Daily Archives: July 19, 2011

Rupert Murdoch’s “papal knighthood” questioned

secularism.org.uk | Jul 17, 2011

There has been some debate among Catholics as to whether Rupert Murdoch should be asked by the Vatican to return the papal medal he was awarded in 1998. He was recommended for the medal after he gave large amounts to a Catholic “education” fund. After he was “knighted” by the pope, the media tycoon then donated another $10 million to help build a cathedral.

But now that it has been revealed to what depths the Murdoch empire stooped to accumulate this fortune, Catholics are asking if the Order of St Gregory should be replaced with the order of the boot.

In another development, it was revealed today that Murdoch’s son, James, paid £100,000 to the Catholic Church in order to gain a personal audience with the pope during his visit to Britain last September.

Catholic commentator Francis Davis said: “Given the importance that the English bishops have attached to ethics in business since the banking crisis, it would now be extraordinary if the bishops were not to review the ethical provenance of this donation. And perhaps it raises questions about other donations we don’t know about.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “There is now no doubt that the Murdoch fortune has been made partially on the back of illegal, not to mention immoral, activities. So, given that the money he donated is tainted with sin, will the morally righteous Vatican be sending it back and washing its hands of it? Or does money move only one way with the Vatican – and that’s in?”

Dead hacking scandal whistleblower was afraid of the Government and spoke of a “conspiracy”


Former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare has been found dead. Picture: AP Source: AP

Sudden death of News of the World whistleblower shocks colleagues

He would  have been called to appear at  criminal proceedings brought by police against senior editors and executives at News International.

theaustralian.com.au | Jul 19, 2011

by Alex Ralph

THE sudden death of Sean Hoare, the former News of the World reporter who blew the whistle on phone hacking at the paper, has stunned former colleagues and those connected with the investigations into the scandal.

As the first former News of the World reporter to claim publicly that his old friend and boss Andy Coulson had “actively encouraged” him to hack into voicemail messages, Mr Hoare, who was thought to be in his forties, was likely to have been a key witness in the judicial inquiry into hacking. He would probably also have been called to appear at any criminal proceedings brought by police against senior editors and executives at News International.

Friends of the pair said that Mr Coulson, who is holidaying in Cornwall, was shocked by the latest development.

Officers were called to a first-floor flat at a modern block in Watford yesterday morning after concerns for Mr Hoare’s welfare were raised by a family member. His body was found and he was pronounced dead shortly after ambulance and police arrived.

Details surrounding Mr Hoare’s death were unclear last night, with the police yet to inform family members or formally to identify the body. Two officers were on duty outside the entrance last night and the curtains were drawn.

In a statement, Hertfordshire Constabulary said the “death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious”.

Inspector Rod Reeves said that a family member had become concerned when Mr Hoare had not returned calls. He would not comment on where Mr Hoare’s body was found in the flat, but said he was alone.

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He is understood to have lived in the block with his partner, Jo.

A neighbour said: “I feared the worst a couple of months ago. He wasn’t looking in great shape physically. He was not his usual, bubbly, friendly self.”

Another neighbour said Mr Hoare was “paranoid” about people seeing him and spoke of a “conspiracy” and that he was afraid of the police and the Government. “He talked about all sorts of problems that he had in his life. A lot of it was alcohol-related. His passage through life has not been an easy one.” The neighbour added: “He said he was in trouble and he was worried about people coming to get him.”

Tributes were paid to Mr Hoare on Twitter last night with David Yelland, a former Editor of The Sun, writing: “Sean Hoare was trying to be honest, struggling with addiction. But he was a good man. My God.”

Mr Hoare was sacked from the News of the World by Mr Coulson because of the effects his drink and drug problems were having on his health. Mr Hoare, who had previously worked with Mr Coulson on The Sun’s Bizarre showbiz section and later at the Sunday People under Neil Wallis, was notorious on Fleet Street for his destructive lifestyle.

He told a fellow journalist of his “rock star’s breakfast” – Jack Daniels and a line of cocaine. He said he took three grams of cocaine a day, which cost him about $1500 a week.

“Everyone got overconfident. We thought we could do coke, go to Brown’s, sit in the Red Room with Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence. Everyone got a bit carried away,” he once told The Guardian.

Former colleagues said that his dismissal had left him bitter and resentful. In an interview with the New York Times he claimed that Mr Coulson not only knew of phone hacking at the News of the World but he had “actively encouraged” it. He said he had played tape recordings of hacked messages for Mr Coulson. His allegations were heavily rejected by his former boss, who had become David Cameron’s Director of Communications in May last year.

He made stronger allegations in a subsequent interview with the BBC, claiming Mr Coulson had personally asked him to hack phones and that the practice was “endemic”.

In September last year he was interviewed by police about his claims but would not make a further comment, according to Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions. He was understood to be affronted when John Yates, then the Met’s Assistant Commissioner, instructed officers to interview him as a suspect, rather than as a witness.

Then, a week before his death, he made separate allegations again to the New York Times that reporters at the News of the World had paid police to use technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals, a technique called “pinging”.

Although he was known to be in ill health and smoked and drank, he was still active. He recently attended a weekend children’s party and had been injured taking down the marquee. He told The Guardian that he had broken his nose and injured his foot when he was struck by the pole.

One neighbour said last night: “He was physically going down hill. He was yellow in colour and wasn’t looking well for the last month and was off sorts and I was really worrying about him.

“He had a constant struggle with alcohol and talked to me about how much he had put his wife through. He was talking about how he was in trouble and that he thought someone was going to come and get him, but I didn’t known whether to believe half the stuff he was saying. He did say something about phone hacking and I think that was his main worry.”

September 11 families seek meeting with FBI on News Corp hacking scandal


A New York City Police Department Officer plays taps in New York. Reuters

Reuters | Jul 18, 2011

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks have asked to meet the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department to discuss the agencies’ preliminary inquiry into reports that News Corp reporters may have tried to hack the phones of 9/11 victims.

U.S. authorities have acknowledged they are looking into a report by Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper that reporters with the rival News of the World offered to pay a New York police officer for private phone records of some 9/11 victims.

The Mirror’s report, citing an unidentified source, has yet to be independently verified but already has fueled U.S. emotions over the wider phone hacking scandal that has consumed Britain and rocked Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media empire.

New York attorney Normal Siegel, who represents September 11 family members in three legal cases, sent letters on Monday requesting meetings with FBI Director Robert Mueller, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“We commend the FBI for opening a preliminary inquiry into this serious issue and we are requesting a meeting to ascertain the scope, goals and timetable of the inquiry,” the letter to Mueller said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said he could not comment on the inquiry but said the FBI’s Victim Assistance Program had been in regular contact with 9/11 family matters about the probe.

“We will, of course, provide an appropriate response to any letter from representatives from the 9/11 victims,” said Bill Carter of the FBI’s national press office.

Siegel has represented relatives of September 11 victims in a number of cases, including a successful attempt to force New York City to release audio tapes of phone calls to emergency responders during the disaster and a losing bid to recover traces of human remains from debris buried in a landfill.

“My clients are troubled about the allegation of potential hacking and they are particularly upset that there now exists an allegation that a newspaper would seek to illegally obtain information about their loved ones,” Siegel said.

“I tried in the letter not to accuse anyone, especially News Corp, of anything yet because you don’t want a media frenzy accusing someone if the facts aren’t there. We want to find out what the truth is,” he said.

The Daily Mirror report said News of the World journalists had wanted the phone numbers of the dead as well as details of the calls they had made and received in the days leading to the attacks.

The estates of those killed on September 11 or survivors would have grounds to sue the newspaper for damages if phones were illegally hacked, with potentially greater punitive damages possible if the hacking was found to be intentional and deliberate, Siegel said.

Even if an unsuccessful attempt was made to illegally access voice mails the paper could be liable, he said.

£1,000 fine if you’re slow bringing your emptied rubbish bins in


Threat: Householders must not leave their bins out or face a fine of £1,000

Daily Mail | Jul 19, 2011

By Steve Doughty

Householders have been threatened with £1,000 fines if they leave their wheelie bins out for too long.

The penalty would be the largest ever imposed on those who fail to remove their empty bins from the pavement after they have been emptied.

Letters warning of the £1,000  fine have been sent out in Bedford, where council chiefs say bins on the pavement are a hazard to blind people.

The local authority has issued its threat just a month after the  Government condemned such draconian punishments as ‘clearly disproportionate’. Ministers have promised a new law to strip councils of the right to levy large fines.

The Bedford fines are more than 12 times greater than the on-the-spot penalties routinely handed out to shoplifters.

The letters distributed among the 65,000 homes in the borough say that anyone who fails to take their bin back in within 24 hours of their rubbish collection will be liable for the fine. The threat provoked a furious response in the town.

Matthew Hipkin, 37, said: ‘It’s an absolute waste of council money and time to have people walking the streets checking if someone has put their bin away.

‘I understand the principle of keeping the streets clean but the council has put across its point in the wrong way. It is being way too heavy-handed.’

A father of two who did not want to be named added: ‘I’ve had these threatening letters when I left my bin out on the pavement because the binmen hadn’t turned up.

‘Other times I’ve had to walk ten doors away to pick up my bin because they’ve been left scattered in the road after collection. It’s a ridiculous waste of our council tax. Why don’t they just make sure the bins are collected on time?’

There was exasperation from national campaigners against council taxes and inefficiencies.

Christine Melsom, of the Is It Fair? group, said: ‘I suppose they have to try to make money somehow but this is nonsense.

‘This is taking bin fines far too far. In most parts of the country you find very few bins left out for long anyway.’

Bedford is run by elected Liberal Democrat Mayor Dave Hodgson, and the three major parties each have 12 elected councillors.

A spokesman for the authority said: ‘We’ve been working with Sight Concern Bedford and the Royal National Institute of Blind People to encourage households to put their wheelie bins away, to help make pavements safer for blind and partially sighted people.

‘Where we receive reports of households repeatedly leaving out bins which can cause problems to such people, the council will write to the households concerned and advise that this is an offence for which they may ultimately be fined.’

Some councils have threatened £1,000 fines as their ultimate sanction for people who fail to follow recycling rules and put the wrong material in the wrong bins.

A £1,000 fine is the largest possible under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act.

In the Government’s Waste Review last month – which failed to bring back weekly bin collections – ministers said punishments for erring householders should not be higher than fines for criminals.

The review said of £1,000 fines: ‘It cannot be right for this kind of threat to be hanging over householders.’

When Antarctica was a tropical paradise


An impression of a tropical Antarctica as it may have appeared 100 million years ago. Image: Robert Nicholls/paleocreations.com

Geological drilling under Antarctica suggests the polar region has seen global warming before

Observer | Jul 17, 2011

by Robin McKie

Antarctica is the coldest, most desolate place on Earth, a land of barren mountains buried beneath a two-mile thick ice cap. Freezing winds batter its shores while week-long blizzards frequently sweep its glaciers.

Yet this icy vision turns out to be exceptional. For most of the past 100 million years, the south pole was a tropical paradise, it transpires.

“It was a green beautiful place,” said Prof Jane Francis, of Leeds University’s School of Earth and Environment. “Lots of furry mammals including possums and beavers lived there. The weather was tropical. It is only in the recent geological past that it got so cold.”

Prof Francis was speaking last week at the International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences in Edinburgh. More than 500 polar researchers gathered to discuss the latest details of their studies, research that has disturbing implications for the planet’s future. Drilling projects and satellite surveys show the whole world, not just Antarctica, was affected by temperature rises and that these were linked, closely, to fluctuations in levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Fifty five million years ago, there were more than 1,000 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Professor Stephen Pekar, of City University of New York. “That heated the world enough to melt all its ice caps. Sea levels would have been almost 200ft higher than today. ”

At present, there are 390ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, a rise – caused by emissions from power plants, factories and lorries – from preindustrial levels of around 280ppm. This has already raised global temperatures by almost 1C. At its present rate of increase – around 2ppm a year – it will still take a long time to reach 1,000ppm.

But we should take little comfort from that, added Pekar. “By the time we get to 500ppm we will start to see major melting of the ice caps.”

Measurements taken by Henk Brinkhus and Peter Bijl of Utrecht University as part of the International Ocean Drilling Programme were revealed at the symposium. A kilometre under the seabed at Wilkes Land in east Antarctica, they found sediments containing the pollen of plants that only thrive in the tropics today. “We have found the same kind of material, from the same period, in the Arctic as well. These show the poles were just as warm as lands at the equator,” said Brinkhus. “Carbon dioxide turned the planet into a uniformly warm hothouse.”

Understanding exactly why our atmosphere went through such extreme fluctuations in CO2 is now a pressing concern for scientists. Most hypotheses suggest that at certain times, movements of tectonic plates caused carbonate-rich rocks and sediments to release their CO2. The world heated up. Then, in intervening periods, that CO2was absorbed by a range of natural processes and the world cooled down again.

“We now know that over geological time, carbon dioxide levels and atmospheric temperatures are interlinked,” added Brinkhus. “When the former rises, the latter goes up in its wake. These changes took place over millions of years. However, we are now making similar changes in decades and have little chance to adjust. There are bad days ahead for the planet.”

This point was backed by Pekar. “When we look at the Antarctic’s past, we get a vision of what our planet might be like in a couple of hundred years: a hot, drowned world. “

Big Brother coming to Atlanta in a big way

Atlanta OKs surveillance center; cameras to watch city

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Jul 18, 2011

By Ernie Suggs

Big Brother is coming to Atlanta. Or is it a watchful eye that will make walking city streets safer?

On Monday, the Atlanta City Council approved a measure to network and monitor thousands of public and privately owned security cameras throughout Atlanta.

The cameras and images will be part of a new multi-million dollar video integration center, designed to compile and analyze footage from the network..

To start, images from as many as 500 cameras — some city-owned and some private —  are expected to flow into the center, providing images from Piedmont Park to Underground Atlanta. The center will use software that can identify “suspicious” behavior and allow monitors to quickly deploy public safety personnel. The software is also capable of pinpointing where gunshots originate from.

The center is being built by a $2.6 million federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The Atlanta Police Foundation – which funds the camera network operated by the Midtown Blue, a private security agency — is also raising money to operate the center. The city has not determined yet how much it will cost to operate the center annually, but the Council is committed to establishing virtually blanket video monitoring of the city.

“I am in full support of increased eyes on the streets,” said Ivory Lee Young, chairman of the council’s public safety committee. “[Atlanta Police] Chief Turner expressed early on that this was a way to supplement enforcement with technology. This is a way to operate smarter.”

. Others are conflicted, worried about the camera network’s impact on privacy.

“I have very mixed feelings about it,” said Marsha Guobadia, a Sandy Springs resident. ” …I want my family to feel safe and protected. The question is how far is too far in protecting citizens, but possibly infringing on those citizens’ privacy?”

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the cameras.

“When you start centralizing video footage from one place, run by the government, you are opening up the possibility that everybody will be tracked and monitored, which is inconsistent with our oldest traditions of privacy,” asked Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the national ACLU.

Aman said the city is aware of privacy concerns and will remain sensitive to them.

“But we do believe that appropriate video monitoring of public spaces can reduce crime and avoid privacy issues,” Aman said.

In cities where cameras have been employed to help fight crime, there have been measures of success. San Francisco installed cameras in 2005 and last week the city’s police chief asked for more, after an art thief was arrested after being captured on video. .

But Stanley argues that there is no data that conclusively proves that cameras reduce crime in a city.

“It may move crime somewhere else,” Stanley said. “These centers are expensive and people would be better off having police officers on the streets, instead of these high-tech gizmos, which people assume is a silver bullet. ”

Aman said video deters crime and helps with investigations..

“If you go to COBRA, you will hear ‘video’ in every case,” said Aman, about the APD’s weekly crime analysis meeting. “Whether low or highprofile, video evidence is critical part in putting people in jail. And putting people in jail reduces the crime rate.”