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The View from Down Under: Motorbike Gangs

by Joanne Lane

“You better be careful,” a friend told me as I donned my motorbike jacket and helmet.

“Why?” I asked wondering if he was referring to inclement weather or some such evil for bikers.

“Campbell Newman,” he said, “he could get you.”

The penny dropped. He was referring to our Queensland premier’s latest move to tighten laws on outlaw motorcycle gangs, making them amongst the toughest in the world. I should make it clear right now I am not a member of any such gang nor would my humble bike gain me entry to one, or even raise an eyebrow amongst law enforcement; in fact it’s far more likely I’d be laughed off the road.

Still the point was made—although perhaps it was in jest—and it gave me food for thought as we parted; could any motorbike rider be targeted by police?

Well let me explain the laws first.

The Queensland government has recently introduced new laws targeting criminal motorcycle gangs in a bid to “destroy” them in the state. The government has labelled 26 groups as criminal including the Bandidos, Finks and Mongols. Under the new laws police can stop and search people merely on the suspicion they are a member or an associate of these gangs. Already there has been some confusion over this with police confusing a Sons of Anarchy t-shirt for a motorbike “patch” or credential.

It also restricts bikies’ movements and meetings and increases minimum sentences for crimes. Under the new laws bikies will receive a mandatory service of 15 years if convicted of a crime and a minimum of six months jail, a three month license suspension and the crushing of their motorcycle should they step foot in a clubhouse, work in a tattoo parlour or ride motorcycles with other bikies.

With the new laws came this message from Premier Campbell Newman when they were passed through Parliament in October: “The unequivocal purpose of these laws is to destroy these criminal organisations. I say this evening: take off your colours, get a real job, act like decent, law-abiding human beings, and become proper citizens in the state of Queensland and you won’t have to go to jail.

“But if you continue to persist as members of criminal gangs, with criminal activities, creating fear and intimidation across Queensland, you will be destroyed and we make no apologies for that.”

And that wasn’t the end of it. Queensland also plans to create a bikies only prison where inmates could spend up to 23 hours a day in their cells, be denied gym and TV access and be subject to thorough drug checks.

Way back in the 1950s Marlon Brando’s movie The Wild One introduced the world to criminal motorbike gangs. Now 80 years later we have the same encounter of the law versus the bikies, the so-called good guys versus the bad guys; but now the scene is not the USA, where this notion was born, but dear, old, sleepy Queensland.

“Only in Queensland,” some readers may well be thinking that still regard the state as wayward and backward. While “hysterical” is the word Nicholas Cowdery used, the former NSW director of public prosecutions, who said laws like this would be impossible in the ACT and Victoria where there is human rights legislation.

So why are these laws being introduced you may ask? Well they were enacted after an all out brawl on the Gold Coast involving rival members of motorcycle gangs and calls from within the Queensland community to get tough on law and order.

And the response so far? Well some bikie members have handed in their patches as police have raided establishments, seized ammunition and drugs, served traffic infringement notices, executed warrants and conducted thousands of street checks. Are the roads now safer? Time will tell.

Do Queenslanders want this? Apparently, according to Newman and Courier Mail Galaxy surveys that have 56 percent of people backing the new laws.
I’ve met plenty of motorcyclists, some of whom have said snide things to me like “nice bike” when I’ve pulled up next to their hulking Harley specimens. Another motorcyclist on the highway last week deliberately cut me off when I didn’t move over quickly enough for him—dangerous. I’ve never really harboured any serious ill will towards them, however I do admit to feeling disturbed by a video police released of a standoff they had with bikies recently on the Gold Coast. The police were outnumbered and bikies intimidated and challenged police throughout the ordeal.

If I’d been there or lived on the Gold Coast where gangs have waged public battles for turf I probably would feel more strongly about the enforcement of law. However I also ride a bike myself in a non-criminal, non-threatening way and would like to continue to do so lawfully like other Queenslanders.

As a female without tats or colours I certainly don’t feel targeted, despite what my friend joked about. But some motorcyclists do, particularly returned Vietnam Vets who probably match the physical profile of those in outlaw gangs but not the criminal one.

Queensland Attorney General Jarror Bleijie said law abiding motorbike riders have nothing to worry about however civil libertarians feel the laws threaten basic rights. Motorcycle rider March Hincliffe feels so strongly about this he has raised a petition calling for the government and police to treat motorcyclists with “fairness”. He will take it to Queensland Parliament when he has 10,000 signatures.

Hinchliffe said in his Change.org petition, that Premier Campbell Newman and Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie should “refrain from enacting any legislation that discriminates against motorcyclists”.

The petition says: “The current police campaign of discriminatorily stopping and detaining motorcyclists for the sole reason that the motorcyclist is riding in company with other motorcyclists is a flagrant breach of our legitimate freedom to use the roads lawfully as is the right of every other Queensland road user.

“We are not what you term ‘criminal bikies’. We do not engage in criminal activity. Your statements and your government’s declared intention to pass obviously discriminatory legislation is an insult to every Queensland motorcyclist.”

There are some parallels with what’s happening in Queensland and the story about the rival motorcycle gangs depicted in The Wild One. In the movie the gangs terrorize a small town who finally have enough and take the law into their own hands until the sheriff steps in to restore order.

It has some lessons we can learn today – that we can fight for what is right without going to extremes to do so.

Ultimately the entire issue speaks to the inconsistency and imperfection of democracy which is also why we love it so much—the need to tread a legal line without removing civil liberties. Are we capable of doing that? Do we know where that line is, or to put it another way, as Charlie asked Jimmy in the cult classic, do we know what we’re fighting about?

Joanne Lane is a freelance photojournalist based in Brisbane, Australia.

Posted on: December 6, 2013, 5:37 pm Category: The View From Here Tagged with: , , ,

The View from Israel: National Service (Sherut Leumi)

by Amy Styer

25 November 2013. Jerusalem, Israel. A growing population has been exempted from military service in Israel and the majority wants to change that. Haredim and Israeli Arabs are exempted from the draft which is applicable to every other Israeli citizen. Bringing them into the army is challenging because of ideological and practical reasons. Israeli Arabs side with Palestinians and cannot be asked to serve in the military against their brethren. The haredim believe that learning Torah helps to protect the state more than military actions. Also, the haredim have many religious requirements that make military service difficult. How to include these two groups in a form of national service has been a question that even the first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, had to deal with.

Since the Tal Law was revoked in 2012, haredi men who refuse to do army service can be sentenced to a two year prison term (this has not been enforced yet). Testy Knesset debates, protests, even physical altercations, have heightened religious/political divisions.  On Tuesday, November 19th, members of the Knesset’s special committee on haredi enlistment admitted that jailing thousands of men would divide Israeli society and benefit no one. There is a need to find a solution amenable to all.

The answer could lie in a system that has been quietly providing an alternative to the army—National Service (Sherut Leumi). National Service originally started over 30 years ago as an alternative to army service for religious Jewish girls (religious leaders frown on women serving in the army). At the age of 18, girls are matched up with a charitable organization, hospital, school, disadvantaged community, or other entity that need volunteers. The girls live together in dorm-like housing and serve for one to two years. They are paid a minimal salary, approximately 169 USD a month, and are provided with basic needs.

The benefit of National Service is tangible across the country so people don’t look down on those that choose it instead of army service. Go to donate blood and National Service volunteers take it. Helping an immigrant child in school is a National Service volunteer. Peek into a soup kitchen and National Service volunteers are cutting vegetables.

National Service volunteers at the Shaare Tsedek medical center.

On a chilly Jerusalem morning, I tagged along with National Service girls (Bnot Sherut) to get a feel for what they do. Like a regular job, they have to be at their service position at 8:00 am. They wear t-shirts from the host organization or cotton blouses identifying them as National Service volunteers. The first stop I made was at the Shaare Tsedek medical center. Bnot Sherut were in the maternity ward changing the diapers of the rows of newborns. Shaare Tsedek serves the Jewish and Arab communities. I stopped for a minute to watch Bnot Sherut next to women in hijabs, both cooing at babies. The next stop was an elementary school that serves the Ethiopian community. Sitting with a group of boys, a Bnot Sherut was helping them fill in a multiplication table. On the break, Bnot Sherut had set up a craft table. Children were drawing rainbows and making stars out of popsicle sticks. The last place I stopped was Yad Sarah, an organization that loans out medical equipment and provides transportation to medical centers. Bnot Sherut were loaning out cribs and wheelchairs. I watched as people from all walks of life came in—giggly new parents and elderly people with a slow gait. At 5:00 pm, the volunteers return to their apartments. Some nights there are lectures or activities, but they are mostly free.

There are many benefits to National Service, besides the experience gained. National Service counts in place of army service so participants are eligible for similar benefits that discharged soldiers receive such as educational grants. If a person does not complete the army or national service, they can get into legal trouble that makes getting a job or travelling difficult. Questions about service are asked on mortgage applications and employment forms.

While most of the National Service volunteers are Jewish females, there are a small number of Israeli Arabs and Jewish males. National Service offers volunteer opportunities that suit the unique requirements of these groups. There are tracks for the Arab society, secular Jews, and haredi Jews. The infrastructure is in place so it is easily possible to channel Israeli Arabs and haredi men to National Service.

The Israeli Arab community has complained that because they do not serve in the army, they are not able to avail of the numerous training programs and economic benefits that soldiers receive. National Service would allow them to serve their community and advance economically. The numbers of Arab volunteers has increased significantly as youth see their friends serving, obtaining benefits, and entering the work force.

The status quo is no longer sustainable and is no longer wanted, truth be told, by both sides. Haredim and Israeli Arabs are tired of being poor, unemployed, and marginalized. They need tools for employment. National Service caters to their unique needs and respects religious traditions. Instead of criminalizing or threatening social benefits over military service, why not expand National Service?

Amy Styer is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, Israel.

Posted on: November 26, 2013, 4:59 pm Category: The View From Here Tagged with: , ,

The View from the Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan

by Maria Villamor and Kathleen Burkhalter

18 November 2013. Roxas City, Philippines. The Filipino people are resilient. Over the centuries and under multiple flags, their western Pacific Ocean homeland—comprised of more than seven thousand islands—has endured invasions, pirate attacks, wars, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and typhoons.

On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 super typhoon ripped into the Philippines. At the western edge of the storm’s path, on the islands of Samar and Leyte, the storm produced a tsunami-like storm surge. Tacloban City, the focal point of the media attention, suffered apolcalyptic destruction and enormous loss of life. Across a broad path, Typhoon Haiyan (in the Philippines also called Typhoon Yolanda) cut a swath of death and destruction before moving on toward Vietnam.

The typhoon hit the island of Panay, located in the region of the Philippines that forms the historic and cultural center of the Visayan islands. This is the heart of the Philippines, a part of the ancient Srivijayan and Madjapahit Empires of Southeast Asia, this is the region where Magellan met his fate, and where General Douglas MacArthur returned to fulfill his promise to return to liberate the Philippines from a brutal Japanese occupation during WWII. It is a region of fertile soil, sugar empires and rich ocean coastlines.

Third year law student Maria Villamor, attends Central Visayas University in Jaro, Iloilo. After Typhoon Haiyan passed , Ms. Villamor struggled to make her way home to Roxas City, located on the northern coast of Panay.

This is her story in her own words.

“The day after the typhoon I went home to Roxas City. All forms of communication were dead. My fellow student, Michael Renker who is from Germany and I left in the morning. There were no buses available because they were stuck in a flood. One bus came along but could only get as far as Estancia.”

“Desperate to go home, we took a risk and got on the bus.”

“The northern part of Panay was badly hit. The longer we were on the road, the situation became worse. Trees were uprooted, electrical posts were broken in half or lying on the streets. Schools and covered gyms were torn apart.”

“I thought I’d seen the worst, I was wrong. The bus driver could have stopped anywhere and declared that the road was impossible to pass. But he took pity on all of us so he pushed the bus through unpassable roads. Some roads were blocked by electrical posts and trees. He and the conductor got bamboo poles to raise the downed power lines so the bus could pass.”

“Everyone was desperate to get home. Several times all of us would get off the bus and together we helped move electrical posts and trees. I thought to myself, ‘There is still hope for humanity.'”

“On the bus, we comforted each other, and told each other that we would keep on praying and hoping that our families were all right.”

“Michael and I we were the last ones to get off the bus in Estancia. There were no buses on the road. After an hour, a truck stopped and the kind driver offered us a ride. He dropped us off and we waited for a half hour under the hot sun, before a motorcycle driver came along. We rode with him to the Balasan public market, but no one came along so we started walking.”

“We asked every driver we met, if they were headed to Roxas City. They said it was dangerous to go there.”

“A man on a motorcycle stopped and he said he could take us to Pilar, located two towns away from Roxas City. We were so happy for his kind deed. He told us that his home was the only one left standing in his town and he wanted to give back. We reached Pilar and thanked him.”

“We met another angel, a man with a pick-up truck. We stopped several times because he wanted to buy a generator. When we reached Pontevedra we said our goodbyes and prayed that our families were doing well.”

“Almost home, we saw that there were fallen trees and houses made of light materials were destroyed. Tricycle drivers were very willing to take us on the last half mile of our journey. Then we encountered flood waters. We decided to walk the rest of the way.”

“I held on to Michael’s backpack strap. The flood waters were knee high and the current was getting stronger.”

I told myself, “We can make it.” There were a few people ahead of us, and beside me were two girls, about 10 and 12 years old. We grabbed their hands and crossed safely.”

” A pick up truck owned by a local family stopped. From the truck I could see that the public market was flooded. The church had minor damage, and a few houses near it were destroyed. The truck came to the edge of a flood again and we had to walk.”

The flood waters were chest deep and the current was strong. I was scared and wondered if we would make it across alive.”

“My heart was beating quickly as we approached my street. The road was blocked with electrical posts, cables, trees. When we got to my house it was dark. As I opened the gate, I could barely see the damaged roof. I looked at our garden and the fruit trees had been uprooted. Mango, guyabano, jackfruit, avocado, banana and coconut trees were gone.”

“Then I heard my mother’s voice. I closed my eyes and thanked God that my family was safe.”

“I traveled for almost ten hours, faced hunger, thirst, and death, but along the way I met strangers who were willing to help even if they too, had lost everything.”

Errol Luke Palomo Pacliba and Maria Villamor prepare packages of rice intended for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, Iloilo City, Philippines. November, 2013. Photo by Michael Renker.

Although communications remain intermittent, at last report Ms. Villamor immediately threw herself into local relief efforts. While other cities in the Philippines were harder hit, Roxas City was forced to survive on its own resources for the first five days after the typhoon. People remained in dire need of water and food. Its citizens rallied and organized themselves using Facebook and Twitter, and launched personal relief drives.

A native of the Phillipines, American journalist and author Kathleen Burkhalter <kjb@post.harvard.edu> lives in New Bedford, MA.

Posted on: November 19, 2013, 12:40 pm Category: The View From Here Tagged with: , , ,

The World Chess Championship

The World Chess Championship between current champion Viswanathan Anand of India and Magnus Carlsen of Norway began on 9 November in Chennai, India, and will continue through 28 November 2013. Anand won the championship in 2012, and Carlsen currently is the world’s top-ranked male chess player by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE), which oversees international chess competition.

Many chess experts consider the match between Anand and Carlsen to be as monumental as that between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky in 1972, which was widely considered “The Match of the Century” due to its Cold War overtones amid the frosty relationship between Russia and the United States. Fischer defeated Spassky to become the eleventh World Chess Champion. The political dynamics of the event, along with behavior by Fischer that was considered—including forfeiting one game by refusing to play due to conditions that did not meet his approval—led to a much higher profile for chess and the championship match than had previously been the case.

Anand, age 43, has held the world chess championship since 2007 and has successfully defended his title three times. Carlsen, 22, is a former child prodigy who became a grandmaster at 13 and the top-ranked player in the world at 18. Carlsen has been compared to Fischer for both his skill level and his ability to increase worldwide interest in chess. Bobby Ghosh of Sports Illustrated has declared that the match “will mark the coming together of the sport’s first superstar with its first sex symbol.”

Anand has been considered “the face of chess since 1988,” according to Sarang Bhalerao of IndiaTimes. When Anand won his first chess championship in 2000, millions of his Indian countrymen watched the games live on television, and his victory led to a major revival of chess in India, which claims to have invented the sport. Carlsen has been featured in clothing advertising campaigns along with internationally known female models, and he even turned down a small role in the most recent Star Trek film. While chess is considered the most cerebral of sports, both competitors train their bodies as well. Anand lifts weights and Carlsen plays volleyball as part of their training regimens.

While he is the challenger in this match, Carlsen is considered by some to be the best chess player in history. According to the complex Elo rating system, Carlsen scored 2872–the highest ever reported—in February 2013. Anand’s best has been 2817; only six players have ever scored higher than 2800.

The first three games of the championship match ended in draws. Commentators noted that Carlsen’s play has been unusually shaky, and the draws have given Anand the slight advantage of playing the white chess pieces, or having the first move, in more than half of the remaining games. Anand also has the advantage of playing the match in his home country.

For more information on the World Chess Championship, visit http://chennai2013.fide.com/.

Additional Resources on International Sports from Global Issues in Context:
London Summer Olympics 2012
Sports and Diplomacy
Sports and Racism

Posted on: November 13, 2013, 3:14 pm Category: News in Context Tagged with: , , , ,

A View from Great Britain: The super active British pensioners who give good reason for the government to raise the retirement age

by Gabrielle Pickard

04 November 2013. Cheshire, United Kingdom. We’re all living longer, that’s great isn’t it? The Office for National Statistics states the average life expectancy in the UK between 1960 and 2010 rose by ten years for a man and by eight years for a woman. So what does the British government do? It increases the state pension age.

For many years in Britain the pensionable age for men was 65 years and 60 for women. In November 2011 the Pensions Act came into legislation in the UK which means that by 2018 the age a woman can receive her state pension will be 65. By 2020 the state pension age for men and women will increase to 66. Further legislation increases the pension age to 68 by 2046.

Official figures reveal that more than £100 billion will be saved by increasing the state pension age.

The move was met by controversy in the UK. Much of the resentment was centred on the perceived unfairness sprung upon women born in 1953 and 1954, who now face a two year delay in receiving their state pension. Campaigners accused the Chancellor George Osborne of ‘living in a fantasy world’ when he said that raising the state pension was one of the least controversial things the government had done.

Speaking at the Global Investment Conference earlier this year, Mr Osborne admitted to being “delighted with the money saved by the move.”

“The savings dwarf almost everything else you do. They are absolutely enormous savings,” boasted the British chancellor.

Pensioner groups said Osborne’s comments were insensitive to the millions of hardworking Britons who will be forced to work well into their 60s.

Due to improvements in diet, health and safety, medicine and so on, much of the world is living longer. Fewer people are smoking. People have switched to proven healthy diets such as Mediterranean cuisine, in which olive oil and garlic are dominant. There are many reasons why we are living longer and none more so than education. We observe and we learn. For example, far less people get killed today in industrial accidents because we make laws today to prevent what went wrong yesterday from being repeated.

While the amendments to the pension age ignited fierce debate and condemnation in Britain, we cannot deny that modern retirees seem significantly ‘younger’ to what they once were. The stereotype of a wrinkly pensioner walking to collect his or her pension with the aid of a walking stick has transpired into cyclists in their 70s and even 80s whizzing by on their way to a committee meeting to talk about plans to campaign against potholes on local roads that are hampering their cycling routes.

Take a look at two pensioners who are certainly testament that Britain’s retirees are more than ‘young at heart’.

78-year-old Brian Herring races sailing dinghies every Sunday in Cheshire. Brian still works in his boat repair yard repairing damaged sailing boats from as far away as Scotland. When asked why he still works, Mr Herring replies:

“Because I want to. I get to meet and keep in touch with all manner of people from the sport of sailing”.

When asked whether he was still racing at a reasonable standard, the pensioner said:

“Put it this way, I won a trophy the other week and another one earlier this year.”

Brian still loves to mix it with his rivals on the start line, such as during a recent race when a bumping and barging match took place that left Brian having to take a 720 degree penalty. Mr Herring taunts his competitors by referring to their Enterprise dinghies as “council house boats.” He gives no quarter in the boat races and he expects no quarter to be given.

The 78-year-old dinghy racer still enjoys a bottle of wine and as he closes in on his 80th year he does not look anything like a man who will give up work or sailing any time soon.

Brian is not the only British pensioner that could give someone in their 20s or 30s a run for their money. 74-year-old Bill Douglas of Malvern is a dedicated cyclist. He has kept a cycling log for years and all manner of information regarding height gains and distances are meticulously recorded.

Aside being an avid cyclist, the sprightly retiree is also an active climber. At Easter, Bill climbs the “Munroes” in Scotland, the Scottish peaks above 3000 feet named after the Scottish doctor who was the first to climb them all. Bill has reached the summit of 120 of the Munroes and only has 165 or so to go.

The French Pyrenees is another destination that draws Bill like a magnet. The pensioner has cycled over the Tourmalet several times – The killer mountain pass in the Tour de France where Bill follows the shadowy wheel marks of past cycling greats – This pensioner doesn’t do anything by half.

Bill isn’t a rich man. He has drawn his state pension for the last nine years but has also unlocked cash via a negative equity deal with his house.

A typical group email sent from the 74-year-old at the beginning of the year reads:

“I’m off to Mallorca for January and part of February and in March I will meet up with my mates from Bedford Mountaineering Club (Of which I am the founder member) in Scotland. After we have completed several Munroes I return home briefly before I head off with my camping gear and racing bike for the Pyrenees. In October I hope to return to Andalucía to complete the last 7000 foot peak in the Sierra de Baza (I have previously climbed the other five). It’s a hard life but somebody has to do it.”

Bill Douglas enjoys the odd glass of beer or wine with a meal and takes in the Scottish tradition of a wee dram of Scotch before bedtime.

It is fairly safe to say that both Brian and Bill are living the lives of much younger men. They are not alone either. If you go up into the Peak District National Park on a sunny day you will come across groups of pensioners out for a good walk. There is even an old boy from Sheffield reputedly in his eighties who flies a paraglider with impressive aplomb.

Maybe successive British governments will need to add even more years onto working lives? Meanwhile the elderly will carry on defying their years and live life to the full.

Gabrielle Pickard is a freelance journalist based in Cheshire, United Kingdom.

Posted on: November 5, 2013, 11:27 am Category: The View From Here Tagged with: , , , ,