Puppet Masters

Eye 1

Seattle becomes next city to use crime prediction software

crime prediction technology
© Seattle PI
Seattle Police will now use crime prediction technology
Seattle has become the next city to start using crime prediction software. Mayor Mike McGinn and Police Chief John Diaz announced that two precincts in the Southwest and East will begin using the software known as PREDPOL, short for "predictive policing."

"The predictive policing software is estimated to be twice as effective as a human data analyst working from the same information. It's all part of our effort to build an agile, flexible and innovative police department that provides the best service possible to the public," said Diaz.

The program consists of a mathematical algorithm similar to the one used in earthquake prediction. Sociological informaton about criminal behavior and five years' worth of past crime data is compiled to predict when and where a future crime will likely take place, down to a 500-square-foot area.

"This technology will allow us to be proactive rather than reactive in responding to crime; this investment, along with our existing hot spot policing work, will help us to fulfill the commitments we made in the '20/20' plan to use data in deploying our officers to make our streets safer," said McGinn during a recent news conference.

As soon as April, police plan to roll out the software to every precinct in the city. Civil liberties advocates have already questioned if the software has the ability to collect data on specific individuals.
Stock Down

The missing recovery

Officially, since June 2009 the US economy has been undergoing an economic recovery from the December 2007 recession. But where is this recovery? I cannot find it, and neither can millions of unemployed Americans.

The recovery exists only in the official measure of real GDP, which is deflated by an understated measure of inflation, and in the U.3 measure of the unemployment rate, which is declining because it does not count discouraged job seekers who have given up looking for a job.

No other data series indicates an economic recovery. Neither real retail sales nor housing starts, consumer confidence, payroll employment, or average weekly earnings indicate economic recovery.

Neither does the Federal Reserve's monetary policy. The Fed's expansive monetary policy of bond purchases to maintain negative real interest rates continues 3.5 years into the recovery. Of course, the reason for the Fed's negative interest rates is not to boost the economy but to boost asset values on the books of "banks too big to fail."

The low interest rates raise the prices of the mortgage-backed derivatives and other debt-related assets on the banks' balance sheets at the expense of interest income for retirees on their savings accounts, money market funds, and Treasury bonds.

U.S. Predator drones customized for domestic surveillance

© U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Homeland Security required that this Predator drone, built by General Atomics, be capable of detecting whether a standing human at night is "armed or not."
Homeland Security's specifications say drones must be able to detect whether a civilian is armed. Also specified: "signals interception" and "direction finding" for electronic surveillance.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has customized its Predator drones, originally built for overseas military operations, to carry out at-home surveillance tasks that have civil libertarians worried: identifying civilians carrying guns and tracking their cell phones, government documents show.

The documents provide more details about the surveillance capabilities of the department's unmanned Predator B drones, which are primarily used to patrol the United States' northern and southern borders but have been pressed into service on behalf of a growing number of law enforcement agencies including the FBI, the Secret Service, the Texas Rangers, and local police.

Homeland Security's specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, say they "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not," meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify "signals interception" technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and "direction finding" technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained a partially redacted copy of Homeland Security's requirements for its drone fleet through the Freedom of Information Act and published it this week. CNET unearthed an unredacted copy of the requirements that provides additional information about the aircraft's surveillance capabilities.
War Whore

Russia's Putin calls for drastic upgrade of the country's aging army within 3 years

© RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service/ Associated Press
Russian President Vladimir Putin, second left, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, walk to meet senior military officials in Moscow on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013
Russian President Vladimir Putin told the country's top brass on Wednesday to drastically upgrade the armed forces in the next few years as part of response to attempts by the United States and NATO to "tip the strategic balance" in the world.

In his address to Russia's defense ministry and top military officials, Putin said Russia is witnessing "insistent attempts" to change that balance and complained about U.S. plans to create a new missile defense system in Europe and the potential expansion of NATO to former Soviet republics.

"Geopolitical developments call for our response to be well-calculated and quick," Putin said, according to a transcript of his speech on the Kremlin's website. "The Russian armed forces must move to a dramatically new level of capabilities as soon as in the next three to five years."

The stated goal of the multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe is to protect the U.S. from Iranian missiles. But Russia has repeatedly criticized the plan, claiming it really is intended to counter its own missiles.
Eye 1

The CIA is training Syria's rebels: Uh-oh, says a top Iraqi leader

© Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah
A soldier waves the independence flag in a Damascus suburb in January.
The United States is slipping and sliding down that proverbial "slippery slope" in Syria toward something that looks increasingly like war.

Most worryingly, according to The New York Times, the CIA is training Syrian fighters in Jordan. Buried in its story today about Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement that the United States will increase aid to the rebels, including medical supplies and those always tasty MREs ("Meals Ready to Eat"), was this previously unreported nugget:
A covert program to train rebel fighters, which State Department officials here were not prepared to discuss, has also been under way. According to an official in Washington, who asked not to be identified, the CIA since last year has been training groups of Syrian rebels in Jordan.

The official did not provide details about the training or what difference it may have made on the battlefield, but said the CIA had not given weapons or ammunition to the rebels. An agency spokesman declined to comment.
Now, let us not be shocked, shocked that the CIA is doing this; in fact, it's very likely that this is the tip of a very large iceberg. Undoubtedly, the CIA, and the Pentagon, is coordinating a regional effort involving the Sunni bloc involving Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar to topple the Assad government in Damascus. That, folks, is called "regime change." And we've seen it before.
Snakes in Suits

Boehner on sequester: 'I don't think anyone quite understands' how it ends

© Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Secretary of defense Chuck Hagel discusses the effects of the sequester on military operations, which bore the brunt of the cuts.
US lawmakers on both sides show little room for negotiating way out of possibly devastating spending cuts that kicked in Friday

Billions of dollars in sequester-induced budget cuts appear set to stay for the time being, with leading political figures in Washington indicating no early resolution to the impasse, as they eye next year's congressional elections.

John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Sunday he saw no path to agreement with the president over the $85bn in automatic cuts, about half to military spending, that kicked in on Friday after the two sides failed to agree a package of budget reductions and tax rises to tackle the deficit.

"I don't think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Pressed on why he does not agree to the president's demand to increase revenues by closing tax loopholes, Boehner turned the question around and accused Barack Obama of failing to keep his side of the implicit bargain that higher taxes already agreed should be matched with spending cuts.
Snakes in Suits

Howard Kurtz rips Sean Hannity for comparing black Democrat to the KKK

CNN media critic Howard Kurtz on Sunday said that Fox News host Sean Hannity had "surrendered the high ground" when he followed up an explosive interview with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) by comparing the African-American congressman to a white supremacist hate group.

In an interview last week, Ellison had appeared on Hannity's show and blasted the Fox News host for being "the worst excuse for a journalist I've ever seen."

Hannity responded two days later by linking Ellison to the controversial Nation of Islam and black militant Khalid Muhammad, whom he said wanted to "kill the women, everything white that's in sight - kill the women, kill the babies, kill the children, kill the old people."

The conservative host continued by saying that the Democratic lawmaker was the "equivalent" of the Ku Klux Klan.
Eye 2

In Haiti the UN's behaviour is a far cry from being the conscience of the world

© Illustration by Andrzej Krauze
‘Nearly three times as many have died as were killed in 9/11, yet there are no urgent debates at the general assembly.'
The organisation ducked responsibility for the cholera outbreak in denial of the ideals set out in its own charter

Imagine if a multinational company went to one of the world's most impoverished countries and, while saying it was there to help, contaminated the water supplies, unleashing a new disease that killed thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands more develop a hideous sickness, suffering such debilitating loss of liquid their eyes sink into their face, their skin wrinkles, their body shivers uncontrollably. Then there is a cover-up as the firm evades responsibility and, when finally taken to court, it simply refuses to play ball with the legal process.

Such a story sounds like something created in the febrile mind of a Hollywood scriptwriter, which in real life would lead to a huge and justified outcry. But this is precisely what has just happened to the people of Haiti, except with one big difference - it was the United Nations at the centre of events, not a multinational. And there was no furore, just a few murmurings of mild concern.

Yet such behaviour is worse coming from the body that is supposed to serve as the conscience of the world rather than a profit-hungry firm. The UN purports to exist in order to guard human rights, to spread the rule of law, help the poor and defend them from conflict and disease. It has all too often fallen woefully short of these noble ideals, but rarely has it shown such willful contempt for them in its own actions.

Accused Scottish cardinal admits sexual failings

© Thomas Coex, AFP/Getty Images
Cardinal Keith O'Brien is shown in 2005. O'Brien was quoted Sunday as saying there had been times "that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."
Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who had contested accusations of sexual impropriety in February, on Sunday acknowledged that "there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me."

O'Brien decided not to attend the March conclave after media reports that three priests and one former priest had accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior when he was a seminary rector in the 1980s.
Brick Wall

Israel launches 'Palestinians only' buses - reports

© AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi
A bus carrying foreign pro-Palestinian activists arrives at King Hussein Bridge (Allenby Bridge), around 35 kms (20 miles) southeast of the Jordanian capital Amman, to try to enter the West Bank
New bus lines connecting the West Bank with Israel have sparked controversy. Despite claims they are regular lines, Israeli media believe they were set up specifically for Palestinians, in order to segregate them from Jewish settlers.

Leaflets in Arabic have lately been spread around the West Bank Palestinian villages, calling on their inhabitants to use the new bus lines, which will go from Eyal crossing near the city of Qalqilya to Israel, Ynetnews reported.

The official reason for introducing new bus lines is that the existing "mixed" ones are overcrowded and conflict-prone. Around 30,000 Palestinians work in Israel and have to travel there every day.

Plans to put them on separate bus lines were first announced in November 2012, following several episodes of police taking Palestinian laborers off buses from Tel Aviv to the West Bank. The police acted on complaints from Jewish settlers, who claimed that Palestinians posed a security threat by riding the same buses as them.