Daily Archives: March 13, 2012

Afghanistan shootings: diplomats in Kabul are already discussing a doomsday scenario

A US soldier outside a military base in Panjwai, Kandahar province (Photo: AP)

Telegraph | Mar 12, 2012

By Rob Crilly World

There is never a good time for an American serviceman to go on a shooting spree in Kandahar, methodically murdering 16 Afghan men, women and children – some in their beds. But coming soon after a wave of anger engulfed Afghanistan at the burning of Korans, and as American officials negotiate the departure of troops in 2014, it is difficult to imagine a worse time.

So much for an exit strategy based on building trust between Afghan security forces and their mentors.

Hamid Karzai has condemned the attack. And the Taliban has promised revenge against “American savages”, showing rather more concern for the civilians killed by American weapons than by their own indiscriminate explosive devices.

For its part, the Afghan parliament has demanded that the unnamed soldier face local justice.

“We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan,” the lower house of parliament said in statement.

In Iraq it was exactly this issue that led to the end of American forces there. Washington wanted to keep at least 3000 troops in the country, but President Barack Obama was dealt a humiliating diplomatic blow by Nouri al-Maliki, who refused to grant them legal immunity.

That lesson will not be lost on US officials, who have spent more than a year negotiating a deal with Afghanistan. Already there are fears that the long-term presence of American advisers and special forces could be one of the most significant casualties of the latest crisis. AFP reports:

“The killings in Kandahar cast a long shadow over negotiations on a strategic partnership deal and certainly give greater leverage to Karzai,” Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group told AFP.

“The question of immunity for US troops remaining in the country after the end of combat operations in 2014 will come to the forefront.”

The doomsday scenario – already being discussed among diplomats in Kabul – is that President Hamid Karzai refuses to allow the advisers to stay on. Without their support, ill-trained and poorly motivated Afghan forces would struggle to maintain even a limited amount of security.

After more than a decade of British, American and international casualties, Afghanistan would be plunged right back into civil war.

So far, though, that remains the worst-case scenario. Karzai is a weak president who knows how much he needs American support to keep him in power – and alive. He is unlikely to push for a hasty exit. And so far there has been thankfully little anger on the streets, just like previous crises when public fury failed to live up to the hype of media commentators.

This is not the make or break moment in Afghanistan. The danger is that it will be turned into one by American politicians wondering whether it is time to speed up the withdrawal.

Judge: Lawsuit over LAPD traffic ticket quotas may move forward

Daily News | Mar 8, 2012

LOS ANGELES – A judge said today she is inclined to allow 10 Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officers to move forward with their lawsuit alleging that their supervisors retaliated against them for not complying with traffic ticket quotas.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ramona See issued a tentative ruling rejecting arguments by lawyers for the city that the officers had not provided enough details to move forward with their allegations of retaliation and breach-of-contract.

See said she would notify lawyers of her final ruling by mail.

Officers Philip Carr, Kevin Cotter, Timothy Dacus, Peter Landelius, Kevin Ree, Kevin Riley, Josh Sewell, Vincent Stroway, James Wallace and Jason Zapatka filed suit on June 28. Dacus also alleges disability discrimination on grounds he was treated adversely by management because of he has high blood pressure.

The officers allege their LAPD supervisors punished them by denying overtime and giving bad performance reviews because they did not implement traffic ticket quotas.

Lawyers for the LAPD deny the allegations. State law prohibits the setting of ticket quotas.

Los Angeles police Officer Marvin Brent filed a separate suit last March 24 in Los Angeles Superior Court that is also pending.

Last April, a jury awarded retired LAPD Officer Howard Chan and current Officer David Benioff a total of $2 million after determining that supervisors had retaliated against them for complaining about alleged traffic ticket quotas.

Chan and Benioff, both veteran motorcycle officers with West Traffic Division, sued the department in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2009, alleging that they had been punished with bogus performance reviews, threats of reassignment and other forms of harassment when they resisted demands from superiors to daily write a certain number of tickets.

Bigger Brother: Total surveillance comes to UK

RussiaToday | Mar 9, 2012

In the UK, the chances are you’re being watched. It has more CCTV cameras per person than almost any other nation on earth. And now the government is planning to cast its intrusive eye over online activity, phone calls and text messages, all under the guise of an anti-terror law. And as RT’s Ivor Bennett reports it’s the taxpayer who may well pay in more ways than one.

Mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St Petersburg polling station

19. Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 53 changed to 22; 20. Gennady Zyuganov: 176 changed to 83; 21. Sergei Mironov: unchanged at 56 22. Mikhail Prokhorov: 226 changed to 32; 23. Putin: 466 changed to 780

How a mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St Petersburg polling station: a citizen observer reports

Election monitors across Russia reported alleged vote fixing in the presidential poll. Irina Levinskaya, a St Petersburg historian, gives her eye-witness account of how she saw it happen.

Telegraph | Mar 10, 2012

By Irina Levinskaya

After Russia’s parliamentary elections in December, it was impossible for anyone in my country not to know that there had been electoral fraud on a massive scale. But I am a historian and obsessed with verifying information for myself.

For that reason I joined the more than 3,000 citizens in St Petersburg who committed themselves to monitoring last week’s presidential election.

In training sessions, lawyers explained the kinds of irregularities that might occur and how to avert – or at least to record – them. They lectured us on the relevant laws and regulations. They told us how to prevent ballot stuffing and how to detect “carousel voting”, when people vote more than once.

“But remember,” they warned on several occasions. “The members of the electoral commission are not your enemies: think positively about them and don’t forget the presumption of innocence.”

I was allocated to Polling Station No. 1015 on Moskovsky Avenue in the south of St Petersburg. It was in a special school for excluded children and the head of the election commission was a social-worker-cum-teacher at the school.

Natalya Dmitriyeva was a kindly-looking, smiling woman in her mid-fifties: the sort of person you’d imagine to be perfect for rehabilitating our city’s excluded youth.

Such teachers, according to the school’s website, “prevent youth crime and teach individual responsibility and freedom”.

I arrived at 7.30am on March 4. In all, we were 11 observers from all walks of life and of all ages, including three young women students. We stayed at the polling station all day and well into the evening, when the votes for the five presidential candidates were counted.

At 10.30pm, the final count was made. The results astonished me: Putin had come first but with only 466 votes – 47.7 per cent of the vote. Second was the billionare Mikhail Prokhorov with an unexpected 226 votes (23.1 per cent ). Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party, received 176 votes (18 per cent) and came third in this particular district.

Since most of the voters had been of the Soviet generation, I had assumed that the old habit of dutifully voting for the leaders (combined with aggressive pro-Putin television propaganda during the last few months and coercion in many state institutions) would have given a clear majority to Putin, with Zyuganov in second place.

Ms Dmitriyeva, the senior official, wrote up the results on the wall in large figures, as required by law. I took a photograph of the document. Now, all that remained was for her to make copies for each of us. This was so that the figures could not be falsified at a higher level, as had happened during the parliamentary elections.

Our job seemed to be over. We had spent more than 15 hours at Polling Station 1015. During that time, we had not seen a single irregularity. We were very pleased with how things had gone. Everything had been carried out in strict accordance with the law.

By now it was nearing midnight. Ms Dmitriyeva went off to copy the official documents. And this was when things began to go wrong. Exhausted after a long and tense day, it didn’t occur to us to go with her. Our vigilance slipped.

The sweet, smiling, kindly-looking teacher went off and didn’t come back. We waited and waited. I went to look for her but she had vanished. Now, I remembered with horror what we’d been warned of by our lawyers: “Don’t let the head of the commission out of your sight at the final stage.”

It was some time before another member of the commission appeared (we never saw Ms Dmitriyeva again) with a sheaf of papers in his hand. “You wanted copies of the official results? Here they are.”

“Thank goodness!” I thought. I grabbed a copy of the document, checked that all formalities had been complied with – the official stamp, signature in the right place and so on – then unfolded it.

I couldn’t believe what I saw: Putin – 780 votes (80.2 per cent); Zyuganov 83 votes (8.5 per cent); and Prokhorov 32 votes (3.3 per cent). I was horrified.

I’ll never forget the shock on the faces of the three young students: someone, though we could not know who, had falsified the ballot.

The member of the commission who had handed us the falsified papers was still in the building and so we waited at the exit to confront him. But he appeared to have taken precautions and phoned for support.

Suddenly, a Nissan Pathfinder drew up and three thick-set, young men with shaven heads leapt out. Pushing us forcefully aside, they escorted the commission member to the car and drove off.

I wrote down the number-plate and later established it was from a series used for official cars carrying government employees with the right to state security.

Next day we learned that the same car, and the same men, had been seen at other polling stations, either throwing out observers or escorting election officials.

Of course, this will not be the end of it. Immediately, we went to the constituency level election commission but its chairman had also vanished.

The following day, we filed a complaint and next week we will hand a witness statement, with all our documentary evidence, to the prosecutor’s office – along with hundreds of others from the St Petersburg district.

I am not confident of success, however: I have years of experience, not only of Putin’s Russia but also of our former Soviet paradise. The difference between them is growing harder and harder to determine.

Dr Irina Levinskaya is a senior fellow of St Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University’s Centre for Advanced Theological Research

JPMorgan Chase Presents Leadership Award to Peter Thiel at First Annual StartOut LGBT Entrepreneurship Awards

Jack Stephenson, director of mobile, e-commerce and payments at JPMorgan Chase; Peter Thiel, technology entrepreneur and PayPal co-founder; and StartOut Founder Darren Spedale at last night’s StartOut LGBT Entrepreneurship Awards ceremony in San Francisco. (Photo: Business Wire)

marketwatch.com | Mar 9, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, Mar 09, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) — JPMorgan Chase & Co. JPM -0.90% presented the Leadership Award yesterday to keynote speaker Peter Thiel at StartOut’s First Annual LGBT Entrepreneurship Awards in San Francisco. StartOut, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to fostering and developing entrepreneurship within the LGBT community, held the awards ceremony at San Francisco’s W Hotel at an event honoring business leaders for both their accomplishments and their personal commitments to the entrepreneurial and LGBT communities.

Jack Stephenson, director of mobile, e-commerce and payments at Chase, presented the award to technology entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist and PayPal co-founder Thiel. “As a pioneer and visionary, Peter has helped to build the next generation of tech entrepreneurs both in Silicon Valley and across the globe,” said Mr. Stephenson. “His leadership and achievements have been an inspiration to the LGBT entrepreneurial community, and we’re proud to honor him tonight surrounded by such exceptional talent and innovative spirit.”

With approximately one million LGBT-owned small businesses nationwide, the LGBT market is helping boost the nation’s economic recovery, accounting for more than $600 billion in consumer spending annually.* StartOut is playing an important role in supporting entrepreneurs who develop and grow small businesses, which are the growth engine of the U.S. economy.

StartOut founder Darren Spedale, who kicked off the awards ceremony, said, “Tonight’s event marks the first time that entrepreneurs in the LGBT community are officially recognized for their dedication, passion, and commitment to creating a positive environment where startups and growing businesses founded by LGBT individuals can support each other and thrive.” He added, “Visionaries like Peter Thiel are demonstrating the very best of what great entrepreneurs can achieve. They have paved the way for others in the LGBT entrepreneurial community, as well as the future generation of entrepreneurs and investors whose creativity and vision will take us all to the next level.”

The evening’s other StartOut award honorees include former E*TRADE COO and Lesbian Equity Foundation Founder Kathy Levinson; TopGuest Founder and CEO Geoff Lewis; and Founder and CEO of SynapticMash Ramona Pierson.

About StartOut: StartOut is a 501(c)(3) nationwide organization dedicated to fostering and developing entrepreneurship within the LGBT community. StartOut is creating the next generation of LGBT business leaders by helping aspiring entrepreneurs start new companies, helping current entrepreneurs to grow and expand their businesses, and engaging successful entrepreneurs as role models and mentors for new entrepreneurs. http://www.startout.org

About Chase Mobile Banking

Chase is a leader in the industry with more than 15 million total registered mobile customers that use its products to help manage their financial lives. Chase’s mobile banking products offer complete coverage with native apps available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry customers. Downloadable in all smartphone app stores, the products allow customers to track their investment products, account activity, deposit checks, make person-to-person payments and pay bills and credit cards securely and conveniently. A division of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Chase Mobile Banking complements Chase’s online banking, telephone banking, and its network of nearly 5,500 branches and more than 17,200 ATMs.

‘Pink slime’ is good for America’s schoolchildren, manufacturers claim

Fox | Mar 12, 2012

The company that sells ground beef treated with ammonia proclaims their meat mixture is good for America’s schoolchildren, even though parents across the country are seriously questioning the safety of what has been dubbed “pink slime.”

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) made the declaration about its “lean finely textured beef” or LFTB over the weekend to The Daily, which broke the news that the federal government plans to buy ground beef that contains 7 million pounds of the product in the coming year. After the report, “pink slime” became the most searched topic on the internet.

“Including LFTB in the national school lunch program’s beef products accomplishes three important goals on behalf of 32 million kids,” BPI spokesman Rich Jochum said. “It 1) improves the nutritional profile, 2) increases the safety of the products and 3) meets the budget parameters that allow the school lunch program to feed kids nationwide every day.”


USDA Defends Decision to Include ‘Pink Slime’ in School Lunches

Extracting beef remnants from fat and trimmings, where pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella are found in markedly higher concentrations, is a cost effective way to increase overall yields — shaving an estimated three cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef.

Critics, though, contend South Dakota-based BPI has made millions off “pink slime” over the past decade, and that its safety and nutritional claims about the treated beef are dubious at best.

“Not only is this product a potential source of killer pathogens if the ammonia levels are not controlled properly, but that the overall protein quality of the beef hamburger is compromised by the inclusion of LFTB,” former US Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein said.

Zirnstein, who worked in the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, coined the term “pink slime” after touring a BPI production plant.

The former director of food safety for BPI, Kit Foshee, maintains that the company’s CEO routinely told fast-food companies that the inclusion of treated beef would help kill pathogens when mixed with other ground beef.

“BPI is marketing themselves as a pinnacle of safety,” Foshee said. “It’s all lies. It’s all marketing.”

In less than a week, Houston food columnist and mother Bettina Siegel collected 200,000 petition signatures, mostly of parents, who object to the meat mixture being served to children. She plans to present the petition to the USDA.

Afghans’ Loathing for U.S. Grows in Wake of Massacre

Of the 16 civilians reported killed, at least 9 were said to be children. Credit: Allauddin Khan/Associated Press

NY Times | Mar 12, 2012

PANJWAI, Afghanistan — Displaced by the war, Abdul Samad finally moved his large family back home to this volatile district of southern Afghanistan last year. He feared the Taliban, but his new house was nestled near an American military base, where he considered himself safe.

But when Mr. Samad, 60, walked into his mud-walled dwelling here on Sunday morning and found his wife, eight of his young children and two other relatives sprawled in all directions, shot in the head, stabbed and burned, he learned the culprit was not a Taliban insurgent. The suspected gunman was a 38-year-old United States staff sergeant who had slipped out of the base to kill.

The American soldier is accused of killing 16 people in all in a bloody rampage that has further tarnished Afghan-American relations and devastated Mr. Samad, a respected village elder whose tired eyes poured forth tears one minute and glared ahead in anger the next. Once a believer in the American offensive against the Taliban, he is now insistent that the Americans get out.

“I don’t know why they killed them,” said Mr. Samad, a short feeble man with a white beard and white turban, as he struggled in an interview to come to terms with the loss of his wife, four daughters between the ages of 2 and 6, four sons between 8 and 12, and two other relatives also leveled by the gunman.

“Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us,” Mr. Samad said, as he gathered outside the military base, known as Camp Belambay, with outraged villagers who came to support him. They transported the bodies of Mr. Samad’s family members, as well as the other victims, and the burned blankets that had covered them as proof of the awful crime that had occurred.

After years of war, Mr. Samad, a poor farmer, had been reluctant to return to his home in Panjwai, which was known in good times for its grapes and mulberries.

But unlike other displaced villagers who stayed in the city of Kandahar, about 15 miles away, and other places around the troubled province, Mr. Samad listened to the urgings of the provincial governor and the Afghan Army. They had encouraged residents to return and reassured them that American forces would protect them.

Back in his village, a collection of a few houses known as Najibian, Mr. Samad and his family had moved into a neighbor’s house because his own had been destroyed by NATO bombardments in the years of fierce battles.

His home in Panjwai and the other districts around Kandahar city — which had long been the Taliban’s heartland — had been a main hub of mujahedeen during the Soviet occupation. The districts became ground zero for the surge of force ordered at the end of 2009 by the Obama administration.

There had been little to no coalition presence in the area in the decade since the war began, and American soldiers fought hard over the past two years to clear Taliban fighters from the mud villages like Mr. Samad’s that dot the area.

At the same time, they struggled to win the trust of the Afghans who live in the district, many of whom have proven wary of foreigners and fearful that the Taliban — which was pushed to the margins in many areas but still remained a forceful presence — would eventually return and extract a heavy toll from those who cooperated with the Americans. Some American actions in the area also alienated villagers, like the wholesale destruction of villages that commanders decided were too riddled with booby traps to safely control.

While the Taliban were pushed back for a while, villagers like Mr. Samad say they are still active and describe what has become an intolerable life caught between the coalition forces and the Taliban while their meager vineyards and wheat fields are consumed.

“Taliban are attacking the bases, planting mines, and the bases are firing mortars and shooting indiscriminately toward the villages when they come under attack,” said Malak Muhammad Mama, 50, a villager who now lives in Kandahar. He said that a month ago, a mortar fired from the base killed a local woman, and that last week a roadside bomb hit an American armored vehicle.

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