Tuesday, April 20, 2010
NEW EU GESTAPO SPIES ON BRITONS
MILLIONS of Britons face being snooped on by a new European intelligence agency which has been handed frightening powers to pry into our lives. Europol can access personal information on anyone – including their political opinions and sexual preferences – if it suspects, rightly or wrongly, that they may be involved in any “preparatory act” which could lead to criminal activity.
The vagueness of the Hague-based force’s remit sparked furious protests yesterday with critics warning that the EU snoopers threaten our right to free speech. It is understood the agency will concentrate on anyone thought “xenophobic” or likely to commit a crime involving the environment, computers or motor vehicles.
This could include covert monitoring of people who deny the existence of climate change or speak out on controversial issues.
Paul Nuttall, chairman of the UK Independence Party, said: “I am horrified. We thought Gordon Brown’s Big Brother state was bad enough but at least we are going to kick him out in May. These guys we cannot sack until we leave the EU.”
James Welch, legal director of campaign group Liberty, said: “We have huge concerns that Europol appears to have been given powers to hold very sensitive information and to investigate matters that aren’t even crimes in this country. Any extension of police powers at any level needs to be properly debated and scrutinised.”
Until January 1, Europol was a police office funded by various states to help tackle international organised crime. But it has been reborn as the official criminal intelligence-gathering arm of the EU and Brussels has vastly increased its powers. It can now target more than simply organised crime and the burden of proof required to begin monitoring an individual has been downgraded.
Europol has also been absorbed into the EU superstructure, so it will be centrally funded, sweeping away a key check on its independence.
Campaigners last night expressed concern over the vague list of “serious crimes” which the agency can help investigate, which include racism and xenophobia, environmental crime and corruption. Among personal details that can be gathered and stored are “behavioural data” including “lifestyle and routine; movements; places frequented”, tax position and profiles of DNA and voice. Where relevant, Europol will also be able to keep data on a person’s “political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs or trade union membership and data concerning health or sex life”.
Sean Gabb, director of the Libertarian Alliance, warned that it threatened our right to free speech. “It doesn’t surprise me that Europol has been handed these rather frightening powers,” he said. “We now live in a pan-European state so it was to be expected that it would have a federal police force with powers over us. “There is a real danger that opposition to EU policies could make an individual liable to arrest.
“For example, if Brussels adopts a hard-line stance on climate change, it’s conceivable that someone who broadcasts their scepticism of climate change may be accused of committing an environmental crime because they have undermined the EU’s efforts to save mankind.”
Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative leader in the European Parliament, said: “Europol’s new mandate has significantly expanded its powers. “There is a real chance that the vague mandate will enable it to gradually extend its areas of intervention even further.”
The Home Office insisted the changes were in Britain’s interests. A spokesman said: “Europol is now in a much stronger position to better support our fight against serious and organised crime and terrorism.”
Hunting good for wildlife
Hunters have always said this but now Greenies are starting to realize its truth
The book, called Silent Summer, makes for some grim reading. Farmland birds, brown hares, water voles and many butterflies and other insects are in decline because of changing farming practices and loss of habitat, it says.
There are, however, some success stories. The otter, which between 1957 and the Seventies disappeared from 94 per cent of its habitats, is now back at more than a third of those sites, thanks to a special conservation programme.
And, controversially, the book credits field sports with helping to conserve several species, saying activities like hunting and shooting are "almost universally good" for the hunted species and many other species living in the same habitats.
The 600-page book was written by a team of experts and edited by Professor Emeritus Norman Maclean, of Southampton University's School of Biological Sciences, and a leading UK authority on fish genetics and genomics.
The book records how some farmland birds, including the skylark, have seen their population fall by more than half in recent decades. Farmland birds are a key government barometer for measuring the countryside's health.
Other species, including the yellow hammer, turtle dove, grey partridge, willow tit, spotted flycatcher, wood warbler and pied flycatcher are also in serious decline.
Robert Robinson of the British Trust for Ornithology says in the book that half the 220 bird species in Britain and Ireland " are of conservation concern". Climate change is a threat but deterioration and loss of habitat is a bigger problem, he says.
The dramatic fall in insect populations in the past 20 years has had a knock-on effects for other animals, especially birds and mammals. British butterflies in trouble include the Large Heath, Duke of Burgundy and Lulworth Skipper.
The brown hare, which has been in decline in the UK since the 1960s, has suffered from an increase in the number of predators – mainly foxes – and loss of cover, according to the book. There are an estimated 800,000 hares in the UK and although not rare or endangered, the mammal is one of the Government's priority species for conservation.
In addition to the otter, other species that have benefited from targeted measures include the buzzard – up by over 50 per cent – and the red kite, which was on the brink of extinction and now boasts a population of 1,000 breeding pairs in the UK. Sea birds are flourishing and badgers, helped by strict legal protection, have seen their numbers rise to more than 300,000.
Prof Maclean told The Sunday Telegraph: "The book is like a Domesday Book of British wildlife. There are serious concerns about many species of birds and insects. The problem is chiefly man-made and the solutions can be man-made too.
"But the picture is mixed. The evidence suggests that targeted conservation campaigns work. We have to protect the species in danger because so many other species depend on them for survival.
"And we should also protect them because wildlife is important to our quality of life."
Sir David Attenborough says in the book's foreword: "This book... gives us a benchmark. It is invaluable now and in the future it will be irreplaceable."
The book highlights the importance of field sports to the wellbeing of wildlife. Robin Sharp, Chair Emeritus of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, says that "field sports ... have been almost universally good for the hunted species and the non-hunted, non-predators that thrive in the same habitat".
Prof Sharp praises foxhunting and reveals that 86 per cent of woodland managed for hunting had vegetation cover – important for other species – compared with just 64 per cent in unmanaged woodland.
Managed areas also had an average of four more plant species, greater plant diversity and more butterfly species than unmanaged areas.
Prof Sharp also reports on a study of three areas in central England which found that all owners of land used for hunting and shooting had planted new woodland, compared with only 30 per cent of landowners who did not host hunts or shoots.
"This suggests that those who hunt and / or shoot provide significant conservation benefits," he said.
Prof Sharp calls on hunters and shooters to make more effort to explain the benefits of their activities to conservationists, policy-makers and the public.
"Overwhelmingly the target species for field sports have fared well over the last century ... More game-keeping, game crops and habitat management would undoubtedly achieve even more."
Europe struggles with Muslim dress code
Chances of seeing a burqa in Belgium are only a little better than spotting a liquor shop in Saudi Arabia. Yet Belgium soon may be the first European nation to outlaw the burqa and other Islamic garb that completely hides a woman's body and face.
Neighboring France and the Netherlands may also outlaw attire that is viewed by many in western European societies as demeaning to women. It also is considered a gateway to radical Islam, a fear that is stoking rightwing sentiment across the continent.
"There is all-party public support for this," says Leen Dierick, a conservative member of the Belgian parliament's Interior Affairs committee that unanimously backed the proposed ban March 31. The initiative is expected become law in July and would apply to all public places, including streets.
Anxieties that visible signs of Islam erode national identity are combining with complaints that immigrants are stealing jobs amid the worst economic slump in decades to deepen a sense of unease in many European countries, small and large alike, over the role of Muslims in society.
Threats against cartoonists and artists over depictions of the prophet Muhammad have also raised fears that Islam is not compatible with Western values of freedom of speech.
Swiss voters recently voted to ban the construction of new minarets. In recent years, both mosque and minaret construction projects in many European countries, including Sweden, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany and Slovenia have generated protests, some of them violent.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy favors a burqa ban, saying the veils compromise women's dignity. Unlike the Belgians or the Dutch _ who see a clear and straightforward public security issue _ the French are struggling with the constitutionality of outlawing a religious dress code.
Until now, it has been up to city governments in Belgium to crack down on burqa-style outfits. "Enforcement by local governments has been patchy," says Dierick. "The point is public security, the need to show one's face in public. Not religious freedom."
The proposed Belgian ban partly underscores how populist politicians across Europe are making a big imprint on attitudes and policies toward immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims.
Belgian lawmaker Filip Dewinter says mainstream politicians back a ban on burqa-type attire for fear of losing more ground to his far-right Flemish Interest party _ a fringe factor 15 years but who today hold 17 of the 150 parliamentary seats.
"We were the first to propose a burqa ban," says Dewinter. "Now the parliament votes for a ban (drafted by a) traditional government party. Whatever! It's the outcome that counts."
Umar Mirza, a 22-year-old student and editor of the Dutch Muslim Web site "We're Staying Here" says sentiment toward Muslims and immigrants began to harden in the Netherlands 10 years ago.
"People my age have not known anything else," he says, adding the prevailing view of Muslims "has gotten much harder and sharper and less targeted at solutions."
In the Netherlands, polls indicate that Geert Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party could nearly triple its presence in parliament and win 25 or so seats in June elections, up from nine today.
Wilders and like-minded supporters of the far-right hold that Muslims threaten European values by wearing head scarves and more conservative dress that fully covers body and head, such as the burqa, the chador and the niqab.
They say that liberal Europe can no longer afford to tolerate the illiberalism of newcomers.
"Islam is more of an ideology than a religion," Wilders is fond of saying. "I do not believe in a European Islam. The Islamization of the Netherlands and Western Europe will make us lose the freedoms we have today."
Numbers put growing fears of Europe becoming "Eurabia" into perspective.
Although their ranks are growing, Muslims make up only small minorities in Western Europe. France has the largest Muslim population of an estimated 5 million, or 7.5 percent of the population, followed by the Netherlands with 6 percent, Germany with 5 percent, Austria with 4.2 percent, Belgium with 3 percent and Britain with 2.7 percent, according to a 2009 study of the Pew Research Center in Washington.
There is broad support in the Dutch parliament to ban face-obscuring clothing except if required by law for safety or health reasons. Talk of a ban is on hold, for now. Fewer than 500 women wear such outfits in the Netherlands, out of a population of 16.5 million.
"Banning the burqa in Belgium is easy. The vast majority of Muslim women here don't wear one," says Maryam H'madoun, an activist in Antwerp for Muslim women's right to wear head scarves in public places.
Last year, the city of Brussels fined only 29 women _ down from 33 in 2008 _ for wearing a burqa-type dress, leading critics to say the regulations are an empty populist gesture. Local rules ban the burqa, but the new law would outlaw it on a national level.
In January, Denmark's center-right government called the burqa and the niqab out of step with Danish values. It held off on a ban after finding that only two or three women in Denmark (pop. 5.5 million) wear burqas and perhaps 200 wearing niqabs.
In France (pop. 65 million), the government estimates 1,900 women cover their faces with "niqabs," a scarf that exposes only the eyes, or "sitars," a filmy veiled cloth thrown over the head to cover the entire face.
France banned Muslim head scarves _ as well as Jewish skullcaps and Christian crosses _ from schools in 2004. President Nicolas Sarkozy says the burqa "is not welcome" in France, but the Council of State, France's highest administrative body, has served notice that an outright ban may be unconstitutional.
Politicians in Germany, Spain and Italy have toyed with banning Islamic wear, but so far to no effect.
Muslims say their Islamic dress expresses their freedom of religion.
The headscarves debate "shows we still aren't able to accept the fact that the headscarves are part of our society," says Mirza, the editor of the "We're Staying Here" Web site.
"In the UK, they even made special police uniforms for women with headscarves. That shows willingness from the government and improves participation in society of these groups."
Isabelle Praile, vice president of the Belgian Muslims Executive says while a burqa ban targets very few women "it speaks to a fear of the other who is Muslim. This is Islamophobia."
To Muslims in Europe, she said, "the economy, the cost of living and decent housing" are more pressing issues that worrying about a burqa ban.
England branded least patriotic nation in Europe as citizens are too scared to fly the flag
The English rate themselves the least patriotic nation in Europe, a poll suggests. Almost half said their country had lost its identity in the face of European interference and political correctness.
The findings were published in advance of St George’s Day which, as two thirds of those polled did not know, is on April 23 – this Friday.
They showed that on average, English people rate their patriotism at slightly below six on a scale out of ten, behind the Scots, Welsh and Irish and far in the wake of the Dutch, the most patriotic people on the continent.
Only one in ten would happily fly the cross of St George to celebrate the national saint’s day. Double that number said they thought they would be told by authorities to remove it if they flew it from their house.
Despite calls from public figures ranging from Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu to Gordon Brown for more celebrations of the English national day, there has been clear disapproval from many public authorities.
In 2008 St George's Day parades were banned by local authorities in Bradford and Sandwell in the West Midlands on the grounds they could cause trouble or were 'unhealthy' and 'tribal'.
Last year Mr Brown's instruction that public buildings in England should fly the flag on 23 April were undermined by the production of a European map drawn up in Brussels that wiped England off altogether and replaced the country with a series of EU regions.
One in 10 of the English are happy to fly the flag, compared with one in three Dutch people willing to fly their own tricolor. More than one in four English people said they feared being branded racist, but four out of 10 said they would happily express their national pride behind closed doors. Four out of 10 said they felt England had completely lost its national identity.
The same number said the only time they felt a real sense of patriotism was during big sporting events or competitions, with 53 per cent claiming the World Cup was the main spark, followed by the Olympics. However, three out of ten said they felt waves of patriotism in the wake of terrorist atrocities in our towns and cities.
While English people put their patriotism at 5.8 out of 10, Scots ranked their patriotism at 7.1, the Welsh at 7.06 and the Irish at 6.72.
The Dutch were the most patriotic European country at 7.18, while the French scored 6.44 and the Germans ranked their love of country just ahead of the English at 5.81.
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.
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