Daily Archives: March 12, 2011

Soros: Chinese Communist Police State Could Become “The Envy Of The World”

“Perfect order and global governance are not realistic expectations. However, it is a sad fact that Western democracies provide less successful leadership than China.”

‘World Does Need Order,’ Soros Says

dealbook.nytimes.com | Mar 9, 2011

By CHRIS V. NICHOLSON

The last time George Soros gave a talk at the Traveller’s Club in Paris, it was just days after Lehman Brothers had collapsed into bankruptcy.

“It was one of the most tense days of my life,” Mr. Soros said on Wednesday while at the club for a talk on global financial regulation sponsored by the French-American Foundation. “The market was on the verge of collapsing. It was touch and go.”

Mr. Soros said he drew several lessons from those turbulent months.

“The world does need order,” he said, “and that order needs maintenance. The idea that markets can correct their excesses turned out to be false.”

He continued: “Perfect order and global governance are not realistic expectations. However, it is a sad fact that Western democracies provide less successful leadership than China.”

Mr. Soros warned that China’s model of state capitalism, in which the interests of the individual are subordinated to those of the government, posed a danger if its example became “the envy of the world.”

Worries about China aside, when Mr. Soros came to Paris this time he was noticeably at ease.

Soros: China Must Be Part Of The New World Order and Needs to “own it”

“I’m more relaxed, now that I’m retired,” he said. Mr. Soros stepped down from daily management of his funds in 2000, re-emerging briefly in 2008 to steer them through the financial crisis.

For a man of Mr. Soros’s varied interests, his so-called retirement doesn’t mean rest.

On his present grand tour, he is busy urging the European Union to clean up its financial house. And he is promoting a research group he co-founded, the European Council on Foreign Relations, which advocates a more coordinated foreign policy for the European Union.

“The authors of the euro knew that it was an incomplete construction,” he said. “They could be confident that when deficiencies became apparent, the political will would be there to overcome them. Now, political will is difficult to summon.”

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Soros: The Chinese Model Of Suppressing Individuals Could Become The Envy Of The World

Mr. Soros described an explosive situation in Europe, where a two-speed economy could increase tensions and xenophobia.

Germany and the Scandinavian countries are moving ahead even as fellow members of the euro zone, including Greece and Ireland, slip further behind, crushed by debt and crippled by budget cuts.

That divided Europe, he said, is due to policies “dictated by creditors like Germany.” These creditors have made every effort to avert bank failures and postpone financial restructuring, he said, because they fear a domino effect throughout Europe.

“They are pushing out restructuring for fear of another Lehman,” Mr. Soros said, “by insisting that outstanding debt is sacrosanct.”

Bad private sector debt — for example, that held by Irish banks — was guaranteed by Dublin in 2008 and became a sovereign debt problem. In other words, the Irish taxpayer has been asked to pay bondholders who bet on reckless financial institutions.

“The bondholders are protected because the authorities are worried that the banks can’t take the loss,” Mr. Soros said, but he noted it was “unfair that the taxpayer should be absorbing those losses.”

Instead, he said, Europe should reorganize its rescue mechanism to supervise and protect the banking system across borders. “It should be available also to guarantee banks that become insolvent,” he said.

European leaders are negotiating this month over a euro zone pact that could touch everything from corporate taxes to the legal retirement age. Concessions from debtor nations may be needed if Germany is to back a larger European rescue fund.

Mr. Soros criticized the constraints of the agreement, the details of which are still emerging, but he acknowledged that Germany had its own domestic political situation to consider.

“This is what the German authorities have found possible, and they have found very strong political resistance even to this arrangement,” he said. “I’m very worried about it. It’s going to get worse as time goes on.”

He warned of a lost decade, like that experienced in Latin America after its debt debacle in the early 1980s.

The budgetary crisis unfurling in the United States on a state and municipal level has parallels to the European situation, Mr. Soros said, but is worse in some ways.

“It is exaggerated by political infighting, because the Republicans are engaged in a maneuver of starving the beast for political purposes,” he said, explaining that the G.O.P. was trying to shrink the government by blocking tax hikes, while attacking public employee unions, a major source of funding for the Democrats.

Mr. Soros was also asked about Carl C. Icahn, who sent a letter on Tuesday informing investors that his funds would return all outside capital.

“Given the rapid market run-up over the past two years and our ongoing concerns about economic outlook, and recent political tensions in the Middle East, I do not wish to be responsible to limited partners through another possible market crisis,” Mr. Icahn wrote.

Asked whether he thought Mr. Icahn was right to think that the current market environment posed threats for hedge funds, Mr. Soros said simply: “Carl Icahn has his own problems.”

Mr. Icahn’s former right-hand man, Keith Meister, was reported in December to be planning his own event-driven fund, seeded with $250 million from Soros Funds. The new firm is called Corvex Capital, and it also has attracted Mr. Icahn’s former chief operating officer, Rupal Doshi, Hedge Fund Alert has reported.

Warlock allowed to break curfew for full moon

A male witch who worshipped nature was put under an overnight curfew for carrying a knife he claimed was for religious purposes but will be allowed out when there’s a full moon.

telegraph.co.uk | Mar 10, 2011

Cerwyn Jones, 52, of Llangollen, North Wales, told police that he supported witchcraft as a religion and was a warlock of the Wicca faith when arrested at a Bala pub on February 4.

Julie Hughes, prosecuting at Dolgellau magistrates court, said police had been informed that Jones had the knife in his possession.

He had been visiting his ex-wife in Bala and there were fears that he would use the knife to self harm or injure others, she said.

Police found Jones having a soft drink at the Ship public house at Bala. He was told that he was to be searched and the knife was found in a sheath in an inside pocket.

The defendant co-operated with the police and told them that the knife was only used in religious ceremonies in connection with witchcraft, said the prosecutor.

Jones pleaded guilty to possessing the knife with a five-inch blade in public.

Ian Barnes, defending, said as part of his religion as a warlock and a Wicca supporter, the knife was used in religious ceremonies and was part of a ritual. He urged the court not to confiscate the knife that had goddesses on the handle.

Court chairman Caerwyn Roberts imposed a 7pm-7am curfew for four months and he has to pay £85 costs.

You had a knife in your possession in a public place. Not making a forfeiture order would send out the wrong message and we do order that the knife be forfeited, said the court chairman.

But the court agreed to a request to suspend the curfew order on four days when there was a full moon.

Teen could face two-years in prison for killing hamster

Teen in U.S. charged in death of family hamster

Reuters | Mar 10, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – A U.S. teenager has been charged with a felony, and could face a two-year prison sentence if convicted, for killing her family’s pet hamster, authorities said.

Monique Smith, 19, of Brooklyn was arguing with a family member in June when she reached for the hamster, choked it and threw it outside the house, police said on Wednesday.

She was arrested following an investigation after Smith’s father contacted the America Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, according to the society’s assistant director Joe Pentangelo.

Smith is charged with one felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals.

“Sadly, very often, pets find themselves in the middle of these situations,” said Pentangelo. “A family will have a disagreement and unfortunately the animal is the recipient of misdirected or redirected rage.”

The hamster died from blunt force trauma, liver damage and a brain hemorrhage, he said.

Homeland Security Considering Portable, Instant DNA Scanners


A portion of the genome map — the information stored in an organism’s DNA — of maize, carefully decoded by scientists. A new handheld DNA scanner may be able to analyze human DNA in under an hour — but how will it be used? Science/AAAS

FoxNews.com | Mar 4, 2011

By Mickey McCarter

A portable, breadbox-sized scanner could map out your body’s DNA in less than an hour — and the Feds want it added to the agency’s tool bag.

The device is being studied in the research-and-development wing of the Department of Homeland Security, which provided a special small-business contract to Network Biosystems (or NetBio) to build it. The agency will use the scanner at first on asylum seekers and refugees — but civil liberties guardians warned that the device has explosive potential for misuse.

Sources at DHS assure FoxNews.com that evaluation of the DNA-screening technology will occur only after the department sets privacy and civil liberties safeguards — a vitally important step to protect such highly personal information, insisted John Verdi, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“If it were used for routine criminal investigations, it would raise the specter of a national DNA database,” Verdi told FoxNews.com. “There are a lot of legal and constitutional hurdles that would have to be overcome for it to be lawfully used.”

For example, DHS must take care to dispose of the information it gleans from a DNA scanning search once that information has fulfilled its purpose, Verdi said.

And that’s a white-hot issue in the public’s mind, given the outcry over the advanced X-ray devices deployed by the Transportation Security Administration last November. Air travelers shouting “don’t touch my junk” probably wouldn’t be thrilled with a DHS agency scanning their DNA instead.

Indeed, the TSA felt compelled to make a preemptive statement after word of the device emerged. Curtis Burns stressed on the company’s blog that the scanner is for use by a TSA sister agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which plans to use it to test for family relationships for foreigners applying for asylum or refugee status.

“TSA is not testing and has no plans to use any technology capable of testing DNA,” Burns wrote.

Use in asylum cases is one thing. The true risk of the device lies in its sheer convenience, especially if the size and speed of the DNA scanner make state and local law enforcement agencies seek its use on a routine basis for everyday criminal cases, Verdi warned.

We’ll find out shortly.

DHS spokesman Chris Ortman told FoxNews.com the agency expects to test a prototype of the rapid DNA screener this summer.

“The DHS Science and Technology Directorate expects to receive a prototype DNA analyzer device this summer to conduct a preliminary evaluation of whether this kind of technology could be considered for future use,” Ortman told FoxNews.com. He was quick to caution that there are no clear plans for the device’s usage.

“At this time, there are no DHS customers, nor is there a timeline for deployment, for this kind of technology — this is simply a preliminary test of how the technology performs,” Ortman said.

In award notices and its fiscal 2012 budget documents, DHS revealed that $100,000 was awarded to NetBio for development of the device, which analyzes DNA through a process known as short tandem repeat (STR).

“By creating an STR assay system that allows more accurate determination of kinship, DHS responsibilities such as granting asylum, processing applications for relatives to come to the U.S., and deterring child trafficking and illegal adoptions can be enhanced significantly,” DHS said in a description of the contract on its website.

Current technology enables determinations of relationships between parents and children or among siblings, but it does not effectively prove distant relationships, according to the department.

To guard against misuse, DHS should meet the federal requirements for the protection of personally identifiable information stipulated by the Privacy Act of 1974, which imposes requirements and obligations upon agencies to protect the privacy of individuals, Verdi said.

“Those requirements and obligations have to be observed. The department would be well advised to vet this technology through its privacy committees and its internal privacy apparatus,” Verdi stated, “but in addition, there needs to be independent oversight of a program like this. There needs to be oversight by lawmakers and oversight by citizens who are experts in these areas of technology, health records, and security to ensure the agency is not collecting data, retaining data, or sharing data contrary to law and regulation.”

Officials at NetBio declined to comment for this story, telling FoxNews.com only that “NetBio’s technology is still at a very early stage (too early to discuss).”

“When NetBio’s products are nearing commercialization, the Company will be pleased to make senior executives available to discuss the technology with you (if you still have interest in the future),” the company added.

It seems commercialization of the product may arrive sooner than NetBio thinks.

TSA to retest airport body scanners for radiation dangers

USA TODAY | Mar 11, 2011

By Alison Young and Blake Morrison

The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner that emits ionizing radiation — 247 machines at 38 airports — after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.

The TSA says that the records reflect math mistakes and that all the machines are safe. Indeed, even the highest readings listed on some of the records — the numbers that the TSA says were mistakes — appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation.

Even so, the TSA has ordered the new tests out of “an abundance of caution to reassure the public,” spokesman Nicholas Kimball says. The tests will be finished by the end of the month, and the results will be released “as they are completed,” the agency said on its website.

TSA officials have repeatedly assured the public and lawmakers that the machines have passed all inspections. The agency’s review of maintenance reports, launched Dec. 10, came only after USA TODAY and lawmakers called for the release of the records late last year.

The agency posted reports Friday from 127 X-ray-emitting devices on its website and said it would continue to release results from maintenance tests for the approximately 4,500 X-ray devices at airports nationwide. Those devices include machines that examine checked luggage. Of the reports posted, about a third showed some sort of error, Kimball said.

The TSA announced steps to require its maintenance contractors to “retrain personnel involved in conducting and overseeing the radiation survey process.”

Some lawmakers remain concerned, however.

The TSA “has repeatedly assured me that the machines that emit radiation do not pose a health risk,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a written statement Friday. “Nonetheless, if TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by the TSA to reassure the public?”

She said the records released Friday “included gross errors about radiation emissions. That is completely unacceptable when it comes to monitoring radiation.”

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also was troubled by the information posted by the TSA. Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairs a House oversight subcommittee on national security and has sponsored legislation to limit the use of full-body scans. He has been pushing the TSA to release the maintenance records.

At best, Chaffetz said, the radiation reports generated by TSA contractors reveal haphazard oversight and record-keeping in the critical inspection system the agency relies upon to ensure millions of travelers aren’t subjected to excessive doses of radiation.

“It is totally unacceptable to be bumbling such critical tasks,” Chaffetz said. “These people are supposed to be protecting us against terrorists.”

In the past, the TSA has failed to properly monitor and ensure the safety of X-ray devices used on luggage. A 2008 report by the worker safety arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the TSA and its maintenance contractors had failed to detect when baggage X-ray machines emitted radiation beyond what regulations allowed. They also failed to take action when some machines had missing or disabled safety features, the report shows.

Chaffetz said the TSA’s characterization of the maintenance mistakes “sounds like an excuse rather than the real facts.”

“I’m tired of excuses,” Chaffetz said. “The public has a right and deserves to know. It begs the question, ‘What are they still not sharing with us?’ These are things you cannot make mistakes with.” Chaffetz said he expects to address some of his concerns during a hearing Wednesday.

The full-body scanners, called backscatter devices, are supposed to deliver only a tiny amount of radiation — about as much as an airplane passenger gets during two minutes of a typical flight.

Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University, said Friday he wanted to scrutinize the 2,000 pages of reports the TSA posted. He has expressed concerns about the potential for the scanners to break and the importance of proper maintenance and monitoring.

“Mechanical things break down,” Rez told USA TODAY in December. Rez also has voiced fears about the potential for a passenger to get an excessive dose of radiation or even a radiation burn if the X-ray scanning beam were to malfunction and stop on one part of a person’s body for an extended period of time.

He said Friday that the contractor mistakes TSA identified only heighten his concerns.

“What happens in times of failure, when they can give very, very high radiation doses. I’m totally unconvinced they have thought that through,” Rez said of the TSA. “I just see a large, bumbling bureaucracy. Of course it’s not very reassuring.”

The TSA’s Kimball disputed such characterizations.

“Numerous independent tests have confirmed that these technologies are safe, but these record-keeping errors are not acceptable,” he said. For instance, “the testing procedure calls for the technician to take 10 separate scans” for radiation levels, “add them up and then divide by 10 to take an average. They didn’t divide by 10,” Kimball said.

“We’re taking a number of steps to ensure the mistakes aren’t repeated,” he said, “and the public will be able to see for themselves by reviewing all future reports online.”

The TSA is responsible for the safety of its own X-ray devices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it does not routinely inspect airport X-ray machines because they are not considered medical devices. The TSA’s airport scanners are exempt from state radiation inspections because they belong to a federal agency.

Some of the records were written by employees of the machines’ maker: Rapiscan Systems. In a written statement, the company’s executive vice president, Peter Kant, said, “The mistakes were the result of calculating and procedural errors that were identified by Rapiscan management and have been corrected. In actuality, the systems in these airports have always been well below acceptable exposure limits.”

Rapiscan Systems said in a Dec. 15 letter to the TSA that company engineers who tested the backscatter machines were confused by inspection forms and instructions, leading them to make mistakes on the forms that vastly inflated the radiation emitted by the machines.

Rapiscan vowed to redesign its inspection forms and retrain its engineers.

The TSA released inspection reports from 40 backscatter machines, and reports for 19 of those machines had errors, including six that were deemed “considerable.”

In a written statement sent to USA TODAY, TSA Administrator John Pistole said the equipment is safe.

“Independent third-party testing has confirmed that all TSA technology is safe,” Pistole said. “We are also taking additional steps to build on existing safety measures in an open and transparent way, including commissioning an additional independent entity to evaluate these protocols.”

Group says body scanners an ‘unreasonable search’

Associated Press | Mar 10, 2011

By NEDRA PICKLER

WASHINGTON — A privacy rights advocacy group told appellate judges Thursday that the use of full-body scanners as a first line of defense at airport security checkpoints is an “unreasonable search” in violation of passengers’ civil rights.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center wants to stop the Transportation Security Administration from using the scan that shows a naked image of a passenger’s body as a primary means of screening. EPIC says the policy is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and laws protecting privacy and religious freedom and is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to require the agency to make a new rule with input from the public before it goes into effect.

The government responds that it has privacy safeguards in place, such as measures to protect travelers’ identity from agents viewing the images, which it says make the searches reasonable and “minimally invasive.”

Government attorney Beth Brinkmann told the three-judge panel hearing the first oral arguments on the case that Congress has given the TSA responsibility to protect the traveling public from evolving threats using the latest technologies and “should not have to stop every five minutes for comment and rulemaking.”

The judges showed some skepticism that they have the authority to require TSA to make a new rule and noted that passengers can always choose a pat-down from TSA agents instead of going through screeners.

“No one is required to do full-body scanners,” Judge Douglas Ginsburg pointed out.

According to TSA, fewer than 2 percent of passengers sent to the scanners, now in use at fewer than 100 airports, are opting out in favor of the pat-down. EPIC attorney Marc Rotenberg said that in some cases that may be because passengers don’t realize they have the alternative as they are being steered to a full-body scanner, also known as automated imaging technology, or AIT.

At times the judges also expressed concerns about how far TSA can go. Judge David Tatel wondered whether the impact of body scanners on travelers is so severe that the public should have been able to comment before the scanners went into primary use. Tatel and Judge Karen Henderson questioned whether the TSA would be within its authority to determine one day that the security threat required that all passengers be strip searched.

Brinkmann said TSA could make such a determination without public input, as it did with the body scanners. But she said both are subject to the court’s review, and in the case of the strip search, “I think you’d have an overwhelming Fourth Amendment claim.”

The case follows a series of Freedom of Information lawsuits in which EPIC obtained the technical specifications for the devices and hundreds of complaints about the airport body scanner procedure. EPIC doesn’t object to scanners as secondary screening when there’s cause for a more careful examination of specific passengers or for passengers who prefer their use because of prosthetics or other devices that routinely set off metal detectors.

Brinkmann said new, more modest software being tested in U.S. airports will alleviate many privacy concerns. Instead of showing naked images, it will have a generic outline of a human figure and point out an area of the body where an object may have been detected. But Rotenberg said the devices still have the ability to store and record naked images of travelers.

Prince Andrew urged to undergo human rights awareness training

Foreign Office adviser says Duke of York’s close ties with autocracies ‘a classic case of unjoined-up government’

guardian.co.uk | Mar 10, 2011

by Owen Bowcott and Robert Booth

Prince Andrew should take a crash course in corporate responsibility and human rights awareness to enhance his role as the UK’s trade ambassador, a prominent Foreign Office adviser has suggested.

The proposal to retrain the fourth in line to the throne reflects growing criticism of the Duke of York’s style of business promotion and his close personal ties with corrupt and autocratic regimes, particularly in central Asia.

Tom Porteous, UK director of Human Rights Watch, is a member of the Foreign Office’s advisory group created by William Hague to provide guidance about human rights issues and assess the ethical implications of British foreign policy.

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“This is a classic case of unjoined-up government,” Porteous said. “The government says it is committed to the rule of law, corporate responsibility and human rights around the world. So it should be promoting British business on the basis of those principles. They need to give [Prince Andrew] a crash course in human rights and corporate responsibility. It’s pretty clear that he hasn’t really thought about these kind of things.

“There’s a reputational risk here. Countries such as Turkmenistan [which the prince visited last April] have an appalling human rights record.”

Last night it emerged that a former British ambassador has written to the government to express concerns about the prince as scrutiny intensifies around his dealings with a number of controversial characters and his role as Britain’s trade envoy.

Retired diplomat Stephen Day, 73, a former ambassador to Qatar and Tunisia, confirmed that he had written to the foreign secretary about the issue.

“I wanted to express my concerns about these stories about the Duke’s activities, particularly relating to Tunisia,” he told the Press Association. “I think the government reacted splendidly to events in Tunisia, and I admire the position the government has taken over the protests in the Arab world. I think this is an unfortunate diversion.”

The letter was leaked to the Daily Telegraph, which quoted Day as saying: “It takes a lot to bring former British ambassadors to criticise a member of the royal family in public, but it is surely now recognised that the Duke’s activities are doing such serious damage to the royal family itself and to Britain’s political, diplomatic and commercial interests that an entirely new role should be found for him as soon as possible.”

One of the issues raised by the advisory group last year was whether the coalition’s decision to make British business abroad a priority conflicted with its pledge to support human rights.

Amnesty International has called on the duke, who has visited Azerbaijan seven times since 2005 and met President Ilham Aliyev, to intervene on behalf of a jailed newspaper editor, Eynulla Fatullayev, who has been adopted by the organisation as a prisoner of conscience.

Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, who is also on the advisory group, criticised the regime. “President Aliyev’s government exercises tight control over free speech in Azerbaijan,” she said. “Street protests are effectively banned and newspapers can be shut down for saying the wrong thing.”

The Queen is reported to have held private talks with Andrew about the mounting scandal over his trade dealings with despots for the government and his personal links to the US financier Jeffrey Epstein, who has been convicted of sex offences with young girls.

The prince’s spokesman refused to comment on the meeting, said to have taken place at the Queen’s private apartments at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, after more than two weeks of daily reports criticising his conduct and judgment as the UK’s international trade envoy.

“I understand that she asked him if any more stories are going to come out in the next few days,” the Daily Mail reported a senior aide as saying. “If the answer was yes, then his position will be untenable. I suspect he will make a decision in the next 48 hours or so.”The newspaper said the Queen was concerned that scrutiny of the duke was overshadowing preparations for the wedding next month of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which the royal family hopes to use to increase public support.

But backing for the prince came from Sir David Tang, the Hong Kong restaurateur and businessman. He met the prince before his visit last October to promote business interests in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, GeneWatch UK, which has campaigned against the police national DNA database, has disclosed that the UK Forensic Science Service is involved in a plan to DNA-test the entire population of the United Arab Emirates, under a contract signed in the presence of Andrew in 2006.

Dr Helen Wallace, of GeneWatch UK, called on ministers to scrap the contract under which a universal DNA database is to being built and linked to a national identity card scheme. “This would allow the Emirates to track every citizen and identify their relatives, a frightening prospect for dissidents and women,” she said.