Daily Archives: September 8, 2008

Shoppers to use fingerprints or eye scans to pay for goods

Barclaycard has announced it is investing a seven-figure sum in “contactless payment” technology  Photo: Getty Images

Shoppers could soon be able to pay for goods and services using their fingerprints, or iris identification techniques.

Telegraph | Sep 8, 2008

By Myra Butterworth

The futuristic systems, like those used by Tom Cruise in the science fiction film Minority Report, are being developed by scientists for Barclaycard.

The company has announced it is investing a seven-figure sum in “contactless payment” technology.

This allows customers to use everyday items they carry around with them – such as mobile phones, key fobs or even their eyes or fingerprints – to make payments.

It means shoppers will no longer have to rely on cards.

Barclaycard, which is part of Barclays, has already introduced a new-style cash machine in the United Arab Emirates enabling people to use their fingerprints to withdraw money and shoppers in the UK may soon be able to use the same technology.

Antony Jenkins, chief executive of Barclaycard, said: “It’s possible we’ll see an end to plastic in the next five to 10 years with new technologies to take its place emerging now. It could turn out to be one of the shortest lived payment methods in history, going from being ubiquitous to a museum piece in the same way as the video cassette.”

Barclaycard also aims to have one million customers upgraded to its contactless payment system OnePulse by the end of the year. OnePulse enables people to buy items for less than £10 by touching their card against a sensor, without even having to take it out of their wallet. It can also be used as an Oyster card on London transport.

Barclaycard said people may soon be able to hover their mobile over the price label of an item in a shop, confirm their purchase and take it away without having to go to a checkout or get a receipt.

Mr Jenkins said: “If I had said to you 10 years ago that you couldn’t pay with a cheque at the supermarket, you wouldn’t have believed me. That is now the reality, and we see plastic cards going the same way eventually.”

U.S., NATO Air Strikes Triple Civilians Deaths in Afghanistan

Democracy Now | Sep 8th, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008 :Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes have nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. Air strikes killed at least 321 civilians in 2007, compared with at least 116 in 2006. The tally for this year is expected to be even higher. We speak with Kathy Gannon, an award-winning Associated Press correspondent who has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for over two decades.

The top US military commander in Afghanistan has called for an investigation into reports that over 90 civilians were killed in US airstrikes on an Afghan village last month. General David McKiernan requested a review of the American military investigation into the incident Sunday citing “emerging evidence.” He did not elaborate on the evidence but Afghan and Western officials have told journalists there is video from the aftermath of the August 22nd airstrike that shows dozens of dead civilians.

The Afghan government and the UN mission in Afghanistan both concurred with villagers reports that at least 90 civilians–two-thirds of them children–were killed in the airstrike. But the initial US military investigation released Tuesday concluded that no more than 42 people had been killed, of which only 7 were civilians and the rest members of the Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited the affected village of Azizabad Thursday. He paid his respect to the mourners and condemned the airstrikes.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also ordered a review of whether the U.S. and NATO should be allowed to use airstrikes and carry out raids in villages.

The August 22nd incident is only one in a series of US and NATO airstrikes that have caused high numbers of civilian deaths. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch the increased use of air strikes has tripled civilian deaths in Afghanistan over the past year.

Last week hundreds protested an airstrike in Kabul that reportedly killed three members of a family: a man named Noorullah and two of his infant sons, one of whom was only eight months old.

Putin doing his part in baiting US with nuclear aid to Iran

Vladimir Putin set to bait US with nuclear aid for Tehran

Sunday Times | Sep 7, 2008

By Mark Franchetti in Moscow

Russia is considering increasing its assistance to Iran’s nuclear programme in response to America’s calls for Nato expansion eastwards and the presence of US Navy vessels in the Black Sea delivering aid to Georgia.

The Kremlin is discussing sending teams of Russian nuclear experts to Tehran and inviting Iranian nuclear scientists to Moscow for training, according to sources close to the Russian military.

Moscow has been angered by Washington’s promise to give Georgia £564m in aid following the Russian invasion of parts of the country last month after Tbilisi’s military offensive. Kremlin officials suspect the US is planning to rearm the former Soviet republic and is furious at renewed support for attempts by Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato.

Last week a third US Navy ship entered the Black Sea with aid bound for Georgia. Moscow has accused the Americans of using the vessels to deliver weapons but has failed to provide any evidence.

Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Russia, who has been the driving force during the crisis, has declared he will take unspecified action in response.

“Everything has changed since the war in Georgia,” said one source. “What seemed impossible before, is more than possible now when our friends become our enemies and our enemies our friends. What are American ships doing off our coast? Do you see Russian warships off the coast of America?

“Russia will respond. A number of possibilities are being considered, including hitting America there where it hurts most – Iran.”

Increasing nuclear assistance to Iran would sharply escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington. Over the past 10 years Russia has helped Iran build its first nuclear power station in Bushehr. Iran claims the plant is for civilian purposes. Officially at least, Moscow accepts that. The West has little doubt the aim is to build a nuclear bomb.

But diplomats say that despite its help with the Bushehr plant, Moscow has so far played a constructive role as a mediator between the regime in Tehran and the West and by backing United Nations sanctions.

Earlier this year, in one of his last actions as president, Putin added Russia’s stamp of approval to a UN security council resolution imposing fresh sanctions against Iran.

The document bans, with the exception of the Bushehr project, dual-technology exports that could be used for civil nuclear purposes and missile production.

“After the war in Georgia it’s difficult to imagine relations between Russia and America getting worse,” said a western diplomat. “Russia giving greater nuclear assistance to the Iranians would do the trick – that’s for sure.”

Last month Russia agreed to sell missiles to Syria. “The mood among the hawks is very bullish indeed,” said one source who did not rule out a resumption of Russian military action in Georgia to take the port of Batumi, where American vessels are delivering aid.

Hardliners were infuriated last week by the visit to Georgia of Dick Cheney, the American vice-president. “Georgia will be in our alliance,” Cheney said. He also visited Ukraine, whose Nato aspirations could make it the next flashpoint between Russia and America.

However in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, events appeared to be moving Moscow’s way. Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-western president, is fighting to stay in power in a crisis that could see him impeached.

“I’m amused by claims in the West that Russia is the loser in this crisis,” said a former Putin aide. “What would Washington do if we were arming Cuba the way it armed Georgia? The postSoviet days when we could be pushed around are over.”

Harrowing video backs Afghan villagers’ claims of carnage caused by US troops

The Times | Sep 8, 2008

By Tom Coghlan in Kabul

As the doctor walks between rows of bodies, people lift funeral shrouds to reveal the faces of children and babies, some with severe head injuries.

Women are heard wailing in the background. “Oh God, this is just a child,” shouts one villager. Another cries: “My mother, my mother.”

The grainy video eight-minute footage, seen exclusively by The Times, is the most compelling evidence to emerge of what may be the biggest loss of civilian life during the Afghanistan war.

These are the images that have forced the Pentagon into a rare U-turn. Until yesterday the US military had insisted that only seven civilians were killed in Nawabad on the night of August 21.

Last night the Pentagon announced that it was reopening the investigation in the light of “emerging evidence” and was sending an officer to Nawabad to review its previous inquiry. Villagers and the UN insist that 92 were killed, including as many as 60 children. Locals say that the US and Afghan troops who came into the village looking for a Taleban commander, with US air support, used excessive force.

In the video scores of bodies are seen laid out in a building that villagers say is used as a mosque; the people were killed apparently during a combined operation by US special forces and Afghan army commandos in western Afghanistan. The film was shot on a mobile phone by an Afghan doctor who arrived the next morning.

Local people say that US forces bombed preparations for a memorial ceremony for a tribal leader. Residential compounds were levelled by US attack helicopters, armed drones and a cannon-armed C130 Spectre gunship.

However, US commanders and Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that seven civilians died alongside 35 Taleban militants during a legitimate combat operation, the target of which was a meeting of Taleban leaders.

The villagers’ accounts have been supported by separate investigations conducted by the UN, by Afghanistan’s leading human rights organisation and by an Afghan government delegation. Two Afghan army officers involved in the operation have been dismissed.

The Pentagon’s original investigation concluded last week that US forces used close air support after coming under heavy fire during a mission to seize a Taleban commander named Mullah Sadiq. They allege that he died in the operation.

The US military said that its findings were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the US force. He was named as the Fox News correspondent Oliver North, who came to prominence in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, when he was an army colonel.

Sources close to one of the investigations said that a video film was shot by Afghan officials the morning after the attack. It corroborates the doctor’s footage but has not been made public.

In a statement released on Saturday, the commander of Nato forces, General David McKiernan, appeared to back away from previous US accounts. He said: “Following the recent operation in Azizabad, Shindand district, we realise there is a large discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties reported by soldiers and local villagers. I remain responsible to continue to try and account for this disparity in numbers, but above all I want to express our heartfelt sorrow to all families that lost loved ones in this firefight.”

A Human Rights Watch report due to be published today is highly critical of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan for the number of civilians killed in airstrikes. It gives warning that repeated instances of Western forces killing Afghan civilians have led to a collapse in popular support for the international presence.

Taking what it says are the most conservative figures available, Human Rights Watch has calculated that civilian deaths as a result of Western airstrikes tripled between 2006 and 2007 to 321. In the first seven months of this year the figure was 119. In the same period, 367 civilian deaths were attributed to Taleban attacks. It accuses US officials of routinely denying reports of civilian deaths.

Maulavi Gul Ahmad, an Afghan MP who was part of a government delegation that investigated the Nawabad attack, told The Times: “We are not only blaming America – this is destroying the reputation of the international community and undermining their presence in Afghanistan.”

Other Afghan investigators alleged that US forces had been duped into attacking the village by tribal figures involved in a local feud.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan

December 2001
US aircraft attack a convoy taking tribal leaders to the inauguration of new Afghan Government. About 60 killed; US claims al-Qaeda leaders among them

July 2002
46 die, many from same family, when a wedding party in Uruzgan province is bombed in error

October 26, 2006
Between 40 and 85 civilians are killed in airstrikes and mortar bombardments around the settlement of Zangawat in Kandahar province

March 2007
19 people are killed and 50 wounded when US Marine Special Forces fire on civilians after a suicide attack in Shinwar, eastern Afghanistan. The US military apologises and pays compensation to the families

July 6, 2008
47 civilians, including 39 women and children attending a wedding party, are killed by a US airstrike in Nangarhar province, an Afghan government investigating team claims

Britain training Communist Chinese military officers


It would give China access to “critical military ‘software’ such as modern military management practices, operational doctrine and training.

Sunday Times | Sep 7, 2008

MoD breaches EU rules by training Chinese officer

By Michael Smith

The government has breached EU rules banning military cooperation with China by allowing a Chinese army officer to study at Sandhurst.

Officer Cadet Liu Liu, who graduated from the Royal Military Academy last month, has spent the past year training alongside British army cadets.

A second Chinese People’s Liberation Army officer is expected to join the new intake at Sandhurst this week.

Related

The move will infuriate the US which has warned that a relaxation of the EU arms embargo to allow training would help China to work out ways of countering western military doctrine.

The People’s Liberation Army is the world’s largest armed forces at more than 1.25 million strong and is increasingly seen by the US as a major threat.

The ban on military cooperation is part of an arms embargo imposed by the US and EU countries in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989.

China has lobbied for a relaxation of the ban, specifically calling for cooperation on military training and education.

Some EU countries, led by France and Germany, sought to lift the ban several years ago but backed down in the face of a furious US response.

The US responded to the calls to lift the embargo by warning that any relaxation would have “serious consequences”.

It would give China access to “critical military ‘software’ such as modern military management practices, operational doctrine and training,” the Pentagon said in a 2005 report.

The Blair government firmly backed the US position banning all military cooperation and arms sales and no Chinese officers were trained at Sandhurst throughout Blair’s time as prime minister.

Britain had until now taken the lead on attempting to ensure that the EU suspension of military cooperation and the arms embargo held in place.

It has always previously taken the position that the existing suspension was not water tight enough and it was too easy for member states to get round the ban on military cooperation and arms sales.

The Conservatives demanded to know who had decided on the apparent change of policy, which they said put security at risk by giving the Chinese access to a wealth of detail on UK military doctrine.

“This is a critically important issue,” said Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary. “We require urgent disclosure about whether the prime minister or the defence secretary knew about this and whether it represents a change in policy or plain incompetence with our national security.”

The MoD insisted it was complying with EU policy and stressed the firm British adherence to the arms embargo which banned sales of lethal weaponry to China.

“The UK fully complies with the EU arms embargo and the wider-ranging EU Code of Conduct on Conventional Arms, which deal with the sales of equipment,”

But the Conservatives said this did not address the key issue which was the suspension of military cooperation which was imposed alongside the arms embargo.

The precise wording of the EU ban makes clear it also affects military cooperation but despite repeated requests the MoD failed to address that issue.

The EU statement calls for the “interruption by the member states of the community of military cooperation and an embargo on trade in arms with China.”

Fox said the Conservatives had spoken to EU officials who said the ban on military cooperation did include training and “expressed surprise” that Britain should break ranks on the issue when it had previously taken the lead on enforcing military sanctions.

Australian imprisoned for insulting Thai royal family begs for mercy

King Bhumibol and his queen entertain American aristocrats George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara at the royal palace.

Jailed Aussie pleads to say sorry to Thai royals to escape prison conditions

The Australian | Sep 6, 2008

Peter Alford, Bangkok

HARRY Nicolaides, the Melbourne writer arrested on a charge of insulting Thailand’s royal family, has described his appalling prison conditions and his fear of contracting tuberculosis, and pleaded to be allowed to apologise.

“I want to immediately apologise to the royal family for my reckless choice of words,” Nicolaides told The Weekend Australian at Bangkok Remand Prison.

“I want to write a comprehensive letter apologising with the greatest humility to the Thai people for the way the Thai press presented what was written in the book.”

Nicolaides is distressed by his conditions of imprisonment, which could extend for 84 days before he can be released on remand. Bail of 500,000 baht ($17,820) raised by his girlfriend and her friends has been refused.

He fears he has been deliberately isolated as the only farang (foreigner) in a prison cell crammed with 60 or more Thais.

Nicolaides said he entered the prison on Monday a healthy man, although almost suicidal over the threat of 15 years’ jail, but he now had swollen lymph glands, chest pains, constipation and stomach cramps and could not eat.

Almost all the other inmates in his cell were coughing and wheezing, he said. “There is a rumour going around that some of them will be transferred to the tuberculosis ward (of the prison hospital), which is terribly overcrowded,” he said.

He feared his condition was deteriorating so quickly he would be vulnerable to tuberculosis infection.

Nicolaides was arrested at Bangkok’s international airport as he tried to fly home to Melbourne on Sunday night, and held on a warrant charging lese majeste, or offences against the crown, a crime he did not know existed.

The charge was provoked by a passage in his 2003 novel Verisimilitude: is the truth the truth.

“I wrote that from King Rama, and I didn’t say which King Rama, to the Crown Prince, Thai men are well-known for having multiple wives and concubines for entertainment,” he said.

Nicolaides said the passage was in the form of “an omniscient narrator passing a rumour to the protagonist … it’s a work of imaginative fiction”.

He acknowledges the passage, from a period of his life when some of his writing was “flaky”, offended Thai culture and tradition. “But I’m not that person now,” he said.

He had returned to Thailand seven months ago, mainly to spend time with his girlfriend, who teaches at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, where he previously taught.

Global cooling caused by global warming?

Forget global warming – the latest problem is global cooling.

Big chill a symptom of climate chaos

Sydney Morning Herald | Sep 1, 2008

Conservation group WWF has blamed climate change for the coldest August in Sydney for more than 60 years.

The freezing temperatures are proof of the urgent need to cut carbon pollution, according to WWF development and sustainability program manager Paul Toni.

“We can expect more extremes in climate,” Mr Toni said.

He said climate records had tumbled over the past year.

Australia had its driest May on record, Perth had its wettest April on record, and Tasmania recorded its hottest ever temperature, according to Mr Toni.

He said climate extremes were affecting southern Australia in particular.

“This is consistent with climate modelling showing the southern states will feel the effects of climate change most severely,” he said.

Mr Toni said if action was not taken, more volatile weather would be on the radar.