has accused the Russian president’s circle of lining their pockets from state funds.

Andrey Illarionov, a market reformer and Putin’s economic advisor until his resignation two years ago, alleged that the Russian government’s £75 billion Stabilisation Fund, created in 2004 to cushion the budget from a fall in oil prices, was being exploited by members of the ruling elite for their personal benefit.

He gave no details of how this allegedly occurred.

“The Stabilisation Fund, in the form in which it was created in which monies were accumulated, has ceased to exist. It has died. This is now a fund for increasing the personal wealth of specific individuals,” he claimed in a radio interview.

“In the current conditions, the creation of organisations or funds like this simply increases the personal wealth of persons who have chanced to find themselves at the top of the Russian power structure.”

Illarionov, president of the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis and a fellow of the Washington-based Cato Institute, claimed that the circle around Putin and his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev, were increasingly adopting “the aggression of the street rabble” to stay in power.

He cited flawed elections and alleged “velvet re-privatisation” – or forcing down the value of ex-state assets before putting them into the hands of loyalists – as examples of this “aggression” linked to a “moral decline” among the ruling elite.

The state’s institutions have become the tools of Putin’s circle, he claimed.

“At the moment for many of the people who are in power, there is almost no other means left to them but to escalate violence and aggression in order to remain in power.

“They are not stupid people and they understand that the peak of their popularity has passed and that they will have to resort to the kind of violence seen in the past few weeks.

“The country has entered one of the most dangerous phases in its history, when almost all the institutions of a modern state have been destroyed and there is nothing that can be used as a support in a crisis.”

He insisted, though, that Russia’s present direction was a “deviation”.

“This option is a dead end – and will come to an end. It will end much more quickly that many people think,” he said.

The allegations come weeks after a controversial political scientist separately claimed Mr Putin had acquired control of £20 billion in energy assets during his eight years in power – enough to make him Europe’s richest man.

Stanislav Belkovsky claimed that Mr Putin had made a multi-billion pound fortune by controlling stakes in three Russian energy companies through a network of front-men.

“Russia under Putin is not a version of modern democracy,” said Mr Belkovsky.

Mr Belkovsky claimed his information had come from credible sources in the Kremlin but admitted he had no documentary evidence.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denounced the claims as “nothing but trash”.

“Certainly it has nothing to do with seriousness; it has nothing to do with professionalism. It’s just trash.”

According to Mr Belkovsky, Mr Putin controls a 37 per cent stake in Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company, 4.5 per cent of Gazprom, the state energy giant, and at least 50 per cent of Gunvor, a Swiss-based oil trading company that has won a series of state contracts.

The chief executive of Gunvor released a statement saying that Mr Putin owned no part of the company and was not “a beneficiary of its activities”.

Observers were sceptical about Mr Belkovsky’s claims.

“It would be strange if Putin was not rich,” said Leonid Radzikhovsky, a political analyst. “But the information about this treasure island seems a little exaggerated.”

Mr Radzikhovsky added: “It is difficult to understand Belkovsky. He is known as a source of confusing information and it is hard to treat it seriously. He is an adventurer.”

Mr Radzikhovsky said Mr Belkovsky “really knows a lot of people in high places but who is he to know the secrets” of Mr Putin.