Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Swaziland king's Facebook exposure of party lifestyle could lose him friends...

Swaziland's royal family have long kept their distance from the paparazzi in a way British royals can only dream about. Not any more, thanks to the rise of Swazi Leaks, an online group determined to expose the opulent lifestyle of Africa's last absolute monarch.

The movement, inspired by Julian Assange's WikiLeaks, frequently publishes pictures of King Mswati and his family living the high life. One recent post says: "Our taxes pay for the king's children to party in Los Angeles in the USA, will we struggle to eat here in Swaziland."

The intimacy of the photos suggest someone in the king's inner circle may be leaking information about his movements.

All of which must come as a shock to Mswati, who rules Swaziland with an iron fist: opposition parties are banned, protests are swiftly crushed and a magazine editor and human rights lawyer were recently jailed.

The king owns a private jet, fleet of luxury cars and has a fortune estimated at about $100m (£60m). Meanwhile, about 60% of the population live on less than $1 a day. Full story...

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'Hundreds in jail for exercising their human rights in Bahrain'

Lights off on Singapore's billionaire row as luxury house prices plunge...

There's an eerie silence at night in Sentosa Cove, the man-made island resort billed as Singapore's answer to Monte Carlo and the only place in the country where foreigners can buy landed property.

Dozens of houses - complete with their own private yacht berths and multiple swimming pools - sit empty while few lights are on in the apartment blocks overlooking the marina, a few kilometres away from Sentosa's giant casino.

Prices in the gated community, where Australian mining tycoons Gina Rinehart and Nathan Tinkler bought properties, fell around 20 percent in the past year as lending restrictions and taxes on foreign buyers burst a bubble in the Southeast Asian financial hub's luxury real estate market.

Investors could see the value of their assets fall even further with developers and investors still struggling to sell even after the recent price falls. Real estate websites list hundreds of flats and bungalows for sale, yet just 12 apartments and one house have changed hands all year on Sentosa, according to data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

"The way prices have fallen in Sentosa, it's as if there is a global financial crisis," said Alan Cheong, head of Singapore research at property firm Savills. Full story...

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Rights group slams Thai detention of child migrants and refugees...

A Somali infant lived more than three years in an overcrowded and unsanitary room.

Due to a lack of space, a 9-year-old girl and her younger brother regularly slept sitting up during their three-year detention.

Every year, Thailand arbitrarily and indefinitely detains thousands of child migrants and asylum seekers due to their immigration status or that of their parents, according to a new report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The children are exposed to violence, denied access to education, nutritious food, and space for recreation, and held in squalid conditions in what amounted to a “modern-day debtor’s prison” until their parents could pay for their repatriation, said the report.

Such detentions are not in accordance with international law, violate children’s rights, risk their health and wellbeing and threaten their development, the U.S.-based rights group added. Full story...

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Castro compares NATO to Nazi SS, slams US, Israel for ‘creating ISIS’

Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro compared NATO’s recent statements to that of Nazi SS and accused US and its allies of igniting conflicts abroad. Castro slammed John McCain for backing Israel and accused both of being involved in the creation of ISIS.

Apparently referring to the pressure the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been trying to exert on Moscow in connection with the Ukrainian crisis, which coincides with calls for theramping up of military budgets of NATO member countries, Cuba’s iconic leader accused Western politicians of hypocrisy and aggression.

“Many people are astonished when they hear the statements made by some European spokesmen for NATO when they speak with the style and face of the Nazi SS,” Castro wrote in a column published in Cuban state media.

“Adolf Hitler’s greed-based empire went down in history with no more glory than the encouragement provided to NATO’s aggressive and bourgeois governments, which makes them the laughing stock of Europe and the world.”
 Castro, 88, also attacked US Senator John McCain over his policies in the Middle East, describing him as “Israel’s most unconditional ally.” Full story...

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Monday, September 01, 2014

The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post...

The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.

As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.

This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.

The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.

Of the 680,000 individuals on that FBI master list, roughly 40% have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”, according to the Intercept. These individuals don’t even have a connection – as the government loosely defines it – to a designated terrorist group, but they are still branded as suspected terrorists. Full story...

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'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain...

The parents of Ashya King, the five-year-old boy who was taken out of hospital against doctors’ orders, have been arrested after they were found with their son in Spain.

Hampshire Police said King and his parents were pulled over in their family car by Malaga police at 9pm UK time on Saturday.

Police said the young boy, who has a brain tumour and requires extensive medical care, showed “no visible signs of distress” and has been taken to hospital.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead of Hampshire Constabulary said Ashya’s parents, Brett King, 51, and Naghemeh King, 45, were in custody after being arrested on a European arrest warrant. Police have 72 hours to question the pair before handing them over to a judge, who will then initiate extradition proceedures.

Shead said Hampshire Constabulary makes "no apology" for the police's strong actions in the search operation for Ashya, adding: "We had medical experts telling us that Ashya was in grave danger. More + video...

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Water ATM’s bring relief to thirsty Rajasthan...

 A Scottish energy major and modern technology have combined to bring about a revolution in two districts of Rajasthan that were infamous due to the scarcity of potable water.

Thanks to water ATMs, many otherwise arid villages here have 24×7 access to the commodity at the swipe of a card – at 20 litres for Rs 5.

Under Cairn India’s Jeevan Amrit Project, kiosks with reverse osmosis (RO) plants have been installed to provide safe drinking water in villages like Bhakharpur, Kawas, Guda, Jogasar, Aakdada and Baytu to benefit 22,000 people.

“The project is a good example of a PPP model, where Cairn India has partnered with the Rajasthan government’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), Tata Projects and the respective village panchayats to provide potable drinking water at the doorsteps of the local community,” Cairn India CSR head Nilesh Jain told IANS.

Rajasthan, with 10.4 per cent of the country’s geographical area, 5.5 per cent of the population and 18.70 per cent of the livestock, has only 1.16 per cent of surface water available in the country. The state is one of the driest states of the country.

Rainfall is erratic and there is a large variation in its distribution pattern in the state. The average annual rainfall ranges from 100 mm in Jaisalmer to 800 mm in Jhalawar. Full story...

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Muslims face blame after UK abuse scandal...

Israel grabs 400 hectares of West Bank land...

The United States has urged Israel to reverse its decision to seize nearly 400 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank, a move anti-settlement activists termed the largest land grab in 30 years.

Israel announced the massive land appropriation on Sunday in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem just days after Gaza ceasefire.

A Palestinian official said the latest land grab by Israel would cause only more friction after the Gaza war that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead and over 10,000 injured.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. "This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza," presidential spokesman Abu Rdainah said.

A US State Department official called the announcement as "counterproductive to Israel's stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians". Full story...

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Inside modern Iran, where porn and prostitution are rampant...

To live in Tehran, writes British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai in this collection of true stories, requires one essential skill: lying.

“Morals don’t come into it,” Navai writes. “Lying in Tehran is about survival . . . when the truth is shared in Tehran, it is an act of extreme trust or absolute desperation.”

“City of Lies” features eight sprawling tales (all names have been changed, as have certain details, and several characters are composites). Each focuses on an individual, but Navai uses these personal stories to observe how people live, love and survive in a society ruled by fundamentalists.

Iranian youth read “Harry Potter,” watch Hollywood
films like “The Bling Ring,” smoke joints and listen to Metallica and Radiohead — all the while knowing that one misstep can ruin their reputations and lives, including the possibility of prison or death. For women, sex outside marriage could mean “up to 100 lashes.” If convicted of adultery, a woman could be executed.

“Somayeh” (each story is named after its central character) concerns a 17-year-old girl, her father, Haj Agha, and her mother, Fatemeh.

Somayeh and her classmates were virgins, but “a handful had experienced illicit encounters, mostly with their cousins, who were the only males they were allowed to be in contact with,” Navai writes. Full story...

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HSBC awards 15 top bankers £7.1m in move to sidestep bonus rules...

HSBC has given 15 of its top bankers “fixed pay allowance arrangements” worth £7.1m under a controversial new pay scheme designed to dodge tough new European Union rules on bankers’ bonuses.

Britain’s biggest bank awarded Samir Assaf, the head of its investment bank, £1.5m worth of shares, and chief executive Stewart Gulliver was given shares worth £850,000.

Peter Wong, deputy chairman and head of the Asia-Pacific region, was given £760,000 worth. Iain Mackay, finance director, and Marc Moses, chief risk officer, got £470,000 worth.

The awards are part of big banks’ plans to increase the basic pay of executives to sidestep tough new EU rules designed to clamp down on excessive bonuses.

Banks have turned to awarding fixed pay allowances after the EU ruled to cap bonuses to 200% of salary, even if shareholders wanted to approve higher payments. Full story...

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Myth of arctic meltdown: Stunning satellite images show summer ice cap is thicker and covers 1.7million square kilometres MORE than 2 years ago...despite Al Gore's prediction it would be ICE-FREE by now...

The speech by former US Vice-President Al Gore was apocalyptic. ‘The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff,’ he said. ‘It could be completely gone in summer in as little as seven years. Seven years from now.’

Those comments came in 2007 as Mr Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaigning on climate change.

But seven years after his warning, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that, far from vanishing, the Arctic ice cap has expanded for the second year in succession – with a surge, depending on how you measure it, of between 43 and 63 per cent since 2012.

To put it another way, an area the size of Alaska, America’s biggest state, was open water two years ago, but is again now covered by ice.

The most widely used measurements of Arctic ice extent are the daily satellite readings issued by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is co-funded by Nasa. These reveal that – while the long-term trend still shows a decline – last Monday, August 25, the area of the Arctic Ocean with at least 15 per cent ice cover was 5.62 million square kilometres.

This was the highest level recorded on that date since 2006 (see graph, right), and represents an increase of 1.71 million square kilometres over the past two years – an impressive 43 per cent. Full story...

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Rotherham, the left and their big fat multi-cultural lie...

PICTURE the scene; a taxi is pulled over by an officer from South Yorkshire Police who finds a half-naked 12-year-old in the back of the cab so drunk or drugged that she can hardly stand. When interviewed, the taxi driver is found to have pornographic pictures of the girl on his phone.

The officer hands back the phone and – no doubt with a smart salute and a cheery “Mind how you go sir” – waves the child rapist on his way.

To to do otherwise would be racist, because the taxi driver happened to be Asian, you see. Our police may no longer be much good at protecting the vulnerable, but they are world experts when it comes to respecting “cultural sensitivities”. Isn’t it good to know that all that expensive diversity training has gone to good use?

Four months later, the same child is found naked hiding under a bed in a house occupied by a gang of Muslim men. This time the brave bobbies excelled themselves – they let the gang go free and arrested the girl for being drunk and disorderly.

On two other occasions fathers who turned up at the houses where their children were being gang raped by large groups of men were themselves arrested when they tried to stop the abuse and rescue the children. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it? Full story...

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Your brain on coffee...

Bahrain arrests top human rights activist...

The prominent Bahrain human rights activist and critic of the ruling family, Maryam al-Khawaja, has been arrested by authorities on her arrival at the Gulf state's airport.

Posts on the Twitter account of Khawaja said she had been charged with insulting the king, assaulting police
officers, and faced charges for her involvement with the rights campaign, Wanted For Justice.

Khawaja, the co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, is the daughter of Shia Muslim activist Abdulhadi Abdulla Hubail al-Khawaja, who has been in custody in Bahrain since 2011 and is on hunger strike.

The Reuters news agency reported her mother Khadija al-Musawi as saying her daughter would be transferred to the public prosecution court on Sunday.

A later post on her Twitter account stated that she would be held for seven days and was not allowed to see a lawyer before her interrogation.

Khawaja, who has lived abroad for several years, had returned to Bahrain to see her father, who recently decided to go on a new hunger strike. Her sister, Zainab, had been released from custody on Friday pending further investigation. Full story...

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Ecuador’s women turn to boxing to fight sexual violence...

After surviving a harrowing rape attempt, Any Hurtado took up boxing — and found herself surrounded by other Ecuadoran women using their fists for protection in a country torn by sexual violence.

Statistics paint a disturbing picture of the threats women face in the South American country: six out of every 10 have been the victims of gender-based aggression, and one girl in 10 suffers sexual abuse before the age of 18.

Hurtado, a 17-year-old nursing student, lived through her own horror story last year.


She was walking home when a group of men surrounded her and tried to rape her.

“They started grabbing me and trying to assault me,” she told AFP.

“As I was struggling against them I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get away. But I found the strength somewhere. I hit the one closest to me and managed to run away.” Full story...

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Dear Mr. President, why I'm leaving America...

“Dear Mr. President,

I am writing with a heavy heart as I, my husband, and our daughter are all seriously contemplating giving up our U.S. citizenship. We are doing this not to avoid paying U.S. taxes but because we strongly object to a system that is blatantly discriminatory and unfair to law-abiding Americans living outside the country. In addition, it has become too expensive, too difficult, and frankly, too frightening, to try to comply with all of the tax filing requirements that now apply to citizens living abroad.

My husband is 70 years old and I am 69. I was born in St. Louis, my husband in Denver, and our daughter in Toronto. When my husband graduated with a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania, and I with a law degree from Villanova, both in 1971, he received a job offer to teach U.S. history to Canadian university students. I began teaching law at the same university. We never expected to stay in Canada but, as you know, life is often unpredictable and we have now happily lived here for 43 years. I retired many years ago and my husband more recently.

(...)

What America is doing to its own citizens living in other countries is not right and we have had enough. What I have outlined here is only part of the problem. All we want in return for fulfilling our responsibilities as Americans is to be treated fairly and equally. We are performing our part of the bargain. America is not.

There are approximately one million Americans living and working in Canada, and millions more in other parts of the world. I understand from our specialized tax accountant, and our cross-border consultant, that we are not alone in contemplating or taking this very dramatic and previously inconceivable step of relinquishing our U.S. citizenship. What a sad state of affairs for America and for its citizens everywhere. Full story...

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7 important details nobody mentions about Ferguson...

(...)

After many days of putting off the report's release, the Ferguson police have since admitted to never even filing one. Incident reports are incredibly important (and required), and they should ideally be written within 24 hours of the incident (for hopefully obvious reasons). But they didn't even write one. Isn't that fucking coo-coo bananas, y'all? I guess they either just never got around to it or never got around to wanting to tell the truth about it. Either way, there's that.

Or there that is not, I guess.

So Darren Wilson, allegedly savagely attacked in the line of duty, didn't file an incident report about it, nor did anyone in the department. Don't worry, because that very day the case was handed over to the big guns: the St. Louis Police Department. After a request from the ACLU, the STLPD refused to release a copy of their department's incident report, and spoiler alert, it's because they didn't write one either.

After the first refusal, the ACLU sued the STLPD for the report's release under the state's Sunshine Law. This eventually made the department admit that they never filed a report either, as I spoiled for you earlier. After the ACLU won the case, the St. Louis PD wrote up this baby 10 days after the shooting and released it 12 nights after the shooting. Full story...

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Stoic Punjabi Sikh Wedding...

Sri Lanka must change, urge unions and intellectuals...

Many health professionals have gone on strike in Sri Lanka, though this has been suspended for a fortnight by court order. Other workers too are threatening industrial action if their pay is not raised to match the cost of living.

Over a hundred artistes and intellectuals earlier called for major change to tackle the island’s economic and political problems and crack down on corruption and abuse of power.

Judge Sujatha Alahapperuma (sister of a government minister) issued an order suspending the strike. Supplementary medical staff such as pharmacists and physiotherapists are demanding better salaries and conditions of work.

Other public and private sector trade unions may also strike if their grievances are not addressed.

“Hidden beneath the superficial development being carried out by the government through its various infrastructure projects, which are funded by costly foreign loans, is the reality of the erosion of the economic well being of the people,” stated a Public Appeal By Artistes, Intellectuals and Social Activists. Full story...

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Kerala holidaymakers left high and dry as India's wettest state bans alcohol...

When Britons David and Uma Cresswell booked a Christmas holiday in the Indian state of Kerala two years ago, they imagined clean beaches, Ayurvedic massages and the prospect of sipping ice cold martinis and beers while watching traditional bamboo houseboats floating past.

But the resort the couple from Wanstead, east London, visited did not have a licence, so alcohol was officially off the menu.

"The hotel management would sneak warm alcohol into our room with strict orders to only drink it there, which we really did not like doing," said Uma Cresswell. "It really ruined our holiday as you couldn't just walk up to the bar and order drinks."

The Cresswells' experience is set to become the norm in Kerala India's wettest state – where residents drink 8.3 litres of alcohol per person each year, more than twice the national average – is about to go dry.

State leaders are forcing the immediate closure of more than 400 bars, with another 312 losing their licences by March. Retail liquor stores will be phased out gradually. Full story...

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India's big fat online wedding...

India’s thriving US$83-million online matrimony bazaar welcomed a new member to its club recently – a portal christened www.Iitiimshaadi.com. The service will cater exclusively to the alumnus of the world’s 100 top educational institutions including blue chip universities like Harvard and Yale who are searching for the perfect marriage partner.

Iitiimshaadi is just one of a growing number of online matrimonial websites that have upended traditional players like astrologers and pundits who had for centuries dominated the market by fixing matches between Indian families based on caste, religion, social/ economic status and horoscopes, changing the face of Indian romance. The presence of these agents is still vibrant in rural/semi-urban areas though where internet penetration has been slow.

The portal is only one of the 100-odd that dot India’s booming online matrimony market. www.Iitiimshaadi.com’s owner Ajay Gupta, 51, claims to have more than 1,800 registrations already. He says he has also successfully connected 120 people after his team filtered the "right candidates" from a pool of resumes to help subscribers find a suitable spouse.

India, often seen as the land of arranged marriages, is experiencing robust growth in the online matrimony business. The industry started to gain traction around the turn of the century when private internet service providers (ISPs) were allowed to determine tariffs for services in accordance with guidelines laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. This allowed websites to charge for their services and expand their repertoires. Full story...

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Top of British society is a racket for the privileged...

Much of the upper crust of British society is a racket for the privileged in defiance of the democratic wishes of the majority. That really is the core of Elitist Britain, that while 95% of Britons believe "in a fair society every person should have an equal opportunity to get ahead", the figures in a government report published on Thursday reveal an ingrained unfairness.

Only 7% in Britain are privately educated, and yet this section of society makes up 71% of senior judges, 62% of the senior armed forces and 55% of permanent secretaries. It is quite something when the "cabinet of millionaires" is one of the less unrepresentative pillars of power, with 36% hailing from private schools.

The statistics should provoke Britain's media into a prolonged period of self-reflection. They probably won't since 54% of the top 100 media professionals went to private schools, and just 16% attended a comprehensive school – in a country where 88% attend non-selective state schools. Forty-three percent of newspaper columnists had parents rich enough to send them to fee-paying schools.

In the case of the media this has much to do with the decline of the local newspapers that offered a way in for the aspiring journalist with a non-gilded background; the growing importance of costly post-graduate qualifications that are beyond the bank accounts of most; and the explosion of unpaid internships, which discriminate on the basis of whether you are prosperous enough to work for free, rather than whether you are talented. Full story...

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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Kuwaiti satirist arrested for his tweet...

A charismatic human rights activist in Kuwait has been detained by police because his tweet was deemed to be "in contempt of religion".

Abo Asam is a big star on Twitter in the country. His scathing brand of satire has attracted more than 115,000 followers on the network, but often landed him in trouble with the authorities too.

About two weeks ago, he posted a lengthy tweet in Arabic. The wording is complicated and doesn't translate easily. In simple terms, it accuses a particular Islamic sect of blindly following their leader, by playing around with the words from a religious text - the Hadith.

The authorities considered the tweet offensive enough to warrant his arrest, and now Abo Asam has now been detained for ten days, pending an investigation. Full story...

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How to eat sushi: You've been doing it wrong...

Malaysia Airlines slashes 6,000 jobs in major restructuring...

Malaysia Airlines has cut 6,000 jobs as part of a wide-ranging overhaul that follows the loss of two aircraft earlier this year.

State investor Khazanah, which owns nearly 70% of the carrier, revealed the 30% workforce reduction on Friday. Khazanah also announced the creation of a new corporation that will absorb the majority of the carrier's assets.

Khazanah plans to buy out minority shareholders and de-list the current Malaysia Airlines. Assets will then be shifted to the new company, which the fund said could be ready to go public in three to five years.

Azman Mokhtar, the managing director of Khazanah, said that the changes were necessary to help the airline compete in the rough-and-tumble airline industry.

 "The combination of measures announced today will enable our national airline to be revived," Mokhtar said. "While funds have been made available, they come with strict conditions, so as to ensure that Malaysia Airlines truly resets its business model and cost structures." Full story...

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Rotherham child sex abuse could be tip of an iceberg, say campaigners...

Rotherham has been labelled a town of shame in the wake of revelations that 1,400 children were sexually exploited over a 16-year-period, but experts and campaigners argue the same abuse is continuing to happen across the country, and is hidden in other boroughs that refuse to acknowledge the problem.

"When you look at the Rotherham report – nature of the abuse, the failures – you could write the same report about any number of different places," said Dr Helen Beckett, of the International Centre, which researches child sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking at the University of Bedfordshire. "What we see time and time again is that young people are not treated as victims, there is a real failure to see the vulnerability of these young people and instead write them off as out of control, problematic teenagers."

There is mounting evidence that the shocking revelations in the Rotherham report could provide a glimpse of the scale of childhood sexual abuse across the country, and not just in one town.

In an extensive report into the nature of child sexual exploitation, the Office of the Children's Commissioner identified 2,409 victims over a 14-month period and estimated that 16,500 children were at risk of a specific type of abuse that can see gangs of abusers grooming children as young as 11 in order to rape, sexually abuse and, in some cases, traffic them among other men and between cities. Full story...

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Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation...

’Twas not a famous victory – but that’s what the Palestinians of Gaza are celebrating. There was much shaking of heads in the international media when the fireworks burst over that shattered land on Tuesday night. After more than 2,100 dead – about 1,700 of them civilians – and 100,000 wounded, what did they have to crow about? An end to the killing? Peace?

Well, no. In fact, Hamas – the vicious, horrible, terrorist Hamas with whom “we” (as in “the West”, Tony Blair, Israel, the US and all honourable men and women) cannot talk – has indeed won a victory.

Israel said it must be disarmed. It has not been disarmed. Israel said it must be smashed/destroyed/rooted out. It hasn’t been smashed/destroyed/rooted out. The tunnels must all be destroyed, Israel proclaimed. But they haven’t been. All the rockets must be seized. But they haven’t been. So 65 Israeli soldiers died – for what? And from under the ground, quite literally, clambered on Tuesday the political leadership of Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) whose brothers were participating – much against the wishes of Israel, the US and Egypt – in the Cairo “peace” talks.

In Israel, significantly, there were no celebrations. The ever-so-right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu had once more over-egged its victory demands and ended up with another ceasefire as strong and as weak as the equally febrile truce that followed the 2009 Gaza war and the 2012 Gaza war. Physically, the Israelis had won; all those broken lives and all those smashed buildings and all that destroyed infrastructure do not suggest that the Palestinians have “prevailed” (to use a “Bushite” word). But strategically, the Palestinians have won. They are still in Gaza, Hamas is still in Gaza, and the coalition government of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas appears still to be a reality. Full story...

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Ferguson aftermath: California city tells cops to get rid of armored vehicle...

The city council of Davis, California has decided to drop the local police department’s Pentagon-supplied armored vehicle following worries from the community that it could be used against demonstrations, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri this month.

The Davis City Council adopted a resolution this week that orders the city to come up with a plan to drop the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected), originally developed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and acquired by the city through a government surplus program. The armored vehicles have been distributed to local law enforcement agencies, especially after the wars wound down and the Pentagon’s budget was reduced.

A large crowd largely opposed to the city’s MRAP gathered at the city council meeting for the resolution vote. A petition had circulated around town calling for Davis officials to get rid of or repurpose the MRAP.

“I would like to say I do not suggest you take this vehicle and send it out of Davis, I demand it. I demand it!” announced a man attending the meeting wearing a “Tank The Tank” t-shirt, according to the local CBS affiliate.

 Many in Davis are concerned that the military vehicle could be used against political demonstrations or protests, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this month when local law enforcement responded to civil unrest over the police killing of an unarmed teenager with what many saw as a heavy-handed, militarized posture. Full story...

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Fueled by superstition, people are violently attacking albinos in Tanzania...

In the past month, a spate of violent attacks in Tanzania targeting people with albinism for their body parts has highlighted a morbid practice linked to witchcraft.

People with albinism, also known as albinos, are born with a deficiency of melanin pigmentation. Those with a complete lack of pigmentation have extremely pale skin and hair, and their eyes are typically a light shade of blue. The condition generally results from recessive genes carried by parents. Albinism in Africa brings with it an increased chance of developing fatal skin cancer, and the lack of pigment to protect eyes against the bright sun can cause sight problems.

Africans with the condition can suffer alienating social stigma in communities where their neighbors and relatives believe them to be ghosts, cursed, or intellectually incapacitated. In some regions, they face a near-constant threat of violence.

UN officials and rights groups reported at least five assaults on albinos that occurred in Tanzania in less than two weeks in August.

On August 5, three men armed with machetes hacked a 15-year-old girl's right arm off below the elbow in the western region of Tabora. Her family was threatened with death and could not scream for help. Later that day, the assailants targeted her uncle, who also has albinism, though he was able to escape. Full story...

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy in Udupi...

Cambodian rat meat: A growing export market...

Popularly considered a disease-carrying nuisance in many societies, the rice field rats, Rattus argentiventer, of this small South-East Asian nation are considered a healthy delicacy due to their free-range lifestyle and largely organic diet.

Rat-catching season reaches its height after the rice harvest in June and July when rats have little to eat in this part of rural Kompong Cham province, some 60km from the capital Phnom Penh.

That lack of food coincides with seasonal rains that force the rodents onto higher ground, and into the 120 rat traps local farmer Chhoeun Chhim, 37, said he set each evening.

"Wild rats are very different. They eat different food," said Mr Chhim, explaining with a gourmand's intensity the difference between rice-field rats and their urban cousins, which he considers vermin unfit for the cooking pot.

Common rats "are dirty and they have a lot of scabies on their skin," Mr Chhim said. "That's why we don't catch them." Full story...

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Rome man begs for jail to escape wife during house arrest!!!

Most prisoners long for the day when they will be reunited with their families - but a man in Rome has adopted the opposite attitude.

A 37-year-old, currently under house arrest, has asked a judge that he be placed in jail instead because his "constant fighting" with his wife was too much to bear.

The unnamed father-of-three was just three months into his eight-month sentence for a series of minor crimes, but spending his days at home with his wife had proved to be anything but domestic bliss.

The couple’s neighbours had become well aware of their arguments, which police had been brought in to resolve.

 “Put me inside, otherwise it will end badly,” he was told police at the Tor Bella Monaca police station in the east of Rome, according to Il Messaggero. Full story...

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Malaysia Airlines: 'spike in cabin crew resignations' after MH17 and MH370 tragedies...

Almost 200 cabin crew resigned from Malaysia Airlines in the year to July, many as a result of the MH17 and MH370 tragedies, Malaysia Airlines has confirmed, as rumours swirl about the airline's future.

"Following the MH17 incident, there was a spike in crew resignations but the number has now decreased to acceptable and routinely expected levels,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement to the Telegraph.

"Many cited 'family pressure' as the reason for their resignation due to the MH17 and MH370 tragedies," the statement said.

A spokesman for the airline would not comment on rumoured crew shortages, but said the organisation’s resignation rate was "way below the industry norm”, and pointed to the company’s support for staff through counselling and special prayer sessions, as well as a talk held last week titled 'Exclusive Discourse - MH370 and MH17 from the perspective of Islam’.

 “Some are afraid to fly. There is nothing we can do about this. They have developed some kind of fear and we hope that over time, they will be back to normal.” Malaysia Airline System Employees Union secretary-general Abdul Malek told local media. Full story...

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India's Narendra Modi to launch bank accounts for every household...

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to launch a plan to provide a bank account for every household, in a landmark initiative to help the poor.

Nearly 40% of Indians have little access to financial services and are often at the mercy of moneylenders who charge extortionate interest.

Mr Modi has told state and private banks to support the plan.

Correspondents say taking banking to the poor, who may have no identity papers, will be a challenge.

"There are millions of families who have mobile phones but no bank accounts. We have to change this scenario," Mr Modi said in his first Independence Day speech on 15 August.

Reports say Mr Modi's government aims to provide bank accounts to 75 million households by 2018, and to have two account-holders per household. Full story...

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Egyptian female activist defecates on ISIS flag... (Graphic)




Controversial Egyptian Femen activist Aliaa Magda al-Mahdy has posted a photo of her and a fellow activist defecating and menstruating on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) banner, the Blaze news website reported.

In the photo, al-Mahdy is shown facing the camera while the other unidentified activist, wearing what appears to be a hijab, has their back to the camera. Al-Mahdy has “IS,” an acronym for ISIS, drawn on her chest and the other protester has the Femen logo on her back.

The Norway-based activist has reportedly received death threats following the controversial post.

This is not the first time al-Mahdy has used provocative means to voice her message. In 2012 the 23-year-old took part in a protest by the International women’s movement Femen in Stockholm “to say NO to Sharia constitution in Egypt!”

Speaking to Al Arabiya News in 2012, Inna Scevchenko, a leader Femen France said Alia was kidnapped in Egypt in 2011 after she posted nude pictures on the internet. Full story...

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Brazil’s valley of beauties appeals for single men!!!

It sounds like a tale from Greek mythology: a small rural town hidden in the rolling hills, populated by beautiful women who are looking for love.

But this is the reality for the ladies of Noiva do Cordeiro, deep in the countryside of south-east Brazil.

In the picturesque 600-strong community, where men are scarce, or work far away in the city, the women are left to shoulder the town’s burdens alone. The situation has led some of the women, who are known throughout Brazil for their beauty, to put out an appeal for single men. “Here, the only men we single girls meet are either married or related to us; everyone is a cousin,” said Nelma Fernandes, 23.

“I haven’t kissed a man for a long time. We all dream of falling in love and getting married. But we like living here and don’t want to have to leave the town to find a husband. We’d like to get to know men who would leave their own lives and come to be a part of ours. But first they need to agree to do what we say and live according to our rules.”

 Noiva do Cordeiro, which translates as Bride of the Lamb, has a reputation for its strong female community after its founder, Maria Senhorinha de Lima, settled in the town when she was branded an adulteress and exiled from her own church and home in 1891. Full story...

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Coca-Cola forced out of $25 million factory in India...

The Coca-Cola company has been forced to abandon a $25 million newly built bottling plant in Mehdiganj, Varanasi, India as the result of a sustained campaign against the company's plans.

The $25 million plant - which was a significant expansion to its existing plant in Mehdiganj - had already been fully built and the company had also conducted trial runs, but could not operate commercially as it did not have the required permits to operate.

Coca-Cola required permissions, or 'No Objection Certificate' (NOC), from the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) - the national groundwater regulatory agency, and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) - the statewide pollution regulatory agency.

The Central Ground Water Authority rejected Coca-Cola's application to operate for its new facility on July 21, 2014, and had sought time till 25th August 2014, to announce its decision before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), India's 'green' court.

Somehow having learnt that its application had been rejected, in order to save itself major embarrassment, Coca-Cola sent a letter to the CGWA on Friday, August 22, 2014 - two days before the rejection was to be made public on Monday, August 25, 2014 - stating that it was "withdrawing" its application. Full story...

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