Puppet Masters

Red Flag

House Republicans pull plug on Sandy aid bill

© Reuters
The decision is a stunning reversal.
House Republicans abruptly pulled the plug Tuesday night on their promise to take up this week an emergency supplemental disaster aid bill for Northeast states damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

The decision is a stunning reversal since just hours before New Jersey lawmakers were preparing for floor debate Wednesday as outlined under a strategy promoted by no less than Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Indeed the Appropriations Committee had gone so far as to file a $27 billion bill Tuesday together with an amendment to be offered by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) seeking an additional $33 billion to match the Senate passed package of last week.

Absent a change of heart, the upshot now is that the Senate bill will die with this Congress on Thursday at noon. And the whole affair is sure to bring back memories of the famous Daily News headline in 1975 - "Ford to City: Drop Dead."

"I am stunned, stunned," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) told POLITICO. "I assume there is as tactical consideration here, that the Republican leadership didn't want to be anywhere near a big spending bill after the fiasco of their handling the tax debate. I understand the tactics but there is a real human need here that is being ignored."
Eye 1

Iowa implementing face recognition program to track sex offenders

© AFP Photo / Mario Tama
The Iowa Department of Public Safety has secured $110,000 in federal funds that will be used to implement a state-wide face recognition program that will start with tracking convicted sex criminals.

Terry Cowman, the special agent in charge of the Iowa sex offender registry program, tells the Globe Gazette newspaper that the DPS is around one-third of the way to having enough money to make science fiction a reality in the Midwestern state. His fingers are crossed that an additional grant will be awarded in 2013 that will provide another $180,000, at which point the agency can start digitizing around 10,000 images to be used in an expansive and expensive surveillance program based off of biometric analysis.

When all of the images are scanned in and the state is done training its staff, the Gazette's says Cowman and his crew will be able to comb through security camera images and even Facebook photos in order to pick out people from a crowd and cross-reference them with a list of over 5,600 registered sex offenders using only their personally identifiable facial features, or biometrics.

"Biometrics is really coming up to play a big part in law enforcement and investigations and things like that," Cowman adds to reporter Mike Wiser. "What's interesting about facial rec is it is kind of the future of where we're at."

Iowa isn't the first location to look towards biometrics, but it will be a big step in the grand scheme of implementing intensive face recognition programs elsewhere if it indeed gets off the ground. The state isn't likely to see much opposition when it comes to cracking down on criminals that prey on innocent children, but investigators may soon find themselves on a slippery slope once anyone is under the government's microscope.

Comment: The fact is that once this technology, which is most likely already in use by intelligence agencies, gets into the hands of local law enforcement agencies there is no telling what they will use it for. They can talk all they want about not using it for civil priorities but once the pandora's box of facial recognition is open and widely available it's only a matter of time before it's being used for nefarious purposes. If history is any indication, it can be no other way.


Russian Navy to hold biggest war games in decades

© RIA Novosti / Ruslan Alibecov
The four major Russian Navy fleets will hold a joint exercise in late January in the Mediterranean and Black seas. It will be the biggest such event in decades.

Commands for the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific fleets have been preparing for the exercises since December of last year, the Russian Defense Ministry has announced. Warships detached for the event are currently sailing to those regions.

"The primary goal of the exercise is to train issues regarding formation of a battle group consisting of troops of different branches outside of the Russian Federation, planning of its deployment and managing a coordinated action of a joint Navy group in accordance with a common plan," the ministry's information department explained.

The exercise will include several scenarios, including the loading of amphibious troops from an unprepared coast in the Northern Caucasus onto transport vessels.

The announcement comes days after the launch of the nuclear-powered submarine Vladimir Monomakh, the third Borei-class strategic submarine cruiser produced in Russia. The vessel, armed with Bulava ICBMs, will become part of the country's nuclear deterrence force after completing sea trials.

The Russian Navy's five fleets each have their own headquarters. The strongest, the Northern fleet is based in Severomorsk in north-west of the country. The Baltic fleet is based in Kaliningrad, the western Russian enclave on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

Undercover IDF raid ignites mass clashes, injuries in West Bank

© Reuters / Ammar Awad
A Palestinian protester throws a stone near burning tyres during clashes with Israeli security officers in the West Bank village of Tamoun, near the West Bank city of Jenin.
Dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes with undercover Israeli troops disguised as vegetable vendors. The discovery of a small commando unit conducting arrests in the West Bank outraged locals forcing the regular army to use tear gas.

Over 30 Palestinians have been wounded along with two IDF soldiers after unrest broke out in the West Bank village of Tamaun. Dozens more suffered from tear gas inhalation.

Witnesses report that IDF troops were disguised as Arab vegetable vendors to apprehend a number of wanted militants. The mission, by the Mistaarvim ("Arabized") Unit, an elite counter-terrorism force, was then tactically changed from a covert operation to an overt one.

Dozens of masked youths hid behind barricades hurling rocks and firebombs at the disguised soldiers. IDF regular units then scrambled to the scene firing rubber bullets and tear gas to quell the crowd. Reports that lethal ammunition was used were brushed aside by an Israeli military spokeswoman. The military said it arrested a "terrorist affiliated with the Islamic Jihad terror group."

"A special forces squad went in on an arrest operation," military radio reported. "It seems that a family or local residents spotted the force and then a big disturbances started... some soldiers received superficial injuries from stone that were thrown," ynetnews quoted.

China's Great Famine: The true story

© Photograph: Adam Dean/Panos
Yang Jisheng ... 'He comes across as a sweet old man, but he has a core of steel.'
The famine that killed up to 45 million people remains a taboo subject in China 50 years on. Author Yang Jisheng is determined to change that with his book, Tombstone.

Small and stocky, neat in dress and mild of feature, Yang Jisheng is an unassuming figure as he bustles through the pleasantly shabby offices, an old-fashioned satchel thrown over one shoulder. Since his retirement from China's state news agency he has worked at the innocuously titled Annals of the Yellow Emperor journal, where stacks of documents cover chipped desks and a cockroach circles our paper cups of green tea.

Yet the horror stories penned by the 72-year-old from this comforting, professorial warren in Beijing are so savage and excessive they could almost be taken as the blackest of comedies; the bleakest of farces; the most extreme of satires on fanaticism and tyranny.

A decade after the Communist party took power in 1949, promising to serve the people, the greatest manmade disaster in history stalks an already impoverished land. In an unremarkable city in central Henan province, more than a million people - one in eight - are wiped out by starvation and brutality over three short years. In one area, officials commandeer more grain than the farmers have actually grown. In barely nine months, more than 12,000 people - a third of the inhabitants - die in a single commune; a tenth of its households are wiped out. Thirteen children beg officials for food and are dragged deep into the mountains, where they die from exposure and starvation. A teenage orphan kills and eats her four-year-old brother. Forty-four of a village's 45 inhabitants die; the last remaining resident, a woman in her 60s, goes insane. Others are tortured, beaten or buried alive for declaring realistic harvests, refusing to hand over what little food they have, stealing scraps or simply angering officials.

World's wealthiest gained $241 billion in 2012, seeking more in 2013

© Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Billionaire Amancio Ortega, seen here in Monte-Carlo, Monaco on June 29, 2012, was the year’s biggest gainer among the world’s top moguls, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals.
The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2012, adding $241 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world's 100 wealthiest individuals.

The aggregate net worth of the world's top moguls stood at $1.9 trillion at the market close on Dec. 31, according to the index. Retail and telecommunications fortunes surged about 20 percent on average during the year. Of the 100 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.

"Last year was a great one for the world's billionaires," said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group Inc., in an e-mail written poolside on his BlackBerry in the Bahamas. "In 2013, they will continue looking for investments around the world -- and not necessarily in U.S. -- that will give them an advantage."

Amancio Ortega, the Spaniard who founded retailer Inditex SA, was the year's biggest gainer. The 76-year-old tycoon's fortune increased $22.2 billion to $57.5 billion, according to the index, as shares of Inditex, operator of the Zara clothing chain, rose 66.7 percent.
Mr. Potato

2012 "Are You Serious?" Awards

Every year Dispatches From The edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of "Are you serious?" Here are the awards for 2012.
War Whore

Netanyahu/Lieberman Coalition - a marriage made in hell

Netanyahu Lieberman
© Unknown
On January 22, Israeli parliamentary elections will be held. Netanyahu/Lieberman's Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) looks likely to win.

Both men are world class thugs. They represent the worst of ideological extremism. They're hardcore racists. They want unchallenged regional dominance. They believe Israel has a divine right to terrorize Palestinians with impunity.

Lieberman's a serial felon. Charges against him included bribery, fraud, money laundering, breach of trust, and harassing witnesses.

Major accusations were dropped. Fraud and breach of trust remain. Reports suggest other charges may be added. Lieberman denies it.

Rogue coalition leadership shows the deplorable state of Israeli governance. Mafia bosses pale by comparison.

Venezuelan leadership up for grabs?

© Unknown
New reports about Chavez's health raise concerns. He's struggling to recover from complicated cancer surgery. More on his current status below.

On October 7, Venezuelans overwhelmingly reelected him. They want no one else leading them. He transformed national politics responsibly. He established participatory democracy and social justice.

He significantly improved the lives of Venezuela's poor. Constitutional and statute law mandate vital social services.

They include universal healthcare, education, subsidized food, housing assistance, land reform, job training, micro-credit, and more. He's a populist hero. He'll be hard to replace.

On December 16, his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 20 of 23 gubernatorial races. Bolivarianism is policy.

It's world's apart from America. It reflects participatory social democracy. Constitutional Preamble language explains.
War Whore

Propaganda war: 2012 Deadliest year for Afghan military - 1,056 soldiers killed as NATO touts 'improving' war

To hear NATO talk, the occupation of Afghanistan 11+ years later is "improving" with US and NATO troop deaths having dropped somewhat, as insurgent attacks give way to a more common strategy of "green-on-blue attacks."

Which may be better for NATO, but 2012 was also the deadliest year of the occupation yet for the Afghan military, which reported 1056 soldiers killed, including 906 in the last nine months.

Afghan Defense Ministry officials attributed this shift to the increase in the number of Afghan military operations. The Taliban appears to have become more interested in targeting them directly as NATO member nations prepare for a drawdown.

In addition to the 1,056 soldiers, an estimated 1,400 police were also slain in the last 10 months, also an increase over the previous year. With NATO continuing to increase the size of the Afghan military, massive numbers of desertions remain a huge problem as well.