Daily Archives: December 29, 2008

Israel prepares to invade Gaza after deadly bombing blitz claims at least 290 lives

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An injured man in Gaza is pulled from the rubble after the building he was in was hit by an Israeli airstrike

Daily Mail | Dec 29, 2008

By Matthew Kalman and Jane Flanagan

Israel massed tanks on the border with Gaza on Sunday as fears grew of an imminent ground invasion following its deadliest blitz of the Palestinian territory.

As waves of Israeli warplanes struck Hamas military and leadership targets for a second day, Israel’s cabinet approved the call-up of more than 6,000 reserve soldiers.

This fuelled speculation that it might retake the Palestinian territory from which it withdrew in 2005.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband joined the United Nations in demanding an urgent ceasefire to stop the ‘massive loss of life’ in the territory, where Israel is responding to continued rocket attacks by Hamas.

But President-elect Barack Obama maintained silence on the biggest Middle East crisis since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon more than two years ago – despite his pledge to make the region his foreign policy priority.

A spokesman for Obama, on holiday in Hawaii, insisted that while he was monitoring global events, ‘there is one President at a time’.

Nearly 300 Palestinians have been killed since the bombardment began on Saturday – two thirds of them members of the military wing of Hamas who seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup against the moderate Fatah party in June 2007. At least 800 were reported injured, scores seriously, as hospitals buckled under the pressure of treating so many casualties.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said: ‘Israel will continue until we have a new security environment in the south, when the population there will no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages.’

Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become prime minister after elections in February, said Israel was not seeking to reoccupy the Gaza Strip. Asked if it was out to topple Gaza’s Hamas rulers, she replied: ‘Not now.’

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Smoke rises in Gaza after an Israel air strike

She said there was no option but to use force against Hamas, which bore responsibility for civilian casualties. ‘Before the operation we called on all the population who live near the Hamas headquarters to leave. We are doing everything to avoid or minimise civilian casualties.
But a war is a war, these things can happen.’ Miss Livni said the aim of the operation was to change the ‘reality’ that Hamas could continue to fire missiles at Israel without any serious response.

Despite the air bombardment, militants in Gaza continued to fire dozens of primitive rockets into southern Israel yesterday, causing no injuries although one Israeli was killed on Saturday.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urged Palestinian groups to use ‘all available means, including martyrdom operations to protect the Palestinian people’ – a reference to suicide bombings in Israel. Apart from the Hamas casualties, many civilians were killed or wounded in the crowded streets and alleys of Gaza City – home to 750,000 Palestinians who live in poverty and squalor.

One witness said he saw an entire family of nine wiped out. The Israeli targets included Hamas training bases, tunnels used for smuggling beneath the border with Egypt, rocket-making workshops, weapons stores and underground missile silos. And last night the Islamic University on the Gaza Strip was bombed – a significant Hamas cultural symbol. The Palestinian death toll in the attacks was the highest since Israel seized the Strip from Egypt in the 1967 Six- Day War. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights called it ‘the bloodiest day in the history of occupation’.

Witnesses said the wounded were left lying unattended in hospital corridors while a steady stream of ambulances and private cars ferried in the casualties after each attack. Among the dead were seven teenage students at a school run by the United Nations. Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, said: ‘Death is everywhere this morning.’

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator, declared: ‘These strikes fuel our popular support, our military power. We will survive. We will move forward. We will not surrender. We will not be shaken.’ Egyptian mediators who had tried to negotiate an extension to a six-month ceasefire which expired last week called for an immediate end to the fighting, but also heaped blame on Hamas for the crisis.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for a day of mourning and a general strike, but said that Hamas could have averted the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Protesters took to the streets of capital cities around the world to condemn the Israeli attack, but Arab criticism of Israel’s reaction to the daily rocket bombardments from Gaza was muted elsewhere.

President-elect Obama’s silence on the issue at his rented beachfront mansion in Hawaii, where he intends to continue his two-week family holiday, puzzled many commentators. In July he took a hardline approach in favour of Israel.

‘If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,’ he said then. ‘And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.’ But he might be wary of further stoking tensions with a statement which he knows will be dissected by every government in the region to see in which direction he might take his administration.

Mr Miliband’s statement moved to distance London from the initial reaction by the Bush administration in Washington – and Gordon Brown – in which they notably failed to demand that Israel halt its air strikes immediately.

In statements, Mr Brown and the White House had called on Hamas to halt its rocket attacks on Israel – in sharp contrast to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU presidency, and UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon, who both demanded an immediate ceasefire.

Mr Miliband insisted that Tel Aviv must abide by its ‘humanitarian obligations’, and said he and Mr Brown were following the situation with ‘grave concern’.

Swedish straw goat burnt in violent Christmas tradition

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Remains of the giant Christmas straw goat is seen after it was burned down in Gavle  Photo: AP

A giant straw goat erected each Christmas in eastern Sweden was set on fire on Saturday in a violent tradition of vandalism during the festive season that has spanned four decades.

Telegraph | Dec 28, 2008

Each year the people of Gavle build a 43-foot-tall straw goat, a traditional Scandinavian symbol of Christmas. But since the yuletide tradition began in the central Swedish city of Gavle in 1966, it has also drawn vandals, who have torched the animal 23 times since it was first set up to mark the holiday season. While the 2007 goat made it through the Christmas period intact, in other years it has been smashed, run over by a car and had its legs cut off.

Vandals are rarely caught, but in 2001, a 51-year-old American tourist spent 18 days in jail after he was convicted of setting fire to the structure.

In 2005, the goat was burned down by two arsonists dressed as Father Christmas and the Gingerbread Man. They were never caught.

Authorities in Gavle have tried to protect the goat by using fireproofing chemicals, webcams, and guarding the animal with soldiers, volunteers and dogs. But only 10 of the goats have survived beyond Christmas since 1966.

The goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian yule symbol that preceded Father Christmas as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes. Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas trees or hang miniature versions on the branches.

2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved

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Polar bears will be fine after all  Photo: AP

Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

Telegraph | Dec 28, 2008

By Christopher Booker

The first, on May 21, headed “Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts” , reported that the entire Alpine “winter sports industry” could soon “grind to a halt for lack of snow”. The second, on December 19, headed “The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation” , reported that this winter’s Alpine snowfalls “look set to beat all records by New Year’s Day”.

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.

First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century.

Ever shriller and more frantic has become the insistence of the warmists, cheered on by their army of media groupies such as the BBC, that the last 10 years have been the “hottest in history” and that the North Pole would soon be ice-free – as the poles remain defiantly icebound and those polar bears fail to drown. All those hysterical predictions that we are seeing more droughts and hurricanes than ever before have infuriatingly failed to materialise.

Even the more cautious scientific acolytes of the official orthodoxy now admit that, thanks to “natural factors” such as ocean currents, temperatures have failed to rise as predicted (although they plaintively assure us that this cooling effect is merely “masking the underlying warming trend”, and that the temperature rise will resume worse than ever by the middle of the next decade).

Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a “scientific consensus” in favour of man-made global warming collapsed. At long last, as in the Manhattan Declaration last March, hundreds of proper scientists, including many of the world’s most eminent climate experts, have been rallying to pour scorn on that “consensus” which was only a politically engineered artefact, based on ever more blatantly manipulated data and computer models programmed to produce no more than convenient fictions.

Thirdly, as banks collapsed and the global economy plunged into its worst recession for decades, harsh reality at last began to break in on those self-deluding dreams which have for so long possessed almost every politician in the western world. As we saw in this month’s Poznan conference, when 10,000 politicians, officials and “environmentalists” gathered to plan next year’s “son of Kyoto” treaty in Copenhagen, panicking politicians are waking up to the fact that the world can no longer afford all those quixotic schemes for “combating climate change” with which they were so happy to indulge themselves in more comfortable times.

Suddenly it has become rather less appealing that we should divert trillions of dollars, pounds and euros into the fantasy that we could reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 80 per cent. All those grandiose projects for “emissions trading”, “carbon capture”, building tens of thousands more useless wind turbines, switching vast areas of farmland from producing food to “biofuels”, are being exposed as no more than enormously damaging and futile gestures, costing astronomic sums we no longer possess.

As 2009 dawns, it is time we in Britain faced up to the genuine crisis now fast approaching from the fact that – unless we get on very soon with building enough proper power stations to fill our looming “energy gap” – within a few years our lights will go out and what remains of our economy will judder to a halt. After years of infantile displacement activity, it is high time our politicians – along with those of the EU and President Obama’s US – were brought back with a mighty jolt into contact with the real world.

I must end this year by again paying tribute to my readers for the wonderful generosity with which they came to the aid of two causes. First their donations made it possible for the latest “metric martyr”, the east London market trader Janet Devers, to fight Hackney council’s vindictive decision to prosecute her on 13 criminal charges, ranging from selling in pounds and ounces to selling produce “by the bowl” (to avoid using weights her customers dislike and don’t understand). The embarrassment caused by this historic battle has thrown the forced metrication policy of both our governments, in London and Brussels, into total disarray.

Since Hackney backed out of allowing four criminal charges against Janet to go before a jury next month, all that remains is for her to win her appeal in February against eight convictions which now look quite absurd (including those for selling veg by the bowl, as thousands of other London market traders do every day). The final goal, as Neil Herron of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund insists, must then be a pardon for the late Steve Thoburn and the four other original “martyrs” who were found guilty in 2002 – after a legal battle also made possible by this column’s readers – of breaking laws so ridiculous that the EU Commission has even denied they existed (but which are still on the statute book).

Readers were equally generous this year in rushing to the aid of Sue Smith, whose son was killed in a Snatch Land Rover in Iraq in 2005. Their contributions made it possible for her to carry on with the High Court action she has brought against the Ministry of Defence, with the sole aim of calling it to account for needlessly risking soldiers’ lives by sending them into battle in hopelessly inappropriate vehicles. Thanks not least to Mrs Smith’s determined fight, the Snatch Land Rover scandal, first reported here in 2006, has at last become a national cause celebre.

May I finally thank all those readers who have written to me in 2008 – so many that, as usual, it has not been possible to answer all their messages. But their support and information has been hugely appreciated. May I wish them and all of you a happy (if globally not too warm) New Year.

Big Brother CCTV to spy on pupils aged four – complete with CPS evidence kit

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Parents and politicians are worried about the intrusion of CCTV in schools and society in general

Schools have installed CCTV cameras and microphones in classrooms to watch and listen to pupils as young as four.

Daily Mail | Dec 28, 2008

By Jason Lewis

The Big Brother-style surveillance is being marketed as a way to identify pupils disrupting lessons when teachers’ backs are turned.

Classwatch, the firm behind the system, says its devices can be set up to record everything that goes on in a classroom 24 hours a day and used to compile ‘evidence’ of wrongdoing.

The equipment is sold with Crown Prosecution Service-approved evidence bags to store material to be used in court cases.

The microphones and cameras can be used during lessons and when a classroom is unattended, such as during lunch breaks.

But data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner has warned the surveillance may be illegal and demanded to know why primary and secondary schools are using this kind of sophisticated equipment to watch children.

Officials said they would be contacting schools to seek ‘proper justification’ for the equipment’s use.

Classwatch is set to face further scrutiny over the role of Shadow Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, the firm’s £30,000-a-year chairman.

The equipment, which includes ceiling-mounted microphones and cameras and a hard drive recorder housed in a secure cabinet, is operating in around 85 primary and secondary schools and colleges.

The systems cost around £3,000 to install in each classroom or can be leased for about £50 per classroom per month.

The firm says the devices act as ‘impartial witnesses’ which can provide evidence in disputes and curb bullying and unruly behaviour and protect teachers against false allegations of abuse – plus provide evidence acceptable in court.

The firm also promotes its equipment as an educational tool, allowing ‘key lessons and class discussions to be recorded for revision, or for pupils who have missed important material or who may need extra help’.

Schools are required to inform all parents that microphones and cameras are monitoring their children.

But last night an Information Commissioner’s Office spokesman said the system raised ‘privacy concerns for teachers, students and their parents’.

He said the ICO would contact Classwatch and schools using the devices.

He added: ‘The use of microphones to record conversations is deeply intrusive and we will be seeking further clarification on their use in schools and, if necessary, we will issue further guidance to headteachers.’

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: ‘We strongly object to schools or colleges having free rein to use CCTV and microphones, especially in sensitive areas such as classrooms, changing rooms and toilets.

‘We expect CCTV be used appropriately and not to spy on staff or pupils.’

Classwatch director Andrew Jenkins, who set up the firm with his wife, said he welcomed further discussions with the Information Commissioner.

He said Classwatch had tried to guard against accusations of bringing Big Brother into schools.

‘The system can be turned on and turned off as they wish,’ he said. ‘It is a bit like a video at home. This is not Big Brother. The system is under the control of the teacher.’

Asked whether the company had taken account of the Commissioner’s strict rules on workplace monitoring, he said: ‘Compliance with the Data Protection Act has always been a priority.

‘Schools are required to ensure they follow protocols which recognise the privacy of pupils and staff. The overwhelming experience has been that pupils feel safer and that teachers feel more in control of their classrooms.’

Last night, Tory frontbencher Mr Loughton insisted there was no conflict between his political role and part-time job.

He said: ‘I am not the Shadow Minister for Schools, I am the Shadow Minister for Children. I don’t speak on school security.’

He declares his involvement with the firm on the MPs’ register of interests and added: ‘I have never sought to advocate this. I went through this very carefully before I got involved in it and it doesn’t conflict with anything I do.’

Labour MP Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said: ‘If the Information Commissioner is concerned, we all should be concerned and I think that my committee should look at it when Parliament returns.’

A Schools Department spokesman said: ‘We do not prescribe what schools must do to tackle security.’

EU spends £2.3 billion ($3.4 billion) a year on Pro-Brussels propaganda

Daily Mail | Dec 26, 2008

The European Union is spending £2.3billion a year on pro-Brussels propaganda – more than Coca Cola’s entire global marketing budget.

Britain alone squanders £200million of taxpayers’ cash on promotional material or funding groups that extol the benefits of a ‘United States of Europe’.

Much of the money goes on ‘highly dubious’ propaganda that is targeted at children, according to a book by the think-tank Open Europe.

Chocolate and the Euro currency, just two of the subjects the EU has spent millions on discussing and/or promoting

Examples found include one EU-funded town-twinning project between Banbury in Oxfordshire and towns in Germany, France and Poland.

Schoolchildren worked with MEPs to negotiate a directive on chocolate.

One website called ‘Europa Go!’, aimed at ten to 14-year-olds, included a quiz called ‘The Euro Game’ which promoted the single currency.

The book was compiled after Open Europe studied hundreds of EU documents.

The authors concluded that the EU was ‘geared not towards providing neutral, balanced information, but towards trying to convince people to support EU integration’.

Open Europe director Lorraine Mullally said: ‘In Britain, the EU is the most unpopular it has been in 25 years, and yet the Commission is doing nothing serious to correct this.

‘Instead of throwing taxpayers’ money at propaganda, EU leaders need to take a long, hard look at what is going wrong.’