Note To Journalists: Follow Jimmy Breslin’s Rule And You’ll Get The Story…..

I was sad to read today of the death, at 88, of Jimmy Breslin, one of America’s most talented – and colourful – writers and journalists.

Jimmy Breslin (right) in his heyday, pictured with Norman Mailer

He wrote for a variety of news outlets, notably The New York Daily News and Newsday, but he was also a prolific novelist. One of his novels, ‘World Without End’, was set in Belfast at the height of the Troubles and is based on the experience of a white, racist Irish-American cop who visits distant relatives in the North and in the process has his prejudices challenged by a taste of life on the receiving end of indignities he is more used to dishing out.

Breslin spent some time in the North meeting people and getting a flavour of the place before writing the novel and some of his characters were based on friends and acquaintances. It was fun, therefore, to read the book and work out who was who!

According the the obit in today’s New York Times, Breslin had a simple rule for finding the story, one borrowed from the world of sports writing but which applies equally well to all reporting. It is a rule I am glad to say I have tried to follow myself. It never did Breslin any harm, nor me.

This was it: ‘Avoid the media scrum gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker.’

Think about it……

Declassified FBI Files On Noraid – Part One (1972)

UPDATE: By error an FBI file from 1989 was published initially. This mistake has now been corrected and, as intended, the collection begins with the 1972 file.

It seems perversely appropriate to choose today, St Patrick’s Day in New York City to begin the publication of this collection of FBI files on Irish Northern Aid, the American support group for the Provisional Republican movement in Ireland.

That I am able to do this is due entirely to the far-sighted efforts of another journalist, the New York-based film-maker and my good friend Nate Lavey, who has kindly allowed access to as many of the files that are deemed appropriate to publish now.

Nate filed an FOIA request with the FBI so long ago that he had almost forgotten about it until one day recently he received the cache in the mail.

There are over 2,000 pages in total dealing with Noraid between the early 1970’s and 1995, the year after the first IRA peace process ceasefire.

There are seventeen lengthy files in total and I will be publishing them all at intervals. Nobody is claiming that this represents the entirety of the FBI’s intelligence on Noraid, nor indeed on Irish republican activity in the US during the Troubles; Clann na nGael for instance does not directly figure in this stash.

All the documents are redacted in crucial places, most intriguingly when the names of intelligence sources figure, there is a degree of repetition in places – a reminder that the FBI is, after all, a bureaucracy – and some parts are illegible. Some of the material is mundane to the point of tedium.

Nonetheless the documents are a valuable addition to our store of knowledge about this most important phase in Ireland’s troubled history. Given that we can hardly rely on the current Provisional leadership for anything remotely like a full or truthful account of the last forty years or so, we should be more than usually grateful for the work of researchers like Nate.


A Preliminary Thought On The Dutch Election…..

Did the Dutch look at the insanity that is now Trump’s America and say ‘No thanks!’?

Trump’s America Will Destroy The World

The planet cannot survive eight years of Donald Trump’s climate policies. That is clear from this report in tomorrow’s New York Times. (The Times is now reporting that Trump’s budget, which will be published tomorrow, will include a 31 per cent cut in funds available to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is now headed by a climate-change denier.)


Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find

MARCH 15, 2017

Severe bleaching last year on the northern Great Barrier Reef affected even the largest and oldest corals, like this slow-growing Porites colony.

SYDNEY, Australia — The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has long been one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders, so enormous it can be seen from space, so beautiful it can move visitors to tears.

But the reef, and the profusion of sea creatures living near it, are in profound trouble.

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a paper on the reef that is being published Thursday as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”

The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. In the paper, dozens of scientists described the recent disaster as the third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998, but by far the most widespread and damaging.

The state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.

Before and after

If most of the world’s coral reefs die, as scientists fear is increasingly likely, some of the richest and most colorful life in the ocean could be lost, along with huge sums from reef tourism. In poorer countries, lives are at stake: Hundreds of millions of people get their protein primarily from reef fish, and the loss of that food supply could become a humanitarian crisis.

Mature stands of clonal staghorn corals on Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef could be seen destroyed by heat stress on Feb. 26, 2016, at left, and colonized by algae just a few weeks later on April 19, at right. Photographs by Terry Hughes et al./Nature

With this latest global bleaching in its third year, reef scientists say they have no doubt as to the responsible party.

They warned decades ago that the coral reefs would be at risk if human society kept burning fossil fuels at a runaway pace, releasing greenhouse gases that warm the ocean. Emissions continued to rise, and now the background ocean temperature is high enough that any temporary spike poses a critical risk to reefs.

“Climate change is not a future threat,” Professor Hughes said. “On the Great Barrier Reef, it’s been happening for 18 years.”

Corals require warm water to thrive, but they are exquisitely sensitive to extra heat. Just two or three degrees Fahrenheit of excess warming can sometimes kill the tiny creatures.

Globally, the ocean has warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, by a conservative calculation, and a bit more in the tropics, home to many reefs. An additional kick was supplied by an El Niño weather pattern that peaked in 2016 and temporarily warmed much of the surface of the planet, causing the hottest year in a historical record dating to 1880.

It was obvious last year that the corals on many reefs were likely to die, but now formal scientific assessments are coming in. The paper in Nature documents vast coral bleaching in 2016 along a 500-mile section of the reef north of Cairns, a city on Australia’s eastern coast.

Bleaching indicates that corals are under heat stress, but they do not always die and cooler water can help them recover. Subsequent surveys of the Great Barrier Reef, conducted late last year after the deadline for inclusion in the Nature paper, documented that extensive patches of reef had in fact died, and would not be likely to recover soon, if at all.

Professor Hughes led those surveys. He said that he and his students cried when he showed them maps of the damage, which he had calculated in part by flying low in small planes and helicopters.

His aerial surveys, combined with underwater measurements, found that 67 percent of the corals had died in a long stretch north of Port Douglas, and in patches, the mortality reached 83 percent.

By luck, a storm stirred the waters in the central and southern parts of the reef at a critical moment, cooling them, and mortality there was much lower — about 6 percent in a stretch off Townsville, and even lower in the southernmost part of the reef.


But an Australian government study released last week found that over all, last year brought “the highest sea surface temperatures across the Great Barrier Reef on record.”

Only 9 percent of the reef has avoided bleaching since 1998, Professor Hughes said, and now, the less remote, more heavily visited stretch from Cairns south is in trouble again. Water temperatures there remain so high that another round of mass bleaching is underway, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed last week.

Professor Hughes said he hoped the die-off this time would not be as serious as last year’s, but “back-to-back bleaching is unheard-of in Australia.” The central and southern part of the reef had already been badly damaged by human activities like dredging and pollution.

The Australian government has tried to combat these local threats with its Reef 2050 plan, restricting port development, dredging and agricultural runoff, among other risks. But Professor Hughes’s research found that, given the high temperatures, these national efforts to improve water quality were not enough.

“The reefs in muddy water were just as fried as those in pristine water,” Professor Hughes said. “That’s not good news in terms of what you can do locally to prevent bleaching — the answer to that is not very much at all. You have to address climate change directly.”

With the election of Donald J. Trump as the American president, a recent global deal to tackle the problem, known as the Paris Agreement, seems to be in peril. Australia’s conservative government also continues to support fossil fuel development, including what many scientists and conservationists see as the reef’s most immediate threat — a proposed coal mine, expected to be among the world’s largest, to be built inland from the reef by the Adani Group, a conglomerate based in India.

“The fact is, Australia is the largest coal exporter in the world, and the last thing we should be doing to our greatest national asset is making the situation worse,” said Imogen Zethoven, campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Australia relies on the Great Barrier Reef for about 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue, and it is not yet clear how that economy will be affected by the reef’s deterioration. Even in hard-hit areas, large patches of the Great Barrier Reef survived, and guides will most likely take tourists there, avoiding the dead zones.

The global reef crisis does not necessarily mean extinction for coral species. The corals may save themselves, as many other creatures are attempting to do, by moving toward the poles as the Earth warms, establishing new reefs in cooler water.

But the changes humans are causing are so rapid, by geological standards, that it is not entirely clear that coral species will be able to keep up. And even if the corals do survive, that does not mean individual reefs will continue to thrive where they do now.

Coral reefs are sensitive systems, built by unusual animals. The corals themselves are tiny polyps that act like farmers, capturing colorful single-celled plants called algae that convert sunlight into food. The coral polyps form colonies and build a limestone scaffolding on which to live — a reef.

But when the water near a reef gets too hot, the algae begin producing toxins, and the corals expel them in self-defense, turning ghostly white. If water temperatures drop soon enough, the corals can grow new algae and survive, but if not, they may succumb to starvation or disease.

Even when the corals die, some reefs eventually recover. If water temperatures stay moderate, the damaged sections of the Great Barrier Reef may be covered with corals again in as few as 10 or 15 years.

But the temperature of the ocean is now high enough that global mass bleaching events seem to be growing more frequent. If they become routine, many of the world’s hard-hit coral reefs may never be able to re-establish themselves.

Within a decade, certain kinds of branching and plate coral could be extinct, reef scientists say, along with a variety of small fish that rely on them for protection from predators.

“I don’t think the Great Barrier Reef will ever again be as great as it used to be — at least not in our lifetimes,” said C. Mark Eakin, a reef expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in Silver Spring, Md.

Dr. Eakin was an author of the new paper and heads a program called Coral Reef Watch, producing predictive maps to warn when coral bleaching is imminent. Even though last year’s El Niño has ended, water temperatures are high enough that his maps are showing continued hot water across millions of square miles of the ocean.

Kim M. Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who was not involved in the writing of the new paper, described it and the more recent findings as accurate, and depressing. She said she saw extensive coral devastation last year off Kiritimati Island, part of the Republic of Kiribati several thousand miles from Australia and a place she visits regularly in her research.

With the international effort to fight climate change at risk of losing momentum, “ocean temperatures continue to march upward,” Dr. Cobb said. “The idea that we’re going to have 20 or 30 years before we reach the next bleaching and mortality event for the corals is basically a fantasy.”

Italian Catholic Scandals Are Preferable To Irish Ones…..

Isn’t it interesting how scandals can sometimes reflect stereotypes?

In Ireland, the latest skeleton in the Catholic Church’s cupboard is actually a pile of skeletons, mostly of young children, perhaps as many as 800, buried in a cesspit in the grounds of a Catholic home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, Co. Galway.

There are suggestions that at least some of the dead children may have been abused or even killed by the nuns charged with their care. Stereotype? Cruel Irish Catholic nuns.

In Italy meanwhile the scandal enveloping the same church involves sexed up priests, both gay and straight, unable to control their libido either in private or public. Stereotype? Randy Italian men.

I think I know which of the two I’d prefer. Have a read of this piece in Religious News Service and decide for yourselves:

Claims of sex orgies, prostitution and porn videos shake Catholic Church in Italy

The Prato della Valle in Padua, Italy, on Nov. 19, 2005. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Julien Lagarde

ROME (RNS) Lurid accusations of priests involved in sex orgies, porn videos and prostitution have emerged from several parishes in Italy recently, sending shock waves all the way to the Vatican and challenging the high standards that Pope Francis has demanded of clergy.

The Prato della Valle in Padua, Italy, on Nov. 19, 2005. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Julien Lagarde


In the southern city of Naples, for example, a priest was recently suspended from the parish of Santa Maria degli Angeli over claims he held gay orgies and used internet sites to recruit potential partners whom he paid for sex.

The allegations concerning the Rev. Mario D’Orlando were brought to the attention of the diocese when an anonymous letter was sent to a Naples bishop. D’Orlando denied the charges when he was summoned by the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, but is now facing a formal inquiry conducted by local church officials.

“He has been removed from his position while the investigation is underway,” a spokesman for the cardinal told Religion News Service. “I have no further comment.”

In the northern city of Padua, a 48-year-old priest, the Rev. Andrea Contin, is facing defrocking as well as judicial proceedings amid accusations he had up to 30 lovers, some of whom he took to a swingers’ resort in France.

Contin was removed from his parish of San Lazzaro after three women came forward with complaints against him last December. Bishop Claudio Cipolla of Padua cut short a visit to Latin America to deal with the scandal.

“I am incredulous and pained by the accusations,” Cipolla told a news conference last month. “This is unacceptable behavior for a priest, a Christian and even for a man.”

One woman, who claims to have been Contin’s lover for more than three years, claimed the priest carried sex toys and bondage equipment, prostituted his lovers on wife-swapping websites and also invited other priests from the area to sex parties.

Bishop Claudio Cipolla of Padua, Italy. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Matteo Danesin

“Even if, at the end of this affair, there are no legal consequences, we have a duty by canon law to take disciplinary action,” said Cipolla.

He also revealed Pope Francis had telephoned him personally at the end of January to offer his support and urge him to stay “strong.”

Since his election the pope has taken a tough line on ethical behavior in the church though he has also recognized the reality of human imperfection and personal flaws.

In recent weeks he has spoken out many times against “temptation,” and last week he told a gathering of clergy at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome that faith could not progress without the challenge of temptation.

“Temptation is always present in our lives. Moreover, without temptation you cannot progress in faith,” he said.

Alberto Melloni, professor of church history at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, said there is nothing unusual about scandals in the priesthood.

“There is no sin that a cleric doesn’t commit. Scandals to me seem quite normal,” he told RNS.

“And I think the illusion of stopping scandals through better selection of personnel is not very promising and has not yielded great results. ”

Francis has frequently called for a more rigorous screening process for seminarians, and he has taken direct action when scandals erupt in Italy.

A case in point: When reports of “playboy priests” surfaced in the Italian diocese of Albenga-Imperia in the northern region of Liguria in late 2014, the pope sent a special envoy to investigate claims that clerics had posted nude photos of themselves on gay websites, sexually harassed the faithful and stolen church funds.

Two years later the pope replaced the leader of the diocese, Bishop Mario Oliveri.

Austen Ivereigh, commentator and author of “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” said the pope distinguished between sinfulness and corruption and was intent on “rooting out” corruption inside the church.

“The remedy for those who succumb to temptation is forgiveness and a fresh start,” Ivereigh told RNS. “The problem is when priests turn their backs on the people, lead hidden lives and end up justifying their conduct. That’s corruption.

“And it’s only possible in the priesthood because of clericalism. That’s why the pope is so intent on rooting it out.”

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

Breitbart Breaks With Trump Over Healthcare ‘Reform’

In the first evidently serious fracture with the Trump White House since November’s shock election result, the alt-right website, Breitbart, whose former boss, Steve Bannon was Donald Trump’s election campaign supremo and is now his senior policy adviser, has broken ranks with Trump over his plans to replace Obamacare with a one per cent-friendly health plan largely constructed by the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.

Ryan is an enthusiastic disciple of the libertarian heroine and advocate of unrestrained free market capitalism, Ayn Rand. Breitbart, by contrast, advocates a philosophy characterised by a mix of American nationalism and populism.

Breitbart puts forward seven reason why the Trump-Ryan health plan will ‘hand power back to the Democrats’ in the 2018 mid-term Congressional elections and could see Elizabeth Warren beat Trump in the presidential election of 2020.

Amongst the reasons given for the likely disastrous consequences of a health plan that has already been dubbed ‘Trumpcare’, is the increased cost of healthcare insurance for Trump’s rust-belt base:

‘As an analysis conducted by the Washington Postshows, voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin will see their tax credits decrease under Obamacare 2.0. “If you’re a 40-year-old making $75,000 a year, you’re going to get a 75 percent or higher increase to your tax credits—a beneficial situation for you,” the Post explains. “If, however, you’re a 60-year-old making $30,000 a year, you’re going to see a reduction in those tax credits’.

The website added:

If passed in its current form, the GOP’s Obamacare 2.0 bill will impose brutal costs Americans still struggling to make it through a great recession—particularly President Donald Trump’s base—and risk handing Congress and the presidency back to Democrats.

Some estimates of the number of people likely to lose healthcare coverage under Trumpcare are as high as fifteen million.

You can read the full Breitbart article here.

Another Photo Quiz……

Who is this at the side of the road?

Bonus question: who put him there?