US Vets Mix Regret, Detachment On Iraq Violence

This is the former Fallujah Football Stadium, now a cemetery cos of the huge number of deaths from 2004 US attacks

Image: @donnamulhearn

Julie Watson, Yahoo News [31/78/12]:

... Army Staff Sgt. Jesus Lozacruz, of Tustin, Calif., says he survived 11 explosions and 126 missions during his two tours in Iraq, and he tries not to think about the country's troubles. It only compounds his despair over what seemed to him an unnecessary war and brings up haunting memories, like the time he shot and killed an armed woman and child after an ambush.

"It's like there was no purpose," he says. "To me and some of my fellow soldiers, it feels like we gave all this for nothing ... We went there and gave all this just to withdraw out of nowhere? We did all this stuff, set up all kinds of things, and now it's gone, it's trashed."

"The only time the Iraqis are going to get peace is if someone is going to go there and bring them support again. They're not going to be able to go shopping and not worry about getting blown up in their own town. They're not going to have that tranquility again anytime soon."

The 32-year-old was in his third year at Cal State-Fullerton in 2000 when he dropped out and joined the Army at his mother's request, as a way to keep an eye on his newly enlisted younger brother, Moises.

Lozacruz was excited to be part of the U.S. war on terror when he first went to Iraq with the invading forces in 2003. Soon though, he began to question why the Americans were there. There were no weapons of mass destruction and Lozacruz, trained in logistics, spent a lot of time protecting shipments of oil.

"That's when I started to get disappointed. We're getting shot at like crazy, for what? I never stopped doing my duties, but I didn't agree with it. Our mentality became, we just want to do what we have to do to come home."

He returned from his second tour in July 2007 and has recently been discharged. He works at an auto-parts store, suffers from PTSD, and meets weekly with a psychiatrist. The VA considers him 90 percent disabled. ...

Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., Chris Carola in Albany, N.Y., Susanne Schafer in Columbia, S.C., and Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., contributed to this story.

This story is the latest installment in a joint initiative by The Associated Press and Associated Press Media Editors taking a closer look at this latest generation of war veterans as they return to civilian life, and the effect this is having on them, their families and American society.

Players from Fallujah football club who once played here at former stadium are now buried here, killed in 2004 attack

Image: @donnamulhearn

Do you feel as though Gladstone Harbour has recently seen more "independent scientific reports" than dugongs and turtles?

Gladstone Observer [31/7/12]:

... Here comes some more.

A new independent scientific panel is being created by the Queensland Government to advise the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership.

The panel's creation comes after a different independent scientific panel was created late last year to hand down a special report in January.

That panel was disbanded by the Labor government before the election on March 28.

Since the fish disease crisis turned Gladstone into a national headline in September last year, critics' concerns about the impact of dredging in the harbour have led to a constant stream of scientific reporting.

The words "independent scientific" have been used on both sides of the heated debate.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell yesterday rejected suggestions another scientific panel would simply be doubling up on previous scientific work.

"The independent scientific panel established by the previous government in 2011 was formed for the specific purpose of delivering the report they handed down in January this year for the previous minister," he said.

"The decision not to formally continue the previous panel's role was made by a former minister. We are establishing a (new) collaborative partnership with universities, scientists, industry bodies and the wider community."

Asked whether he thought the Gladstone community was tired of the scientific reports, Mr Powell said: "I have said from the outset that I intend to base all policy decisions, both in Gladstone and across Queensland, on scientific evidence".

"I have also said I will be clear and transparent in this process and, as such, we have always made the science available to members of the public."

Mr Powell's department has begun the search for a scientist to head the new panel. In comments about the job description, Mr Powell last week said the role would involve achieving improved environmental and ecosystem health outcomes.

Mr Powell yesterday confirmed he believed water quality in Gladstone Harbour needed to improve.

"I have clearly stated on a number of occasions since the election that I would like to see improvements in Gladstone Harbour, particularly in relation to water quality," he said.

Mr Powell said the issue had been a high priority since he took over the portfolio.

Sea of reports

Gladstone Harbour has been the subject of numerous "independent scientific reports"

Gladstone Harbour Fish Health Scientific Advisory Panel released its independent report in January
Dr Matt Landos has released multiple independent reports this year
James Cook University scientists released an independent scientific report about turbidity recently
CSIRO released an independent study of water quality in May

Metricon Fined For Misleading Ads

Sydney Morning Herald [31/7/12]:

Building company Metricon Homes Qld has been slapped with an $800,000 fine for falsely representing its products in customer brochures.

The Federal Court in Brisbane has handed down the fine after ruling the company had engaged in misleading and deceptive advertising between 2009 and 2011.

The court found Metricon's brochures misrepresented the regular and sale prices of homes, and gave false impressions of build times and upgrade packages.

Metricon was also found to have depicted homes with features they didn't supply.

The court found Metricon also misled consumers by only including "small print" conditions on their website instead of also listing them on the brochures.

In addition to the fine, the court has imposed strict advertising conditions on Metricon for the next three years.

Political Party Or Lobby Group? The Dark Side Of The Australian Sex Party

Dr Meagan Tyler, The Conversation [31/7/12]:

“Vote for more sex!” Walking through the party pamphleteers to vote in Melbourne last week felt more like passing through a light-hearted student union ballot than a tightly contested state by-election. But while the Australian Sex Party (ASP) may sound like an undergraduate joke, there are compelling reasons to take the Sex Party seriously.

Indeed, a number of my colleagues have taken it so seriously that they have voted for the Sex Party. Looking at the recent campaign material, it’s not hard to see why. The ASP represents itself as a “civil liberties” party and it promotes ideas that have broad appeal – especially in left-leaning, inner-city seats like Melbourne – but are unlikely to appear in any major party’s suite of policies.

Some of the more publicised aspects of the ASP platform include, reform on drug law. Fair enough. An inquiry into the Myki debacle. Yes please. More public transport services at weekends. Great! A clearer separation between church and state. Amen.

The carefully selected policies that appear in Sex Party pamphlets, however, fail to mention what is at the centre of the party’s very being; a push for the full decriminalisation of prostitution. This would basically end the criminalisation of all forms of prostitution and make them free from any special government intervention.

From an outsider’s perspective, it may appear that decriminalisation is unnecessary in Victoria, which has one of the oldest systems of legalised prostitution in the world. But legalisation means regulation and the sex industry would rather have free rein to boost its profits. Scratch the surface and it is clear that the Sex Party is really just window dressing for a sex industry lobby group.

Essentially, the ASP is the political wing of the EROS Association, Australia’s national “adult retail and entertainment” association. And who is the president of the ASP? Fiona Patten. Patten is also CEO of the EROS Association. You might recognise her as the Sex Party candidate for the Melbourne by-election.

Patten helped make the real aims of the party quite clear in the lead-up to the election when she claimed that the ASP didn’t attempt a preference deal with the Greens because of concerns about an “anti-sex feminist element” in the party.

The “anti-sex” slur was most likely just a veiled reference to Kathleen Maltzahn, who served as a Greens local councillor in Yarra and stood as a Greens candidate in the 2010 Victorian state election.

Maltzahn is also a prominent anti-trafficking campaigner and founder of Project Respect. According to its website, Project Respect is a “non-profit, feminist, community-based organisation, that aims to empower and support women in the sex industry, including women trafficked to Australia”. Part of its vision is given as “a world where there is no longer demand for prostitution.” Now, why wouldn’t a sex industry lobby group be happy with that?

Many of my colleagues are quite shocked to hear about the intimate relationship between the Sex Party and the sex industry, but some persist with wilful ignorance.

In an article on the joys of the Sex Party on The Conversation, for example, Christine Steinmetz didn’t even feel the need to mention the EROS connection. That the commercial interests of the sex industry might occasionally clash with the pursuit of civil liberties, or other important things – like say, gender equality – is apparently unthinkable.

The fact that this is unthinkable, is a crucial point. The Australian discussion around the sex industry exists largely in a bubble where liberal notions of choice reign supreme. This creates an unusual climate where it is thought that, to be progressive, you must be sympathetic to an industry that principally relies on the buying and selling of women.

Elsewhere in the world, however, socialists, social democrats and other social progressives are moving towards understanding prostitution as a form of violence and as a barrier to women’s equality. In terms of legislation, this is epitomised by the Nordic Model, which criminalises the buying of sexual services, but decriminalises selling.

Despite mounting evidence that the Nordic Model is effective in curtailing prostitution and sex trafficking, it continues to be derided and dismissed in Australia. Earlier this year, for instance, the Kirby Institute at UNSW released a report on the sex industry in New South Wales, which claimed that the difference between the Nordic Model and full criminalisation (often favoured by conservative political regimes) may be “largely illusory”. It also trotted out the tired claim that criminalising the buying of sexual services automatically positions “sex workers as victims”.

Assertions such as these continue to fuel an odd situation in Australia. If, when talking about prostitution, you raise issues of exploitation or structural inequality – traditionally hallmarks of Marxist analyses – you get accused of being a right-wing moralist. It can feel as though people think liberalism is as far left as you can get.

But perhaps this constant bias shouldn’t be surprising in a country where the sex industry not only has its own political party but has also managed to con a bunch of academics, among others, into voting for it.

Drug Bust In Labrador

MYGC [31/7/12]:

Police have charged two men after a large methamphetamine drug lab was located in a house at Labrador yesterday.

Around 8.15am, police searched the Warratina Street housing commission house following a tip-off. They allegedly found an industrial size methamphetamine drug lab in one of the bedrooms of the home.

The Queensland Police Illicit Laboratory Investigation team were called in to safely dismantle the lab which was at risk of exploding.

A 28-year-old Labrador man has been charged with producing dangerous drugs, two counts of possessing relevant substances or things, two counts of possessing dangerous drugs, two counts of possessing anything used in the commission of crime and one count of possessing utensils.

He is expected to appear at the Southport Magistrates Court on August 13.

A 30-year-old Labrador man has also been charged with possessing dangerous drugs and possessing utensils and is expected to appear at the Southport Magistrates Court on August 21. ...

Compensation For Violence At Work [AUDIO]

ABC, Law Report [31/7/12]:
We're aware of the large number of workers' compensation cases when it comes to injuries in the workplace. But what about assaults and robberies that occur at work? If it's not a high risk workplace like a bank or a service station, should the employer be liable for such a random event?

News Corp. Asks To Keep New Phone-Hacking Charges Secret

Business Week, Bloomberg [30/7/12]:

News Corp. (NWSA) (NWSA)’s British publishing unit asked a judge to keep secret a series of new claims being made by victims of phone hacking at its News of the World tabloid in preparation for a group trial scheduled for February.

The details of the allegations, which could be used to seek punitive damages, should be kept from the public unless they are approved at a Sept. 7 hearing and added to the victims’ so-called generic claims, Judge Geoffrey Vos said today in London.

The claims outline “generalized activities which we think are unsustainable” if challenged, Michael Silverleaf, the lawyer for the News International unit, said at the hearing.“They may change the approach we are taking” to the case.

News Corp., the New York-based company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, is trying to move on from the scandal after the civil case and a parallel criminal probe that began last year revealed a cover up and led to the closure of the tabloid and the arrests of more than 60 people, including another journalist today.

The amended allegations reveal “a need for a proper debate about the scope of the case,” said Jeremy Reed, a lawyer for at least 50 victims. Reed has said the number of claimants may double before the trial.

Lawyers for the company and its victims said at a hearing on July 18 that News Corp. failed for months to disclose in civil litigation an executive’s e-mail with instructions on hacking the mobile-phone voice mail of a “well-known person.”

Vos approved a request by London’s Metropolitan Police Service today to see a witness statement containing details of phone hacking filed July 20 by Glenn Mulcaire, the tabloid’s former private investigator. Mulcaire lost a U.K. Supreme Court appeal this month to avoid filing the document in the case.

Mulcaire, who was jailed for six months for phone hacking in 2007 after a narrower police probe of the offense, was charged again earlier this month as part the new investigation. Vos disagreed with Muclaire’s claim the document could incriminate him if police saw it, saying the Met shouldn’t be“kept in the dark.”

We Are Facing Global War Says Syria FM In Iran; Opposition Says Transitional Govt Soon

By The Daily Star

July 30, 2012 "Daily Star" -- Syria's foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart yesterday, with both sides decrying what they call an international plot against the Syrian regime.

"I can tell you that we are facing a global war against Syria, and as a proud Syrian I can tell you that it is a great honour to be part of a great country that is facing a ferocious attack by certain countries," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Tehran.

He also described a "media campaign" by the United States and others about chemical weapons in Syria.

Moallem also delivered ominous words about the battle for Aleppo, Syria's largest city that has seen more than a week of clashes between regime and rebel fighters.

"Since last week, (opposition fighters) planned for whatever they called the 'great Damascus battle,' but they have failed after one week. That's why they moved to Aleppo, and I can assure you that they will fail," he said.

"Syria is now stronger and will move ahead in facing the aggression against our nation," Moallem said.
The Iranian foreign minister showed his support for the Syrian regime, saying Israel is behind "is a conspiracy against Syria."

"It is completely ridiculous and delusive to believe that there is a possibility of creating a vacuum in the leadership in Syria," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said.

"We call upon the people of the region to be fully aware and not to move in the wrong direction because there will be severe consequences that will go beyond the borders of the region to the outside world," Salehi warned.

Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main umbrella group for opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, said yesterday that talks would be held within weeks to form a transitional government that would in time replace Assad's ministerial team.

Abdelbasset Sida, president of the SNC, said such a government would run the country between Assad's ousting and democratic elections. Most of its members would be drawn from the opposition, but some members of the current Assad government might also be included, he added.

"This government should come about before the fall (of Assad) so that it presents itself as an alternative for the next stage," Sida told Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia television in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

"The committees that we have set up have their own schedules. Obviously, the matter should be concluded within weeks."

"There are some elements in the current regime who are not bloodstained, who were not part of major corruption cases. We will discuss (including them) with other parties, but there should be a national consensus to accept them."

However, criticism about the SNC's legitimacy may complicate its efforts to form a transitional government. It has sometimes struggled to overcome internal divisions and critics have accused the Istanbul-based organisation of being out of touch, overly influenced by Turkey, and not fully representative of the opposition.

Anglo American Invests In CQ

Tweed Daily News [30/7/12]:

Australia may be a risky place for mining giant Anglo American to put its money, but Central Queensland was still given a thumbs-up.

In fact, even Anglo American global chief executive Cynthia Carroll trumpeted its new Central Queensland mine, as it released the company's interim results on Friday.

Anglo owns five mines in the Bowen Basin, west of Mackay, and Rockhampton - Moranbah North, Capcoal, Foxleigh, Dawson and Callide.

Investors in the multi-billion-dollar Goliath were shown information during proceedings that found Australia had five of the possible seven "key risks" to investment - taxes and royalties, access to workers, lack of infrastructure, community opposition and the approval process.

The only two earn ticks were its ability to supply water and electricity to mines.

Only the Democratic Republic of Congo was deemed riskier than Australia.

South Africa, Chile, Peru and Guinea scored the same ranking while Canada, USA, Brazil, Philippines, Indonesia and Mongolia had fewer risks.

Although the news appeared grim, Ms Carroll shone a light on Anglo American's emerging Grosvenor project near Moranbah in her speech to investors.

She said Anglo was focusing on areas with "the most attractive market dynamics and projects with the lowest execution risks".

"The five million tonne per year Grosvenor metallurgical coal project in Australia is well under way, with engineering work now 50% complete as of July 2012 and earthworks have begun," she said.

In a statement, the company described the mine as a major part of its plan to triple its steel-making coal mining by 2020.

Anglo has even begun the early studies into expanding the project, even before the mining starts.

It is a strong sign of confidence in the Queensland mining industry - Anglo's profits for steel-making coal in 2012 fell 68% compared to the first six months of 2011.

Even moving more in exports was not enough to cushion the blow dealt by falling coal prices.

Ms Carroll said even as the economies of Europe and the US struggled, and China, India and Brazil were coming off the boil, these challenges would pass.

Supply for most minerals, whether coal, platinum or iron ore, would still be unable to keep up with the demand coming from emerging middle classes of China and India, which in turn would send prices up again.

Former News Corp Exec John Allan To Head Sensis

IT Wire [30/7/12]:

Former News Corporation executive, John Allan, has been named managing director of Telstra's directories subsidiary, Sensis, replacing Bruce Akhurst, whose resignation was announced in March.

Allan has spent the past six years at News. Most recently he was COO of The Australian and before that CEO of He will commence at Sensis on Monday 6 August.

Announcing his appointment, Telstra Media's group managing director, Rick Ellis, said: "John joins Sensis at a critical juncture as we work to make Sensis Australia's leading directories and digital marketing services business."

"His brief will be to deliver on our long term digital strategy, as well as our program to step up simplification of the Sensis business and accelerate digital growth, setting the business on course for success in the digital age.

Sensis is certainly at a critical juncture and much work will be needed to make it "Australia's leading directories and digital marketing services business."

Sensis' performance in the digital market has been less than spectacular: the growth of its digital business has fallen well behind the growth of that market.

For example, Telstra's half year results for H1 FY 11 revealed an 18 percent decline in Sensis' Yellow Pages print revenues, but growth in Yellow Pages digital revenue of only 0.2 percent.

This was well behind the overall market. Just days later IAB Australia released its latest Online Advertising Expenditure Report showed 17 percent year-on-year growth in expenditure for the first three months of 2011.

Despite the lack of growth in its digital business, Akhurst claimed at the time that Sensis was "A digital led business". He said the digital market was fragmenting as it grew, making marketing increasingly difficult, but that Sensis had a unique ability to build, package and market cross-platform solutions.

A few months later, in mid 2011, Sensis was stripped of its digital media arm which Telstra had decided to merge with BigPond Advertising and Telstra Classifieds to form a new integrated digital advertising business.

In February 2012 Telstra reported that Sensis sales revenue had declined by 24.0 percent in H1 of FY12 from H1 of FY11.

Telstra said there had been an "acceleration in the decline of Yellow print revenues as the market evolved more rapidly than expected," and that Sensis' first half results had also been impacted by the movement of the recognition of the Perth Yellow Pages book into the second half.

More will be revealed when Telstra announces its full year results on August 9. Meanwhile, Allan said: Sensis was "embarking on a clear roadmap to deliver on its digital strategy."

Phone-Hacking Police Release Sun Journalist On Bail

BBC [30/7/12]:

A journalist held by police investigating a suspected conspiracy to gather data from stolen mobile phones is Sun chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker, the BBC understands.

The 51-year-old was released on bail having been arrested at a London police station by appointment on Monday.

Mr Parker was also arrested in February by police investigating allegations of corrupt payments to public officials. He remains on police bail for that alleged offence.

Mr Parker was arrested on Monday by Met Police officers from Operation Tuleta, which is probing allegations of computer hacking. Scotland Yard later said he had been bailed to return to a central Lodnon police station in late September.

It is the eighth arrest in Operation Tuleta and comes less than a fortnight after a Sun journalist was arrested in the same investigation.

The investigation is running alongside Operation Weeting, into phone hacking, and Operation Elveden, which is looking at corrupt payments by journalists to public officials.

It is thought as many as 16 current or former Sun journalists have been arrested as part of Scotland Yard's investigations into corruption and computer misuse.

If you think stardom is the answer to your problems, you’re sadly mistaken. And if you can do something other than this, you should. I watch American Idol, with all these kids who think being a star is going to solve their problems, and I think, You fucking idiot. Stardom is good if you want a nice table and a ticket to a show. It’s not a free pass around all the problems of being human. And it can cripple you if it hits too young.

'53 Minutes With Kenny Loggins', Scott Brown, NY Mag [29/7/12]:

It’s a grand night to be in a vaguely Native American–themed casino: The air is crisp and dehumidified, and Kenny Loggins, at 64, is in fine vocal fettle, his falsettos still steady, his top notes on “Angry Eyes” still muscular, his defiant ­toasted-wheat hair mustered into a respectable power-mullet. But although thousands of middle-aged Anglo-Saxons are jiggling like curds and whey all around me, the concert I’m watching doesn’t officially exist: We’re sealed inside acres of hypercontrolled gambletainment pavilion, all aglow with LEDs advertising various acts—Gin Blossoms, Enrique Iglesias, even, yes, Jim Messina—yet there’s not a single mention of Loggins’s presence. Nor will you find it on Loggins’s official tour schedule. Tonight, the “Danger Zone” goes mysteriously unposted.

That’s because this is a corporate gig—the buyer is the house, which rewards members of its frequent-wagerer club with special concerts not open to unregistered low-rollers. (Or journalists: At Loggins’s request, New York agreed to withhold the name of the casino, which did not participate in the story.) So-called legacy acts like Loggins subsist on these high-­paying off-tour one-offs. They help pay for passion projects like side acts and college-aged children. Loggins, who has both, just flew in from Nashville, where he’d been recording with his new, don’t-call-it-country band Blue Sky Riders. The week before, he had another one in … well, he can hardly recall. “It was an awards-show banquet in … where were we? Atlanta, I think. It was four songs. That’s all they wanted. And they all got up and danced on ‘Footloose,’ as if I’d done a whole show. In their tuxedos and the women in their long dresses. It’s almost Pavlovian.”

Loggins, a seventies hit-maker and eighties soundtrack maven, is now, in his mid-sixties, a touring machine. “The fact is, I go where they pay me. I let the promoters decide,” Loggins says. “When I’m out on the road, it’s what my ex-wife called ‘Daddy’s gone hunting and gathering.’?”

Loggins started his career “spoiled” by the early success of Loggins & Messina. At 22, he surfed the instant fame (“People showed up singing ‘Danny’s Song’; our tour was really profligate”) and left the details to the pencil pushers. “Later, I found out that accountants want you to lose money on the tour because they want you to keep touring—their percentage stays the same,” he says. “If you think stardom is the answer to your problems, you’re sadly mistaken. And if you can do something other than this, you should. I watch American Idol, with all these kids who think being a star is going to solve their problems, and I think, You fucking idiot. Stardom is good if you want a nice table and a ticket to a show. It’s not a free pass around all the problems of being human. And it can cripple you if it hits too young.”

Loggins hit financial white water about a decade ago—lousy manager, lousier market, a costly divorce from his second wife. The fallout rolled back the gains of platinum decades and made this behind-closed-doors greatest-hits victory lap that much more urgent. “In music, you can get better and better, but you can’t control what people want to buy.”

The house usually wants performers to keep it short, so they can get the gamblers back on the floor ASAP. Loggins is worried they’ll truncate him tonight and sends a road manager to go check. He comes back to the greenroom with good news: a full 70 minutes. Loggins brightens. “Okay, that’s good. We can do a whole show. If I have to shorten it too much, I have to get rid of trademark tunes. Even ‘Your Momma Don’t Dance’ goes some nights. They always want me to focus on ‘I’m Alright,’ ‘Danger Zone,’ and ‘Footloose.’ Which is what’ll be on my tombstone.”

But “tombstone” sets are often what’s expected at a “linchpin” booking. “You want a show like that to pay the expenses for the rest of the tour. It depends on how slim the budget is. I imagine with Fleetwood Mac, their expenses are high—but then their guarantees are very high. Whereas my guarantees are just okay, so I have to tour with a tighter belt. You don’t want to have to get on an airplane every day. It costs a lot less to bus an act.” (His secret? Sleeping through the trip. “If the bus is moving, it kind of rocks you to sleep. As long as it’s not a bumpy road.”)

Corporate gigs don’t come with a lot of glory attached, but they can help underwrite the more experimental, exploratory stuff that keeps an artist going. Like Loggins’s Blue Sky Riders. Except even they spend their time chasing money. “We have to write exclusives for Amazon, iTunes, Best Buy. But we can write a song in a day, sometimes one and a half,” he says. “I was told, ‘You’ve only got ten years left, max—why waste six of them starting a new band?’ But I’m an artist. I gotta go where the juice is.”

Ireland: Armed Police Move Tunnel Boring Machinery For Shell

Shell To Sea Media Release [30/7/12]:

Shell to Sea are calling for a protest to take place in Ballina tonight starting at 9pm to protest against the bringing in of a tunnelling machine designed to tunnel under Sruwaddacon estuary.

A huge Gardai operation, including the armed Emergency Response Unit, is already taking place and it is expected that the town centre will be closed when it passes through on its way to the Bellanaboy refinery.

The equipment is the tunnel boring machine which will be used to drill under the Sruwaddacon estuary to link up the Corrib gas field with Bellinaboy refinery in Erris.

It left Dublin Port last night on three 40 meter trucks that carried the some sections of the 500 ton tunnelling machine. With it was a huge convoy that included four riot vans, numerous other police vehicles and four minibuses of private security.

The huge police operation saw check points every five miles and on top of every motorway bridge as it passed.

Protestors gathered at the port and followed the slow moving convoy through the night until it stopped in Sligo. Struggling to take junctions and roundabouts, it caused massive disruption and tailbacks along the motorway.

It will resume its journey tonight to the Aughoos compound, when it will be joined by an armed response team and potentially other machine segments that have come in from Killybegs and Belfast.

Campaigners from Shell to Sea will be assembling outside Dunnes Stores in Ballina tonight to draw attention to the massive state operation that is needed to bring it in.

Maura Harrington from the campaign said, “This TBM means the rape of the environment and the rape of our natural resources. That Shell is using armed protection from the state means we live in a banana republic. Where you have occupation you have resistance.”

Australia Has A Deeply Racist, Misogynist Society

The state has an obligation under human rights law to prevent, investigate & prosecute violence against women @rightsagenda [Human Rights Law Centre]

ABC, Four Corners [30/7/12]:

A Matter of Life and Death

By Quentin McDermott and Peter Cronau

How authorities are failing to protect women and children in mortal danger, and failing to prevent their partners' homicidal rage.One woman at deadly risk was virtually abandoned to her fate by authorities, who repeatedly failed or refused to act on her pleas for help.

Why was so little done by police, prisons, parole services, the courts and child protection departments to stop her predictable, brutal murder?

Another woman overlooked by authorities ultimately died in front of her two small children at the hands of her drunken former partner - he received just a short prison term for the crime.

Each year over 130 Australians, mostly women, are murdered by the people closest to them. Governments claim they are doing everything to stop violence in the home.

Reporter Quentin McDermott tells the story of women targeted by violent men and let down by the systems meant to protect them.

Andrea was a loving mother in a long-term marriage. In 2008, she finally left her husband alleging cruelty and violence. Over the next year, despite serving a jail term during this time, her husband's threats of lethal violence escalated. His threats were so persistent, and the police response so ineffective, that Andrea told friends she knew she was going to be killed.

"I think that's when it dawned on her... what his intentions actually were. And we walked out of there and she was like, nah, he's going to kill me. They (the police) are not going to help me." - Andrea's cousin, Dianne

She was right. On January 12, 2009, Andrea was stabbed to death on the front lawn of a relative's home.
But Andrea's story is not unique. There is significant evidence that victims of domestic violence are not being adequately protected, even when they make their situation known to the people who should protect them.

Four Corners also tells the story of a young Japanese woman who, after a working holiday in Australia, married a Perth man and raised their two young children. She was also subjected to violence in her home, and it became clear to friends that her husband was violent and unstable.

When she went missing, police refused to accept she was in danger. Twelve days after she disappeared her decomposing body was finally discovered in her former husband's house.

The nightmare for those closest to her continues. Even though her husband has been sent to jail, he has been taking parenting classes and may apply for custody of their children, when he's eligible for release on parole next year.

"A Matter of Life and Death", reported by Quentin McDermott and presented by Kerry O'Brien, goes to air on Monday 30th July at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 31st July at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on Saturday at 8.00pm on ABC News 24, ABC iview and at

Woman 'Grabbed By Throat' In Festival Arrest

West Australian [26/7/12]:

A police officer facing assault charges over the arrest of a woman during a Perth festival told her to "stop acting like a little girl", a Perth court has been told.

Police officer Mark Wayne Johnson is facing trial three charges of common assault over the incident.

Penelope Challice, 23, has testified in Perth Magistrate's Court that the senior constable told her to stop acting like a little girl as he held her by the wrists against a police vehicle outside the Feral Brewing Company.

Ms Challice said the officer also grabbed her by the wrists, slammed her against a police vehicle and grabbed her around the throat outside a Spring in the Valley event in October 2009.

In March last year, Ms Challice was acquitted of one count of assaulting a public officer after she was accused of headbutting the officer during the arrest.

Central to the case is vision from cameras attached to two other police officers during the incident.

Ms Challice told the court she had been drinking champagne at breakfast before boarding a bus for the Swan Valley about 11am.

She said she had a light beer on the bus and drank wine at Sandalford Winery before arriving at the Feral Brewing Company.

Ms Challice testified had been thrown out of brewery by three security officers but did not see any reason for her eviction, saying she was not drunk and was not disturbing other patrons.

She said was frightened as Mr Johnson held her against the police vehicle away from her friends.

“I was petrified, I was really scared, I looked around and I couldn’t see anyone,” Ms Challice said.

Ms Challice said she was later grabbed by four police officers, who each held an arm or leg, and Mr Johnson grabbed her around the throat, lifting her up and placing her on the ground.

The trial continues.

Convicted Killer Wins Battle For Blue Card

ABC [30/7/12]:

A Queensland man who served a jail sentence for killing his wife has been cleared to get a 'blue card' to teach at TAFE.

The 46-year-old man was convicted of the manslaughter of his wife in 1996.

He was released from jail in 2000 and about 10 years later applied to the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian to cancel a "negative notice" so that he could get a blue card.

A blue card would allow him to work with children and young people.

A person's eligibility to hold a blue card is based on their known police history.

The Commission monitors the police information of all card holders and applicants.

His application was refused but the man appealed to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) which ruled that a positive notice and a blue card be issued.

The Commission asked QCAT to reconsider but in a recently published decision the appeal has been dismissed.

QCAT found that "while the recurrence of a violent reaction to an extremely stressful situation is a probability, it's a very remote one".

It found the man has interacted with children over the past 11 years without any problems, has good references from friends, and has been reasonably successfully rehabilitated.

Cr Robbins Claims "Community Consultation" Occurred Prior To Work On The Currumbin Creek

In Australia, Everybody Knows "Community Consultation" Is A Sham

Tweed Daily News [30/7/12]:

Protesters angry about tree removals have caused work on an underpass and footpass at Currumbin Creek to be halted on Monday.

Gold Coast City Council said they will reassess whether work can continue on Tuesday.

They called off works on the $700,000 project on the Thrower Dr bridge because protestors can gone [sic] on site.

Gold Coast City Division 14 Councillor Chris Robbins said the project had been with the environmental significance of Currumbin Creek in mind.

"For this reason, council consulted with neighbouring community groups to achieve the best outcomes," she said.

Cr Robbins said the underpass was part of a green link to allow people to walk and cycle in a safer environment in a beautiful part of the city.

"It provides a strategic link to future foreshores on both sides of Thrower Dr, which is part of the Currumbin Creek Corridor Recreation Master Plan," she said.

"More people will be encouraged to enjoy walking and cycling along the estuary foreshore."

The project involves the removal of seven trees [PLUS 100 metres of mangroves - Ed.], including two camphor laurels, which are classified as weeds.

Thirteen advanced native trees will be planted to replace them.

The project is due for completion by the end of November 2012.

Police officer left red faced after driving patrol car into Gold Coast cane field.

Image: @TripleMBrisbane via @9NewsBrisbane [30/7/12]

CSG Link To Wild Dog Attacks?

Queensland Country Life [30/7/12]:

Sheep producers south-east of Miles have called on coal seam gas companies to better communicate their pest-control measures after an unprecedented number of wild dogs were spotted in the district.

Queensland Country Life spoke to several landholders through the Goombi-Columboola district last week, who claim the number of wild dog attacks in the region has escalated in recent months.

The increased number of attacks coincide with the purchase and development of several neighbouring properties by coal seam gas companies in the past several years, as well as LNG pipeline construction beginning last year.

Origin Energy owns one property and QGC owns seven properties through this region. As previously reported, local landholder Celia Mackay has lost more than 120 sheep and lambs in the past year since QGC removed fencing to make way for its pipeline through her property, replacing it with temporary fencing Ms Mackay felt was ineffective.

After months of complaints and threats of legal action by Ms Mackay, QGC erected dog-proof fencing at the property in recent weeks.

Ms Mackay told Queensland Country Life this week she had experienced no further dog attacks since QGC installed the new fencing.

But while the landholders said they cannot be certain of a correlation between the wild dog increases and the management and construction strategies of gas companies in the region, they claim these companies are not delivering information about trapping or baiting measures they enact across their properties.

The landholders have called on CSG companies to be more transparent about their activities to assist in the coordination of wider control measures across the region.

Local grazier Ron Childs, Lenzie, said until recently, he knew of only three wild dog attacks in the past 50 years on his property in the Goombi district.

However, this year he has lost 36 sheep and lambs in 12 separate wild dog attacks. Mr Childs said he believed the dogs had increased since the easement area was cleared to allow QGC to construct its QCLNG pipeline through several properties in the region.

"We are still getting trouble there are five people adjacent to this pipeline who have all had a terrific lot of trouble with dogs in the past six months."

"Dogs like to travel on a freshly made track from the power station at Miles to the river. The dogs have come in since the pipeline construction opened up the area. But they have not left. We are not accusing the gas companies of bringing in a car load of dogs and letting them go - but we have been driven silly with dogs since the pipeline starting going through."

He said gas companies purchasing in the area had brought previously unenforced rules about trespassing to the fore, with landholders previously able to hunt dogs across property boundaries.

"It seems like they are allowed to come onto our property to build gas wells and pipeline, but we are not allowed to come onto theirs to chase dogs," he said.

Mr Childs said he had recently met with Origin Energy to discuss the company's good neighbour policy. John Scouller, Bellevue, said he had never seen a wild dog attack on his property until this year, when he has lost 20 sheep and lambs.

In an effort to address the need for improved wild dog control in the district, he has recently completed an intensive course in trapping. Joe Hill, Wandaloo, said he had not experienced a wild dog attack for six years at his property but has seen a dramatic increase in the past 12 months.

"We have lost at least six lambs and two ewes and two rams in wild dog attacks in less than one year - to my thinking this pipeline is like a dingo highway because the dogs love fresh bare ground to travel on," he said.

Mr Hill compared the information shortage from CSG companies about wild dog control to having an absentee landholder on a neighbouring property.

"If a landholder sees a dog they do something to stop or trap the dog - but we don't know what these companies are doing on their properties about the dogs," he said. "We just need to be told what is going on."

Rob Hart, Origin regional manager, Chinchilla, said anecdotal evidence suggested there had been an increase in wildlife numbers across the region in line with the good weather and rain fall experienced over past three seasons. He said Origin had a "comprehensive" pest management program in place to address wild dogs, foxes, cats and pigs across all company owned properties.

"The program is managed by an external provider and involves infrared monitoring of sites to assess the presence of pests and then trapping and targeted baiting to cull as required. This occurs across all of our properties on a twice yearly basis, and is continually reviewed," he said.

"We currently discuss our pest management work face to face with surrounding landholders, but would certainly consider a more formalised communication process if this would be viewed as beneficial."

A QGC spokesperson told Queensland Country Life the company has been participating in wild dog management on its properties for three years and recently instigated a new pest management plan that includes wild dog control.

"Of the seven properties owned by QGC in the Columboola area, all have wild dog management programs including baiting programs and trapping where neighbours have concerns with baits, particularly where they use sheep dogs," the spokesperson said.

"During the past four months the Western Downs Regional Council dog trapper has caught 21 wild dogs on QGC properties."

Water Crisis Leads To Complaints

Gladstone Observer [30/7/12]:

International hospitality company Delaware North Group will internally investigate claims of serious mismanagement at its Heron Island resort after a number of complaints were lodged with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

Claims made against the company by former employees consist of staff being forced to work in unsanitary conditions, which include cooking with dirty pots, serving meals to guests on plastic plates and massaging guests who hadn't showered in days.

Former spa therapist Michael Vandenberg said he left the island, located in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, because he didn't feel comfortable working under the conditions.

"I couldn't shower for four days," Mr Vandenberg said.

"It's just not acceptable that you can't wash yourself. Especially when you're working five to six days straight and you haven't got clean uniforms, you can't do any washing of your clothes and you're touching bodies constantly in the massage."

Another former Heron Island Resort employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was unacceptable management still allowed guests to book accommodation at the $600-a-night resort, while they were running low on water.

"I would never pay $600 to never shower on my holiday," the former employee said.

"They should let people evacuate and (then) fix the problem, instead of getting people to go there."

The internal investigation comes a month after the tropical resort scrambled to repair a broken desalination pump, which left staff and guests without running drinking water for seven days.

In the week beginning June 25, guests and staff were notified of the desalination pump problem and were told the issue would be resolved in one week.

At the time a Heron Island spokesperson said staff and guests were provided with unlimited amounts of bottled water.

But Mr Vandenberg claimed staff were restricted to two 1.5 litre bottles of water during the crisis, which led him to import his own bottled water in bulk from Gladstone.

On July 2, a Heron Island Resort spokesperson contacted The Observer to confirm there had been a delay in repairing the desalination pump and said the problem was expected to be solved in the coming weeks.

Former employees confirmed guests were provided with the opportunity to use a shower on Monday, July 2 at the dive shop between the hours of 4-9pm and that running toilet water was available.

In a statement made by Delaware North Group, a spokesperson said the company had been in consultation with a number of regulatory authorities during the desalination plant malfunction and ensured clean drinking water was available for drinking and food preparation.

Gladstone Regional Council's manager of regulatory services Brooke Saunders said the council was not made aware of any food and public health issues occurring on the island.

"Council was aware that problems had arisen with the desalination plant on the island and that water was being transported from the mainland by approved water carriers," Ms Saunders said.

Ms Saunders said the council was scheduling inspections of all food businesses on islands within the Gladstone region and would do a full inspection of the site in the near future.

The council is responsible for licensing the food businesses at Heron Island under provisions of the Food Act 2006.

GAPDL CEO Glenn Churchill said new management had since commenced on the island.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued Delaware North with a notice on July 17, 2012.

Delaware North Group has launched an internal investigation over claims of unsanitary and unsafe working conditions at the company's Heron Island Resort.

On Thursday corporate communications manager Judith Meadows issued the following statement:

"We have been in consultation with a number of regulatory authorities during the desalination plant malfunction, so as to ensure provision for clean and certified water were (sic) always available for drinking and food preparation. In accordance with our corporate standards and recommendation of regulatory authorities, a full internal review of the incident has occurred and all risk and response plans updated to reflect learning and best practice, which includes the complete rebuilding of the facility to mitigate any future recurrence."

Philippines Flood Kills Three

Radio Australia [30/7/12]:

Flooding in the central Philippines has killed three people.

Torrential rain brought on by the storm and the south-west monsoon have caused more flooding and landslides in the central and northern parts of the country.

Landslides have been reported in the mountainous Cordillera region while flood waters have swamped communities in the capital Manila and several nearby provinces. Nearly 13,000 people were evacuated in Manila on Monday, with rain causing three major dams to spill over on Sunday night.

In the country's northern and central provinces, five ships have run aground with rescue operations ongoing to bring passengers ashore. Over the weekend, rain blanketed most of the Philippines, forcing the cancellation of at least 15 domestic flights.

The storm was over the Philippine Sea by late afternoon Monday, 260 kilometres off the northernmost Batanes islands and heading slowly towards Taiwan.

Shock Doctine Disaster Capitalism

Radio Australia [30/7/12]:

Christchurch residents, still waiting for their homes to be repaired after the city's first quake, protest against the recovery plan.

A green zone will encompass a smaller and more compact CBD divided into precincts for health, education, sport, retail and arts and entertainment.

There will be a new stadium, a sports facility and convention centre.

The government says it aims to negotiate land purchases for key projects, but will exercise its right to forcibly acquire property if necessary.

It says more than $23 billion will be invested in the rebuild by the national and local governments and private insurers.

Christchurch residents, still waiting for their homes to be repaired nearly two years after the city's first earthquake, have protested against the recovery plan.

They say rebuilding damaged homes should be a priority, not constructing an entire new city.

Reverend Mike Coleman says only a handful of 28,000 households on the most damaged land have been able to negotiate the government and private insurance maze to get on with their lives.

His action group, WeCan, says the government must step in to help.

"They have to prioritise the worst homes and get them sorted out," he said.

Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city, was badly damaged in a series of quakes beginning in September 2010.

Finks Take Fight To High Court

Brisbane Times [30/7/12]:

The Gold Coast chapter of the Finks motorcycle club has launched High Court action to have Queensland’s anti-bikie laws declared unconstitutional.

In an attempt to swathe a bid by Queensland police to have the Finks declared a criminal organisation and its members banned from associating with each other, the outlaw gang has sought to have the matter heard in the High Court.

Lawyer Bill Potts lodged an application, on behalf of the club and an affiliated company Pompano Pty Ltd, with the High Court this afternoon.

Mr Potts said authorities could not use criminal intelligence, from potentially unreliable witnesses, to stop bikie members and their associates from meeting.

‘‘The appeal is essentially about the constitutionality of the Criminal Organisation Act and its amendment bill,’’ Mr Potts said.

‘‘The Supreme Court should not be going to the exercise that the legislation requires of it, because we say [that] is in fact an impermissible breach of its independence.’’

The Criminal Organisation Act 2009, which was put into force in April 2010, was designed to disrupt and dismantle organisations involved in serious criminal activity.

The former Labor state government amended the act late last year, after High Court challenges by the Finks against similar anti-bikie laws in South Australia and in New South Wales in 2009 and 2010 were successful.

‘‘[The government] sought to legislate around some of the difficulties raised by the High Court,’’ Mr Potts said.

‘‘But we say, the legislation itself remains fundamentally flawed and is unconstitutional in its affect and application.’’

Police filed their formal application and submitted two boxes of evidence with the Supreme Court in Brisbane on June 1.

The documents provided a rare insight into the inner-workings of the club and included a chronological record dating back to the early 1990s of the times members were intercepted by police and allegedly admitted to being a Fink or were seen wearing Finks-related colours.

The file also included witness statements from Finks associates-cum-police informants, as well as police officers involved in undercover stings.

Mr Potts said he intended to file more detailed argument with the High Court next month. The matter is expected to be heard before the High Court at the end of the year.

Springborg Handed Secret Documents

Brisbane Times [30/7/12]:

Queensland's health minister will gain access to the former government's secret cabinet documents about the health payroll scandal – but will not be allowed to reveal what they say or even take notes.

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had cleared the way for Health Minister Lawrence Springborg to inspect legal advice and Cabinet Budget Review Committee minutes related to the health payroll rollout, which was one of the major problems that dogged the Bligh government.

Mr Springborg had long called for Ms Palaszczuk to grant him access to the documents, saying he needed to see whether the former government had been advised it could take legal action over the bungled system, activated in 2010 and affecting thousands of health workers' pay.

“Today I have taken the unprecedented move to provide to the Health Minister the legal advice, the CBRC decisions and the cabinet minutes as it relates to the IBM contract,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters this afternoon.

“This is a first, this is unprecedented, and now is the time for Lawrence Springborg to stop the misinformation he is communicating out there with the public.”

Ms Palaszczuk said she had grappled with the issue and not made the decision lightly as she believed she had a big responsibility in relation to the protection of cabinet documents, which were typically subject to a 20-year secrecy rule under current legislation.

She said according to advice she had received from a Queen's Counsel, she did not have to release the CBRC decisions, but decided to do so in the interests of openness.

“There are also conventions that cover the release of this information and the Health Minister will not be able to take notes and he will not be able to discuss the cabinet issues with any third party,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“He is the only one who is allowed to look at them. He will be in a room with the cabinet secretary and also with the crown solicitor. This is exactly what he's asked for.”

Ms Palaszczuk said Mr Springborg was able to obtain fresh legal advice if he wanted.

The Opposition Leader, who had the power to release the documents as the current Labor leader, stressed that she was not a member of the CBRC and was not privy to discussions or party to decisions on the CBRC.

“However, suffice to say that [law firm] Mallesons presented the government with a range of options in relation to the IBM contract and the CBRC committee followed the advice of the crown solicitor,” she said.

“The Health Minister will be able to view the legal advice in the presence of the cabinet secretary and also the crown solicitor. This is the same crown solicitor who provided that same advice to the former Labor government.”

Ms Palaszczuk said Queenslanders had raised the issue with her during her “listening tour” of the state. She had also discussed the issue with the Queensland Nurses Union.

“I have done this unprecedented move in the interests of openness and transparency,” she said.

A spokesman for Mr Springborg said he was not satisfied by Ms Palaszczuk’s action because the documents would not be able to inform any potential future legal action on behalf of taxpayers.

“What we want is the opportunity to gather and prepare considered legal advice to inform our current position and whether we can proceed [with legal action],” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said Mr Springborg would not say no to the opportunity to view the documents but the problem was the material could not be used to prepare current advice.

The spokesman acknowledged there was a “political edge” to the issue but the bottom line was the people of Queensland expected the government to act, and that depended on being fully informed about past advice.

Mr Springborg told reporters the crown solicitor would not be allowed to prepare a new legal brief that took into account the original legal advice, saying his suspicions of a cover-up were heightened.

“What we’re seeing now is some sort of Labor party peep show. We’re actually able to look at something but we’re not allowed to tell anyone about it,” he said.

Ms Palaszczuk said she had previously allowed the crown solicitor to access the information but had decided to take this a step further, following a recent motion passed by Parliament calling for documents to be provided to the Health Minister.

Both sides of politics have previously kept cabinet documents secret for 30 years, but reforms championed by then Premier Anna Bligh in 2008 saw the waiting time reduced to 20 years.

The cost of Queensland Health's troubled employee payroll system will total at least $1.25 billion over an eight-year period, according an audit released last month.

Mr Springborg last month tabled a report of an independent KPMG audit into the payroll system, which caused tens of thousands of employees to receive incorrect payments after the new system was activated by the former Bligh government in 2010.

The KPMG report says it is expected the total cost of the payroll system will be $1.254 billion between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 financial years, although this includes operational costs such as salaries for payroll staff.

Earlier this month, Mr Springborg announced short-term loans would be provided to thousands of health staff members to allow the fortnightly pay date to be shifted back to improve accuracy.

Unsafe Trucks 'Putting Public Safety At Risk'

West Australian [30/7/12]:

Police have accused trucking companies of endangering lives of drivers after finding almost half the heavy trucks stopped on South West roads last week had safety defects.

Traffic Sgt Gerard Murphy said police stopped 196 trucks on Forrest Highway between Mandurah and Harvey last week and issued 85 work orders.

Sgt Murphy said he was gobsmacked by reports that one trucking company was paying a monthly bonus to a transport manager for coming in under budget for vehicle maintenance.

"I'd hate to have to see those trucking companies sitting waiting to give evidence in a coroner's court, and for it to come out that they are scrimping on maintenance," he said.

"It shouldn't have to get to this."

Sgt Murphy said some truckies had approached police over problems with their trucks.

"In some cases we had truckies who were happy to see us and actually jumped out and showed us the problems, and told us they'd been telling the company to have it fixed," he said.

Sgt Murphy said the most common fault was bald tyres but there were also problems with cracked windscreens and reflector lights.

Australian Trucking Association communications manager Bill McKinley said that while most trucking operators complied with high safety standards, all companies were under increasing cost pressures.

"These companies need to be able to go and explain (this is) why they need to increase (freight) rates," he said.

"Many trucking companies are on very low margins and are struggling to make ends meet."

Main Roads said more than 1000 heavy vehicles used Forrest Highway each day, making up about 11 per cent of total vehicle movements.

The safety report comes six months after truckie Paul Stewart Kershaw, 51, was jailed for five years for causing a crash in February last year that killed two men on Old Coast Road.

Australian Transport Workers Union WA assistant secretary Rick Burton said legislation passed in May meant big retailers would be forced to pay trucking companies a minimum or "safe" trucking rate for transporting their goods.

"At the moment there is a major problem with the big retailers putting pressure on the transport companies because they want produce delivered as soon as possible," he said.

"It's a cut-throat industry and some things have to be scrimped on - often it's wages and maintenance."

What Conservation Movement?

Do You Mean ALP Diehards Who Spent 20 Years Ignoring The Destruction Of Our Remaining Heritage After Riding In On The Back Of Faux Concern For Its Protection?

Why Not Ask People Who Lobbied To Save Yungaba, The Regent Theatre And The Shingle Inn What They Think Of The Pissweak Queensland Heritage Council?

Brisbane Times [30/7/12]:

The Newman government has asked all 12 members of the Queensland Heritage Council to resign and reapply for their positions as part of a major review.

Sources within the conservation movement today said many members were shocked by the call, which was made in a letter from Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Andrew Powell last week.

A spokeswoman for Mr Powell confirmed the move in a written statement to this morning.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the QHC, which was formed in 1992 as part of the Queensland Heritage Act to compile a Queensland Heritage Register.

"The Newman government wants to renew, consolidate and strengthen the Queensland Heritage Council to reflect its increased standing and recognition in the environment portfolio and in government," the government spokeswoman said.

"As part of this process, current members have been asked to resign, to allow a considered process to be undertaken.

"It will be an orderly rejuvenation and Minister Powell has written to members seeking their co-operation."

The spokeswoman said the review could take several months.

The QHC, which started with 970 heritage places in 1992, now recognises more than 1600 historical places and buildings throughout the state.

The Queensland Heritage Act provides different levels of protection and listing for state heritage places, archaeological places and protected areas.

The QHC determines what places and buildings are entered on the Queensland Heritage Register.

The former Department of Environment and Resources Management provided the secretariat of the Queensland Heritage Council.

The secretariat now falls under the new portfolio of Environment and Heritage Protection.

Mr Powell's spokeswoman said the minister wanted all QHC members to reapply.

"He appreciates the significant role of the council and has encouraged all members to consider reapplying," she said.

This year, the Queensland Heritage Council released Living Places, a document tracing the first 20 years work of the Queensland Heritage Council. ...

Brothers Jailed By US And Expelled To Gaza Speak Out

Scoop NZ [30/7/12]:

By Joe Catron

When Basman Elashi reported to Customs Enforcement in Dallas, Texas on 9 July, he expected nothing unusual. He had visited the federal agency regularly since his release from its custody in March 2009.

“At first I was only reporting every six months,” he said over tea in his family’s Gaza home.

“Then they reduced it to three months. Then, the last time, they asked me to report the following month.”

“They held me for three hours,” he said of his final visit.

“I asked them why they were holding me so long. As it turns out, they were waiting for [my brother] Bayan to come in the afternoon. Then five people surrounded me, told me they were deporting me, and handcuffed me. I didn’t see Bayan until we were in the van.”

Unlike his brother, Bayan Elashi had been forced to wear a monitoring anklet and report every week after his April 2009 release.

“When I reported to them on Monday, 9 July, as I always do, they arrested me and said that I would be leaving the country within 24 to 48 hours,” he said.

“At the detention center, they said we had two hours to call our families to bring us anything we needed for our deportations,” Basman said.

“This was the only window we had to call or see them.”

The brothers’ ordeal began much earlier, when the US government arrested them on 18 December 2002.

“The [US] government actually indicted us on three counts: a sealed one; the second one, based on which they arrested us; and a third one after it was finalized,” Bayan recalled.

The government’s charges against the brothers stemmed from their family and its business, the Infocom Corporation.

“Bayan has a master’s degree in computer engineering from Purdue University and worked on his PhD degree, but never finished it,” Ghassan Elashi, a third brother and the imprisoned chairperson of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, recounted from federal prison in Marion, Illinois.

“In the early 1980s, he was behind the development of the first Arabic computer,” he said.

“From then until his arrest in 2002, him, me, and my other brothers ran a computer and Internet services company that was focused on building personal computers and providing web hosting. Most of our business was directed towards exporting to the Arab world.”

“Guilt by association”

It was those dealings that would draw the government’s attention.

“The United States government used the concept of guilt by association,” Bayan said.

“There were some financial transactions between me and [Hamas political bureau deputy chairman] Mousa Abu Marzouk’s wife, who happened to be my cousin. The government didn’t like this, and indicted us mainly because of this relationship.”

The “core issues,” he added, related to the Holy Land Foundation and also Abu Marzouk.

Abu Marzouk’s status as a “specially designated terrorist” allows the US government to criminalize his business transactions, personal property and even family relationships, without ever charging him with a crime or putting him on trial.

It detained Abu Marzouk for 22 months after his designation, before releasing him without charges and deporting him to Jordan in 1997.

The Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Islamic charity in the United States, was shut down with an executive order from the Bush administration in December 2001. Ghassan Elashi and four other men associated with the foundation were arrested and, as The Electronic Intifada reported earlier this year, were “subjected to two extraordinary trials that, amongst other court precedents, relied on testimony from an anonymous Israeli intelligence agent. ...

Woman Crushed Between Two Cars

Sunshine Coast Daily [30/7/12]:

Lindsey Urquhart should be angry, but she says she's not.

The 24-year-old says she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ms Urquhart was standing in a Kawana Shoppingworld car park when she was crushed between two cars.

Her foot was almost completely severed and every bone was broken.

Three months on and the mother-of-two has undergone eight operations, including skin and muscle grafts taken from her forearm.

But the real struggle is her constant restraint to a wheelchair, where she fears she will have to spend the rest of her life.

"Life has changed pretty dramatically. The boys' dad now has to do most of the getting ready, showering and the daily stuff that I used to do," Ms Urquhart said.

"The scary thing for me is that I could be like this for 10 years. They don't know how long it will take me to recover."

The accident happened just meters from where Ms Urquhart's partner Tim Harvey and their sons Mikie, 5, and Charlie, 2, were waiting in the car. She had run into the store to grab some groceries.

"I was standing in an empty car park when an elderly man started reversing in," she said.

"I don't think he saw me and next thing I knew I was on the bonnet of the car and my foot was crushed between the rear of the car and another."

Ms Urquhart was taken to Nambour General Hospital where she spent two weeks.

From there she was taken to the Royal Brisbane Hospital and has since undergone numerous surgeries.

"I had to have metal plates and screws put in because of all the bones that were broken and I still have to have about five more surgeries in the next two years," she said.

Her Bokarina home has also undergone reconstruction to allow for disability access, shower and toilet rails.

Maurice Blackburn lawyers principal Andrew McKenzie has helped Ms Urquhart fund her rehabilitation.

"Lots of people don't have the support, but it is crucial to get involved early and get the processes going for rehabilitation," Mr McKenzie said.

Ms Urquhart will undergo more surgery next week. She hopes it will help her regain movement in her foot.

Japan Anti-Nuclear Candidate Loses State Governor Election As Thousands Protest Nuclear Power

Washington Post [30/7/12]:

A candidate who ran on a rare anti-nuclear platform lost a weekend election for state governor, even as thousands of people formed “a human chain” around Japan’s parliament complex to demand the government abandon nuclear power.

The protest was the latest in a series of peaceful demonstrations on a scale not seen in the nation for decades since the Fukushima crisis gave rise to fears of another nuclear disaster.

In the closely watched election Sunday for governor of southwestern Yamaguchi prefecture, anti-nuclear candidate Tetsunari Iida trailed former bureaucrat Shigetaro Yamamoto with 185,654 votes to 252,461 votes, the prefecture said Monday. Two other independent candidates also ran. Voter turnout at 45 percent was high.

The election highlights the gap between deep anti-nuclear sentiments, evident in Sunday’s and other recent protests in Tokyo, and the reaction in distant rural areas, where the plants are located, that tends to be more accepting of their presence.

Sunday’s protesters, crowding Japan’s Capitol Hill, said they were angry that the government had restarted two reactors earlier this month despite safety worries after the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in March last year. The reactors were the first to return to operation since May, when the last of Japan’s 50 working reactors went offline for routine checks.

Banging on drums and waving balloons and banners, protesters marched from a Tokyo park and lined up along the streets around the parliament building chanting, “Saikado hantai,” or “No to restarts,” and later lit candles.

“All these people have gotten together and are raising their voices,” said Shoji Kitano, 64, a retired math teacher who was wearing a sign that read, “No to Nukes.”

Kitano said he had not seen such massive demonstrations since the 1960s. He stressed that ordinary Japanese usually don’t demonstrate, but were outraged over the restarting of nuclear power.

Similar demonstrations have been held outside the prime minister’s residence every Friday evening. The crowds have not dwindled, as people get the word out through Twitter and other online networking. A July 16 holiday rally at a Tokyo park, featuring a rock star and a Nobel laureate, drew nearly 200,000 people.

The crowd appeared to be smaller Sunday. Kyodo News service estimated it at about 10,000 people.

Participants said they came from across Japan, underlining the widespread appeal of the protests.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda defended his decision to restart the two reactors at Ohi nuclear plant in central Japan as necessary to maintain people’s living standards. Other reactors are also expected to go back online, one by one.

Reports from government and legislative investigations of the Fukushima disaster have done little to allay people’s fears. A recent probe blamed a “Japanese mind-set” which it said had allowed collusion between the plant’s operator and regulators.

Adding to protesters’ frustrations is the support nuclear power has received from regional governments where the plants are located. They said they planned to vote anti-nuclear candidates into office to effect change.

Typically, relatively poor rural and fishing areas, far from Tokyo, have been chosen for construction of nuclear plants, with residents won over with jobs and subsidies. There is a plan to build a nuclear plant in Yamaguchi prefecture, but doubts are growing over whether that can be carried out.

At the Tokyo protest, hospital worker Mika Ohta vowed to vote for anti-nuclear candidates in the next election.

“There is nothing good about nuclear power. It is expensive, gets workers radiated and creates waste,” she said. “I’m opposed to this government in every way.”

Charges Dropped Over Hotel Brawl

ABC [30/7/12]:

Charges have been dropped against bikie Vincenzo Focarelli and four of his associates over a brawl at an Adelaide hotel.

Vincenzo Focarelli, Michael Sfyris, Mohammed Shawqy, Chad Badcock and Leonard Gjeka each faced aggravated affray charges over a fight at the Highway Inn at Plympton last November.

Charges against Focarelli's son Giovanni were withdrawn.

He was shot dead last January.

It had been alleged a hotel patron was punched during the brawl and bottles and glasses were thrown, injuring other patrons.

Police gave no explanation as they failed to tender any evidence against each of the men in Adelaide Magistrates Court.

Lawyers for three of the men have applied for costs.

In January, Ford Was Given A $34 Million Government Bail-Out To Secure Production Until 2016

ABC [30/7/12]:

The receiver of a number of failed companies in the automotive industry says the closure of Ford in Australia is a foregone conclusion.

Earlier this month, Ford announced it was slashing production at its Victorian plants by almost a third because of falling sales.

The company was given a $34 million government bail-out in January to secure production until 2016.
Stephen Longley works for the receivers, PPB Advisory, which has been involved in winding up failed companies such as APV Automotive and Ajax Fasteners.

He says components makers have completely written Ford out of their business plans from 2016.

"It's going to be a slow death, or nearly a death by 1,000 cuts for some of the suppliers," he told ABC local radio.

"There's been no announcements. The expectation though, is that this will happen.

"And without any announcements, all the people I deal with in the supply chain are assuming this is going to be the case.

"So decisions are being made on the basis that Ford will definitely not be around from 2016."

He says Ford does not have an export market and local sales are down.

He believes the Australian industry may have a role in the global strategy in terms of design, but not manufacturing. ...

Ballarat Gets Ready For The Big Latch On

The Courier [20/7/12]:

Ballarat mums will gather in a synchronised breastfeeding event next month when our city signs up to its first Big Latch On.

The global event aims to raise awareness of community breastfeeding support.

In Ballarat, where the breastfeeding rate remains lower than the Victorian average, it’s an issue that mums, families and local government are getting behind.

The first Big Latch On took place in New Zealand in 2005 and has now taken off globally.

In 2011, 5687 women participated in a Global Big Latch On.

The Big Latch On Ballarat organiser Caitlyn Burke said by staging the event, mums were responding to a need in the community to further normalise breastfeeding — particularly when it came to older children.

She said the stigma attached was, in some cases, causing women to give up breastfeeding before they wanted, or needed, to.

“At six months and 12 months they give up,” she said.

“They can technically breastfeed until they’re seven to give them the benefits.”

With more than 95 per cent of mums in Australia initiating breastfeeding, the desire is there, according to Australian Breastfeeding Association spokesperson Renee Kam.

She praised the Big Latch On for helping to promote breast feeding as a normal way to feed babies.

“It comes down to obtaining accurate information,” she said.

“There is no upper limit, as long as the mum and baby are happy to breastfeed, that’s great.

“There are numerous health benefits and emotional benefits.”

The staging of the The Big Latch On will coincide with the opening of a new breastfeeding space in Ballarat’s Bridge Mall.

City of Ballarat manager of family and children’s services Rosemarie Calvert said The Parent Place was an initiative funded by the council that would double as an information service and drop-in centre.

“It’ll be a drop-in centre that’ll be available to all parents to change your baby, feed your baby and it’ll also have a consultant on site daily,” she said.

Ms Calvert said The Parent Place was being established in response to a gap in services.

“We’ve identified there aren’t really enough places available in the CBD and we want to make it more family available,” she said.

Ms Calvert said it was an important step towards closing the gap between Ballarat’s breastfeeding rate and the state average.

The Big Latch On will be staged at The Parent Place, opening soon in the Bridge Mall on August 4. To register or for more information visit or email

[1-7 August is World Breast Feeding Week]

Milk Wars In The Philippines: Breastmilk Versus Infant Formula

Global Voices Online [11/7/07]:

In a radio interview, Philippine Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye reported that the top three consumer commodities in the country are formula milk, mobile phone cards and beer. Infant formula products are among the most imported goods in the country.

A major reason why these goods are popular despite being expensive and vastly inferior to breast milk is the aggressive advertising of milk companies. The public seems mesmerized by milk ads which claim to make children more intelligent, healthy and strong forgetting that infant formula remains a poor substitute to breast milk.

Last year, the Department of Health imposed a ban on the promotion and advertising of breast milk substitutes. This regulation was challenged by milk companies in the Supreme Court arguing that it infringed on freedom of trade and the freedom to inform the public on infant formulas. The Supreme Court sided with the petitioners and granted a temporary restraining order which prevented health authorities to enforce the ban on milk ads. The order is still effective today. ...

Lawyer Raul Pangalangan reveals how some hospitals are encouraging the use of infant formula:

“My wife breastfed all our children, and yet until the Rooming-in and Breastfeeding Law was adopted, we always found it difficult to make the nurses bring in our newborn baby for breastfeeding. First, the hospital fixed their own feeding hours, as if infants already had a schedule for recess and lunch. Then, when my wife reported at feeding time, the nurses would have already bottle-fed our baby, saying that, surprise, our baby got hungry ahead of their feeding hours. They should also have known that babies, once they find it easier to feed from the bottle, would have to be weaned back to the breast.” ...

Two New SWRO And WWTP Plants For Gladstone Harbour

Business Environment Network [23/7/12]:

The new projects will see the installation of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plants and sewage treatment plants to be used for construction sites at LNG plants.

Water management firm Metito has secured two new water contracts with engineering, procurement and construction management firm Bechtel International to plan, build and design SWRO and wastewater plants located on Curtis Island, near Gladstone in Queensland, Australia.

Bechtel is constructing three separate LNG plants on the island which liquefy coal seam gas ready for export for two customers – GLNG (Santos, Petronas, Total and Kogas) and Australia Pacific LNG (Conocophillips, Origin and Sinopec).

The specification required these plants to meet challenging feed water quality and very strict discharge limits. Moreover, to meet the needs for the construction schedule, construction water and sewage treatment plants were fast-tracked.

This was followed by the supply of demineralisation systems using reverse osmosis and electrodeionisation for Australia Pacific LNG, as well as oily waste treatment systems for GLNG.

The demineralised water is used for the Acid Gas Reduction Unit (AGRU) and turbine wash.

Several years ago, Metito entered the Australian market supplying similar equipment for the Darwin LNG project, on the Northwest coast.

Hillsborough Lessons Spell Bad News For Murdoch

Financial Times [7/7/11]:

The storm of public outrage that blew away the News of the World has been blowing for 22 years in Liverpool.

Britain’s most popular tabloid is to be closed down after admitting hacking into the telephones of murder victims, their families and the relatives of dead soldiers.

Readers and advertisers deserted the paper in droves, just as they did in Liverpool in 1989 when The Sun, its daily sister paper, accused “drunken fans” of causing the deaths of 96 Liverpool FC supporters who were crushed at a match at Hillsborough.

“You still get people who won’t touch The Sun,” says Mark Ireland, who owns a newsagents near Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground. He sells 200 copies of the arch-rival Daily Mirror tabloid every day – and just 20-30 of The Sun.

They sold about equally before Hillsborough, when the 96 were crushed at a big cup match because fans crowded outside the ground were allowed into one end by police, who then refused to open a gate to let some out.

Under the headline “The Truth”, just four days after the disaster on April 15, 1989, The Sun claimed: “Some fans picked pockets of victims; Some fans urinated on the brave cops; Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life”.

It cited unnamed police sources and a Conservative MP but a subsequent official report cleared fans of wrongdoing, blaming the police and the design of the ground.

Kelvin MacKenzie, the bombastic editor who drew up that front page, apologised, though he later claimed at a private lunch that he was forced to do so by Mr Murdoch and stood by the story.

Mr Murdoch continued trying to win back Liverpool, a city of 430,000, but now appears to have given up. In 2004 The Sun admitted the coverage was “the most terrible mistake in its history” in a full page commentary.

Graham Dudman, managing editor, travelled to Liverpool to meet The Hillsborough Family Support Group but it voted to refuse him an audience. An NI spokeswoman would not comment on the situation but executives appear to accept that Liverpool is a lost cause.

The experience there may have convinced them that it was not worth defending the News of the World.

A random survey of several newsagents around the stadium found the Mirror outsold the Sun five to one.

Nationally the Sun sells 2.8m, twice as many copies as the Mirror and its Scottish stablemate, the Daily Record. Across Merseyside retail sources say the Sun sells a fifth less than it should. The cost in lost sales has been put at more than £50m.

At Lime News, opposite the train station in the city centre, the story is the same. Joe Rooney, the owner, sells five Mirrors to every Sun five to one.

He puts The Sun on the bottom of his rack, “where it belongs”. “I had a Sun reader pick up the Independent instead today because he wanted a different view of the phone hacking.”

“Deleting those messages is beyond belief.,” said Mr Rooney. “Murdoch has got too much power.”

Retailers in the area are unlikely to refuse to stock the paper, as many did with the Sun in the aftermath of Hillsborough but many are taking fewer copies.

Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton, told parliament on Wednesday: “News International lied to the country in 1989 and it appears they are still lying today.”

Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough support group, who lost her son James, 18, in the disaster, told the FT the phone hacking was “an absolute disgrace”. She said she would never forgive The Sun for undermining calls for a public inquiry. No official has ever been held to account for the disaster.

“It tarred us forever. And it has prevented us getting justice.”

Mr Ireland said. “The phone hacking of victims and grieving families is just unbelievable. Anyone who has got kids will feel that.” But he believes the ire will subside and the scandal sheets survive, even if under different names.

“People say they disapprove but those are the papers they buy.”Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012. You may share using our article tools.

They Don't Care About Queensland Now, And They NEVER Did While They Were In Government

Sydney Morning Herald [30/7/12]:

Former Queensland education minister and attorney general Cameron Dick is the first of Labor’s deposed ministers to speak at length since the March 24 state election.

And he has used the opportunity to one-up Premier Campbell Newman’s four pillars - tourism, resources, agriculture and construction - with five pillars of his own.

‘‘Equality, freedom, fairness, opportunity and community - they’re the values that inspire me,’’ he said during a broad-ranging interview.

Last week, approached several of Labor’s former Cabinet members to gauge their feelings about their new lives four months after the party's savage election loss.

Most felt it was not yet time to speak publicly.

Former treasurer Andrew Fraser, whose five-bedroom inner western suburbs home is empty and up for rent for $780 a week - did not reply to numerous requests.

Labor’s former golden girl Kate Jones (former Member for Ashgrove) and Stirling Hinchliffe (former Stafford MP) also said no.

Ms Bligh herself is known to have been overseas for almost the entire time since the election loss.

So it was left to Mr Dick, formerly the member for Greenslopes, to speak on behalf of his former government.

Mr Dick served just one term (2009-2012) and believes he may have more to offer to Queenslanders in some capacity in the future.

A lawyer by training, Mr Dick is returning the bar and to his own firm, specialising in industrial relations law.

However, he would not dismiss the possibility of standing again at the next state election, admitting that he had the ALP in his DNA. (His brother, Milton, is a former ALP state secretary and now the Brisbane City Council’s opposition leader.)

Cameron Dick joined the Labor Party in 1989 as the Goss government came to power.

‘‘I am a Labor man. I always have been and I always will be,’’ he said, shrugging off suggestions the Labor brand in Queensland was irreparably damaged.

As we worked through the interview, he described how he felt the party should have concentrated more on the economy during the election campaign, emphasising the decisions it had made.

‘‘I do think Labor fell into the error, or seriously miscalculated and under-estimated the desire for Queenslanders to hold onto the AAA credit rating,’’ he said.

‘‘And I think the concern Queenslanders had generally about government debt and deficit.

‘‘And I think we were unable to effectively tell our story about investing in infrastructure to keep jobs.

‘‘I mean, that was the strategy we took as part of the global financial crisis.’’

He is frank about his view of the LNP government, mindful that Labor was whitewashed at the March 2012 election.

He believes the LNP government gives the impression of being a very old, conservative government, despite many youthful MPs.

‘‘I do have that sense that we have gone back in a time machine, that this government is very conservative,’’ he said.

‘‘Their whole approach to Queenslanders who are in same-sex relationships, axing money to Queensland community organisations that support those sorts of relationships.’’

The uneasy balance of asking settled public housing residents to move and make room for newer families, has also left the former MP uneasy.

He says the Newman government is entitled to make these decisions, but he worries they are not the decisions that the people who voted in the LNP voted for.

‘‘I don’t think that speaks of what Queenslanders see their state has become,’’ he says.

Readers might say, "well he would say that,’’ but Mr Dick also admits candidly that the people of Queensland absolutely rejected Labor at the state election.

‘‘I acknowledge that Queenslanders did not judge us well and we need to atone for that and to apologise for that,’’ he said.

And he agreed that Labor never really addressed the Health Payroll issue in the mind of the public.

He was cautious but frank in his assessment of how this was seen by the general public.

‘‘I think by not holding anyone to account for that, I think Queenslanders judged the former premier and the government very poorly.’’

As a former education minister, he was shocked by the government’s original decision to cut the Fanfare Music concerts among schools.

However he reserved his criticism for the LNP Attorney General Jarod Bleijie’s proposal to name and shame ‘‘as a last resort’’ serial child offenders.

‘‘I think it is a very regressive thing,’’ he said.

‘‘I think the experiences of most individuals who have experience in the criminal justice system including juvenile justice, know that the one of the critical aims of the juvenile justice system is to get kids out of a life of crime and committing criminal acts.

‘‘And many people come into contact with the criminal justice system do so on a one-off basis.

‘‘But by publicly humiliating them and their families, I think it will have a retrograde or regressive effect.

‘‘And I am not aware of any evidence anywhere that it actually stops re-offending.

‘‘And until that evidence is forthcoming I think that it should be opposed as a very backward step in our justice system in Queensland.’’

Cameron Dick served as attorney general from March 2009 to February 2011 and education minister from February 2011 to March 2012.

Christine Assange's Arrives In Ecuador To Plead Julian's Asylum Case

CNN [29/7/12]:

The mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will meet with Ecuadorian authorities Monday to urge them to grant her son asylum.

Christine Assange, who arrived in the capital city Quito on Saturday, told reporters she will appeal to Ecuador's stance on human rights during her meeting.

"Surely, the president and his staff will make the best decision," Christine Assange said, according to a report in the state-run El Ciudadano website. ...

Ecuador has said it is weighing Julian Assange's asylum request and will make the decision on its own, in its own time.

"Ecuador will make its own, independent decision," President Rafael Correa said in an interview to a local television station earlier this month. "The case is under review."

Correa noted that capital punishment exists in the United States for a "political crime," and that fact could be sufficient grounds to grant Julian Assange asylum.

Correa also stressed he is not afraid of international repercussions that might stem from whatever decision Ecuador makes.

"We have to see whether everything that's being done in the case of Julian Assange is compatible with ... the constitution and our view of human rights, political rights and due process," the president said. ...

UK: Osborne Accused Over Gas Lobbyist Father-In-Law

The Independent [29/7/12]:

George Osborne was facing fresh questions yesterday over his controversial push to make Britain a worldwide hub for fossil fuels, after it emerged that his father-in-law is the head of a lobbying organisation for big oil and gas companies.

Lord Howell of Guildford, who is an energy minister at the Foreign Office, is also the president of the British Institute of Energy Economics (BIEE), which is sponsored by Shell and BP – prompting suggestions of a conflict of interest.

Green campaigners demanded to know whether Lord Howell, a former energy secretary under Margaret Thatcher and who was a political influence on the young Mr Osborne, had pressed his son-in-law to promote oil and gas from inside the Treasury while weakening the renewable energy sector.

Last week, the Chancellor and the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, reached a compromise deal over the coalition's energy policy after a cabinet showdown, with Mr Davey fending off an attempt by Mr Osborne to slash wind energy subsidies by 25 per cent, instead agreeing to 10 per cent cuts.

However, the deal alarmed environmental campaigners as it contained a £500m tax break for offshore drilling for North Sea gas as part of Mr Osborne's mission to make the UK a "gas hub". There was also no commitment for all electricity generation to be green by 2030, a demand of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc).

While Lord Howell, whose daughter Frances married Mr Osborne in 1998, has declared his role at the BIEE on the Register of Lords' Interests, there was criticism that this clashes with his ministerial brief.

The Conservative peer is a Foreign Office minister with responsibility for international energy policy, which involves him travelling around the world setting out British energy policy to foreign governments.

Whitehall insiders alleged that Lord Howell, who has been sceptical about climate change and is an enthusiastic supporter of shale gas as well as traditional power generation, has told ministerial counterparts that the British Government is not serious about renewable energy.

Mr Osborne has not hidden his scepticism for green policies, declaring in his Autumn Statement last year:

"We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills."

He has also pushed for the Government to keep a third runway at Heathrow on the table. Yet the revelation about his father-in-law's interests will only heighten concerns about the Chancellor's "dash for gas".

Louise Hutchins, senior energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said yesterday:

"We'd hate to think that the UK's direction of travel on energy policy was being decided over claret and duck chez Osborne. But Lord Howell's links with big oil and gas special interests are well established. Questions must surely be asked about whether he has been bending the ear of his son-in-law to help his friends in the fossil fuel lobby."

Lord Howell and his son-in-law share their enthusiasm for shale gas extraction, through the controversial method of fracking. Two years ago, the 76-year-old minister told the House of Lords:

"There is the fascinating development of shale gas, which has changed the energy landscape in the US. If it is replicated elsewhere, it could be fundamental in altering the energy vista in every continent."

Mr Davey has become increasingly frustrated by the belief held by some in the Conservative Party that global expansion in shale gas will lead to lower bills in Britain. A senior Lib Dem source said:

"There is a Tory obsession that somehow there is going to be this revolution in gas and the price is going to plummet. We shouldn't be banking on it being a big game-changer."

As the Treasury and Decc fought it out over energy policy last week, Tim Yeo, the chairman of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, accused Mr Osborne of undermining green energy policy, ahead of the Government's Energy Bill this autumn, to please backbench Tory MPs.

It also emerged that Mr Osborne has not met a single renewable energy representative since becoming Chancellor, but has held eight meetings with oil and gas companies.

In an interview in 2006, Mr Osborne praised his father-in-law, who was a key member of Mrs Thatcher's cabinet. He said: "I grew up during the 1980s and the achievements of the governments of the 1980s are phenomenal. Whether it was the battle against trade unions, reform of the economy or defeating the Soviet Union.''

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said:

"There is no reason for the minister in the Foreign Office responsible for international energy policy not to continue to hold the honorary position as president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, which is sponsored by Decc. The UK Government is clear that it supports the UK energy industry."

UK: Nuclear Dumps Are Fast Tracked

Independent [29/7/12]:

The burial of radioactive nuclear waste is to be fast tracked by the government despite warnings about the risks.

Ministers have revealed an "enduring ambition" for Britain's first burial of waste from nuclear power stations to happen as early as 2029, instead of 2040 as originally planned, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Opponents warn acceleration of the idea will mean cutting corners, and over-riding the views of people living near burial sites.

The idea of entombing waste from reactors deep underground was first raised by the Labour government six years ago, with the emphasis on "voluntarism". Councils were encouraged to come forward and offer to host the radioactive matter.

But the coalition wants the process to move faster, and has asked the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to carry out research into "the potential options for acceleration".

The waste would be buried in containers at depths of up to 1,000m with both metal and the natural rock preventing radiation being released.

Under the original plans the first intermediate level waste would be buried in 2040, with high level waste and spent fuels going underground in 2075, followed by spent fuel from new build nuclear reactors in 2130. The project would close from 2175.

Last year NDA said it had "confidence" the 2075 and 2130 dates could be brought forward, but shifting the 2040 date to 2029 was "more challenging" and required consideration of other approaches which bring "a higher degree of programme risk".

However, a new report on Implementing Geological Disposal, seen by The Independent on Sunday, reveals the government is determined to press ahead with acceleration, despite "the inherent risks". "Acceleration remains an enduring ambition for ministers but no decisions will be taken until NDA's further work is complete," it said.

Dr Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: "Acceleration of plans for burying nuclear waste could only be achieved by by-passing proper consideration of hazards or railroading local communities."

Three local authorities in Cumbria have already expressed interest in hosting a nuclear burial site: Cumbria County Council, and Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils.

Charles Hendry, Tory energy minister, hailed the idea as potentially a "multi-billion pound development". It would benefit the communities where nuclear waste is currently temporarily stored and the burial areas as investment would be made earlier.

Tom Greatrex, Labour's shadow energy minister, said: "It is imperative geological disposal is undertaken with care." The Department of Energy and Climate Change insisted acceleration "cannot be at the expense of proper site assessment".

Fatality Closes Bruce Hwy

Gladstone Observer [29/7/12]:
A fatality has closed two lanes of the Bruce Highway at Ambrose this afternoon.

It's believed a semi-trailer and a car collided shortly before midday.

The male driver of the truck is not believed to have been injured.

Police are awaiting more information regarding the driver of the car.

Neither vehicle was carrying any passengers.

The Forensic Crash Unit will be investigating and the highway is expected to remain closed for several hours.

An alternative route for passenger vehicles travelling in both directions is via Yapala Road, Ambrose.

Gladstone Police said heavy vehicles are not able to use the alternate route at this point in time.

Qld Bull Rider Hurt After Being Trampled

Nine MSN [29/7/12]:

A man has serious injuries after a bull trampled over him during an outback Queensland rodeo.

The 23-year-old bull rider, from Mount Isa, was thrown and stomped on by a bull while competing at the Quamby Rodeo, near Cloncurry in the state's northwest on Saturday.

A rescue helicopter flew him to the Mount Isa Base Hospital where he remains in a stable condition.

He is believed to have internal injuries and injuries to his groin and right arm.

Earlier that day, another bull rider in his 20s had to be flown to hospital after being badly thrown.

His condition is not known.

China Cancels Waste Project After Protests Turn Violent

Reuters [28/7/12]:

Chinese officials cancelled an industrial waste pipeline project on Saturday after anti-pollution demonstrators occupied a government office in eastern China, destroying computers and overturning cars.

The demonstration was the latest in a string of protests sparked by fears of environmental degradation and highlights the social tensions the government in Beijing faces as it approaches a leadership transition this year.

It was also the second cancellation of an industrial project this month, as officials buckle under pressure from protests.

Zhang Guohua, city mayor of the eastern China city of Nantong, said in a statement the city would terminate the planned pipeline that would have emptied waste water from a Japanese-owned paper factory into the sea near Qidong.

The decision came hours after about 1,000 protesters marched through the city of Qidong, about one hour north of Shanghai, shouting slogans against the pipeline.

"The government says the waste will not pollute the sea, but if that's true, then why don't they dump it into Yangtze River?" Lu Shuai, a 25-year-old protester who works in logistics, said while marching.

"It is because if they dump it into the river, it will have an impact on people in Shanghai and people in Shanghai will oppose it."

Several protesters entered the city government's main building where they smashed computers, overturned desks and threw documents out the windows to loud cheers from the crowd. Reuters witnessed five cars and one minibus being overturned.

At least two police officers were dragged into the crowd at the government office and punched and beaten enough to make them bleed.Environmental worries have stoked calls for expanded rights for citizens and greater consultation in the tightly controlled one-party state.

The outpouring of public anger is emblematic of the rising discontent facing Chinese leaders, who are obsessed with maintaining stability and struggling to balance growth with rising public anger over environmental threats.

Such protests "suggest that the middle class, whose members seemed willing to accept in the 1990s that being able to buy more things equalled having a better life, is now wondering whether one's quality of life has improved, if you have to worry about breathing the air, drinking the water, and whether the food you're eating is safe," said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, of the University of California Irvine.

The protest followed similar demonstrations against projects the Sichuan town of Shifang earlier this month and in the cities of Dalian in the northeast and Haimen in southern Guangdong province in the past year.

"We are aware of the Shifang experience, and if it worked there then it may work here. We have a responsibility to protect our home," said one student who declined to be named because he said the government had threatened retribution against anyone who spoke to the media.

The leadership has vowed to clean up China's skies and waterways and increasingly tried to appear responsive to complaints about pollution. But environmental disputes pit citizens against local officials whose aim is to lure fresh investment and revenue into their areas.

U.S. Pipeline Agency Investigates Enbridge Oil Spill In Wisconsin

Reuters [28/7/12]:

The U.S. pipeline safety agency launched an investigation on Saturday into an oil spill in Wisconsin on Enbridge Inc's network that forced the partial shutdown of a main artery carrying light sweet Canadian crude to Chicago-area refineries.

Enbridge's 318,000 barrel per day Line 14 pipeline, part of the Lakehead system, was shut after an estimated 1,200 barrels of oil were leaked. This happened almost two years to the day after another major spill in a different section of the line, in Michigan.

Enbridge Energy Partners said on Friday there was not yet a time frame for when flows would resume, and the cause of the spill had not yet been determined.

"(The U.S. Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is investigating the cause of the Enbridge crude oil pipeline failure in Wisconsin," spokesman Damon Hill said in an email on Saturday, adding that an inspector had been sent to the location of the pipeline failure.

Line 14 is one of four lines that ship mainly Canadian crude via Lakehead, a 2.5 million bpd network that is the principal route for Canadian exports.

The news will not help Enbridge build public trust in its network, which has come under scrutiny following several high-profile incidents, including a spill in Alberta last month and the massive leak in Michigan two years ago.

Just weeks ago, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board delivered a scathing report of Enbridge's handling of the July 2010 rupture of its Line 6B near Marshall, Michigan, which led to more than 20,000 barrels of crude leaking into the Kalamazoo River.

The NTSB said it found a complete breakdown of company safety measures, and that Enbridge employees performed like "Keystone Kops" trying to contain it. The rupture went undetected for 17 hours.

U.S. pipeline regulators fined it $3.7 million for the spill, their largest ever penalty.

The incidents have caused furor just as the company seeks approval for its C$6 billion Northern Gateway pipeline to Canada's West Coast from Alberta amid staunch opposition from environmental groups and native communities that warn against oil spills on land and in coastal waters.

Enbridge said Line 14 was a 24-inch diameter pipe that was installed in 1998, making it a relatively new line.

In most cases, smaller pipeline leaks can be repaired quickly allowing operations to resume pumping, although regulators may require significant work if they find any cause for alarm. Following the leak two years ago, the line was shut for over two months.

No injury was reported on Friday at the line, which is near Grand Marsh, Wisconsin, Enbridge said.

Clean Coal Project Dumped

Australian Financial Review [28/7/12]:

The federal government has scrapped a $100 million grant for a contentious $1.2 billion "clean coal" project in Victoria's Latrobe Valley after the company behind the scheme, HRL, was unable to meet the funding conditions.

Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said on Friday HRL had been granted one final extension until June 30 this year and had still failed to deliver.

"Accordingly, the funding agreement between HRL and the Australian government will be terminated," Mr Ferguson said.

HRL froze work on the 600 megawatt Dual Gas project in April after a court ruling stipulating that the plant could be built only if 600MW of coal-fired electricity generation in Victoria was closed down.

HRL predicted its technology, if commercialised, would burn brown coal at about the same carbon intensity as black coal, a big step forward for the state. ...

The 1% Prey On Desperation

New York Times [27/7/12]:

Over at the back door of the 2001 Odyssey, a limo-size tent with flaps — especially designed for discretion and camera-shy guests — is ready to go up. Déjà Vu is welcoming extra “talent” from around the country in its V.I.P. rooms.

The Tampa Bay Times has reported there are 20 strip clubs in Tampa and 50 in the Tampa Bay area. And Thee DollHouse is all Americana: women plan to slip out of red, white and blue corsets and offer red, white and blue vodka.

The headliner that week is expected to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain ex-governor from a wilderness state, known for her strong jaw and devotion to guns and God.

“She’s a dead ringer for her,” said Warren Colazzo, co-owner of Thee DollHouse. “It’s just a really good gimmick to get publicity.”

As Tampa gears up for the Republican National Convention, the biggest party it has ever held, the city and its businesses are primping and polishing for the August arrival of tens of thousands of visitors. Like it or not — mostly not, for city officials — Tampa’s well-known strip clubs have joined the welcome wagon.

Club owners here say they have schmoozed with their counterparts in former host cities, like Denver, and have been told that revenue pours in during conventions, sometimes quadrupling earnings from a Super Bowl week.

As for party affiliation, this is one place where the country’s caustic partisan differences fall away, owners say. Angelina Spencer, the executive director of the Association of Club Executives, which serves as a trade association for strip clubs, said an informal survey of convention business in New York and Denver had determined that Republicans dropped more money at clubs, by far.

“Hands down, it was Republicans,” she said.

“The average was $150 for Republicans and $50 for Democrats.”

As further evidence of the clubs’ nonpartisan appeal, Don Kleinhans, the owner of the 2001 Odyssey, said when the Promise Keepers, a male evangelical group, came to town years ago, business was rollicking.

“We had phenomenal numbers all weekend, and they walked in wearing badges and name tags and weren’t shy at all,” he said. James Davis, a spokesman for the Republican National Convention, declined to discuss Tampa’s prominent strip clubs.

“We’re expecting to have a great convention,” Mr. Davis said. “We’re focused completely on having a great convention.” To be fair, Tampa is known for other things: cigars, Ybor City — the historic district where Cuban and Spanish cigar makers first settled in the late 1800s — three major sports franchises, four Super Bowls and beautiful beaches a short drive away. It is the Florida Gulf Coast’s economic engine and hosts a raucous pirate party every year called Gasparilla. But Tampa cannot shed its national reputation as the strip club capital of the country.

“It’s not true,” said Joe Redner, the owner of the renowned Mons Venus and a man famous for fending off local attempts to close his club.

“It would be nice, though.”

The Tampa Bay Times has reported there are 20 strip clubs in Tampa and 30 in the Tampa Bay area. Tampa does not have as many strip clubs as New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, New York and Las Vegas, owners said. Miami boasts quite a few, too.

Mr. Redner, who has repeatedly brandished the First Amendment, has been arrested 150 or so times and has run often for public office, may be one reason for the city’s reputation. Savvy and colorful, he took on the city in 2000 when it tried to cripple his club; instead, it bolstered his reputation.

A Tampa councilman back then, Bob Buckhorn, who is now Tampa’s mayor, backed an ordinance to ban lap dances by keeping customers six feet away from dancers. The rule, intended to curb prostitution and drugs, passed but is mostly not enforced.

During that fight, Mr. Buckhorn recalls saying that he “did not want Tampa to become the lap dance capital of the country.” But the statement got truncated and twisted, like in a game of telephone, then repeated, most recently during the debate over gambling in Florida.

“We wanted Tampa to be a place where we were proud to call home,” said Mr. Buckhorn, a Democrat. “But we have grown so much bigger and moved beyond that small city we were. We don’t think about it anymore.” Yet he is not without a sense of humor.

“I wonder whether the look-alike will be able to see Russia from the stage,” he asked, a question meant for the ex-governor’s doppelgänger.

The spaceship, a much-talked about private V.I.P. room perched atop the 2001 Odyssey like a wedding-cake embellishment, has also helped burnish Tampa’s louche label. It is white, oval, with round windows, a rare prefabricated Futuro house designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s and 1970s.

“It was named one of the seven wonders of Tampa Bay,” said the Odyssey’s manager, Todd Trause.

The provenance of that distinction is hard to decipher. Inside, Jazmin, 19, prepared to live-chat on a webcam to a faraway customer, one of the club’s new features. She is also preparing for the convention. Given the opportunity to stand up before a politician, she will do her job, naturally, but also share her own tale of financial struggle, as many voters here would do.

Laid off from a job in the Medicaid billing industry, she scraped by as a cashier at a grocery store. The paycheck scarcely covered her car payments, she said. Then a friend of a friend told her about the strip club, and now there she is, saving her money (the most she’s ever made) for nursing school. “With the economy,” she said, “it’s hard.”

After Creating The Desperation

MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press [25/7/12]:

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Conservative U.S. Christian groups are setting up fronts in Africa to fight for anti-gay and anti-abortion legislation to promote their convictions, a report by a Boston-based think tank said Tuesday.

It accuses evangelical stars such as Pat Robertson and Rick Warren as well as Catholic and Mormon groups of setting up institutions and campaigns in Africa that are "fanning the flames of the culture wars over homosexuality and abortion by backing prominent African campaigners and political leaders.

"The report — "Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa" — was presented by the Political Research Associates of Boston, a think tank that describes itself as "progressive" and focusing on what it calls attacks on civil liberties by the political and Christian right.

Some of the Africans cited in the report as heading African organizations set up by the U.S. religious right maintain that they are just using funds from foreign friends who share similar beliefs.

Among them is Joseph Okia, nephew of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, where proposed legislation would invoke the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

"Definitely there is a link between conservative Christians in America and conservative Christian leaders in Uganda," Okia confirmed to the report's researchers.

Okia spoke of "a close intellectual and mentoring relationship."

Several Africans and Americans named in the report could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Pastor Rick Warren said he was too busy to comment.

The report's main author, the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, said that while such evangelical groups are in the minority in the United States, they are able to punch way above their weight in Africa, where many oppose homosexuality.

Here, many believe the religious right's contentions that gay men are "recruiting" in schools, Kaoma said.

"Those kind of lies, when presented in Africa, become factual, so we need to worry that they are misleading people with these lies," Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, said in a telephone interview from Boston.

And conservative groups have access to powerful politicians, including the presidents of many countries.

Kaoma's report identifies groups belonging to a loose network of right-wing charismatic Christians. They include Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Catholic Church's Human Life International (HLI) and the Mormon-led Family Watch International. All have launched or expanded offices in Africa over the past five years.

Robertson's organization has spawned the Zimbabwe-based African Center for Law and Justice and the East African Center for Law and Justice in Kenya.

"By hiring locals as office staff, ACLJ and HLI in particular hide an American-based agenda behind African faces, giving the Christian Right room to attack gender justice and (the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people) as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on Africans and obstructing meaningful critique of the U.S. right's activities," the report said.

Anti-gay laws passed in Burundi in 2009, Malawi in 2010 and Nigeria in 2011.Uganda's so-called "Kill the Gays" law, which would levy the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," was thought to have been defeated after Kaoma and Political Research Associates exposed the legislation's American instigators in 2009. But it was reintroduced in Uganda's Parliament this February.

That was a year after the killing of David Kato, of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who was found bludgeoned to death in his Kampala home.

Amnesty International has reported an increasing intolerance in Africa that has resulted in "harassment, discrimination, persecution, violence and murders" against homosexuals in Africa. The report said the new campaigns also have caused more oppression of women by restricting their reproductive freedoms.

The Christian groups' efforts have found fertile ground among many homophobic Africans, but they have not been as successful in pushing anti-abortion legislation, the report said.

Illegal abortions are performed without hindrance across most of sub-Saharan Africa, and no efforts are made to prosecute those involved, the report found.

Efforts by the U.S. and EU governments and the United Nations to promote anti-discriminatory stances have backfired.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's threatened last year to withhold aid from countries that persecute sexual minorities, but it was later followed by a reversal to say U.S. policy is to empower sexual minority groups with funding.

The Value of Tom Friedman

His status among American elites is the single most potent fact for understanding the nation's imperial decline

By Glenn Greenwald

July 28, 2012 "Salon" - - Tom Friedman argues that the only thing that could save Syria is if that country is lucky enough to have the U.S. do to it what the U.S. did to Iraq, and in the process, says this:

And, for me, the lesson of Iraq is quite simple: You can’t go from Saddam to Switzerland without getting stuck in Hobbes — a war of all against all — unless you have a well-armed external midwife, whom everyone on the ground both fears and trusts to manage the transition. In Iraq, that was America.

Just on the level of basic cogency, this makes absolutely no sense. Friedman says that a country will be “stuck in Hobbes — a war of all against all — unless” it has America there.

But Iraq did have America there, and — as Friedman himself points out just a few paragraphs later — it got “stuck in Hobbes,” precisely because America was there (“Because of both U.S. incompetence and the nature of Iraq, this U.S. intervention triggered a civil war in which all the parties in Iraq — Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds — tested the new balance of power, inflicting enormous casualties on each other and leading, tragically, to ethnic cleansing that rearranged the country into more homogeneous blocks of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds”). He literally negates his own principal claim — a country that overthrows its dictator can only avoid Hobbes if it has a U.S.-like force occupying and controlling it — in the very same column in which he advances it.

But incoherence is the least notable aspect of this column. Did you know that “everyone on the ground” in Iraq “trusted” America to manage the transition from Saddam to Switzerland? This would probably came as a great surprise to the actual Iraqis on the ground, as reflected by U.S. government and independent polls in 2006, as reported by The Washington Post:

A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends [to] keep permanent military bases in the country. . . .

“Majorities in all regions except Kurdish areas state that the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) should withdraw immediately, adding that the MNF-I’s departure would make them feel safer and decrease violence,” concludes the 20-page State Department report, titled “Iraq Civil War Fears Remain High in Sunni and Mixed Areas.” The report was based on 1,870 face-to-face interviews conducted from late June to early July.

But Thomas Friedman wants you to know that Iraqis were so very fortunate to have an occupying military force — America — that “everyone on the ground” in Iraq “trusted” to “manage the transition.” And Syrians should hope and pray they are so lucky.

This is to say nothing of the warped imagery Friedman often uses of the invading U.S. as a “midwife” — as though Muslim countries are our little babies who need and pray for our parental imperial guidance out of their primitive wombs. The reality is that almost everything Tom Friedman says on Iraq is designed to make people forget his actual, candidly expressed views about why he thought the war was just — probably the most viscerally repellent comments anyone with a large mainstream platform has spouted in the last decade.

I say this with all sincerity. If I had to pick just a single fact that most powerfully reflects the nature of America’s political and media class in order to explain the cause of the nation’s imperial decline, it would be that, in those classes, Tom Friedman is the country’s most influential and most decorated “foreign policy expert.”

* * * * *

In 2000, the recently deceased Alexander Cockburn wrote an astoundingly good essay on Friedman which documents pre-9/11 conduct from Friedman that has largely been forgotten but which presaged almost every odious sentence and act he unleashed on the world over the last decade.

UPDATE: Friedman recently visited Australia and New Zealand to promote his latest book and, needless to say, generously gifted the citizens of those nations with his wisdom and insights about their countries. One New Zealand journalist reacted, not very gratefully, here.

Friedman was interviewed for almost an hour by one of that country’s best known radio talk show hosts, Kim Hill, and her relentlessly adversarial, critical, deeply informed and at times subtly contemptuous questioning — which can be heard on the player below or downloaded here — stands in stark contrast to how he is routinely treated by the worshipful American media ...

Contacted by telephone, Adnan al-Assadi, Iraq's deputy interior minister, said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs.

"Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers," Assadi said.

Al Jazeera [20/7/12]:

Opposition fighters have seized control of many of Syria's border crossings with Iraq, dealing a new blow to President Bashar al-Assad, an Iraqi official has said.

Hakim al-Zamili, head of the security and defence committee in Iraqi parliament, told a local television station on Thursday that rebels were in control of the Abu Kamal border crossing, on the Damascus-Baghdad highway and one of the most important trade routes in the Middle East.

Qassim al-Dulaimi, Iraqi Army Brigadier General said about a half-dozen rebels also stormed the Syrian border crossing near the Iraqi town of Qaim.

He said the rebels forced the border guards from their posts but did not cross into Iraq. Qaim is located about 320km to the west of Baghdad.

"We have security concerns because the border crossing now is out of the Syria government's control, and nobody can anticipate what will happen,'" Dulaimi said.

However, local Iraqi officials said two other major border crossings remained in control of the Syrian regime.
Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Iraq's western Anbar province that includes Qaim, said the largest port at al-Walid, which is also located near the Jordanian border and accounts or an estimated 90 per cent of traffic between Iraq and Syria remained in the government's hands.

The border between Iraq and Syria extends for 605km.

Closure threats

Contacted by telephone, Adnan al-Assadi, Iraq's deputy interior minister, said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs.

"Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers," Assadi said.

"If this situation continues, we are going to close the entire border with Syria," he added.

Earlier on Thursday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had also seized control of a post on the border with Turkey.

"Rebel fighters seized control of the Bab al-Hawa crossing [in the northwestern province of Idlib]," the rights group said, adding that the rebels removed a photograph of Assad that was displayed there.

"The crossing is under our control. They withdrew their armoured vehicles," said a rebel fighter who would only be identified as Ali, being treated for wounds on the Turkish side.

Bab al Hawa is a key border crossing with Turkey which rebels first attacked at dawn on Thursday, the third time in 10 days rebels tried to seize this vital commercial crossing in northwestern Syria, opposite the Turkish Cilvegozu gate in Hatay province.

Ahmad Zaidan, spokesman for an opposition group called the Higher Council of the Revolution's Leadership, said earlier that rebels were in charge of large areas around the border crossing and that they wanted to gain control of the gate itself.

Trade restricted

Zaidan said the raid was also meant to provide an opportunity for opposition sympathisers among the government soldiers to defect. Most defections, he said, were pre-planned whereby sympathisers would know of an impending rebel attack.

The rebels attacked the army garrison made up of some 200 troops but had to pull back when government helicopters were called in. The rebels had planned for 80 soldiers to defect but only 14 managed to escape, Zaidan said.

The border crossing, which is still under the control of Assad's forces, has been closed since the attack and around 40 Syrian and Saudi trucks lined up on the Turkish side were unable to cross.

Cross-border trade and traffic has been greatly reduced as violence inside Syria has increased but border gates along the 910km Turkey-Syria border have largely remained open and vehicles are free to cross.

Turkey, which has called on Assad to step down, is giving sanctuary to opposition members and fighters on its soil and is providing shelter to more than 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence at home.

Cyclists Protesting Against Olympic Restrictions Arrested After Scuffles With Police Outside Opening Ceremony

Kettled [*UPDATE* And twenty detained on a bus ALL NIGHT]

Daily Mail [27/7/12]:

Police on guard outside the Olympic Stadium acted quickly to stop a cycle group holding an unauthorised protest just as the opening ceremony was getting underway.

Several dozen police vans raced to the outskirts of the Olympic Park on one of the main thoroughfares to the venue where members of protest group Critcal Mass were riding in formation.

Police said the protesters had permission to hold a demonstration in south London, but on condition they do not cross north of the river Thames.

The face of an OlympicCeremony VIP responsible for arresting, torturing, sacking over 200 athletes in Bahrain

Image @alaashehabi [27/7/12]

Police Shoot Armed Man After Car Chase

ABC [28/7/12]:

A police officer shot an armed man after a car pursuit in south-east Queensland last night.

Police say they had been conducting inquiries into several serious matters when they started following the man's car at Aratula, south-west of Brisbane.

They used spikes on the road to puncture the car's tyres to stop it near Killarney, about 70 kilometres to the south.

It is understood an officer then shot a man in the vehicle.

Police say the man was armed with a gun himself.

It is believed he sustained injuries that were not life-threatening.

The shooting will be investigated by the the state's Police Ethical Standards Command.

Locals And Folks From Around The World (Including Drew Hutton And Libby Connors From Queensland, And Jeremy Buckingham MLC From NSW) Head to Washington D.C. For Stop The Frack Attack Rally

12 [27/7/12]:

West Virginia is facing the fracks, as the oil and gas industry continues to grow in the Mountain State.

While many welcome the industry and its jobs, others are concerned what it could mean for the environment.

"I have a definite concern about the affects of the drilling industry on the environmental impacts," said Mirijana Beram.

Mirijana Beram made a career out of the oil and gas industry.

"I retired from a local gas industry where I worked for 30 years," Beram said.

Now, she's fighting it.

"Bring this to the attention of our legislatures. To show them there is concern out there by citizens and something needs to be done. Regulations need to be strengthened," Bream said.

Beram and other Doddridge County residents are headed to Washington, D.C. this weekend for the Stop the Frack Attack rally and march. The event is expected to bring in speakers from across the country and beyond.

"There will be speakers from all over the U.S. As well as Australia and some other parts of the world to talk about their experiences and what has happened in their communities," Beram said.

Beram may soon share those experiences.

"I own 10 acres and I do not have the mineral rights to it," Beram said.

Fracking soon will be in her own backyard. Her neighbor's property was just approved for 13 permits."They haven't started drilling yet, but it's close enough to me to be concerned," Beram said.

The Sound of Silence And The Olympic Roar

Doug Pollard, Current Affairs [27/7/12]:

The flame approaches the stadium, the athletes settle into the village, and the rings work their magic on the notoriously unreliable British weather, calling forth the sun. The crowds roar with excitement.

Meanwhile in Australia, shadows of another monster loom out of a fog of deceit and deception and silence.

Nameless, and hung about with unholy charms, the only evidence of its passing the sound of yet another family sobbing over the coffin of their darling.

Mystifyingly, there is no great outcry. Yet this victim and the creature who destroyed him are only the latest of a long line. No one knows how many more are still to come.

The suffering propagates down the years and down the generations, but the only sound from Canberra is the swish of clerical skirts whisking along the corridors of power, trailing a faint sickly odour of grave-mould and incense.

The Prime Minister stays aloof. The leader of the opposition falls to his knees. MPs and Senators bow their heads and close their eyes. No leader steps forward to demand justice for the victims, their wives and children.

In the Hunter Valley one Catholic priest was convicted and jailed several years ago after sexually abusing 39 schoolboys aged from five to 16 years old over nearly 20 years. Just one, apparently among many. There are more who cannot be named 'for legal reasons.' Some who have still to be brought to justice. Almost certainly more who have not even been brought to light.

The Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Bill Wright tentatively accepts that something must be done: he is now 'broadly supportive' of a Royal Commission.

In this climate of silence, this tepid response is hailed as 'courageous'.

Meanwhile Canberra maintains its reverent hush, its averted gaze, its deferential private murmuring. For one casualty, none of this matters any more. John Pirona, 45, of Valentine, a victim of one of the Hunter's most notorious but un-nameable paedophile priests, was last seen alive on Saturday night.

Today, his body was found in his car after he took his own life.

He left a note that said simply: "Too much pain."

Mrs Pirona [said] her husband was not the only victim.

"Our children are saying 'Where is daddy?' They know the police are looking for him. Everyone who knows him, we're all feeling guilt because you can't help but think, how could we not see he was at breaking point?

"It's not just the victim but the snowballing effect it has on their families, partners, children, parents, friends. When our kids are old enough this will affect them. It never ends. It just never ends."

The same unholy spell that keeps politicians silent and subservient seems to work on the public, too. There is no flood of demands for action hitting politicians desks.

A petition calling for a full Royal Commission, started by Melbourne comedian Catherine Deveny in mid-May has only just reached 2,200 signatures.

Meanwhile the television brays about about who will hang the most bits of metal around their necks, as in towns all around Australia, hundreds struggling with the pain and the indifference wonder if they can make it through another day without putting a rope around theirs.

Support is available via Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

Shia Protesters Arrested In Eastern Saudi Arabia

Tehran Times [27/7/12]:

Saudi authorities detained a number of protesters Friday in the restive eastern Shia region.

According to AP, the arrests took place in the city of Qatif, where members of the Shia minority have been clashing with police over the past year, demanding greater rights and an end to what they say is discrimination by the Sunni rulers.

Several demonstrators have also been wounded after security forces opened fire on protesters, Russia Today reported.

Officers fired live rounds at demonstrators, who carried posters of detained protesters who were injured and arrested earlier this month.

Saudi Arabia’s official new agency (SPA) said that among those detained was a wanted fugitive, identified as Mohammed al-Shakhouri. The Interior Ministry spokesman said he was among the 23 most wanted men in Qatif.

Witnesses said Shakhuri was taken to a military hospital with bullet wounds in his back and neck.

Clashes between police and protesters have increased in recent days, following the deaths of two protesters earlier this month.

As uprisings against autocratic rulers began to sweep the Arab world last year, small protests were held in eastern Saudi Arabia but were largely quelled, though tensions remain.

Demonstrations escalated earlier this month, after a prominent Shia cleric was arrested for being what the interior ministry deemed an “instigator of sedition.”

His detainment has been the source of widespread demonstrations demanding an end to sectarian discrimination in the region.

Shia Muslims have long complained of marginalization at the hand of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni ruling family.

Shias make up 10 percent of the 23 million Saudi citizens.

Myanmar: UN Official Concerned Over Rights Violations In Rakhine State

UN Media Release [27/7/12]:

A United Nations senior official today expressed serious concern about reports of human rights violations committed by security forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, after clashes between its Buddhist and Muslim communities reportedly killed at least 78 people and displaced thousands last month.

“We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a news release.

“Reports indicate that the initial swift response of the authorities to the communal violence may have turned into a crackdown targeting Muslims, in particular members of the Rohingya [Muslim] community,” she added.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the state, located in the country’s west, was triggered when an ethnic Rakhine woman was raped and murdered on 28 May.

This was followed by the killing of 10 Muslims by an unidentified mob on 3 June.

Ms. Pillay called for a prompt, independent investigation, noting that the crisis reflects the long-standing and systemic discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim community, who are not recognized by the Government and remain stateless.

“The Government has a responsibility to prevent and punish violent acts, irrespective of which ethnic or religious group is responsible, without discrimination and in accordance with the rule of law,” Ms. Pillay said.

She also called on national leaders to speak out against discrimination, the exclusion of minorities and racist attitudes, and in support of equal rights for all in Myanmar. She also stressed that the UN was making an effort to assist and protect all communities in Rakhine state.

“Prejudice and violence against members of ethnic and religious minorities run the risk of dividing the country in its commendable national reconciliation efforts, undermine national solidarity, and upset prospects of peace-building,” Ms. Pillay said.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it is delivering aid to the more than 30,000 people that were affected by the violence.

“As we speak, additional tents are being airlifted from the Republic of Korea to meet urgent shelter needs on the ground,” a UNHCR spokesperson, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters in Geneva.

Mr. Mahecic said that many people had their houses destroyed, and would only go back if they could get help building new homes, while displaced Muslims have told the refugee agency that they would like to go home but fear for their safety.

According to UNHCR, an estimated 80,000 people are displaced in and around the towns of Sittwe and Maungdaw, with most of them living in camps or with host families in surrounding villages.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is due to visit the country next week, and his mission there will include a visit to Rakhine state. Ms. Pillay welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s visit, but noted that “while he will be able to make an initial assessment during his one-day visit, this is no substitute for a fully-fledged independent investigation.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Wake Up Australia! If Spaniards Lived Here They Would Still Be Taking To The Streets

Newcastle Star [28/7/12]:

Since 1801, when a couple of emancipated convicts built the 30-tonne Endeavour as an upstart rival to the colony's government-owned vessels, ferries that work Sydney Harbour have reflected a mix of public and private enterprise.

Today, that mix will shift to the private, when an amalgam of two multinational transport and logistics companies takes over the operations of Sydney Ferries.

For the firm, Harbour City Ferries, and for the O'Farrell government, the message of the handover is clear: new corporate bosses will not be doing anything drastic any time soon.

The routes stay the same; the fares stay the same; and 90 per cent of the staff are unchanged. Harbour City had promised new uniforms, but even they will be some months away.

''There won't actually be any changes,'' the chief executive of Harbour City, Steffen Faurby, said this week.

''We've planned this in such a way that it will be business as usual, and we will make sure that customers can get on the ferries and off the ferries in the same way that they do today, and rely on the same robust service.''

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, has driven the privatisation from her first days in office. The policy reflects her belief governments are good at setting ground rules for transport operators, but operators do a better job if they are private.

The handover will occur months before it was scheduled, and it has occurred with little voluble industrial unrest.

Membership of the eight unions representing ferry workers and management have already agreed to be transferred to Harbour City and, in return, they will retain existing conditions for at least two years.

The government has agreed to pay workers with at least six years on the job a one-off payment equivalent to 30 weeks' salary, and to pay those with less experience slightly less.

Unions say the bonus was on the table at the start of negotiations, but the government had wanted to limit it to workers with 13 years employment.

''No one has wasted any time on disputes,'' Ms Berejiklian said. ''Under the radar is perhaps the wrong term to use, but we certainly wanted to make sure that the process is open and transparent and robust.''

Harbour City Ferries, which has signed a seven-year contract, is an amalgam of Veolia Transdev and Transfield Services. The contract has performance targets, undisclosed, but the company does not make more money if patronage increases.

Ms Berejiklian, however, said the government was determined to increase ferry usage.

''If you are serious about getting cars off Victoria Road or Military Road or New South Head Road, you've really got to increase use of the waterways … We've got the best harbour in the world - let's use it.''

The Maritime Union of Australia said the transfer had been ''difficult and hard fought'', and pointed to an issue Ms Berejiklian has yet to confront.

''The real challenge for the state government lies with fleet, not the workforce,'' said Paul Garrett, the assistant secretary of the Sydney branch of the MUA. ''Many of our ferries are more than two decades old. We can't afford to wait another eight years to replace these ferries. It needs to happen now.''

En route to Taronga Zoo on Wednesday, Colin Pursehouse, who began with the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company in the 1970s, was in his last day as an engineer for Sydney Ferries.

Mr Pursehouse, who decided against joining the new company, had doubts. ''It is only natural that a private operator is going to be focused on the bottom line,'' he said.

But he lamented that public management of the ferries had been so mishandled over the years. ''I certainly believe that remaining in public ownership we could have achieved the same results,'' he said.

His old company, the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company, reverted to government ownership in 1974 when it couldn't make a go of it.

Harbour City and the government will be hoping history doesn't repeat.

India: Bhopal Holds Special Olympics To Protest Dow's Role In London

Global Post [27/7/12]:

Survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy on Thursday organized a 'Bhopal Special Olympics' to protest against Dow Chemical's sponsorship of the London Olympics, calling out the multinational for spending money on advertising while victims of the accident touted as the world's worst industrial disaster continue to suffer.

According to the Times of India, some 45 children with physical and mental disabilities, part of the second generation of victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, participated in the games -- which included a wheel-chair race, crab walking and softball throw.

In the leadup to the London Olympics, a number of organizations called for Dow Chemical to be barred from sponsoring the Games, and there was a grassroots push for India to boycott the event if the company did not drop its bid. But in the end, nothing came of the effort.

Not a single political leader, not even the local member of the legislative assembly, showed up for the Bhopal Special Olympics, the paper said.

Dow Chemical acquired the assets and liabilities of Union Carbide in 2001. But Dow has never taken responsibility for cleaning up the environmental damage or met local demands for compensation.

In December 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, leaked methyle isocyanate gas and other chemicals into the atmosphere and groundwater, exposing hundreds of thousands of people to toxic substances.

Between 2000 and 4000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and various estimates suggest that as many as 8,000 have died over the subsequent years due to contamination. Even today, local residents complain of birth defects and illnesses they believe stem from exposure to polluted water.

In June, a US court ruled that neither Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) nor its former chairman Warren Anderson were liable for environmental remediation (reversing or stopping environmental damage) or pollution-related claims by those living around its now-defunct plant in Bhopal, according to the Hindustan Times.

The court ruled that it was Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), and not its parent company UCC, that was responsible for the generation and disposal of the waste that polluted drinking water, and that the liability rests with the Madhya Pradesh state government.

London 2012: Cabbies Stage Games Lane Protest

BBC [27/7/12]:

London taxis have staged a go-slow protest at Hyde Park Corner in central London over Olympic traffic lanes.

The protest was moved forward by three hours after police said they could not demonstrate on the Olympic Route Network from 16:00 to 03:00 BST.

Cabbies have held two protests over not being allowed into the lanes which are reserved for officials and athletes.

Traffic was "stationary" from about 14:00 till 14:50 when police cleared the area, BBC London Travel desk said.

This in turn led to congestion on all approaches to Hyde Park Corner at Grosvenor Place.

The demonstration came hours before thousands of spectators and world leaders were expected to attend the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said as the protest had begun before 16:00 it had not breached the conditions imposed under Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986.

'Key part' Len Martin, vice chairman of United Cabbies, had said: "We don't want to disrupt Londoners, what we want to do is to bring to the public's attention the plight of the London cab driver who is unable to bring a service to the Olympic Games during the Games."

Earlier Metropolitan Police Commander Christine Jones said they wanted to work with the drivers so they could protest without affecting London life.

She said: "We have to balance the democratic right to protest with disruption to communities.

"It's a huge event happening today and what we want to do is to work with them so that it doesn't disrupt London."

Previously, cabbies have brought traffic to a halt outside the Houses of Parliament and on Tower Bridge as part of their campaign.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: "It remains extraordinary that the licensed taxi drivers who are a key part of London's transport system are still banned from the VIP lanes on the eve of the Olympics.

"The iconic London black cab was a central part of the imagery that secured London the Games and, even at this late stage, Mayor Boris Johnson should step in and allow them to use the Olympics lanes to help keep the city moving."

Transport for London said cabs were able to use some lanes to collect fares.

Afghan President Issues Decree To Curb Corruption

Boston Globe [27/7/12]:

KABUL, Afghanistan—Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is under pressure from the international community to do more to battle corruption, has issued an ambitious list of government reforms that orders his ministries, prosecutors and judiciary to fight bribery, nepotism and cronyism.

Karzai's 23-page decree also instructs officials to clear the attorney general's office and the courts of languishing corruption-related cases and do more than talk about bringing crooked figures to justice.

Donor nations have long expressed concern about corruption within the Afghan government and $16 billion in aid pledged this month at a Tokyo conference is tied to a new monitoring process to assure that the money is not diverted by corrupt officials or mismanaged. Karzai has blamed international contracting procedures for some of the problem.

In the decree, Karzai also repeated his request that high-ranking government officials or their relatives do not get rebuilding contracts. He also demanded that ministries and other governmental departments write up a flurry of progress reports on a myriad of issues -- including efforts to resolve traffic problems in the dusty, congested Afghan capital, Kabul.

The decree, issued late Thursday, is similar to an executive order, but is ambiguous about what happens to those who don't comply. It also does not spell out who will pay for the government cleansing that Karzai proposed.

Political analyst Jawid Kohistani said he did not think the decree would stave off corruption in the government.

"Karzai is acting late on corruption," he said Friday. "We have anti-corruption laws, but it is very difficult to remove corruption. It is hard to just remove corruption by a decree. He should start to remove corruption from inside the palace.

"I'm not confident that this decree will bring good results because those people who are involved in corruption are high-ranking officials in the government. They have control of the economy and they also are grabbing the land. The low-ranking employees of the government -- they are only getting small bribes."

Afghanistan, with a history of war and international interference and support, has long been plagued by corruption. It has come in 180th out of 183 countries on Transparency International's corruption index, which scored countries based on perceived levels of public sector corruption. Only North Korea and Somalia were deemed to be more corrupt.

Karzai, who has about two years left in office, has repeatedly promised to clean up corruption in his administration without much result. On June 21, he called a special session of the parliament to speak out against corruption -- just ahead of the donors' conference in Tokyo, where the international community complained about corruption within his administration.

"You should cooperate with me on these reforms. You have accused me of making deals. Yes, I have done so, but I had reasons. And now I am changing this. I am bringing reform from the inside," Karzai told the Afghan lawmakers in June. ...

Deadly Cruise Ship Emissions Equal Sulfur Dioxide Spewed From 13,100,000 Cars A Day, But Cruise Lines Fight Air Pollution Laws

Jim Walker, Cruise Law News [23/7/12]:

Five years ago, the Bush administration proposed legislation prohibiting the use of maritime fuels with high sulfur content within 200 miles of the U.S.

The Obama administration had the bill passed into law. In turn, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that it planned to create a buffer zone around the U.S. and Canada where ships would be prohibited from burning the world's dirtiest transportation fuel - bunker fuel.

The new regulations are suppose to go into effect shortly. The container shipping industry states that it intends to meet the new standards. But the cruise industry, which vigorously opposed the legislation and IMO regulations in the first place, states that it cannot comply with the pollution laws.

The health risks posed by the cruise industry's use of high sulfur fuels are enormous. I published an article years ago called "Bunker Fuel - Nasty Tar Sludge! which explains how bunker fuel - which is a tar-like substance - is the nastiest and most toxic fuel on planet earth. It is unconscionable to burn it.

Today the Washington Post puts the issue into greater perspective:

"The gleaming white Sapphire Princess docked in this deep-water port (Whittier Alaska) this month, unloading its passengers and taking on another 2,600 guests headed first to Glacier Bay and, eventually, Vancouver, B.C. Every day of that trip the cruise ship — whose web site invites passengers to see Alaska’s “pristine landscapes” — will emit the same amount of sulfur dioxide as 13.1 million cars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and as much soot as 1.06 million cars . . .

The new rule requires large ships to cut the sulfur content of their fuel, which now averages 2.7 percent, down to 1 percent next month; in 2015 it must drop to 0.1 percent.

The EPA estimates that the new rules will avoid between 12,000 and 31,000 premature deaths each year by 2030, with the benefits outweighing the costs 95 to 1. Put another way, when the stricter limit goes into effect in 2015 it will be akin to taking 12.7 million cars off the road per day and eliminating their sulfur dioxide emissions, or the soot from 900,000 cars. Air pollutants from burning ship fuel off the Pacific Coast contribute to lung disease and affect air quality as far away as North Dakota, according to agency officials."
The cruise lines (and curiously enough, the State of Alaska) have launched what the Post calls a "counter-offensive" against the pollution law.

According to the Post, once the new law is fully implemented and the additional costs of the cleaner fuel are passed on to the consumer. cruising will cost about $7 per day more. The cruise industry claims that it could add as much as $19.46 a day per passenger.

The cruise lines claim that the cleaner fuel will hurt their business. The Republican lawmakers in Alaska, under intense cruise line lobbying, profess that the new law is bad for tourism. When cruise ships are required to burn .1% sulfur fuel in 2015, cruising may cost $50 to $100 a week more. But the EPA claims that tens of thousands of lives will be saved each year with annual benefits in reduced health care expenses between $47 billion and $110 billion.

The cruise industry has tried to use the court system to avoid air pollution laws before. Last year,the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the cruise and shipping industries, holding that the state of California can regulate the cruise industry and require vessels that call on the state’s ports to use cleaner fuel.

The cruise industry and its trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), have a paradoxical relationship with the air and water around their cruise ships. They market themselves as environmentally friendly but, in truth, they are hardly the steward of the air and seas. They are the single greatest threat to the clean air and water of Alaska.

Australia Debarked Once Again As US Tells Its Lapdog To Heel

Richard Ackland, Sydney Morning Herald [27/7/12]:

Is Julian Assange to Julia Gillard what David Hicks was to John Howard? In other words, will Assange be the patsy that a lapdog nation offers to its great and powerful friend, in the same way Howard victimised Hicks as the poster boy for terrorism?

If this is to be the case, then there are important lessons to be considered.

The Howard government's meddling and manipulation of the Hicks case, in co-operation with the Bush administration, ultimately created a critical backlash once the public on home soil began to smell a rat.

A special plea arrangement was rushed to conclusion. After more than five years at Guantanamo Bay and having been overcharged with a litany of offences, Hicks grabbed what was on offer, a guilty plea to a single charge of ''material support for terrorism''.

The ultimate ignominy transpired this week when the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew his prosecution of Hicks under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The proceedings sought to restrain further publication of the book Guantanamo: My Journey and an order for recovery of the proceeds of the book's sale.

The last person on the parapet shouting and pouring boiling oil on Hicks's head has been the Coalition's shadow attorney-general, Senator George Brandis. He was given chest-beating space in the Murdoch press to advance his ill-conceived legal thesis that Hicks must be charged.

Apparently, he was not across the common law or section 84 of the Evidence Act, both of which say that an admission of guilt cannot be put to a court if it was procured by ''violent, oppressive, inhuman or degrading conduct''.

The statement put out on Tuesday by the DPP was an attempt at face saving. It claimed that Hicks's lawyers served new evidence not previously available to the police or the prosecutors.

Maybe no one at the Commonwealth DPP has read Hicks's book, which detailed his mistreatment, the denial of assistance by the Australian government and the fact that he faced the prospect of staying in Guantanamo forever, even if he was successful before a military commission.

Any ''new'' evidence would have been an elaboration of what was already available.

The last sentence of the DPP's statement said: ''I reached the view that this office was not in a position to discharge the onus placed upon it to satisfy the court that the admissions should be relied upon and decided that these proceedings should not continue.''

In other words, Hicks's admission of guilt is unreliable.

There is also another consideration. Not only was Hicks's admission forced by torture but the charge itself is a fabrication. Never has ''material support for terrorism'' (or MST) been a war crime in the entire history of the world - until it was manufactured by the US Congress in the Military Commission Act of 2006.

This was after Hicks had allegedly materially supported terrorism by ''engaging in combat'' against US forces in Afghanistan.

For the US to make opposition to Americans in a war zone a war crime and to apply it retrospectively is beyond the norms of anything previously considered in international law.

The issue of whether material support for terrorism is a valid war crime is awaiting an outcome from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit in the Hamdan case. The decision is imminent.

Maybe its very imminence is a factor that weighed on the prosecutor's mind back home. If all of a sudden the offence to which Hicks pleaded guilty was found to be invalid by a US court, his prosecution under the proceeds of crime legislation would be left looking pretty silly.

We've seen this late minute scuttling of prosecutions before. In 2005 a DC District Court judge, Joyce Hens Green, was on the verge of releasing her judgment discussing Mamdouh Habib's torture.

Someone in the US government, probably people for the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, tipped off Howard & Co and there was a sudden change of tack.

Australia successfully sought Habib's repatriation just before the court decision was announced.
Meanwhile, Julian Assange's affairs drag on interminably.

If somehow Assange were to be snaffled by the Americans, the parallels with Hicks's circumstances would soon be evident. He would have a long period of incarceration and be massively overcharged, as has been the situation with Bradley Manning.

This is designed to break the accused, to get them to plead to something, even if they are guilty of nothing.
Again, the Australian government has been spectacularly unhelpful, and meets any request for information from Assange's lawyers with a pile of self-evident non-answers.

The latest request came from Assange's Australian lawyer, Julian Burnside, QC, who sought from the Attorney-General what the government knew about FBI and grand jury investigations into his client.

None of the questions were answered directly. We need only refer to redacted emails between the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Attorney-General, released under freedom of information, to see why.

They provide the government's stock template responses whenever the issue of a US espionage trial is raised. The preconceived answer is this:

''Any discussion which might be taking place between US and Swedish officials concerning Mr Assange are a matter for the United States and Sweden in the context of the bilateral relationship between those two countries. It would be inappropriate for me to make any comment on the matter.''

Sound familiar?

Bob Brown: Why I’m Leading The Sea Shepherd To The Kimberley [27/7/12]:

James Price Point, on the Kimberley coast, has been in the news because Woodside — with a who’s-who of other drillers including BP, BHP Billiton, Shell, Mitsubishi, and Chevron — is set to build the world’s biggest gas factory there. But this ancient region has another story to tell.

It’s a stunning ochre-red headland located north of Broome, and culturally known as Walmadan. It’s an important area on the indigenous songcycle belonging to the law and culture of Goolarabooloo people, known as the Northern Tradition of Law. Since Bugarregarre, or the Dreamtime, their ancestors have walked and lived in this country.

One of the creator ancestor beings called Marala (Emu Man) walked this country bringing law and rules of behaviour for the people. We can follow his footprints along the coast. Marala also shows his silhouette inside the dark of the Milky Way (Iiwara). His head is located on the side of the Southern Cross known as Guwaraaara ba jina (the foot of the eagle).

Located within the Northern Tradition songcycle there are three emanation sites (songcycle birth places) travelling from this Sundown Coast and crossing the continent, two of which go through Uluru to the Sunrise Coast. Any damage done to the songcycle of the Northern Tradition will affect the entire songcycle system in Australia. That is why it is extremely important to protect the integrity of the Goolarabooloo’s songcycle.

The late Paddy Roe OAM, senior Goolarabooloo lawkeeper, opened up his country to everyone to share his culture and knowledge, establishing the Lurujarri Heritage Trail. For 25 years, thousands of people have walked the trail. It is a unique practical example of reconciliation. Pat Vinnicombe, an anthropologist working for the Department of Aboriginal sites, was given information by Paddy Roe about Marala’s footprints and when she compared the information to that of the paelentological dinosaur tracks they realised they were talking about the same locations.

The same footprints have become a global sensation in Western scientific circles. Since their “discovery” by Girl Guides in 1935, palaentologists have identified the tracks as belonging to dinosaurs which foraged in swamps here 130 million years ago. This is the only place on Earth where dinosaur tracks are the source of indigenous ancestral belief.

Recent studies identify many species of dinosaurs that foraged in this area, then swamplands, so long ago. The biggest footpads, 1.4 metres across, supported reptiles more than 30 metres long.

The only larger species to ever move on the planet are today’s great whales. In a remarkable conjunction, the Kimberley coastline is also the host of the world’s biggest humpback whale nursery, the so-called Group IV humpback population.

Experts think that up to 13,000 (or one third) of the world’s humpback population are off the Kimberley coastline, including James Price Point, right now. Many will give birth to calves before they migrate south again to Antarctica for the summer.

But 2012 may be the last peaceful season in this ancient nursery. If Woodside’s board seeks the final go-ahead from Canberra next year, and gets it, work will proceed in earnest on the gas factory and its port infrastructure on land and in the sea.

James Price Point is shaping up as another Franklin dam: a furore over natural and cultural heritage threatened by political hubris and, in return, corporate disaster. Just as the Franklin dam brought the downfall of Tasmania’s Hydro-Electric Commission in 1983, so the Kimberley gas factory could bring about Woodside’s implosion in 2013.

The $45 billion project is planned to process $200 billion worth of gas which would be piped from beneath the sea in what geologists call the Browse Basin, 425 kilometres off the Kimberley coast. The gas would be shipped to Asia.

The Goolarabooloo people, traditional owners of the James Price Point (Walmadan) coastline, oppose Woodside’s project. However, the Kimberley Land Council, in a split vote, endorsed it after Woodside committed to paying the council $1.3 billion over 30 years.

James Price Point will become a transmogrified industrial precinct fed by a new highway from Broome. Hundreds of tanker ships will take the processed gas to China, Japan and elsewhere.

I revisited Broome in April and left convinced that if all Australians got to know about the destructive capacity of the gas factory, the resultant outcry would stop it going ahead.

I have long admired the courage of Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson and his crews who have intervened on Japan’s illegal slaughter of whales in Australia’s Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. Sea Shepherd has been backed by strong anti-whaling sentiment across this nation.

Now that the same humpback whales’ nursery is being threatened within Australia’s own continental waters, it is natural that Sea Shepherd, with the invitation of the Goolarabooloo “Law Bosses”, is sending the SS Steve Irwin — a ship familiar to Australians for its anti-whaling activities in Antarctic waters — to draw attention to the whales’ plight.

Watson, who was arrested in Germany in May over allegations stemming from a high seas confrontation involving a Costa Rican vessel, has now reportedly left Germany. I suspect the powerful reach of Tokyo in the allegations as there is nothing the marauding Japanese whaling fleet would like better than to keep him out of the way. With Watson away, I have taken up the role of mission leader to the Kimberley.

The Steve Irwin left Melbourne on Sunday, bound for the Kimberley coast where a win-win outcome should be on the cards. I will join it in Broome on August 6 for a fortnight-long mission in the waters around James Price Point. We’re hoping to have some high-profile visitors and whale experts aboard.

Woodside could drop the gas factory venture. Or it could simply direct its pipeline further down the coast to the Pilbara where it already processes gas. Some analysts say this option is actually cheaper. Or it could process the gas out at sea as it insists it will do with its similar project off Timor-Leste.

I suspect Woodside is considering all the options; some of its venture partners are public-minded thinkers who want the factory moved. If it is moved, Woodside should ensure that the Kimberley’s traditional owners get the same dividend.

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett, who sees James Price Point as key to industrialising the Kimberley, so that coal, uranium and other resources can be exploited in the Australian Heritage-listed hinterland, is every bit as gung-ho about the gas factory as Tasmania’s “whispering bulldozer” Premier Robin Gray was when he sent the bulldozers into the Franklin Valley in 1982.

In our robust democracy, the Kimberley’s future rests in national public opinion as Gray, to his dismay, found out about the Franklin River wilderness three decades ago.

Sea Shepherd aims to have the whales of the Kimberley heard across Australia, and we have invited every one of the 216 MPs in Canberra to come to Broome in August to see why this wealthy nation can, and should, keep the whale nursery, the dinosaur tracks and the traditional owners’ songcycles intact. Woodside, unlike the whales, can flourish somewhere else.

CSL Facing Further Industrial Action

Sydney Morning Herald [27/7/12]:

Blood plasma giant CSL faces more industrial action this month, with unions threatening to stop processing foreign plasma because of a long-running contract dispute.

In a result CSL has described as "disappointing", its enterprise bargaining agreement was yesterday rejected by 60 per cent of voters.

The company's offer was 10.75 per cent over three years, plus a $800 "sign-on" bonus. The unions - the National Union of Workers, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union - are seeking annual pay rises of at least 5 per cent, plus the retention on shift arrangements and job security.

Negotiations between the company and unions will resume next Tuesday - the same day as the NUW plans to conduct a 24-hour ban on the processing of international plasma. The CPSU plans to follow suit with an indefinite ban on international plasma starting the following day.

It already has overtime bans in place.

The AMWU has been contacted for comment on its plans, although the NUW says maintenance workers under AMWU's remit will take industrial action today. CSL says AMWU's overtime bans at CSL's plant in suburban Broadmeadwos will continue.

In a letter to staff yesterday, Jill Lever, Senior Vice President, Human Capital at CSL said the company was "doing everything" to limit the impact of the industrial action on its contracts, and warned that industrial action risked Australian jobs.

" ... we are concerned that these continued actions will place patients with chronic and critical care needs at risk. Our most immediate concern is for New Zealand patients, as the NUW's targeted bans on overseas plasma production has meant we have been unable to process plasma products for New Zealand since strike action began. This not only affects our patients but puts our contracts to process overseas plasma, and therefore Australian jobs, at risk."

But the NUW says the warnings on NZ is misleading, because its ban on processing was suspended during the staff vote and CSL's contract with NZ Blood requires it source alternate supplies.

In a statement to BusinessDay, CSL said that "given the unions lobbied hard against the offer we're encouraged that 40 per cent voted in favour – it looks like we are not far away from an offer that would be acceptable to the majority.

"We're restarting negotiations and are hopeful of reaching an agreement that's sensible for all parties.

"We think that threatening the supply of essential medicines to improve a pay bargaining position is pretty shocking especially when current employee pay and conditions are already very competitive and we are only four weeks past the expiry of the old agreement and actively open to negotiation."

But Michael Tull, national president of the CPSU, said the "resounding rejection from the workforce should be a very clear message to the employer that they need to get back to the table quickly.

"Everybody knows that CSL can in fact settle this quickly and easily; they can afford a better pay offer, they can offer better security."

Cameron Stops, site organiser with the National Union of Workers, said the result was a vindication of the union's opposition to the EBA. "The disquiet goes well beyond the union movement," he said.

The NUW is seeking 6 per cent over three years and the preservation of shift arrangements. The AMWU and CPSU are seeking 5 per cent per year; the CPSU is also focused on job security, particularly the risk that existing workers will be replaced by seasonal and short term workers.

The enterprise bargaining agreement covers about 1700 of CSL's 1800-strong Australian workforce.
Negotiations between the CSL and three unions started in April. The EBA expired at the end of June.

Exclusive: U.S. Weighs Retail Sweep After Wal-Mart Bribery Scandal

Reuters [27/7/12]:

U.S. authorities are considering launching a wide-ranging examination of the retail industry for violations of an anti-foreign bribery law, after Wal-Mart and other retailers have come forth with their own potential offenses, people familiar with the matter said.

Retailers have been reviewing their international operations in light of a bribery scandal at Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) operations in Mexico that is the subject of investigations by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The conduct was thrown into the public spotlight in April, when a New York Times report said that management at Wal-Mart de Mexico (WALMEXV.MX) orchestrated bribes of $24 million to help it grow quickly in the last decade and that Wal-Mart's top brass tried to cover it up.

Other retail companies have also since reported to U.S. agencies suspicions of their own potential violations, which in turn has the Justice Department and SEC considering a sweep of the entire industry, said the sources, who are working with companies who have unearthed potential issues but declined to be identified.

The people would not reveal which retail companies have reported problems, but the development could signal that the retail industry faces an expensive legal headache that could last for years.

An SEC spokesman, a DOJ spokeswoman and Wal-Mart declined to comment.

It is not clear which firms would be included in an industry sweep by authorities. A number of U.S. retailers, selling everything from apparel to electronics and office products, have extensive operations abroad.

The government teams that enforce the U.S. anti-foreign bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, have often turned to industry-wide reviews when they find misconduct at a few companies that could be indicative of more widespread problems.

The SEC as a regulatory agency usually conducts the sweeps, though the DOJ does on occasion participate as well.

Both agencies, for example, sent letters to a handful of pharmaceutical companies in 2010 asking for information about their businesses in countries around the world.

Earlier this year, the SEC sent letters of inquiry to major U.S. movie studios asking for information about their dealings in China.

"It wouldn't surprise me," said Daniel Nardello, a former federal prosecutor, about the prospect of an industry-wide review of retailers.

"They have taken an industry-based enforcement approach, and I'm sure this has piqued their interest and gotten their prosecutorial juices flowing," said Nardello, who now runs Nardello & Co, which helps companies investigate potential FCPA violations and other issues.

It is also not unusual for companies to go to the authorities to disclose their own problems after another industry player's problems come to light, though the defense bar has debated for years whether self-reporting an issue to the government provides a tangible benefit.

In several recent cases, the Justice Department has attempted to make clear that benefit, lawyers said.

A former Morgan Stanley (MS.N) executive pleaded guilty in April to charges related to a bribery scheme in China, for example, but the Justice Department said it would not charge the Wall Street firm for the conduct and cited Morgan Stanley's internal controls and cooperation as contributing factors.

Even without charges, foreign bribery investigations can tie up company resources and management attention.

"Sometimes they are fairly focused, but even if they are focused they still require companies to do a significant amount of work," said Lucinda Low, a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson who heads the firm's FCPA practice.

Requests from previous sweeps have asked for documents that range from dealings with a specific government agency, to detailed inquiries about a compliance program, to costs related to certain activities, lawyers familiar with such requests said.

Knitting Nannas Needle Lismore MP

Knitting Nannas Against Gas outside the office of Thomas George in Lismore. John Armstrong

Northern Star [27/7/12]:

In just five weeks the Knitting Nannas Against Gas phenomenon has gone global, attracting 13,000 people to their Facebook page last week and 11,000 this week.

Following a protest knit-in outside the office of member for Lismore Thomas George yesterday, KNAG member Clare Twomey said the dedicated grandmothers are off to Queensland next month to support the folk of Tara and Acland.

"We are going to carpool up to Brisbane and get on the bus run by the CSG-free Brisbane group," she said.

"We have been invited by the women of Tara to come and support them."

"The people of Tara are saying their community has been devastated by CSG mining and in the community of Ackland there is only one person left living there."

Ms Twomey said after the group's second protest yesterday they will continue to demonstrate until Thomas George listens to them.

"We would just like him to recognise that his job is to represent us and not his political party and we will just keep visiting him until he listens to us."

Malick To Star At Crisis-Themed Venice Film Festival

West Australian [27/7/12]:

US cult director Terrence Malick premieres his "To the Wonder" starring Ben Affleck at a crisis-themed Venice film festival next month alongside new talent from Guatemala, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.

Hollywood hunk Affleck, who stars in Malick's romantic drama, is expected on the red carpet of the world's oldest film festival, along with stars including Javier Bardem and Kate Hudson, organisers said Thursday.

"The main recurring theme is the crisis," festival director Alberto Barbera told reporters in Rome.

"The economic crisis, which is having devastating social effects, but also the crisis of values, the political crisis.

The 2012 edition of the festival on the shores of the watery city will feature the latest works by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano ("Outrage Beyond") and South Korean director Kim Ki-duk ("Pieta").

In the first, a sequel to Kitano's 2010 "Outrage", Japanese criminal gangs clash as police try to outwit the gangsters, while in "Pieta", a loan shark's world is turned upside down when he meets a woman claiming to be his mother.

The festival, which runs from August 29 to September 8, will feature 51 world premieres including "The Company You Keep," a thriller about a left-wing militant on the run from the FBI, directed by and starring Robert Redford.

Also showing for the first time are "Passion" by Brian De Palma and Spike Lee's documentary about Michael Jackson "Bad 25".

The hotly-awaited "Passion", De Palma's first feature film in six years, stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in a "Basic Instinct" style thriller which draws inspiration from Alain Corneau's 2010 French film "Love Crime."

"Bad 25", which focuses on the iconic artist's BAD album, features over 40 interviews conducted by Spike Lee with friends, collaborators and musicians involved in the BAD tour, from Kanye West to Mariah Carey and Sheryl Crow.

Other offerings include "Shokuzai" ("Penance") a five-hour horror epic by Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa originally shown as a television series, which Barbera said was "absolutely extraordinary".

The festival kicks off with a showing of US-based Indian director Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" -- a political thriller about a young Pakistani torn between Wall Street ambitions and the call of his homeland.

Italian director Marco Bellocchio, who was awarded the Career Golden Lion at the Venice festival last year, returns with "Dormant Beauty," a film which explores the theme of euthanasia and the meaning of life.

Inspired by the true story of Eluana Englaro, a young Italian who lived 17 years in a vegetative state after a car accident, it follows the last six days of her life and her father's fight to allow her to die naturally.

Barbera said the festival included several well-established directors but also aimed to showcase up-and-coming cinematographers to reflect what he called "a great productive ferment" in the industry despite the crisis.

One example is the film "Wadjda" by female director Haifaa Al Mansour from Saudi Arabia -- where cinemas are banned and women face discrimination.

The film tells the story of a little girl growing up in traditional society in the suburbs of Riyadh and desperate for a bicycle, which she is not allowed.

"We have taken risks. There are many established directors but also less famous directors and many unknown young directors from countries without cinematic traditions and without real access to the market," Barbera said.

"Festivals should revert to their original roles of exploration, of scoping out innovation, instead of relying only on the established producers," he said.

"A festival should not just be a catwalk for celebrities," he added.

Barbera also emphasised that out of around 50 films that will be shown 20 will be by female directors -- a pointed reference to the last Cannes film festival which was criticised for not including enough women.

One of the innovations at the festival will be that more than a dozen films will be screened online for a fee on the same day as their premiere.

The jury is headed up by US producer Michael Mann and will include Hong Kong director Peter Chan and British actress Samantha Morton.

New Great Keppel Island Proposal Floated

Nine MSN [27/7/12]:

A $600 million low-rise, eco-tourism resort to be built over 12 years has been proposed for Queensland's Great Keppel Island.

If approved, it will be one of the biggest tourism developments in Australia.

The resort proposal opens for public comment on Monday, when Queensland's co-ordinator general will release the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney says the environmentally friendly development will fit with the island's unique aspects.

The first stage proposes a new 250-suite hotel at Fisherman's Beach with accompanying restaurants and conference facilities.

It would also contain a 250-berth marina at Putney Beach including a yacht club and around 150 marine precinct apartments, a ferry terminal and staff accommodation.

Subsequent stages would include more villas, apartments and a Greg Norman-designed golf course.

The federal government in 2009 rejected a more ambitious $1.1 billion proposal for the island because it would have unacceptable impacts on the environment.

The 40-year-old resort island off central Queensland closed in 2008.

The public will have until September 7 to make submissions on state matters.

Chinese And EU Solar Makers At War Over Dumping

France 24 [27/7/12]:

A host of EU solar makers have called on the European Commission to probe alleged dumping practices by its Chinese rivals, as Beijing warned an investigation could trigger a trade war.

EU ProSun, the group of more than 20 European solar companies, called on Brussels to "investigate unfair trade practices by Chinese manufacturers" in a statement Thursday.

The group suspects China of providing its solar players with large loans and other subsidies that allow them to sell their solar cells at prices below their production cost.

"Europe has the world's most advanced and innovative solar industry, but we've fallen on hard times and are faced with bankruptcy filings because of these Chinese products sold at rates that are up to 55 percent below cost production," EU ProSun President Milan Nitzschke told AFP.

The dumping practice referred to by Nitzschke -- also vice-president of German cell maker SolarWorld AG -- is banned by the European Union and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and was at the centre of a recent trade decision.

The United States decided in May to slap hefty anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar cell makers, which Beijing blasted as "protectionist".

Now the European solar firms want the EU to follow suit with trade defence measures of its own, as they struggle to keep up with their Asian rivals.

According to an International Energy Agency (IEA) ranking, seven of the world's leading manufacturers of solar modules are Chinese.

Industry pioneer Germany, in particular, has felt the strain, with local solar firms going belly up right up to the industry flagship Q-Cells.

And in France, fellow veteran Photowatt was acquired by a power utility earlier this year after filing for insolvency.

But with EU solar firms sounding the alarm, China's manufacturers have fired back, calling the dumping allegations "groundless".

Four leading firms in China warned Thursday that a possible EU anti-dumping investigation could trigger a trade war and urged Beijing to step in to protect their interests.

They called on the Chinese government to block the case by opening dialogue with the European Union in the Thursday statement.

More than 60 percent of China's $35.8-billion-worth solar shipments were exported to the EU last year while the country imported $7.5 billion of European solar equipments and raw materials, they said.

A probe "would trigger a full scale trade war between China and Europe," they said, adding the country is a big market for European products including cars, aircraft, machines and luxury goods.

They added that any move to restrict market access would disrupt global efforts to achieve the goal of saving energy and cutting emissions in the long term.

The companies also said the growth of Chinese solar companies actually helped create most of the EU's current 300,000 jobs in related industries.

"Any additional punitive tax will also contribute to the loss of thousands of jobs in the European solar industry," Suntech Europe President Jerry Strokes told AFP Wednesday.

Suntech Power Holdings Co., one of the firms spearheading the Chinese offensive, is a global solar leader along with First Solar in the US.

In apparent retaliation to the US duties, China last week started a probe into alleged dumping of solar products by US manufacturers as well as alleged US government subsidies for the sector.

As for the EU probe, a spokesman for the EU Environment Commissioner said Thursday the office had yet to receive the complaint, which Nitzschke confirmed to AFP they had lodged this week.

Once the probe request is recorded, the Commission will have six weeks to make its decision. Germany has already committed to support its solar players in their battle.

Indonesia: Protest Shuts Down Jatibening Toll Road After Illegal Bus Depot Closure

Jakarta Globe [27/7/12]:

Efforts to clear out an unofficial transportation depot near the Jatibening toll road entrance sparked a destructive protest Friday morning as angry bus drivers blocked access to the toll road and set a vehicle ablaze, an official said.

A flood of bus drivers have made the area near the Jatibening entrance ramp a traffic nightmare as some 25 buses dropped passengers off every five minutes, according to Antara reports. When workers from toll road operator Jasa Marga Tbk tried to clear the area early Friday morning, the drivers erupted in protest, Wasta Gunadi, the spokesman of Jasa Marga told Antara.

Protestors blocked access to the toll road near kilometer eight, causing traffic to back up in both directions. They also overturned a Jasa Marga vehicle and set it on fire, Wasta said.

“[The protest] followed the closure of the Jatibening tollway access at kilometer 8,” Wasta said.

Buses, minibuses and other public transportation vehicles are prohibited from stopping near the entrance ramp, Wasta said.

“Stopping there, except for emergency cases, is against the law,” Wasta said, adding that because of the activities of these public transportation vehicles, “traffic congestion could not be avoided.”

Hasanudin, the operational director of Jasa Marga, said that the company was ready to negotiate with the protestors but will not change their stance on the transportation depot.

“We are ready to negotiate... let us together, look for an [alternative] location,” Hasanudin told reporters from tvOne.

Hassanudin said that the use of a toll road entrance ramp to discharging and taking in passengers “endangered the safety of hundreds of thousands users of the Jakarta Cikampek toll road.”

PNG: Shell Confirms Talks With InterOil

PNG Industry News [27/7/12]:

AMID months of speculation, oil major Shell has confirmed it is in talks with InterOil about taking a stake in its Gulf LNG project in Papua New Guinea.

In a second-quarter earnings conference call, Shell chief financial officer Simon Henry said the company had been in discussions with various companies in PNG, adding that Shell had been speaking with “Interoil over quite some period of time”.

InterOil began a formal process to find a suitable LNG operator for the project last October.

Since then it had received interest from the Far East Consortium, comprising Korean Gas Corporation, Japan Petroleum Exploration Company and InterOil’s condensate stripping plant project partner Mitsui.

Shell, along with US major Chevron, has also been thrown into the mix.

State-owned Gulf LNG project partner Petromin and the former PNG government had both supported Shell as their preferred candidate.

Shell has a strategic alliance with the government’s state nominee for the Gulf LNG project, Petromin.

As of last year, the Gulf LNG project was targeting 5 million tonnes per annum in 2014, with 3MMtpa from an Energy World Corporation-designed onshore modular LNG plant in Gulf province and the rest from a floating LNG facility.

There is also a proposed ramp-up aiming to hit up to 8MMtpa from the total project through 2015 and 2016.

Back in 2009, the project was based on a 7.6-10.6MMtpa LNG plant near Port Moresby.

All project plans are based on commercialising InterOil’s Elk-Antelope discoveries in PNG’s Gulf.

Meanwhile, the supermajor has reported a 25% drop in Q2 earnings compared to the same time last year due to weaker oil and gas prices.

Earnings for the quarter reached $US6 billion compared to $8 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

Shell said the drop in Q2 earnings was due to weaker oil and North American gas prices offsetting higher production and improved refining margins.

“Our industry continues to see significant energy price volatility as a result of economic and political developments,” Shell chief executive officer Peter Voser said.

“Our profits have fallen with energy prices but our growth strategy is delivering to the bottom line.

“Shell is implementing a long-term consistent strategy against this volatile backdrop.

“Our plans for organic investment of around $32 billion in 2012 and medium-term financial and production growth are on track.”

PNG Oil Spill 'Minor', Says Company

Radio Australia [27/7/12]:

Papua New Guinea's biggest oil and gas producer has halted loading at one of its offshore terminals because of a minor oil spill.

Oil Search says there was a "minor incident" while oil was being loaded onto a tanker at its Kumul Marine Terminal in the Gulf of Papua.

In a statement, the company said loading was suspended after a "small number of oil droplets" were seen on the water.

Oil Search estimates less than one barrel of oil was released but bad weather is preventing efforts to inspect the loading line.

A diving support boat that can operate in rough conditions is not expected to arrive for at least a week.

The company says the impact on production has been minimal but storage facilities are nearly at full.

Corruption Body Widens Police Shooting Probe

ABC [27/7/12]:

The Police Integrity Commission has widened its inquiry into the fatal shooting of a mentally-ill Sydney man.

The corruption watchdog will hold public hearings next month into the internal investigation into the death of David Salter in 2009.

Police had claimed Mr Salter lunged at an officer with a knife, but a coronial inquest later found he had been stabbing himself.

The coroner condemned the investigation as prejudiced and inadequate.

Today, the PIC has announced it has extended the scope of its inquiry.

Commissioner Bruce James has told a preliminary hearing the commission will also investigate police reports and statements to the media.

The Police Commissioner made public comments about the case at the time.

The hearing has been told Andrew Scipione will be represented by a lawyer at the inquiry.

Philippines Clashes Leave 11 Dead

Radio Australia [27/7/12]:

Eleven people have been killed in clashes between government troops and rebels in the southern Philippines.

A senior military official says the clash broke out as government troops were pursuing Abu Sayyaf extremists who were harassing farmers in the southern province of Basilan.

The Abu Sayyaf attacked rubber plantation workers in the town of Maluso in a bid to extort from the company, killing six workers two weeks ago.

The official says the latest fighting intensified when about 40 armed bandits came as reinforcements for the Abu Sayyaf.

Of the dead, seven were government forces and four were rebels.

The heavily-forested island of Basilan has long been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the 1990s with seed money from Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The group has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history including deadly bombings and kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and Christians.

About 600 US troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf.

However the Americans are barred from taking part in actual combat.

Ireland: Bailout Exit Within Sight After €5bn Deal On The Markets

Donal O'Donovan, Irish Independent [27/7/12]:

The chances of a successful exit from the EU/IMF bailout at the end of next year increased dramatically yesterday after we borrowed more than €5bn on international markets.

It was the first deal of its kind since we were forced to cancel "bond auctions" in September 2010 -- a move that paved the way for the humiliation of the bailout.

As such, it represented a huge boost to the country's finances.

Now our economy has shown we can borrow long-term cash on the markets in our own name.

It makes it far more likely that the State can stand on its own two feet, funding itself without international rescue loans by the end of 2013, when the bailout is due to end.

That would spare us the pain and humiliation of a Greek-style second bailout and mean an end to supervision of Irish affairs by EU and IMF officials.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said: "This is a significant step for Ireland in regaining our economic sovereignty."

Insiders say around 60pc of the bond was sold to investors from abroad. The rest has gone to banks, insurers and pension funds here.

Donal O'Mahony, a bond trader at Davy Stockbrokers said: "Ireland returned to the markets in style."

Traders said the amount of cash raised exceeded even the most optimistic estimate.

Five Missing After Malaysian Chemical Tanker Fire

Radio Australia [26/7/12]:

Five crew members are missing after a Malaysian tanker caught fire in the South China Sea early on Thursday.

Shipping company MISC said the accident occurred at a methanol terminal run by national energy firm Petronas on the island of Labuan off the Malaysian portion of Borneo island.

In a statement MISC said the ship, a chemical and palm oil tanker, had 29 crew members - 23 Malaysians and six Filipinos.

"At present, 24 have been safely brought ashore whilst five are still unaccounted for," it said.

Petronas is the parent company of MISC.

The statement did not indicate what caused the fire or whether the tanker was loaded at the time.
Company officials declined to comment when contacted.

MISC said authorities had been notified of the accident and were responding but did not elaborate or provide any details.

Maori-Targetted Anti-Smoking Campaign Accused Of Zealotry

Radio Australia [AUDIO - 26/7/12]:

A Maori MP in New Zealand has lashed out at what he calls anti-smoking zealots.

Tau Henare, of the ruling National Party, got into an argument with an anti-smoking activist at a parliamentary hearing into the wellbeing of maori children.

He says smokers are being treated like the new lepers, and Maori smokers in particular are being lectured as if they are sick, dub and uneducated.

Mr Henarae believes ads designed to reduce the number of Maori smokers are actually having the opposite effect.

Inquest Probes Toddler Foster Care Death

ABC [26/7/12]:

A father whose young son died in foster care says he hopes an inquest into the toddler's death will expose flaws in Queensland's child safety system.

The Coroner's Court in Cairns, in far north Queensland, is this week examining the death of Luke Borusiewicz, 2, who died after sustaining head injuries while in the care of a 74-year-old woman in 2009.

Yesterday, the court heard the toddler's parents had raised concerns about bruises, abrasions and a burn he had sustained but nothing was done about their complaints.

The court heard that child safety officers had concerns about the fact the 74-year-old woman was looking after a number of children at her age but there were no other carers available.

Michael Borusiewicz says he has spent the past three years fighting for the truth about what happened to his son.

"I'll never get Luke back but I want to know that I've done everything I possibly can while he was alive and after his death," he said.

He says there should be a royal commission into child safety services Australia-wide.

"Well they're not going to bring Luke back but I want to see a fairer system for parents that have never abused their children," he said.

The inquest is expected to run for three days.

Radiation Doses 4 Times Larger For 'Outside Workers' At Nuclear Plants

Asahi [26/7/12]:

Nuclear plant workers not employed by the operating utilities were exposed to nearly four times the radiation doses received by utility employees, indicating that “outside workers” are often assigned the dangerous tasks, statistics showed.

In fiscal 2010, the accumulated dose total of all "outside workers," who make up the bulk of the work force at nuclear plants in Japan, was about 30 times that of utility employees.

The figures were derived from annual reports the electric power companies submit to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency about the radiation doses of workers--both their own employees and other workers--at nuclear power plants across Japan.

The other workers include contract workers hired by partner companies, such as equipment manufacturers and subcontractors.

According to the latest reports, 62,961 workers were engaged in radiation-related tasks in fiscal 2010 at nuclear power plants in Japan. (The figure does not include Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 and Fukushima No. 2 plants that were damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.)

Overall, the workers were exposed to a dose of 1 millisievert on average, or a total of 61 sieverts for all workers.

But when broken down, the figures show that the 7,701 utility employees received an average radiation dose of 0.3 millisievert for an overall total of 2 sieverts. For the 55,260 "other workers," or 88 percent of all workers, the average dose was 1.1 millisieverts for a total of 59 sieverts.

As the dose levels increased, the ratio of utility employees decreased.

Utility employees accounted for 13 percent of all workers with doses up to 5 millisieverts, but that proportion plunged to 0.48 percent in the 5-10 millisievert bracket and 0.24 percent in the 10-15 millisievert range.

None of the 281 workers who were exposed to more than 15 millisieverts was a utility employee. The highest exposure level recorded was 19.6 millisieverts.

Similar tendencies can be traced back to earlier years.

For example, in fiscal 2009, the 9,195 “other workers” at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were exposed to an average radiation dose of 1.5 millisieverts for a total of 14 sieverts. That far exceeded the average dose of 0.8 millisievert for the 1,108 TEPCO employees for a total of 0.85 sievert.

Only two of the 257 workers who were exposed to more than 10 millisieverts were TEPCO employees.

The annual dose limit for male nuclear plant workers is 50 millisieverts during normal times. There have been no reports of figures exceeding that limit, which is considered safe against acute radiation syndrome.

There is, however, no consensus on the long-term effects of low-dose radiation exposure.

The average dose of TEPCO employees outstripped that of outside workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant during the period between March 11, 2011, when the accident started, and May this year. That was because many TEPCO employees at the plant were exposed to high radiation doses.

But more than five times as many outside workers as TEPCO employees were exposed to radiation at the crippled plant.

Castro Warns: We're No One's Puppet

Morning Star Online [26/7/12]:

Cuban President Raul Castro today told thousands at a Revolution Day rally near Washington's Guantanamo Bay concentration camp that Havana wants peace - but is nobody's puppet.

Veteran revolutionary Castro took the US to task in a short speech to mark the failed assault on the Moncada barracks in July 1953.

He was in defiant mood as he declared: "If they want to hold a discussion we will do so, but on equal terms, because we are no-one's subjects, nor a colony, nor anyone's puppets."

Minutes earlier Vice-President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura had used his keynote address to condemn the US base at Guantanamo, vowing "never, under any circumstance, will we stop trying to recover that piece of ground."

And Mr Castro accused Washington of longing for the days when it had complete control over the island's affairs.

"We have no interest in harming anyone, but our people will defend themselves, and we all know what to do under any circumstance," he said.

The president was jailed for 22 months for his part in the failed attack at Moncada.

He and fellow revolutionaries including brother Fidel and Ernesto "Che" Guevara didn't repeat the mistake.

They unseated the US-backed Batista regime in 1959.

Visitors from US-based Pastors for Peace have met relatives in Havana of the Miami Five political prisoners jailed by the US for monitoring anti-Cuban terrorists in Florida.

The pastors' annual caravan is in Cuba after a tour of 100 US and Canadian cities to collect aid.

Caravan co-leader Gail Walker told Prensa Latina: "A great injustice is being committed. Supporting them is an extension of our faith."

UK: PCC Rejects Bell Pottinger’s Complaint Against Bureau Investigation

Rachel Oldroyd, TBIJ [26/7/12]:

The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint against the Independent newspaper from Bell Pottinger Group, following a Bureau investigation into the lobbying company.

Bell Pottinger had complained through Carter-Ruck solicitors that a series of articles produced by the Bureau, published in the Independent last December, had been based on information obtained through subterfuge. Bell Pottinger claimed the material was not of sufficient public interest to merit the Bureau’s undercover investigation.

But the PCC agreed with the Bureau that there was a ‘broad public interest in exploring the relationship between lobbying and politics’ and that it would not have been possible to obtain details of the techniques used to represent tainted regimes through other means.

The Bureau’s editor Iain Overton welcomed the ruling: ‘During our undercover filming Bell Pottinger executives explained to us that one of the PR tools they used to attack news stories was to make an official complaint to the PCC. True to its word, Bell Pottinger went on the offensive following our exposé claiming foul.

‘Bell Pottinger’s bluster had no substance. The PCC’s final ruling exonerates our journalism and reinforces that undercover filming, when done in the public interest, has an important role to play in exposing wrongdoings.’

The Bureau embarked on its investigation into Bell Pottinger after examining the extent of lobbying conducted by UK companies on behalf of foreign regimes with appalling human rights records. London, it seemed, had become famous as the image-laundering capital of the world.

We were also struck by comments made by David Cameron when in opposition, warning that lobbying was ‘the next big scandal waiting to happen’ and that had ‘tainted our politics for too long’.

The Bureau took its obligations as journalists seriously. We closely examined the area before taking any steps towards undercover filming. We gathered information about PR companies and the many regimes they represented. We spoke to human rights organisations critical of British PR companies and their involvement with unsavory governments. We spoke to senior PR executives off the record about methods used to ‘clean’ reputations and we spoke to campaigners about the lack of transparency around the PR world.

It was only after this extensive work that we decided to approach a group of companies posing as representatives of the Uzbek cotton industry, an industry that has a well-reported appalling human rights record.

The Bureau initially approached 10 companies that we felt represented troubling foreign governments and regimes. Of these, only five firms, including Bell Pottinger suggested they might be prepared to represent the Uzbek cotton industry and agreed to meet us.

Although we filmed meetings with five companies, we felt only three deserved publication. By far the most revealing meetings were those that our fictional Uzbek representatives had with Bell Pottinger executives.
As recognised by the PCC adjudication, the material gained from two meetings in June and July with these Bell Pottinger executives ‘provided significant insight into the means employed by lobbyists to assist such clients [brutal foreign regimes], including the network of political contacts that would assist this process.’

In the meetings senior executives of Bell Pottinger showed few signs of being deterred by the industry’s dire reputation. And if they were in any doubt about the levels of alleged human rights abuses, our fictional Uzbek representatives were careful to make them fully aware that they would be signing up a client with whose dire reputation was probably deserved.

While the Bell Pottinger executives made it clear that the Uzbek government would need to put reforms in place if it were to improve its image, they stressed that was not an immediate barrier to taking on the job of representing the regime.

They talked openly about the work the firm had done with other regimes including Sri Lanka and Belarus and explained how they could build a positive campaign and work behind the scenes in the corridors of power.

Tim Collins, managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, boasted about his access to Downing Street.

‘I've been working with people like Steve Hilton [Cameron’s former advisor], David Cameron, George Osborne for 20 years-plus. There is not a problem getting the messages through’.

They spoke about how they had persuaded David Cameron to speak to the Chinese premier on behalf of one of their business clients, Dyson. Downing Street categorically denied this.

His colleague David Wilson boasted the firm was the ‘most powerful public affairs business in the country’.
Asked whether he could help organise a meeting between Cameron and the Uzbek president – despite protocol dictating that such meetings are organised by the Foreign Office – he said: ‘We can facilitate that’.

When talking about the methods used they suggested the company had a host of ‘dark arts’ it could draw on to manage the online reputations of its clients. This included manipulating Google results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour. And they revealed the company had a team that could ‘sort’ negative Wikipedia entries.

The firm admitted in the meetings that it could not put any of these methods in a written presentation because ‘it’s embarrassing if it gets out’.

The Bureau, the Independent and now the PCC believe our investigation shone a light on a side of lobbying that had not been exposed before, and added weight to calls for a robust and complete register.

This register would include who the lobbyist is, who they work for, the area of policy they are hoping to influence and which government department or agency they are trying to influence.

The Bureau’s Overton added that this was even more important in light of our findings. ‘When you consider this in light of the human rights abuses of the governments Bell Pottinger has represented (Sri Lanka, Belarus, Qatar to name just three) it reinforces the real need for a legal and public register of clients – as practiced in the US.’

News Corp. Goes to School: Media Giant Sets Sights On Education Biz

Daily Finance [26/7/12]:

By John Grgurich, The Motley Fool

Parents of America, are you ready for your children's education to be fair and balanced? News Corp. (NWS) announced Monday that it will collaborate with AT&T (T) to bring digital education services and products to U.S. schools.

News Corp.? Yes, News Corp. At first blush, it may seem the company has no business in the education market. However, companies from many different sectors are rushing to get in on the digital-education boom, some with a better pedagogical pedigree than others, and some with better focus and energy than others.

And when you look more closely at News Corp.'s plans, it's evident that theirs is no half-hearted effort.

Turning Up the Volume

This new education division of News Corp. will be called Amplify, and will be organized around three key areas of business:

Amplify Insight focuses on educational analytics and assessment through Wireless Generation, an Amplify subsidiary that's been making mobile, digital assessment, and instructional tools for teachers for more than a decade.

Amplify Learning will create a new digital curriculum that aligns to state standards and is driven by technologies that adapt to students' needs. Core subjects will include English language arts, science, and math.

Amplify Access will develop new distribution and delivery mechanisms to bring the new digital curriculum into the classroom or the home.

It's the final bullet -- Amplify Access -- that really tells the tale of News Corp.'s determination to make a go of it in the education market. And that's where the company's collaboration with AT&T comes in.

Children, Please Open Your Tablets

Amplify will offer what it's calling a "breakthrough, 4G, mobile tablet-based platform" to access the new curriculum. 4G is the next-generation wireless communications standard, and is set to offer faster service than the current 3G. This will allow more to be done via wireless streaming, like kids diving into a full-blown school curriculum.

Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, Amplify and AT&T will launch a pilot program to introduce these new curriculum and tablet-computing products. In the pilot phase, AT&T will provide the 4G tablets and technical services.

"It is our aim," Amplify CEO Joel Klein says, "to amplify the power of digital innovation to transform teaching and learning and to help schools deliver fundamentally better experiences and results. Amplify will introduce new products in a thoughtful way, so that technology can finally live up to its promise to advance learning and augment teaching for students, teachers, and parents everywhere."

You Take the High Road, We'll Make Money

Aside from Klein's high-road rhetoric, Amplify will also get News Corp. and AT&T into the booming education market, which one industry trade group estimates to be worth $7.5 billion in the U.S. alone.

But while it's certainly booming, it's also a market that's already full of big players.

In January, Apple (AAPL) announced its collaboration with publishers McGraw-Hill (MHP) and Pearson (PSO), creating a service that allows textbook makers to create fully interactive titles for Apple's ubiquitous iPad. These three companies represent a lot of experience, a lot of money, and a lot of determined people already hard at work in the digital education and delivery sector.

So while News Corp.'s efforts are clearly serious, it remains to be seen whether the company has arrived after the school bell has already rung.

John Grgurich is a regular contributor to the Motley Fool, and owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and McGraw-Hill. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.

Droughts And Mirages In Washington And Beyond

Raj Patel [25/7/12]:

If you’re wondering whether the US drought will create a global food crisis, the answer’s easy. It’s yes, because there’s a food crisis already. The latest year for which we have figures is 2010, when 925 million people were declared malnourished. Soon after the number was announced, the World Bank corrected it upward, and recently said that the number of hungry people is “almost 1 billion“.

Make no mistake: the US drought is fierce. In June this year, out of a possible 171,442 temperature records, 2,284 were broken and 998 were tied. The London Olympic Games should be so lucky. The drought isn’t merely bad because the crops are parched. Climate change has nudged the temperature more than a degree higher than the previous record-breaking US drought in the 1950s. The heat is killing natural systems, and making recovery far harder.

We don’t yet know what the final reckoning will be for food prices. Corn hit a record $8 a bushel on Monday (in September 2006, the price was nearer $2 a bushel). The price is driven by a demand for animal feed, high-fructose corn syrup, and an incredibly stupid US biofuels policy that mandates the transformation of food into ethanol. With the US producing over half of world corn exports, and with the price of those exports set by domestic uses of corn, the US drought will have a profound impact on prices.

Other grains aren’t having a great year either. The US is a major soy exporter, and prices have soared over the past few days. Nor is America the only place to suffer extreme weather. This year, a late monsoon in India, and an ongoing southern European heatwave, add to the uncertainty about harvests and crops.

Uncertainty is profitable. The Food and Agriculture Organisation is worried about price swings, even though prices are far from their 2011 peaks. Volatile prices create markets for hedge funds to trade and gamble on future trends. Traders, enabled by lax futures regulations, are perhaps the only people to see the bright side of the beating sun.

Which is why it’s worth looking to history. Record-breaking weather, farmers losing crops, banks repossessing land from the poor, a president scorned by his opponents for socialism. We’ve seen this before.

Such were the conditions of the dust bowl in the 1930s. Then, the drought stretched across most of the decade. By 1938, 80% of the Great Plains had been damaged by wind erosion. In large part, it was because farmers on small farms weren’t taking care of the soil. What would bring farmers to the point of destroying the soil on which they depended? Most of them were deeply indebted to banks, and hanging on by their fingernails. Environmental destruction staved off financial oblivion.

In response, the Soil Conservation Service was created to help farmers directly. But farmers’ financial crises needed more than tree-planting. The dust bowl was also tackled with changes in the banking system, regulation to stop foreclosure, stabilisation policies to stop wild swings in prices, and even, as part of the New Deal, employment in the Worlds Progress Administration to help the former family farmers cast off their land for ever.

These policies didn’t come easily. They were the fruits of widespread organising, from the work of socialist leagues to the populism of Huey Long.

All of this is worth recording, because in the wake of the 2008 food price crisis, so little has changed. The US government hasn’t sufficient grain in its reserves to stabilise prices. Public grain reserves were shrugged off in the 1990s as inefficient. No sense in having mountains of grain when, in a pinch, the market could be counted on to provide. Perish the thought that governments might intervene in the banking sector, or engage in public works programmes so that the hungry, 60% of whom are women or girls, might afford to eat.

Instead, the US secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has this to offer: “I get on my knees every day, and I’m saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.” So politicians, parched of ideas, are supine. They chant mantras about the sparkle of the agricultural and financial innovation that will, soon, provide relief. But the heat is strong and the sun is high. Their oasis is a mirage.

Show Knocks Back Metgasco

Northern Star [25/7/12]:

The North Coast National has rejected a potentially lucrative sponsorship deal with Metgasco for this year's show amid allegations its management committee has been intimidated by anti-coal-seam gas protesters.

The Northern Star has been told by a reputable source that protesters threatened to make their "presence felt" at the show should the nine-member committee accept the sponsorship.

Show chairman John Gibson yesterday refused to confirm the threat but told the Northern Star the committee was concerned about a possible social media campaign to disrupt the annual event.

"It's a very difficult situation for the show committee and there were some frank discussions," he said.

"There were discussions (between the committee and protest groups) about what might happen in the lead-up to the show. In those discussions they said they weren't going to boycott the show but there are a lot of things people can do.

"Social media is very important these days and can get out of hand and some of those things were said during the discussions with those at the meeting who I can't name."

Mr Gibson said while the show had not had formal talks with Metgasco about the value of any sponsorship deal, last year the Casino-based gas producer sponsored the show to the tune of $15,000.

It is understood the committee twice met with groups opposed to CSG, but didn't meet face-to-face with any Metgasco representative.

Metgasco wrote a letter to the committee after the decision was made saying it was "disappointed that we were not provided the opportunity to address (the committee) prior to the decision ... to correct the record".

"We do not believe your committee's decision was based on sound information and believe it contrary to positions taken by many other responsible and informed groups."

The letter obtained by The Northern Star was written by Metgasco chief executive Peter Henderson. He said the company was also surprised to be offered a stall at the show after its sponsorship was rejected.
"We find this somewhat confusing and inconsistent," he wrote.

Watching Syria, Remembering Nicaragua

Richard Becker, Information Clearing House [22/7/12]:

On July 18, a huge bomb blast killed or critically wounded several top Syrian security officials. While the “Free Syrian Army,” claimed credit, the highly sophisticated July 18 bombing in Damascus has the earmarks not of an operation by a recently organized paramilitary group, but instead of the CIA and/or the Israeli Mossad.

The bombing was greeted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as showing “real momentum” for the Western-backed opposition in that country. The New York Times, in a July 19 front page article, extolled the opposition bomb makers’ “honing” of their skills. The White House and State Department weighed in with similar, very thinly veiled expressions of approval.

It would be impossible to imagine similar sentiments emanating from Washington and New York policy makers and their corporate media propagandists in regard to a truly progressive or revolutionary movement.

July 19 also marked the 33rd anniversary of the triumph of one such revolution, led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua (FSLN).

Then, there was no praise for the FSLN in either the halls of Congress or in the capitalist media. The Carter administration engaged in a strenuous effort to prevent the FSLN from taking power against the brutal and thoroughly corrupt regime of Anastasio Somoza which had ruled the country for more than four decades. It was only the Sandinistas’ fighting spirit, organization and sacrifice that ended the Somoza dictatorship.

The heroic achievements of the Sandinista fighters against Somoza’s U.S.-created and armed National Guard were never hailed by the mainstream media here. No celebratory articles about how the youthful FSLN combatants were “honing” their skills to such a remarkable degree that they were able, while receiving little outside aid, to defeat the far-better armed Guard.

On the contrary, while there were tactical differences in ruling class circles—reflected in various competing newspapers, radio and TV networks—there was consensus from day one on the aim: destruction of the Sandinista revolution.

A July 10, 1979 New York Times article bluntly characterized the role of the U.S. “as final arbiter of Nicaragua’s political destiny.” It went on to say that the Carter administration, “has indicated that General Somoza’s resignation will become effective only when the U.S. is satisfied with the composition and political program of the successor regime … The U.S. had convinced him [Somoza] to delay his departure until it had, in the words of one U.S. official, ‘neutralized’ the radical elements of the opposition.”

By July 1979, the death toll stood at close to 50,000—mostly civilian victims of the National Guard—in a country of fewer than 2.5 million people. Much of the country lay in ruins. But the Carter administration had no problem prolonging the fighting and adding to the already staggering casualties and destruction in pursuit of its aim: continued domination of Central America.

When the new FSLN government refused to bow to the dictates of Washington, the people of Nicaragua were subjected to a decade of deadly punishment. The U.S. allowed the criminal Somoza to bring the devastated country’s treasury with him when he was granted asylum.

Harsh economic sanctions were imposed on the country, one of the poorest in the Americas. The country’s main port was mined by the U.S. navy, and a total U.S. embargo put in place in 1985.

The CIA created, funded and armed a murderous counter-revolutionary paramilitary known as the Contras. More than 50,000 Nicaraguans died in the war that followed. The Contras' tactics were murder, rape, torture and destruction. They killed doctors, nurses, teachers; burned health clinics, schools, co-operatives. Their thuggish leaders were wined and dined by Congresspersons and presidents.

Today, the CIA is coordinating the arming and many operations of the “Free Syrian Army, ” vetting which forces should receive weapons. (NY Times, June 21, 2012) U.S. intelligence agencies and their counterparts in the former colonizers of the Middle East, Britain and France, along with Israel’s, are undoubtedly doing much more.

The Syrian National Council, a group mainly made up of long-time and mostly unknown exiles, is treated by the U.S. and its allies as a legitimate government-in-waiting.

U.S. leaders are 100 percent behind the armed FSA/SNC revolt in Syria for the same reason that they opposed the Sandinista revolution and supported the Contras in Nicaragua. They are confident that the victory of the Syrian opposition would be their victory as well, and another step toward full U.S. domination of the Middle East.

This article was originally published at LiberationNews