Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pakistan blast kills US Marines

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Local television pictures from the scene of the explosion
Three US Marines are among at least 10 people killed in an attack on a convoy heading to a girls' school in north-west Pakistan, police have said.
At least 70 people, including 63 school girls, were injured as the convoy was hit as it passed another girls' school in Lower Dir, near the Afghan border.
The attack comes amid a major government offensive against Taliban militants in the area.
The Taliban has frequently targeted markets, schools and security agencies.
Pakistan military sources told the BBC that three US Marines were killed and one other injured. The US embassy has declined to comment.
They were thought to be travelling with a convoy that was heading to the inauguration ceremony of a newly-built girls' school.
The blast occurred near a different school in Koto, a heavily populated village along the route, the BBC's Mark Dummett in Islamabad says.
At least three of the dead were school girls, police said, adding that security guards and three local journalists were also among the wounded.
School targets
RECENT ATTACKS ON FOREIGNERS
October 2009: Suicide bomber attacks UN offices in Islamabad, killing five people including a foreigner
September 2009: Truck bomber kills at least 54 people including foreigners at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad
June 2009: Foreigners among at least 18 people killed in suicide attack blamed on the Taliban on Pearl Continental hotel
March 2009: Bus carrying Sri Lankan cricket team is attacked in Lahore, injuring seven players and killing five Pakistani policemen
March 2008: A Turkish woman is killed and several foreigners are injured in a bomb attack on an Italian restaurant in Islamabad
The convoy was on its way to Maidan, an area of Lower Dir district in North-West Frontier Province, which is the base of a pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad, and a stronghold of Taliban militants.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has condemned the attack and ordered an investigation, the AFP news agency reports.
The Taliban has frequently targeted girls' schools in recent years, burning several to the ground.
The school that was due to re-open had only recently been re-built with foreign aid after being blown up by militants in January 2009, AFP said citing a local police official.
Last year, the Pakistani army carried out a major offensive to drive Taliban insurgents out of Lower Dir and the neighbouring districts of Swat and Buner, but they are still present in remote areas, our correspondent says.
The latest attack shows that the Taliban remains a powerful force in the region, despite the government's efforts to push them back, he adds.
Hundreds of people have died and several thousand displaced by the fighting.
Many of the girls' school in the region that were destroyed by militants are now being rebuilt.
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Airline Terror Suspect Provides Key Intelligence

Wednesday, February 03, 2010
WASHINGTON —  The Nigerian man accused of trying to use a bomb hidden in his underwear to bring down a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas has been cooperating with investigators since last week and has provided fresh intelligence in multiple terrorism investigations, officials said Tuesday.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's cooperation could prove to be a national security victory and a political vindication for President Obama, who has been under fire from lawmakers who contend the administration botched the case by giving Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent, rather than interrogating him as a military prisoner.
In the days following the failed bombing, a pair of FBI agents flew to Nigeria and persuaded Abdulmutallab's family to help them. When the agents returned to the U.S., Abdulmutallab's family came, too, according to a senior administration official briefed on the case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
FBI officials continue to question Abdulmutallab, working in collaboration with CIA and other intelligence authorities, the official said. Obama has received regular updates on the interrogation, according to the official.
While the interrogation continued, White House and intelligence officials quietly seethed as political rivals accused them of putting lives at risk. That criticism peaked last weekend when Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, in the weekly Republican address, accused the administration of having "a blind spot when it comes to the war on terrorism."
Collins said the administration "undoubtedly prevented the collection of valuable intelligence about future terrorist threats to our country."
Authorities had hoped to keep Abdulmutallab's cooperation secret while they continued to investigate his leads, but details began to trickle out during testimony on Capitol Hill, where FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair confirmed authorities continued to get intelligence in Abdulmutallab's case.
"It is also my understanding that Mr. Abdulmutallab has provided valuable information. Is that correct?" Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein asked.

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"Yes," Mueller replied.
Mueller then confirmed that the interrogation has continued despite the fact that the suspect had been advised of his right to have a lawyer and remain silent.
In Detroit, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade declined to comment. A message seeking comment was left with Abdulmutallab's lawyer, Miriam Siefer.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, politicians and the courts have wrangled with the thorny question of how to treat suspected terrorists. The Supreme Court has not weighed in on whether the government has the right to hold a civilian as a military prisoner, and both times it appeared the court would get the chance to decide, President George W. Bush opted instead to bring the cases in civilian criminal courts.
Also unsettled is which system is better for gathering intelligence. The Bush administration, which authorized secret CIA prisons for interrogations, also repeatedly used the U.S. court system to prosecute terrorists. Some detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have provided valuable intelligence, while others have refused to cooperate.
Some suspects in the criminal system refuse to talk once they have a lawyer. Others, like Abdulmutallab, can be persuaded to keep talking.

Safety board pins NY crash cause on pilot errors

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Evidence pins NY crash cause on pilot errors Play Video KING5 Seattle  – Evidence pins NY crash cause on pilot errors
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FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2009, file photo, wreckage lays across the area as a AP – FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2009, file photo, wreckage lays across the area as a plane burns after it crashed …
 
WASHINGTON – Pilot error was the probable cause of an airline crash into a house near Buffalo, N.Y., last year, but the accident's root problems extend far beyond a single event, a federal safety panel said Tuesday.
The head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, said the accident casts doubt on whether regional airlines are held to the same level of safety as are major airlines, and she promised the board will pursue the issue. She also criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for taking too long to address safety problems raised by the crash, saying the same issues have turned up before.
"Today is Groundhog Day, and I feel like we are in that movie," Hersman said, referring to the 1993 Bill Murray movie about a Pittsburgh weatherman who repeatedly lives through the same day. "We have made recommendations time after time after time. They haven't been heeded by the FAA."
The FAA said in a statement that it has driven significant improvements in pilot professionalism, training and background checks in the past year. The agency said it will soon propose new rules to prevent pilot fatigue, further improve training and increase the qualifications required to be an airline pilot.
The three-member board agreed unanimously that an "inappropriate response" by the captain of Continental Connection Flight 3407 to a key piece of safety equipment caused the crash. The board also said the flight crew's inattention to airspeeds, their violation of regulations prohibiting unnecessary conversation during takeoffs and landings, and the air carrier's inadequate procedures for entering airspeeds for freezing weather were contributing factors.
The board issued more than 20 safety recommendations to the FAA as a result of the accident. They included recommendations related to pilot fatigue, remedial training for pilots who have failed skills tests, making pilot's test records available to prospective employers, training on how to recover from a stall and airspeed selection procedures.
Hersman praised FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt for initiating regulation changes in response to the crash on Feb. 12, 2009, when the plane dove into a house, killing all 49 people aboard and one man in the house. But Hersman said Babbitt has been unable so far to push reforms "across the finish line" and that congressional action may be needed.
Flight 3407, operated for Continental Airlines by Colgan Air Inc., was approaching Buffalo-Niagara International Airport when the twin-engine turboprop experienced an aerodynamic stall and went into a dive. The board said Capt. Marvin Renslow should have been able to recover from the stall but that he did the opposite of what he should have done.
In the final seconds of the flight, two pieces of safety equipment activated — a stick shaker to alert the crew their plane was nearing a stall and a stick pusher that points a plane's nose down so it can recover speed, investigators said. The correct response to both situations would have been to push forward on the control column to increase speed, they said.
But Renslow pulled back on the stick shaker, investigators said. When the plane stalled and the pusher activated, Renslow again pulled back three times.
"It wasn't a split-second thing," NTSB safety investigator Roger Cox said. "I think there was time to evaluate the situation and initiate a recovery, but I can't give you a number of seconds."
Seventy-five percent of pilots who had experienced the stick-pusher activation in training also responded by pulling back instead of pushing forward, even though they knew ahead of time to expect a stall, investigators said.
The first officer, Rebecca Shaw, 24, should have stepped in to push the plane's nose down herself when Renslow, 47, responded improperly, but she may not have because she was a relatively inexperienced pilot, investigators said.
Shaw commuted across the country overnight to Newark, N.J., to make Flight 3407. It's not clear how much sleep either pilot received the night before the flight, but investigators said both pilots likely were suffering from fatigue. Hersman wanted to list fatigue as a contributing factors to the crash. The board's other two members declined, saying it couldn't conclusively be determined if fatigue had impaired the pilots' performance.
Shaw erred at the beginning of the flight by programming an ordinary airspeed into the plane's computer, rather than the higher airspeed needed for freezing weather, investigators said. The plane didn't accumulate enough ice on the wings to stall, but the mix-up on speeds caused the stick shaker to warn of a stall even though one wasn't actually imminent.
Colgan's pilot training program was also criticized for not giving Renslow remedial attention despite his failures on several tests of piloting skill and for not emphasizing procedures for recovering from a full stall, including how to respond to the stick pusher.
Colgan said in a statement that the pilots were properly trained in how to recover from a stall.
"We have taken a number of important and specific steps to further enhance all of our training and hiring programs," the statement said.

Adm. Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, presented his testimony today on the Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
His testimony stressed: “Latin America Stable, but Challenged by Crime and Populism.”
However, on Cuba, DNI Blair relates:
Read the rest of this entry »
S:CUBAPOLIDATA

  Outlawed Information 

Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me and to write to me.
 

By Yoani Sanchez

Rumors spread, murmurs become official notes and newspapers report – several weeks later – what the whole country already knows. We have gone from rationed information to a veritable “coming out” that flows in parallel with the censorship of the official media. Our glasnost has not been driven from offices and ministries, but has emerged in mobile phones, digital cameras and removable memories. The same black market that supplied powdered milk or detergent now offers illegal Internet connections and television programs that arrive through prohibited satellite dishes.
This is how we learned of the events in Venezuela during the last week. My own cell phone has been on the verge of collapse from so many messages telling me about the student protests and the closure of several television stations. I forward copies of these brief headlines to everyone in my address book, in a network that mimics viral transmission: I spread it to many and they in turn inoculate a hundred more with the information. There is no way to stop this form of broadcast news, because it does not use a fixed structure but mutates and adapts to each circumstance. It is anti-hegemonic, although the little word acquires different connotations in the Cuban case, where the hegemony has belonged to the newspaper Granma, the TV show The Round Table, and the DOR*.
We knew of the deaths in the psychiatric hospital days before the official announcement and we heard of the fate of those pushed out** in March 2009 through “radio bemba” – literally “lip radio” or Cuba’s gossip network – and one day we will know that the “end” has come, before they authorize the press to report it. The flow of information has quintupled, although it does not obey a government decision to inform us of major events, rather it is technological development that has allowed us to skip over triumphalist headlines and newcasts empty of content. We are increasingly less dependent on the ideological pap of the television news. I know hundreds of people who haven’t tuned into Cubavision and the rest of the national channels for months. They only watch forbidden television.
The screen of a Nokia or Motorola, the bright surface of a CD or the tiny little stick of a flash drive, shred our disinformation. On the other side of that veil of omissions and falsehoods – created over decades – there is an extension, unknown and new, that frightens and attracts us.
* The Cuban Communist Party Central Committee’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation that determines the information policy of every newspaper in the country.
Translator’s note
In March 2009 vice president Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, were removed from office.


A Cuban national treasure

When I was a young man, my beloved grandfather would occasionally ask me to proofread a note or postcard he was sending in response to an article or editorial he had read in Diario Las Americas. Always, the note was a congratulatory missive that would compliment the author, a man named Carlos Marquez-Sterling. He explained that Marquez-Sterling had been a great politician and statesman in Cuba; my grandfather admired him, even though they were not of the same political parties. As I grew older and read more about Cuba and Cuban history, it dawned on me that my grandfather was sending these notes to a former Cuban Presidential candidate! Needless to say, abuelo impressed me...
Last Wednesday night, Carlos Marquez-Sterling and the history of the events from Batista’s coup in 1952, to the takeover of Cuba on January 1, 1959, was the subject of a program I attended at the University of Miami's Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies and co-sponsored by Herencia/Cuban Cultural Heritage. I had the privilege to listen to a scholar and historian who can only be described as a Cuban national treasure -- and who also happens to be the son of Carlos Marquez-Sterling. Manuel Marquez-Sterling, author of the new book, Cuba 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power (and purveyor of an excellent blog of the same name), was the guest of honor; the other panelists, Marcos Antonio Ramos, Alberto Luzárraga, and Sylvia G. Iriondo, rounded out a magnificent evening of talk and history.
(I’m on page 75 of the book so I cannot comment yet, other than to say it’s excellent so far.)
Manuel Marquez-Sterling
Manuel Marquez-Sterling
Sylvia G. Iriondo started the program by recounting her lost generation of 1945 Cubans, the Cubans who were in their adolescence when castro took power and turned Cuba into a slave island. She pointed out that the book’s theme for 7 year period was that the political upheaval was the reality versus the Cuban (and American) media lies of sociological and economic problems. The saying, "cualquier cosa es mejor que Batista," became a rallying cry. She mentioned that the author's father was a "third way" candidate in the elections of 1958, founded in the rule of law and the 1940 Constitution. Alas, it did not succeed. Dr. Luzarraga commented on the importance of book and what he sees as one of ten important points brought to light by Marquez-Sterling: the lack of political maturity on the island that led inexorably to fidel.
But it was Marquez-Sterling who brought home the point of why we are exiles, why we are here, why we lost Cuba. Nestor Carbonell-Cortina, in an excellent introduction, outlined the five myths of pre-castro Cuba that are the focus of the book:
(1) Cuba was a poor, backward nation;
(2) Cuba was oppressed by Batista, a brutal tyrant;
(3) [c]astro was not Communist before 1959;
(4) The only choices were Batista and [c]astro; and
(5) [c]astro militarily defeated the US-backed dictator Batista.
Marquez-Sterling went briefly through each of these, detailing not only his historical research, but his participation as a "fly on the wall" of his father's actions, especially in 1957 and 1958. He stated that statistics show the lie to Cuba as a third-world nation, ripe for revolution. He discussed how the book describes Batista as a "dictator with a democracy complex": the open and free press that constantly criticized Batista, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not, as well as Batista's unfortunate (in our case) humanitarian streak that led to the release of fidel, are examples of this. As for fidel being a red, most of us who came in the first few exile waves know full well that our families knew about fidel's leftist leanings. It was not a secret. The American press -- and some in the Cuban press -- did their level best to whitewash fidel's communist associations, to our ultimate detriment.
Finally, he discussed his father's attempts to hold fair and verifiable elections in 1958 that would trump fidel's inexorable march into power. His father offered himself as a transition candidate that would cede power in two years for new candidates in 1960 that would fully restore the Cuban Constitution of 1940. (Carlos Marquez-Sterling was the president of the committee that drafted it.) He added that after his arrest in 1959, during an "interrogation," che guevara complimented his dad by saying that his “politicking,” i.e., the potential impact of the elections of 1958, had almost derailed the glorious revolution.
Marquez-Sterling's history is a must-read, a response to the almost six decades of misinformation and mendacity that has clouded the true history of rise to power of fidel and his henchmen, aided and abetted by elements of Soviet intelligence -- and American indifference and ignorance.
I'd be remiss in recounting one last thing Marquez-Sterling said that struck a nerve with me, something I've been saying for years: that a country that can produce musical geniuses like Saumell, Cervantes, Fuentes, Caturla and Roldan, that a country that had a world-class philharmonic orchestra, is not a third world country on the brink of a revolution. As he reminded the audience, Cuba was on the cusp of the first world when it was all taken away from us.
Marquez-Sterling taking questions
Marquez-Sterling taking questions

S: babalú


Cuba's Internet revolution edges forward, with limits

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Cuba's Internet revolution edges forward, with limits AFP/File – A Cuban man is seen browsing an internet website at his house in Havana. Barely 1.4 million of the 11.2 … 
 
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HAVANA (AFP) – Yoan used to earn 25 dollars a month working as a computer technician for a state company -- and an extra 500 dollars selling Internet access on Cuba's vast and varied black market.
The 31-year-old managed 10 accounts for government employees who had authorized email access and would rent out their passwords to trusted clients under certain rules: they could only connect at night or in the early hours, and had to avoid political references.
"I did it because I couldn't live off my salary," Yoan said.
But the technician had taken a large risk amid a crackdown by the government of President Raul Castro as part of an offensive on illegal businesses.
"There was an audit a little while ago, they trawled through the telephone numbers and one customer gave the game away," Yoan said.
"They sacked me and I paid a 1,500-peso (60-dollar) fine."
Yoan, who also received a ban from working for four years, was a tiny link in the chain connecting Cubans to the illegal network: an email service costs 10-15 dollars per month, it costs 50 dollars per month to navigate the Internet, and one dollar to send or receive an email.
"I need to be in contact with my friends and the world, but I can't afford 'underground' Internet so I only have email. I connect at night because that's what my illegal provider tells me to do," said Aida, a 38-year-old former waitress.
The Caribbean island connects to the Internet by satellite because the decades-long US embargo prevents access to underwater cables which pass near its coastlines.
The government blames the embargo for its limits on the service -- it gives priority to state and foreign companies, academics, doctors and research centers.
Dissidents and critics of the Communist government say Cuba, like China, limits Internet access to restrict freedom of information and control criticism of the single-party regime.
They say that is why authorities block dissident sites or blogs, such as the award-winning blog of Yoani Sanchez, for being subversive.
Cubans can connect to email at controlled state access points for 1.5 dollars per hour, or access the Internet in hotels with cards costing seven dollars per hour.
But with the average monthly salary at 20 dollars, that is also out of reach of most citizens.
"I can't pay that, that's why I have illegal email to communicate with my father in Miami," said Marilis, a 23-year-old law student.
"I've never written anything political," she added indignantly.
Raul Castro allowed computer sales two years ago, but Internet access remains limited.
Barely 1.4 million of the 11.2 million inhabitants have Internet access, and only 630,000 have computers, according to official figures.
Shared access is blamed for slow and patchy connections.
Deputy Computing Minister Ramon Linares said recently that the island's connection speeds had increased, and an underwater cable was due to start operating from Venezuela in 2011.
That still won't be enough for Aida.
"Even if they solve the technical problems, we won't have free access," she complained.
"It's clear that those who lead the country decide what we can consult."

MIAMI | LECH WALESA...

Lech Walesa in Miami: Changes will soon come to Cuba

Solidarity leader and Nobel Peace prize winner Lech Walesa said political change is coming to Cuba and the world must prepare for the `real Cuba.'

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lyanez@MiamiHerald.com

Former Polish President and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa, a key player in helping bringing down communism in Eastern Europe, said Tuesday that there will soon be a political change in Cuba.
``It's going to happen,'' Walesa said, speaking through an interpreter. ``But the world must be ready for the changes that will bring about,'' he cautioned.
Walesa, the guest speaker at a Tuesday $100-a-plate luncheon of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba at the Freedom Tower, said the rest of the world needs to see the real Cuba -- and not the island as ``a tourist attraction.''
A union organizer and founder of the Solidarity Movement, Walesa led a nonviolent revolt against Poland's communist system in the 1980s. He has been working with the Cuban American National Foundation on how lessons from his movement can best be applied to support the work of civil society groups in Cuba.
``What aspects of his movement can be applied to our struggles in Cuba?'' asked Omar Lopez Montenegro, executive director of the foundation for human rights.
Francisco ``Pepe'' Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, who attended the luncheon, said, ``There are many Lech Walesas'' inside Cuba.
``What's needed,'' Hernandez said, ``is for the world to join and support the struggle of the Cuban people, just as it did during Walesa's fight against the Polish government. World support is very important.''
Walesa said he believes ``our generation has the best chance to bring about change in the world'' and help push for moral governments.
``Values are more important than tanks and rockets,'' he said.
At the event, Walesa was presented with the keys to the city and the county.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado explained to Walesa the fitting significance of the Freedom Tower. ``Thousands of Cuban exiles escaping communism were processed here,'' he said of the tower, which is now owned by Miami Dade College.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa presented him with a key and thanked him. ``God bless you for fighting for the right of democracy,'' she told Walesa.
All proceeds from the luncheon will benefit the efforts of the Cuban human rights foundation and the Lech Walesa Institute Foundation.

In eastern Cuba, wax Hemingway looks spookily real

A wax figure of U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway is seen at an exhibition at Bayamo AP – A wax figure of U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway is seen at an exhibition at Bayamo wax museum in Cuba, Tuesday, …
HAVANA – Ernest Hemingway still haunts Cuba; he's just doing it in wax. A life-size likeness of the legendary author debuted last week at a wax museum in the eastern city of Bayamo. Hemingway wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" while living in Cuba and his exploits in literature and life are celebrated in monuments across the island. His home outside Havana has become a museum. But the wax statue is the first of its kind in Cuba. With serious eyes that look spookily authentic and stare into the distance, the author has a black dress shirt and cigarette. His favorite drink, the daiquiri, is nowhere to be found, however. Hemingway joins the likes of Benny More and Buena Vista Social Club's Compay Segundo at the museum, which opened in 2004.