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TFI Daily News

World News for World Changers

Jul 22

Headlines

Dozens of Turkish Police Detained for Alleged Spying on Government
(Reuters) Dozens of police including high-ranking officers were detained in Turkey on Tuesday, accused of spying and illegal wire-tapping of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle in what the chief prosecutor said was a concocted probe of an alleged terrorist group.

Moscow Mayor Fires Metro Chief After Fatal Accident
(Reuters) The mayor of Moscow has dismissed the head of the Russian capital’s metro network following an accident that killed at least 22 people, the mayor’s office said on Tuesday.

South Korea Trains Collide, Killing One and Injuring Dozens
(Reuters) Two passenger trains collided in South Korea on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring dozens, a hospital official and police said, in the latest in a string of accidents that has rattled the country.

Islamic State Crushes and Coerces on March Towards Baghdad
(Reuters) Using its own version of “soft” and “hard” power, the Islamic State is crushing resistance across northern Iraq so successfully that its promise to march on Baghdad may no longer be unrealistic bravado.

Philippine Catholic Bishops Tell Aquino to Uphold Constitution
(Reuters) Philippine Catholic bishops warned President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday to resist temptations to bully the Supreme Court to reverse a decision that an economic stimulus fund was illegal, asking him to uphold the constitution.

Bodies, Black Boxes Handed Over From Ukraine Crash Site
(Reuters) A train carrying the remains of many of the nearly 300 victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane downed over Ukraine arrived in Ukrainian government territory on Tuesday as a separatist leader handed over the plane’s black boxes to Malaysian experts.

Former general withdraws from Indonesian election
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP)—Former Indonesian general Prabowo Subianto said Tuesday he rejected the presidential election process as unfair and that he was withdrawing from the contest as nearly complete results showed his opponent leading with 52 percent of the vote.

Body of missing S. Korean shipping tycoon found
SEOUL, South Korea (AP)—South Korean police said Tuesday that a badly decomposed body found surrounded by liquor bottles in a field last month was that of a fugitive billionaire businessman blamed for April’s ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people.


Thought of the Day

“The best way out is always through.”—Robert Frost


13 Words That Are Much Older Than They Seem

Arika Okrent, Mental Floss, July 24, 2013

Every generation likes to think it invented slang anew, but often the latest words are actually very old. Here are 13 words that are much older than they seem. (The example quotes all come from the Oxford English Dictionary.)

1. FRIEND, AS A VERB. A common lament in pieces about “kids these days and their social whatsawhozits” is “when did ‘friend’ become a verb?!” The answer is: Sometime in the 1400s. In the earliest examples of the verb “friend” from the OED, it means to make friends. You could go to a place, and “friend” some people there. It also had the meaning of help someone out, be a friend to them, e.g., “Reports came that the King would friend Lauderdale,” an example from 1698.

2. UNFRIEND. If you could friend someone, it was only natural, according to the productive rules of English word formation, that you could unfriend them too. The word shows up in this example from 1659: “I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.”

3. DUDE. In the 1880s “dude” had a negative, mocking ring to it. A dude was a dandy, someone very particular about clothes, looks, and mannerisms, who affected a sort of exaggerated high-class British persona. As one Brit noted in 1886, “Our novels establish a false ideal in the American imagination, and the result is that mysterious being ‘The Dude’.” To those out west, it became a word for clueless city-dwellers of all kinds (hence, the dude ranch, for tourists). By the turn of the century it had come to mean any guy, usually a pretty cool one. As one Navy man explained in 1918, “in a gang of snipes there is generally one dude who is known as the ‘king snipe’.”

4. DUDERY. Where “dude” goes, “dudery” follows. Here’s a phrase from 1889 that sounds completely and utterly current: “The Pharisaical dudery which presumes to deny her [woman] a place in the world…equal with man.”

5. HANG OUT. “Hang out” has been used as a verb for passing the time without doing much in particular since at least the 1840s. By the 1860s it was kind of slangy, but not unusual, to ask, “Where do you hang out?”

6. HIPSTER. Hipster shows up in a 1941 dictionary of “hash house lingo,” meaning “a know-it-all.” The words “hip” and “hep” had been around since the early 1900s with the meaning of being up on the latest and knowing what’s what.

7. BABE. To me, “babe” in the sense of “hot chick” has a very 1970s ring to it. But this sense of babe has been around since the early 1900s. The OED gives a quote from 1915: “She’s some babe.”

8. FUNKY. The application of “funky” to music came during the jazz age and started showing up in print in the 1950s, but the “strong smell” sense had been around long before that. Since the 1600s, “funk” was slang for the stale smell of tobacco smoke, and by extension, anything that stank. Cheeses, rooms, and especially ship’s quarters could be described as “funky.”

9. OUTASIGHT. Does “outasight” bring to mind a ‘60s hippie? Or maybe a ‘40s big band leader? Instead, imagine a Victorian chap in waistcoast and top hat. The earliest citations for “outasight” come from the 1890s.

10. BOOZE. Booze has been general slang for alcoholic drink at least since the 1850s. It has a longer history as a Middle English verb “bouse,” meaning “to drink excessively,” that became a part of thieves’ and beggars’ cant in the 1500s. It was still a word respectable people might not be familiar with up until the 20th century, as illustrated by this quote from 1895: “She heard some men shout that they wanted some more booze. Mr. Justice Wright: ‘What?’ Mr. Willis: ‘Booze, my lord, drink.’ Mr. Justice Wright: ‘Ah!’”

11. FANBOY/FANGIRL. The application of “fanboy” to comics and science fiction had to wait until the ‘70s, but before that, there were sports fans, and in 1919 the paper in Decatur, Illinois reported that, “it was a shock to the fan boys when Cincinnati…beat the Chicago White Sox.” The first citation for fangirl is from 1934: “Mary…dashed out through the rain so swiftly that only two of the fan-girls caught her.”

12. TRICKED OUT. Trick has been used as a verb for dress, adorn, or decorate since the 1500s, and it shows up at various times with up, off, or out. The earliest citation for trick out in the OED comes from 1822: “I must trick out my dwelling with something fantastical.”

13. LEGIT. Legit as a shortening of legitimate has been around since the 1890s. It started as theater slang for things associated with legitimate (as opposed to vaudeville or burlesque) theater. From the 1920s on, it was opposed to underworld or shady occupations or places. If you were “on the legit” you were being honest.


How to Build Your Professional Network from Scratch

By Danielle Herzberg, Women 2.0, July 9, 2014

Exactly one year ago, I moved to San Francisco completely on my own. For years I had romanticized what it would be like to live in San Francisco—my manifest destiny.

I had the vision perfectly crystallized in my head: I would eat fresh kale salad every day. I would spend my weekends hiking mountains overlooking the ocean. I would embrace the spirit of community that I felt every time I had traveled West in the past. And finally, finally, I would be in the very heart of the action in the Silicon Valley tech community.

There was only one major obstacle: I knew no one.

I work for HubSpot, a Boston-based company. My hometown is in the Greater Boston Area, and Penn (my undergrad institution) is in Philly. I’d spent 27 years building a personal and professional network in the Northeast, but was determined to build a career and life for myself in San Francisco.

How could I replicate a network that took me decades to build in a matter of months? I wasn’t exactly sure, but was determined to make it happen.

Here are some things that I have discovered along the way:

1. Start with the People Who Know You Best. Nothing beats an introduction for breaking the ice. Your colleagues, friends and peers know you better than anyone else and can be selective and thoughtful about introducing you to people with whom you’d hit it off.

When I moved to San Francisco, I emailed executives at my company with the following email:

“Is there anyone in your network who lives in San Francisco and with whom I should meet? If so, would you mind making a few introductions via email?” That was it!

I asked another contact, Cliff Pollan, who is deeply entrenched in sales-related thought leadership circles, which female sales leaders I should be paying attention to. Within minutes, I received a personal email introduction to Anneke Seley (12th employee at Oracle, Founder of OracleDirect and now founder of her own sales consulting firm, Reality Works).

Through just a simple question leading to a short email introduction, I encountered a terrific mentor whom I now meet with regularly.

2. Make Those Introductions Count. If you ask for an introduction, follow through with the meeting you set.

Of course you’re busy! Of course she’s busy! There will always be excuses to push the meeting back a few weeks. Don’t be the one who initiates this excuse. If you agreed to meet up with someone you’ve just received an introduction to, then make it happen.

More times than you expect, you will think back and say, “Thank goodness I didn’t flake on that one. I was feeling so swamped but wow, that was a worthwhile conversation!” My first meeting with Anneke was less than one hour long. My travel time to get to and from Healdsburg from the city was 3 hours in total. The investment has paid off manyfold.

3. Embrace Agenda-Free Meetings. Inevitably, an initial networking meeting will look something like this: You agree to sit down for a coffee or a beer. You make small talk about the person who introduced the two of you, and you go on to describe your respective professional contexts and responsibilities. If you’re the one who is new to the city, you will explain what brought you there and how it compares to your former residence.

Eventually, the person sitting across from you will ask, “So how can I help you?”

My favorite answers are the most earnest ones: “I’m here in this new city building a network from scratch. Will you be part of it?” or even more simply “Do you want to be my friend?”

4. Recognize Every Human As A Potential Friend. Open yourself up to unexpected friendships. No, not every co-worker or networking contact needs to be your friend. In the professional world and particularly in the realm of sales, it’s important to differentiate between “respect” and “like.” You need to prioritize respect over need for approval.

That said, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I have formed some of my closest life friendships with clients whose businesses I’ve helped to transform. I learn about their children, their hobbies and their favorite restaurants—and none of it is a sales gimmick.

5. For Six Months, Make Your Only Answer “Yes.’” In moving to a new city, you get to decide what version of yourself you want to be as you embark on a new chapter of your personal journey. My chapter’s mantra was one very short word—“Yes.”

I accepted every professional introduction regardless of how tenuous the connection might be. I accepted every ‘friend of a friend of a friend’ introduction because I had nothing to lose. I said yes to every outing or conference that pushed me out of my comfort zone and did not accept my own excuses for bailing when I felt too tired to make small talk.

I never regretted a single “yes.”

6. Create the Network You Want to Be Part Of. When you’ve moved to a new city and are building your network from scratch, you will not automatically get invited to every interesting conversation of which you want to be part. That means you need to invest the legwork to build your ideal network.

There may be that little voice in your head that will always ask “What if I am wasting their time? What could she possibly get from networking with little old me?”

Try to squelch that self doubt and go for it. I did it, and one year in, San Francisco is looking like a very promising place to spend the next chapter of my life.


Short Courses for the Long Haul

By Ginanne Brownell, NY Times, July 20, 2014

LONDON—Walking around her design studio in London’s elegant Chelsea neighborhood, Jennifer Manners pulled out a box stocked full of all different-colored yarns, from deep blues to warm grays and spirited reds. “It’s like a doctor’s kit bag,” she said jokingly, opening up one of the trays filled with a palette of green to point out a few specific yarns. “Greens can be tricky. You would be surprised how many times we debate over which two of these colors is better.”

Ms. Manners, who moved into her studio a few months ago, uses the space for client meetings and as a place to display her custom carpets, which she designs and then has handmade in India and Nepal. She started her company, which bears her name, only a few years ago, and already has an upscale client base spread across London as well as a boutique hotel in Hampshire that will be using her carpets throughout the property.

This is Ms. Manners’s second career; before this, the Kentucky-born interior designer worked as a journalist with some major news outlets. But she found that once she had children, breaking-news hours were too erratic, and she decided to pursue a lifelong love for art and design.

She enrolled in a yearlong course in design at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins and then a second short course in Photoshop at the Putney School of Design—and she has never looked back.

“I had been interested in design my whole life, and in my case, if I had listened to my heart, I would have done something artistic had it been allowed, but everyone in my family were serious in their academic approach,” she said, adding that she instead earned a B.A. in communications.

“When I decided to change careers, I took the short course because it was ideal in that before taking too big of a jump, you can get a taste for what it is really like, what the reality of that job would be and if you need to go on to pursue a full qualification.”

It is that idea of just dipping one’s toes, as Ms. Manners did, that appeals to many in Britain who have thought about a career change but are wary of plunging into a full degree program or attempting a career switch with no relevant qualifications.

“Look at how our working lives are changing,” said Mark Malcomson, the principal of London’s City Lit, which offers dozens of short-term courses in subjects as varied as musical theater and Icelandic. “The average person will have four or five careers in their lifetime. So how do they go from one career to the next? When they were in their 20s and 30s they would never have entertained an idea of becoming, say, a jewelry designer, but by the time they are in their 40s, it is there.”

Despite the fact that in England tuition fees jumped considerably in the 2012-13 academic year because of funding cuts, many schools have actually seen their numbers for short-term students go up.

City Lit has grown 22 percent in the past five years, rising from 25,000 students in 2008 to almost 31,000 in 2013. And at University of the Arts (of which Central Saint Martins is a part), short-term course enrollment has gone up 20 percent over the past five years.

Though there are no statistics on how many students taking short-term courses actually change careers or earn further degrees in their new fields of study, anecdotal evidence suggests that these reasons are often the motivation for taking the courses.

“Lots of people take courses to see if they want to pursue a full degree because it is pricey these days,” said Stewart Smith, senior marketing manager for short courses at University of the Arts, which offers hundreds of courses a year. “So you can try before you buy.”

Short courses and continuing adult education have historically been popular in Britain, whether at institutions like City Lit (which started in 1919 as a literary society but also began offering courses in sign language to World War I veterans who had lost their hearing from blasts in the trenches), or through correspondence courses, now known as online learning, at places like the Open University.

The Open University is one of many institutions that offer access courses, which help people without the necessary qualifications enter into higher education programs. According to John Butcher, the deputy director of access and curriculum at the Open University, the school ran a course program called “Openings” from 2000 until last spring, which was a suite of short courses in subjects like languages and social sciences. Since the program opened, 170,000 people registered and half took up further studies. The school will offer a different course program this fall.

Claire Callender, a professor of higher education policy at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, said short courses were a great option for those who might not feel confident enrolling in full-time study. “For people who did badly in high school, those experiences can be pretty negative, so this is a second-chance opportunity,” she said.

That was the case for Amanda Scales, of Brighton, who left school at 15. By her early 40s, she had had two marriages and four children and she felt adrift. A friend encouraged her to take a short belly-dancing course at a community center. At an open education day at the center, she heard about a university access course in history. She signed up and later went on to get an undergraduate degree in history at the University of Sussex. Now she holds a master’s degree in history, teaches part time and works as a guide at the Royal Pavilion museum in Brighton.

“These courses are just the most important thing,” she said. “If I had not taken that belly-dancing class, I would have never heard of these wonderful opportunities.”


The Cornish beaches where Lego keeps washing up

By Mario Cacciottolo, BBC News Magazine, 20 July 2014

“Let me see if I can find a cutlass,” says Tracey Williams, poking around some large rocks on Perran Sands with a stick.

She doesn’t manage that, but does spot a gleaming white, pristine daisy on the beach in Perranporth, Cornwall. The flower looks good for its age, seeing as it is 17 years old.

It is one of 353,264 plastic daisies dropped into the sea on 13 February 1997, when the container ship Tokio Express was hit by a wave described by its captain as a “once in a 100-year phenomenon”, tilting the ship 60 degrees one way, then 40 degrees back.

As a result, 62 containers were lost overboard about 20 miles off Land’s End—and one of them was filled with nearly 4.8m pieces of Lego, bound for New York.

No-one knows exactly what happened next, or even what was in the other 61 containers, but shortly after that some of those Lego pieces began washing up in both the north and south coasts of Cornwall. They’re still coming in today.

A quirk of fate meant many of the Lego items were nautical-themed, so locals and tourists alike started finding miniature cutlasses, flippers, spear guns, seagrass, scuba gear as well as the dragons and the daisies.

“There’s stories of kids in the late 1990s having buckets of dragons on the beach, selling them,” says Tracey, who lives in Newquay.

“These days the holy grail is an octopus or a dragon. I only know of three octopuses being found, and one was by me, in a cave in Challaborough, Devon. It’s quite competitive. If you heard that your neighbour had found a green dragon, you’d want to go out and find one yourself.”

She says the ship’s manifest—a detailed list of everything in the containers—shows a whole range of Lego items, not all sea-themed. After all this time “it’s the same old things that keep coming in with the tide”, particularly after a bad storm.

Tracey runs a Facebook page which documents the Lego discoveries, and recently received an email from someone in Melbourne who found a flipper which they think could be from the Tokio Express spillage.

US oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has tracked the story of the Lego since it was spilled. “The mystery is where they’ve ended up. After 17 years they’ve only been definitely reported off the coast of Cornwall,” he says.

It takes three years for sea debris to cross the Atlantic ocean, from Land’s End to Florida. Undoubtedly some Lego has crossed and it’s most likely some has gone around the world. But there isn’t any proof that it has arrived as yet.

“I go to beachcombing events in Florida and they show me Lego—but it’s the wrong kind. It’s all local stuff kids have left behind.”

Since 1997, those pieces could have drifted 62,000 miles, he says. It’s 24,000 miles around the equator, meaning they could be on any beach on earth. Theoretically, the pieces of Lego could keep going around the ocean for centuries.

“The most profound lesson I’ve learned from the Lego story is that things that go to the bottom of the sea don’t always stay there,” Ebbesmeyer adds. The incident is a perfect example of how even when inside a steel container, sunken items don’t stay sunken. They can be carried around the world, seemingly randomly, but subject to the planet’s currents and tides.

“Tracking currents is like tracking ghosts—you can’t see them. You can only see where flotsam started and where it ended up.”


Carlos Slim calls for a three-day working week

By Jude Webber in Mexico City, Financial Times, July 18, 2014

We’ve got it all wrong, says Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms tycoon and world’s second-richest man: we should be working only three days a week.

Attending a business conference in Paraguay, Mr Slim said it was time for a “radical overhaul” of people’s working lives. Instead of being able to retire at 50 or 60, he says, we should work until we are older—but take more time off as we do so.

“People are going to have to work for more years, until they are 70 or 75, and just work three days a week—perhaps 11 hours a day,” he told the conference, according to Paraguay.com news agency.

“With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life. Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied.”

The 74-year-old self-made magnate believes that such a move would generate a healthier and more productive labour force, while tackling financial challenges linked to longevity.

He is putting his money where his mouth is. In his Telmex fixed-line phone company in Mexico, where workers on a collective labour contract who joined the company in their late teens are eligible to retire before they are 50, he has instituted a voluntary scheme allowing such workers to keep working, on full pay, but for only four days a week.

Mr Slim stunned the Mexican business world this month with plans to break up his América Móvil empire, selling about a fifth of its assets, in order to avoid regulatory sanctions. His companies dominate 80 per cent of the fixed-line and 70 per cent of the mobile markets in Mexico—above a new 50 per cent threshold.

The magnate is a keen strategist and philanthropist, who has often said what he likes to do best is to think. He has cultivated interests outside the corporate world: his passion for Rodin sculpture and art collecting is evident in the Soumaya museum in Mexico City dedicated to his late wife.

Another of his deep-held beliefs is that education should be rethought. He told the conference in Paraguay that it should “not be boring, but should be fun” and should teach people “not to memorise but to reason; not to domesticate but to train”. He also called for more vocational training.

Mr Slim, meanwhile, appears to have no plans to retire.

“Look at who he respects: the [Mexican] banker Manuel Espinosa Yglesias was something of a mentor, and he was still working in his late 80s,” said Andrew Paxman, a British historian who is writing a book about Mr Slim.


Master pickpocket shares his secrets

Joesph Goldstein, NY Times, July 21, 2014

Wilfred Rose, 58, spent a career studying the pants pockets of New Yorkers, always on the lookout for “a nice stiff wallet” full of cash, or better yet, the fainter outline of a dozen folded bills.

When he describes sizing up a promising mark, his eyes stop blinking and he leans forward. “When they are wearing a suit, or nice pants, you can visualise it,” said Rose, whom detectives describe as one of the city’s craftiest pickpockets. “You know when it’s there.”

For years, Rose had his run of New York, largely evading detection and arrest. His tales of larceny cover four decades.

There was the time, nearly 20 years ago when the heavyweight bout at Madison Square Garden devolved into a riot, brawls erupting in the ring and the stands. Amid the chaos, Rose recalled, he smelled opportunity. He seized on a target, a Japanese tourist whose pocket bore the outline of a wad of bills, and struck quickly, disappearing into the crowd with Japanese currency worth several thousand dollars.

Then there was the time, he claims, that he decided to show off after spotting an off-duty sergeant, a renowned chaser of pickpockets, on his way to Yankee Stadium. Rose sidled up to him in the crowded train, plucked a roll of $300 from the man’s pocket and slipped $30 or $35 of his own money, in smaller denominations, into the sergeant’s pants. When the sergeant recognised Rose one stop later, he patted his pocket, reassured to feel money there. (In an interview, the sergeant, now retired, denied ever being bested by Rose.)

But that was a long time ago. These are lean years for pickpockets. People carry more credit cards and less cash; men wear suits less, and tightfitting pants more. The young thieves of today have turned to high-tech methods, like skimming ATMs.

And pickpockets like Rose have been left behind. His last larceny, in March, on an uptown No. 2 train, ended with his arrest and his sentencing this month to 1 1/2 to three years in state prison, where Rose—who has done short stints in jail—has never done time.

“We’re disappearing,” he said wistfully in a recent interview at the Manhattan Detention Complex, where he told his life story. “In a few years, there won’t be any of us left.”

Rose is one of about 50 pickpockets whose mug shots are on flash cards studied by plainclothes subway officers. They call the thieves the “Nifty 50.”

“I would say he’s one of the best,” said Nelson Dones, a retired detective who put together the training cards.

Some of the thieves have a shtick. There is Francisco Hita, who when caught touching someone’s wallet, pretends to be deaf, the police say, responding with gesticulations of incomprehension. There is an older man who pretends to be stricken by palsy while on a bus, and then uses a behind-the-back manoeuvre to infiltrate the pocket of the passenger next to him.

There are flashy dressers, like the 5-foot-3 Duval Simmons, whose reputation is so well known among the police that he says he sometimes sits on his hands while riding the subway, so he cannot be accused of stealing. Simmons, an occasional partner of Rose’s, said he honed his skills on a jacket that hung in his closet, tying bells to it to measure how heavy his hand was.

Rose’s notoriety stems from how infrequently he has been arrested, and how, at least in the last 15 years, he has never been caught in the act by plainclothes officers.

While some details of Rose’s story are impossible to verify independently, he was well known to the police and had a reputation for being careful. “He’s been plaguing New York for decades,” said Dones, who spent 14 years chasing pickpockets. “We’ve seen him so many times over the years, yet we’ve never been able to catch him”—at least, in the act of stealing. Veteran detectives expressed surprise at Rose’s recent arrest, both for its rarity and because he was caught working with a partner—he normally worked alone.

“I’m too old for this,” Rose said during one of several jailhouse interviews. “I used to think of it as a game. But jail makes you think of it as stealing.”

And the game has changed. Pickpockets now are not interested only in the cash, of which there is less; increasingly, they sell or share credit-card information with identity-theft rings.

Rose is dismissive of the younger generation of street criminals and refused to train apprentice pickpockets. “Young people, they aren’t interested in this,” Rose said. “It takes too much patience.”

After his release, he vowed, he will reform. “I’m done with this life,” he said. “I’m going to buy a bike and become a messenger. That’s what I’m going to do. I want a job.”

Born in the Virgin Islands, Rose moved to Harlem as a child to live with an aunt. His first arrest came in the early 1970s, as he worked the crowds outside the Apollo Theatre.

Over the next decades, he developed a set of self-imposed guidelines: Look for a target who appears relaxed, preferably a “stranger”, his term for a tourist or a foreigner. (New Yorkers, he said, have a tendency to react more violently.) When possible, avoid stealing from women.

“It’s a matter of principle, but they also seem to carry only a little cash,” Rose said. “In a woman’s wallet, it’s 10 credit cards.”

In the jail’s visiting room, Rose demonstrated his main technique. Placing a thumb on the outside of the pants for leverage, he used a forefinger in an upward scratching motion, showing how he would tug at the pocket lining.

“We call it ‘winding it up.’ It raises the cash,” he said. When the money is accessible, Rose forms pincers with his middle finger and the back of his forefinger to extract the cash.

Beyond technique, he said, what’s needed is a crowd. Some of his favourite spots include parades along Fifth Avenue and busy subway trains.

If a particular subway train was not crowded enough, he and other pickpockets would manipulate the playing field. Rose said he and Simmons would delay southbound trains in Harlem, holding open the doors at the 116th and 110th Street stations. “It would be a two- or three-minute delay, or maybe a bit more,” he said. But that was all it took for the downstream platforms to fill with passengers waiting for the next train to arrive. By the time Rose rode into the station, they would be packing his car, providing ideal working conditions.

In New York, pickpockets tend to stick to their turf. There are crews that work only department stores. A number of the “topside” pickpockets, as the police refer to those who work the streets, are South American, detectives said. Subway pickpockets tend to be lifelong New Yorkers.

In his heyday, Rose recalled, he blew through most of the money he stole, taking his wife on trips. The couple have been together since 1976 and married in 1989. She had a daughter of her own and together they had three children, all boys. He had a clothing store at Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn for a time. That folded. He worked other odd jobs, too, but he always stole.

In the 1980s, he said, he “might take three wallets in a night.” But personal circumstances led him to slow down: He and his wife had a son, Malick, in 1989. He was autistic, and Rose said he needed to be home more and could not risk being incarcerated.

“I didn’t take risks once he was born,” Rose said. “I’ve been very careful. I’d been taking care of him his whole life.” Rose said he spent most afternoons with his son visiting Crotona and Central parks.

Then in 2007, a fire broke out in a neighbour’s apartment in Rose’s building in the Bronx. At the time, Rose was behind bars in a city jail after an arrest as a pickpocket. Both Malick and Grace Rose’s daughter, who suffered from seizures, were inside, unsupervised, and ended up with severe smoke inhalation, Rose said.

In the years after the fire, the health of both children deteriorated rapidly; Grace Rose’s daughter died in 2009, and Malick in 2011. Rose said that after his son died, he began stealing at a faster clip. “I was lost. I had nobody to take care of,” he said.

When Rose was arrested this last time, he was in the company of an older accomplice, Otis Williams, 59. The two were working the No. 2 train when, the police say, Williams moved in on a woman’s purse. The woman said she recalled being bumped and later realised that her wallet was missing. The men got off the train at West 72nd Street, where police officers watched as Williams rifled through a wallet, taking out the cash and then discarding the wallet in the trash. When the men were stopped. Williams had $60 of the woman’s money, and Rose held $40.

On the day of Rose’s sentencing, his wife of 25 years sat in the courtroom, recounting his kindness and wondering what she would tell their sons.

“He has two sons who don’t even know what he does,” she said, describing her husband as a devoted and patient father. “We have our secrets.”

Asked how it was possible their sons didn’t know, Grace Rose said, “Trust me, it’s possible.”

She said she dreaded the prospect of being separated from him for the next year.


Can math stop murder?

By Mark Guarino, CS Monitor, July 20, 2014

CHICAGO—It was an unusual encounter from the start. On a cold evening in February, Chicago police officer Maria Peña knocked on the door of a house in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. She wanted to talk to a leader of the Latin Kings, a gang on the city’s South Side, as well as his mother. Ms. Peña was not there to question or arrest the man. She wanted to save his life.

The gang leader opened the door. “He was a little wary to see me,” says Peña, commander of the Chicago Police Department’s 10th District. Nevertheless, his mother welcomed Peña and several other local officials. She invited them to sit around the kitchen table with her son, his girlfriend, and a 6-year-old niece. The kitchen was tidy, the atmosphere cordial. But the talk turned blunt quickly.

“I looked at the mom and said, ‘Honestly, do you want to bury your son?’ “ And, she told her, it might not be just him. Peña recounted a recent retaliation shooting in the neighborhood in which an innocent bystander—a 10-month-old girl—fell victim.

“Do you want your little granddaughter being the next victim?”

She urged the son to jettison his gang-related activities and offered a variety of social services to help him do it.

Since then, Peña is not sure if the gang leader changed his ways or whom he associates with. What she does know is that he’s still alive—and shootings related to the Latin Kings have stopped, at least temporarily, in her district.

Peña was basing her warnings in part on intelligence the police had gleaned from computer algorithms. Her visit on that raw night was part of a pioneering attempt by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to harness the power of Big Data to stop crime before it happens.

Armed with a plethora of statistics on everything from gun violations to individual parole and arrest histories, police here are trying to create a national model that will help them predict where shootings might occur and who might be involved—both victims and offenders. Then they use the information to reach out to people in the neighborhoods in the hope of preventing the guns from ever being brandished.

“I don’t think the families always know these guys are out there doing what they are doing,” says Peña. “When you have these kind of conversations with their families, and the [gang members] see the hurt in their mother’s eyes, I think that hurts them, because the family means everything to them.”

Chicago’s experiment is part of an emerging new movement of preventive policing that is sweeping through precinct houses across the country and even around the world. Cities from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Seattle to Santa Cruz, Calif., are trying to harness the power of math to curb various forms of crime, whether it’s robbery, gun violence, or drug dealing. Authorities in Kent, England, are using sophisticated computer models to guide police, too.

But the CPD is pushing the science in new directions. Beat cops and veteran precinct captains in the nation’s second largest police force are teaming up with number crunchers and leading university crime researchers in their quest to better understand gun violence and engage with neighborhood residents.

Chicago’s initiative, though still nascent, has shown some success so far. Since last July, police have carried out 66 house calls similar to the one Peña made. In only two cases were gang members they visited later involved in shootings—which is progress for a city reeling from a national reputation for bloodshed.

It’s also one reason the initiative here is now being looked at by a number of police departments in other cities, such as New Orleans and Toronto. While no one sees Big Data as the answer to crime—and the program isn’t without controversy—people here see it as a powerful new tool to combat urban violence.

“Police in major American cities have endured generations in which good and serious people came to work every day and felt they were not doing any good in solving the violence issue…,” says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who is involved in the Chicago project. “Now, the fact that you can do good and help people and possibly save lives is transformational.”

Preventive policing moves cop work one more step from the era of batons to the era of bits and bytes. In the 1970s and ‘80s, many cities dealt with a surging homicide problem by trying to sweep it off the streets. Police flooded besieged neighborhoods. They made large numbers of arrests. Courts sent the criminals to jail—often for substantial periods of time.

Then came the era of community policing, in which police were more rooted in neighborhoods, both protecting and interacting with residents. This approach was less reactive, adding an element of preventiveness to law enforcement. Now comes preventive policing, which combines enforcement, community engagement, and analytics. It’s what Garry McCarthy, Chicago’s police superintendent, calls “community policing almost on steroids.”

In Chicago, the shift to a more numbers-based approach began with the arrival of Mr. McCarthy, whom Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed superintendent three years ago. A beefy “cop’s cop” as comfortable around numbers as he is doing roll call, McCarthy came at an inauspicious time: The city was dealing with the aftereffects of a police torture scandal that was continuing to siphon millions in settlement fees. The police union was upset at budget cuts and declining manpower, and Mr. Emanuel was intent on shedding the label “murder mayor,” the moniker critics gave him when the number of homicides spiked above 500 his first year in office.

At the outset, McCarthy represented something different for Chicago: a superintendent from outside the CPD ranks with a background in crime statistics. He had overseen the highly touted CompStat program in New York City, which created a new way of managing crime numbers and holding precinct commanders accountable. Later, while police superintendent in Newark, N.J., he saw homicides fall 28 percent on his watch. Early in his new role in Chicago, McCarthy did something unheard of in this city where top officials operate with a tribal allegiance to each other: He apologized for decades of racial targeting by the police.

At the core of Chicago’s new approach is both collaboration between cops and academics and the numbers they gather. Just as the social network model is effective in helping create a portrait of Facebook users—their tastes, habits, and the people they interact with—the data analysis in Chicago is giving beat officers a more comprehensive understanding of the neighborhoods they police.

The marquee program is the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a partnership funded by the MacArthur Foundation and led by John Jay College, with Yale University, the University of Chicago, and other academic institutions playing major support roles. Although currently used in only four police districts on the city’s South Side, the strategy is expected to spread.

Fashioning the program required understanding Chicago’s gang culture. Decades ago, gangs here were large criminal organizations that dominated expansive areas of turf and fought for control of the drug trade. Today, they are neighborhood factions that control only a few blocks. According to the Chicago Crime Commission, 70 to 100 gangs now inhabit the city, encompassing about 100,000 members. Many have different and changing reasons for existence, which makes it hard for the beat cop to understand, much less control, them.

Enter Mr. Kennedy and the digiteers. His team helped the police create a database that monitored which gangs were active, which were quiet, which were fighting—and with whom. “You can’t even understand what is going on until you have that level of specificity,” he says.

To get that information, John Jay researchers interviewed key personnel across the city—mainly beat cops—about what they saw on the streets and built that into the current CompStat system.

Many seasoned officers were reluctant to cooperate. They didn’t understand why they needed to be that granular about gang activity, and many were more apt to trust their instincts than a computer algorithm. “Getting [the value of this] across can be really hard, especially in a city like Chicago, where you have four generations serving in the same police district,” says Professor Papachristos of Yale.

But he says views began to change when the John Jay team returned with the results: a systematic snapshot of gang factions that could yield predictions of where violence might break out next.

While some officers still don’t embrace the new approach, the results have been reasonably encouraging so far: Police data show shooting incidents—both fatal and nonfatal—dropped 24 percent in 2013 compared with the year before. Murders fell 18 percent, from 503 to 414.

Shooting incidents through June 30 of this year ticked up 5.5 percent, though the number of murders dropped 5 percent compared with last year, according to the CPD. Still, crime remains stubborn: The city experienced 82 shootings—and 14 deaths—over the July 4th weekend alone.

The numbers overall, while not perfect, reflect a tactical shift in how police respond to shootings. In 2013, Papachristos and Yale colleague Christopher Wilderman calculated that, between 2006 and 2011, the homicide rate of “a high-crime African American community in Chicago” was 55.2 per 10,000 people. That number was about four times the citywide rate during the same period.

The old mind-set would suggest that this neighborhood was a dangerous place and that many people there were at risk of being either a victim or perpetrator of a crime. The traditional response might have been to dispatch a large number of police to the area, turning the neighborhood into something of a battle zone.

But Papachristos and Mr. Wilderman’s data showed that a very small percentage of the population was probably causing all the problems and a lighter, more targeted police footprint would be more effective. According to their research, arrest records show that 85 percent of all gunshot homicide victims had at least one previous arrest. Victims and perpetrators of violence also tend to know each other and operate within the same social networks. Using both arrest and homicide records, the researchers found that the population of the community that had been arrested during the five-year period consisted of 24,110 people, about 30 percent of the total population.

Drilling down further, they calculated that 41 percent of all gun homicide victims were located within the social network of arrestees. The percentage that those victims represented within the community as a whole was 3,718 people, or only 4 percent of the population.

“Crime is more concentrated within networks of people than actual places,” says Papachristos. “So all of a sudden you’re talking about 70 to 80 percent of shootings taking place in networks that represent just 3 to 5 percent of the population. Those at risk are a couple hundred people. You now have a sense of who they are.”

Knowing the numbers is one thing. Getting people to not pull out their guns is another. Chicago police are taking several steps to try to head off violence before it happens, which may be the most difficult part of preventive policing.

They have expanded “call-ins,” group meetings with repeat offenders on probation or parole, during which they remind them of the risks of committing another crime. The city has stepped up foot and bicycle patrols in 20 high-risk zones—ones that represent just 3 percent of city land but account for 20 percent of gun violence. Authorities have also put into place a system to solicit feedback from crime victims about their experience with the police.

“When you talk to the public, yes, they want crime reduced, but they are more concerned about fairness and respectfulness with their interaction with police,” says Dennis Rosenbaum, a criminologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has helped oversee the feedback program.

“When the public feels … the police are being fair in their authority and aren’t judging them on the basis of race, gender, and ethnicity, they are much more likely to cooperate, much more likely to provide them with intelligence to solve crimes,” he adds.

The most recent and perhaps revolutionary development in the CPD’s outreach effort is the door-to-door campaign, such as the one officer Peña was a part of.

Years ago, the scene would have been unimaginable: The doorbell rings at the home of a gang member who has been arrested multiple times. An officer says a district commander wants to chat with the man and his family. Can they come in?

Using a formula created by Papachristos and his team, the police have drawn up a “hot list” of people to visit who may be most at risk of becoming either the next offender or victim. It is based on an analysis of individuals’ criminal histories, prison records, open court cases, and victims’ social networks.

Police present the visit as an information session and an opportunity for change. Accompanying the district commander are representatives from social agencies who offer to connect the family with health-care services, classes to earn a high school equivalency certificate, or job-training and placement programs.

The officer also conveys something more sober: what the legal consequences would be if a person with that kind of record—and the police detail what the individual’s record is—were to commit another crime.

“We just lay it out like that with them, and close by saying the people of your neighborhood do not want violence—put down the gun,” says Cmdr. John Kenney, executive director of the CPD’s Bureau of Organizational Development, which runs the custom notification program.

The visitors make sure the others around the kitchen table hear about the individual’s rap sheet, too, and what the consequences of more criminal activity would be for him and the family.

“It’s terrifying to the families,” says Chris Mallette, executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy program at John Jay College. “We can show them, with almost certainty, the probability of their son or brother or grandson being the next gunshot victim based on their social network.”

Not everyone is enamored of preventive policing, however. Some doubt it will ever have a meaningful effect on lowering gun violence. Others worry that it is just a distraction from what is ultimately needed to improve some inner-city neighborhoods.

“Much like any other program in Chicago, they are not dealing with the crux of the problem, which is poverty,” says Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, a nonprofit group. Police may offer counseling and social services during interventions, but Mr. Siska says those are hollow choices.

“You are not getting a guy out of a gang until you bring him a job,” he says. “I think [house calls] are a decent idea, and in the short term, they may have an impact. But it’ll only become long term if you can get those people out of those lifestyles.”

Johnny Outlaw believes they need jobs, too, but thinks the new police initiative is a definite step in the right direction. He leads an effort to find work for repeat offenders and provide them with legal services. In private, many gang members tell him that they want to put down their guns but either are afraid of retaliation or don’t know how to go straight. Mr. Outlaw says that he’s had “top-flight gangbangers” break down sobbing in his office—“physical tears out of these cats”—because they feel they’re out of options.

“They say, ‘I’m tired of shooting people, I’m tired of robbing people. I want to do something with my life.’ I say, ‘If you work with me, we’ll find you a job. But you need to put down that gun,’ “ he says.

In the end, the effectiveness of the new wave of policing will likely hinge on one thing: whether it reduces crime. While some of the initial results are promising, many say it’s too early to determine how much—or even whether—it will reduce violence. But what is certain is that Chicago will provide one of the nation’s premier tests of how well the new science of policing works.


Migration spotlights Mexican ‘coyote’ smugglers

By E. Eduardo Castillo And Christopher Sherman, AP, Jul 21, 2014

TECUN UMAN, Guatemala (AP)—The man-in-the-know nursed a late-morning beer at a bar near the Suchiate River that separates Guatemala from Mexico, and answered a question about his human smuggling business with a question: “Do you think a coyote is going to say he’s a coyote?”

Dressed as a migrant in shorts and sandals but speaking like an entrepreneur, he then described shipments of tens of thousands of dollars in human cargo from the slums of Honduras and highlands of Guatemala to cities across the United States.

“It’s business,” he said, agreeing to speak to a reporter only if guaranteed anonymity. “Sometimes, business is very good.”

Judging by the dramatic increase in the number of minors apprehended in the United States in recent months, it seems the human smuggling business from Central America is booming. The vast majority of migrants who enter the U.S. illegally do so with the help of a network of smugglers known as “coyotes,” so named for the scavengers that prowl the border.

It is a high-risk, often high-yield business estimated to generate $6.6 billion a year for smugglers along Latin America’s routes to the U.S., according to a 2010 United Nations report. The migrants pay anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 each for the illegal journey across thousands of miles in the care of smuggling networks that in turn pay off government officials, gangs operating on trains and drug cartels controlling the routes north.

The exact profit is hard to calculate. One expert who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly put it at $3,500 to $4,000 per migrant if the journey goes as planned. Smuggling organizations may move from dozens to hundreds of migrants at a time.

“We’re talking about a market where chaos reigns,” said Rodolfo Casillas, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico who studies migrant trafficking.

The surge in unaccompanied minors and women with children migrating from Central America has put new attention on decades-old smuggling organizations.

More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors, the vast majority from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, were apprehended at the U.S. border from October to June, according to the Border Patrol. That’s more than double the same period last year.

The smugglers are profiting from the rising violence in gang-ridden cities of Central America, and the yearning of families to be reunited; parents often head north to find work and save money to send for their children, sometimes years later.

Many of the children and teenagers who travelled to the United States recently said they did so after hearing they would be allowed to stay. The U.S. generally releases unaccompanied children to parents, relatives or family friends while their cases take years to wend through overwhelmed immigration courts. That reality gave rise to rumors of a new law or amnesty for children.

Some say coyotes helped spread those rumors to drum up new business following a huge drop in Mexicans migrating to the United States. Arrests of migrants on the southwestern U.S. border dropped from about 1.1 million annually a decade ago to 415,000 last year.

Immigrants’ rights advocates in the U.S. say they are seeing more children from Central America who are not only fleeing gang recruitment and random violence, but who have been targeted themselves.

“We deal with torture victims in the Congo and some of these kids have similar stories,” said Judy London, a lawyer with the Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in Los Angeles. “Kidnappings on the way home from school, being held for ransom, sexual violence. We hadn’t seen the numbers of girls before.”

Because of that, some smugglers say they are in the service business.

“The most important thing is to help these people,” said another smuggler in Ixtepec, a town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca where many migrants board the northbound train known as “La Bestia,” or The Beast.

The smuggler goes by the name of Antonio Martinez, which is most likely a pseudonym, though one that appears on an arrest record, he said. He wears Nike sport shoes, jeans and a pressed blue Oxford shirt, the two top buttons open to reveal a tattoo of Jesus Christ on his left breast. After spending 12 years in U.S. prisons for drug possession, he said, he converted to Christianity and fell into the coyote business.

“The coyote is essential,” he said. “If you don’t have a compass, you can get lost.”

Martinez appears to be an independent contractor. He said he charges $2,500 for the trip from the Guatemalan border to the U.S. border, where he gives Central American migrants fake Mexican identity cards and makes them learn the first stanza of the Mexican national anthem before handing them off to another smuggler. Hopefully, if they are apprehended in the U.S., they’ll only be sent back to Mexico, where they can try again, Martinez said.

Most smugglers charge far more, having raised their prices in recent years to compensate for the drop in Mexican business and to offset the “taxes” charged by cartels for moving people through their territories.

The trafficker on the Guatemalan border, who spoke with The Associated Press after an intermediary negotiated the time and place, said the people he smuggles pay $10,000 a head for the trip from Central America, which covers everything from hotel and train payments to official bribes and cartel taxes. But occasionally, he said, a cartel will demand as much as an extra $5,000 on threat of death.

“You have to be careful with the Zetas. They cut you in pieces and videotape it,” he said.

Speaking always in the third person, he said a smuggler dresses to blend in with the 10 to 15 migrants he moves at a given time. Like most smugglers, he first went to the U.S. as a migrant, where he worked as a cook and learned some English.

Casillas, the migration expert, said the migrant smuggling business is a complex corporate structure. Guides at the border usually work for honchos who run the operation from afar and only pocket a fraction of the price charged to the migrants. One of the most important coyotes moving immigrants from El Salvador lives in Texas, he said.

“It’s a criminal chain that has two segments. The invisible segment … is dedicated to administration, organization and finances,” he said. “They don’t necessarily even see the migrants.”

The guides often don’t know who they are working for, he added. The big guys rarely get caught. While federal officials along the U.S. border seem to roll out cases against human smugglers almost on a weekly basis, the targets are largely drivers and stash house operators.

Many smugglers take their charges from Mexico’s southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca to Mexico City on La Bestia, the decrepit freight train. From there, they choose one of three main routes: to Reynosa in Tamaulipas, Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, or cross the Sonoran desert to the outskirts of Mexicali.

Most now opt to go to Tamaulipas, the shortest, but most dangerous route because of its warring drug cartels. The number of family units and unaccompanied children arrested by the Border Patrol in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley increased 362 percent in the first nine months of this fiscal year compared to the same period last year.

The border in South Texas is difficult to police. The Rio Grande twists and doubles back on itself as it makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Its banks are overgrown with carrizo cane and other brush. It takes little time for a raft or someone paddling an inner tube to reach the other side, but few attempt it these days without a guide.

The Gulf cartel and Zetas control swaths of the Mexican side of the border and collect a tax for everything that passes through—people, drugs, weapons or merchandize.

Rafael Cardenas Vela, nephew of former Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, testified in great detail at the 2012 trial of another cartel member about how this arrangement worked.

When Cardenas Vela ran the Rio Bravo “plaza” for the cartel from 2009 to 2011, he collected $250 to $300 for a Mexican immigrant, $500 to $700 for a Central American and about $1,500 for someone from Europe or Asia, he testified. He also collected a flat 10 percent fee from the smugglers to allow them to work.

Unlike the drug trafficking organizations that tightly control their loads, human smuggling organizations are much more flexible and willing to work with various groups to keep people moving, Ayala said. They are more like independent contractors who may specialize in one segment of the journey, whether it is getting them through interior Mexico, across the Texas-Mexico border, into a stash houses or to the interior U.S.

All who help along the way must be paid, and their fees are a fixed part of the cost determined by the smuggling network.

Mexican youths often serve as lookouts, or guides ferrying migrants across the river to the United States because if they get caught, they’re just sent back across the border instead of being prosecuted.

A Mexican official familiar with human smuggling at the border but who is not authorized to speak about it publicly said child guides can make as much as $100 per immigrant.

A young U.S. citizen living in South Texas told authorities after her arrest that she was to be paid $150 per immigrant she picked up near the Rio Grande and drove to a stash house. She got $200 a person for driving them to Houston, according to court records.

Sometimes the person feeding and watching immigrants at the stash house is in the country illegally, too, and is working off his smuggling fee. In other cases, a local has been paid $20 per person per day for the job.

“It’s like a little chain, everyone is earning,” the Mexican official said.


Bodies From Malaysia Airlines Flight Are Stuck in Ukraine, Held Hostage Over Distrust

By Sabrina Tavernise And Noah Sneider, NY Times, July 20, 2014

TOREZ, Ukraine—Three wrenching days after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the bodies of most of those aboard have ended up here, in a fly-infested railway station in a rough coal-mining town in eastern Ukraine.

For now, they are stuck, lying in five gray refrigerated train cars in this rebel-controlled war zone, hostages to high politics and mutual distrust.

The government in Kiev has accused the Russian-backed rebels who control the area of blocking access to the bodies and the crash site and delaying what is already a very painful process for the families of the dead.

The rebels insist they are cooperating, and say they want to turn the 247 bodies they had recovered as of Sunday over to international representatives. But they say those officials have not arrived; the rebels accuse the Ukrainian government of scaring the officials off, though European officials have disputed that claim.

Neither of the conflicting story lines fully reflects the chaos at the scene, where an incoherent recovery effort is being carried out by motley groups of mostly untrained people. On Sunday, they included miners straight from their shifts; local residents who arrive on run-down motorbikes; and poorly equipped emergency service workers who sleep in the field, amid the stench of decay, in sagging orange and blue tents.

But for now, their train is going nowhere, a final indignity for families as they grieve over the loss of their loved ones. When asked Sunday afternoon where the train was headed, its driver said he had not been given a destination.

“Nobody knows, and no one will say,” he said.

The United States and Ukraine have criticized the rebels for what they say has been evidence of tampering and concealment at the crash site.

At the site itself, there was little sense of any order.

Instead of a crime scene marked with police tape, helicopters scouring its 13 square miles and specialists poring over every detail, the area was a post-Soviet free-for-all playing out in a war zone, where most of the trappings of a modern state have fallen away. With the police mostly gone, for example, militiamen now respond to traffic accidents.

“This is a disaster like no other,” said Michael Bociurkiw, the spokesman for the European security agency mission. The standard response, he said, is, “You secure the area, and then you go about the established business.”

He added: “That hasn’t happened here. And whether they even have the ability for that to happen is unclear.”

At the crash site on Sunday, rescue workers picked through a charred pile of suitcases, mangled airplane seats, and bits of metal and clothing, using nothing but their hands and a few small sticks. Cows grazed in one of the fields near the fuselage. Army green stretchers, some with dark splotches of blood, lay on the matted grass near the road.

“Body!” shouted one of the men who was wearing large, yellowish, mittenlike gloves and no mask. They dug harder, yanking unsuccessfully at a large hunk of metal that lay heavily on an unrecognizable body part.

A second asked for help. “There’s no one here,” said a third. A fourth asked: “Does anyone have a shovel?”

American intelligence officials have said a proper investigation could answer crucial questions about who is responsible for shooting down the plane, but the hopes for retrieving anything useful from the site are dwindling with each passing day.

Two days after the crash, potentially decisive evidence was lying, seemingly undiscovered, in a recently harvested field about five miles from the central crash site: a large curled sheet of metal, apparently part of the outside of the plane, that had multiple, even holes torn into it. A weapons expert who reviewed photographs said the holes were consistent with a blast from a missile of the type American officials believe brought down the plane.

Distrust poisoned the process. One rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, said Sunday that the plane’s flight recorder, which contains details about the plane’s status before it went down, had surfaced, but that he wanted to give it to international experts, not Ukrainians.

Officials in Kiev have accused the rebels of trying to spirit the recorder to Moscow and released audio recordings that they claimed proved it. And Ukraine’s government said Sunday that it had captured 23 rebels who were all Russian passport holders.

Nikolai, a coal mine worker, had driven 35 miners from their morning shift in a large, rusty white bus with blue stripes to help with the search. The miners walked seven in a line with an emergency worker, combing the fields for bodies and plane parts.

Nikolai—who would give only his patronymic, Vasilievich, and not his last name—recently had his own tragedy. On Tuesday, a bomb hit his apartment building, killing his brother. Villagers blame the Ukrainian military, which they say was aiming at a nearby rebel base, though Ukraine denies that.

“Tomorrow he would have been 55,” Mr. Vasilievich said, eating seeds in the shade of his bus. He blames the Ukrainians for shooting down the passenger jet, a common sentiment here.

Ragtag rebels were mostly gone from the site on Sunday. Also gone was a trigger-happy rebel nicknamed Mosquito with a penchant for firing into the air when people disobeyed him. The European security agency monitors left the crash site on Friday after hearing shooting. But on Sunday they were walking around the site again, protected by guards, many of whom wore the blue camouflage pants and maroon berets of Ukraine’s disbanded special police.

Since the crash on their doorsteps, villagers from Grabovo have gathered for prayers and laid flowers along the road. Yellow daisies rested on one piece of black metal at the site, and beside it lay a small stuffed doll in a purple dress, left as a tribute.


In Russia, everybody loves Putin

By Aaron Blake, Washington Post, July 21, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly a pariah on the world stage, with very few people holding a positive view of him or his country.

Back home, though, it’s the complete opposite. As Russia has enmeshed itself in controversies in Syria and Ukraine—and now allegations that its allies were responsible for shooting down a civilian plane last week—its strongman leader has only grown more popular. In fact, he’s more popular than a politician in the United States could ever dream to be.

A new poll from Gallup shows that 83 percent of Russians approve of Putin’s job performance.

That’s up nearly 30 points from last year—and tied with the previous high from his first stint as president, in 2008. Clearly, his people think he’s doing something right.

To put that in perspective, the last time any American leader or politician was that popular was George W. Bush, for a brief period shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And just four months after the attacks, Bush was back below 80 percent.

For the half-century before Bush, only George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman ever matched Putin’s popularity for any period of time. All three men rose to that height in large part because of major military events. Putin, though, has remained hugely popular even in the absence of a major war directly affecting his country.

Indeed, it’s pretty difficult for anything in the United States to attain that level of popularity—especially in today’s polarizing environment in which many politicians struggle just to get half of the people to like them.

And it’s not just Putin who’s popular. People profess to being quite happy with the government of Russia in general—or at least, more happy than they were before.

So does Putin suddenly have a massive mandate from his people to do whatever he wants on the world stage? Well, not really. He might see it that way, but his popularity isn’t all that new.

Although he’s riding about as high as he ever has, this isn’t the first time his approval rating has peaked above 80 percent. In fact, according to polling from the Levada Center, he was hovering around or above 80 percent for much of his first stint as president.

Putin’s numbers are undoubtedly inflated by the fact that his country has state-run news media; it’s much easier to look like a hero when the media are consistently on your side. And that goes double when you’re involved in major events on the world stage. The Russian people, for instance, had a far different understanding of precisely what happened in Crimea, believing Ukranian nationalists were responsible for it.

But for a man facing a very significant role in the world and increasingly bad reviews outside his borders, it’s important to remember that the most important feedback he’s getting for his political legacy—in Russia—is overwhelmingly positive.

He has oodles of political capital back home. The question is how he uses it.


MH17: The Exploitation of A Tragedy

By Justin Raimondo, Antiwar.com, July 20, 2014

If there’s one thing neocons and Obamaites can agree on, it’s the penultimate evil of Vladimir Putin. The downing of MH17 has knitted them so close together that it’s hard to tell the difference. No sooner had the airliner hit the ground then, one and all, they echoed the “game-changer” meme first enunciated by The New Republic’s Julia Ioffe, the go-to person for media Russophobes. Top Democrats in Congress ranted that what was clearly an accident is an “act of war,” not to mention an “act of terror,” while Sen. John McCain took the opportunity to agree wholeheartedly—while adding that Obama’s “weakness” in the face of Russian “aggression” is really to blame.

Washington is basking in its near-unanimity, and the only competition between left and right is to see who can snarl the most menacingly at the Russian bear. In this frenzied atmosphere, pundits left and right—and even “news” accounts—refer to the fields where the wreckage lies as the “crime scene,” the scene of a “murder.” And they are pointing a finger not only at the rebels but also directly at Putin—with air cover from the Pentagon, as this New York Times account makes all too clear:

“Rear Adm. John Kirby, the top Pentagon spokesman, said it would have been difficult for separatists to fire the SA-11 without Russian help. ‘It strains credulity to think that it could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance,” he said.

“Admiral Kirby raised the possibility that the Russian military had transported the system into Ukraine and even fired it. ‘Whether it was a system that was driven across the border by Russians and then handed off, we don’t know,’ he said.”

What Kirby fails to mention is that Russian expertise is hardly required, since whole Ukrainian army divisions sent in to crush the rebels have chosen to defect rather than fire on their countrymen. There are plenty of rebels with the training to operate an SA-11 or SA-20, but that comment about direct Russian support—“and even fired it”—tells us everything we need to know about this latest chapter in the ongoing US-Russian standoff. They want to pin the blame on Putin, but that is a case that won’t stand up in court.

That’s because the “evidence” of Russian complicity is flimsy. The SBU, the Ukrainian intelligence agency formerly preoccupied with brutalizing opponents of whatever regime was in power, has come up with a series of “intercepts” that are being played nonstop on American cable television: these purportedly show not only rebel responsibility for the downing but also direct Russian assistance. The playing of the SBU tapes is usually preceded by boilerplate that they “could not be independently verified”—with the unspoken addendum that “but, heck, why not broadcast them anyway?” One tape presented as a conversation between a rebel commander and his henchman on the ground was apparently made the day before the plane was downed—sloppy work, but good enough for cable news.

But then again everything seems to be half-ass in Ukraine: nothing much in that country has functioned since the fall of the Soviet Union. This was an accident waiting to happen—and in spite of the certitude in which denunciations of the “criminal” rebels are framed, we still don’t know for sure who pulled the trigger. While the Russians have pointed out that the Ukrainian army had anti-aircraft weaponry in the vicinity when the plane went down, it could well be that Washington is correct and the rebels did indeed hit the plane, mistaking it for a Ukrainian fighter. Yet the lesson to be drawn from this isn’t what Washington and the screaming meemies of the Beltway are telling us it is.

Unable or unwilling to directly confront its main antagonists—Russia and Iran—Washington has turned to cold war era tactics (and rhetoric), using proxies to fight wars they don’t dare fight on their own. In Libya, and now Syria, the US used its supposedly tame jihadists to overturn secular Arab leaders who didn’t follow Washington’s orders willingly. The big problem with their efforts to recruit suitable proxies, however, is that quality control is lacking.

This is especially evident in the Ukraine, where Washington has hooked up with a motley gang of ultra-nationalists, open fascists, and Ukrainian oligarchs. Yet the violent coup that ousted President Viktor Yanukovich was just the beginning as far as the War Party is concerned. The Obama administration has been under attack from fellow Democrats as well as McCainite Republicans to deliver some serious arms to Kiev—as well as the Syrian rebels—and the MH17 incident may well provide the political impetus for him to do so, at least in the case of the former.

This would be precisely the opposite of a rational policy, for if the rebels did indeed down that plane, and if they did get the means to do it from the Russians, then this illustrates the utter stupidity of arming proxies with sophisticated weaponry. Plenty of American-made equipment is showing up on the Iraqi battlefield in the hands of ISIS, and although we’re being told it was looted from captured Iraq military facilities, there is good reason to doubt all of it came from that particular source.

In the midst of all this warmongering, the President is coming off as a relative moderate, especially compared to the Republican McCainiacs bent on pouring arms and even US “advisors” into Ukraine (obviously someone has to train the Ukrainians to use them). Meanwhile, Obama—like Franklin Roosevelt in the run up to US entry into World War II—lets others call for stronger action while his relatively rational public pronouncements belie his provocative actions.

The crucial context of this terrible tragedy is the years-long regime change operation conducted by the US in Ukraine, which finally succeeded this year as a democratically elected pro-Russian regime was overthrown—by force—and a government more amenable to Western diktat was installed.

This was accomplished due to both overt and covert support to the Maidan rebels, whose “government” is now engaged in a brutal military campaign that has wantonly killed civilians in a series of atrocities studiously ignored by the Western media. We started the vicious civil war that is now making Ukraine unlivable: we set off the chain of events that led to the annexation of Crimea—whose people welcomed the chance to opt out of a bankrupt corrupt mess of a “country”—and we alone are responsible for the ensuing internecine conflict that gripped the eastern provinces.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) was presciently correct when he warned:

“Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don’t think that is a good idea.”

As it turned out, tweaking Putin was and is a terrible idea—one that has had fatal consequences not only for the people of Ukraine but now also for the 298 victims of the downing of MH17 whose body parts litter the fields of the east.

The shameless exploitation of this tragedy by slavering warmongers like McCain and the gaggle of neocons and “progressives” out for Russian blood is one of the most disgusting displays in many years. It underscores the inability and utter unwillingness of our puffed-up political class to view US foreign policy and its consequences with any degree of objectivity. This blindness, when it is translated into policy, is dangerous: it is like giving someone with 20/200 vision a racing car to drive—or like handing an antiaircraft missile system to some Ukrainian half-wit.

The investigation into who and what caused the crash is focused for the moment on the “crime scene,” in areas controlled by rebel forces in the east. Yet the real evidence isn’t scattered over those fields of sunflowers but in MH17’s last communications with Ukrainian air traffic controllers located in Kiev. Reports that these have been seized by the authorities are not encouraging: nor are the tweets coming from someone of Spanish nationality claiming to be an air traffic controller working in Kiev which say the Ukrainian military shot down the airliner—perhaps mistaking it for a Russian fighter jet. That is all too possible, given the jittery circumstances prevalent on the Ukrainian battlefield.

Regardless of whether those tweets represent anything real—and, like those SBU intercepts and alleged postings by rebels claiming responsibility for the downing, they couldn’t be independently verified—this scenario is perfectly plausible, just as it’s entirely within the realm of the probable that the rebels did it. Yet none of this obviates the real lesson of this horrific incident—which is that the superpowers’ reckless proxy wars are setting us up for a major conflict, a misstep that could end in starting World War III.


A new ‘Yahoo Ending’ service lets users in Japan prepare for the inevitable

By Anna Fifield, Washington Post, July 21, 2014

TOKYO—In Japan, preparing for major events in life has become an institution. So much so that there’s a whole preparation vocabulary: There’s shukatsu, for when you’re looking for a job; konkatsu, for when you’re looking to get married; and ninkatsu, for when you’re hoping to get pregnant.

Now, Yahoo Japan is helping people get ready for the inevitable, offering “Yahoo Ending,” a service that, among other things, allows Japanese people to send e-mails to loved ones from beyond the grave.

An animated video on Yahoo Japan’s Web site asks: “If today was the last day of your life, would you be ready for the journey?”

“Yahoo Japan’s job has been to solve social problems through the power of the Internet and to provide services from the cradle to the grave,” said Megumi Nakashima, a spokeswoman for the company. “We had services for the cradle part but not the grave part.”

This end-of-life preparation is also known as shukatsu (pronounced the same but written differently in Japanese from the job-searching term). The basic service will deactivate a user’s Yahoo account after his or her death. It also offers to delete documents, photos and videos from customers’ Yahoo Box online storage accounts and cancel subscription services linked to Yahoo Wallet.

The new Ending service, announced last week, is being portrayed as a way to address the kinds of problems encountered by families around the world who lack the passwords or legal authority necessary to close down Facebook or other online accounts of relatives who have died.

The search engine company will send out an e-mail the user has prepared to as many as 200 addresses and open a “memorial space” bulletin board where people can leave online condolence messages. All this is being offered for just $1.80 a month—which could work out to be a bargain, or could become very expensive, depending on how long a Yahoo customer lives.

The service is a technological step beyond the special notebooks that Japanese stationery companies have been selling—mainly to older people—for recording “ending notes.”

The Yahoo Ending site includes a video showing how its online service would work. A family is sitting in a living room when all of their phones beep.

Yahoo then shows the kind of message a family might receive: “If you’re reading this now it means I’ve already left this world … I promised that I would never die before you, my wife, so I’m sorry. I had a really happy life thanks to you.”

In the video, the family is comforted by the message. “It’s so much like Dad, who thought so much about us,” the son says. “We have to fulfill this because it’s his last wish. Mom, don’t worry about a thing, leave it all to us.”

But how does Yahoo Japan know when a user is dead? Well, when users register, they receive a booking number to share with someone they trust. When they die, that person calls a Yahoo Ending number, provides the number and then the person’s funeral preferences are shared. The funeral home sends the cremation permit to Yahoo to trigger the e-mails being sent out and files deleted.

While Google lets users anywhere plan for their afterlives or other periods of dormancy through its “ inactive account manager” function, Yahoo Japan goes a step further. In conjunction with Kamakura Shinsho, a funeral services company, it offers advice on how to write a will, plan a funeral and even find a grave.

A basic package offered through Yahoo Japan costs about $4,500 including the funeral, embalming and cremation, plus a wake for 30 people. Feeding guests at the wake costs an extra $30 per person, and for another $1,500 you can get a monk to perform the funeral.

The service might well find a market in Japan, with its rapidly aging society. About a quarter of the population is aged 65 or older. No word though on how many of them are tech-savvy.


Neighborhood Ravaged on Deadliest Day So Far for Both Sides in Gaza

By Anne Barnard and Isabel Kershner, NY Times, July 20, 2014

GAZA CITY—The mayhem began in the early hours of Sunday morning in Shejaiya, an eastern neighborhood of Gaza City, where Israeli forces battled with Hamas militants. Terrified civilians fled, sometimes past the bodies of those struck down in earlier artillery barrages. By dusk it was clear that Sunday was the deadliest single day for the Palestinians in the latest conflict and the deadliest for the Israeli military in years.

At least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and officers were killed in Shejaiya alone, and the shattered neighborhood was quickly becoming a new symbol of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, underlining the rising cost of this newest Gaza war.

The death tolls and the withering assault on Shejaiya appeared to shake the international community, with world leaders continuing to carefully call for both sides to step back but with criticism of Israel rising. Within hours, President Obama had called the Israeli prime minister for the second time in three days, the United Nations Security Council had called an emergency session at the urging of the Palestinians, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had issued a statement calling the attack on Shejaiya “an atrocious action.”

By early evening, the Obama administration announced that Secretary of State John Kerry would head to Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials in an attempt to negotiate a cease-fire to end the bloodshed.

Throughout Gaza, at least 87 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Sunday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, bringing the death toll there since the Israeli air offensive began on July 8 to at least 425, with more than 3,000 injured. The toll includes more than 100 children.

Israel has lost 18 soldiers so far, as well as two citizens killed by rocket and mortar fire. Two Americans were among the soldiers killed in Gaza; Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, identified them as Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli. Mr. Steinberg’s family lives in California, and Mr. Carmeli was from Texas, The Associated Press reported.

In Shejaiya, the panic Sunday was palpable. Some of the men, women and children who streamed out of the area were barefoot. Israeli shells crashed all around, rockets fired by Palestinian militants soared overhead in the direction of Israel and small-arms fire whizzed past. Asked where they were going, one woman said, “God knows.”

The casualties quickly overwhelmed local hospitals. Doctors treated some victims on the floor.

As the day wore on and the casualties mounted, it became apparent that what had begun on Thursday night as a limited ground invasion to follow 10 days of intense airstrikes had developed into a more extensive and dangerous phase for both sides.

Israel’s political and military leaders said that while acknowledging the pain for both sides, they were determined to continue with their mission. They have said the offensive is meant to root out Hamas’s vast network of underground tunnels, many of them leading into Israel, and to quell the rocket fire from Gaza, which continued on Sunday.

In a televised prime-time address to the nation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We are not deterred,” adding, “We will continue to operate as long as necessary.”

In another sign that the conflict could continue to take a high toll, a senior Israeli military official noted that the Hamas fighters Israel faced in Shejaiya had “learned lessons” from past conflicts and were tough adversaries. “I have to admit that we were facing good fighters on the other side,” he said.

It is unclear how much support Israel will receive abroad if the bombardment continues. Last week, Mr. Obama reaffirmed his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” but suggested that it was based on his understanding that “the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels.”

On Sunday, he again backed Israel’s right to self-defense, but also raised “serious concern about the growing number of casualties,” according to a statement released by the White House.

Mr. Kerry, who used his appearances on the talk shows to vociferously defend Israel’s right to take action, expressed his own consternation in private critical comments that were captured by Fox News on a live microphone. Mr. Kerry is heard to say to an aide: “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” adding, “We got to get over there.”

His later answers to on-air questions suggested that he had been speaking sarcastically of an operation that is aimed at militants but had killed so many Palestinian civilians, including many children.

Wadha Abu Amr, 62, said her family were refugees from what is now Beersheba, who fled in 1948 during the war over Israel’s founding.

“I’m afraid that this is another 1948,” she said, “God forbid. We were driven out in 1948 and we are being driven out again now.”

In the worst-hit area, a cinder-block building had been flattened; a neighboring one was only partially standing and others across the street were burned. On side streets, glass and rubble littered the ground, and the walls were pocked with shrapnel marks. Workers tried to pull bodies from rubble.

The remains of an exploded ambulance littered one street, the engine blown away from the ripped body of the vehicle. During the fighting, a Palestinian journalist who had ridden with an ambulance crew into the neighborhood was killed, along with a paramedic, whose body lay on a stretcher at Shifa Hospital, still in green scrubs.


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