Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sarkozy threatens boycott of Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony

Nicolas Sarkozy became the first world leader to suggest that he might boycott the Beijing Olympics yesterday as Britain and France increased the pressure on China over Tibet.

President Sarkozy signalled that he may stay away from the opening ceremony in August unless the Chinese authorities exercised restraint in dealing with the Tibetan independence movement and opened talks with the Dalai Lama.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday hit out at China’s “violations” in Tibet and the “disappointing” lack of progress towards a peaceful resolution.

Its annual report on human rights said: “We continue to make clear our view that the best way to improve the situation in Tibet is through meaningful dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama and his representatives, without pre-conditions.”

However, Mr Sarkozy’s hint of a boycott, delivered on the eve of his state visit to Britain today, threatened to open a rift with Gordon Brown. It contradicts the position of British ministers, who have repeatedly rejected calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony.

Mr Sarkozy said that “all options were open” and that he would make a decision whether to go to Beijing depending on China’s response.

“Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet,” he said. “I don’t close the door to any option, but I think it’s more prudent to reserve my responses to concrete developments in the situation. I want dialogue to begin and I will graduate my response according to the response given by Chinese authorities.”

Mr Sarkozy’s comments will increase pressure on the Prime Minister to be more explicit about his demands with Beijing over Tibet. They also threatened to overshadow what London and Paris had hoped would be a turning point in Anglo-French relations after the ill-feeling of the Blair-Chirac years.

At the summit, in the Emirates Stadium in North London, new co-operation deals on nuclear energy and immigration will be signed. London and Paris are set to agree to harmonise regulations to make it easier and cheaper for new nuclear plants to be built on both sides of the Channel. The leaders are also expected to announce new schemes to use French expertise to train a new nuclear workforce in this country and co-operation over the construction of long-term waste facilities.

On immigration, British officials are hoping for a firm commitment from the French that they will not build a new reception centre for migrants, nicknamed Sangatte II, in Calais.

The package of agreed measures is also expected to include the joint chartering of flights to deport illegal migrants from Britain and France back to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran — something raised by Mr Sarkozy in 2005. The French President will also brief Mr Brown privately on his plans to send 1,000 troops to Afghanistan and seek to win his support for further European defence co-operation.

London and Paris will annnounce agreement over plans for a civilian rapid-reaction force of administrative and legal personnel that could be sent to stabilise failing states.

However, Mr Sarkozy’s threat of a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony will place the new entente under immediate pressure. “The opening ceremony is part of the Games and our position against a boycott of the Games has not changed. We do not believe in a boycott as a way of effecting change,” a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said.

Mr Brown is scheduled to attend the closing ceremony when London will receive the Olympic torch from Beijing. As the next host city, London has an eight-minute segment of the ceremony that is expected to set the tone for the subsequent Games.

A snub by Mr Sarkozy of the Beijing opening ceremony would put pressure on other European leaders to follow suit. France will hold the rotating EU presidency during the Games while hosting the Dalai Lama for the first time since 2003 when he delivers Buddhist lectures in Nantes.

It would also heap embarrassment on the Chinese, who are already worried that the Olympic torch relay — the high-profile prelude to the opening ceremony — will be hijacked by political protesters and human rights activists. The torch-lighting ceremony in the ancient city of Olympia was disrupted over the weekend by pro-Tibet protesters. Three people from Reporters without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based media freedom group, were arrested.

The organisation appealed last week for a boycott of the opening ceremony by heads of state and governments as a way of sending a strong message to China without asking athletes to throw away years of training by refusing to compete.

The idea is supported by many in France. Jean-François Julliard, an RSF director and one of those of charged by Greek police with “insulting national symbols”, said: “We feel that political leaders are starting to change their attitudes.”

The sports director at France’s leading television company suggested that it might boycott the Olympics if the Chinese Government censored footage. “At that point, the president of France Télévisions . . . would without a doubt decide not to cover the Games,” Daniel Bilalian told Belgian radio.

— British arms exports to China have tripled in value in one year, according to a Foreign and Commonwealth Office report (Michael Evans writes). Arms exports were worth £215 million from October 2006 to September 2007. Licences for Beijing included equipment for military helicopters and for communications systems.

Special Thanks to The Times

Dash for green fuel pushes up price of meat in US

The price of meat is set to rise in America as the nation’s helter-skelter dash to convert corn into road fuel begins to take its toll on the supply of food.

The US Department of Agriculture has said that meat supply will fall this year because of the high cost of feed. Output of beef, pork and chicken is expected to decline by one billion pounds as farmers react to the soaring cost of feeding their livestock.

Typically, meat production in the United States rises by about 2 per cent a year, but the pressure from American ethanol producers manufacturing road fuel from corn has sent the price of maize soaring to $4 a bushel.

The USDA is predicting that the 2006 corn crop will sell for an average of $3.10 a bushel at the farm gate, the highest for a decade. Faced with extortionate feed costs, cattle and poultry farmers are rearing fewer animals and slaughtering them early. That means a sudden reversal in the annual meat production gain, representing a fall of 1.7lb per person.

“There is a new demand component,” Shayle Shagam, a livestock analyst at USDA, said. “Livestock producers have to bid against the ethanol industry to get supplies of corn.”

The biofuel revolution’s unpleasant negative consequence was first felt south of Rio Grande, when the escalating price of corn affected a food staple. Mexico’s tortilla inflation crisis is spreading north to the heartland of rib-eye steak and chicken wings. The USDA predicts that food prices will rise by up to 3.5 per cent this year as farmers rein in output in response to feedstock costs.

In Washington, the International Monetary Fund added its warning about the consequences of a mass conversion of food crops into fuel. Mounting political panic over carbon emissions has encouraged politicians in European and America to raise targets for the biofuel content in a litre of petrol.

Food prices rose by 10 per cent worldwide in 2006, said the IMF in its World Economic Report, owing to a surge in corn, wheat and soybean prices. The pressure on prices will increase, says the IMF. The EU’s target of a minimum biofuel content of 10 per cent will require 18 per cent of agricultural land to be set aside for road fuel production.

Corn is a vital component of the human food chain, used as cornmeal for baking bread and tortillas, as cooking oil and corn syrup in processed foods and as animal feedstock. Vast US government subsidies for the production of ethanol, used as a petrol additive in America, has encouraged the expansion of ethanol distilleries.

Special Thanks to The Times

Don't Feel too Sorry For the Dukies

Mike Nifong, the North Carolina prosecutor who pursued a case of rape and kidnapping against three Duke University lacrosse players, has been found to have been reckless and deceitful in the discharge of his duties according to the state's attorney general. He abused the power the people of Durham granted him. Based on the public record of what he did in this case, he may well be properly disbarred.

The accuser in this case has been shown to be either a vicious liar or a troubled fantasist.

The three young men who she accused are truly innocent of the charges brought against them according to the North Carolina Attorney General and the investigation led by his office.

But perhaps the outpouring of sympathy for Reade Seligman, Collin Finnerty and David Evans is just a bit misplaced. They got special treatment in the justice system--both negative and positive. The conduct of the lacrosse team of which they were members was not admirable on the night of the incident, to say the least. And there are so many other victims of prosecutorial misconduct in this country who never get the high-priced legal representation and the high-profile, high-minded vindication that it strikes me as just a bit unseemly to heap praise and sympathy on these particular men.

So as we rightly cover the vindication of these young men and focus on the genuine ordeal they have endured, let us also remember a few other things:

They were part of a team that collected $800 to purchase the time of two strippers.

Their team specifically requested at least one white stripper.

During the incident, racial epithets were hurled at the strippers.

Colin Finnerty was charged with assault in Washington, DC, in 2005.

The young men were able to retain a battery of top-flight attorneys, investigators and media strategists.

As students of Duke University or other elite institutions, these young men will get on with their privileged lives. There is a very large cushion under them--the one that softens the blows of life for most of those who go to Duke or similar places, and have connections through family, friends and school to all kinds of prospects for success. They are very differently situated in life from, say, the young women of the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

And, MOST IMPORTANT, there are many, many cases of prosecutorial misconduct across our country every year. The media covers few, if any, of these cases. Most of the victims in these cases are poor or minority Americans--or both. I would hate to say the color of their skin is one reason journalists do not focus on these victims of injustices perpetrated by police and prosecutors, but I am afraid if we ask ourselves the question honestly, we would likely find that it is. Look for a moment at what James Giles endured:

I hope we all keep him and others in mind, as we cover the celebrated exoneration of well-heeled, well-connected, well-publicized young men whose conduct, while not illegal, was not entirely admirable, either. They aren't heroes. They aren't boys. They are young men who were victimized by a reckless prosecutor--and had the resources the fight him off.

Special Thanks to ABCNews Blog

Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."

The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".

No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.

German research has long shown that bees' behaviour changes near power lines.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."

The case against handsets

Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.

Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset.

Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb", a form of RSI from constant texting.

Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers.

Special Thanks to Agricultural Research Service and The Independant

Not guilty plea in alleged hateful fruit tossing

A Pacifica woman accused of hurling produce along with insults at a gay couple from a van last month pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor battery and hate crime charges Friday.

She stands trial this summer.

Tiffany Adler, 20, appeared in court Friday for the first time since being arrested on two misdemeanor counts of each crime. She pleaded not guilty and asked the court to appoint an attorney. She and her lawyer return to court July 2 for jury trial and she remains free from custody on her own recognizance.

On March 4, Adler reportedly lobbed apples and asparagus at a gay couple walking on the 500 block of Esplanade Drive. The van in which she was riding then turned around and Adler yelled “faggot” at the men, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Pacifica police reported finding asparagus in Adler’s purse at the time of arrest.

Adler reportedly said the couple frequented the grocery store at which she works. She told police she was unaware the victims were gay and her actions were based on a prior conflict rather than discrimination.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe sees it differently.

“We definitely think this is a hate crime,” he said. “This one is pretty offensive.”

If convicted, Adler faces possible jail time and probation.

Special Thanks to San Mateo Journal.

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