Pakistan region in grip of sharia law and Taleban terror


Daylife/AP Photo

With his flowing white beard and thick spectacles, Sufi Muhammad has an avuncular air about him that can initially appear reassuring. But all that changes when the 70-year-old kingpin of the Swat valley opens his mouth to promise more of the kind of punishment meted out to the 17-year-old local woman captured in the mobile video footage.

Muhammad is leader of an Islamist movement that has long since agitated for sharia justice. And he took a big step towards his objective in February when he struck a “peace for sharia” deal with the authorities under which the Taliban would stop a two-year armed campaign in the region in return for the establishment of new religious courts. In a rare interview with any media outlet, domestic or foreign, he told the Guardian that the new courts would formalise penalties including flogging, chopping off hands and stoning to death.

Floggings are the correct punishment, Muhammad explained, for sexual intercourse between unmarried people, drinking alcohol and slander. Thieves should have their hands chopped off – unless they were poor people stealing to feed themselves. And, for adultery, stoning to death…

The descent of Swat from the country’s favourite honeymoon destination to Taliban stronghold mirrors Pakistan’s own decline into violence and chaos over the past two years.

It has always been easy for the unconvinced, opportunists of the world to find “acceptable” reasons to live alongside despotism and demagogues. The Taleban hope that Pakistan’s tidy little agreement may make good press in Islamabad – at least comfort politicians in their British-style clubs – and their perverse sharia, their reactionary definition of Islam and Islamic law will prevail in the territory they control by force of arms and intimidation.

Unless the Pakistan government acquires some backbone to accompany the U.S. weapons and training that are forthcoming – military decisions will have to override political decision in the lawless Tribal Territories. Be certain of that.

William M. Jenkins dies – 49 years after gang shooting

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Samuel Jenkins (L), William Jenkins (R)

On Oct. 21, 1960, as “West Side Story” was playing on Broadway, a real blood feud was playing out at a youth dance and on the streets of Spanish Harlem between two rival gangs called the Viceroys and the Dragons.

About 8 p.m. that night, William M. Jenkins, 18, was shot through the stomach and back, rendering him a paraplegic. He continued his life of crime, however, becoming known to the police as Wheelchair Willie, while two teenage brothers in the Dragons were arrested and imprisoned for shooting him.

“West Side Story” popped up again on Broadway last month, and, 49 years after it happened, so did the case of the Jenkins shooting. After Mr. Jenkins died on March 13 at age 66, the city medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide due to infectious complications caused by the gunshot wounds, making it the oldest reclassified homicide in New York Police Department history.

“I can’t believe this,” one of the brothers, George Lemus, now 64, said after he was told the news Wednesday at the computer repair business he runs in Midtown Manhattan. A little while later, he looked down at his arm. “The hair stood up,” he said, holding out the arm, still fresh with goose bumps.

Mr. Lemus’s brother, Robert, died a decade ago at age 58. The shooting haunted him until his death, said his son, Robert Lemus 3rd: “He lived with a level of remorse for the fact that, at his hands, someone had a handicap his entire life over an evening of probable misunderstanding.”

The district attorney’s office said it would not prosecute because the brothers had already served time (Mr. Lemus said he was imprisoned for a year and half and his brother for five years) for the shooting and because witnesses and medical records would be hard to come by, the police official said.

The victim’s brother, Samuel A. Jenkins, even questioned how his brother’s death could be attributed to long-ago violence rather than the myriad medical problems he endured in his life or the recent acute deterioration of his health.

When asked about the Lemus brothers, he said that his family held no grudge: “Willie forgave them and I forgive them, if they are still alive.”

There’s a lot of history better off forgotten. I know how the man feels.

The dog ate my politics


Koni demonstrating his GPS collar
Daylife/AP Photo

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s pet dog gobbled up a special tea prepared for bosses of Russia’s ruling party Wednesday.

While Putin discussed ways to help the local food industry, his favorite black Labrador Koni slinked into a room at his residence and tucked into delicacies prepared for leaders of his United Russia party.

Koni ate everything,” said one of Putin’s astounded bodyguards.

I worry about the dog – after eating all those sweets. Russian cuisine in winter [all right, early spring] has enough sugar in it to candy-coat any political campaign.

Nokia says WiMax is wireless Betamax


Nokia (L) chatting with AT&T (R)
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Nokia has dismissed the prospects of the WiMax wireless mobile standard, claiming it is doomed to meet the same fate as Betamax, the video format that lost out to VHS in a war over technology standards in the 1970s and 1980s.

The world’s biggest maker of mobile phones is one of the founding members of the WiMax Forum, the industry body set up to promote the standard. The Finnish company is betting the 4G wireless standard LTE – Long Term Evolution – will dominate the mobile world by 2015 and WiMax will be the big loser.

WiMax has suffered a delayed roll-out in the US, but its main backer, the chipmaker Intel, has claimed the technology is taking hold in other parts of the world. “I don’t see that WiMax is taking hold anywhere in a big way,” said Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s head of sales and manufacturing, at a Nokia launch event in San Francisco yesterday…

His remarks were the most dismissive by Nokia of WiMax to date.

“It’s my prediction that by 2015, we will have an LTE network that will cover most of the important places in the world and that will give us the coverage and capacity we need,” said Mr Vanjoki. He said Verizon and AT&T were “going full blast” in rolling out LTE networks in the US.

I haven’t any vested interest in either. I’m hard-pressed for any kind of personal interest because even though I live next door to the capitol city, we don’t have enough people in northern New Mexico to catch the interest of this crowd as it is.

I like the concept of RF-based communications competing with copper and fibre – just to kick everyone along in the direction of providing bandwidth capable of IPTV for example. But, I ain’t holding my breath waiting.

For U.S. satellite makers, a no-cost bailout

Officials in Washington are moving to revitalize yet another faltering American industry: the business of making the communications satellites that hover above Earth and knit the planet into a global community.

But this rescue would not cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. In fact it could be virtually free — if Congressional Democrats succeed in lifting export controls that classify satellite technology as weapons and have handicapped American manufacturers since the last days of the Clinton administration…

The export revision is by no means a sure thing. The national security arguments cited in imposing the limits still resonate with conservatives who believe strict regulation is needed to keep China and other countries from stealing secret technology.

Since the rules took effect in 1999, the legal complications involved in selling commercial communications satellites and components abroad have contributed to a sharp decline in American companies’ share of the market, from nearly 90 percent to about 50 percent. The drop in sales has coincided with a reversal in America’s balance of trade in high technology, which went negative in 2002 and has stayed there.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama issued a policy statement that faulted the rules as having “unduly hampered the competitiveness of the domestic aerospace industry” and cost the nation billions of dollars. As president, he said, he would push for change.

RTFA. Plenty of interesting history. Plenty of reasons to thumb your nose at the paranoid prophets of doom who have succeeded in giving away almost half our existing market share.

I laugh at those who paint conservatives as across-the-board defenders of corporate power. Only the folks who have them in their pants pakcets, folks. That means the military-industrial complex – and event that is fractured by our diminishing commercial power around the world.

We used to be capable of competing on every economic stage in the world. It can happen, again, if the ideological losers would get out of the way.

Feds ask for input on voting machine standards

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today opened for public comment detailed new methods for testing future electronic voting systems’ compliance with voluntary federal standards. Touch screens, optical scanners and other kinds of electronic voting systems now appear at polls across the nation.

The new draft tests can be viewed here.

“These new tests will ensure that everyone is on the same page for testing electronic voting systems,” said Lynne Rosenthal, manager of the NIST voting project. “This will not only benefit the general public and the government, but also they will help manufacturers build voting systems that meet federal standards.”

NIST requests public comments on the draft by July 1. Once the EAC finalizes the VVSG-NI, the test suites are expected to become required for testing future generations of electronic voting systems.

Any suggestions?

Pope finally investigates scandal-ridden religious order


One more ultra-conservative charlatan
Daylife/Getty Images

Pope Benedict has ordered an investigation of an influential Roman Catholic priestly order whose founder was discovered to be a sexual molester and to have had at least one child with a mistress.

The Legionaries of Christ announced the inspection, known in Church language as an “Apostolic Visitation,” this week.

Hey, it only took 68 years for someone to notice.

The conservative Legionaries, have been shaken over the past several years by a string of scandals tied to their founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who died last year at the age of 87…

While running an order of priests who take vows of celibacy, he had a mistress with whom he fathered at least one child.

In 2006, Pope Benedict told Maciel to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence” after accusations that he had molested boy and men seminarians decades earlier.

The order had denied the molestation charges for years but the Vatican moved against Maciel after new evidence emerged. At the time, the sanctions against Maciel made him one of the most prominent persons to be disciplined for sexual abuse.

As often as we accuse our politicians of hypocrisy, the Christian churches must have invented it. They certainly have perfected the practice.

Web traffic in Sweden drops by a third as anti-piracy law kicks in

Internet traffic in Sweden fell by 33% as the country’s new anti-piracy law came into effect.

Sweden’s new policy – the Local IPRED law – allows copyright holders to force internet service providers (ISP) to reveal details of users sharing files.

According to figures released by the government statistics agency – Statistics Sweden – 8% of the entire population use peer-to-peer sharing.

Popular BitTorrent sharing site, The Pirate Bay, is also based in Sweden.

The new law, which is based on the European Union’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED), allows copyright holders to obtain a court order forcing ISPs to provide the IP addresses identifying which computers have been sharing copyrighted material.

Figures from Netnod, a Swedish firm that measures internet traffic in and out of the country, suggest traffic fell from an average of 120Gbps to 80Gbps on the day the new law came into effect.

Har!

McDonald’s pushed to take steps to cut potato pesticides

McDonald’s Corp, the largest purchaser of potatoes in the United States, has agreed to take preliminary steps to reduce pesticide use in its domestic potato supply.

Following the agreement, the Bard College Endowment, Newground Social Investment and the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund withdrew a shareholder proposal that, if approved, would have required the company to publish a report on options for cutting pesticide use in its supply chain…

“Because McDonald’s has such a commanding presence in the marketplace, this commitment offers the promise of significant reductions of pesticide use — which will benefit consumer health, as well as farm workers, local agricultural communities and the environment,” said Newground Social Investment Chief Executive Bruce Herbert, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Children’s Environmental Health.

Had the agreement not been reached, the resolution would have appeared in the company’s upcoming proxy statement and come up for a vote at the company’s shareholder meeting later this year…

Dr. Richard Liroff said food companies such as Sysco Corp, General Mills Inc and Campbell Soup Co have already shown that cutting pesticide use can makes sense from both an environmental health and business perspective.

Why does this sound like “we’re proud to announce we’re studying how to put less rat poison in your hotdogs”?

Iraq disbands Sunni militia that aided defeat of insurgency


Daylife/AP Photo

Iraq took a security gamble and disbanded the Sunni militias that helped turn the tide against al-Qaida in Mesopotamia and other insurgent groups.

One hundred thousand members of the Awakening Councils will now be given jobs at the interior ministry, but many fear the plan will renew sectarian tension and spark disaffection among those not given security roles.

There are also fears that rapidly falling revenues from an oil-dependent economy will leave the government unable to honour its commitment to create such a large number of new positions.

It’s the dollars – and, now, petrodollars – that have governed the surge and the comparative peace that followed. If you believed otherwise, you’re naive.

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