Friday, November 30, 2012

Russian minimum wage leaves over a million working Russians below the poverty line

 More than a million Russians receive a monthly wage equivalent to $148 U.S. which is well below the poverty line in Russia of $220. Most of these workers are in the public sector.
According to the Public Health and Social Development Ministry 650,000 of the 1.3 million Russians who receive the minimum wage work in the public sector. Next year the minimum wage which employers must pay workers is to be increased by 13%. This will bring the wage up to $170 a month, still well below the poverty line of $220 a month.
The Russian minimum wage is far below that in many developed countries. Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium top minimum wage lists at minimums of over $1500 a month. However, Kygryzstan is far below Russia at $24 a month.
In 2011 the number in poverty in Russia increased by 2.3 million over 2010 and in total were 22.9 million according to the Russian Federal Statistics Agency. Many critics claim that the official statistics understate the real poverty levels in Russia.
Official statistics define a person as impoverished if they have an income lower than what is called the living wage which is calculated by the state. The wage would be enough to ensure physical survival but that is all. The 22.9 million living at this level makes up 16.1% of the Russian population.
The cost of living has been rising in Russia by 17% from 2010 to 2011, while salaries have not kept pace leading to more in poverty. Anton Safonov, an analyst, said:
"The growing number of those living below the poverty line is connected with high inflation in the beginning of the year. The level of people's salaries and incomes was not growing much. The number of poor people in the country increased, but the level of people's income went down."
A World Bank report noted that poverty was on the increase in Russia.
Poverty levels are a function not just of actual conditions but of the way in which poverty is defined. The Komsomolskaya Pravda daily proclaims in a headline “Poverty has been overcome in Russia!” The "experts" at the Centre for Strategic Research (CSR) used international rules to define poor as anyone earning less than $1.25 a day or alternatively $2.00 a day. According to those criteria there are no people living on $1.25 a day after 2007 as measured against World Bank figures. But even the CSR group recognizes that at most this group would be the destitute and that there are still many Russians living in poverty. They also claim that it may difficult to erase this type of poverty.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Federal inspectors told to ignore contamination except in Japan-bound meat

According to documents obtained by CTV News, Canadian meat inspectors were told to "ignore" contamination on carcasses for domestic consumption but to inspect meat bound for Japan extra carefully.
According to memos sent to inspectors at XL Foods, the plant subject recently to Canada's largest ever beef recall, federal meat inspectors were told to give extra scrutiny for visible and intestinal contamination of the carcasses if the meat was bound for Japan but the contamination could be ignored for meat bound for Canadian consumers.
A memo issued on Sept. 12, 2008 reads:
“Our number 1 priority is to ensure this standard is met with Japan eligible carcasses.When stationed at this position, ensure that non Japan eligible carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/dura-mater, OCD [other carcass defects] and minor ingesta (Ignore them).”
The memo was sent again to inspectors in 20010 and 2011.
The memo said that contaminants would be detected later in the process. However, the inspector's union told CTV that the position referred to in the memo is at the end of the inspection line.
In early November, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency again cited XL Foods for failing to sufficiently clean meat-cutting areas. The firm also allowed condensation to form on pipes in the tripe room and did not have a high enough temperature of water in a sanitizer. There was also no sanitizer solution at all in mats used to clean employees' boots. A government bulletin said:
“The CFIA instructed plant management to take immediate action to address these concerns. In addition, the CFIA requested the company submit corrective action plans outlining how they will address these issues in the longer term and mitigate future risks.”
The CFIA reports that XL has already corrected immediate problems. A corrective action plan submitted by the company is under review. Now for the rest of the story, which seems not even a subject of debate.
XL Foods reached a deal with JBS in October. The Brazilian-controlled company is the world's largest animal protein processor. JBS will operate the feedlots and processing plants of XL Foods with an option to buy. Bill Rupp, president of JBS's U.S. division said:
“We know full well the commitment it takes to manage world-class operations that produce safe and nutritious products. We believe our experienced team will provide an invaluable asset in the management of XL Lakeside and we look forward to to exploring our options to purchase XL assets in the near future.”
The deal gives JBS an exclusive option to buy the Brooks operations, and packing facilities in Calgary, Omaha, Nebraska and Nampa, Idaho for $100 million. JBS said that under no conditions would JBS assume any XL Foods' debt or liabilities.
Commenting on the decision Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said:“While this is a private business decision, Canadian consumers can be assured the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will enforce the same rigorous food safety standards at the Lakeside facility regardless of the management." Officials of Nilsson Bros Inc., who own XL Foods, could not be reached for comment.
The president of the union local that represents most plant employees welcomed the announcement. He said.
“I’m not normally in favour of foreign control and ownership, but the Nilsson brothers were in over their heads.They can go back to running their ranches now and leave the operation of this plant to someone who knows what they’re doing.”
However, JBS USA has had its own problems with e coli recalls:
On June 24, 2009 the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that JBS Swift Beef Company, a Greeley, Colo. establishment, recalled approximately 41,280 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. By June 30, the recall had risen to over 421,000 pounds
As seen on the video, Bill Rupp of JSB USA thinks that the role of inspection falls on the company not on the government. Gerry Ritz along with the union boss are all relieved that the new boss has such a positive view of food safety, in spite of the fact that this same company has itself been charged in the U.S. and has already had to rectify conditions in the plant it is now running.
Notice that it is U.S. cattlemen who oppose the purchase. Conservative politicians in Alberta, the union head, the minister of agriculture, all applaud the sale. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

U.S. negotiating to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014

Reports in U.S media indicate that Obama intends to keep around 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the supposed withdrawal date at the end of 2014.
A report in the Wall Street Journal cites anonymous U.S. officials who claim that the U.S. is negotiating with the Afghan government to keep about 10,000 troops in the country even after the scheduled withdrawal date of 2014. This was widely expected, as the general principle was embodied in the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed on May 2, 2012 between the U.S. and Afghanistan. The officials said that the numbers were in accord with recommendations of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General John Allen.
Obama's choice as successor to Allen, General Joe Dunford, has strongly supported keeping the occupation going after 2014:
“To accomplish this objective. ..the primary missions of the US military in Afghanistan should be to (1) train, advise, and assist the ANSF; (2) provide support to civilian agencies, and (3) conduct counter-terrorism operations. This mission set will include force protection for our brave young men and women and, as available, the provision of in extremis support for our Afghan forces.”
Last month, the NATO command, in a report, found that Taliban attacks have actually increased since the beginning of the surge of U.S troops into Afghanistan. The Kabul government remains weak and very corrupt. The U.S.-backed and trained security forces are mostly unable to operate on their own, and in some cases have been infiltrated by insurgents resulting in attacks against their trainers.
The Obama plan seems to be to try and shore up a failed enterprise while suggesting that the war is over, The war, officially, may be over but the U.S., and other NATO allies no doubt, will continue to throw good money after bad in long term military investments in Afghanistan
Official reports will probably continue to be relatively rosy. As Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davies said last year::
“Our current military leadership is so distorting the information it releases that the deterioration of the situation and the failing nature of our efforts is shielded from the American public (and Congress), and replaced instead with explicit statements that all is going according to plan.”
No doubt these distortions will continue in Obama's new term in office.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Protests continue in Jordan

Protests have been ongoing in Jordan over the past few days. The protests were about fuel price hikes but there are also demands for political reforms.
This week protests in Jordan turned violent, killing one person and injuring 75, including over 50 police.The prime minister Abdullah Ensour claimed that the fragile state of government finances forced him to raise prices for heating and cooking gas by over 50% and also some oil derivatives by up to 28%. Ensour noted that on taking office last month, he discovered foreign currnecy reserves had shrunk by half to $10 billion. Poverty and unemployment were at alarming rates:
"Economic indicators were alarming, the situation was dangerous and there were projections that it would impossible to navigate the ship in safe waters."
The Jordanian deficit had reached a record high of $3 billion as debts grew by 20% during 2012. Ensour claimed that the removal of most state subsidies on fuel and gas products would prevent the government from going further in debt and generate revenue that could be used in other sectors. Ensour said that Jordanians with low incomes would receive $600 compensation per year for a household of six. He called the price hike irreversible.
The price hikes were applauded by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in a telephone call to King Abdullah II. She praised the king's commitment to economic and political reform. Some of the protesters were less charitable and called on the king to step down. The recent protests have been the largest since the Arab Spring uprisings began.
The police complain that outlaws and gangsters take advantage of the protests to attack police stations and courts, rob banks, and carry out carjackings. Over 150 people have been arrested since Tuesday. Abdullah has relinquished some of his powers to parliament and passed some laws guaranteeing more public freedoms but it may not be enough to stem rising protests.
The country's police chief warned that police will strike back against any who incite violence with an "iron fist". 

General Joe Dunford says U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan long after 2014

Obama's choice for next commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Joe Dunford, told the Senate on Thursday (Nov. 15) that he sees U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan long after 2014 when all U.S. troops are supposedly to depart.
Dunford told U.S. senators:
“In my view our overall objective in Afghanistan after 2014 will be to sustain our hard-won security gains after 2014 so that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.
To accomplish this objective, the primary missions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan should be to (1) train, advise, and assist the ANSF; (2) provide support to civilian agencies, and (3) conduct counter-terrorism operations. This mission set will include force protection for our brave young men and women and, as available, the provision of in extremis support for our Afghan forces.”
As the enclosed video from a year ago shows, it was clear even back then that the U.S was not going to withdraw all troops after 2014. On July the 4th this year, a Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S. came into force. The agreement was signed on May 4. The agreement set out a number of aspects of the continuing relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan for up to a decade after 2014.
There were no specifics about how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan and exactly what their role would be. But among the provisions were:
Access to and use of Afghan facilities by US personnel beyond 2014
Granting the United States the possibility of keeping forces in Afghanistan after 2014 for purposes of training Afghan forces and targeting al-Qaida
Negotiations began Thursday (Nov.15) on a bilateral security agreement (BSA) meant to now determine the role of U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan, their number, and the terms and conditions of their stay. The Afghan chief negotiator, Afghan Ambassador to the U.S. Eklil Hakimi said:
"The talks between the United States of America and Afghanistan on Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) formally began here in Kabul today,."
James Warlick, Deputy Special Representative of U.S. on Afghanistan and Pakistan, leads the U.S. team. He said:
"The documents to provide legal authorities for United States armed forces and our civilian components to continue presence in Afghanistan with the full approval of the government of Afghanistan."
We will not know for some time exactly how many troops will be staying or what exactly their role will be but it certainly will go beyond training to helping to fight the war on terror and that will no doubt include operations against the Taliban and perhaps operations against targets in Pakistan even though the Afghan government may object to that. During the election campaign,in debate, Biden said:
“We are leaving in 2014, period, and in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.”
Biden should read the terms of the Strategic Partnership and while he is at it he might find out about the BSA negotiations that are ongoing now.
So far Karzai has maintained that any U.S. military personnel who stay in Afghanistan should be subject to prosecution in local courts. However, the U.S. has always taken the position that any crimes committed by U.S. troops must be tried in the U.S. Afghans were infuriated when Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who allegedly killed 16 Afghans, was whisked off to the U.S. for trial. Failure to solve this issue in Iraq, resulted in most U.S. troops being withdrawn from Iraq when the Status of Forces agreement expired.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Republicans should flee the U.S. to Canada

Writing in Foreign Policy, Naheed Mustafa, invites disgruntled Republicans, Real Americans as he calls them, to come to Canada. Mustfa lists the reasons why Canada would be an appropriate refuge for those fleeing another Obama term in the U.S.
Mustafa understands that losing one's traditional power is scary and losing to a "coalition of minorities" is scary, even though he personally sees the key difference between Democrats and Republicans as being public relations.
As a Canadian, he feels it is his duty to help. Canadians are, Mustafa claims, just like that. His solution is for disgruntled, fearful Republicans to flee to the Great White North. As you can see from the enclosed video, the flight phenomenon also took place when Obama first won. Mustafa realized that Canada at first blush seems the last place to flee. Honduras with its right wing ruling class opposed to reforms would seem more natural and Real Americans would be protected by U.S. marines based near the capital. However, Real Americans would probably not want to learn Spanish.
Canada has universal single-payer health care, and a small military. However, Mustafa could point out that, just as in the U.S., we are scheduled to pay inflated prices for U.S. F35 fighter planes. However, Mustafa points out that there are numerous features of Canada that should make the Republican Real Americans feel at home.
We have Hollywood North in Toronto. Although it is far from being like Hollywood, at least a lot of movies are made there. Toronto has led a double life as both New York and Chicago in movies.
We also have the University of Toronto or Harvard North. It is far cheaper than Harvard South. When film makers want to make a film featuring Harvard South or MIT but cannot get permission or cannot afford it, they come to Harvard North. Canada even used to have a Guantanamo North but it attracted little attention and was quietly closed at the end of 2011. Our Conservative prime minister had no problem closing Kingston Immigration Holding Centre and Real Americans should be happy because this was a conservative saving money. When Real Americans come to Canada they need to lean how to spell certain words such as "centre" and "defence". But where should Real Americans settle in Canada?
Toronto is a world class city but Mustafa notes that there are quite a few gays in Toronto, so that may be a problem. Perhaps another problem is that Toronto has now a majority of minorities! Montreal is a thriving city too but it is in Quebec. No doubt Real Americans might be a bit put off by all that French in their ears. The best place for Real Americans claims Mustafa is the province of Alberta.
Alberta, is Texas North, replete with oil and ranchers. Alberta has its own Calgary Stampede, with cowboy hats and chuck wagon races. Big Oil has a huge influence on politics. Conservative politics loom large in Alberta. In a recent provincial election, the big battle was between two conservative parties. Mustafa does note that the mayor of Calgary is Muslim but that is just the exception proving the rule. The premier happens to be a woman too.
Canada like Real Americans hates Iran and loves Israel. Here are three quotes from our Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Each quote provides good reason for Real Americans to come here where we have a prime minister they could surely admire.
"Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status ..."
"[Y]our country [the USA], and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world."
"Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it"

Monday, November 5, 2012

Japanese protest deployment of Osprey aircraft in Okinawa

Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday (November 4) to protest deployment of U.S. Osprey military aircraft to Okinawa. The Ospreys were deployed to the island last month in spite of local opposition after 2 crashes elsewhere.
The Tokyo protests are happening as anti-American sentiment is running high in Japan after two recent incidents. A U.S. airman was arrested for an alleged assault on a teenage boy in Okinawa. A recent Digital Journal report describes the incident in which a drunk U.S. airman allegedly assaulted a 13 year old boy after breaking into his home. The boy was asleep at the time. This incident happened after a curfew was imposed on the 52,000 U.S. troops deployed on the island. The curfew was imposed because of the arrest of two airmen for the alleged rape of a local woman. The protesters chanted: "Ospreys out! Marine Corps out!"
The Japanese government agreed to the deployment of the Ospreys just at a time when relations with China too are strained over claims to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Over half of U.S. troops still stationed in Japan are on the island of Okinawa. After protests, a number of U.S. troops were supposed to be removed to Guam, now part of the United States, but as the appended video notes this still has not happened.
The U.S. maintains Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, and Naval installations on the island. The total area covered by these facilities comprises almost 18% of the total area of the island or 233 square kilometers. There are 26,000 troops manning the facility. There have been countless promises to prevent accidents, remedy noise pollution, and deal with crimes of U.S. troops serving on the island but events still continue.
In 1995 three U.S. troops gang-raped a 12 year old girl. In 2004 a helicopter clipped a building at the local university before crashing into a residential area. Fortunately, everyone escaped with their lives although the plane exploded and spread debris over a wide area.
The situation has been made worse by the growth of urban areas on Okinawa. At first, green fields, surrounded the airbases but now they are surrounded by urban sprawl with land priced at a premium. One base at Futenma is to be closed down and relocated in the north of the island but the process has been slow and there is opposition to the move in the area where the base is to be relocated.
The Osprey has had a number of problems and it has a troubled safety record. In the initial testing phase between 1991 and 2000, the plane had four crashes with 30 fatalities. Since becoming operational, it has also had three crashes, in Afghanistan in 2010, and Morocco in 2012, as well as during a training flight in Florida in June of this year. 

Stephen Harper in India with two of our own armoured vehicles

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, shipped two armoured cars to India for the use of himself and his entourage, including an armoured Cadillac.
While visiting the city of Agra, Harper was driven around in a black Sport Utility Vehicle with Ontario licence plates. No doubt this would be a novelty in India! When he arrived in New Delhi, he was transferred to a black armoured Cadillac sedan.
When reporters asked about the reason for shipping these armoured vehicles to India for the visit, the Prime Minister's Office referred them to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Spokesperson, Cpl. Lucy Shorey responded with a statement:
"The deployment of RCMP resources are dictated by operational requirements, including public and officer safety considerations, and a threat assessment of the events/environments.For security reasons, details on the security plans will not be discussed."
The prime minister has also used his own vehicles in visits to Haiti and Afghanistan. However, in a recent trip to Kinshasa in the Congo he was seen being driven around in a Toyota Forerunner that did not seem to be from Canada. Ordinarily, on his Indian visit, he would be driven around in a Hindustan Motors Ambassador. Probably the government provided transportation would be free, but traveling in imported armoured cars no doubt will cost the Canadian taxpayer a pretty penny.
Perhaps Harper is trying to keep up with the U.S. president. Barack Obama flies in his own armoured vehicles when he goes on foreign trips. He used them even when he visited Canada back in 2009.
Andrew MacDougall, spokesperson for the prime minister, said that the total price for these security measures will be disclosed once it is known. He said:
"I don't have the costs in front of me. We won't know that for a while."
Security for Harper was tightened even during trick or treating . Children had to pass through metal detectors and leave their plastic swords etc. at the checkpoint at the end of the drive before getting their goodies at the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.
While in India, Harper at a business round-table in New Delhi, touted 14 new trade and investment agreements which he claimed "demonstrate the increasing depth of the Canada-India relationship." International Trade Minister Ed Fast said that $2.5 billion in new business deals with India are planned although some are still in the form of memoranda of understanding. Harper has been trying to diversity Canadian exports so as to take advantage of developing Asian markets. He has also encouraged Asian capital to invest in Canada.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friends of Syria meeting planned in Qatar to choose new Syrian rebel representatives

The U.S. and allies plan a conference on Syria in Qatar next week. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, claims that the Syrian National Council can no longer be considered the leaders of the opposition. The leaders are the fighters inside the country.
The U.S. is withdrawing support for the Syrian National Council and wants to groom a new leadership that will represent those within Syria fighting on the front lines. At the same time, the U.S. worries about extremists whom Clinton accuses of trying to hijack the revolution. There is a conference to be convened in Qatar next week, where no doubt deals will be made to form a new group of leaders to replace Assad once his regime is overthrown.
After the U.S. election, one can expect more western intervention in Syria. The most immediate move may be be to provide the opposition with higher powered weapons so that they can neutralize Assad's vast air superiority. There is little doubt that arms are already being smuggled into the country with the blessing of the U.S. Indeed the U.S. is supposed to be making sure that the weapons do not fall into the hands of the wrong parties, radical Islamists.
In response to a question about U.S. policy in Syria, Clinton was dismissive of attempts by the UN Special Envoy Lakdar Brahimi to broker a ceasefire and negotiations. She sad that the U.S. could not and would not wait for the UN to broker a peaceful solution. In other words the bloody conflict is destined to continue, with the support of the west. The U.S. and allies will use the rebels as proxies to overthrow the Assad regime and install a regime with leaders hand-picked by countries outside Syria.
Clinton noted that the U.S. had "facilitated the smuggling-out of a few representatives of the Syrian internal opposition" who will consequently appear at the meeting of Friends of Syria in Doha, Qatar. At the same time, Clinton treated the Syrian National Council with almost open contempt.
Only last December she had claimed the group as the “leading and legitimate representative of Syrians seeking a peaceful democratic transition." However, now Clinton maintained that the Syrian opposition could not be made up of representatives who had not been inside Syria for decades, some up to 30 or 40 years. The representatives must be “those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.” Apparently, it is not Syrians, but those outside, who are to say who their representatives are to be.
However, jihadists may receive support and funding from outside as well and will not just disappear because the west chooses a new set of leaders. The Syrian National Council was not happy about this turn of events either.h-obama-picking-their-leaders/ t=_blank]Zuhair Salem, an exiled spokesperson for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, said:“These dictates are not acceptable to the Syrian people anymore,." Zuhair's group is a significant portion of the Syrian National Council.
The U.S. also called the exiles "extremists" threatening the rebellion. This is somewhat odd in that most of the fighters are sectarian Sunnis armed and funded probably by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, with the blessing of the U.S. The number of terrorist incidents shows that radical jihadists are an important part of the rebel forces. The fighters within Syria, rather than the exiles, are more likely to be extremists.
Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is helping to identify and select new representatives who will be in line with U.S. interests. Clinton told a news conference in Zagreb, Croatia:
“We have recommended names and organizations that we believe should be included in any leadership structure. We’ve made it clear that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition. They can be part of a larger opposition, but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.”
The U.S. may wish to have various minority groups within Syria represented in the leadership including the Alawite sect that dominates the Assad regime, Shia Muslims, Kurds, and even Christians. However, the fighters on the ground may not accept any such leadership arrangement.
The SNC has rejected the U.S. plan and has even called its own conference in Doha. There have been reports that at least Turkey and Qatar may still support the SNC. In a similar leadership conference last June in Cairo participants ended up fighting with each other literally. Clinton said: “We also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution." No doubt many in Qatar and elsewhere will not consider Muslim Brotherhoods members as extremists. Compared to Sunni Salafist groups they are moderates and no doubt they are moderates compared to many of the front line fighters against Assad. The SNC has been recognized as the sole legitimate government of Syria by Libya.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Documents indicate Libyan police may have been involved in planning Benghazi consulate attack

Writing in Foreign Policy, reporters maintain that six weeks after the attack on the compound where the U.S. ambassador was killed, there are still sensitive documents to be found that shed light on the attack.
The circumstances surrounding the attack on the Benghazi consulate and associated "safe house" are becoming more and more mind-boggling. An earlier Digital Journal article explores some of the issues with the White House response. Now, an article in Foreign Policy by Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, raises even more troubling questions.
The reporters visited the fire-ravaged compound where Chris Stevens and another foreign service officer died on Sept. 11. When they visited on Oct. 26, they found that the compound still contained sensitive documents, including drafts of two letters that indicate that the compound was under "surveillance" by the Libyan police, and that the Libyan government had not met requests for additional security.
That these documents were still in the compound almost a month after the FBI searched the compound for evidence about the attack is astonishing. Surely the first thing that is done at a crime scene is to isolate the area and not let anyone in until everything is examined thoroughly and any significant items removed. How can one explain that reporters are allowed into the scene and find these items? No wonder there are all sorts of conspiracy theories about U.S. policy. Is it really possible that agents would overlook this evidence?
The reporters claim that they found Steven's personal copy of the Aug. 6, New Yorker, or remnants of it, lying on the bed in the safe room where Stevens spent his final hours. They also found several ash-covered documents in the Tactical Operations Center, that had been looted and was partially destroyed. Some of the documents are clearly marked as State Department correspondence.
Among the documents found were two draft letters unsigned but both dated Sept. 11, the day of the attack. One letter was addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office in Benghazi. Part of it reads:
"Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission. The police car stationed where this event occurred was number 322."
The IT officer, Smith, who also was killed in the attack had also remarked earlier on Sept. 11 on a gaming forum:.
"Assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police' that guard the compound taking pictures."
The State Department would not comment directly on the documents found by the reporters because of an ongoing investigation. Mark Toner, a spokesperson said:
"An independent board is conducting a thorough review of the assault on our post in Benghazi. Once we have the board's comprehensive account of what happened, findings and recommendations, we can fully address these matters."
The documents also suggest that the Libyan authorities had been asked earlier on Sept. 9 for extra security because of the Ambassador's visit and claim that the Libyan authorities refused to provide the extra support. The document says in part:
"On Sunday, September 9, 2012, the U.S. mission requested additional police support at our compound for the duration of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens' visit. We requested daily, twenty-four hour police protection at the front and rear of the U.S. mission as well as a roving patrol. In addition we requested the services of a police explosive detection dog.
We were given assurances from the highest authorities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that all due support would be provided for Ambassador Stevens' visit to Benghazi. However, we are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all."
A second draft letter, as well as the first, requested an investigation into the police surveillance incident. The letter asked for the highest consideration of the issues raised and increased cooperation. The head of the Benghazi police Brigadier Hmeidah was fired a week after the attack. However, the chief refused to step down. According to his office manager, he is on sick leave right now. The new appointee to the job Salah Doghman said in an interview on Sept. 19 with Reuters:
"This is a mess ...When you go to the police headquarters, you will find there no police. The people in charge are not at their desks. They have refused to let me take up my job."
The reporters claim that the documents may have escaped FBI notice because of continued threats to U.S. personnel in Benghazi. Surely, the U.S. has the wherewithal to protect the area while a thorough search was carried out for documents. A Benghazi resident near the compound said that the FBI team spent only about three hours at the compound searching for evidence. This all looks, from my viewpoint, as incompetence on an almost unimaginable scale.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

U.S. voting machines open to hacking, rigging. System lacks transparency.

The chief of Russia's Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, ranks the U.S. electoral system as one of the worst in the world.
The west is quite familiar with criticism by western observers of elections in other parts of the world but now the United States is also being criticized by the head of the Russian Central Election Commission. In an article in a Russian news outlet, Vladimir Churov claims that the U.S. voting system lacks transparency.
International observers are allowed only in a few states in the U.S. including North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Missouri, and D.C. In all other states, the governors have the final say over whether OSCE monitors are allowed. Churov maintains that even in states where they are allowed, observers have sometimes been barred from entering polling stations. This lack of transparency, Churov argues, leaves the way open for manipulation and fraud. Churov next turns to the issue of voting machines.
Voting machines have been an issue for years in U.S. politics. The machines do not provide a receipt for voting and they are subject to manipulation. Actually, there are good reasons not to provide a receipt for a vote. The receipt could be used to sell votes etc. However, a paper ballot plus scrutineers, would seem to provide a much better record and allows ballots to be checked and numbers cast confirmed etc.
Churov said:
"American voting machines have not been designed to provide any documentary evidence of citizen participation in the electoral process. Moreover, operators [of the machinery] are technically capable of adding or dropping votes in favor of one candidate or another, leaving behind no evidence of violations.”
In a recent Harper's Magazine article, Victoria Collier also criticizes the use of voting machines. She claims that with the introduction of the new technology a brave new world of election rigging emerged. She complains that voting technology has been outsourced to a handful of corporations that operate in the shadows, as she puts it.
The trend towards voting machines dates far back to 2002 when George W. Bush offered states $3.9billion in subsidies through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to help modernize election administration. Bush apppointed DeForest Soaries to head the Election Assistance Commission created by HAVA to oversee security standards for new voting devices. Soaries resigned in 2005. He maintained his office was a charade and that he had been deceived by the White House and Congress. Soaries said
“... there’s an erosion of voting rights implicit in our inability to trust the technology that we use. And if we were another country being analyzed by America, we would conclude that this country is ripe for stealing elections and for fraud.”
Now Churov is saying precisely what Soaries said seven years ago!
Computer science and security experts at the Vulnerability Assessment Team at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illiniois have demonstrated, that for an expenditure of about ten dollars in parts and armed with a limited knowledge of technology, a person could hack into about one quarter of the voting machines used by Americans. The hacker could manipulate the vote without leaving a trace.
There are already suspicions that votes have been altered in the past. In the 2004 presidential election the CEO of Deibold a manufacturer of voting machines said that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president." According to Collier's article:
“In one Ohio precinct, exit polls indicated that Kerry should have received 67 per cent of the vote, but the certified tally gave him only 38 per cent. The odds of such an unexpected outcome occurring only as a result of sampling error are 1 in 867,205,553.”
Churov also criticizes the electoral college system. Churov notes:"It is generally believed that the American people will elect their president on November 6. In fact, the president – an individual bestowed with enormous powers – will be elected by the so-called Electoral College. The president will be elected by the 280 electors, not by all American citizens."
Churov concludes that even with international observers conditions in U.S. elections are such as not to guarantee a democratic process.
While Russia has its own shortcomings when it comes to democracy, this may mostly be for reasons other than the mechanics of voting itself. In the U.S., on the other hand, the actual mechanics may contribute to manipulation of the results. Surprisingly, there does not seem much emphasis this campaign on the issue of voting machines. Any Americans who vote using voting machines are engaged in faith-based voting.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....