Daily Archives: September 2, 2011

India creating world’s largest biometric database iris-scanning 1.2 billion people

A migrant farm worker peers into an iris scanner in New Delhi in the first effort to officially record each Indian’s identity as an individual. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

NY Times | Sep 1, 2011


KALDARI, India — Ankaji Bhai Gangar, a 49-year-old subsistence farmer, stood in line in this remote village until, for the first time in his life, he squinted into the soft glow of a computer screen.

His name, year of birth and address were recorded. A worker guided Mr. Gangar’s rough fingers to the glowing green surface of a scanner to record his fingerprints. He peered into an iris scanner shaped like binoculars that captured the unique patterns of his eyes.

With that, Mr. Gangar would be assigned a 12-digit number, the first official proof that he exists. He can use the number, along with a thumbprint, to identify himself anywhere in the country. It will allow him to gain access to welfare benefits, open a bank account or get a cellphone far from his home village, something that is still impossible for many people in India.

“Maybe we will get some help,” Mr. Gangar said.

Across this sprawling, chaotic nation, workers are creating what will be the world’s largest biometric database, a mind-bogglingly complex collection of 1.2 billion identities. But even more radical than its size is the scale of its ambition: to reduce the inequality corroding India’s economic rise by digitally linking every one of India’s people to the country’s growth juggernaut.

For decades, India’s sprawling and inefficient bureaucracy has spent billions of dollars to try to drag the poor out of poverty. But much of the money is wasted or simply ends up trapping the poor in villages like Kaldari, in a remote corner of the western state of Maharashtra, dependent on local handouts that they can lose if they leave home.

So now it is trying something different. Using the same powerful technology that transformed the country’s private economy, the Indian government has created a tiny start-up of skilled administrators and programmers to help transform — or circumvent — the crippling bureaucracy that is a legacy of its socialist past.

“What we are creating is as important as a road,” said Nandan M. Nilekani, the billionaire software mogul whom the government has tapped to create India’s identity database. “It is a road that in some sense connects every individual to the state.”

For its proponents, the 12-digit ID is an ingenious solution to a particularly bedeviling problem. Most of India’s poorest citizens are trapped in a system of village-based identity proof that has had the perverse effect of making migration, which is essential to any growing economy, much harder.

The ID project also has the potential to reduce the kind of corruption that has led millions of Indians to take to the streets in mass demonstrations in recent weeks, spurred on by the hunger strike of an anticorruption activist named Anna Hazare. By allowing electronic transmission and verification of many government services, the identity system would make it much harder for corrupt bureaucrats to steal citizens’ benefits. India’s prime minister has frequently cited the new system in response to Mr. Hazare’s demands.

The new number-based system, known as Aadhaar, or foundation, would be used to verify the identity of any Indian anywhere in the country within eight seconds, using inexpensive hand-held devices linked to the mobile phone network.

It would also serve as a shortcut to building real citizenship in a society where identity is almost always mediated through a group — caste, kin and religion. Aadhaar would for the first time identify each Indian as an individual.

The identity project is, in a way, an acknowledgment that India has failed to bring its poor along the path to prosperity. India may be the world’s second-fastest-growing economy, but more than 400 million Indians live in poverty, according to government figures. Nearly half of children younger than 5 are underweight.

India’s expensive public welfare systems are so inefficient that warehouses overflow with rotting grain despite malnutrition rates that rival those of sub-Saharan Africa, and much of it is siphoned off to the private market long before it reaches hungry mouths. The government builds sturdy classrooms but fails to punish well-paid teachers who do not show up for work. These systems fail to connect citizens’ most basic needs with help that is readily available, either through government handouts or the marketplace.

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In Germany, Sex Workers Feed a Meter

A ticket machine prints receipts for those who work the streets. Oliver Berg/DPA, via Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

NY Times | Aug 31, 2011


BERLIN — The city of Bonn has begun collecting taxes from prostitutes with an automated pay station similar to a parking meter, proving again that German efficiency knows few if any bounds.

Bonn is not the only city in Germany to charge such a tax, but it is the first to hit upon the idea of a ticket machine that prints out receipts for the nightly flat fee of 6 euros (currently about $8.65) for the privilege of streetwalking. The meter went into service over the weekend, and by Monday morning had collected $382 for the city’s coffers.

Prostitution is legal in Germany; the Reeperbahn in Hamburg is one of the largest red-light districts in Europe. Attempts are often made to regulate the industry, unionize the workers and tax the proceeds, but they are not always effective, given both the discretion and the unpredictability that are inherent in the business.

Street prostitution as practiced in Bonn, once the capital of West Germany and a town better known for sleepiness than sexiness, would be unfamiliar to many people outside Germany for its unusual degree of organization and institutionalization.

The women wait for customers on a stretch of the Immenburgstrasse in a largely industrial part of the city. In addition to the Siemens-built meter machine, which cost $11,575 including installation, the city has built special wooden garages nearby where customers can park their cars and have sex.

“They are called, in fairest and finest administrative High German, ‘performance areas,’ but I believe the Italian prime minister would say ‘bunga bunga,’ ” said Monika Frömbgen, a spokeswoman for the city. Still, she said, the serious issue that the meter was intended to address boils down to tax fairness.

“The women in the bordellos and the sauna clubs also pay the tax, and so should those working on the streets,” Ms. Frömbgen said.

The city estimates that it has 200 sex workers, of whom about 20 ply their trade on the street. The Bonn government spends $116,000 a year for a private security company to guard the area and to provide security for the sex workers.

Under the new meter system, street prostitutes must purchase the tickets to work between the hours of 8:15 p.m. and 6 a.m. Leaflets explaining the system, translated into several languages, are handed out to the prostitutes. After one warning, a sex worker caught working without a ticket would be fined up to $145.

Opinion was divided Wednesday on Bonn’s blocklong strip where the women cruise for customers.

“The other night I worked all night but didn’t get any work, but I still had to pay it,” said a young woman from Hungary who gave her name only as Monica and said she thought the new system “stinks.”

Vero, a middle-age woman who spoke Italian but no German, said the tax was “proper.”

“It’s like rent, food or all the other things everybody has to pay for,” said the woman, who declined to give her last name.

Franz-Reinhard Habbel, a spokesman for the German Association of Cities and Municipalities, said he expected other cities “to follow Bonn’s example.” The country’s 11,000 municipalities are struggling under a combined $11 billion in debt and are searching for new, “relatively simple” sources of income, he said.

Advocates for sex workers say the tax is unfair because prostitutes in Germany already pay income taxes. But the meter itself is not an issue, said Mechthild Eickel, a spokeswoman for Germany’s Alliance of Counseling Centers for Sex Workers. “An automat is no worse than a person,” she said.

News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch reaps a bonus despite scandal

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, has received $12.5m bonus from News Corp for the last financial year. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

News Corp chief’s total pay package soars 47% to $33m, though his son James has declined $6m bonus

guardian.co.uk | Sep 2, 2011

by Josh Halliday

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, received a $12.5m (£7.7m) cash bonus for the last financial year, while his total remuneration rose 47% to $33m, according to the company’s annual statement to shareholders.

His son James Murdoch – who is deputy chief operating officer, with responsibility for News Corp’s business in Europe and Asia – was awarded a $6m cash bonus as part of an $18m pay package – a 74% rise on his 2010 take-home pay.

But in a statement on Friday night, James Murdoch said he would not be taking the bonus in “light of the current controversy” over phone hacking at the News of the World. “I feel that declining the bonus is the right thing to do,” he said.

The bonuses were for the year to the end of June, during which time News Corp became mired in the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the News of the World. The affair only escalated into a full-blown corporate crisis – with the closure of the News of the World and several executive resignations – in July, shortly after the end of News Corp’s financial year.

Chase Carey, News Corp’s chief operating officer and Murdoch’s right-hand man, took home $30m in the year to 30 June, including a $10m bonus. Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News, received a slight increase in total compensation in 2011, up to $15.5m from $13.9m in 2010. Ailes received a $1.5m cash bonus.

The Murdochs’ remuneration was revealed in their report to shareholders. Elisabeth Murdoch, the chief executive of TV production company Shine, received a salary of $1.7m from News Corp last year, the report shows. She received $214m in cash after News Corp bought Shine earlier this year.

Rupert’s eldest son, Lachlan – who is acting chief executive of the Australian TV firm Ten Network – took home a total of $504,000 in 2011 for his work on the News Corp board.

Charlotte Harris, the solicitor who represents several phone-hacking claimants, said: “The bonuses are not very humble given recent events.”

She was referring to a comment by Rupert Murdoch, who told MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee when he appeared before them in July that it was “the most humble day of my life”.

News Corp also announced on Friday that two of its longest-serving directors were to leave. Ken Cowley, a trusted lieutenant for more than 50 years, will leave the News Corp board of directors he joined in 1979 when Murdoch established the global holding company for his media businesses.

Thomas Perkins, a partner of investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and member of the News Corp board since 1996, will also step down after the annual meeting next month. Jim Breyer, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and one of the first investors in Facebook, will join the News Corp board in October.

Controversial study shows higher cancer risk in 9/11 firefighters

A firefighter breaks down after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed September 11, 2001 after two hijacked airplanes slammed into the twin towers in a terrorist attack.(Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

CBS | Sep 2, 2011

By Ryan Jaslow

(CBS) The 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City killed almost 3,000 people, but what about New Yorkers who were in the area at the time but survived? New studies show they face heightened risk for asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cancer – but not all health experts agree the attacks are to blame for survivors’ health problems.

For one study – published in the September 1 issue of The Lancet – Mount Sinai researchers evaluated more than 27,000 police officers, firefighters, construction workers, and office workers who were in or around ground zero over the nine years following 9/11. The researchers found more than one in five responders had multiple physical or mental health illnesses.

“This is the first long-term study to demonstrate the lasting burden of disease experienced by the brave men and women who responded in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center,” study author Dr. Juan Wisnivesky, vice-chair for research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said in a written statement.


Study Suggests Higher Cancer Risk for 9/11 Firefighters

Overall, 28 percent of participants had asthma nine years later, 42 percent have sinusitis, and 39 percent have acid reflux. Forty-two percent showed abnormal lung function, indicating a lung injury.

Rescue workers, not surprisingly, were hit harder than others in the area.

First responders who arrived on the scene were subjected to the worst levels of a dust and smoke concoction filled with harmful substances like jet fuel, asbestos, hydrochloric acid, and other caustic chemicals. Forty-eight percent of rescue workers had asthma, and 43 percent of them had acid reflux with at least one mental condition.

Ten percent of rescue workers suffer from asthma, acid reflux, and sinusitis simultaneously.

The mental health consequences are just as prevalent. Twenty-eight percent of rescue workers have depression, 32 percent experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 21 percent suffer from panic disorder.

“These men and women risked their lives and their health to support their fellow Americans after the devastation of 9/11,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, principal investigator of the Mount Sinai World Trade Center program’s data and coordination center, said in the statement. “Now, many of them are riddled with multiple health problems. Our study shows that these diseases may persist for years to come. We should do everything in our power to provide the best long-term care possible to these heroes.”

What about cancer?

A different study – also published in the same issue of The Lancet – looked at cancer links among 10,000 firefighters – most of whom were exposed to caustic dust from 9/11 – and found they had a 19 percent higher risk of cancer than colleagues who were not exposed.

“This study clearly shows World Trade Center exposure in these firefighters led to an increase in cancer,” Dr. David Prezant, chief medical officer for the FDNY, told Reuters.

The Associated Press, however, reports this 19 percent increase is not statistically significant, saying the increase could be attributed to chance.

“Is it a definitive study? No,” peer reviewer Dr. James Melius, the administrator of the New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund, told the New York Times.

Some experts, like Dr. Donald Berry, professor of biostatistics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, also questioned the evidence.

“Occupational hazards are real,” he told the Associated Press. “But occupational risks accrue over years of exposure. With the exception of a nuclear explosion or meltdown, it’s difficult for any single event to cause an increase in cancer or in mortality.”

The Lancet  has more on its 9/11 studies.

Churches to Focus on America and End Times in 9/11 Sermons?

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, begins a sermon series called “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” beginning Sept. 11, 2011. (Photo: First Baptist Church of Dallas via The Christian Post)

Christian Post | Sep 1, 2011

By Nicola Menzie

Prominent leaders of two Baptist churches have special sermons planned for Sunday, Sept. 11, which is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States. One sermon promises to discuss America’s “inevitable collapse” while the other is to be delivered by Dr. Tim LaHaye, known for his popular end times book series.

It has not yet been confirmed to The Christian Post whether LaHaye would indeed be speaking on the issue of the end times during his appearance at First Baptist Church of Atlanta on Sept. 11.

CP left a message with Tim LaHaye Ministries Wednesday morning, but no response was received by press time.

LaHaye’s bestselling Left Behind fictional book series and his place at the forefront of biblical prophecy makes it a strong possibility that his 9/11 sermon may indeed follow along the same lines as that of another Baptist church in Texas.

First Baptist Church of Dallas has released a video promoting a new sermon series beginning Sept. 11, that discusses America’s “inevitable collapse.”

Are we witnessing America’s last days? That is what Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, asks Christians to consider in his new sermon series entitled “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.”

33 News interviews Dr. Jeffress and others about his upcoming series, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (August 30, 2011)

In the promotional video published on the Internet, the narrator lists a series of social, moral, and economic issues believed to be plaguing America.

Some topics to be covered in Jeffress’ end times series are: why America’s collapse is inevitable; what Christians can do to delay America’s eventual demise; the relationship between abortion and America’s fiscal crisis; and how to prepare for the coming persecution against Christians in America.

The sermon series, which Jeffress told a Dallas television news station was based on Revelation 13, does not point to any specific date of when America can expect to face its end.

“I don’t know when America’s end is coming, but I know from reading the Bible that America’s days are numbered, because this world’s days are numbered,” Jeffress told KDAF-TV.

Jeffress has appeared on various major news networks to discuss public prayer, roles Christians play in politics, and end-time issues.

When Family Radio founder Harold Camping garnered attention for teaching that May 21, 2011, was the beginning of the end for the world, Jeffress spoke out on the issue, saying he doubted that God had told Camping when the world was going to end.

Charles Stanley is pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta and the usual speaker during Sunday sermons. The Atlanta preacher released a book in July, titled Turning the Tide, in which he claims that there is a “destructive, man-made tide that is deteriorating our country at a frightening pace.”

The In Touch Ministries founder acknowledges that Americans are currently suffering from a number of financial, social and moral ills, and insists that what America is facing is a tsunami. “It’s coming,” he says.

The problem is, Stanley claims, that the nation has turned its nose up at God instead of falling on its needs to cry out to Him in prayer.

The Christian Post contacted both First Baptist Church of Atlanta and First Baptist Church of Dallas for comments regarding their Sept. 11 sermons. Messages were left with respective parties, but by press time, no calls had been returned.

Obama hails “9/11 Generation”

US President Barack Obama (AFP, Mandel Ngan)

AFP | Sep 1, 2011

By Stephen Collinson

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — President Barack Obama Tuesday hailed America’s “9/11 generation” including 6,200 killed in a “hard decade of war,” as he set the tone for the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Obama sought to forge a spirit of national unity and remembrance ahead of 10th anniversary celebrations of the world’s deadliest terror attack, skipping over political divisions spawned by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Today we pay humble tribute to the more than 6,200 Americans in uniform who have given their lives in this hard decade of war. We honor them all,” Obama said at the American Legion annual convention in Minneapolis.

“As we near this solemn anniversary, it’s fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 generation — the more than five million Americans who have worn the uniform over the past 10 years.”

Obama will lead national commemorations on September 11, visiting New York, where hijacked planes crashed in 2001 into the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, set ablaze by another jet used as a fuel-laden suicide bomb.

He will also visit Shanksville, Pennsylvania where heroic passengers downed a seized airliner thought to be heading towards Washington, and will take part in an interfaith concert at Washington’s National Cathedral.

The cathedral event will also include mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, country singer Alan Jackson, and R&B diva legend Patti LaBelle, along with songs of hope, peace and national unity.

On Tuesday, the president placed 9/11 generation veterans in a storied line of US warriors from two world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, saying they had changed the way their country fights and wins conflicts abroad.

“Trained to fight, they’ve taken on the role of diplomats, mayors and development experts, negotiating with tribal sheikhs, working with village shuras, and partnering with communities,” Obama said.

“Most profoundly, we see the wages of war in those patriots who never came home. They gave their all, their last full measure of devotion, in Kandahar and the Korengal and Helmand, in the battles for Baghdad and Fallujah and Ramadi.”

In a survey of the US battle against Al-Qaeda and those who harbored the terror group behind the 2001 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, Obama praised US forces for toppling Afghanistan’s Taliban in weeks.

“When the decision was made to go into Iraq, our troops raced across deserts and removed a dictator in less than a month,” he said.

Obama did not mention that he vigorously opposed the Iraq war as a state lawmaker in Illinois, and ran hard against president George W. Bush’s decision to wage it in the 2008 presidential election.

“When insurgents, militias and terrorists plunged Iraq into chaos, our troops adapted, endured ferocious urban combat, reduced the violence and gave Iraqis a chance to forge their own future,” he said.

That was a reference to Bush’s surge strategy, which Obama also rejected at the time, but which many experts credit with allowing him to honor his pledge to withdraw all US troops from Iraq this year.

The president also noted his own 30,000-strong troop surge which he ordered to revive the US war effort in Afghanistan and his own triumph against Al-Qaeda.

“A few months ago, our troops achieved our greatest victory yet in the fight against those who attacked us on 9/11 — delivering justice to Osama bin Laden in one of the greatest intelligence and military operations in American history,” he said.

Obama strayed into political territory when he said he would not allow Republican spending cuts to curtail benefits for those who served.

“As a nation, we cannot, we must not and we will not balance the budget on the backs of veterans,” he said.

The White House has apparently been mulling for months how to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the administration had sent memos to US posts abroad and domestic agencies to ensure the events struck an appropriate rhetorical tone.

The paper said officials wanted to remember those who died in the attacks, to thank the military and law enforcement services and to warn that Americans to be prepared for any new attacks.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney said he was surprised “The New York Times thinks what might be called talking points qualifies as news.”

Fewer would trade rights for security than in days post-9/11

Military honor guard stands at the Pentagon on the 9/11 anniversary in 2007. Asked last month, 42% said the U.S. is winning the war on terror — the same percentage as 10 years ago. By Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

USA TODAY | Sep 1, 2011

By Rick Hampson and Jim Norman

NEW YORK – The number of Americans who say the government should do whatever it takes to protect its citizens against terrorism —even if it means violating civil liberties — has dropped almost in half since the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

In January 2002, 47% of respondents said they were willing to have the government violate their “basic civil liberties” in order to prevent additional acts of terrorism. When asked last month, only 25% said they favored such a trade-off.

“The government’s into everything — pat-downs at the airport. We don’t need any more interference in our lives,” says Denise Moore, 39, of Kansas City, Mo.

The latest poll was conducted a month before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and aboard United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.

In another contrast with the national mood 10 years ago, far fewer Americans now say that “the Muslim world considers itself at war with the U.S.”

In March 2002, 71% agreed with that statement. Nine months later, that proportion had dropped to 60%, and today it’s down to 55%.
Feeling safer

How likely is it that there will be acts of terrorism in the U.S. over the next several weeks?

Source: USA TODAY/Gallup polls of approximately 1,000 adults each. Margin of error +/–4 percentage points.

Faith in the government’s anti-terrorism capacity also has dropped. Asked less than a week after 9/11 how much confidence they had in the government to protect its citizens from such attacks, 41% of respondents said “a great deal.” By March 2002, 24% agreed with that assessment. Now, only 22% do.

Who is winning the war on terrorism declared by President George W. Bush shortly after the attacks? After an eventful decade, including two major wars and the deaths of Osama bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders, not much has changed in how Americans answer that question.

A month after the 9/11 attacks, 42% said the U.S. and its allies were winning (11% said the terrorists were, and 44% said neither side). By the following January, after the Taliban and al-Qaeda had been routed in Afghanistan, 66% said the U.S. and allies were winning.

But by April 2002, with bin Laden still at large and U.S. officials warning of more attacks, Americans who felt their nation was winning the terror war fell into the minority. And they’ve constituted a majority only three times since — twice after the Iraq invasion in 2003 and once in 2004, after Saddam Hussein’s capture.

In June 2007, the last time until this year that USA TODAY/Gallup asked who was winning, only 29% said the U.S.

Asked the same question last month, respondents agreeing that the U.S. and its allies were winning had climbed back to 42%, the same as 10 years ago; 9% said the terrorists were winning, and 46% said neither side.

“The terrorists didn’t win here,” says Larry Bonderud, 61, mayor of Shelby, Mont. “But the enemy has changed dramatically. It’s not just the folks that brought the towers down. It’s hundreds of organizations linked laterally, not top down. We never thought this’d be going on 10 years later.”