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Thursday, March 15, 2012

As long as America exists, we will not rest.. Iran

A senior Iranian commander this week is calling for the destruction not just of Israel but of the United States of America, as well. “As long as America exists, we will not rest,” said Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, head of the Basij paramilitary force. “In revealing the truth about America and the Zionists, we must raise public hate against the despotic powers and create the environment for the destruction of America.” Such language is consistent with the Twelver eschatology held by the senior Iranian leadership that says Iran must seek to annihilate Israel (the “Little Satan” in their view) and the U.S. (which they call the “Great Satan”) in order to hasten the coming of the Twelfth Imam and the establishment of a global Islamic kingdom or Caliphate.

Meanwhile, growing evidence suggests an Israeli first strike on Iran is drawing closer. While disagreements clearly exist between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu about precisely when a war with Iran may be warranted, one thing is clear: the leaders of the U.S. and Israel are preparing Iran, the world, and their own people that war is coming soon if Iran doesn’t stop pursuing nuclear weapons. 

During a White House press conference on Wednesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron in the Rose Garden, for example, Mr. Obama said “the window for diplomacy is shrinking.” He added ominously, ”We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon….Tehran must understand that it cannot escape or evade the choice before it. Meet your international obligations or face the consequences.” I read that as Mr. Obama’s most blunt warning yet that war is coming, and he might not be able to stop it.

At the same time, Aluf Benn, one of Israel’s most respected national security columnists published a story in Haaretztoday with this lead: “Since his return from Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mainly been preoccupied with one thing: Preparing public opinion for war against Iran. Netanyahu is attempting to convince the Israeli public that the Iranian threat is a tangible and existential one, and that there is only one effective way to stop it and prevent a ‘second Holocaust’: An Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, which is buried deep underground. 

In his speech before the Knesset on Wednesday, Netanyahu urged his colleagues to reject claims that Israel is too weak to go it alone in a war against a regional power such as Iran and therefore needs to rely on the United States, which has much greater military capabilities, to do the job and remove the threat. According to polls published last week, this is the position of most of the Israeli public, which supports a U.S. strike on Iran, but is wary of sending the IDF to the task without the backing of the friendly superpower.”
Joel Rosenberg

Iran threatens N. Israel with bombardment from Lebanon

Tehran has begun capitalizing on its allies” two perceived victories: Bashar Assad’s success in seizing Idlib from rebel hands and the Palestinian Jihad Islami’s triumphal missile assault from Gaza.

The Iranians are now moving forward with plans to match the Palestinian assault on southern Israeli with an offensive on the north from Lebanon. This is reported by DEBKAfile’s exclusive sources in the wake of a visit paid by high-ranking Iranian and Hizballah officials Wednesday morning, March 14, to the Lebanese-Israeli border region opposite Metulah, Israel’s northernmost town at the tip of the Galilee Panhandle.

The Iranian group, led by Ali Akbar Javanfekr, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spokesman, arrived in a heavily guarded convoy at the Fatma outpost opposite Metulah for its rendezvous with Hizballah military intelligence officers.
Once there, they kept moving around near the Lebanese-Israeli border fence. At times, they came up close and examined the Israel Defense Forces’ ongoing work for fortifying the border fence and upgrading it from a boundary marker to a military barrier able to withstand terrorist incursions into the Galilee panhandle.
The Iranian visitor, Javanfekr, commented in the hearing of our sources: “The Zionists can build any wall they like, whether of concrete, iron or plastic, but we and Hizballah will knock it down, like Israel itself.”

He pitched his voice loudly enough to carry across the border.
His words were taken by top Israeli commanders as a blunt threat of a missile offensive on similar lines to the Gaza confrontation – only this time instead of Jihad Islami in Gaza, Hizballah would be entrusted with shooting missiles from Lebanon.
Word of this threat spurred Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to sharpen his tone in his speech to the Knesset later Wednesday and declare, “We shall strike Iran even if our American friends object.”

He was further irked by a decision by US President Barack Obama and visiting British premier David Cameron, reported by DEBKAfile’s Washington sources, to intensify their efforts for holding Israel back from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu therefore stressed once again that Israel would decide for itself the best way to pre-empt a nuclear Iran.
No sooner were his comments broadcast, when Washington announced that Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro would be traveling to Israel forthwith. He will no doubt try and clarify how far Netanyahu really means to go.


The goal of Islam....

Philadelphia Police Department creates surveillance center

The Philadelphia Police Department has joined Penn’s Division of Public Safety in creating a 24-hour emergency surveillance center.

Now one of about 10 cities in the nation with a real-time crime center, Philadelphia installed a surveillance center in the lobby of their police headquarters at 8th and Race streets.

The real-time center can pull camera images from crime scenes immediately, see every incoming 911 call and have access to SEPTA’s surveillance system.

“We’re doing it differently than any other real-time crime center,” said PPD’s Commanding Officer, Captain Joseph McDowell. “Ours will have real-time analysis, an operation center, daily watch and the confliction function, which is to prevent other police departments from stepping on each other during investigations.”

The project has been in the planning stages since 2008, when Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey first came to Philadelphia, according to McDowell.

In addition, automated license-plate readers were implemented in January, and the improved system has helped recover 50 stolen cars in a month’s time by scanning plates going as fast as 140 miles per hour.

The police department has also created SafeCam, which allows businesses and homeowners to register their private cameras so PPD can access the cameras if there is an emergency.

The new technology may also help Penn’s Department of Public Safety in patrolling crime.

Dispatchers from the PennComm Operations Center — DPS’s real-time emergency communications center — are able to see Philadelphia’s 911 calls, PPD’s Computer Aided Dispatching and radio systems. PennComm can also respond to Philadelphia Police calls in the Penn Patrol Zone.

Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said DPS works in tandem with PPD.

“We’re additional eyes for the police department,” PennComm’s Director of Technology and Emergency Communications Mitchell Yanak added.

PennComm, which came online in DPS’s current headquarters in 1997, has close-circuit TV (CCTV) videos that dispatchers can pull up to view after an incident. Out of the 788 cameras that report to DPS, detectives can view recorded videos from 300 cameras while dispatchers from PennComm can view the other 488 cameras.

PennComm receives over 100,000 calls a year from the Penn community, Yanak said. The center usually has five people working eight-hour shifts at any given time.

According to Yanak, dispatchers are trained to observe only suspicious behavior and receive extensive training on the legal issues of CCTV cameras as well as privacy concerns.

Once suspicious behavior is sighted, PennComm dispatchers will call both Penn Police and Allied Barton to further investigate the case.

It currently takes the PPD about half an hour to conduct database searches for criminal records. With the new center, they hope to cut that down to 30 seconds.

Furthermore, if there are cameras at the scene of a crime, the images can immediately be brought up for the operators at the real-time center.

Still working on technological improvements, the real-time center is scheduled to be in full operation in October.

“We’re leveraging technology as a force multiplier so we can truly do more with less,” McDowell said. “Closing these gaps will help us speed up investigations.”

However, while the technology at the surveillance center is new, it isn’t flawless.

“Like any electronics, sometimes things go bad,” McDowell said. “The only problem is finding the funding to put more cameras up and funding to maintain them.” He added the police department is always looking for grant funding.

DPS is also looking to improve their real-time crime management systems. They want to integrate technology that allows images from cameras to stream directly into police cars so drivers can see what the dispatchers are also seeing.

They hope to install proximity card readers at the DPS building, which would read cards without swiping.

The Daily Pennsylvaninan

Chicago’s thousands of surveillance and ‘red light’ smart cameras

Former Secretary of U.S. Homeland Security Michael Chertoff once said, "I don’t think there is another city in the U.S. that has an extensive and integrated camera network as Chicago has." Chicago may be the most heavily surveilled city in the nation. Surveillance and smart cameras, like the so called “red light cameras”, number in the thousands. If you add in private camera networks the city has potential access to, the number could jump into the tens of thousands.

And a report last year by the Illinois chapter of the ACLU, titled Chicago's Video Surveillance Cameras: A Pervasive and Unregulated Threat to Our Privacy, warns Chicagoans of potential threats to privacy under the watchful eyes of the city's growing surveillance camera system.

Today, Worldview talks with Rajiv Shah, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Shah specializes in public policy implications from the design of communication technology. His main focus is video surveillance. Rajiv writes about Chicago’s camera and video surveillance culture in his blogs, Eyeing Chicago and InHardFocus.

Rajiv will talk more about Chicago’s surveillance culture on during a presentation called "Chicago's Spy in the Sky." It begins at 6:30pm on March 13, 2012 at the Chicago History Museum as part of its “In the Know” series.


Netanyahu on Iran: We've Never Left Our Fate to Others

In one of his most fierce speeches on the Iranian nuclear threat, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security, hinting that he would launch an attack on Iran even without American approval.

Speaking during a discussion in the Knesset, Netanyahu spoke of his recent visit to the United States and his meeting with President Barack Obama and said, “We have the right and obligation to be responsible for our fate. Israel has never left its fate to others, not even in the hands of its best friends. This is an obligation which is imposed on me as prime minister of Israel.”

He compared the decisions he will need to make to those made by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who decided to attack Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.

“[Begin] was led by his duty when he was well aware of the international criticism, including from the United States, our friend,” said Netanyahu. “He carried out his duty and acted. In time it became clear that our relations with the United States not only were not damaged but rather became stronger.”

However, Netanyahu made it clear that “we prefer that Iran abandon its nuclear program peacefully. The obligation which is imposed on me is to maintain Israel's ability to defend itself against any challenge.”

The prime minister also referred to recent events in the south, following the launching of over 200 rockets over four days by terrorists, and said that despite the success of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, it does not provide a full response to the rocket threat.

“There is no hermetic protection and there never will be,” said Netanyahu. “The combination of the power of attack and the capacity of national strength is a winner and it should be fostered.”

He added, “Gaza has become a base for Iran. The Kadima party and the disengagement put Iran into Gaza, and we will pull Iran out of Gaza. Every place we left, Iran entered. Lebanon, Gaza, there are those who offer to withdraw from Judea and Samaria - Iran will enter there as well. We warned that a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will lead to exactly these results. We must not agree to it over a long period of time. At the end of the day, Israel will not tolerate an Iranian terrorist base in Gaza, and sooner or later this base will be uprooted.”

Referring to the deadlock in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu said, “There are many reasons to reach an agreement with the Palestinians - because we want peace and quiet and because I do not want a bi-national state.

“However, to think that an agreement with [PA Chairman] Abbas will stop Iran and its proxies is a dangerous illusion, and some people here excel in illusions,” he added, hinting at some members of the opposition who were present.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Obama warned Iran that the diplomatic window for dealingwith its nuclear program is "shrinking."

Obama said he still preferred a diplomatic track for getting Iran to abandon its nuclear program, but added that "requires someone on the other side of the table who is taking the matter seriously."

He added that he hoped Iran understands that diplomacy is their "best bet" and the Islamic regime "needs to seize that opportunity.”

Israel National New

CCTV at petrol stations will automatically stop uninsured cars being filled with fuel

Cameras at petrol stations will automatically stop uninsured or untaxed vehicles from being filled with fuel, under new government plans.

Downing Street officials hope the hi-tech system will crack down on the 1.4million motorists who drive without insurance.

Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras are already fitted in thousands of petrol station forecourts.

Drivers can only fill their cars with fuel once the camera has captured and logged the vehicle’s number plate.

Currently the system is designed to deter motorists from driving off without paying for petrol.

But under the new plans, the cameras will automatically cross-refererence with the DVLA’s huge database.

When a car is flagged as being uninsured or untaxed, the system will prevent the fuel pump being used on that vehicle.

The proposals will have a huge impact - forcing drivers to insure and tax their car if they want to drive.

One in 25 drivers in the UK do not have insurance - one of the worst records in western Europe.

According to recent figures, around 160 people are killed and 23,000 injured by uninsured and untraced drivers every year.

Downing Street officials are due to meet representatives from the major fuel companies in the next few weeks to discuss the idea.

But some petrol retailers said the proposals were a “step too far” - claiming they put cashiers at risk.

Brian Madderson, from RMI Petrol, which represents independent petrol stations, said: “Staff are already getting stick from motorists for high fuel prices.

“This proposal will increase the potential for conflict. Our cashiers are not law enforcers.”

Mirror Online

German chancellor candidate calls Israel 'apartheid regime'

BERLIN - Sigmar Gabriel, the head of the German Social Democratic Party and a possible candidate for the Chancellorship of Germany, described on Wednesday Israel as an “Apartheid-Regime” on his Facebook site.

After a wave of protest notes on his Facebook page, Gabriel, who is currently visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories, continued to defend his terminology of Israel’s policies as racist.

“I was just in Hebron. That is a lawless territory there for Palestinians. This is an apartheid regime, for which there is no justification,” wrote Gabriel.

Gabriel’s remarks triggered a wave of criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU), as well as leading Jewish NGOs.

Jerusalem Post

USA Culture of Manipulation...

A universal strategy of large institutions is the manipulation of their "books & records" in a positive direction - i.e. one suggesting high levels of current performance and future growth. We see this happen time and again across institutions in all sectors of developed societies, private and public. Large corporations, for example, extensively use off balance sheet vehicles riddled with leveraged products to hide their exposure to risk, or various other accounting tricks to over-state their revenues/profits and under-state their costs/liabilities.

However, this manipulative strategy is even easier to identify in the governing institutions of "democratic" nations. While the phenomenon is certainly not limited to one country (the governments of the European periphery come to mind), it is perhaps most evident and widespread in the U.S. Indeed, the structures and culture of American society can almost be defined solely in terms of data manipulation for the sake of appearances, a.k.a. "public relations" or perception management. The sheer pervasiveness and momentum of these practices has made them an integral part of what it means to be a competitive institution in America.

Beat cops and detectives in your typical American city may refer to this strategy as "juking the stats", while Lieutenants on up would probably call it something along the lines of "criminal statistics management". When the order comes down from the bosses at the top, the "primaries" at a crime scene could be forced to conduct their investigations and label the crimes in the least publicly embarrassing manner. If the Mayor wants to run for office in a few months on a "reduced crime rate" platform (and which mayor doesn't?), then anything but the most obvious murders may be lightly investigated and ultimately classified as "unknown deaths" or suicides. Perhaps a few bodies near the city limits will be dumped on the neighboring county.

It's the same thing with the less than obvious rapes (already an under-reported crime), which may end up being simple assaults or no crime at all. At the same time, if the Mayor wants to appear "tough on crime" (and which mayor doesn't?), the cops will be instructed to make arrests for offenses that usually go ignored, such as "loitering", "public intoxication" or "public indecency". If the city politicians want to look "tough on drugs", then they go hard after street-level offenders with buy/bust strategies so they can put cash and drugs "on the table" (in front of the legislators and media cameras).

A very similar dynamic also occurs at the public schools districts across the U.S, and especially the relatively poor ones. The state and city officials put pressure on administrators and teachers to prepare their students for various standardized tests scheduled every year, or "teach to the test". What that amounts to is interrupting regular lesson plans to force students into memorizing specific methods of answering multiple choice questions, so the district can put up decent numbers that save face and qualify it for some level of wasteful funding, while the students simply lose a few months of their lives each year.

All the while, city/state governments are borrowing truck loads of money to paper over any issues they can't hide with data manipulation. When they can no longer hide the outrageous budget deficits by rolling over debt and using customized financial instruments, such as interest rate swaps, they simply shift money around from one pocket to another and hope no one takes notice. Just take some money allocated to schools in the budget and shift it to the police department, or vice versa. That's why states like New Jersey and New York feel that they can get away with borrowing money from their pension funds to pay out pension benefits. It's a practice that is deeply ingrained in the political culture.

What's done in the way of data manipulation at the city or state level, however, is child's play when compared to what is being done at the level of national governments and their administrative agencies. This manipulation is occurring with full force now because, without it, the dismal state of the global economic system would be revealed and, ultimately, almost none of these institutions would survive the ensuing "creative destruction". They are caught in a self-reinforcing and self-defeating cycle in which the culture of manipulation takes center stage and shines.

Perhaps the most obvious example is the BLS and its monthly reports on jobs data. People who have given up looking for jobs that don't exist are taken out of the labor force and therefore do not count towards the unemployment rate. Other people who have managed to pick up a few hours a week doing some low-wage work are counted as fully employed individuals and new additions to the economic "recovery" myth. No differentiation is made between the rate of long-term, structural unemployment, which remains a stubbornly high percentage of the total unemployed, and the people perilously bouncing back and forth between temp jobs.

Meanwhile, people continue to lose their former jobs/salaries, the economy continues to contract and tax revenues dwindle (2012 has already seen a decline in YTD federal tax revenues of ~$2bn from the same period last year). That, in turn, begets the need for more data manipulation by the U.S. government. Public debt and deficits are drastically under-stated by keeping the debt of government-sponsored enterprises, such as Fannie and Freddie, and under-funded entitlement obligations, such as Social Security and Medicare, off of the official balance sheet.

These are, of course, just a few examples of how our culture of manipulation works, and how it has been ramped into high-gear in recent years. It is not an over-statement to say that almost every piece of official data presented to the public at the state and federal level is massaged and manipulated. In the private sector, any such manipulation that is not technically illegal is taken for granted by most people; indeed, it is basically required of large corporations that must remain competitive and act in the best interests of their shareholders. People are much more willing to take heart in the public statistics, though.

Today, we were surprised with the early release of results from yet another "stress test" of the U.S. financial system conducted by the Federal Reserve. Unlike the previous tests in the U.S. and Europe, which had used extremely over-optimistic assumptions about the economy and asset valuations in their worst-case scenarios, this current one is being billed as much more realistic. It is obviously meant to soothe all of those people who are highly critical of the lack of transparency in our culture of manipulation, such as myself, as well as investors that have their money parked in the markets and financials in particular.

The Fed's version of a standardized test looked at how the 19 biggest U.S. banks would perform in a "severe" downturn, including a peak unemployment rate of 13%, a 50% drop in equity prices and a 21% decline in housing prices. According to its results, total losses (loan, trading, counterparty credit and investment) for these banks would hit at least $534bn over this two year rough patch, and four banks would have "one or more projected regulatory capital ratios that fall below regulatory minimum levels at some point over the stress scenario horizon" (Citigroup, SunTrust, Ally and MetLife).

The price action in these financial stocks after the institutions decided to prematurely release the results would suggest that investors were thrilled with only half a trillion in losses and four banks failing. Indeed, that is a huge factor in the culture of manipulation - the ones being manipulated are eager to be told what they want to hear, or hear what they want to hear regardless of what they are told. The larger and more audacious the manipulation is, the more they are willing to believe it. Otherwise, they would be forced to confront some very inconvenient truths about their society and their roles in it.

Nevermind that these "stress tests" can't possibly capture the various losses that would stem from their own moderately negative assumptions (peak unemployment rate isn't much worse than it is now), let alone more realistic ones that capture a drastic economic/financial slowdown in the Eurozone, the U.K., Japan and across emerging economies. People want to feel that the state of their world at every scale can be summed up with statistics, so they are given ones that have been juked into oblivion to mold a pre-conceived narrative. The open question here is how long before the discrepancy between reality and the massaged stats overwhelms the otherwise embedded culture of the manipulated masses.

The automatic Earth