Monthly Archives: September 2010

Army still can’t handle truth behind Pat Tillman’s story

Arizona Republic | Sep 10, 2010

by E. J. Montini

According to The Army Times, theaters on Army and Air Force installations will not show “The Tillman Story” and instead will feature “The Expendables.”

Apparently, the military brass believe their personnel can handle a film rated “R” for violence, but not one rated “T” for truth.

This would come as no surprise to Pat Tillman’s family, particular his mother, who has worked for six years to expose the cover-up of her son’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and to have those responsible held accountable.

It hasn’t worked. It will never work.

The bravery and honesty of one soldier is no match for the deceit of his government.

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One of the first times I spoke to Mary Tillman (known to her friends and family as “Dannie”), she told me, “They (the military) could have told us up-front that they were suspicious that it was fratricide, but they didn’t. They wanted to use Pat for their purposes. It was good for the administration. It was before the elections. It was during the (Abu Ghraib) prison scandal. They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that.”

Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals player who gave up millions to join the Army, was posthumously awarded a Silver Star after he was killed in 2004. The citation was read at his televised memorial service. It says in part:

“Corporal Tillman put himself in the line of devastating enemy fire as he maneuvered his Fire Team to a covered position from which they could effectively employ their weapons on known enemy positions. While mortally wounded, his audacious leadership and courageous example under fire inspired his men to fight with great risk to their own personal safety, resulting in the enemy’s withdrawal and his platoon’s safe passage from the ambush kill zone.”

It was pure fiction. Tillman had acted bravely on the day he was killed, but it was his guys who shot him while he waved at them on a hill, shouting his name. From the moment it happened, everyone knew it was fratricide.

The circumstances that followed, along with a look back at Tillman’s life, are described through eyewitness testimony in “The Tillman Story,” a documentary now playing at Harkins Camelview 5 at Scottsdale Road and Goldwater Boulevard.

It’s the same story Dannie Tillman told in her book, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk.” It’s the story the Tillmans told to Congress.

None of it has worked.

I asked the Army back in 2005 if the wording of Tillman’s citation would be corrected. An Army spokesman said, “Presently there are no plans.” The citation was never changed.

Dannie Tillman once told me of her son, “He was a very big-hearted person and honest to a fault. When he was little, he wouldn’t even steal a cookie. He just harassed me into giving him one. I used to think, ‘Let me be the good parent. Just steal the cookie.’ But . . . ”

That’s why she has persisted in spite of those who suggest that she should just “get over it.”

“I really object to people who say things like that,” she told me. “If it were their child, they would not let it go. At least I hope not . . . (Pat) would have wanted the truth to come out. The bad and the good. He deserves that much.”

Tillman’s brother Kevin, who served with him in the Army, summed it up best in an essay he wrote for the website truthdig.com:

“Somehow lying is tolerated. Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma and nonsense. Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world. Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.”

Stalin-era repressions ‘justified’ claims new ‘anti-Semitic’ Russian textbook


Critics claim the textbook offers a pro-Stalinist and anti-Semitic view of Soviet and Russian history  Photo: AP

Stalin-era repressions, including the Gulag camp system and the deportation of entire ethnic groups were justified according to a new history textbook published in Russia, which critics claim is anti-Semitic.

Telegraph | Sep 16, 2010

“A History of Russia, 1917-2009,” written by two Moscow State University academics, Alexander Barsenkov and Alexander Vdovin, attempts to justify forced collectivisation and the mass arrests and executions of the 1930s.

Supporters say the book is filled with patriotism and love of the Motherland.

But critics claim the textbook offers a pro-Stalinist and anti-Semitic view of Soviet and Russian history.

Describing the mass arrests and executions of the 1930s, the authors write that the authorities had a justified fear of enemies within the Soviet Union.

“All those millions of people offended by the policies of the Soviet authorities formed a potential for a ‘fifth column’ that was far from imaginary,” they write.

The textbook also offers a rationalisation for Joseph Stalin’s deportations of whole peoples, including the Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingushs and Kalmyks to Siberia and Central Asia.

“The reason that some were deported was their heightened readiness to collaborate with the occupiers and suspicions of this,” the book claims. This theory has been widely rejected by Western historians and many Russian experts.

The textbook places strong emphasis on the number of Jews who held positions of power in Soviet culture and media.

It alleges that the Soviet authorities blocked Jews from occupying top posts after the Second World War because of “the growing pro-Western sympathies of citizens of Jewish origin, which increased the possibility of their being used in the interests of American strategy”.

Anatoly Utkin, one of the textbook’s supporters and reviewers, said it was popular with some of the country’s “elite institutes” such as the academies of the Interior Ministry and the FSB security agency, successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

“This is a textbook in which patriotism serves as the guiding thread,” Mr Utkin, history professor at Moscow State University, told The New Times, an opposition magazine.

“This textbook is filled with love of the motherland and patriotism and it is important that the continuity between the Soviet and post-Soviet epochs can be seen there.”

But the Public Chamber, a state-run government oversight body, last week criticised the book in a report.

The book interpreted the country’s history “in the spirit of radical nationalism” and distorted historical facts, it said.

Novaya Gazeta, the opposition newspaper, also attacked the book.

“The publication of this latest pro-Soviet, pro-Communist and pro-Stalin textbook is made possible because the crimes committed by Lenin and Stalin’s party against humanity were never legally condemned,” it wrote.

Moscow State University’s history faculty said in a statement on Thursday that it would suspend the use of the book in classes.

President Dmitry Medvedev, 45, has made attempts to distance himself from the country’s past, saying he had no desire to return to the Soviet Union.

By comparison, Mr Medvedev’s 57-year old mentor, Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, once famously described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Russian authorities have approved history textbooks that sparked controversy by justifying Soviet leaders and praising the country’s modern leadership.

In 2007, authorities approved a textbook that praised then-President Putin and justified the imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 in an inquiry seen by critics as steered by the Kremlin.

Pentagon Plots Insta-Vaccines for Mystery Bugs


If the method does take off, it’d offer a major boost for civilian vaccine production, too. Photo: U.S Air Force

Wired | Sep 14, 2010

By Katie Drummond

The Pentagon’s efforts at speedier responses to infectious diseases is getting turbocharged, as researchers at Arizona State University kick off a program to develop vaccines that can inoculate against unknown pathogens — and do it within a week.

Darpa, the military’s out-there research agency, has given $5.3 million for the project to ASU’s Biodesign Institute. And the grant is only one part of a much bigger Darpa initiative, called Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals. Earlier this year, the agency funded programs to produce vaccines using tobacco plants and a prophetic almanac that would anticipate pathogenic mutations before they happen.

Tobacco-based production would turn a year-long process into a four-week one. But for at-risk troops, Darpa wants something even faster: a vaccine to address any pathogen, developed in seven days and ready for injection shortly after.

“I don’t know if we can pull this off, but I think this basic idea might work,” ASU researcher Dr. Steven Albert Johnson says of his team’s plan. Using thousands of synthetic antibodies, called synbodies, they’ll create an immunity toolkit that can be combined in myriad ways to tackle virtually any pathogen.

“Take the bug, put it on a slide and then find appropriate bindings,” Johnson says. “If somebody gave you a Bug X, and you already had basically a Lego system of pre-made peptides, you find two that will bind and make a high-affinity agent.”

About 10,000 synbodies would be sufficient to stave off — in theory — any imaginable pathogen. But researchers estimate that around 100 will suffice for Darpa’s needs. Once the synbodies are made, they can be stockpiled and pulled out whenever a new threat emerges.

And if the method does take off, it’d offer a major boost for civilian vaccine production, too. But short of a massive deadly outbreak, we’d likely not get our vaccines quite so fast. For deployed troops, the Pentagon could invoke “emergency protocol” — meaning Darpa’s one-week timeline would skip over clinical trials and FDA approval, which can take up to a decade to complete.

Are Airport Body Scanners Worth the Health Risk?


“The officer said, either you go through the body scanner or you leave the airport or we’re going to call the police and they’re going to come and arrest you.”

NY Times | Sep 7, 2010

By SUSAN STELLIN

THE next time you go through security at the airport, you might be told to empty your pockets, put your hands over your head and stand still while an X-ray machine looks for anything hidden under your clothing.

If this body scanning option sounds unappealing, you have another choice: an “enhanced pat down” conducted by a Transportation Security Administration employee, which some travelers have described as quite intimate.

The new screening measures have been hotly debated, but mostly in theory. Now that there are nearly 200 body scanning machines in about 50 domestic airports, with 800 more on the way, passengers are facing real-life decisions about what to do. Here’s some information to help you choose.

How Do the Machines Work?

If you somehow missed the hoopla, there are two types of machines being installed, which have raised concerns about privacy, health risks and even their effectiveness at catching terrorists. The more controversial “backscatter” devices project an X-ray beam onto the body, creating an image displayed on a monitor viewed by a T.S.A. employee in another room. The “millimeter wave” machines, which are considered less risky because they do not use X-rays, bounce electromagnetic waves off the body to produce a similar image.

Unlike metal detectors, these machines can detect objects made with other materials, like plastic and ceramic. But they can’t see anything hidden inside your body, or detect certain explosives.

So why bother? That’s a question a federal oversight body and members of Congress are asking, especially since the T.S.A. plans to spend billions to buy the devices and hire more screeners to operate them — using the $5 to $10 security fee included in the price of any airline ticket (fees that the government wants to raise).

“This is all done to keep the traveling public safe,” said Nicholas Kimball, a T.S.A. spokesman. Maybe so, but there are still questions about how effective these machines are at achieving that goal.

What Can Screeners See?

What these images reveal is also unclear. Mr. Kimball said that the T.S.A. uses filters to blur the images, and the agency has posted samples of the kinds of images screeners see and a video of the screening process on its Web site, tsa.gov. But critics say these samples aren’t detailed enough for travelers to judge how explicit they are, especially if a screener zooms in on a specific area.

Another concern is whether the images can be saved or transmitted. The T.S.A. first said this wasn’t possible, then later admitted the machines can save photos, but that this feature had been disabled. This kind of backtracking has added to the agency’s credibility problem.

How Safe Are They?

The main concerns are how much radiation the scanners give off (the manufacturers say the amount is very low), whether the scanners might malfunction and emit more radiation than they are supposed to, and what the health effects may be for travelers. Since there is no precedent for routinely screening so many people with X-rays — other than in prisons — there are a lot of unknowns.

Another issue is that the devices haven’t been thoroughly tested. The T.S.A. claims that the machines have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the Commerce Department’s National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. But when I called these organizations to ask about their evaluations, I learned that they basically tested only one thing — whether the amount of radiation emitted meets guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute, a membership organization of companies and government agencies.

But guess who was on the committee that developed the guidelines for the X-ray scanners? Representatives from the companies that make the machines and the Department of Homeland Security, among others. In other words, the machines passed a test developed, in part, by the companies that manufacture them and the government agency that wants to use them.

That’s one reason Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University, has been pushing for more data to be shared so that academics can do their own analysis.

“The scary thing to me is not what happens in normal operations, but what happens if the machine fails,” Professor Rez said. “Mechanical things break down, frequently.”

Other medical experts are worried that the government has not adequately evaluated the health risks of such extensive X-ray screening, particularly for children, pregnant women, cancer patients and people who are sensitive to radiation. One concern is that the data the government is relying on underestimates the amount of radiation absorbed by the skin, potentially raising the risk of skin cancer.

“It’s premature to put a whole population through this thing, not without much more due diligence and much more independent testing,” said John Sedat, a biochemistry professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who, along with several colleagues, sent a letter to the Obama administration calling for independent evaluations of the X-ray scanners.

So far, the T.S.A. and government regulators have disputed their concerns. “If there is any risk, it’s very, very small,” said Daniel Kassiday, an F.D.A. radiation official who was co-chairman of the committee that created the standard for the machines.

Mr. Kassiday said an individual could receive up to 1,000 screenings a year before reaching recommended annual limits for this type of radiation exposure, but added that more tests are being conducted and that once the T.S.A. has redacted the relevant reports, more information will be released.

Can You Opt Out?

Mr. Kimball said passengers can choose not to go through the scanner and opt for the metal detector and a pat down instead, information that is also on the T.S.A.’s Web site. But the message travelers are getting at the airport isn’t that clear.

“It definitely didn’t feel optional at all,” said Drew Hjelm, an Army veteran who recently encountered the X-ray machine at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. After asking to go through the metal detector, being turned down and even speaking with a supervisor, he was given other choices.

“The officer said, either you go through the body scanner or you leave the airport or we’re going to call the police and they’re going to come and arrest you,” Mr. Hjelm said. “After I went through the body scanner, they still patted my pants down.”

Since other passengers have said they weren’t given a choice, or were subjected to an aggressive pat down if they declined to be X-rayed, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has created an online form for travelers to report problems.

The advocacy group has also filed a motion in court to suspend the body scanner program, saying that it violates the Fourth Amendment (and other statutes) by imposing search procedures that are more intrusive than the courts have allowed for routine screening.

“We’re not denying that threats exist,” said Marc Rotenberg, the privacy center’s executive director, referring to concerns about terrorism. “The question is, are the solutions proposed effective and are they legal?”

Banks seize record number of homes


RealtyTrac prediicts a record 1.2 million repossessions this year. In 2005, before the housing bust, banks took over just about 100,000 houses.

High unemployment, other problems point to lingering housing pain

msnbc.com news | Sep 16, 2010

NEW YORK — A record number of homeowners lost houses to their banks in August as lenders worked through the backlog of distressed mortgages, real estate data company RealtyTrac said Thursday.

New default notices decreased at the same time, suggesting that lenders managed the flow of troubled loans and foreclosed properties hitting the market to limit price declines, the company said.

Root problems of high unemployment, wage cuts, negative home equity and restrictive lending practices persist, however, pointing to lingering housing market pain.

RealtyTrac sees a record 1.2 million repossessions this year, up from just under 1 million last year, with more than 3.2 million homes in some stage of foreclosure.

In 2005, before the housing bust, banks took over just about 100,000 houses, according to the Irvine, California-based company.

“It really does look like we’re seeing a slowdown of new foreclosures being initiated as part of a means to manage inventory levels on the market,” RealtyTrac senior vice president Rick Sharga said in an interview.

Banks foreclosed on 95,364 properties in August, topping the May 2010 record by 2 percent. These repossessions, or real estate owned (REO) homes, jumped 3 percent in the month and 25 percent in the year.

At the same time, a similar amount — 96,469 homes — got a default notice. Defaults declined 1 percent from July and 30 percent from August 2009 after peaking at 142,064 properties in April 2009.

It will take about three years to work through the stockpile of distressed housing, Sharga said, resulting in a market that moves sideways.

“I don’t think it gets any better really until the end of 2013,” he said.

Total foreclosure actions last month, including notice of default, scheduled auction and repossession, were made on a total of 338,836 properties in August, up 4 percent from July and down 5 percent from August 2009.

The number of homes getting at least one notice topped 300,000 for the 18th month in a row.

One in every 381 housing units got a foreclosure filing last month.

‘Upside down’

Slowing home sales, after buyer tax credits of up to $8,000 ended in April, could tilt more owners toward foreclosure.

“Fewer buyers means it’s going to take longer to clear out the distressed inventory, the longer you have that inventory the more price pressure there is on the overall housing market,” said Sharga. “The more price pressure, the more homes are in danger of going into foreclosure because they’re going to be upside down.”

Homeowners that are upside down, or have a mortgage bigger than the home’s value, often cannot sell or refinance.

Foreclosure auctions were scheduled for the first time on about 147,000 properties last month, up 9 percent from July and the second highest total in records dating back to April 2005.

Nevada, Florida, Arizona and California had the highest state foreclosure rates in August, with Nevada topping the list for the 44th straight month despite a 24 percent drop in foreclosure actions from a year earlier.

Idaho, Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and Hawaii were the other states with the highest rates of foreclosure.

The 10 metro areas with the nation’s highest foreclosure rates had fewer actions for a second straight month.

“Some markets may have already peaked, but even with the decreased levels of activity they’re still running at multiples of national averages,” Sharga said. “In some cases it really is a matter of trying to keep inventory levels from overwhelming the local markets.”

Lenders are offering a variety of programs to help homeowners modify their loans, but their success rates vary. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners can’t qualify or fall back into default.

The Obama administration has rolled out numerous attempts to tackle the foreclosure crisis but has made only a small dent in the problem. Nearly half of the 1.3 million homeowners who enrolled in the Obama administration’s flagship mortgage-relief program have fallen out.

The program, known as Making Home Affordable, has provided permanent help to about 390,000 homeowners since March 2009.

Google software engineer fired for stalking teenage users


Google fires user stalker. Image: Google.

thetechherald.com | Sep 16 2010

by Steven Mostyn –

Search leader and online giant Google Inc. has fired one of its software engineers after breaking “strict internal privacy policies” by snooping through private user information.

Google terminated the employment of 27-year-old David Barksdale after he was discovered accessing information regarding four teenagers he met through a Seattle-based technology group, according to gossip site Gawker.

While Google has not divulged details regarding the issue, the company’s senior vice president of engineering, Bill Coughran, has released a statement outlining only that Barksdale violated its internal privacy policies.

Related

Google had at least two creepy stalker engineers

He also said that Google constantly monitors and controls the amount of employees that are granted access to its systems and also never stops working to improve the standards of its internal security.

Gawker’s report outlines that Barksdale, a self-confessed hacker, accessed the teenagers’ Google Voice call logs, Gmail contact lists, and Google Chat transcripts. He also apparently unblocked himself from a Google Talk buddy list when one of the teenagers attempted to break contact.

Google took action against its software engineer after concerned parents contacted the company following fears that their children were being stalked.

News of Barksdale’s dismissal, which actually took place in July, arrives at a potentially bad time for Google.

Specifically, federal regulators are presently discussing the possibility of enforcing much tighter rules where Internet privacy is concerned – a change Google and other online heavyweights are opposed to.

Social Engineering Bill In Senate Will Force People Into Crowded Cities

Personal Liberty Digest | Sep 10, 2010

 by Bob Livingston

A social engineering bill to restrict residence in the suburbs and rural areas and force Americans into city centers has passed the United States Senate Banking Committee and is on the fast track to passage in the Senate.

The bill is called the Livable Communities Act (SB 1619) and it was introduced by corruptocrat outgoing Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.). It seeks to fulfill the United Nation’s plan Agenda 21, adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and signed onto by “New World Order” President George H.W. Bush.

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This bill is designed to destroy your community. According to the non-profit American Policy Center the bill:

  • Is a blueprint for the transformation of our society into total Federal control.
  • Will enforce Federal Sustainable Development zoning and control of local communities.
  • Will create a massive new “development” bureaucracy.
  • Will drive up the cost of energy to heat and cool your home.
  • Will drive up the cost of gasoline as a way to get you out of your car.
  • Will force you to spend thousands of dollars on your home in order to comply.

A carrot and stick policy will be used to get your local government to sign on. The carrot is billions of dollars in grants available if your local government agrees to amend zoning laws that restrict housing in outlying areas, forcing people to give up their homes and land and move into the city center.

The stick will be denial of the funds and bad publicity generated by “Green” organizations criticizing government officials for turning down free money.

The rub is the grants will come with strings attached that force local governments to bend to the will of the Feds.

The idea of these social engineering initiatives is to force people to live in a congested area in high rise buildings with housing on the upper floors and stores on the bottom. The whole area will be linked by mass transit creating the “utopian” communities loved by socialists.

The result will be higher costs for housing (because overcrowding will make housing space a premium) and goods and services (because of less choice and competition) and less freedom to move about (because cars won’t be necessary and parking space will be prohibitively expensive).

As we pointed out here President Barack Obama is — not surprisingly — an advocate of this type of nonsense. And his cabinet is populated by elitists who think they know better than you how you should live.

It is imperative that you call your two Senators immediately and tell them to oppose Dodd’s SB1619.

Court allows warrantless cell location tracking

cnet.com | Sep 7, 2010

by Declan McCullagh

The FBI and other police agencies don’t need a search warrant to track the locations of Americans’ cell phones, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday in a precedent-setting decision.

In the first decision of its kind, a Philadelphia appeals court agreed with the Obama administration that no search warrant–signed by a judge based on a belief that there was probable cause to suspect criminal activity–was necessary for police to obtain logs showing where a cell phone user had traveled.

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit said (PDF) tracking cell phones “does not require the traditional probable-cause determination” enshrined in the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits government agencies from conducting “unreasonable” searches. The court’s decision, however, was focused on which federal privacy statutes apply.

But the panel sided with civil-liberties groups on an important point: it agreed that, in at least some cases, judges may require investigators to obtain a search warrant. That is, however, “an option to be used sparingly,” the court said.

Some questions are likely to be resolved in future proceedings, once the case returns to a lower court. “It is still an open question as to whether the Fourth Amendment applies to cell phone records,” Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kevin Bankston said after the ruling. “This decision does not definitively answer the question of the Fourth Amendment status of cell phone [location records].”

In this case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan denied the Justice Department’s attempt to obtain stored location data without a search warrant, saying federal privacy law prohibited it. Lenihan’s ruling, in effect, would require police to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause–a more privacy-protective standard.

The Obama administration had argued that warrantless tracking is permissible because Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their–or at least their cell phones’–whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers said “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.

Lenihan had required the Justice Department to demonstrate “probable cause,” a standard used in search warrants. But the three-judge panel rejected that idea, saying Lenihan “erred” and the relevant requirement is a “lesser one than probable cause” that is less privacy-protective.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, had told Lenihan that it needed historical (meaning stored, not future) phone location information because a set of suspects “use their wireless telephones to arrange meetings and transactions in furtherance of their drug-trafficking activities.” The name of the mobile-service provider is not public.

The ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology had argued (PDF) that because cell phone information “is protected by the Fourth Amendment,” a search warrant was necessary. The court did not squarely address that question in Tuesday’s ruling.

EFF’s Bankston said it was encouraging to see a ruling that allowed judges to demand search warrants at least in some cases. “The court explicitly refused to set a boundary for the court’s discretion,” he said. “It clarifies that judges have the discretion that the government has long argued they don’t have.”

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to questions from CNET about whether it would appeal that portion of the ruling to the Supreme Court or seek a review from the Third Circuit.

Not long ago, the concept of tracking cell phones would have been the stuff of spy movies. In 1998’s “Enemy of the State,” Gene Hackman warned that the National Security Agency has “been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the ’40s–they’ve infected everything.” After a decade of appearances in “24” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” location tracking has become such a trope that it was satirized in a scene with Seth Rogen from “Pineapple Express” (2008).

Cell phone tracking comes in two forms: police obtaining retrospective historical data kept by mobile providers for their own billing purposes that is typically not very detailed, or prospective tracking–which CNET was the first to report in a 2005 article–that reveals the minute-by-minute location of a handset or mobile device.

The Obama administration argues that no search warrant is necessary; it says what’s needed is only a 2703(d) order, which requires law enforcement to show that the records are “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Couple fined £114 for getting off the train early

thesun.co.uk | Sep 6, 2010

By JAMIE PYATT

A COUPLE told yesterday how they were fined £114 by a ticket collector – for getting off a train EARLY.

Emma Clark and her fiance Davyd Winter-Bates had bought discounted single tickets for £6 each on a website.

They were heading back to Southampton after a theatre trip and hotel stay in London as a 25th birthday treat for Davyd.

But the pair decided to visit friends for lunch and hopped off two stops early at Eastleigh, Hampshire.

However, when they handed over their tickets they were told they had breached railway rules and should have stayed on the train until their destination.

They were then fined TWICE the standard fare of £28.50 each – a whopping £57 each.

Art student Emma, 22, didn’t have the £114 and musician Davyd had to pay on his credit card.

Angry Emma, of Bishopstoke, said: “It is utter madness. I could understand being fined if I had stayed on the train two stops beyond my destination.” Davyd added: “It’s lousy.”

A spokesman for Stagecoach, which runs South West Trains, said: “Leaving a train early is not allowed on heavily discounted tickets. The fine is double the standard single fare.”

Berlusconi jokes about Hitler at youth rally

Silvio Berlusconi urged to apologise after impromptu speech in which he also advises young Italians to marry into money

guardian.co.uk | Sep 13, 2010

Tom Kington in Rome

Faced with a tottering economy and a crumbling coalition government, Silvio Berlusconi has chosen to woo a youth rally with jokes about Adolf Hitler and his own sexual prowess.

Appearing relaxed, if a little pale, before a crowd of cheering supporters yesterday, the frequently outspoken and gaffe-prone Italian prime minister promised to see out the end of his term, despite losing his guaranteed majority after a split with an ally, Gianfranco Fini.

Putting politics aside, he then launched into a series of anecdotes and apparent jokes that promptly drew accusations of anti-Semitism and even mental instability from opposition politicians.

The former cruise ship entertainer told a joke in which Adolf Hitler is begged by his supporters to return to power after they discover he is still alive. After resisting, Hitler says: “I’ll come back, but on one condition … next time I’m going to be evil.”

Fabio Evangelisti, a member of parliament for the opposition Italy of Values party, demanded Berlusconi apologise to Israel and the Italian Jewish community. The party’s leader, Antonio Di Pietro, said: “At this point the problem is not political or judicial, but psychiatric.”

Turning his attention to the economy, Berlusconi jokingly advised young Italians to marry into money, adding: “I have a daughter who is free to marry.”

Now separated from his wife following the scandal over his friendship with the teenage model Noemi Letizia, Berlusconi said he was also an eligible candidate for four reasons: “I am friendly, I have money, legend has it I know how to do ‘it’, and lastly because girls think: ‘He’s old and rich, he will die soon and I will inherit everything.'”

The poor performance over the weekend of AC Milan, the football club he controls, was down to a leftwing referee disallowing goals, Berlusconi joked.

The impromptu speech followed a visit to Russia on Friday, where he surprised the audience at a conference on democracy with a fierce attack on Italian magistrates he claims are hounding him. He said of Vladimir Putin: “I have never had any doubts that he is anything less than democratically minded.” Putin and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Berlusconi added, were “a gift from God” to Russia.

Last month, Berlusconi took time to defend Muammar Gaddafi after the Libyan leader told an invited audience of 200 women in Rome that Islam should be “Europe’s religion”. When the speech prompted outcry from the Vatican, Berlusconi dismissed Gaddafi’s behaviour as merely “folkloric”.

Berlusconi, 73, has previously been criticised for calling Barack Obama “young, handsome and tanned”, and last year for leaving Angela Merkel waiting to greet him at a conference while he made a call on his mobile phone.

Despite the criticism today, Berlusconi claimed he was “a respected statesman who is praised at international summits for his background as a tycoon, his 16 years of political experience and the content of his proposals.”

He said he had learned from Margaret Thatcher not to waste time reading negative coverage of himself in newspapers. The former British prime minister, he said, had told him that her press secretary only showed her positive articles about her.

Reign of error: Berlusconi’s gaffes in office

• April 2009: Shortly after an earthquake hit the city of L’Aquila, Berlusconi told the 17,000 Italians made homeless by the quake that, “they should see it like a weekend of camping”

• January 2009: Dismissed the idea that increasing the number of troops on Italian streets would help stop a surge in rape cases arguing that, “we would need as many soldiers as there are beautiful girls in Italy – which we will never manage”

• November 2008: At a news conference in Moscow with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, Berlusconi described Barack Obama as “young, handsome, and tanned”

• April 2008: Berlusconi caused outrage after saying “Zapatero [Spain’s prime minister] has formed a government that is too pink, something that we cannot do in Italy because there is a prevalence of men in politics and it isn’t easy to find women who are qualified … He will have problems leading them”

• April 2006: On welcoming the then newly elected female MP Mara Carfagna to parliament he joked: “I am obliged to remind you of a rule in the Forza Italia group, the jus primae noctis” (a Latin reference to the medieval “law of the first night” which gave the lord of an estate the right to “deflower” new brides)

• June 2005: He claimed he had “brushed up” all his “playboy skills” to persuade Finland’s president, Tarja Halonen, to agree to host the European Food Safety Authority in Italy

• July 2003: Berlusconi caused uproar at the European parliament after replying to a heckling German MEP with the comment, “Mr Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of leader. You’d be perfect”