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Thu, 12 Dec 2019
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Light Sabers

Church of Scientology fires a second salvo against the New Yorker

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The Church of Scientology reacted to today's New Yorker article claiming that the FBI is investigating it for suspected people trafficking with quiet restraint.

Only joking! It's senior staff, who say they are unaware of any investigation and deny all allegations of wrongdoing, have instead hit the gilded roofs of their many properties. This morning, they issued a statement branding the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Paul Haggis (left), the source of much of the 25,000-word piece, a "disaffected former member" making "sensationalist" claims.

This evening, meanwhile, their spokesman Tommy Davis issued a second statement. This one drew attention to a piece on the affair by AOL security correspondent Allan Lengel. In an easily-overlooked line, buried half way down, Mr Lengell claims that his own FBI sources have informed him that no human-trafficking charges are likely to be filed against the Church, or its leader David Miscavige (right).

A copy of the Davis statement is below. Either the Church of Scientology has discovered a piece of killer evidence here, which will discredit the entire New Yorker article, or... it hasn't. I guess that, some day, the issue will eventually mulled over by a court.

I've no idea how Mr Lengel will react to being thrown to the center of this increasingly ugly dispute, but you can read his actual piece here. The Independent's original news story (published before Davis issued his second statement) is here. And if you have 45 minutes to spare, I can heartily recommend the original New Yorker article, published (gloriously free from the constraints of English libel law) here.

Comment: Something else Davis said in The New Yorker article caught our attention:
Davis [Tommy Davis, the chief spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International] acknowledged that some of Hubbard's medical records did not appear to corroborate Hubbard's version of events. But Scientology had culled other records that did confirm Hubbard's story, including documents from the National Archives in St. Louis. The man who did the research, Davis said, was "Mr. X."

Davis explained, "Anyone who saw 'J.F.K.' remembers a scene on the Mall where Kevin Costner's character goes and meets with a man named Mr. X, who's played by Donald Sutherland." In the film, Mr. X is an embittered intelligence agent who explains that the Kennedy assassination was actually a coup staged by the military-industrial complex. In real life, Davis said, Mr. X was Colonel Leroy Fletcher Prouty, who had worked in the Office of Special Operations. (Oliver Stone, who directed "J.F.K.," says that Mr. X was a composite character, based in part on Prouty.) In the eighties, Prouty worked as a consultant for Scientology.

"We finally got so frustrated with this point of conflicting medical records that we took all of Mr. Hubbard's records to Fletcher Prouty," Davis told me. "He actually solved the conundrum for us." According to Davis, Prouty explained to the church representatives that, because Hubbard had an "intelligence background," his records were subjected to a process known as "sheep-dipping." Davis explained that this was military parlance for "what gets done to a set of records for an intelligence officer. And, essentially, they create two sets." He said, "Fletcher Prouty basically issued an affidavit saying L. Ron Hubbard's records were sheep-dipped." Prouty died in 2001.



War Whore

Donald Rumsfeld book admits misstatements over WMD sites

Former US defense secretary's memoirs express regret for saying 'stuff happens' over Iraq war
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© Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Donald Rumsfeld's autobiography Known and Unknown has provoked John McCain and shifted the blame to Paul Bremer.

The former US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, admits in his memoirs that he made a mistake in claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction sites round Baghdad and Tikrit, one of the main justifications for launching the Iraq invasion.

Rumsfeld says now: "I made a misstatement." What he meant to say is there were 'suspect sites'.

The incident is one of many in the 815-page autobiography, Known and Unknown, in which he seeks to revise the history of the Bush administration on issues ranging from Iraq to the Guantánamo detention centre.

Rumsfeld is one of the most controversial figures of the Bush era and his autobiography has long been awaited. The Guardian obtained an advance copy.

Briefcase

British journalists frozen out of Russia

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© Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Soldiers march in the Moscow snow. The Guardian's correspondent Luke Harding has been refused entry to Russia.
Guardian Moscow correspondent Luke Harding's expulsion follows history of bad relations with western media

Russian authorities either denied entry to or deported more than 40 members of the media between 2000 to 2008, according to statistics from the Moscow-based press freedom group Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations. British journalists who have been denied entry or expelled include:

Angus Roxburgh

In 1989 Roxburgh was expelled from what was then the Soviet Union while working as Moscow correspondent for the Sunday Times, as tension over the collapse of communism in eastern Europe was reaching its peak. Longtime Russo-phile Roxburgh was expelled by the KGB for supposed "unacceptable activities". He was effectively deemed a "spy", in a tit for tat expulsion. Within months he was back in Russia - with the KGB reportedly furious at his swift return - later covering Moscow's "August Coup" for the Guardian in 1991. Roxburgh went on to become the BBC's man in Moscow in the 1990s. In 2006 he was hired as a spin doctor to the Kremlin as part of a team including Tim Allan, the former Labour press officer who founded PR agency Portland, employed to smooth Russia's image ahead of a G8 summit in St Petersburg.

Stop

Alberta, Canada: Train derailment a mystery

train derailment
© Unknown
Illustration
No one was injured Tuesday when 22 mostly empty CP Rail cars derailed near Carmangay.

Kevin Hrysak, CP Rail spokesman, said three of the cars contained building materials and 19 were empty. The 54-car train was en route to Calgary from the U.S.

The derailment occurred in a rural area at 8:06 a.m., about two miles south of Carmangay near Range Road 234 and Township Road 134, about a mile east of Highway 23.

Township 134 east near the derailment from Highway 23 and Range Road 234 south from Township 134 to Township 132 will be closed for three days as CP rail crews work to clean up the derailment. It has been determined that the train engineer and the conductor followed proper emergency procedures during the incident.

"We're co-operating with all agencies involved, but the cause is still under investigation and I haven't had any indication as to what the cause was," Hrysak said.

Black Cat

Couple held in central Russian exorcist killing

A married couple from the central Russian city of Voronezh have been charged with murdering their daughter in an attempt to exorcise her of demons, media reports said on Thursday.

Reports say that 25-year-old Alexandra, a mother of two, confessed to her parents during Orthodox Christmas (January 7) that she heard voices in her head and suspected she had been possessed by "unclean spirits."

Her parents then decided they would have to exorcise her and persuaded her to drink five liters of holy water. But their daughter was unable to swallow such a vast amount of liquid, so her father, Sergei, held her down while her mother, Yelena, poured the rest of the water into her mouth.

Yoda

Shasta and Goliath: Bringing Down Corporate Rule

Mt. Shasta
© Unknown

Mt. Shasta is both a giant and a plucky small town taking on the giants of the corporate world.
Mt. Shasta, a small northern California town of 3,500 residents nestled in the foothills of magnificent Mount Shasta, is taking on corporate power through an unusual process -- democracy.

The citizens of Mt. Shasta have developed an extraordinary ordinance, set to be voted on in the next special or general election, that would prohibit corporations such as Nestle and Coca-Cola from extracting water from the local aquifer. But this is only the beginning. The ordinance would also ban energy-giant PG&E, and any other corporation, from regional cloud seeding, a process that disrupts weather patterns through the use of toxic chemicals such as silver iodide. More generally, it would refuse to recognize corporate personhood, explicitly place the rights of community and local government above the economic interests of multinational corporations, and recognize the rights of nature to exist, flourish, and evolve.

Mt. Shasta is not alone. Rather, it is part of a (so far) quiet municipal movement making its way across the United States in which communities are directly defying corporate rule and affirming the sovereignty of local government.

Since 1998, more than 125 municipalities have passed ordinances that explicitly put their citizens' rights ahead of corporate interests, despite the existence of state and federal laws to the contrary. These communities have banned corporations from dumping toxic sludge, building factory farms, mining, and extracting water for bottling. Many have explicitly refused to recognize corporate personhood. Over a dozen townships in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire have recognized the right of nature to exist and flourish (as Ecuador just did in its new national constitution). Four municipalities, including Halifax in Virginia, and Mahoney, Shrewsbury, and Packer in Pennsylvania, have passed laws imposing penalties on corporations for chemical trespass, the involuntary introduction of toxic chemicals into the human body.

Cow

Another blow for families: Fastest rise in prices of staple foods in five years

The prices of a range of basic foods surged at the start of the year, showing the biggest monthly rise in more than five years.

Bread, pasta, and packets and tins of food increased in cost by 2.7 per cent between December and January to reach an annual rate of 6.3 per cent, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Overall, the annual rate of food inflation jumped from 4 per cent to 4.6 per cent, despite claims of supermarkets to be waging a new year price war. This was the largest monthly increase in two years.

Heart

Gazans feed hungry Egyptian troops

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An Egyptian border policeman stands guard on Rafah border.
Over the last three days, Gazans have been giving food to Egyptian soldiers isolated on the Gaza border since the beginning of the popular revolution.

Underground tunnels, which were used to bring basic goods from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, are now working in the opposite direction.

Egyptian soldiers, who have been isolated on the Gaza border for the past 10 days, due to the internal upheaval, are getting bread, canned food and other supplies from the impoverished coastal enclave through the tunnels.

Gaza's merchants have also been sending vegetables, eggs and other staples into Egypt, where store owners have run out of stock because normal supplies are cut off by the unrest, Ha'aretz reported Friday.

Since 2006, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have resorted to the so-called feeding tubes to deliver their basic needs to the enclave which has been sealed off by an Israeli blockade.

Rafah is the main entry and exit post between Egypt and the coastal enclave.

Millions of people have been holding daily protests in Egyptian cities for the past 12 days. The demonstrators are demanding an immediate end to the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The violence has claimed around 300 lives so far.

Light Sabers

Thai, Cambodian forces exchange gunfire near ancient temple

Fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops flared again briefly on Saturday morning, after clashes over an ancient temple claimed by both countries erupted along the border on Friday.

A Thai Army spokesman said one soldier was killed in the latest round of gunfire, and four others were injured. That brings the weekend death toll to two people. Earlier, the country's health minister told the MCOT news agency that one Thai villager was killed by artillery shells fired by Cambodian troops.

Fighting took place on Friday and Saturday near the Preah Vihear temple, an 11th century structure which straddles the boundary between Cambodia and Thailand. The building itself sits on a cliff in Cambodian territory, but the most accessible entrance to the site is on the Thai side.

State media for both countries confirm that there was an exchange of gunfire and artillery on Friday afternoon for about two hours. Both sides are pointing the finger at the other over who fired the first shots.

Footprints

Guardian's Moscow correspondent expelled from Russia

Luke Harding's removal thought to be the first of a British staff journalist from the country since end of cold war.
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© Fedor Savintsev/the Guardian
Luke Harding, the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, has been expelled from Russia.

The Guardian's Moscow correspondent has been expelled from Russia, in what is believed to be the first removal of a British staff journalist from the country since the end of the cold war.

Luke Harding's forced departure comes after the newspaper's reporting of the WikiLeaks cables, where he reported on allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin had become a "virtual mafia state".

The journalist flew back to Moscow at the weekend after a two-month stint reporting on the contents of the leaked US diplomatic cables from London, but was refused entry when his passport was checked on his arrival.

After spending 45 minutes in an airport cell, he was sent back to the UK on the first available plane - with his visa annulled and his passport only returned to him after taking his seat. Harding was given no specific reason for the decision, although an airport security official working for the Federal Border Service, an arm of the FSB intelligence agency, told him: "For you Russia is closed."

The tightly controlled nature of Russian politics means the expulsion is likely to have been ordered at a very senior level, but the British government has so far been unable to find out any more details about the decision.