ALSIP, IllinoisFour people face felony charges after authorities discovered that hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold at a historic African-American cemetery near Chicago, Illinois, authorities said Thursday.
Dozens of graves at Burr Oak Cemetery were desecrated by workers as part of a financial scheme, authorities say.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the four would resell the plots in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, excavate the graves, dump the remains and pocket the cash. “This was not done in a very, very delicate way, folks,” he told reporters at a news conference Thursday. “They would excavate a grave and would proceed to dump the remains wherever they found a place to do it in the back of the cemetery. This was not moving graves; this was not replacing graves; this was dumping of them.” In some cases, graves were stacked on top of each other, they “literally pounded the other one down,” Dart said. In all about 300 graves may have been dug up in the cemetery, he said. Authorities identified those charged as Carolyn Towns, an office manager for the cemetery; and Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley, all gravediggers. Each has been charged with dismembering a human body, a felony charge for which sentences range from 6 to 30 years, Anita Alvarez, Cook County state’s attorney, said at the news conference. Steven Watkins, an attorney for Towns, said his client is innocent. “Somebody is apparently making false accusations against my client,” he said. “She’s maintaining her innocence.” The Cook County state attorney’s office said the other three charged were being represented by the public defender’s office, and a message left at that office was not immediately returned. Bail was set at 250,000 for Towns and 200,000 for the other three, Alvarez said. None had posted bail by late afternoon Thursday, the sheriff’s department said. Watch officials announce the charges » It was not immediately known if the four had legal counsel. Authorities began investigating the cemeterywhere, among others, lynching victim Emmett Till, blues legend Dinah Washington and some Negro League baseball players are buriedabout six weeks ago after receiving a call from its owners who had concerns about possible “financial irregularities” regarding the business, Dart told CNN earlier this week. “This crime, it’s a whole new dimension,” Alvarez said. Authorities also suspect that Towns pretended to set up a memorial fund for Till and pocketed the funds, Dart said. Watch sheriff discuss gruesome revelation » He told CNN that groundskeepers, who have not been implicated in the scheme, have said that the grave of Tillwhose 1955 lynching at age 14 helped spark the civil rights movementhas not been disturbed. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was also at the news conference, noted the high-profile names of some of those buried in the cemetery, but said, “everybody here is special, and every family has special needs and special hurt, special grief.” Most of the excavations occurred in back lots, where the plots were older and not frequently visited, Dart said earlier this week. However, other plots may have been disturbed, as well. The cemetery’s current owners, who could not be reached by CNN for comment, have operated it for more than five years but are not believed to be involved in the alleged scam, Dart said. He said the workers may have doctored records to cover their tracks and noted that the cemetery holds all the records of who is buried and where. “There’s virtually no regulations whatsoever (for cemeteries),” Dart said. “Most all of the documents and everything are housed here.” Investigators are trying to determine the scope of the alleged scheme and plan to use thermal-imaging devices to further examine other graves to see if they have been tampered with, Dart said. The FBI, forensic scientists and local funeral directors have been called in to help in the investigation, he said.
“I don’t even know what to tell you about the heartbreaking stories that I’ve been hearing from people, crying hysterically that they’re going through the burial for the second time today,” he said. “And they’re looking for answers and we’re sitting there telling them, ‘This is going to be very difficult,” he said. “We’re trying to bring closure, but it’s going to take a long time to do that.”
Archive for July 9th, 2009
ALSIP, IllinoisFour people face felony charges after authorities discovered that hundreds of graves were dug up and allegedly resold at a historic African-American cemetery near Chicago, Illinois, authorities said Thursday.
Inside France’s ‘Barbarians’ trial
Jurors in the Gang of Barbarians case in Paris are due to deliver their verdict. Youssouf Fofana and 26 other gang members are accused in the brutal murder of a 23-year-old Jewish man in 2006. Emma Jane Kirby has been following the 10-week trial.On 29 April gang leader Youssouf Fofana, 28, took his seat in court, smiling defiantly and declaring: “Allah would be victorious.” After more than two months of closed-door hearings, Mr Fofana, rejecting any help from lawyers, was allowed to express his opinion in court for the last time. “It’s better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a sheep for 100,” he declared. Mr Fofana, a gang leader from just outside Paris, stands accused of the murder of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man who worked in a mobile phone shop. It is alleged that Mr Fofana instructed a female gang member to lure Mr Halimi into an empty apartment in Bagneux, where he was attacked, beaten and drugged. RansonMr Fofana is said to have targeted Mr Halimi because he believed that “Jews are loaded”.
During his three-week ordeal, Mr Halimi’s family were sent harrowing images and video recordings by his captors who demanded a ransom of 450,000 euros (600,000; 405,000) for his release. The victim was eventually found naked and tied to a tree near a railway. He had been stabbed and set alight. He died on his way to hospital. Mr Halimi’s distraught mother had asked for this trial to be held in public. But because some of the 26 people accused of participating in this crime are minors, proceedings have been held behind closed doors. More than 160 witnesses have given evidence and 50 experts have testified during the trial. The French-born son of immigrants from Ivory Coast, Mr Fofana is the only member of the Barbarians gang facing a life sentence if found guilty.
He is charged with kidnap, torture, premeditated murder and anti-Semitism. The other gang members – young men and women – are accused of a variety of crimes, including entrapment, kidnap and failing to assist a person in peril. Some could face up to 15 years in jail. All have insisted that Mr Fofana had promised to release his victim when Mr Halimi’s father failed to deliver a ransom. They claim they did not know their self-proclaimed leader would take the crime so far. The lawyer for Mr Halimi’s family, Francis Szpiner, claims the other gang members played a huge role in the crime and should be punished accordingly. ‘Suffering’Prosecutors describe Mr Fofana as “a perverted, immature megalomaniac”. After Mr Halimi’s death, he fled to Ivory Coast where he is reported to have made death threats by telephone to Mr Halimi’s family.
Mr Halimi’s murder has triggered a public outcry in France
He was extradited to France in March 2006 and initially admitted murder. But since then he has repeatedly changed his plea, and his legal team. He has also bombarded the magistrates investigating the case with letters full of anti-Semitic insults. In court he tried repeatedly to justify his actions by citing “the suffering of the Palestinians and Africa”. But lawyers claim Mr Fofana has a fuzzy knowledge of the Muslim faith. He was unable to explain the difference between a Sunni and Shia Muslim and could not recite verses from the Koran. Expelled from court in June for throwing his shoes at lawyers, Mr Fofana has often refused to answer questions. But 24 days into his trial, he was asked about the fatal blows that Mr Halimi suffered and he yelled: “Yes, it’s me that did it! You know very well that I did it!” At the start of proceedings, Mr Fofana was required by the court to give his birth date. He declared that he was born on 13 February 2006 in Sainte Genevieve des Bois – the date and place of Mr Halimi’s death. Anti-Semitic motive?Critics say police initially ignored evidence of anti-Semitic motives in the killing, but the Halimi family’s lawyer insists the anti-Semitic motive is indisputable.
Many in France’s Jewish community – the largest in Western Europe – say there has been a rise in anti-Semitism among disaffected Muslim youths of Arab and African origin since a Palestinian uprising started in late 2000. But Michel Wieviorka, the author of a book on anti-Semitism in France, says the motive for the murder was money first. “Anti-Semitism added to what happened,” he told journalists at the start of the trial. “Initially it wasn’t about expressing hatred of Jews… the target was a Jewish man because Jews are supposed to have money and are believed to look after their own, so they’ll pay up.” The case has come to symbolise not only a rise in anti-Semitic violence in Paris’ poor and multi-ethnic suburbs, but also the power of local gangs in the Parisian sink estates. Lawyers for some of the gang members who are accused of failing to report the crime have defended their clients’ silence by telling the court that the “law of the estates is that you just don’t snitch”. These are estates, the defence lawyers insisted, that have been forgotten by France, but each gang member living there looks out for the next. A verdict on the case is expected on Friday or Saturday.
North Koreans learn Southern ways
By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul
North Korean refugees who make it to South Korea have often travelled a long, hard road.The land border that, for almost six decades, has split this peninsula in half, is one of the most impermeable in the world, carpeted with landmines and across which hundreds of thousands of soldiers still eyeball each other. So defectors from the North must cross into China where they risk capture and forced repatriation. The lucky ones arrive here in South Korea after months, or years, of hardship and trauma, only to face another hurdle: how to adjust to what must seem like an alien landscape, with its bewildering, free-wheeling free market, and its strong emphasis on individual responsibility. Compared to the old North Korean certainties of a command economy and family networks, capitalism can be very lonely. Minding the gapOn 8 July, South Korea celebrated the 10th anniversary of a project meant to ease some of that burden. In 1989 the first of several special reception centres known as “Hanawon” was opened.
Since then, it has been providing medical treatment, psychological counselling and practical support to help almost 16,000 refugees from the North. Seo Jae-pyung, 38, defected in 2001. “After 60 years, our two countries really are very different,” he said. “So the Hanawon experience is useful, not only for job training, but for the psychological adjustment. It helps you relate to South Koreans and allows you to communicate with them.” The Hanawon centre has three separate rooms for worship; Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant. The decision whether or not to take part, and in which service, will be for many their first genuine experience of freedom of religion. The “trainees” as they are called are also shown how to use technology of which most have little experience – computers, washing machines and ATMs. Guilt and sensitivityThey sleep in shared dormitories, four or five to a room, and eat together in the canteen.
Some admit to a strong sense of guilt every mealtime as their thoughts turn to the hardships facing their husbands, wives or children left back home. The high security at the fenced compound hints at the political sensitivity of the mission to induct thousands of North Korean citizens into a different way of thinking. All defectors are debriefed by the South Korean security services before admission, to ensure that they are not North Korean secret agents. So this is a rare occasion, with the doors thrown open to celebrate the tenth anniversary. Nonetheless, many of the trainees choose to hide their faces in front of the television cameras. North Korea is known to use guilt by association to jail the relatives of those who have escaped. Even with the three-month Hanawon training programme, North Korean refugees find their new life far from easy. Kim Cheol-woong was a music student when he defected from North Korea.
Freedom to choose a faith is a new experience
He now works as a musician in the South and was invited back to the Hanawon to perform at the anniversary ceremony. But afterwards, he spoke candidly about his experience. “I thought South Korea would be the beginning of happiness,” he said. “But I have to tell you, it was the beginning of pain. Defectors here face poverty, and even worse, social discrimination.” Defectors may have left behind a place with a broken economy and widespread hunger – one where the average North Korean is now several centimetres shorter than the average Southerner – but South Korea is rarely the paradise that some might hope for. The Hanawon system is simply a start and a way of softening the blow for people who have already suffered enough.
Iran learns from past to crush dissent
By Jon Leyne
BBC Tehran correspondent
As opposition demonstrators came out in force after Iran’s disputed presidential election, one exhilarated protester declared that his country was waking up.Two nights ago someone told me that Tehran was now in a coma. The mood swing could not be more dramatic, as the security and intelligence forces move to regain control. Normally gregarious Iranians are afraid to speak in public places for fear that their words might be misinterpreted and relayed back to the authorities. In the immediate aftermath of the disputed election result, the Iranian government appeared wrong-footed, astonished by the strength of protests. An uncompromising speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on 19 June – a week after the election – signalled that any doubts were over. What has happened since then has been described as a crackdown. But it is clear that the leaders of the Islamic Republic have taken their own lessons from the way they took power in 1979.
The unrest that led to the fall of the Shah spiralled out of control. Any time a demonstrator was shot there were more protests at the funeral and at the “arbayeen”, the 40-day anniversary of the death. Indecision on the part of the Shah only made his position weaker. This time the Iranian security forces are trying to use the military principle of “minimum force”. They have been largely, though not entirely, avoiding the use of live fire. Instead the police and the government’s Basij militia have tried to spread fear, with mass arrests, repeated warnings in the media against unauthorised demonstrations, plenty of violence against demonstrators, but mostly not lethal force. When protesters are killed, the families are prevented from holding public mourning ceremonies. It has also become increasingly clear that the Revolutionary Guards are crucial in the crackdown. Control of securityIn a weekend news conference the head of the guards, Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, came out publicly for the first time and announced that the guards had been given the task of controlling the internal security situation. “This event pushed us into a new phase of the revolution,” he said ominously. “We have to understand all its dimensions.” In other words – the Revolutionary Guards are in control. That is the culmination of a trend that began as long ago as 1989, when Ayatollah Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Lacking the religious credentials, or the charisma, of his predecessor, Mr Khamenei built up a power base in the Revolutionary Guards. Since Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected four years ago, commentators have seen an acceleration of that trend, with the guards now assigned multi-billion dollar contracts to help secure their loyalty.
Demonstrators have been on the receiving end of violence
As much as two years ago, some western diplomats were talking about a slow and silent military coup taking place. The power of the clergy has been steadily diminished. So it should be no surprise that many senior ayatollahs and many members of parliament – the majlis – are deeply uneasy about what is going on. For the moment, opposition and government have reached deadlock. Public resentment means that even now, sporadic protests are continuing and there is a sense of burning anger amongst many Iranians about the election and what happened afterwards. Even now, enough protesters gathering together on the streets could potentially overwhelm the security forces, or at least make them increase the use of force in ways that could be counter-productive to the regime. But there is no clear strategy on how to achieve that. At the same time the government faces the possibility of further challenges to its legitimacy, from the clerics and from the parliament. Consolidating power is going to be difficult. For the foreseeable future this is going to be a government that relies on force or the threat of force. The Islamic Republic will look much more like a traditional military dictatorship. Elusive enemyIdeally for them a new foreign threat might emerge. Already the government has tried to portray the protests as instigated by the West. But President Barack Obama makes an elusive enemy. On Thursday US forces even released five Iranian diplomats held in Iraq, removing a long-running sore between the two countries. It is still possible that Mr Ahmadinejad’s government will restore order and appear to rule as before. There is no doubt he has a hard core of several million intensely loyal supporters, including members of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia. But the Islamic Republic has been badly damaged, already change has begun, and it is hard to see how it will end.
Academics denounce maths A-level
Dozens of university academics have put their names to calls for a new maths A-level in England to be scrapped.Educators for Reform, a think tank offshoot, say “use of mathematics” is not of A-level standard. They argue it will mislead students from poor backgrounds and will not prepare people for university study. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said a consultation on the new course was just ending but it was meant to supplement existing A-levels. The new qualification is intended to be taught from September 2011. The academics – at least 62 of them as of Thursday afternoon – say that in particular the compulsory algebra and calculus units are “considerably less demanding and cover less content than A-level”. DilutionThe maths professors and lecturers are basing their opinions on the AS-level in use of mathematics and pilot papers for the A2, the second part of an A-level. They say curriculum time is taken up with practical activities rather than developing advanced mathematical understanding. Another plank of their objections, being presented in response to a QCA consultation, is that there is already a shortage of specialist maths teachers in secondary schools. These will be spread even more thinly if they are having to teach another course as well as A-level mathematics. And they say fewer students might take the main maths A-level if use of mathematics presents an easier option. Most universities will continue to demand A-level mathematics for those wishing to study physics, economics, chemistry, computer science and engineering, their report says. “Students attending schools – usually in the poorest areas – that do not have a detailed knowledge of university admission policies will be unaware of this. “Some university admissions tutors have already had to turn away bright students whose teachers (wrongly) believed that a Grade A in AS-level use of mathematics was appropriate preparation for subjects requiring a high degree of mathematical literacy.” AnalysisThey say there already are free-standing qualifications suitable for those who do not need a full-blown maths A-level. They say GCSE-level study should be made more rigorous – and A-level less dull. A QCA spokesman said A-level use of mathematics was intended to be an addition to AS and A-levels, not a replacement. “It is designed to be accessible to a wide range of students and to improve the mathematical knowledge and skills needed for progression to employment and higher education (but not for mathematics or mathematics-related degrees). “It will help develop a workforce with appropriate skills to meet the needs of business and industry.” He said it was too early to comment on the final specifications of the new qualifications as the public consultation on the draft criteria ended on 10 July and a full analysis of the responses would then be carried out. “Once proposals are approved, awarding bodies will develop new specifications for accreditation by [regulator] Ofqual.”
Proof mounts on restricted diet
Cutting calories may delay the ageing process and reduce the risk of disease, a long-term study of monkeys suggests.The benefits of calorie restriction are well documented in animals, but now the results have been replicated in a close relative of man over a lengthy period. Over 20 years, monkeys whose diets were not restricted were nearly three times more likely to have died than those whose calories were counted. Writing in Science, the US researchers hailed the “major effect” of the diet. It involved reducing calorie intake by 30% while maintaining nutrition and appeared to impact upon many forms of age-related disease seen in monkeys, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy. Whether the same effects would be seen in humans is unclear, although anecdotal evidence so far suggests people on a long-term calorie-restricted diet have better cardiovascular health. The precise mechanism is yet to be established: theories involve changes in the body’s metabolism or a reduction in the production of “free radical” chemicals which can cause damage.
Seventy-six rhesus monkeys were involved in the trial, which began in 1989 and was expanded in 1994. Half had their diets restricted, half were given free rein at feeding time. The rate of cancers and cardiovascular disease in dieting animals was less than half of those permitted to eat freely. While diabetes and problems with glucose regulation were common in monkeys who ate what they wanted, there were no cases in the calorie controlled group.
In addition, while most brains shrink with age, the restricted diet appeared to maintain the volume of the brain at least in some regions. In particular, the areas associated with movement and memory seemed to be better preserved. “Both motor speed and mental speed slow down with ageing,” said Sterling Johnson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine. “Those are the areas which we found to be better preserved. We can’t yet make the claim that a difference in diet is associated with functional change because those studies are still ongoing. “What we know so far is that there are regional differences in brain mass that appear to be related to diet.” Earlier this year, German researchers published findings from their study of elderly people which suggested that calorie reduction appeared to improve memory over a period of just three months. Various studies on the positive effects of calorie restriction on the life spans of various organisms – from yeast to dogs – have been published over the last 70 years But dieticians sounded a note of warning. “Monkeys may be a close relation but there are significant differences which means not everything we see in them can be translated to humans,” said Catherine Collins, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association. “And there should be some serious reservations about cutting calories so dramatically, particularly for anyone under the age of 30. Any such diet would need to be very balanced to avoid malnutrition, and it would be a long-term commitment. “People would have to weigh up whether they are prepared to compromise their enjoyment of food for the uncertain promise of a longer life, and a life which could be dogged by all sorts of problems – including osteoporosis.”
Cut Heathrow ‘stacking’, say MPs
The government must reduce the number of planes that are allowed to “stack” over south-east England, MPs have said.The Commons transport committee says stacking – where planes fly holding patterns before landing – need to be cut if a third runway is to be built. It also says ministers should examine limiting noise levels and aircraft numbers over beauty spots. According to the report, excessive stacking by Heathrow-bound flights had “negative environmental impacts”. But it added: “A third runway at Heathrow, if built, offers a real opportunity to add resilience into the air traffic management system and to help reduce excessive stacking. “If a third runway is built at Heathrow, the government should create a framework for setting targets to eliminate excessive stacking around the airport.” Committee chairman Louise Ellman said the Department of Transport should fund research into how to set useful limits. She added: “Tranquillity is a key factor in sensitive areas such as national parks. “Current guidance appears to allow unchecked increases in aviation activity over these areas.”
‘Lower’ Asian obesity threshold
By Adam Brimelow
Health correspondent, BBC News
The threshold for being overweight and obese should be lowered for British Asians, international experts say.People of South Asian origin are more likely than white people to develop heart disease and diabetes. To reflect this, Indian health chiefs have changed their measuring system and said other countries should follow suit for people of South Asian origin. GPs in the UK agree a better system is needed, but have put forward another option to pick up those at risk. Standards used around the world to tell when someone is overweight or obese are based on data from Caucasians.
These state that people with a body mass index (BMI) – calculated using weight and height – of 25 or more are overweight. They are obese if it goes above 30. In India those limits have been lowered to 23 and 25, to reflect the risks for their own population. They also have lower thresholds for waist circumference measurements. The move has in effect led to an extra 70 million people being re-classified as overweight or obese. This means that doctors in India are encouraged to intervene earlier, sometimes with drugs or surgery. Dr Anoop Misra, who helped to draw up India’s guidelines, said the new measures should be applied for people with a South Asian background wherever they live. “They should be followed for South Asians – Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis – they are almost similar. “So for the time being, until guidelines for other population groups are available, I think this should be applicable for all south Asians – not only in the UK, but in any country of the world.” In the UK doctors also worry about delays in diagnosing obesity-related problems – particularly among British Asians. DamageAll too often people come along to diabetes clinics too late to prevent lasting damage. But clinicians are divided about the Indian approach. Dr Ponnusammy Saravanan, from the South Asian Health Foundation, said more research was needed before treatment is brought forward. “There is no doubt that lifestyle modifications will prevent future diabetes and cardiovascular disease. That is clearly proven. “However there’s still very limited evidence of introducing drug treatment and bariatric surgery at a lower threshold for South Asians. We clearly need more studies on those areas before we embark on a wider scale in the NHS.” But Professor Stephen Field, president of the Royal College of GPs, supports earlier intervention with drugs and surgery for British Asians – although he stopped short of agreeing the Indian approach should be applied in the UK.
“The evidence is there. This is an urgent situation because of the increase in diabetes across the Asian population in the UK. Our patients are at risk. They need to be identified early early, and treated aggressively.” The Royal College of GPs is backing a new system called Qrisk2 to identify the patients who need help most. It is a computer-based checklist, using information like BMI and ethnic background, to work out the risk of heart disease or stroke. Professor Field said the system, which may be recommended for NHS use soon, was a great advance. “It looks at patients who’ve come from Bangladesh, Pakistan and from India who are more at risk. “And then it allows us therefore to put a much more appropriate risk score onto that patient which will indicate that we ought to give them treatment at an earlier stage. “
Get tough with Russia, MPs urge
The UK and other Nato members should take a tougher approach to Russia, the Commons Defence Committee has urged.The MPs said that while co-operation was needed on many issues, it should not mean “accepting the legitimacy of a Russian sphere of influence.” The UK should continue to call on Moscow to withdraw its forces from Georgian territory, the report adds. Ministers were also urged to take a “more robust approach” about Russian incursions into airspace near the UK. It said the flights were “not the actions of a friendly nation and risk escalating tension”. Sphere of influenceThe committee urged the government to take a “hard-headed” approach to Moscow, based on the reality of Russian foreign policy. It said that while Russia did not pose a direct threat to British security in the near feature, it is understandable why some Nato members closer to Russia’s borders might be worried – especially in the light of Russia’s military action in Georgia last year. It also calls on Nato to provide reassurance to states that feel threatened through robust contingency planning. “However desirable co-operation with Russia may be, it should not come at the price of accepting the legitimacy of a Russian sphere of influence,” it says. Although the MPs welcomed the resumption of dialogue between Nato and Russia, they said the alliance must discuss areas not just of co-operation but also of disagreement, including Russia’s claim to a sphere of influence in former Soviet states.
Phelps sets butterfly world mark
Olympic superstar Michael Phelps has broken the 100m butterfly world record.The 24-year-old American, who has won 14 Olympic gold medals, lowered countryman Ian Crocker’s four-year-old mark of 50.40 seconds, clocking 50.22. Phelps’ win at the US trials in Indianapolis secures him a place in the 100m butterfly at the World Championships in Rome later this month. Phelps has recently served a three-month ban after he was pictured apparently smoking cannabis. Thursday’s success takes Phelps’s current tally of world marks to five, along with the 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly and the 200m and 400m individual medley. He won the 100m butterfly at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, but had been unable to snatch Crocker’s record. Phelps became the most successful Olympian in history when he won eight gold medals in Beijing last August to add to the six he claimed in Athens four years previously. Tyler McGill was second in 51.06, with Aaron Peirsol third in 51.30.
WASHINGTON – Republicans will use next week’s high-profile Senate hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to raise concerns about her record on race, gun rights and abortion while Democrats work to defend President Barack Obama’s first high court choice as a mainstream judge who sticks to the law.
The two parties offered glimpses Thursday of their strategy going into the weeklong Judiciary Committee hearings that open Monday, announcing outside witnesses who will testify about Sotomayor. Republicans’ list of 14 includes New Haven, Conn., firefighter Frank Ricci, a white employee whose reverse discrimination claim was rejected by Sotomayor in an appeals court decision.
Ricci challenged the city’s decision to scrap the results of a promotion test because too few minorities scored high enough to qualify. Sotomayor was part of a panel that rejected Ricci’s challenge. The Supreme Court reversed that ruling last week.
Republicans point to Sotomayor’s decision as evidence she might let her personal and political views — particularly a belief in racial preferences for minorities — influence her decisions. They’ll also call Ben Vargas, a Puerto Rican firefighter who scored highly on New Haven’s promotion exam and was the lone Hispanic joining Ricci in his lawsuit.
Democrats said they’ve scheduled Sotomayor’s mentors, confidantes and other allies, including civil rights leaders and several witnesses who come with GOP credentials. The goal: to portray Sotomayor as a mainstream judge with fans across the ideological spectrum. Among their 15 witnesses are Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, her first boss after law school; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who ran as a Republican but became an independent in 2007; Louis Freeh, the former FBI director first named to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush; and Michael J. Garcia, a former Manhattan U.S. attorney who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
If confirmed — as is widely expected — the appellate judge, 55, would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
But first Sotomayor has to endure days in a marble-paneled hearing room under harsh television lights, fielding questions from the 19 senators on the Judiciary panel as the public watches. Behind the scenes, she’s cramming for the hearings, which will include at least two days of intense question-and-answer rounds with senators. The outside witnesses will weigh in later, and Sotomayor won’t be present.
Among the GOP representatives are Sandy Froman, a National Rifle Association board member and past NRA president who has urged senators to oppose Sotomayor, calling her hostile to the Second Amendment. Also on the Republican list is Charmaine Yoest, head of the anti-abortion rights group Americans United for Life, which says Sotomayor has a “pro-abortion agenda.”
Liberals expected to testify on Sotomayor’s behalf include Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Theodore Shaw, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Inc.; and Democratic Reps. Jose Serrano and Nydia Velazquez, New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent.
Sotomayor was on Capitol Hill on Thursday for the first time in weeks, meeting with newly sworn-in Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the most junior member of the Judiciary Committee. She appeared cheerful as she chatted with him before their private talk, telling reporters her broken ankle was feeling much better.
Meanwhile, Republicans previewed the tough treatment she can expect at next week’s hearings, keeping up a steady stream of criticism about her record. The Senate’s Republican leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, cited an article she wrote raising questions about the propriety of private campaign contributions, and an appellate court ruling in which a panel she joined upheld Vermont’s strict limits on raising and spending campaign money.
“Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard about a number of instances in which Judge Sotomayor’s personal views seem to call into question her evenhanded application of the law,” McConnell said.
Several of the Senate’s Democratic women defended Sotomayor.
“Judge Sotomayor’s developed a record as a moderate judge who agrees with her more conservative colleagues far more frequently than she disagrees with them,” said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
As Democrats worked to show Sotomayor isn’t biased, an independent research group released a new study showing that as a trial judge, she typically handed out tougher prison sentences than her colleagues in the federal courthouse in Manhattan, especially to white-collar criminals.
Nearly half the people Sotomayor sentenced for financial fraud and other white-collar crimes received at least six months in prison, according to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. By contrast, roughly one out of three white-collar convicts received similarly lengthy prison terms from the other trial judges in the Southern District of New York, the study found.
Sotomayor served as a trial judge from 1992 to 1998, when she joined the federal appeals court in New York.
TRAC looked at 7,750 criminal cases handled by 52 judges during that period. Sotomayor presided over 261 of those prosecutions. TRAC obtained the data from the Justice Department under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Associated Press Writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov/
KABUL – Afghanistan’s government has revised a law that stirred an international outcry because it essentially legalized marital rape, officials said Thursday. The new version no longer requires a woman submit to sex with her husband, only that she do certain housework.
The changes, which parliament is expected to approve, likely reflect a calculation by President Hamid Karzai that his reputation as a reformer is more important than support from conservative Shiites who favored the original bill.
Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said the revisions show that Karzai has followed through on a pledge made in April to expunge the offensive parts of the marriage law, which applies only to minority Shiite Muslims.
Women’s rights activists welcomed the new draft, but many said the government had not done enough and that little will change in day-to-day life.
“We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper. What is being practiced every day, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws,” said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker and vocal women’s rights advocate.
Karzai signed the original law in March but quickly suspended enforcement after governments around the world condemned the legislation. Critics saw it as a return to Taliban-style oppression of women by a government that was supposed to be promoting democracy and human rights. President Barack Obama labeled the original version “abhorrent.”
Even within this conservative Muslim society, a host of academics and politicians signed a petition condemning the law, and women took to the streets of Kabul in protest.
Karzai said that he had not read the law before signing it and that his Cabinet advisers had signed off on a version that did not include articles requiring a woman to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house. But those articles ended up in the draft he signed, as was a provision ordering wives to offer sex with their spouses at least every four days unless they were ill.
After the firestorm of criticism, Karzai ordered a Justice Ministry review, which took three months.
Two of the most controversial articles have been drastically changed, according to documents supplied by the ministry. An article that previously required a wife to submit to regular sex now requires her only to perform whatever household chores the couple agreed to when they married. The revised version makes no attempt to regulate sexual relations between husband and wife.
A section that required a wife to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house has also been deleted. In its place, an article states that a woman is the “owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband.”
Shiites comprise 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people; the majority are Sunni Muslim. Nonetheless, the measure caused an uproar because it harkened back to Taliban-era rules. The Taliban, Sunnis who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male relative.
Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said the amendments would “ensure Afghanistan meets international obligations.”
“The United Nations has had concerns about parts of the law that do not conform with international law, particularly in regard to the rights of women,” Siddique said.
Although many Afghans criticized the law, their voices were often overwhelmed by conservative Shiites who said the legislation protected their right to live according to their interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. At a protest in April, supporters of the law shouted insults and threw rocks at women who opposed it.
Before Karzai came out strongly against the law, his critics said he might be using the legislation to court Shiites in the Aug. 20 presidential election. Approval of the changes before the vote would put Karzai on the side of the reformers.
Even so, Roshan Sirran, who heads a group that informs women of their rights under Islamic and international law, said the new version still relies too much on agreements entered into at the time of marriage. Such contracts aren’t a traditional part of an engagement or marriage in Afghanistan, she said.
“This is not implementable in our society. There will be no agreement on any conditions at the time of the marriage between husband and wife,” Sirran said. Others said men have too much freedom to marry second wives without consulting their first wives. Islam allows men up to four wives.
Parliament is in recess and will not convene again for nearly two weeks. Hamidzada, the presidential spokesman, said Afghanistan’s influential clerics council and civil society leaders will also have to sign off on the revised law.
Even with the changes, some activists said not much will change in women’s lives.
“Still there are forced marriages and child marriages and the lack of access to property, and the lack of access to divorce,” Barakzai said. “Still a girl, because she’s a girl, can’t go to school, in very rich families even.”
MIAMI – Paris Hilton hated her 2006 movie “Pledge This!” and refused for months to make promotional appearances for it despite a contract requiring her to do so, lawyers for the film’s investors said as trial opened Thursday in an 8 million lawsuit against her.
“During the six-month period, at no time would she take 10 minutes to do a phone interview,” attorney Bryan West, who represents the investors, said in opening statements.
With Hilton nodding vigorously from her defense table seat, her attorney Michael Weinsten insisted she did numerous appearances for the movie but was unavailable to meet many requests by the film’s producers because of her extremely busy schedule. Hilton also had the right to refuse some promotion events that might harm her “brand” and never agreed to plug the DVD release of the movie from December 2006 through May 2007, he said.
“Paris Hilton is a promotion machine,” Weinsten said. “For 2 1/2 years, she relentlessly promoted that movie.”
Hilton, a 28-year-old heiress, actress and model, is expected to testify Friday. She traveled to Miami for the trial from Dubai, where she has been filming episodes of her “My New BFF” reality show. Wearing a sleeveless black-and-white dress with a large bow on the back, Hilton sat quietly at the defense table during opening statements, occasionally taking notes or fiddling with her twin ponytails.
The lawsuit is being heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who has a well known sense of humor. Moreno at one point asked West whether the contract allowed Hilton to refuse even the most outrageous promotion requests.
“If you said, ‘She has to parade nude down the Champs-Elysees with a Pledge This! banner’ … and she said no, would that be breach of contract?” Moreno asked. Then, answering his own question, he added, “No, of course not.”
The lawsuit seeks 8.3 million in damages, essentially to recoup the money spent to make and distribute the film. It was filed by attorney Michael Goldberg, a court-appointed receiver for a now-defunct Miami company that was the movie’s key investor. That company was shut down as a 300 million Ponzi scheme by the Securities and Exchange Commission, with its operator now living in Brazil.
Weinsten acknowledged that Hilton wasn’t pleased with the final cut of “Pledge This!” — which concerns the antics of a fictional sorority at equally fictional South Beach University — but he said she did what she could to plug it. She was paid 1 million to act in the lead role, yet the movie only made about 2.9 million and appeared on just 25 theater screens.
The investors claim it could have done much better as a DVD release if Hilton had done more promotion, particularly in Japan and Europe where she is a huge star.
“It might have made a difference. It would have done better,” West said.
LOS ANGELES, CaliforniaActress Kelly Preston, whose son Jett Travolta died earlier this year, will talk publicly in October about how she and her husband, actor John Travolta, have dealt with their grief.
Kelly Preston is going to speak on a panel titled “Grief and Resilience” in October.
Preston, 46, will appear on a panel titled “Grief and Resilience” at a conference hosted by California first lady Maria Shriver, according to a conference spokeswoman. Jett, 16, was found unconscious on January 2, while on vacation with his family in the Bahamas’ West End. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival, local police said. The Travolta family has not spoken publicly about the exact cause of Jett’s death, but employees of the funeral home that handled the remains said in January the death certificate listed “seizure” as the cause of death. The family has remained out of the public eye since his death, only issuing a few written statements. When his latest movie, “The Taking of Pelham 123,” was released last month, John Travolta did not take part in the publicity tour to promote the movie, instead issuing a short statement saying his family needed “additional time to reconcile our loss.”
Travolta, mourning son’s death, bypasses publicity for film
Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Sen. John Edwards, and actress Susan St. James will also be on the panel, conference spokeswoman Marissa Moss said. Both women have mourned the loss of sons. The Women’s Conference will be in Long Beach, California, in late October, according to its Web site.
ISTANBUL, TurkeyIason Athanasiadis’ ordeal began at the airport, shortly after he checked in for his flight to leave Tehran.
Iason Athanasiadis said he endured hours of questioning over several weeks in sound-proofed rooms by interrogators he could not see.
“I was heading to the gate,” the Greek-British journalist said. “This guy materialized on my right. He said ‘are you Iason Fowden?’ [Athanasiadis' passport name]. I said ‘yeah that’s me.’ He said ‘please step to the side … you’re not going to be flying tonight.’” It was an ominous introduction to Iran’s security apparatus. Athanasiadis spent the next 21 harrowing days in Iranian prisons, accused of espionage, subjected to interrogations and, on several occasions, beatings. The journalist, a freelance writer and gifted photographer who had been on assignment for the Washington Times newspaper at the time of his arrest, spoke to CNN by phone from his parents’ home in Athens Thursday, several days after an extraordinary international lobbying effort helped secure his release. Athanasiadis has extensive experience reporting in Iran. He also did graduate level academic work in Iran in 2004, as part of a program sponsored in part by Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The young freelance reporter realized he was in serious danger at the airport in Tehran on June 19, when a half dozen plain-clothed security officers arrived and began leading him out of the building. The reporter resisted, and began yelling to crowds of nearby passengers that he was a journalist. “I got kind of pulled kicking and screaming and getting punched behind an escalator,” Athanasiadis recounted. While being dragged outside to an unmarked car, the journalist said he managed to get the attention of a Western-looking woman waiting in the airport. To this day, Athanasiadis says he does not know the woman’s name. But he believes she was instrumental in helping spread the word of his detention. “She was the best thing that happened to me that day,” Athanasiadis said. “I just said ‘I’m a Greek reporter for the Washington Times. Please contact the Greek Embassy.’ And she ran after me with a note pad and pen and asked me to spell my name.”
Nobel laureates urge U.N. to help free Iran protesters
Protests in Iran on key reform anniversary
Ayatollah: Western ‘lies’ depict Iranians as ‘rioters’
Iran frees embassy worker, 1 still jailed
Clerics dispute election results
International human rights organizations estimate thousands of Iranians have gone missing, since the Iranian government launched its crackdown on opposition activists and journalists following the disputed June 12 presidential elections. Eyewitnesses in Tehran say many families are still struggling to determine the whereabouts and official status of their detained relatives. But in Athanasiadis’ case, the Greek Foreign Ministry announced it was working for the journalist’s release just days after his arrest. That night, Athanasiadis says security officers forced him to ride into Tehran from the airport, with his head buried in his lap. Later, when he tried to make a phone call from a police station in Tehran, Athanasiadis said security forces tackled him, threw him to the ground, beat him with a club and pepper-sprayed him. Eventually, they transferred him to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he witnessed new Iranian prisoners being delivered by the busload to the prison gates. That is where the interrogation began. Dressed in a prison-issue uniform, Athanasiadis endured hours of questioning over the next several weeks in sound-proofed rooms where he was never allowed to see his interrogator. “I just sat in one of these school desk situations, a chair with a desk extension,” he explained. “I was told to face the wall … and they sat behind me and they crooned into my ear.” On the second day of his incarceration, a prosecuting judge told Athanasiadis, a fluent Farsi speaker, that he was facing charges of espionage. Since incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of the June 12 election, opposition candidates and their supporters have accused the Iranian government of falsifying election results. In response, the Iranian government has accused Western governments, particularly Britain, of organizing large protests in the streets of Tehran and other cities. “The lesson I take from this is that the Iranians,” Athanasiadis said, “have decided to start arresting foreigners.” Last May, an Iranian-American freelance journalist named Roxana Saberi, was released after being detained for four months on charges of espionage. This week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded the release of 23-year old Clotilde Reiss, a French academic reportedly arrested last week on charges of spying. Meanwhile Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian who freelanced for Newsweek, is another prominent intellectual now sitting in an Iranian prison. According to the New York-based organization Committee to Protest Journalists, Iran is now the “world’s top jailer of journalists,” with at least 30 reporters and bloggers in prison. Unfortunately, few of these prisoners enjoyed the international support that was rallied on behalf of Athanasiadis, said Michalis Kosmides, a Greek journalist and vice president of the Foreign Press Association in London. After learning of his colleague’s arrest, Kosmides launched a Facebook page titled “Free Iason.” Meanwhile, the spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul, also intervened. He sent a high-ranking cleric and a letter to the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, to plead for Athanasiadis’ release “on humanitarian grounds,” said Father John Chryssavgis, an adviser to the patriarch. “Iran has separate nodes of power,” Kosmides said. “The patriarch’s statement appealed to one node with religious sentiments.” Athanasiadis says the lowest point came 19 days after his arrest, when it appeared he would be released. “They took me to the airport, the Greek ambassador met me with a ticket. We started heading towards the gates, then we suddenly veered off to the escalator,” the 30-year old journalist said. “I promptly got re-arrested and spent this very strange night in a windowless room listening to bags thumping through the chutes and listening to departure announcements … it was the most scary time.” It took another 24 hours of intense diplomacy led by Greek ambassador Nikolaos Garilidis before Athanasiadis finally flew safely out of Tehran. Throughout his ordeal and the countless accusations of spying, Athanasiadis said he realized one thing about his captors: they had never bothered to read any of the articles he has published over the years about Iran. “I was shocked that they would arrest someone who had lived in Iran and had such a record of trying to introduce Iranian society to an outside audience.”
BEIJING – A moderate earthquake rocked southwest China Thursday evening, injuring at least 336 people and collapsing 10,000 homes, state media said. The magnitude-6.0 temblor, centered in Yunnan province’s Yao’an county, damaged another 30,000 homes, the Xinhua News Agency said.
Thirty people suffered severe injuries, while the other 305 were slightly injured, Xinhua said.
The quake was followed by eight aftershocks and the provincial civil affairs department was sending 4,500 tents, 3,000 quilts and other relief materials to Yao’an, Xinhua said.
Hundreds of police were dispatched to the disaster zone, it said.
Yunnan is a quake-prone, mountainous region that lies on China’s southern border with Thailand and Myanmar. It also borders Sichuan province, where a magnitude-7.9 quake last year left almost 90,000 people dead or missing.
In 1988, a 7.1-magnitude quake in Yunnan near Myanmar killed more than 930 people. More than 15,000 people died after a magnitude-7.7 earthquake in the province in 1970, though authorities at the time covered up information on casualties and damage amid the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
BERLIN (Reuters) –
A badger in Germany got so drunk on over-ripe cherries it staggered into the middle of a road and refused to budge, police said on Wednesday. A motorist called police near the central town of Goslar to report a dead badger on a road — only for officers to turn up and discover the animal alive and well, but drunk.
Police discovered the nocturnal beast had eaten cherries from a nearby tree which had turned to alcohol and given the badger diarrhoea. Having failed to scare the animal away, officers eventually chased it from the road with a broom.
(Reporting by Dave Graham; editing by Myra MacDonald)
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) –
Advice for holidaymakers heading to a beach or a pool this summer — don't hog beach chairs and men, leave the skimpy speedos at home.
A survey by travel website TripAdvisor found that 84 percent of travelers said people should not be allowed to “save” beachside or poolside chairs by getting up early and leaving a towel or other personal items on the chair for hours.
Cigarettes also irked people, with 82 percent of 3,800 U.S. respondents wanted smoking banned around the pool while 62 percent wanted a smoke-free beach so people could not discard their butts in the sand.
Men in tight-fitting swimsuits were also unpopular, with 35 percent of travelers thinking this violated etiquette, although only 24 percent were against women wearing revealing bikinis.
But urinating in the water was voted the most annoying violation of beach or pool etiquette, with 16 percent calling it the worst breach.
The survey found that bad manners in the sun were believed to be commonplace, with eight out of every 10 respondents saying people often or always violate some form of beach or pool etiquette.
The most common breaches of etiquette were listed as beach chair hogging, urinating in the water and littering. Blasting loud music was also a major irritant.
Americans were named as the worst beach and pool etiquette offenders, listed as such by 22 percent of respondents, while Germans came in second with seven percent of the vote.
“With summer in full swing, 'tis the season for some annoying behavior on the beach and at the pool,” said Michele Perry, vice president of communications for TripAdvisor, in a statement.
“Travelers would do well to mind their manners and take other travelers into consideration.”
(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
MULDERSDRIFT, South Africa – Dumisani Rebombo wasn’t circumcised, did chores considered girls’ work and was sick of being taunted for not being a man. So at age 15, he took the only course considered “manly” in his rural South African village: He raped a girl.
Twenty years later he searched for the woman to beg her forgiveness — a rarity in a nation where a culture of sexual violence is deeply embedded in society.
Rebombo agreed to share his story with The Associated Press on Thursday as researchers presented findings at a conference on sexual violence that show more than one in four South African men surveyed admitted to committing rape.
“Rape is an expression of male sexual entitlement,” said Rachel Jewkes, chief researcher for the survey conducted by the government-funded Medical Research Foundation. “South Africa is an immensely patriarchal society. The history of the country has shaped the dominant forms of South Africa’s racially defined masculinities.”
Many human rights activists were not surprised by the survey’s findings, saying they underscore the deep cultural roots of sexual violence in a country blighted by crime and the devastating emotional, social and economic legacy of apartheid’s brutal racial segregation.
“This tells the story of many boys, of many men,” said Rebombo, who is now 48 and works in community outreach to try to raise awareness of and prevent sexual abuse.
A recent report published by Interpol says South Africa has the highest incidence of rape among its member states. Some 54,000 rapes were committed in 2006, according to police statistics — nearly 150 per day, or one for every 925 people in the country.
And that does not tell the whole story: advocates say many attacks go unreported because of the stigma associated with rape. By comparison, Americans reported one rape for every 2,642 people in 2006 — roughly a third of the South Africa rate.
For Rebombo, rape was a means to prove his manhood.
As a teen, he said he was cruelly taunted because he was not circumcised. Circumcision is considered a rite of passage in some tribes — but his father had almost died as a result of the unsanitary and brutal procedure, and swore his son would not be abused that way.
So Rebombo was subjected to daily, constant jeering.
“I was viewed as not man enough,” said the large, soft-spoken man.
Other boys pressured Rebombo to “teach a lesson” to one teenage girl who did not want to go out with them. He resisted at first, fearful of his religious parents and their good standing in the community. Then he relented.
On that Saturday, Rebombo was plied with beer and marijuana to overcome his nerves. “I had difficulty breathing,” he said. “I had never had sex before. I was terrified.”
The girl was brought to a field and Rebombo and another boy were left with her, he said.
The other boy “started raping her. She fought him. I was just there, dizzy with all the stuff. He just stood up and said: ‘Your turn.’ I was there on top of her,” he said.
Afterward, “she just ran home.”
Guilty, and fearful she would tell, he avoided the girl and a year later moved to another village.
Years later, while working in Johannesburg counseling unemployed mothers about HIV prevention in 1996, he was struck by the women’s tales of abuse.
“That forced me to do my own introspection,” he said. “I felt I needed to go find her and apologize.”
So he went back to his village and tracked down the woman he had raped. “I told her what I did those years back was wrong, and I am here to ask for forgiveness.”
Through sobs, she told Rebombo she had since been raped by two other men. Married with children, she kept the assaults secret, but sometimes cringed when her husband touched her. Her life had never been the same, she said.
She accepted Rebombo’s apology and forgave him. “She told me: ‘Maybe you could teach other men out there not to do the same thing.’”
Today, Rebombo works for the Olive Leaf Foundation, a South Africa-based development group, trying to do just that. He counsels men, women and children in an effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexual abuse.
“If more men would stand up and say ‘This is wrong,’ the better we can fight this carnage,” said Rebombo, the father of two daughters, aged 16 and 27, and a 24-year-old son.
Rape in South Africa is “deeply embedded in ideas about manhood,” according to the survey presented Thursday at the conference outside Johannesburg. Initial results, released last month, showed that nearly 28 percent of the men interviewed said they had forced a woman or girl to have sexual intercourse against her will.
Jewkes said the survey results showed rape in South Africa was “significantly associated” with childhood trauma and a breakdown of the family.
Researchers, who gave no margin of error, interviewed men from some 1,700 households from a representative cross-section of the population in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
Only a third of the men in the sample said their fathers were often or always at home, while two-thirds said their mothers were.
“We know that if children are being raised by relatives they are much more vulnerable to being abused,” Jewkes said, adding that 60 percent of women who report rape were assaulted by someone they knew; with children this figure was as high as 80 percent.
Researchers acknowledged the sexism inherent in most cultures but highlighted the strong patriarchal nature of African culture.
In South Africa, some blame the rape statistics on the poverty and oppression of the apartheid regime that ended 15 years ago.
“Apartheid made violence an instrument of control and violence became the norm,” said rights activist Mbuyiselo Botha. “Men would feel emasculated.” Angry and humiliated, they took out their frustrations on the weakest victims, women and children, he said.
Some 5.2 million of South Africa’s 50 million people are infected with the AIDS virus — the highest rate in the world.
President Jacob Zuma, an avowed polygamist with three wives, was acquitted of rape in 2006, but only after he acknowledged having unprotected sex with the HIV-positive daughter of a family friend.
Zuma’s remarks about women, sex and Zulu culture caused major controversy and there were ugly scenes outside the courtroom with his supporters burning pictures of the woman.
While Zuma now speaks out against violence against women, the trial did “tremendous damage” to efforts to encourage more modern attitudes toward women, Botha said.
Daily headlines point to botched rape investigations and humiliation for women who do press charges.
On Monday, the daily newspaper The Star carried a front-page story about a convicted rapist given a four-year jail sentence.
The judge said he was being lenient because the perpetrator was “well-educated” and his victim was “a grown-up woman” who had been hitchhiking.
CHICAGO (Reuters) –
A 20-year study of monkeys shows that a reduced-calorie diet pays off in less disease and longer life, U.S. researchers said on Thursday, a finding that could apply to humans.
They said rhesus monkeys on a strict, reduced-calorie diet were three times less likely to die from age-related diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes over the study period than monkeys that ate as they liked.
“We have been able to show that caloric restriction can slow the aging process in a primate species,” Richard Weindruch of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, whose study appears in the journal Science, said in a statement.
“We observed that caloric restriction reduced the risk of developing an age-related disease by a factor of three and increased survival,” Weindruch said.
The study in primates reinforces similar findings in yeast, worms, flies and rodents, and suggests other primates — including humans — may benefit, too.
Since people live far longer than monkeys, it may never be possible to fully study the effects of calorie restriction in humans, but monkeys do offer a close approximation, the team said.
Most caloric restriction studies have found that a lifetime of deprivation is needed to achieve the longer-life benefits, and many research teams are working on ways to replicate the findings with drugs.
Researchers reported on Wednesday that the antibiotic rapamycin, sold by Wyeth under brand Rapamune to suppress the immune system in transplant patients, showed promise at slowing age-related disease in older mice, but it is not clear how it works.
And several teams are hoping to harness the age-defying benefits of red wine. GlaxoSmithKline last year spent $720 million to buy Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which has developed a souped-up version of the red wine compound resveratrol that has been found to make mice live longer and stay healthier.
“I think our data are good news for that line of inquiry,” Weindruch said in a telephone interview, commenting on substances that mimic aspects of caloric restriction.
“The likelihood is now higher that they would work.”
MONKEYS ATE 30 PCT FEWER CALORIES
In his study, Weindruch and colleagues tested the effects of calorie restriction over two decades in a group of rhesus macaque monkeys.
Half of the monkeys were allowed to eat as they pleased, and the other half ate a carefully controlled diet that provided just two-thirds of the calories they would normally choose to eat.
The team found that half of the monkeys that were allowed to eat freely over the course of the 20-year study have survived, while 80 percent of the monkeys that ate 30 percent fewer calories over the same period are still alive.
While rhesus macaques have an average life span of about 27 years in captivity, the team said.
The animals that ate less had half the amount of heart disease and cancer, and there were no cases of diabetes in the low-calorie group.
Animals on a restricted diet also had more brain volume in some regions than the animals that ate freely, suggesting diet may affect brain health in aging as well.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
EISENACH, Germany – Richard Wagner is the classical composer most associated with the Nazis, but Johann Sebastian Bach was the one the party dubbed “the most German of Germans” and whose music was played at rallies to stir up nationalist zeal.
The Nazis praised Bach for his “racially pure” family tree dating back to the 11th century and for the “German” discipline of his baroque-style music. Felix Mendelssohn, on the other hand, who revived Bach’s concertos and overtures in modern concert halls, was scorned by the Nazis for his Jewish roots.
This complex relationship between Bach’s and Mendelssohn’s works during the Third Reich is the focus of an exhibit called “Blood and Spirit,” which runs through Nov. 8 at the Johann Sebastian Bach Museum in Eisenach, the eastern German town where the composer was born in 1685.
It examines the treatment and abuse of both composers’ music under Hitler and how their works shaped the Nazis’ idea of “Germanness,” museum director Joerg Hansen said.
“We had a lot of positive reactions,” said Hansen, who said that around 15,000 visitors, among them many foreign tourists, have seen the show since it opened in May.
“Most visitors are very surprised, because they didn’t know about Bach’s (music’s) role under the Nazis,” Hansen said. “They had no clue, for example, that he was played at Nazi party rallies.”
Visitors entering the show are confronted with an irritating cacophony of the composer’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 interspersed with the staccato voice of chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels coming from a documentary playing in the gallery.
Bach’s pieces were performed by members of the Hitler Youth and played almost daily on the radio. In 1935, festivals were organized in several cities across Germany to mark the composer’s 250th birthday, peaking in the “Reich Bach Festival” in Leipzig, attended by Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself.
“The Fuehrer followed the austere music of Bach seriously … It is a music in harmony with his spirit — austere, disciplined to its core, and German through and through,” a newspaper reported from the festival.
Mendelssohn, whose discrimination under the Nazis is examined in a second gallery, was considered “unbearable for a cultural movement based on race,” as one Nazi musicologist put it.
His romantic compositions “utterly failed to speak in the great German language of feeling and form” and “possessed too much that was unreal and sentimental,” Third Reich-era music critics quoted in the exhibit wrote.
In part of the anti-Semitic push, a statue of the classical composer in the city of Leipzig vanished overnight in 1936. It proved more difficult to remove Mendelssohn’s music from the country, where it was extremly popular with the German public.
While there was no formal ban on his work, the Nazis forbid male choirs from singing popular songs by the composer at party events. They hired several Nazi-friendly composers to rewrite and “Aryanize” some of Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with its famous Wedding March. Composer Carl Orff, who wrote “Carmina Burana,” was among them.
The exhibition also confronts visitors with a piece of German postwar history that is often overlooked: Many of the musicologists who wrote anti-Semitic pamphlets during the Third Reich and helped shape the two composers’ public reception at the time, became prominent academics after the war.
“One often says, that we’ve dealt with our Nazi past in every way, but that did not really happen,” said Hansen.
On the Net: http://www.english.bachhaus.de
TEHRAN (AFP) –
Iranian police fired tear-gas on Thursday as thousands of demonstrators defied government warnings and staged a march to commemorate the anniversary of bloody student unrest in 1999, witnesses said.
Protesters chanted “Death to the dictator” as they gathered in streets around Tehran University, epicentre of the violence 10 years ago.
The witnesses said police arrested several people, and some protesters set roadside rubbish bins ablaze.
They said windows in a state-owned bank were smashed, and police seized the number plates of vehicles whose drivers sounded their horns in protest.
Reinforcements were sent in after a volley of tear-gas failed to disperse the demonstrators who continued to grow in number, the witnesses said. Police then fired a second volley.
The witnesses said members of the hardline Basij militia also reinforced police ranks.
Officers in riot gear deployed in force to try to quell any gathering as tensions remained high following the wave of protests over June's disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets.
Some of the protestors chanted slogans in support of Ahmadinejad's defeated challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has denounced last month's election as a “shameful fraud”.
The authorities had warned of a harsh response to any commemoration of the 1999 violence in which at least one student was killed when hardline vigilantes stormed student dormitories, according to an official toll.
The warning came after the G8 world powers expressed “serious concern” over last month's post-election violence which left at least 20 people dead.
Groups of students have held small commemorative gatherings in previous years, but Tehran governor Morteza Tamadon issued a blunt warning this year.
“If some people make moves that are contrary to security initiatives under the influence of anti-revolutionary networks, they will be trampled under the feet of our alert people,” he told the official IRNA news agency.
Iran has banned all gatherings and arrested scores of activists and pro-reform politicians since the June 12 vote.
An Iranian employee of the British embassy and a French lecturer also remained in custody amid charges by Tehran of Western government interference in the post-election disturbances, the most serious in its 30-year history.
The French ambassador to Tehran, Bernard Poletti, met lecturer Clotilde Reiss in Tehran's notorious Evin prison on Thursday and found her in “good physical condition,” a diplomatic source told AFP.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday dismissed the espionage allegation against Reiss as “pure fantasy”. On a visit to the Middle East on Thursday, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for her immediate release.
Iran is also still holding one of nine British embassy local employees it arrested late last month on suspicion of stoking the unrest in the Iranian capital. US President Barack Obama described the staffer's continued detention as “unacceptable”.
A top aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed Britain and France for interfering in Iran's internal affairs.
“Western nations, especially France and Britain, want Iran to stop its nuclear activities. They want a weak Iran at the negotiating table,” Ali Akbar Velayati told the Fars news agency.
Global powers led by Washington suspect that Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at making atomic weapons but Tehran denies the charge, saying it is designed to generate energy.
The G8 summit issued a declaration expressing concern over the post-election violence in Iran but said they were determined to find a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff.
“G8 countries continued to be seriously concerned about recent events in Iran,” it said. “Interference with media, unjustified detentions of journalists and recent arrests of foreign nationals are unacceptable.”
But Ahmadinejad said Tehran's “enemies” of Tehran were “obliged” to deal with his government which he said had been returned to power with a thumping victory.
WASHINGTONIf Sonia Sotomayor fulfills her long-held dream to sit on the Supreme Court, she would have the prestige of joining the highest court in the land, lifetime job security and a public forum as the first Hispanic on that bench.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to dive back into its caseload a month early, on September 9.
The 55-year-old judge would also have the opportunity to become a influential force among her colleagues, a legal pioneer who could help shape the law and its effect on society in any number of ways. But such a legacy would not come easily, and it certainly would not come quickly. The internal dynamics of a body built on tradition and stability have long discouraged swift and sweeping forces that are regularly felt in the other branches of government, and society at large. If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor would become the junior justice, someone with the least seniority but no less authority than her eight benchmates. She would bring with her a bit of history, along with the public attention and political scrutiny that would follow. “It’s a step forward for the country. Having someone who’s in a permanent lifetime appointment at the highest levels of the government who has this background, both economically and ethnically, is a big deal. It’s a moment,” said Thomas Goldstein, co-founder of scotusblog.com, who has argued before the justices as a private attorney. “The idea that a Democratic president did this and embraced them in this way will not be forgotten.” After her swearing in, Sotomayor would quickly set up shop in her high court chambers. She would have a staff of aides and secretaries in place, as well as four law clerks to help her jump immediately into the caseload. The urgency may be especially acute for her. The high court has scheduled an oral argument for an important campaign finance reform case for September 9, in the middle of its traditional summer recess and almost a month before the justices normally begin their term. If Sotomayor is confirmed by senators in time, she may have to cram in order to hear the case with her colleaguesno grace period or expanded learning curve. Justice Stephen Breyer has said it took him a few years on the high court before he felt truly comfortable in the job, and he had served as an appeals judge for 14 years before his elevation. It is a sentiment echoed by other justices: where the caseload, the pace of meeting deadlines and the sheer enormity of the issues facing the court can seem initially overwhelming. Her colleagues would warmly welcome their newest member, but she would soon find herself on her own. A myth of the court is that the justices operate as a unified bunch. The reality is that they are like nine little kingdoms, free to ruleon the cases before them and in their own chambersas they see fit. Their work entails lots of reading, researching and writingmost of it alone in front of a computer, maybe a writing pad, even typewriter. No wonder the seeming glamour of sitting on the Supreme Court often gives way to a sense of isolation and loneliness for new justices. “When you put on the black robe, the experience is sobering,” the late Justice Lewis Powell once remarked. “It makes you more thoughtful.”
Analysis: Sotomayor quietly prepares for hearings
Sotomayor work with Puerto Rican rights group detailed
High court backs firefighters in reverse bias suit
In Depth: Obama’s Supreme Court nominee
Powell said the biggest surprise when he joined the high court was how the justices communicated about the cases. Memos, mostly formal in tone and presentation, remain the norm. Phone calls from one justice to another are relatively rare, personal visits to chambers even more unusual. E-mails are not embraced, even in the digital age. But such interaction is key. After oral arguments, the court votes on a particular case, and a justice is assigned at conference to write an opinion, another to write a dissent. The goal is to craft a majority ruling that would command the support of all the colleagues on a particular side, since it would create a unified front and make it easier to establish lasting precedent guiding future courts. That’s where personal relationships matter. Individual justices monitor what their colleagues are doing, collaborating to varying degrees on the language and scope of opinions, negotiating and engaging in a give-and-take. Sandra Day O’Connor in particular, before her retirement in 2006, was known inside the court for her backstage persuasiveness while building a national persona as the first female justice. “The justices learn about each other’s views on the law and the Constitution, their strengths, their personalities,” said Edward Lazarus, who wrote “Closed Chambers,” an inside look at the court. “But that takes time. Justices Breyer and O’Connor became close colleagues on the bench because they discovered a similar approach to deciding cases, but that developed slowly over several years. Justices [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [Antonin] Scalia are very close personallythey have similar intellectual and musical interestsand you can’t help but think that has helped bridge some disagreements in some cases, despite their deep differences on the law.” Developing and nurturing that trust among differing personalities is not easy. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once described Supreme Court deliberations as “nine scorpions in a bottle,” fiercely protective in carving out their own agendas and power bases. By all accounts, the current court as a group gets along very well personally. They like each other, and each can appreciate the diverse, often tough road each took to get to where they are. They all know how exclusive is the club to which they have gained entry, how random and unpredictable was their nomination. Yet this remains a profoundly divided court ideologically. A shaky conservative majorityroughly four liberals and five conservatives, with Justice Anthony Kennedy often a swing votehas produced a simmering tension inside the marble walls of the court. As a presumed member of the progressive faction, Sotomayor could find herself on the losing end of many a fight over hot-button issues in the near future, relegating her to writing dissents. She would operate in the shadow of Justice John Paul Stevens, at 89, the oldest member of the court and the undisputed leader of his liberal colleagues. That authority is built on his nearly 40 years of seniority, his quiet skills as a tactician and his sharp writing prowess. Many liberal legal activists hope Sotomayor eventually follows the O’Connor model in crafting a power base inside and outside the court. As a group, the justices have wide experience. All served as federal appeals court judges, so they know well the intricacies of interpreting constitutional and legislative precedent. “They are well-prepared, active, informed, engaged, with tough questioning [of lawyers] from the bench,” said David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and high court expert. But the current court has by no means become a predictable group. One vote can tip the delicate ideological balance. Of the 79 full opinions issued last term, 23 were 5-4 votes, or about 29 percent. Most involved major issues such as workplace discrimination, broadcast indecency and DNA testing. Kennedy’s views often proved decisive, and his influence remains undimmed. Sotomayor would quickly discover that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has not shied from taking on tough, timely cases. The fall 2009 docket includes appeals on religious displays on public land, Miranda rights, life sentences for underage criminals and international child abductions. This judicial confidence, Garrow said, gives “this court no second thoughts that it knows better than anyone else, especially the Congress, what is right.” Sotomayor would leave behind her family and friends in her native New York. She is not married, and observers say her work as a judge consumes much of her life. Colleagues say she has managed to find time for herself and pursue interests off the bench, but she has admitted that has not been an easy balance to maintain. Lazarus, a former law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun, remembered how his former boss “carved out for himself a distinctly solitary existence. From 8 to 9 every morning, Blackmun would breakfast with us clerks in the court cafeteria,” he remembered. “But as 9 o’clock approached, the justice’s attitude and demeanor changed radically. As he shifted into work mode, Blackmun became unapproachable, a man consumed by a mantle of professional duty that fairly seemed to crush him.” Although Blackmun was known by his colleagues for a prickly personality, his sense of struggling to live up to the responsibilities of the job rings familiar. Sotomayor would bring a unique life experiencepersonally and professionallyto the job. She would come to it at a time of significant political and social change. The justice would have just one vote and one voice. Whether she would thrive in the long run at her future home would depend to a large extent on her intellect, work ethic and interpersonal skills. But forces outside her controlnamely the future ideological makeup of the court and the unforeseen hot-button issues that would confront herwould ultimately shape the legacy she would leave.
WASHINGTONThe story of Sen. John Ensign’s affair with a former staffer took a new twist Thursday with the revelation by Ensign that his parents gave the woman’s family 96,000 as a gift.
Sen. John Ensign of Nevada admitted to an extra-marital affair in June.
A statement released on Ensign’s behalf by his lawyer, Paul Coggins, said a check totaling 96,000 from both of Ensign’s parents was given to Cindy Hampton, her husband, Doug, and two of their children in April 2008. It described the money as two separate gifts to each family member. “Each gift was limited to 12,000,” the statement said. “The payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts and complied with tax rules governing gifts.” Under U.S. tax laws, gifts of up to 12,000 are tax-exempt. According to the statement, Ensign’s parents learned of the affair from their son and decided to make the gifts “out of concern for the well-being of long-time family friends during a difficult time.”
Senator quits leadership post after admitting affair
Doug Hampton was Ensign’s administrative assistant and Cindy Hampton worked on his election campaign when the affair occurred. Ensign and his family were longtime friends with the Hamptons. Ensign, a Republican from Nevada, announced the affair in June, more than a year after the check was given. Prior to the announcement, he was considered a possible Republican presidential candidate for 2012, and it is unclear if the affair has derailed his chances.