A month of voting begins in India

Electronic voting machines being checked at a distribution center
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

As voters in parts of central and eastern India go to the polls it will mark the start of the largest democratic ballot in history, a rolling wave of voting in five phases that will stretch over a month and demand formidable security measures, given the twin threats posed by Maoist rebels and jihadi terrorists.

More than a million electronic voting machines are to be deployed at 828,000 polling stations. No voter will be more than 2km from a ballot box.

Elections can be violent. In the first phase of polls five years ago more than 20 people died. Although the central government has a million-man army, most election security is handled by a 250,000-strong paramilitary force…

Ever since the Congress party and the Gandhi family lost their grip on power in 1989 no single party has been able to run India. At the last election the Congress party took only 145 seats out of 543, with 26% of the vote. It took office by sharing power with partners.

Despite the arrival of coalition politics, turnout has remained stable at around 60% and poor minorities are more likely to vote than anyone else…

The Congress party, say pundits, is the favourite because it is in power and can point to tangible achievements.

RTFA. Lots of detail, lots of complexity. I know who I would be voting for were I an Indian citizen – but, I’m not. An opinion formed by a view from afar. Not really as important as being on the ground in a nation with such a dynamic history.

Being in love gets couple executed

A Taliban firing squad killed a young couple in southwestern Afghanistan for trying to elope, shooting them with AK-47s in front of a crowd in a lawless, militant-controlled region, officials said Tuesday.

The woman, 19-year-old Gul Pecha, and the man, 21-year-old Abdul Aziz, were accused by the militants of immoral acts, and a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed, officials said.

The two had hoped to travel to Iran, which borders their home province of Nimroz, but their parents sent villagers to bring them home, said Sadiq Chakhansori, the chief of the provincial council. Once back home, the pair was either turned over to the Taliban by their parents or the militants took them by force, the officials said, providing slightly varying accounts….

In remote and dangerous regions of Afghanistan, Taliban fighters operate what are sometimes referred to as shadow governments, where militant leaders serve as government officials and run their own police units and pseudo court systems.

What can you say? There’s no end to such stories. But the victims deserve to have their story shouted from the rooftops.

Bank of America clerk guilty of IRS embezzlement

One of the stolen checks

A contract worker for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has been found guilty of embezzling nearly $500,000 in remittance checks, officials say.

Emmanuel Ekwuruke, a Bank of America employee, was found guilty of theft, embezzlement, misapplication by a bank employee, as well as theft of public money and aggravated identity theft…

The money was part of a criminal haul made by Ekwuruke, who embezzled $485,539 in taxpayer remittance checks.

Erkwuruke was sentenced to 66 months in prison. He was a contract employee at one of three commercial banks used by the IRS as “lockboxes” to collect, process and forward checks sent in by taxpayers to government post office boxes.

How do some of these crooks think they’re never going to be caught? Admittedly, he’d gotten away with about half-a-million dollars – but, even the IRS notices paperwork doesn’t match remittances after a while.

Technology advances record police behavior for scrutiny

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

For years police have filmed protesters at demonstrations to identify potential troublemakers and collect evidence for prosecutions.

Now, with advances in digital technology and mobile phones with cameras and videos, ordinary members of the public are turning the tables on the authorities.

The issue was brought into focus this week with the suspension of two London police officers after footage emerged of apparent excessive force being used during protests against this month’s G20 summit in the British capital.

Video taken by a New York fund manager showed an officer shoving a man to the ground minutes before he died of a suspected heart attack. More film taken the next day captured an officer lashing out at a woman who was remonstrating with him…

The London incidents are the latest examples of how technology is being seized on to bring those in authority to account who might otherwise have escaped justice.

This may just force political uses and abuses involving police to be re-evaluated by the political hacks who set the standards for official behavior. Maybe in my lifetime. Har.

I still chuckle over leafleting a draft board in New Orleans during the VietNam War – offering counseling services to young men on how to beat the military draft. There were six of us. We were photographed and filmed by creeps from fourteen different agencies, ranging from the local Red Squad to Military Intelligence and the Border Patrol.

Council honors copper – then lays him off

The city council in East St. Louis, Ill. voted to lay off a police officer just minutes after they honored him for apprehending a slaying suspect.

East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. called officer Kristopher Weston, 28, before the city council to praise him for his work following the robbery of a grocery store.

Less than 5 minutes later, the city council unanimously approved budget cuts that will eliminate the jobs of five police officers, five firefighters and a number of other employees at the end of the month.

Weston, who has been on the force for 10 months, has little seniority which means he will most likely be one of the officers laid off.

“It was nice to be recognized,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

During a recession, whenever – the last two categories of staff you should let go are police and teachers. The former protect your life, day-by-day, The latter are building your community’s future.

How Technology Won the Presidency, Part II

Daylife/Getty Images

I explained yesterday how the Obama campaign utilized data integration techniques to realize a distinct advantage in targeting voters. However, all that data wouldn’t have meant anything without the technologies to process it and disseminate it. Obama’s team excelled here, too, utilizing the latest technological advances and trends to do on the cheap what, just a few years ago, would have cost beaucoup bucks.

Improvements in hardware helped the team keep costs low. Luke Peterson, data architect for Obama for America, told me his $700 laptop easily handled voter registration data, in fact better than did the $5,000 workstation he used in 2004. But improved processor performance was aided to some degree by improved software, too. Peterson said the campaign used inexpensive software options — PostgreSQL, MySQL, etc. — where possible, saving budget resources for expensive items like SPSS licenses and an ArcGIS server for the Chicago office.

Increased bandwidth also was a big boon. In 2000, Peterson explained, the Al Gore campaign was using an ISDN that was split 60 ways (I hope he was exaggerating). “If we needed to move a big data set, we’d set it up at 6:00 p.m. and go home … or go work at another computer,” he told me. “Maybe the next morning, if you’re lucky, it went through.” Compare that to the Obama campaign, which had “huge” pipes going into the Chicago office and invested heavily in Internet connections for field offices.

Advances in mobile technology made life easier, as well. By the end of the campaign, Peterson said, the team was running most of its voice communication on cell phones and even VoIP — the only copper going into the Chicago office was the DSL line. The team even built an iPhone app designed to help canvassers do their jobs.

Pretty interesting stuff, both hardware and software. If this keeps up, I might even learn how to run for Animal Control Officer. 🙂

Twenty years after Hillsborough

From “The Fiver” – Guardian Unlimited


Last night, Liverpool Football Club played their part in one of the greatest matches in the history of Big Cup, a thundering 4-4 draw with Chelsea unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry by anyone who witnessed it. And yet this morning, as queues snaked outside Anfield, with thousands waiting to pay their respects to the 96 Liverpool fans who needlessly lost their lives at Hillsborough, that match was suddenly put into the starkest of contexts.

Twenty years ago today, not long after kick-off at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, a Peter Beardsley shot rattled the Nottingham Forest crossbar. It would be the last significant incident of a football match that would be halted at 3.06pm. Tragically, it would be far from the last significant incident of the day. By the end of the evening, 94 fans had lost their lives, crushed to death after police guided crowds into an already over-populated central pen at the Leppings Lane end of the ground, then opened a gate to ease turnstile congestion. Another fan would die four days later, a final 96th supporter two years on. And because of an arbitrary 3.15pm cut-off time imposed by the coroner, and the unwillingness of police to release official documentation, many families still don’t know what happened to their loved ones before they died.

Anfield opened its doors this afternoon at 2pm, and over 30,000 people streamed quietly in for the memorial service. A banner reading “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was unveiled to chants of “Justice for the 96”, then squad members present and past filed in to take their seats, before Kenny Dalglish arrived to warm and loud applause. The names of all 96 victims were read out, each preceded by the peal of a bell. Then at 3.06pm, two minutes silence.

After a choral rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, Dalglish read out the first lesson. Culture secretary Andy Burnham later made a speech paying tribute to the victims, which was met by applause, but he was also heckled by chants of “Justice for the 96” upon mentioning the government and Gordon Brown. Trevor Hicks, the president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, apologised to Burnham for the heckling, but added: “Truth will defeat the lies and propaganda.”

John Alfred Anderson (62), Thomas Howard (39), Colin Mark Ashcroft (19), Thomas Anthony Howard (14), James Gary Aspinall (18), Eric George Hughes (42), Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16), Alan Johnston (29), Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67),Christine Anne Jones (27), Simon Bell (17), Gary Philip Jones (18), Barry Sidney Bennett (26), Richard Jones (25), David John Benson (22), Nicholas Peter Joynes (27), David William Birtle (22), Anthony Peter Kelly (29), Tony Bland (22), Michael David Kelly (38), Paul David Brady (21), Carl David Lewis (18), Andrew Mark Brookes (26), David William Mather (19), Carl Brown (18), Brian Christopher Mathews (38), David Steven Brown (25), Francis Joseph McAllister (27), Henry Thomas Burke (47), John McBrien (18), Peter Andrew Burkett (24), Marion Hazel McCabe (21), Paul William Carlile (19), Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21), Raymond Thomas Chapman (50), Peter McDonnell (21), Gary Christopher Church (19), Alan McGlone (28), Joseph Clark (29), Keith McGrath (17), Paul Clark (18), Paul Brian Murray (14), Gary Collins (22), Lee Nicol (14), Stephen Paul Copoc (20), Stephen Francis O’Neill (17), Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23), Jonathon Owens (18), James Philip Delaney (19),William Roy Pemberton (23), Christopher Barry Devonside (18), Carl William Rimmer (21), Christopher Edwards (29), David George Rimmer (38), Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34), Graham John Roberts (24), Thomas Steven Fox (21), Steven Joseph Robinson (17), Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10), Henry Charles Rogers (17), Barry Glover (27), Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23), Ian Thomas Glover (20), Inger Shah (38), Derrick George Godwin (24), Paula Ann Smith (26), Roy Harry Hamilton (34), Adam Edward Spearritt (14), Philip Hammond (14), Philip John Steele (15), Eric Hankin (33), David Leonard Thomas (23), Gary Harrison (27), Patrik John Thompson (35), Stephen Francis Harrison (31), Peter Reuben Thompson (30), Peter Andrew Harrison (15), Stuart Paul William Thompson (17), David Hawley (39), Peter Francis Tootle (21), James Robert Hennessy (29), Christopher James Traynor (26), Paul Anthony Hewitson (26), Martin Kevin Traynor (16), Carl Darren Hewitt (17), Kevin Tyrrell (15), Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16), Colin Wafer (19), Sarah Louise Hicks (19), Ian David Whelan (19), Victoria Jane Hicks (15), Martin Kenneth Wild (29), Gordon Rodney Horn (20), Kevin Daniel Williams (15), Arthur Horrocks (41), Graham John Wright (17). RIP. Justice for the 96.

I dinna speak easily through tears. Never forget.

Obama set to name Alan Bersin to be Border Czar

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The Obama administration is naming a former Justice Department official, Alan Bersin, to tackle drug-related violence and illegal immigration problems plaguing the U.S. border with Mexico.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is expected to make the announcement during a visit to El Paso, Texas. Outsiders have dubbed the post a “border czar.”

“Right now our goals are two-fold. No. 1 is to prevent people at the border from entering this country illegally and No. 2 is to play a part in assisting the Mexican government in its crackdown on the drug cartels,” the source said. “That will be the primary function of this new position.”

The announcement is scheduled to take place one day before President Barack Obama is to embark on a trip to Mexico, where issues of drug violence south of the U.S. border are expected to be at the top of the agenda…

Bersin was criticized by some immigrant groups for his role in Operation Gatekeeper, a federal government operation to crack down on illegal immigration along the westernmost portion of the U.S.-Mexico border. The program was a success at reducing uncontrolled immigration through that area, but immigrants and human smugglers shifted to the east. Some blame the program for increases in immigrant deaths in the desert and on highways.

People committing self-destructive acts is a measure of their stupidity and ignorance. It has little or nothing to do with law enforcement.

Sugar replacement battle has a new gun in town

For the last decade the big three — pink packets of saccharin, aspartame in blue and sucralose in yellow — have fought to a kind of stalemate. But now a new player, dressed in green, hopes to shift the balance of power, opening up the $1.2-billion-a-year world of fake sugar to all kinds of changes.

The Food and Drug Administration agreed in December that rebaudioside A, an extract from the leaves of the stevia plant, is safe to add to food and drinks.

The stakes are high. Despite nagging health concerns and flavors that are about as much like sugar as margarine is like butter, almost half of all American households use some kind of no-calorie sweetener, according to 2007 figures compiled by Packaged Facts, a market research firm. Although finding a no-calorie sweetener that tastes exactly like sugar remains the holy grail, the street fight is getting people loyal to the distinct flavors of one fake sugar to jump to another.

The stevia products that are coming on the market now are not without problems. They cost five times as much as Sweet’N Low, the oldest and least expensive of tabletop brands…But stevia has one distinct advantage over all the rest. Because it comes from a plant, marketers can call it a natural sweetener. And that allows companies that have invested millions in new stevia products to tap into two powerful markets at once: natural ingredients and low-calorie products.

Continue reading

$10 million X-prize offered – to transform U.S. healthcare


Organizers of the X Prize, who have set up contests for space travel, DNA research and super-efficient cars, are now offering $10 million to the winner of a contest to transform the health of people in a small U.S. community.

They invited written ideas for the Healthcare X Prize, and said they would choose five for a three-year trial run in real communities or at employers.

The winner would be chosen based on a “community health index” of measures such as an improved ability to climb stairs, reductions in visits to emergency rooms and health costs…

“We are looking for teams to help individuals and communities proactively improve their own health and (that) of their families,” added Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and chief executive of the non-profit X Prize Foundation.

“Teams are actually going to have to design and implement a system across a community of 10,000 people that improves health by 50 percent during a three-year trial period…”

The plan gives teams 18 months to conceive, model, and submit their plans.

RTFA. Information on what crap our healthcare is compared to other industrialized nations. In case you didn’t know that.