Monthly Archives: April 2010

As Russia Reclaims Its Sphere of Influence, the U.S. Doesn’t Object | Apr 22, 2010

By Simon Shuster

Moscow – Five years ago in the former Soviet Union, governments loyal to Moscow were falling roughly every six months. Those were the glory days of the “color revolutions” that brought new leaders to Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in quick succession between 2003 and 2005, all with the backing of the United States. The region’s political center of gravity was tilting sharply toward the West. But now that trend has been reversed. In the past three months, two of those governments have been ousted. Leaders far friendlier to Russia have again taken power in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, displacing the Orange and Tulip revolutions respectively. (Indeed, Kiev just agreed to extend Moscow’s naval lease on the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in exchange for cheaper gas; the previous Ukrainian regime had opposed the move.) The region’s last standing leader of a color revolution (the Rose), Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, is feeling lonelier than ever, and he has a warning for the Obama administration: Don’t give Russia a free hand in the former Soviet bloc.

In an interview with TIME at his glass-domed presidential palace, Saakashvili laid out how he sees the situation: President Barack Obama has been put in an awkward spot by his drive to invigorate ties with the Kremlin, having to deal with the legacy of George W. Bush, who had infuriated Moscow by supporting the color revolutions and building close ties with the governments they brought to power. Now Obama is being urged by the Russians to back away from those relationships. “It’s not just about abandoning your ally Georgia. No, Russia is asking the U.S. to give back the Soviet sphere of influence,” Saakashvili says. (See pictures of the Russia-Georgia war.)

In practical terms, this seems to require three things of the United States and its European allies: do not push for any more ex-Soviet countries to join NATO; do not openly support any opposition movements that seek to oust pro-Russian governments; and more generally, make sure to consult Moscow before going ahead with any big initiatives in Russia’s backyard, especially military ones. Under the Bush administration, all three were ignored, and relations with Russia became nastier than they had been since the Cold War. Obama, on the other hand, has been far more obliging, and his Administration believes Moscow is reciprocating – much to Saakashvili’s chagrin.

Nowhere has this been more clear than in NATO’s changing attitudes. In a statement on April 14, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged NATO countries to integrate Russia into their security strategy instead of seeing Russia as a potential threat. “The United States and Russia now clearly see eye to eye on a range of security issues. And we should use this new momentum to take further steps to enhance our common security,” Rasmussen said. Earlier plans to put Ukraine and Georgia on the fast track to NATO membership have been put aside, and as a result, Russia is helping NATO get its supplies into Afghanistan. The American approach to missile defense in Eastern Europe has also changed. Whereas Bush plowed ahead with his plan despite Moscow’s fierce objections, Obama has invited the Kremlin to take part in a dialogue over the issue. (See pictures of Obama in Russia.)

The Russians are taking notice. “It’s been very encouraging that the U.S. has refused to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic policy in the way it was doing during the Orange Revolution [in 2004]. Americans have also sharply cut their support to Georgia. At least they are not giving one dollar of military assistance, as far as I know, to Saakashvili,” says Sergei Markov, a long-time Kremlin spin doctor and a parliamentary deputy for the United Russia party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Officially, of course, the Obama team insists it has not turned away from U.S. allies for the sake of better ties with Moscow, and Saakashvili says he has “no reason to complain about day-to-day relations.” The U.S. has also continued to criticize Russia for occupying about a fifth of Georgia’s territory after the two countries fought a war in 2008. But that war still marked a turning point for America’s broader strategy. It showed that Russia was willing to use force to defend its interests in the region, while the United States could be dragged into a war if it continued to oppose those interests to the end. Even the Bush administration was not prepared to take that risk. “[Bush’s Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice told me that you must avoid an open military conflict with Russia,” says Nino Burjanadze, former speaker of the Georgian parliament and now a leading opposition figure. “She told me, ‘We respect Georgia, but we will not go to war with Russia over Georgia.'” (See 10 things to do in Moscow.)

That approach probably saved the U.S. from a military catastrophe, and now under Obama, the U.S. has become even less willing to cheer on Russia’s adversaries. It has instead embraced Russia as a partner for global security, and this tactic is paying off. Concrete agreements have already been signed, most notably this month’s treaty to reduce the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals by a third. But it remains to be seen how countries like Georgia will fit into this budding relationship. Right now, it doesn’t appear congenial to the government in Tblisi. As Russia continues to clamor to have Saakashvili removed from office, the United States seems to be keeping him at arms length. At this month’s nuclear non-proliferation conference in Washington, Obama snubbed Saakashvili’s request for their first one-on-one meeting, and instead sat down with the new Kremlin-friendly president of Ukraine, who had agreed at the summit to get rid of his country’s highly enriched uranium.

Sitting in his luxurious office a few days before the Washington summit, Saakashvili was in a dour mood, and seemed a bit nostalgic for the Bush years. He is still the only leader to name a street after George W. Bush, and says there is a lesson to be learned in the way the previous White House tried to “pre-empt” the risk of Russian aggression, “rather than turn a blind eye and hope it goes away.” The threat Russia poses to his government, he says, is still as strong as ever, and the West’s softer tone toward Russia is not going to help. “From my experience of the Russian perspective, every softening of language is perceived as weakness, as an acknowledgment of any strength Russia has locally.” That strength is clearly growing with the arrival of Kremlin-friendly governments in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, and Washington seems fine with that as long as relations with Russia thrive. As for the color revolutions, they look to be fading away.

Arizona governor calls for more border protection

A Customs and Border Patrol agent patrols along the international border in Nogales, Ariz. Thursday, April 22, 2010. Illegal immigration and border security are heating up as issues after the slaying of a border-area rancher and imminent passage of state legislation to crack down on illegal immigration. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Associated Press | Apr 22, 2010

by Paul Davenport And Jonathan J. Cooper

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer again called for more troops along the state’s border with Mexico on Thursday, two days before a deadline for her to approve or strike down the nation’s toughest legislation on illegal immigration.

The Republican governor ordered a reallocation of state National Guard and law enforcement resources and called on the federal government to deploy National Guard troops as hundreds of Hispanics protested the bill at the State Capitol complex.

“The responsibility to ensure that we have an orderly, secure border — not just some imaginary line or a rickety fence — belongs to the federal government, and they have failed,” Brewer said, adding that she has asked five times for President Barack Obama to deploy troops.

Part of the plan requires approval from the federal government, including funding for an additional 250 National Guard troops to support anti-drug measures on the border. Brewer said the price tag is too high for the cash-strapped state to cover.

Brewer’s border security plan follows others released by Arizona politicians over the past two weeks in the wake of the death last month of a rancher on his property in southeastern Arizona. Authorities believe he was killed by an illegal border crosser.

The death came weeks before the state’s GOP-led Legislature passed the sweeping illegal immigration bill that would, among other provisions, require police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally. It also would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to not have alien registration documents and for residents to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.

Brewer declined Thursday evening to say what she’d do with the bill but told a dinner meeting of an Hispanic group that she heard and understood concerns about the bill, which the group’s chairwoman had condemned minutes earlier as “a hateful piece of legislation.”

“I can tell you that what I decide will be based on what’s right for Arizona,” Brewer said.

Members of the audience attending the Chicanos Por La Causa Inc. dinner called out “veto” as Brewer left the hotel ballroom.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon spoke after Brewer, calling for a veto and saying the bill was giving Arizona a black eye.

Earlier, Phoenix high school students ditched class Thursday to demand that she veto the crackdown. Protesters came from as far away as Los Angeles.

“This is not a Latino fight. This a fight against hate,” said Daniel Rodriguez, an Arizona State University graduate from Phoenix, who spoke at the protest.

High school sophomore Citlalli Reyes said she feared police would engage in racial profiling if the bill becomes law.

“They’re trying too hard to get rid of us,” the 16-year-old Phoenix resident said.

Supporters of the law deny it will spur racial profiling. They contend its provisions will help drive illegal immigrants from the state, allowing the taxpayers to save money on services and reducing crime.

Arizona, which has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and is the nation’s busiest border crossing point, has previously passed a variety of get-tough measures dealing with illegal immigration.

New attention was focused on the issues of illegal immigration and border security by the March 27 shooting death of Douglas-area rancher Rob Krentz.

Brewer, who faces a contested Aug. 24 Republican primary, is among numerous officeholders and candidates who have toured the border since Krentz’s death. One of Brewer’s primary election opponents, State Treasurer Dean Martin, called on her to sign the legislation.

“This bill was introduced many months ago, any additional delay is unacceptable. Failure to act exposes Arizona law enforcement officers, citizens, and their property to further harm,” Martin said.

Christian and Jewish clergy called on Brewer to veto the bill, saying its implementation would create distrust between residents and the police.

Day laborers “are not criminals,” said the Rev. Gerald Kicanas, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. “These are human beings who want to provide for their families and contribute to our society.”

Frat inspired by Robert E. Lee bans Rebel uniforms at “Old South” parties

This April 11, 2002 file photo shows members of the Kappa Alpha Order, dressed in Confederate military uniforms, escorting their dates from the James Dormitory at Centenary College during the Old South event in Shreveport, La. amidst protesting Centenary College students. The college fraternity inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has banned members around the country from wearing Confederate uniforms to ‘Old South’ parties and parades after years of complaints that the tradition was racially insensitive.…(AP Photo/The Shreveport Times, Charlie Gesell, File)

Associated Press | Apr 22, 2010

by Jay Reeves

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A college fraternity inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has banned members around the country from wearing Confederate uniforms to “Old South” parties and parades after years of complaints that the tradition was racially insensitive.

The Virginia-based Kappa Alpha Order issued new rules to chapters earlier this year saying members aren’t allowed to wear Rebel uniforms to parties or during their parades, which are a staple on campuses across the South.

The decision, announced in an internal memo posted on the group’s website, followed a flap last year at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where a black sorority complained after a KA parade stopped in front of its house on campus. KA members were dressed in the gray uniforms of Confederate officers, and young women wore hoop skirts.

More than 70 alumnae of the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, sent a petition to Alabama President Robert Witt complaining about the use of Confederate flags and uniforms on campus.

In the memo to chapters, Kappa Alpha’s national executive director, Larry Wiese, said such displays had to end.

“In today’s climate, the Order can ill afford to offend our host institutions and fend off significant negative national press and remain effective at our core mission, which is to aid young men in becoming better community leaders and citizens,” Wiese wrote.

The KA chapter at Alabama has canceled this year’s Old South parade, which was set for this week. Still, a large Confederate national flag covers the front of its house on campus.

Other KA chapters quit donning Confederate uniforms or holding parades with Old South themes in recent years as criticism grew. The University of Georgia chapter canceled its parade in 2006 after complaints by residents of a black neighborhood. Instead, it switched to a Founder’s Day parade, with members riding horses but ditching Confederate gear.

Auburn University’s chapter ended its Old South parade in 1992 after black students confronted white students with Confederate flags.

Kappa Alphas at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., moved their Old South events off campus in 2002 after drawing protests from the Black Student Alliance and others over the Confederate garb.

On Thursday, the University of Alabama said the decision to call off the parade there was made by the fraternity in consultation with school administrators.

Thomas Wilson, KA’s president at Alabama, said the fraternity supports “an inclusive campus environment, and as an organization we chose not to participate in an activity that we knew other members of the community found offensive.”

“The members of the fraternity understand that when traditions hurt others, even unintentionally, it’s time to change them,” said dean of students Tim Hebson.

An alumna of the black sorority that complained about racial insensitivity at last year’s parade said there are ways for the fraternity to acknowledge its Southern heritage beside dressing up like Confederate soldiers.

“The women of Alpha Kappa Alpha and other racially diverse groups on UA’s campus trust that the men of Kappa Alpha will find ways to commemorate their founders in a spirited and significant manner that simultaneously recognizes the progress that we have made in race relations since the founding of Kappa Alpha and the rich diversity and inclusiveness of our progressive and positive campus,” said Joyce Stallworth, now an associate education dean at Alabama.

Kappa Alpha was founded in 1865 at Washington & Lee University — a school partly named for the Confederate general, and the group calls Lee its “spiritual founder.” It has about 130 chapters nationwide.

Fort Hood Cover Up Denied by Secretary Gates | Apr 18, 2010

A ranking US congressman said that he is concerned that President Barack Obama and his administration is being less than forthcoming with details of the Fort Hood Massacre and is withholding requested information.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, claims that the Obama administration may be restricting the dissemination of information and limited information provided so far to the so-called “Gang of Eight.”

Congressman Hoekstra, followed up on multiple conversations with the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, requested that Blair and the heads of the FBI, the NSA and the CIA direct their agencies to preserve all documents and materials relevant to the Fort Hood attack and any related investigations or intelligence collection activities.

However, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Friday disputed claims that the U.S. Defense Department was withholding information from the Committee about the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shootings allegedly perpetrated by Army Major Nidal Hasan, according to a report from Donna Miles of the American Forces Press Service.

“We have no interest in hiding anything,” said Gates.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “Everybody ought to shut up.”

Obama to Congress: Hold off Fort Hood hearings

Supervisors promoted Fort Hood suspect through the ranks despite warnings

“But what [is] most important,” Gates told reporters, “is this prosecution, and we will cooperate with the committee in every way with that single caveat — that whatever we provide does not impact the prosecution. That is the only thing in which we have an interest.”

“Our priority is in ensuring we don’t do anything that would potentially impact the prosecution of Major [Nidal] Hasan,” Gates said, referring to the alleged shooter, who killed 12 soldiers and one civilian during his “personal jihad”.

Gates told the news media that the Defense Department is implementing changes to help prevent another attack like the one at Fort Hood, but he cautioned that such crimes cannot be completely prevented.

“One would be foolish” to say a similar incident could never happen again,” he said. However, he noted that steps are being taken to help reduce the likelihood.

“Clearly one element of that is better sharing and information from post to post and commander to commander,” he said.

Gates this week directed the Defense Department to implement 26 interim recommendations of an independent panel he appointed to look into events surrounding the shooting. Hasan, an Army officer, has been charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

The panel detailed 79 recommendations to improve force protection and tighten gaps in personnel policies, emergency response, mass casualty preparedness and support to Defense Department health care providers.

The secretary approved the 26 recommendations in their entirety while work continues on the other 53 recommendations. The panel’s full report is expected to be released in June, 2010.

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a columnist for The Examiner ( and New Media Alliance ( In addition, he’s a blogger for the Cheyenne, Wyoming Fox News Radio affiliate KGAB ( Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty.

He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He’s also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He’s a news writer and columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he’s syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. Kouri appears regularly as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Fox News Channel, Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, etc.

U.S. gun owners pack heat in public to protest Obama’s ‘Marxist’ agenda

Demonstrators carrying their weapons rally at Gravelly Point in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., citing second amendment issues as their cause for protest. Photograph by: Olivier Douliery, Abaca Press/MCT

Canwest News | Apr 19, 2010

By Sheldon Alberts

ARLINGTON, Va. — This time, they came armed.

They came with loaded combat pistols strapped to their belts, assault rifles slung over their shoulders and extra 12-bullet clips in their pockets, just in case.

They came carrying signs proclaiming that “Freedom Never Fails, but socialism does.” And they came with fiery rhetoric that likened the U.S. government to the 9/11 hijackers and President Barack Obama to Karl Marx.

In a brash display of their opposition to Congress and the Obama administration, about 75 weapons-bearing demonstrators gathered in the shadow of America’s most iconic monuments to freedom Monday to protest a government they claim is trampling their liberty.

Technically a rally to “Restore the Constitution,” the event served as a controversial showcase for members of America’s civilian militias, gun rights activists and other anti-government groups whose prominence has grown since the 2008 presidential election.

“Obama was mentored by Marxist. He is a Marxist and he is going to lead this country down the Marxist collapse agenda and roadmap of Europe,” said 41-year-old Geoffrey Bean, who travelled from Sacramento, Calif., for the rally.

“Never in history have Marxists understood anything but the barrel of a gun. Ever. And so we brought the barrels of our guns to show them that they are not going to take away our constitutional rights without a fight.”

Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, said American citizens established the federal government and “we can un-establish it, too.”

The protest marked the first-ever “open carry rally” held in a U.S. national park. The gun rights activists gathered at Gravelly Point, which sits astride the Potomac River within view of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the U.S. Capitol.

Ironically, they were allowed to carry their weapons openly because of legislation signed recently by Obama that legalizes the carrying of loaded guns in national parks.

“To tell you the honest truth, him signing a law saying that I can stand here (with a loaded gun) doesn’t mean anything to me,” said Daniel Howley, 53. “The constitution says I can stand here.”

The decision to hold the armed anti-government rally on April 19 was deliberate and — for some — incendiary.

It was on April 19, 1775, that American soldiers exchanged fire with the British at Lexington and Concord, Mass., beginning the War of Independence.

But critics of the rally noted the protest also fell on the anniversary of a more shameful event — 15 years after Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government Army veteran, detonated a truck bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

At past rallies against the Obama administration across the U.S., gun rights activists have carried signs saying “We the People came unarmed . . . this time.”

It is slogans like that — and armed events like the one on Monday — which worry critics, who say anti-government activists are inciting violence.

“This is a great country, full of great people who do not espouse violence. But these people here today do,” said Martina Leinz, a Virginia resident who protested the armed protesters on Monday.

Laura Austin, another counter-protester, carried a sign that said “They are Terrorists, Not Patriots” and “Timothy McVeigh Was Not a Hero.”

The charges of extremism and comparisons to McVeigh angered several of the armed demonstrators, who said the Oklahoma City bombing did not inspire their rally.

“They want to make us non-patriotic. I don’t care what the hell Tim McVeigh did,” said Walter Seidel of Ruidoso, New Mexico. “Anyone who understands our history — the ‘shot heard around the world’ was fired this day 235 years ago.”

Timothy Whittamore, 44, drove from Independence, Ky., so he could wear his 9 millimetre pistol at the rally.

“Rosa Parks stood up on a bus one day and made a statement that changed the world,” said Whittamore, likening himself and other protesters to the late civil rights activist. “When she stood up on that bus, it’s the same thing we are doing here today.”

Many of the anti-government protesters said they most fear Obama and Congress would restrict their Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

But several armed protesters expressed an overriding worry that other recent events — from passage of health care legislation to the bailout of Wall Street — are placing the United States on the cusp of becoming a totalitarian state.

“The enemies to the constitution are not over in Iraq. The enemies to the constitution are not in Afghanistan. The enemies of the constitution are across this river,” said Tom Fernandez, 32, founder of Alarm and Muster, a communications network established to reach people in case of constitutional emergencies.

“If you trample under your feet the freedoms of this country just as quick as you drink a glass of water, I am not your friend. I am not your friend.”

Eric Stinnett, a 39-year-old engineer from Alabama, called the U.S. government an “unjust authority” and likened today’s lawmakers in Washington to the Sept. 11 terrorists: “Does our government not act like suicidal hijackers?”

‘Heavy-handed’ government fuels extremism, lawmaker says

Rep. Charles Key believes federal agents knew that a bomb plot existed for the Murrah building.

CNN | Apr 19, 2010

By Kate Bolduan and Andy Segal

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (CNN) — Oklahoma state Rep. Charles Key never bought the official version of what happened 15 years ago Monday at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Even though authorities prosecuted a small group of extremists, whose homemade bomb killed 168 people, Key claimed that there was a government conspiracy to hide the truth. He said at a 1998 news conference, “It’s obvious that there’s more to this case than what some in the government want you to know.”

Today, his distrust of the federal government is as deep as ever.

Key stands for many of the issues that attract Tea Party protesters to a rally on the Capitol steps: less government, lower taxes and more liberty.

“I was talking about these issues before the Tea Party movement came into existence,” he said.

Using the rhetoric of colonial revolutionaries defying the British monarch, Key says today’s federal government is “dictatorial,” on its way to becoming “more of a tyranny.”

Key’s outspoken views once cost him his job.

A retired IRS agent, John Nance, had worked in the Murrah building, knew many of the victims and was outraged over Key’s claim that federal agents knew of the bomb plot and did not stop it.

“I couldn’t believe that at all,” Nance said. “Having served with these people, I know there’s no way somebody would have covered it up.”

Nance beat Key in the 1998 GOP primary and went on to serve four consecutive terms in the state legislature before stepping down. By then, the raw memories of domestic terrorism on April 19, 1995, had been eclipsed by foreign terrorists on September 11, 2001.

The time was right for Key to make a comeback.

“When I ran in 2006, the Oklahoma City bombing was not on the radar screen,” he said. “I have moved past it.”

Key’s former political nemesis also supports many of today’s Tea Party positions.

“I believe the American people are fed up with the system and the robbery of our personal rights and privileges,” Nance said.

But he worries that a legitimate political debate will have an unintended consequence.

“My concerns are that there are going to be some radicals who are going to think it’s OK to do things that are illegal, like killing people,” Nance said, “because they think it’s going to be approved by the Tea Party movement or other people who are upset with the government.”

It’s just the opposite, Key said. “If [the Tea Party movement] does anything, it’s an avenue that people need to have so they can express themselves to the government” without violence.

Key warns that if there’s another domestic terrorist attack like the one on the Murrah Federal Building, it will be the fault of the federal government.

“History tells us that it’s government becoming too heavy-handed, going out of its proper role, is what fuels extremism,” Key said. “People get their buttons pushed, to put it one way. They get their buttons pushed, and some people will take violent actions.”

Key’s current agenda is inspired by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits federal authority over the 50 states and over individual citizens.

He legislative proposals include House Bill 2817, which would fund roads and bridges, not by taxing Oklahomans or selling bonds but by having state-chartered banks create their own money.

Another proposal, HB 2810, the State Sovereignty Act, would have Oklahoma withhold federal excise taxes from Washington if the state legislature determines that the U.S. government has violated the Constitution.

“I understand that this legislation is different than your typical legislation,” Key said.

An editorial in The Oklahoman called the bills “a waste of time” and sympathized with residents of House District 90 “if they’re having second thoughts” about re-electing Key.

Is Key once again out of step with his constituents? He says no. “I was elected to look out for their rights. That includes life, liberty and property.”

But time is running out for Key. Assuming he is re-elected in 2010, he will become the victim of a populist anti-government movement from the 1990s: term limits.

Under Oklahoma law, legislators are limited to 12 years.

Even those who rail against the government.

High-tech speed cameras using satellites to track motorists secretly tested in Britain

High-tech speed cameras which use satellites to track motorists on secret trial in Britain

Daily Mail | Apr 19, 2010

By Luke Salkeld

One of the new SpeedSpike speed cameras which has been installed on the A374 in Cornwall

Speed cameras which communicate with each other by satellite are being secretly tested on British roads.

The hi-tech devices can follow drivers’ progress for miles to calculate whether they have broken speed limits.

Combining number plate recognition technology with global positioning satellites, they can be set up in a network to monitor tens of thousands of cars over huge areas for the smallest breach.

Known as SpeedSpike, the system uses similar methods of recognition as the cameras which enforce the congestion charge in London, and allow two cameras to ‘talk’ to each other if a vehicle appears to have travelled too far in too short a space of time.

After a covert national trial which has not been publicised until now, just days after a report showed motorists have been fined almost £1billion in speeding tickets under Labour, authorities hope the new cameras will enable them to re-create the system used on motorway contraflows.


London 2012: one big party or one big prison?

The Home Office is currently testing them at two sites – one in Southwark in London and another on the A374 between Antony and Torpoint in Cornwall.

Details of the secret trials emerged in a House of Commons report and immediately attracted criticism.

Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox, whose Devon constituency is close to the Cornish test site, said fundamental questions had to be addressed before such an ‘alarming’ level of surveillance was extended.

He said: ‘You always have to ask if it is really necessary to watch over people, to spy on them and film them.

‘We will get to a point where it becomes routine and it should never be a matter of routine that the state spies on its citizens.’

SpeedSpike uses automatic number plate recognition technology, which in 2008 took photos of 64 million of motorists in Britain – ten times more than the previous year.

The new cameras have been developed by PIPS Technology Ltd, an American-owned business with a base in Hampshire.

In the company’s evidence to the House of Commons Transport Committee, it boasted of ‘number plate capture in all weather conditions, 24 hours a day’ as well as pointing out the system’s low cost and ease of installation.

The company believes the cameras can be used for ‘main road enforcement for congestion reduction and speed enforcement’, can help to ‘eliminate rat-runs’ and cut speeds outside schools.

It said: ‘We have an urban test site at Salter Road in Southwark and are working in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police.

‘We also have an inter urban test site located on the A374 from Torpoint to Antony at which we are working with the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.’

The trial is being carried out in conjunction with the police and the Devon and Cornwall Safety Camera Partnership.

Superintendent Tim Swarbrick, chairman of the partnership and head of roads policing, said it was being tested ‘on a live road system to assess how effective and accurate it is’.

He added: ‘Average speed recorders have proved to be very successful in roadworks on the major trunk roads. They have reduced injury and deaths and we would like to replicate this positive effect on more rural roads.

‘To this end we are assisting the Home Office in piloting a new version of this equipment to gauge both its accuracy and operational effectiveness.

‘The equipment is not being used for enforcement purposes, as it is not Home Office approved at this stage.’

The Home Office said it was unable to comment on the trials because of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

Last week a report showed that motorists have been hit with speeding tickets worth almost £1billion under Labour.

But receipts have fallen since police were stopped from keeping part of the money raised from speed cameras.

It suggested that the explosion in the number of cameras was used as a ‘cash cow’ and that forces no longer have an incentive to install them.

Drivers were clobbered with 1.23million tickets in 2008, of which 1.03million were issued by speed cameras, the Home Office report revealed.

The tickets raised more than £73million for the Treasury that year, or £200,000 a day.

In total, 16million tickets have been issued since 1997, raising £913million.

Survey: Nearly 80% of Americans don’t trust the government

Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Reuters | Apr 19, 2010

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they do not trust the U.S. government to do what is right, expressing the highest level of distrust in Washington in half a century, according to a public opinion survey.

Only 22 percent of Americans say they trust the government “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to the Pew Research Center survey released on Sunday.

Americans’ trust in the federal government has been on a steady decline from a high of 73 percent during the Eisenhower administration in 1958, when the “trust” question was first posed in a national survey, the research center said.

Economic uncertainty, a highly partisan environment and overwhelming discontent with Congress and elected officials were all factors contributing to the current wave of public distrust, the report said.


Pew Study: Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor

The long, bitter debate over the healthcare law that U.S. President Barack Obama signed last month made negative feeling about government, particularly Congress, even worse, according to the report based on a series of surveys of some 5,000 people.

About 25 percent had a favorable opinion of Congress, the lowest in 25 years of surveying, and less than half (40%) said the Obama administration was doing an excellent or good job, Pew said.

Americans were found to be more frustrated than angry, with 56 percent expressing frustration with the federal government, compared with 21 percent who said they were angry.

Forty-three percent of Republicans, 50 percent of independents who lean Republican and 57 percent of those who agree with the Tea Party movement said the government presents a major threat to their personal freedom.

That compares with 18 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of independents who lean Democratic and 9 percent of those who disagree with the Tea Party movement.

The main survey of 2,505 adults was conducted March 11-21. Three other surveys of about 1,000 adults each were conducted March 18-21, April 1-5 and April 8-11. The margin of sampling error for the surveys is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

UN: Pakistan used terrorists as a tool in Kashmir

Pak used terrorists as a tool in Kashmir: UN

Indian Express | Apr 16, 2010

Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ISI continues to have close links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and has used the terror group’s services to foment anti-India passion in Kashmir and elsewhere, a UN report said today.

“The Pakistani military organised and supported the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan in 1996. Similar tactics were used in Kashmir against India after 1989,” said the much-awaited report by UN-appointed independent panel to probe the killing of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto.

The three-member panel concluded that such a policy of the Pakistan military to use terrorists as a tool to achieve its strategic objectives against its neighbours resulted in active linkages between elements of the military and the Establishment with radical Islamists at the expense of national secular forces.

Noting that the jihadi organisations are Sunni groups based largely in Pakistan’s Punjab, the 65-page report said that members of these groups aided the Taliban effort in Afghanistan at the behest of the ISI and later cultivated ties with Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban groups.

“The Pakistani military and ISI also used and supported some of these groups in the Kashmir insurgency after 1989. The bulk of the anti-Indian activity was and still remains the work of groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has close ties with the ISI,” said the panel headed by Chile’s UN ambassador Heraldo Munoz.

“A common characteristic of these jihadi groups was their adherence to the Deobandi Sunni sect of Islam, their strong anti-Shia bias, and their use by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir,” the report said.

It said that while several Pakistani current and former intelligence officials told the Commission that their agencies no longer had such ties in 2007, but virtually all independent analysts provided information to the contrary and affirmed the ongoing nature of many such links.

The report said Qari Saifullah Akhtar, one of the founders of the extremist Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI), was reportedly one of the ISI’s main links to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is believed to had cultivated ties to Osama bin Laden, who lived in Afghanistan during that period.

“Akhtar’s one-time deputy Ilyas Kashmiri, who had ties with the Pakistani military during the Afghan and Kashmir campaigns, had been a senior aide to bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al Zawahiri,” it said.

“It was such links and connections between elements in the intelligence agencies and militants, which most concerned Bhutto and many others who believed that the authorities could activate these connections to harm her. Given their clandestine nature, any such connection in an attack on her is very difficult to detect or prove,” the report said.

Bhutto report outlines unchecked power of elite Pakistani military officers and ISI intelligence agents

The report stated in black and white what Pakistanis sometimes have to whisper: that a nexus of elites, known as the establishment, whose core is formed by top military and intelligence officers but also includes politicians and bureaucrats, has busied itself with everything from rigging elections to making deals with militants.

U.N.’s Bhutto Report Says What Pakistanis Already Know About Spy Agency and Army

NY Times | April 16, 2010


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The long-awaited United Nations report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto did not answer the central question of who killed her, but did put its finger directly on what remains the most troubling part of Pakistan’s reality, the dominance of its military and intelligence services over civilian leaders.

A presidential spokesman said Friday that the report — 65 pages that made repeated references to the unchecked power of the military and its intelligence wing, known by the initials ISI — would reinvigorate the government’s own investigation that began last year. But in many ways it served to underscore the government’s inability to push it forward nearly three years after Ms. Bhutto’s death, even though her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is now president.

The report stated in black and white what Pakistanis sometimes have to whisper: that a nexus of elites, known as the establishment, whose core is formed by top military and intelligence officers but also includes politicians and bureaucrats, has busied itself with everything from rigging elections to making deals with militants. Ms. Bhutto’s father, a flawed but charismatic leader, is broadly believed to have been executed because he was too threatening to its interests.

Some in Pakistan expressed delight at the findings, saying the exposure would force an uncomfortable conversation in Pakistan, where a rambunctious, young media broadcasts around the clock.

“This is going to upset the establishment,” said Kamran Shafi, a columnist for Dawn, a daily newspaper. “I hope very much it reacts in not a very good way. It needs to be exposed.”

Others disagreed, saying it would have little effect. The coverage on Friday was more notable for what it left out than for what it said, said Khaled Ahmed, an author and columnist for the Friday Times, a weekly newspaper. There were few references to the most scathing part of the report about the military’s role.

“The report is quite damning, but the way it’s presented on TV is inconclusive,” Mr. Ahmed said. “We don’t know who did it. That’s the kind of impression that will be created here.” He added: “Very clearly there’s a reluctance to point to the army. This is what everybody has ignored.”

The reason, he said, is part psychology and part national identity. Pakistan’s army has long represented the central and most crucial part of this country’s idea of itself, a symbol of protection against Pakistan’s mortal foe, India. That narrative is taught in textbooks and reinforced in society, and going against it is like attacking yourself. “The army has a geopolitical mind that is unchanging, and that’s what people love,” Mr. Ahmed said.

Pakistan is not the only country like this. In Turkey, the military exerted extensive control over civilian affairs for decades, deposing elected governments, working behind the scenes to foment unrest, and even executing a civilian prime minister.

But in Pakistan the influence is more overt, and the report points it out in painstaking detail in the example of the police investigation of Ms. Bhutto’s killing. The intelligence agency was portrayed as having been the invisible hand guiding the police.

The small bit of police work the report commended — a team of investigators’ searching through sewers after the assassination site had been prematurely hosed down — stopped abruptly when a senior officer, Gen. Abdul Majeed, took over and began to base the inquiry on information he had received from the intelligence agency.

The agency has no jurisdiction in the criminal justice system, and civilian police officers often complain that intelligence officials destroy their efforts to build a case simply by plucking suspects out of their custody into a black zone. The report said that members of the investigation team it spoke with “all but admitted that virtually all of their most important information” came from the intelligence agency.

The attack’s aftermath was a series of stunning failures. Ms. Bhutto’s chase vehicle, a bulletproof Mercedes, drove off, leaving her alone without backup or any police protection. Her car, whose tires were flat from the blast, stalled en route to the hospital, leaving her stranded by the side of the road, a development the report found “extraordinary.” A private vehicle that belonged to an acquaintance later arrived.

It cataloged inconsistencies. The government of Pervez Musharraf, the president at the time, announced at a national news conference that she had died from hitting her head on the lever of her car’s escape hatch. But one police team that the report’s investigators trusted found no blood or tissue on the handle. Police team members reported seeing people cleaning the vehicle, even though investigations were still going on.

Then there was outright prevarication. Scotland Yard investigators, who also conducted an investigation at the time, based much of their findings on information from the police, the report said. But the report said that the United Nations commission found “the accounts the Rawalpindi police provided to Scotland Yard to be largely untrue.”