Daily Archives: September 10, 2009

India compiling world’s largest biometric database

thirdfactor.com | Sep 8, 2009

As the Indian government moves forward with its plans to provide all its citizens with a Unique Identification (UID) number, the biometric authentication behind the system will mean creating the world’s largest biometric database covering the data of over a billion people, according to a BBC News article.

Further, officials plan on having the database stored and secured online enabling for quick and easy authentication whenever necessary.

As providing a reliable means of identification for the country’s poor has been an issue in the past, identifying how many will actually be involved in the database has been a bit of a barrier to the planning of the database already as well. Some of the various lists Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, is utilizing include the database of Indian passport holders, public distribution system cards for food for the poor, the list of cooking gas consumers, income tax payers, account holders in public and private banks, mobile phone consumers and owners of election cards taking into account that many of these people will be on many of the lists and databases.

Nilekani is careful to point out that the poor are a very direct target of this program as the creation of their biometrically backed UID number will allow for them to have reliable forms of identification. The UID numbers, which will not be ID cards in and of themselves, but accompany a number of personal forms of identification, are expected to be rolled out across India by 2014.

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Support for GM ban slips but most shoppers stay confused by “information drought”

Western Mail | Sep 8, 2009

by David Williamson

OPPOSITION to genetically modified food may be weakening, major research from Consumer Focus Wales suggests.

Less than a quarter of people (24%) said they wanted GM food banned – down from 38% in 2003.

But researchers for the consumer watchdog also found that confusion is high and Wales suffers from an “information drought”.

Nearly half of people questioned (48%) did not feel confident enough in their knowledge to give an opinion.

Opposition to GM foods was highest in Mid and West Wales where 40% of respondents wanted the products banned. This fell to 24% in Cardiff and South East Wales.

People were most open to GM foods in the Valleys and the Swansea, Bridgend and Port Talbot areas, where only 19% wanted a ban.

Vivienne Sugar, the organisation’s chairwoman, said: “Consumers should be able to make an informed choice about eating GM food. Our survey has found the majority of people still don’t feel they know enough about GM issues to form an opinion, so the need for clear, impartial and readily available information on GM is paramount. One of the main findings of our research was that people want to be able to choose whether they eat GM food or not – more than eight out of 10 people want such foods to be labelled, even if they only contain a tiny amount of GM material.”

Lindsey Kearton, the author of the Consumer Focus report, Seeds of Confusion: Consumer attitudes to GM foods, said products such as milk and eggs which came from animals that had been fed modified food were not required to have the GM logo.

At present, food products do not have to be labelled if they contain 0.9% or less GM material caused by unintentional or “unavoidable” mixing of crops during the farming process.

Just 3% of people did not think such products ought to be labelled.

Concern about the impact on the environment has also fallen.

The proportion of people who described themselves as “worried” about the environmental impact has fallen from 51% in 2003 to 41% today. Only 35% of people in Cardiff and South East Wales were in this group, compared with 48% in South West Wales.

More than a third of consumers (37%) believed GM crops were needed to avoid world food shortages in the future; just under a quarter (23%) disagreed.

One in three said they would support genetic modification if it kept food prices down – with just 31% disagreeing.

Wendy Sadler, founder of Cardiff-based Science Made Simple – an award-winning enterprise dedicating to popularising science – said that giving greater information to consumers could result in wider acceptance of new techniques.

She said: “I see a lot of openness to new technology provided people are given the information to make their own decision and don’t have those decisions forced upon them… I think it’s the element of choice that makes a difference.”

She also noted that when people first became aware of GM crops worst-case scenarios were envisaged which have not happened.

Mike Reddy, an expert in future technology at the University of Wales, Newport, believes that in the current climate people’s food choices will be governed by the price of a product and not the fact it has been genetically modified.

He said: “We are in a credit crunch. So long as they can prevent people focusing on it, people will see the price and go, ‘Oh! That’s cheaper.’

“So long as people aren’t really having their noses rubbed in it they won’t really care.”

However, he is doubtful that in the long-term GM agriculture will prove financially or environmentally sustainable.

Steve Garret, chair of Riverside Community Market Association, has seen a weekly farmers’ market held opposite Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium grow to have an annual turnover of around £1.5m.

He said that many shoppers were concerned about GM foods combined with alarm at the distances many foods travel before reaching supermarket shelves.

But he added: “It’s not about being righteous. It’s about the pleasure of eating, looking, tasting and buying.”

Chickens Not Fooled by GM Crops

Food Consumer | Sep 5 2009

by: Dr. Mercola

chickenChickens refusing to eat the maize they had been fed has led to the discovery that their feed had been genetically modified to include a well-known weed and insect killer.

Strilli Oppenheimer’s indigenous African chickens were refusing to eat the mealies in the chicken feed bought from a large supplier. Concerned that the birds may be ingesting genetically modified maize, she had the maize tested.

The results confirmed Oppenheimer’s initial suspicion — the maize had been genetically engineered to produce proteins that are toxic to certain insects and weeds.

About her chickens’ refusal to eat their maize, Oppenheimer said: “They’re smart.”

Female anti-war protesters sue over strip searches

Hildes said Tuesday that he thinks the searches were conducted as retaliation against the women for their protest activities.

Three allege they were illegally exposed to personnel, male prisoners

Olympian | Sep 9, 2009


OLYMPIA – Three women who were arrested during anti-Iraq War protests at the Port of Olympia in November 2007 have sued the city of Olympia, alleging they were told to disrobe to their underwear during searches at the city jail, exposing their breasts to men.

The federal civil-rights lawsuit alleges that on Nov. 13, 2007, police and corrections officers at the jail “ordered several women to take off dresses and shirts, in direct violation of jail policy, and made them strip down to an underwear layer that completely exposed and revealed their breasts.” The suit alleges that the women were “exposed and vulnerable to male prisoners and jail and police personnel alike.”

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Washington state law holds that no one may be strip-searched without a warrant unless “there is a reasonable suspicion to believe that a strip search is necessary to discover weapons, criminal evidence, contraband, or other thing concealed on the body of the person to be searched.”

State law also holds that a “strip search or body cavity search shall be performed or observed only by persons of the same sex as the person being searched, except for licensed medical professionals …” Also, no one is allowed to observe a strip search unless it is necessary to ensure safety, or if the offender asks for a person to be there, provided that the observer is not also in custody, according to state law.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Larry Hildes, states that officers violated jail policy. “Jail Directive 3.3 IX, was not to force women to take off dresses and clothing, and not to force them to strip to a layer where they are exposing their breasts or genitals,” according to the suit.

“There is no justification for doing this,” Hildes said Tuesday. “I’ve got an awful lot of witnesses who say that it did happen.”

The three plaintiffs named in the suit, Cristen Love, Patricia Imani and Stephanie Snyder, all were arrested Nov. 13 for participating in what is known among port protesters as the “women’s action” at the Port of Olympia.

The three allege in the suit that they were victims “of a deliberate policy to expose, humiliate and intimidate” them, “equivalent to a strip search but to a mixed gender group of guards and prisoners.”

Hildes said Tuesday that he thinks the searches were conducted as retaliation against the women for their protest activities, a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

The suit also alleges that the women were kept in their state of exposure, in “extremely cold holding areas without access to blankets or any other means of keeping warm.”

The suit also alleges that the women were wrongfully arrested, and the only evidence that they intended to violate the law came “from spying and surveillance that is illegal under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1887 …” In July, members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the group that organized the 2007 port protests, said that a civilian Fort Lewis employee, John Towery, spied on them by infiltrating the organization under an assumed name. A Fort Lewis spokesman has confirmed that Towery is an employee of Fort Lewis Force Protection and said the Army is conducting an inquiry into the spying allegation.

The plaintiffs and 23 other protesters were arrested after they tried to physically prevent shipments of Stryker vehicles and other military cargo shipped from Iraq from leaving the port in a convoy to Fort Lewis.

All three of the plaintiffs later were charged with attempted disorderly conduct and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Defendants named in the suit include the city of Olympia, Olympia police officer Amy King, Olympia police officer Bob Krasnacion, five correctional officers at the jail and Olympia Police Chief Gary Michel.

Olympia Police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad referred questions to the attorney representing the city in the suit, Donald Law. Law could not be reached for comment. Olympia City Attorney Tom Morrill declined to comment on the suit, saying he has not seen it.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

A “reasonable suspicion” allows a strip search without a warrant only when a person has been arrested on suspicion of a violent offense, such as one involving an escape, a burglary, the use of a deadly weapon, or a drug or controlled substance, according to state law.

Atlantic School Investigates Strip-Search Accusations

KPTM | Sep 8, 2009

by Meghan Youker

ATLANTIC (KPTM) – A high school administrator in Atlantic, Iowa is suspended after allegations that five female students were forced to take off their clothes during a search.  The issue was discussed in a closed session during the district’s school board meeting Tuesday night.

The incident happened August 21 during a gym class.  Lawyers representing the families involved say the teens were instructed to strip down to their bras and underwear, with one girl forced to get naked, while a female counselor looked for missing money.

It reportedly happened inside a locker room at Atlantic High School, after a classmate suspected one hundred dollars had been stolen from her purse.  Lawyers say that girl was also present during the search. “I know that they don’t feel safe and they’re embarrassed to come here and it was hard for them to come back to school the following day,” said Atlantic senior Sara Pottebaum.

Strip-searching is illegal in Iowa and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June no school official has free reign to do intimate searches of students.

School administrators have maintained the search was allowable under board policy, but have placed an unidentified administrator on paid leave pending an investigation.

Parents and students say the incident is the talk of the town, with many people shocked and outraged.  “I wouldn’t want that to happen to me at all.  That would be breaking boundaries and I think a lot of boundaries were broken for those girls,” said senior Maria Odell.

There was time during the school board meeting for residents to speak out on the issue, but only one parent did so.   “I have to say I do question having my daughter come here until I know that the district will not tolerate such actions.  I want to feel that my child will come here and be safe and that her constitutional rights will be upheld,” said parent Shelly Pottebaum.

The school board president promised to get to the bottom of the allegations.  “This is going to be solved.  It’s a long investigation.  We’ll take our time so we do it right, by policy, by law and we appreciate your patience and your support,” Phil Hascall said.

Some of the parents of the girls involved were at Tuesday’s meeting, but said they’d been advised by their attorneys not to comment.  Some are considering a lawsuit.

Limited searches are allowed at Iowa schools if a faculty member reasonably believes it will produce evidence a law or school rule has been broken.  Searches cannot be “excessively intrusive in light of the age and gender of the student and nature of the infraction.”

Anti-Americanism rises in Pakistan over U.S. motives

The lively Pakistani media has been filled with stories of under-cover American agents operating in the country, tales of a huge contingent of U.S. Marines planned to be stationed at the embassy, and reports of Blackwater private security personnel running amuck.

McClatchy | Sep 7, 2009

By Saeed Shah

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — For weeks now, the Pakistani media have portrayed America, its military and defense contractors in the darkest of lights, all part of an apparent campaign of anti-American vilification that is sweeping the country and, according to some, is putting American lives at risk.

Pakistanis are reacting to what many here see as an “imperial” American presence, echoing Iraq and Afghanistan, with Washington dictating to the Pakistani military and the government. Polls show that Pakistanis regard the U.S., formally a close ally and the country’s biggest donor, as a hostile power.

U.S. officials have either denied the allegations or moved to blunt the criticism, but suspicions remain and relations between the two countries are getting more strained.

The lively Pakistani media has been filled with stories of under-cover American agents operating in the country, tales of a huge contingent of U.S. Marines planned to be stationed at the embassy, and reports of Blackwater private security personnel running amuck. Armed Americans have supposedly harassed and terrified residents and police officers in Islamabad and Peshawar, according to local press reports.

Much of the hysteria was based on a near $1 billion plan, revealed by McClatchy in May and confirmed by U.S. officials, to massively increase the size of the American embassy in Islamabad, which brought home to Pakistanis that the United States plans an extensive and long-term presence in the country.

The American mission in Islamabad was forced to put on three briefings for Pakistani journalists in August trying to dampen the highly charged stories, which could undermine US-Pakistani relations just as Washington is preparing to finalize a tripling of civilian aid to Islamabad, to $1.5 billion a year. Over this last weekend, an embassy spokesman had to deny suddenly renewed stories that the U.S. was behind the mysterious death of former military dictator General Zia ul Haq back in 1988.

Pakistan is a key priority for the United States because of its nuclear weapons and its potential usefulness in taking on al Qaida within its borders and ending the safe haven for the Afghan Taliban.

“I think this recent brouhaha over the embassy expansion has been difficult to beat back,” said Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador, in an interview Thursday. “I can’t really understand what’s behind this because what we’re doing is actually quite straightforward. We’ve tried to explain it carefully to the press, but it just seems to be taken over by conspiracy theories.”

Briefing Pakistani journalists last month, Patterson told them that there were only nine Marines stationed to guard the embassy in Islamabad and that, even after the expansion, their number would be no more than 15 to 20. Press reports had put the figure at 350 to 1,000 Marines. She also stated categorically “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan”. But the stories refused to go away.

Patterson said she wrote last week to the owner of Pakistan’s biggest media group, Jang, to protest about the content of two talk shows on its Geo TV channel, hosted by star anchors Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan, and a newspaper column of influential analyst Shireen Mazari in The News, a daily, complaining that they were “wildly incorrect” and had compromised the security of Americans.

There are 250 American citizens posted at the Islamabad mission on longer-term contracts, plus another 200 on shorter assignments, the embassy said. The present embassy compound can accommodate only a fraction of them. According to independent estimates, there are some 200 private houses for U.S. officials, on regular streets located throughout upscale districts of Islamabad.

Pakistani press and bloggers also targeted Craig Davis, an American aid worker, insisting that he’s an undercover secret agent. Davis, a contractor to the USAID development arm of the government, is based in the volatile northwestern city of Peshawar, and now appears to be at risk. Last year, another American USAID contractor in Peshawar, Stephen Vance, was gunned down just outside his home.

“In one or two cases these commentators have identified very specific embassy employees as CIA or Blackwater, and that very much puts the employee at danger. In at least one case we’re going to have to evacuate the employee,” said Patterson, without identifying the individual involved. “What particularly scared us about him is that Stephen Vance, who was the other AID Chief of Party in Peshawar, was of course assassinated a few months ago. So there is a track record here that’s sort of alarming.”

In recent days, shows on two popular private television channels, Geo and Dunya, which broadcast in the local Urdu language, put up pictures of homes in Islamabad which they claimed were occupied by CIA, FBI, or employees of the controversial Blackwater company of private security contractors, now called Xe Services. Some of the houses were identified with their full address. It is believed that several of the homes weren’t occupied by Americans but others were. According to the U.S embassy, bloggers are now calling on people to “kill” the occupants of these houses.

A survey last month for international broadcaster al Jazeera by Gallup Pakistan found that 59 percent of Pakistanis felt the greatest threat to the country was the United States. A separate survey in August by the Pew Research Center, an independent pollster based in Washington, recorded that 64 percent of the Pakistani public regards the U.S. “as an enemy” and only 9 percent believe it to be a partner.

“The Ugly American of the sixties is back in Pakistan and this time with a vengeance,” said Mazari, the defense analyst whose newspaper column was the subject of the American complaint. “It’s an alliance (U.S.-Pakistan) that’s been forced on the country by its corrupt leadership. It’s delivering chaos. We should distance ourselves. You can’t just hand over the country.”

While the anti-US sentiment appears genuine, it is uncertain whether the current storm, and the particular stories that it thrived on, was orchestrated by a pressure group or even an arm of the state. In the past, Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, part of the military, has very effectively used the press to push its agenda.

The U.S. provided over $11billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001. Yet in recent days, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has complained that too much of the promised new enhanced U.S. aid package would be eaten up in American administrative costs, while President Asif Zardari demanded that multi-billion dollar civilian and military aid money, currently stuck in Congress, be speeded up.

The Pakistani government has repeatedly stated that joining the U.S. “war on terror” has cost the nation an estimated $34 billion and ministers frequently lambast the U.S. for trespassing on Pakistani territory with use of spy planes to target suspected militants — an emotive tacit for the Pakistani population.

Ambassador Patterson said that “the (Pakistani) government could be more helpful” in combating the anti-American controversies, which took on a new fever pitch since the beginning of August.

The weak Islamabad government appears unable to come to the defense of its ally and even tried to score some popularity points by joining the U.S.-baiting.

A widely believed conspiracy contends that America is deliberately destabilizing Pakistan, to bring down a “strong Muslim country”, and ultimately seize its nuclear weapons. Pakistanis, especially its military establishment, also are distrustful of U.S. motives in Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a strategy for regional domination. Further Pakistanis are appalled that the regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul is close to archenemy India.

“Part of the reason why we can’t fight terrorism is because the terrorists have adopted what I’d call anti-U.S. imperialist discourse, which makes them more popular,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, an analyst and author of Military Inc.

Many also blame the U.S. for “imposing” a president on the country, Zardari, who is deeply disliked and who last year succeeded an unpopular U.S.-backed military dictator. So democrats resent American interference in Pakistani politics, while conservatives distrust American aims in Afghanistan.

“You used to find this anti-Americanism among supporters of religious groups and Right-wing groups,” said Ahmed Quraishi, a newspaper columnist and the leading anti-American blogger. “But over the past two to three years, young, educated Pakistanis, people you’d normally expect to be pro-American modernists, and middle class people, are increasingly inclined to anti-Americanism. That’s the new phenomenon.”

Federal Government Needs Massive Hiring Binge of 600,000 New Workers, Study Claims

The study estimates that the federal government will need to hire nearly 600,000 people for all positions over President Obama’s four years — increasing the current workforce by nearly one-third.

Federal Government Needs Massive Hiring Binge, Study Finds

Washington Post | Sep 3, 2009

By Steve Vogel

The federal government needs to hire more than 270,000 workers for “mission-critical” jobs over the next three years, a surge prompted in part by the large number of baby-boomer federal workers reaching retirement age, according to the results of a government-wide survey being released Thursday.

The numbers also reflect the Obama administration’s intent to take on several enormous challenges, including the repair of the financial sector, fighting two wars, and addressing climate change.

“It has to win the war for talent in order to win the multiple wars it’s fighting for the American people,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, the think tank that conducted the survey of 35 federal agencies, representing nearly 99 percent of the federal workforce.

Despite its comprehensive scope, the survey is necessarily imprecise about certain questions in looking so far into the future. The number of hires would be affected, for example, by federal workers deciding to delay their retirement, the government continuing to rely on private contractors to handle some of these jobs, and Congress balking at the price tag of adding new workers to the federal payroll.

Nevertheless, the survey makes clear that the majority of new hires will be needed in five broad fields — medical, security, law enforcement, legal and administrative.

Mission-critical jobs are those positions identified by the agencies as being essential for carrying out their services. The study estimates that the federal government will need to hire nearly 600,000 people for all positions over President Obama’s four years — increasing the current workforce by nearly one-third.

The medical and public health area is most in need of hires, according to the study. Stier described the Department of Veterans Affairs as a “dramatic example” of an agency with pressing needs, as a result of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. VA, according to the report, will need more than 48,000 hires over the next three years, including 19,000 nurses and 8,500 physicians.

Intelligence agencies expect to hire 5,500 people in the next year and “in the same order of magnitude” over the following two years, according to Ronald P. Sanders, chief human capital officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Such agencies include the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

“It’s a combination of how much turnover we expect and how much growth we expect in our budget,” Sanders said.

The nation’s unsettled economy and high unemployment rate may ease the government’s task, as workers turn to the federal sector for job security and good benefits. But Stier said many federal agencies will have to fight to attract top talent, particularly in fields in which government cannot compete with private-sector salaries.

“Most are going to see extreme competition with the private sector,” Stier said. This could be especially true in fields such as medical, legal and information technology, he said.

Yet federal hiring remains a cumbersome process for many agencies. “Fixing the hiring process is a key component in making it work,” Stier said.

“Most government agencies have been historically passive, announcing jobs and waiting for people to line up,” said Sanders, who served as associate director for policy for the Office of Personnel and Management before joining the national intelligence office.

But Sanders said Obama’s vow to make government service “cool” and federal efforts to streamline the hiring process should leave the government in good stead to make the hires.

The Department of Homeland Security expects to hire for 65,730 positions by 2012, an increase of more than 48,000 from the previous three-year period.

The Justice Department is expecting 4,000 new positions among law enforcement personnel, correctional officers and attorneys in the 2010 budget, said Mari Barr Santangelo, chief human capital officer for the department.

But, federal officials said, the ultimate accuracy of the hiring projections will depend on whether current employees retire as predicted.

Despite the projected growth in federal jobs, the size of the government would be no larger than at most other times in the country’s post-World War II history, both in relative and absolute terms.

In 1970, for example, the number of civilians on the federal payroll numbered 2,095,100, a figure that represented a little more than 1 percent of the U.S. population. In 2008, the comparable figure was 2,020,200, or 0.66 percent.

However, the figures do not reflect the enormous growth of the government contractor force as the result of privatization efforts pursued by previous administrations.

The Obama administration has signaled in its budget its intention to replace many contractors with government workers, particularly in the field of defense acquisition. This is another reason for the predicted surge in government hiring.

OPM Director John Berry was unavailable to comment on the report, according to a spokesperson.

The survey results are to be posted Thursday at http://www.wherethejobsare.org, according to the partnership.

Staff writers Joe Davidson and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.