Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Israel wins one in Europe

Israel finally won one last week in an international human rights court. On Thursday, the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights upheld a French ruling that it was illegal and discriminatory to boycott Israeli goods, and that making it illegal to call for a boycott of Israeli goods did not constitute a violation of one’s freedom of expression.

The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, has some 47 member states and is independent of the European Union. The court is made up of one judge from each member state, and the rulings of the court carry moral weight throughout Europe.

On Thursday the court ruled by a vote of 6-1 that the French court did not violate the freedom of expression of the Communist mayor of the small French town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, who in October 2002 announced at a town hall meeting that he intended to call on the municipality to boycott Israeli products. Jews in the region filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who decided to prosecute Willem for “provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds.” Willem was first acquitted by the Lille Criminal Court, but that decision was overturned on appeal in September 2003 and he was fined €1,000.

His appeal to a higher French court was unsuccessful, and as a result he petitioned the European Court of Human rights in March 2005, saying his call for a boycott of Israeli products was part of a legitimate political debate, and that his freedom of expression had been violated.

The court, made up of judges from Denmark, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Macedonia and the Czech Republic ruled that interference with the former mayor’s freedom of expression was needed to protect the rights of Israeli producers.

According to a statement issued by the court on Thursday, the court held the view that Willem was not convicted for his political opinions, “but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate.” The one dissenting opinion was written by the Czech judge.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor hailed the ruling Sunday, saying it provided important ammunition for those challenging on legal grounds calls frequently heard in Europe for a boycott of Israeli products, as well as calls for a boycott of Israeli academia. “It is now clear that in every country in Europe there is a precedent for calling boycotts of Israeli goods a violation of the law,” Palmor said. “This is an important precedent, one that says very clearly that boycott calls are discriminatory. We hope this will help us push back against all the calls for boycotts of Israeli goods.”


Somalia comes to Minnesota

The attitudes and behaviour that wrecked their own country continue in America

Ahmednur Ali's family fled the chaos and violence of their West African homeland Somalia in the 1990s, eventually making their way to Minnesota like thousands of their compatriots. While many of the estimated 32,000 Somalis who settled in the state have struggled to adapt, Ali flourished, blazing a path to Minneapolis' Augsburg College on a soccer scholarship by age 20. He studied political science and aspired to a political career modeled on President Barack Obama's.

He was shot and killed last September outside a busy community center where he worked part-time as a youth counselor, and prosecutors said the 16-year-old accused of killing him was part of a gang.Ali was one of seven Minneapolis-area Somali men killed over a 10-month period, and authorities believe all were killed by fellow Somalis. Police say it's too simple to tie all the killings to Somali gangs, which have lured hundreds of young community members to their ranks in recent years.

Those in the insular community willing to speak out, however, disagree. "It was all gang activity, totally, 100 percent," said Shukri Adan, a former Somali community organizer who estimated in a 2007 report for the city that between 400 and 500 young Somalis were active in gangs. "The police don't want to say that but everybody else knows that."

Despite anger and despair over the killings in Minnesota's Somali community - the nation's largest - police and prosecutors have struggled to catch and try the killers. Few witnesses have stepped forward because of a fear of reprisal and deep-rooted distrust of authority. More than half of Minnesota's Somalis are living in poverty, according to state statistics, and many complain that authorities are biased against Somalis because of their Islamic faith.

Last month, prosecutors dropped the murder charge against the teenage boy in Ali's case after one witness backed out and another apparently fled the state.

Gangs like the Somali Hot Boyz, the Somali Mafia and Madhibaan with Attitude have grown more active in recent years, said Jeanine Brudenell, the Minneapolis Police Department's Somali liaison officer.

The recent spate of killings started in December 2007, when two Somali men, ages 27 and 25, were found shot to death at a south Minneapolis home. No arrests have been made in that case. They culminated last September, when a man was fatally shot outside of the Village Market Mall, a cluster of Somali-owned businesses and a popular destination for local Somalis. Investigators believe the shooter was retaliating for the death of his cousin, one of the other slain Somalis. The mall shooting was the only of the seven slayings for which anyone was convicted - 23-year-old Hassan Mohamed Abdillahi.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he hoped the conviction would show local Somalis that the law is on their side, and spark new progress in closing the other cases. "We have a job to do to convince people they can trust us," he said.

A gang expert in California said economic and social factors are more likely to blame for the spike in gang activity than any spillover of violence from war-ravaged Somalia. "When there's unemployment and poverty and lack of external support, there's gangs," said Jorja Leap, a social welfare professor at the University of California Los Angeles and former gang adviser to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Investigators in a separate criminal investigation have said they've also had trouble penetrating Minnesota's Somali community. The FBI is looking into the disappearance in recent years of up to 20 young Somali men, mostly from Minneapolis, believed to have been recruited into Islamist terror groups back in Somalia.

The first sign of progress in that investigation came this week with the indictment on terrorism charges of two young Somali men, at least one of whom is accused of traveling to Somalia to fight.

Elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, police and community officials have reported an increase in Somali gang activity. In and around Edmonton, Alberta, six young Somali men have been slain in the last six months. The leader of a small Somali outreach group there said the deaths are seen as evidence of a growing gang problem, and that they've led to better cooperation between Somalis and police. "It seems like the community now is getting to the point where we are trying to give information to the police, and they are sharing information with us," said Mohamednur Mardowe, who heads the Brotherhood Community Support Service Association.

Police in Columbus, Ohio, which has the second largest U.S. population of Somalis, have also seen growing evidence of Somali gangs, said Sgt. Chantay Boxill.

Ahmednur Ali's sister, Hindia Ali, said she hopes her fellow Somalis will stand up against the violence. "I don't think any Somali person wants killing to continue," she said. "We all want this violence to stop."


Britain's secretive Leftist government

I smile when I hear this Government insisting that it is committed to openness about its own behaviour (MPs’ expenses, Iraq inquiry passim).

This is partly because I was a member of the senior Civil Service when the Freedom of Information Act was formulated in 1999 and I remember all the whispered discussions about how to circumvent it (never write anything down, don’t keep minutes of sensitive meetings), and partly because I have just emerged from a gruelling battle to make use of Britain’s information laws and have found the odds stacked firmly against me.

My Whitehall stint ended seven years ago after Downing Street tried to blame me for the misbehaviour of Stephen Byers, the Transport and Local Government Secretary at the time, and his spin doctor, Jo Moore.

The Government eventually made a public apology to me and paid substantial compensation, but I was curious to find out who had picked me as a scapegoat, and who had led the smear campaign against me when I refused to go quietly.

So in April 2006 I filed a subject access request for all the information the Government held on me and expected to get it within the 40-day deadline specified by the Freedom of Information Act. Some hope. The Government didn’t even reply within 40 days let alone provide the data.

When I asked why it was not sending me the information, I triggered a mildly surreal sequence of excuses that went on for two years: we have faulty IT equipment; manpower shortages; new priorities; “I am on holiday in France, R. Smith, Data Controller”; pressure of other business; change in IT supplier; the need to consult widely; Christmas leave commitments; third-party interests; concerns over data security . . .

I was patient and polite, but I was being fobbed off. I complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which enforces the information laws, and it replied that the Government “is likely to have contravened the Act”. Months went by and I heard nothing more.

When I rang, the ICO said that it had mislaid the case file. I asked for a meeting. At ICO headquarters in Wilmslow, Cheshire, I found an understaffed, cowed and demoralised organisation with nothing like the clout and resources the job demands. Staff members told me that they were stressed, overworked and scared of challenging the Government (which pays their wages).

Around this time, a friend in the Civil Service informed me that ministers were holding discussions about destroying the information I had asked for, potentially a criminal offence. When I asked about this, the Government’s departmental knowledge officer, Richard Smith, wrote: “No information is held relating to discussions or correspondence regarding the provision or non-provision of the information you requested.”

But I later discovered that he wrote on the same day to another official: “We have needed to consult widely on this request because of the nature of the data we hold . . . Please regard this as confidential and not for passing on to Martin Sixsmith.”

I urged the ICO to demand that the Government hand over the data. The ICO threatened enforcement action, but the Government did not reply. So the ICO set another deadline, which the Government also ignored. When the Government failed to meet a third deadline, the ICO moved it back again.

It was clear that the Government was accustomed to bullying and ignoring a toothless ICO, and that the ICO had no stomach to take it on. It was not until September 2008, after some vigorous lobbying from me, that the ICO finally agreed to issue an enforcement notice. Surprise, surprise, the Government still refused to comply and the case was sent on appeal to the Information Tribunal, the FoI equivalent of the High Court.

I thought that I was getting somewhere now, but if the ICO was bad, the tribunal officials were worse: communications from its proper officers were shambolic, contradictory and semi-literate.

When the case opened at Crown Chambers in the Temple, the Government was calling the shots. I requested that proceedings be held in public, as permitted by the act, but the Government’s QCs harangued the chairman into closing the doors, and the public (including me) were locked out.

I asked how much taxpayers’ money had been spent contesting the case — the Government was represented by two QCs, the ICO by one, and the panel of judges included a further two QCs — but I was told that it was not in the public interest for me to know this. One of the lawyers told me later that the figure was in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The information I was seeking had no bearing on national security but, because it was politically embarrassing, the Government was prepared to spend three years and substantial public funds to keep it secret. If I weren’t so bloody-minded, the ICO would have caved in and the Government would have got away with it.

But last month, three years after it all began, a heap of documents landed on my doormat. They are heavily redacted, but they show that senior civil servants backed up the view that Stephen Byers misled Parliament and that it was Alastair Campbell who circulated false information about me.

Campbell’s language is delightfully choice: it might turn up in the rantings of Malcolm Tucker in the next series of The Thick of It.

I am still trawling through the contents of the documents — they will provide a story for another day — but for now the lesson is clear: there is no truth in the rumour that the Government has embraced openness and honesty.


Socialist America Sinking

by Pat Buchanan

After half a century of fighting encroachments upon freedom in America, journalist Garet Garrett published "The People's Pottage." A year later, in 1954, he died. "The People's Pottage" opens thus: "There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom."

Garrett wrote of a revolution within the form. While outwardly America appeared the same, a revolution within had taken place that was now irreversible. One need only glance at where we were before the New Deal, where we are and where we are headed to see how far we are off the course the Founding Fathers set for our republic.

Taxes drove the American Revolution, for we were a taxaphobic, liberty-loving people. That government is best that governs least is an Americanism. When "Silent Cal" Coolidge went home in 1929, the U.S. government was spending 3 percent of gross domestic product. And today? Obama's first budget will consume 28 percent of the entire GDP; state and local governments another 15 percent. While there is some overlap, in 2009, government will consume 40 percent of GDP, approaching the peak of World War II.

The deficit for 2009 is $1.8 trillion, 13 percent of the whole economy. Obama is pushing a cap-and-trade bill to cut carbon emissions that will impose huge costs on energy production, spike consumer prices and drive production offshore to China, which is opting out of Kyoto II. The Chinese are not fools.

Obama plans to repeal the Bush tax cuts and take the income tax rate to near 40 percent. Combined state and local income tax rates can run to 10 percent. For the self-employed, payroll taxes add up to 15.2 percent on the first $106,800 for all wages of all workers. Medicare takes 2.9 percent of all wages above that. Then there are the state sales taxes that can run to 8 percent, property taxes, gas taxes, excise taxes, and "sin taxes" on booze, cigarettes and, soon, hot dogs and soft drinks.

Comes now national health insurance from Nancy Pelosi's House. A surtax that runs to 5.4 percent of all earnings of the top 1 percent of Americans, who already pay 40 percent of all federal income taxes, has been sent to the Senate. Included also is an 8 percent tax on the entire payroll of small businesses that fail to provide health insurance for employees. Other ideas on the table include taxing the health benefits that businesses provide their employees. The D.C.-based Tax Foundation says New Yorkers could face a combined income tax rate of near 60 percent.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson called George III a tyrant for having "erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance." What did George III do with his Stamp Act, Townshend Acts or tea tax to compare with what is being done to this generation of Americans by their own government?

While the hardest working and most productive are bled, a third of all wage-earners pay no U.S. income tax, and Obama plans to free almost half of all wage-earners of all income taxes. Yet, tens of millions get Medicaid, rent supplements, free education, food stamps, welfare and an annual check from Uncle Sam called an Earned Income Tax Credit, though they never paid a nickel in income taxes. Oh, yes. Obama also promises everybody a college education.

Coming to America to feast on this cornucopia of freebies is the world. One million to 2 million immigrants, legal and illegal, arrive every year. They come with fewer skills and less education than Americans, and consume more tax dollars than they contribute by three to one. Wise Latina women have more babies north of the border than they do in Mexico and twice as many here as American women. As almost all immigrants are now Third World people of color, they qualify for ethnic preferences in hiring and promotions and admissions to college over the children of Americans

All of this would have astounded and appalled the Founding Fathers, who after all, created America -- as they declared loud and clear in the Constitution -- "for ourselves and our posterity."

China saves, invests and grows at 8 percent. America, awash in debt, has a shrinking economy, a huge trade deficit, a gutted industrial base, an unemployment rate surging toward 10 percent and a money supply that's swollen to double its size in a year. The 20th century may have been the American Century. The 21st shows another pattern.

"The United States is declining as a nation and a world power with mostly sighs and shrugs to mark this seismic event," writes Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, in CFR's Foreign Affairs magazine. "Astonishingly, some people do not appear to realize that the situation is all that serious." Even the establishment is starting to get the message.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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