Jun 26, 2009

Jewish boy refused entry to Jewish free school: mother 'not Jewish enough'

Jewish free school

A Jewish Free School in Brent, N.W. London, has denied a 12 year-old Jewish boy a place in the school because his mother isn't recognized as Jewish by those responsible for the school's admission policy.

The boy's father is Jewish but the mother converted to Judaism under the ministrations of a Progressive rather than Orthodox synagogue - a conversion not recognized by the UK's Office of the Chief Rabbi. On these grounds the child was refused admission.

Anyone familiar with British law is likely to have a problem with this. The child wasn't signing up for religious training, he and his parents were interested in a broad based educational program. Moreover the JFS, the Jewish school in question, is a comprehensive school funded by the British taxpayer.

Discriminating against a Jewish child from a Jewish family on the grounds that his mother isn't 'Jewish enough' is fairly outrageous given the anti-discrimination provisions in the UK. It amounts to a form of ethnic-based discrimination.

The British Appeals Court hearing the case also had a problem. It has handed down a ruling that the use of such criteria for selecting students is a breach of the Race Discrimination Act.

The judges on the case said that: "The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or by conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act."

The court ruling was attacked by Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who is threatening to take it all the way to the House of Lords in an effort to get the ruling overturned. He claims this is necessary so that Jews can be "be true to the Jewish faith."

Who said Jews can't be true to their faith? That is their right. But an educational institution funded by the British taxpayer is hardly the environment to be applying what can only be described as a matrilineal litmus test to determine whether or not a student is acceptable.

There are a number of very cool Hebrew schools in N. America that welcome children of all faiths and teach the kids mutual respect in addition to offering top-notch academic programs. Sequestering students in narrow ethnic/religious based institutions in this day and age may produce academic results, but not necessarily well rounded adults.

Related Guardian article here.

Matrilineal 'correctness' criteria for entry to UK Jewish school

Jun 19, 2009

Patrizia D'Addario: escorts paid to attend Berlusconi's parties

patrizia d'addario,berlusconi

On the heels of accusations that Italian PM Berlusconi used state aircraft to fly showgirls and musicians to his villa in Sardinia, a new scandal has broken out involving escorts.

Corrriere Della Sera has published an interview with a former model and escort named Patrizia D'Addario who alleges that she was paid to attend Berlusconi's parties. D'Addario also claims she made secret audio and video recordings in Berlusconi's bedroom. She says she made them so that "nobody can deny I had been there." The footage is currently being examined by Italian magistrates.

Berlusconi is drawing a blank when it comes to Patrizia D'Addario... he told aides he has no memory of her. Odd considering that she was put forward as a candidate for the European and municipal elections on behalf of the Peoples of Liberty - Berlusconi's coalition party.

D'Addario's political prospects were shelved when the PM's wife, Veronica Lario, blasted her husband's promotion of showgirls as "shameless rubbish." This was around the same time when she also complained that he "frequented minors."

Berlusconi and D'addario
Berlusconi in Bari

The PM's memory lapse is even odder if you go along with Ms D'Addario's version of events ... events that involve a Bari-based middleman named Giampaolo Tarantini. Ms D'Addario described Mr Tarantini's recruitment of girls for Berlusconi as an "induction into prostitution."

It is alleged that payments were made to at least four women by Tarantini. Recordings were obtained via wiretaps in the course of a separate investigation into business corruption. They include calls during which Tarantini allegedly negotiated payments and made travel arrangements with the women he had recruited for the Berlusconi events.

Patrizia D'Addario asked for €2,000 for her services. Prior to showing up at Berlusconi's Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli, she was put up in a luxury hotel.

A Guardian article describes Ms D'Addario's recollection of events:

"He [Berlusconi] showed us videos of his meeting with [President George] Bush and photos of his [Sardinian] villa. He sang and told jokes," she said, adding she "realised she had made an impression" on him. However, she said she returned to her hotel for the night and was paid only €1,000 "because I didn't stay". She claimed she was invited back with two other women several weeks later on the night of the US presidential election, on which occasion she claimed Berlusconi asked her to stay.

D'Addario said on both evenings she made secret audio recordings in which the prime minister's voice could be heard...

Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolò Ghedini, is dismissive of these claims. However his explanations risk fueling rather than diminishing speculations. He told Corriere della Sera: "It seems a bit over the top to think that Berlusconi needs to pay €2,000 for a girl to go with him. He could have them in large numbers for free."

Ghedini went further and said that even if the allegations were true, Berlusconi would be an "unwitting party" since he "couldn't have known" women had been paid to attend the parties. In other words Berlusconi would be a blameless "end user" in Ghedini's eyes.

Comments attributed to former French President, Jacques Chirac, would suggest there isn't anything new about the Italian PM's interest in models and escorts. While he was on an official state visit to Italy, Chirac paid a visit to Berlusconi's villa. He noticed some porn magazines and asked why they were lying around. Berlusconi reportedly leafed through a magazine... pointed to various models and said "I've had her... this one... and I've had that one too."

Ms D'Addario stopped showing up at Palazzo Grazioli when Berlusconi failed to follow through on a promise to help her with a building project. She also found herself locked out of a Bari council election rally - even though she was a candidate affiliated with Berlusconi's party.

Related Guardian article - here.

Bunga bunga recruit

Escorts recruited to attend Berlusconi's bunga bunga parties

Jun 17, 2009

Racist attacks on Romanian families in Belfast

Romanian families Belfast
Belgravia Avenue, Belfast, where homes were targeted.

Romanian families living in the Lisburn Road area of Belfast have been targeted by local racists. Threats were made... windows of homes smashed, in addition to other intimidation tactics. According to the authorities there was no paramilitary involvement in the attacks. Both the UVF and UDA have spoken out and condemned the incidents.

An anti-racist demonstration to protest the attacks and show solidarity with the Romanians was targeted by youths from the Village area. They threw stones and bottles at the protesters and a few chanted Combat 18 slogans. Despite the display of neo-Nazi sympathies, N.I. security sources say there is no evidence that Combat 18 has cells in the Greater Belfast area.

Twenty Romanian families took shelter in a church that offered its hall as a refuge. Families have since been bussed to the Ozone leisure complex where they received support.

Romanian immigrants Ireland
Romanian residents
forced from their homes.

Romanian child Belfast
A child in a church shelter.

Romanian families
Romanians outside
the Ozone leisure complex.

The Romanian families moved to N. Ireland hoping for a better life, but a number of these people have been so traumatized by what they have been through some question whether the only option is to return to Romania.

Immigrant Couaccu Siluis said:

We are not going back to our house. It is not safe. They made signs like they wanted to cut my brother's baby's throat. They said they wanted to kill us.

We are very scared. We have young children. We cannot go back. Possibly we could go back to Romania but we have no money. We have to stay here.

The people who carried out these attacks are in no way representative of anything except a minority attitude. There has been broad condemnation of the attacks across the political spectrum.

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Naomi Long, had this to say:

Belfast is growing rich in diversity with people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds making this city their home, and each and every citizen has the right to live free from fear and intimidation.

We cannot let a small minority of people detract from that, or allow them to drive people from their homes.

N. Ireland has long been a predominantly homogeneous society. Now that a larger immigrant population is part of the mix, there are some people who have a problem with change. For the most part it's a minority view that doesn't reflect the broader community.

For more on the story - Guardian

Jun 16, 2009

Italian National Guard: return of the 'blackshirts'?

Italian fascists

Fears about a revival of fascism in Italy have increased as the influence of the far-right continues to make inroads. The signs are many, all the way from a proposal for segregated public transportation to citizen patrols organized by the anti-immigrant Northern League. Even a crackdown on ethnic food outlets.

Recently Berlusconi poured scorn on the idea of Italy being or becoming a multi-ethnic society.

What is most disturbing is the seeming acquiescence of Italians in the face of these developments... mere decades after their forebears overthrew the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

The latest sign of a swing to the right involves the Italian National Guard and fascist-style uniforms reminiscent of the notorious blackshirts. The Guard claims to have thousands of recruits, some with a police and military background. They will be a presence in Milan once a controversial security bill is passed. The bill will allow foot patrols to help police combat crime.

Italian National Guard

The presence of the Guard on the streets will put fear into immigrants and other 'undesirables.' It's an intimidation tactic in addition to being an anti-crime initiative. Some citizen patrols are already underway in Italian cities with the backing of the Northern League.

The leader of the Guard, Gaetano Saya, told Corriere della Sera that the organization is based on the Roman legions... no less than a praetorian revival.

The uniform reflects more than just a Roman influence. It features the Nazi Black Sun symbol on the armband, the eagle of the Roman Empire on military style caps and other sundry emblems - giving the uniform a slightly farcical but also sinister appearance.

The favorite fascist color is also in evidence... black belts, black gloves, black hats and helmets, black ties... maybe even black underwear. Mussolini would be impressed.

What is it with Italians seeming infatuation with the far-right? Is it nostalgia for the glories of of a bygone empire... or perhaps some lingering xenophobia that has been lying low just waiting for a chance to re-emerge from the shadows?

The opposition Democratic Party is keenly aware of the dangers. They have warned that these types of groups set a dangerous precedent and harken back to Italy's fascist past. Leader, Dario Franceschini, said "There was a period in Italy's history in which security was entrusted to people who went around in shirts of the same color and we don't want to return to that."

Fascist symbols and slogans are still against the law in Italy as a result of laws passed after World War 2, but this hasn't proved a major obstacle where the National Guard is concerned. According to Maurizio Monte, deputy head of the Guard, the organization has been officially registered.

Italy: fascist 'fun'

Jun 13, 2009

James Von Brunn 'a leftist' according to conservative meme

Limbaugh and Beck

Know many leftist types who are self-described "white Christian" supremacists who hate the government, have paranoid fantasies about a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, hate blacks and have referred openly to the "browning of America"? And I don't mean colorful characters and eccentrics who identify with leftist causes when it suits their ends, I mean bona fide leftists.

Well according to some conservative pundits Holocaust memorial museum shooter, James Von Brunn - who subscribes to all of the above views and attitudes - is nothing less than 'a leftist.' So go figure.

These are the same pundits - Beck, Limbaugh et al - who raised the roof with their objections over a recent Homeland Security report that warned of the dangers of right-wing extremism. So desperate are they to disassociate their brand of conservatism from anything that could remotely be described as domestic right-wing terrorism, they are prepared to call black white, and vice versa as the need arises.

Who are they trying to kid? America has plenty of right-wing loonies, armed and chalk full of hate. Fox News presenter, Shepard Smith, said recently that the email he has been receiving is "becoming frightening."

Aside from Fox News viewers who use email to fire off their bile, there are other more organized right-wing types who hold views similar to those of Von Brunn but who would strenuously object if you presumed to refer to them as leftists. Check out random websites. They regularly attack not only Obama, but leftists/liberals in general who they view as a threat to their version of America.

Playing down the threat from the right in America is typical of the denial conservative pundits practice - even to the point of spinning the theory that the lunatic racist Von Brunn is nothing less than... 'a leftist.'

White supremacist Jew haters of the James Von Brunn variety have their roots in the right side of the political spectrum. To try and argue he's a leftist because he hated neo-cons and had a beef about Israel, is to misinterpret where he was coming from on these issues.

The UK Guardian revealed this week that Von Brunn had connections with the right-wing, xenophobic British National Party (BNP) - a party no self-respecting leftist would go near except to throw eggs or possibly shoes.


The AFBNP treasurer, Todd Blodgett, also told the Washington Post that he and Von Brunn had attended fundraising meetings in Arlington County. The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, spoke to at least two AFBNP meetings and said the money raised by the organisation made a "significant contribution to the BNP's [2001] general election campaign".

Part of the twisted rationalization that allows the Limbaughs and Becks to theorize about Von Brunn-as-leftist comes from the influence of a book with an oxymoron for a title... Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg.

Despite the fact that European fascism was stridently anti-liberal and anti-communist, Goldberg argues that National Socialism was somehow or other left-wing.

There have been numerous attempts by right wing pundits to argue 'twin' associations between Nazism and Communism. Anyone can compare two seemingly distinct and different systems and find lots of seeming similarities. For example, an astute researcher could compare certain US corporations of recent years with mafia organizations and come up with an intriguing book.

The fact is, the number one enemy of National Socialism was the left... Bolsheviks and allied groups that subscribed to Marxist thinking. But this hasn't stopped American conservatives from seizing on Goldberg's book in order to find some other way to smear the left - even to the point of trying to paint James Von Brunn as a leftist. It just goes to show how desperate and empty they have become. Lies and inventions will do when you're fast running out of credible ammunition.

Jun 10, 2009

Fluvanna prison: 'butch' looking inmates segregated

Fluvanna Correctional Center
Lynn Toney (left) and Summer Triolo both spent time in the derisively
named 'butch wing'
at Fluvanna Correctional Center

For a year or more, the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia segregated so-called 'butch' looking lesbian inmates in a separate wing. The targeted inmates reportedly had 'short hair' and favored 'loose-fitting clothes.'

Some straight women also got sent to the wing because they had a masculine appearance.

Current guards and a former co-worker say there was a deliberate policy of targeting 'butch' looking inmates and packing them off to the wing referred to derisively by guards as 'the little boys wing' and the 'studs wing.'

It's reported that Building 5 manager Timothy Back came up with the segregation plan. Dozens of inmates were moved to wing 5D as it is officially called in an effort to break up relationships.

Warden Barbara Wheeler denies that inmates have been targeted based upon their appearance. When AP began making a few inquiries, inmates and a current employee reported that the practice was stopped.

Fluvanna Correctional Center
Fluvanna Correctional Center

Inmates claim that the rules are discriminatory. Women sent to wing 5D, said they were made the target of discriminatory remarks. When they were being escorted for meals for example, it wasn't uncommon to overhear comments such as "Here come the little boys."

Segregating female inmates on the basis of their appearance is a violation of the US Constitution which guarantees equal protection and freedom of expression. These women are being penalized for the 'crime' of having a certain look.

Let's hope the airing this story has had in the media will result in some needed action because there are problems with this institution... some also that pre-date this report... see beneath for more info.

Article citing other complaints about Fluvanna - here

Bill Maher calls Sean Hannity 'sexually repressed'


During an interview with Howard Kurtz on CNN's Reliable Sources Bill Maher said Sean Hannity of Fox News is "terribly sexually repressed." Maher made the comment after viewing a video clip, in the course of which Hannity described him [Maher] as being "an angry, bitter guy."

Here's how Maher responded during the Kurtz interview:

MAHER: No, he's an angry, bitter guy. That's called projecting.

That's called taking what you feel and giving it to somebody else. I'm a happy, single guy. He's a repressed, typical Republican.

I'm sure just terribly sexually repressed and it comes out in all their sorts of hatred and vile and bile -- why would I be bitter? First of all, our side won. You know, their side is in a wilderness like there's been before.

So --

Sexual repression is just part of a more complex condition in Hannity's case, that might best be described as a form of arrested development.

He is typical of a certain type of right wing pundit... loud, driven, smug, dogmatic, intellectually challenged and programmed to repeat the same key talking points ad nauseum. It doesn't matter if he is out-to-lunch and factually incorrect on some issue, the ideological hype and will-to-coerce never wavers - you have at least to give him an 'A' for effort.

Watching Hannity doing his thing can be funny as hell, but also disturbing.

The other night he had guests on his show who also lean to the right, but when Hannity started banging on even they looked at him as though he had a screw loose. He hammered home objections to everything Obama is about with such thinly disguised contempt or possibly hatred, it seemed badly off-base. Notwithstanding Hannity's often proclaimed regard for conservative African American justice Clarence Thomas, his attacks on Obama at times come off as nasty and personal in a manner that goes beyond the White House policies under discussion. There is an undertone to Hannity's commentary on Obama that says as much about prejudice as it does about politics.

On a recent show, with reference to the Cairo visit he said in all seriousness that Obama was now referring to America as "a Muslim nation."

What Obama in fact said is that millions of Muslims live in America. We're not talking some big secret here. Any reference to America being a 'Muslim nation' has to be kept in the context of the overall remarks. But leave it to Hannity to wrench the comments out of context and present them in a manner that completely distorts what Obama was saying.

Obama's precise comment was:

We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens, who are bound by ideals.

If you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.

This is the spin Hannity put on it:

He honors the national day of prayer behind closed doors. Now, on his Middle East apology tour, the President calls the U.S. a "Muslim nation."

The same president who insists the U.S. is not a Christian nation is now calling us a Muslim nation.

When Bill Maher, who has a good eye for these things, says Hannity is sexually repressed there is no doubt he has hit on one of Hannity's chief features... yet another right-wing Irish-American Catholic with the hang-ups that go with it. It's pretty evident who the "angry, bitter guy" is.

Sean Hannity really shouldn't go after Bill Maher. They're badly mismatched. Maher is just way too sharp for the Fox News shill.

Jun 7, 2009

El Pais: Sardinia photos: Berlusconi sues

El Pais Sardinia Berlusconi and girls

The Spanish daily El Pais has published a set of photos that include shots of nude and semi-nude guests at Berlusconi's Villa Certosa in Sardinia. The pics were taken by Antonio Zappauda from outside the Berlusconi villa during a party for a Czech delegation.

The photos provide a glimpse of the 72 year-old premier at play. There is also a pic of a naked man pool-side, sporting what looks like a semi-erection. The face has been pixelated, but it's reportedly former Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek.

Berlusconi's need at age 72 to surround himself with beautiful young women comes off as an effort to convince himself that he is just as virile and attractive as he was a few decades ago, and no doubt the women cater to his many vanities.

But what is most amazing is that even as he goes out of his way to hang with young women and in the case of one, Noemi Letizia, even further out of his way... we are meant to believe that nothing is going on. Hanging around with younger women isn't the main issue, it's the fact that Berlusconi has been preaching the values of religion and the family while pouring scorn on the left - it's about his hypocrisy.

Over and above Berlusconi's personal tastes and private preferences, there are also allegations of abuse of public funds. According to El Pais, the PM has been using Italian aircraft since the summer of 2007 to fly guests to and from the Villa Certosa. This is alleged to have occurred "almost every weekend."

Berlusconi says that when he visits other countries the entertainment is laid on for him, so he is just returning the favor. Flying young women on Italian planes to a villa for the pleasure of 'Papi' and his visiting political pals seems kind of like high-end pimping. A complaint has been filed by the consumer organization, Codacons, forcing Italian prosecutors to open an investigation into use of public assets. But Berlusconi, true to form, is contemptuous of the effort and says "It means nothing. It will be shelved very soon."

Meanwhile he is furious about the appearance of the Sardinia photos in El Pais and is suing the daily. The premier's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, described the photos as having "originated in a crime." He added: "Who buys them anywhere in the world is committing a crime, something which should have been clear to El Pais' journalists,"

El Pais says that Berlusconi is the one who is getting things wrong:

The publication of the photographs of his private parties aims to show how, as prime minister, he is trying to turn the realm of democratic politics into a simple continuation of his friendships and entertainment... It is not the job of official aircraft to transport guests to his private parties.

Link to El Pais ... here.

Papi Berlusconi and volunteers

 Berlusconi and escorts party at villa in Sardinia

Jun 4, 2009

Sharlene Azam: teens trading sex for favors

teenage girls

Independent film maker Sharlene Azam's documentary with accompanying book - Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss - investigates the sex lives of middle-class teen girls.

Anyone who associates teen sex of the wilder variety with drug-use and pimps hasn't been paying attention. Casual sex or even 'barter-sex' is part of the lifestyle of a percentage of middle-class teens for whom it is no biggie to offer oral sex for favors.

Azam refers to girls as young as 11 who talk about having sex, going to sex parties and in some cases engaging in casual prostitution so they can purchase some needed item. As one teen put it: "Five minutes and I got $100. If I'm going to sleep with them, anyway, because they're good-looking, might as well get paid for it, right?"

According to Azam these girls are all from "good homes" and in most cases the parents are completely unaware of what's going on.

Porn has had a major influence on teen culture. It informs everything from fashion to song lyrics loaded with innuendo. The sexting self-photo fad and racy images trafficked on the cellphone-express (some of them from last weekend's party) reflect the trend. Teens don't have to check into porn sites to be attuned to the porno sensibility.

Some teen girls are pragmatic about sex and seem able to compartmentalize it... at least if you buy what they have to say.

This for example:

I mean, we're not looking for our future husbands... we have a lot of urges, I guess, that need to be taken care of. So if we resort to a casual thing, no strings attached, it's perfectly fine.

None of this is particularly new. What is new are the ways in which tech has impacted on teen culture and the ways in which information is processed.

A middle-class background like any other can have its own set of challenges. In a lot of cases parents and other guardians are absentee, either physically or just in terms of involvement in their kid's lives. At root where problems exist, it relates back to communication and support issues.

Azam, who has concerns about the teen sex she has been investigating says "we failed our girls" ... nonetheless the titillating title of her book and the cover plays up all the seductive teen lolita stereotypes. But then... gotta sell those books!

Jun 1, 2009

Tiller killing: was Bill O'Reilly's inflammatory rhetoric a factor?

Bill O'Reilly

Dr George Tiller was gunned down Sunday in the Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita Kansas, where he was serving as an usher.

Dr Tiller performed abortions and was a champion of women's reproductive freedom despite the risk to his own life. He had long been vilified by anti-abortion activists who made him a target of ongoing threats.

No detractor's voice was louder than that of Fox News' inquisitor-in-chief, Bill O'Reilly.

O'Reilly first got Tiller in his sights back in 2005. According to Salon, the doctor's name surfaced on O'Reilly's show, The Factor, on 28 subsequent episodes - most recently on April 27 of this year.

The on-air attacks on Dr Tiller included O'Reilly's usual brand of hardline rhetoric - the type of inflammatory stuff guaranteed to rile up most anti-abortion activists.

Dr Tiller was crudely caricatured as "Tiller the Baby Killer." Other characterizations were a variation on that theme. The doctor was likened to the Nazis... his work was described as the moral equivalent of NAMBLA and Al Qaeda... comparisons were also made with Mao's China, Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union in the course of the broad brush smear job that is part of O'Reilly's on-air attack style.

O'Reilly deliberately associated Dr Tiller with child molestation and rape and without evidence accused his clinic of covering up for 'child rapists.' He claimed the doctor was being enabled by amoral cultural elites and scofflaw journalists. Tiller's clinic was described as a "death mill."

O'Reilly's attacks on George Tiller weren't just on-air targeting. He dispatched producers Jesse Watters and Porter Barry to ambush the doctor. The ambush 'interviews' also extended to Tiller's attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray and Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius.

O'Reilly presented the doctor as a murderer-on-the-loose running a "business of destruction". He described him as having "blood on his hands" and used terms such as "Judgment Day."

While O'Reilly never went so far as advocating violence, the act of targeting George Tiller in this highly sensationalist fashion offered the doctor up as a hate-target - intentional or not. This was playing with fire since elements in the anti-abortion movement have a history of violence - including shootings and bombings directed against abortion providers.

Authorities have detained a suspect, 51-year-old Scott Roeder in connection with the killing of Dr Tiller. Roeder was reportedly a one-time member of a Shawnee County-based Freemen group called One Supreme Court.

Suzanne James, a former director of victim's services for Shawnee County remembers Roeder and described him as "dangerous."

A person using the name Scott Roeder was responsible for posting anti-Tiller comments on various internet sites. A posting from September 3, 2007, on a site sponsored by Operation Rescue, said that Tiller needed to be "stopped."

Was O'Reilly's campaign against George Tiller a factor in the final tragic outcome? No doubt O'Reilly will condemn the murder and express sympathy for Tiller's family - but the fact remains, he contributed to the climate of hate that resulted in Tiller being made into enemy number-one in the minds of some people. In that type of climate a shooter might not only feel empowered, but justified.

For details on the suspect Scott Roeder here.

Salon article on O'Reilly's attacks on Tiller here.