April 2009


HOUSTON (AP) — A Mexico City toddler who traveled to Texas with family to visit relatives is the first confirmed death in the U.S. from swine flu.

The boy, who was nearly 2 years old, arrived in the border city of Brownsville with "underlying health issues" on April 4 and developed flu symptoms four days later, the Texas Department of State Health Services said. He was taken to a Brownsville hospital April 13 and transferred to the following day to a hospital in Houston, where he died Monday night.

Texas Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey said it is "highly likely" the child contracted the illness in Mexico, though that hasn’t been confirmed. The boy is one of 16 confirmed swine flu cases in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has issued a disaster declaration and schools have shut down across the state out of fear of the virus.

The cause of the boy’s death was pneumonia caused by the flu virus, Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos said. Texas Children’s Hospital, where the boy died, said in a statement he was suffering from "acute respiratory illness."

Officials did not specify what underlying health issues the boy had before arriving in the U.S.

State health officials declined to identify the boy or his family, citing privacy concerns, medical confidentiality and "the absence of an obvious health threat from the boy to the public at large."

State health officials said the boy would not have been infectious when he flew from Mexico City to Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville. None of his close contacts have developed symptoms.

President Barack Obama said he wanted to extend his "thoughts and prayers" to the child’s family.

Health officials in Brownsville are trying to trace his family’s trip to find out how long they were in the area, who they visited and how many people were in the group, Cascos said.

The boy’s family members "are healthy and well," Houston’s health director, Dr. David Persse, said at a Wednesday news conference.

The toddler was about 2 years old. Houston officials said he was 23 months old, but state officials said he was 22 months old and could not immediately explain the discrepancy.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the death earlier Wednesday.

The news came as two young brothers in Massachusetts became the first to test positive in the state for swine flu, health officials confirmed Wednesday.

The boys, ages 8 and 10, who became sick after a vacation to Mexico, are from Lowell – about 35 miles northwest of Boston. Neither child attended school after returning home from the trip.

Nevada confirmed its first case Wednesday – a 2-year-old girl from the Reno area who was not hospitalized and is recovering.

Children, especially those younger than age 5, are particularly vulnerable to flu and its complications, and every year children die from seasonal flu.

According to the CDC, more than 20,000 children younger than age 5 are hospitalized every year because of seasonal flu. In the 2007-08 flu season, the CDC received reports that 86 children nationwide died from flu complications.

Authorities have confirmed at least 93 swine flu cases in the United States. In addition to the 16 in Texas, they’ve identified 51 cases in New York, 14 in California, three in Maine; two in Kansas, two in Massachusetts, and one each in Indiana, Ohio, Arizona and Nevada. The CDC also said Michigan had two, but state officials maintained only one was confirmed.

The virus that has sickened more than two dozen students at a Roman Catholic high school in New York City forced another two city schools to close for the rest of the week. Chicago school officials shut down an elementary school Wednesday after one child contracted a probable case of swine flu.

The Mexican Civic Society of Illinois on Wednesday canceled a Cinco de Mayo event at Chicago’s Navy Pier this weekend because of concerns about the flu, said spokeswoman Evelia Rodriguez.

She said hundreds of performers and vendors had planned to travel from Mexico, but some had trouble getting flights. Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s defeat of a French army on May 5, 1862.

Swine flu is suspected of killing more than 150 people and sickening more than 2,400 in Mexico.

 Mail Foreign Service 

This woman believed she was going to die today.

But instead she has lived – a failed suicide bomber who managed to hurt no one but herself.

Paramedics rushed the woman away today after she tried to blow herself up at a university in Turkey.

Battle to stay alive: Paramedics rush the failed suicide bomber out of Bilkent University in Ankara by stretcher

Battle to stay alive: Paramedics rush the failed suicide bomber out of Bilkent University in Ankara by stretcher

Disguised as a student, she detonated her bomb at the Ankara university as a former justice minister visited.

The blast occurred just a metre from where former minister Hikmet Sami Turk was standing.

But something went wrong, and the blast did not kill either the woman or Turk.

Instead she was detained and two separate explosives with fuses were found on her.

Turk was hated by left-wing organisations for his policies when he was in office. Turk also said he had received death threats.

"There has been a bomb attack, but it’s over now, we don’t know the details of the attack …. We think it’s a suicide bomber," a Bilkent University source, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Turkish soldiers patrol on the road near the town of Lice, southeastern Turkey, after police arrested two suspected suicide bombers and nine soldiers were killed in a bomb attack

Turkish soldiers patrol on the road near the town of Lice, southeastern Turkey, after police arrested two suspected suicide bombers and nine soldiers were killed in a bomb attack

Later today a second suspected suicide bomber was arrested in the Turkish capital. No more details are known yet.

Police have recently warned of an escalation in attacks by the outlawed, separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey.

Separately, nine soldiers died in a bomb blast blamed on the PKK in southeast Turkey.

The bomb was detonated by remote control as a military vehicle was traveling on a road linking the mainly Kurdish cities of Diyarbakir and Bingol, CNN-Turk and other news reports said, without stating sources.

The attack was the deadliest assault in months by the Kurdish rebels belonging to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The guerrillas stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets, often from hideouts in northern Iraq.

CNN-Turk said 10 soldiers were killed, but the state-run agency put the death toll at nine. There was no immediate word on any injuries.

The group has been fighting for self-rule in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.

In the past year, Turkey has launched several aerial attacks and one major ground operation against rebel bases across the border with Iraq.



President Barack Obama has delivered on his promise of real change in at least one respect: The volume of gaffes and miscues sputtering forth from his Oval Office is unprecedented. For those who just can’t wait to hear what the president’s teleprompter will say next, here’s a recap of the Obama gaffe machine’s most remarkable – and disturbing – utterances:


Sacrifice good for others:  In his inaugural address, Obama calls on Americans to adopt a spirit of sacrifice, which apparently doesn’t include his own coronation. The $49 million cost of his swearing-in ceremony is triple the cost of Bush’s first inaugural.

<<<<MUCH MORE>>>>

 Gregory Gethard

In 1965, a 35-year-old Arlen Specter was defeated in the Democratic primary to become Philadelphia’s next District Attorney. But where others might have withdrawn in defeat from political life, Specter simply switched parties, won the GOP nomination, and pulled an upset, thus launching his political career. Yesterday, Specter, now 79 and the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, pulled another about-face, defecting to the Democrats and bringing them within one vote of a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The timing of Specter’s latest political reincarnation was not coincidental. According to his polling data, Specter would have lost Pennsylvania’s Republican primary in 2010, and with it his 29-year career in the Senate. Specter trails primary challenger Pat Toomey by more than 20 percent in recent polls; in 2004, Toomey lost to Specter by just a handful of votes. “I am not prepared to have my 29 year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate,” Specter announced yesterday. Now he won’t have to. Thanks to the fact that no clear-cut Democrat had emerged from the pack to challenge for the Senate seat, Specter can simply change sides.

To account for Specter’s sudden switch, many have pointed fingers at the Republican Party and especially its conservative base. Such was the explanation offered by Maine Senator and fellow “moderate” Olympia Snowe, who claimed that Specter’s move was due to Republicans’ hostility towards its more liberal members. But a closer look shows that Specter has a history of attempting to have it both ways: changing his vote on issues when it’s politically convenient, and then managing to spin it as evidence of his “independence.”

For instance, it was only a few weeks ago that Specter attempted to frame himself as a true-conservative and the Republican Party’s last line of defense against Democratic domination. “If [Pat] Toomey is the Republican nominee, we lose the seat in the fall,” said Specter.

He’s to the right of [former Pennsylvania Senator Rick] Santorum who lost by 18 points after spending $31 million as a two-term senator. All that is standing between the Democrats and an avalanche are the 41 Republican Senators to filibuster. If he’s the nominee we lose the seat, and you have card check, and you have tax increases, and you have all of the big Obama spending programs. To win the election we need to bring back a lot of R’s who became D’s to vote for Obama or Clinton in the primary. We are working very hard on that.

Of course, only a few weeks earlier, the anti-big-spending Specter had voted in favor of Obama’s trillion-dollar stimulus pack, the most recent cause of Specter’s unpopularity among Pennsylvania Republicans. By contrast, Toomey, a former president of the free-market Club for Growth, has sincere credentials as an anti-tax, pro-limited government Republican.

Specter’s credentials include the active support of the AFL-CIO. Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George issued glowing praise of Specter’s decision to join the Democratic Party. Since the 2008 election, Specter was seen as the deciding vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would do away with a secret vote during unionization efforts, after pressure from Republicans and in the hopes of building up his conservative credentials against Toomey. But three years ago, Specter was the lone Republican to move the bill forward in the legislative process. And now Majority Leader Harry Reid is altering the legislation in hopes of gaining Specter’s approval.

This is an old trick. Throughout his Senate career, Specter has tried to embrace both sides of the same issue, a penchant most obvious during his contentious role on the Senate Judiciary committee. When Specter was in line to chair the committee, he was evasive about whether he would support pro-life judges nominated by President Bush. At one point, Specter reminded Bush about the prospect of a Democrat filibuster if any strident pro-life candidates appeared before his committee. Specter quickly backpedaled from this statement, going on as many TV shows as possible to remind viewers that he had voted for pro-life candidates earlier in his career.

As a personality, Specter is difficult to dislike. His candor and dry wit add a sense of levity to the sometimes stuffy world of Senate politics. Moreover, he has often done well for the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia. To his credit, too, he has shown a willingness to work both sides of the political aisle to find compromises on tough issues. And were his defection to the Democrats this week truly a matter of cherished principle, the move might even be considered admirable.

His contrast with Joseph Lieberman is telling. Lieberman, a lifelong Democrat, cast a vital vote against the interests of his base and lost a primary. He then ran as an independent and continued to caucus with the Democrats who tried to unseat him.

However, that will not net Specter a committee chairmanship. With Republicans in the minority, and with experts doubting their ability to retake the chamber in 2010, Specter will be away from the levers of power for years to come. His new party will acknowledge his seniority, dangling before him the opportunity to become Appropriations Committee Chairman, which Specter has said is “something I’d like to attain.”

Specter’s defection lacks both the adherence to political principle and the party loyalty. It is the backstabbing effort of a long-tenured politician desperately attempting to grab political power. And in the context of Specter’s career, it is also not surprising.

Carolyn Cooke

In cities across the country, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, a member of the Hispanic Caucus in the House of Representatives, is pimping for yet another full-blown amnesty for illegal aliens. ‘Family re-unification’ is the latest public relations ploy being used in an attempt to convince citizens and government officials that the plight of illegal aliens is somehow the responsibility of the United States. This amnesty would reunite deported illegal aliens with their so-called ‘anchor babies’ on American soil. There is no impediment to family reunification in the parents’ country of origin.
In the legislative queue in the U.S. Congress are the Dream Act Amnesty, the most egregious to American families, and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the mother of all amnesties. The Hispanic Caucus is behind all pathways to citizenship for illegal aliens. Amnesty is their only answer, denying the success of attrition through enforcement of immigration law.
Who are these federal elected officials that openly represent illegal aliens, undermine the rule of law of the United States and disregard the harm and expense to American citizens of the illegal alien invasion?
‘Amnesty pimp’ is the new brand for the members of the Hispanic Caucus. Their compassion and crocodile tears for the supposed ‘inhumane’ treatment of illegal aliens in America is a smokescreen: the amnesty pimps want to overwhelm the political system in this country with a huge new socialist power base. Does the pimp ever go on tour to encourage foreign nationals and their children, some under the age of 7, to stay home, safe from brutal coyotes, drug runners and death in the desert?
Do members of the Hispanic Caucus have dual citizenship with other countries? Their actions betray a lack of allegiance to the United States.
The Pimp does not care whether an immigrant will benefit the overall health and welfare of the United States. The masses of foreign nationals they seek to give the precious gift of U.S. citizenship will be Americans in name only, segregated, and dependent on the Hispanic socialist political machine.
Along with radical racist Hispanic groups within the United States, the pimps use fear mongering to force the Democrat Congress to support amnesty. They use propaganda against any one who decries the loss of our sovereignty, calling it ‘hate speech’ and labeling patriots, ‘xenophobes’. The amnesty pimp is more aligned with the talking points of The National Council of La Raza (The Race) than with the words of the United States Constitution.
The duly elected amnesty pimp calls the deportation of illegal aliens a ‘human rights’ violation and demands the ‘humane treatment’ of illegal aliens by the citizens and government of the United States.
Ironically, American citizens are the ones being treated inhumanely by the illegal alien invasion of this country. Illegal aliens violate the human rights of U.S. citizens by undermining the rule of law, suppressing income, taking American jobs, abusing taxpayer entitlements and benefits, and most importantly, committing crimes against Americans. They are responsible for gang violence, rape, maiming, robbery, murder, the molestation of young children, and the wanton killing by DUI. The heartland of America is under siege.
The separation of American families through death at the hands of criminal aliens is a human rights violation, but the amnesty pimp is only concerned with the family reunification of illegal aliens with their questionable U.S. citizen children!
The Amnesty Pimp is hiding a dirty little secret from American citizens – chain Migration. Chain migration allows an illegal alien, when he becomes a citizen, to sponsor extended family members that when naturalized, can then sponsor their own family members, and on and on and on… Essentially chain migration turns U.S. immigration policy and citizenship over to the decision of foreign nationals. This delights the Hispanic Caucus.
In turn, the birthright citizenship of ‘anchor’ babies has yet to be challenged constitutionally. As interpreted by open borders politicians and amnesty pimps, a foreign national simply has to enter the United States illegally, have a baby and the baby is automatically a citizen. When the child turns 18, chain migration begins. This includes the right of the illegal alien parent to become a U.S. citizen. This does not apply to the children of foreign diplomats. All Western countries with the exception of Mexico, have abandoned this obvious magnet for further illegal aliens.
Amnesty pimps and their supporters within the U.S. government know full well de facto amnesty is occurring every day through birthright citizenship, chain migration and open borders.
Millions of American citizens are poised to take America back from an irresponsible, non-representative government and foreign invaders—a line that has become increasingly blurred.
Now is the time to go on the offensive by forcing our federal government to re-institute immigration quotas based on the needs of America and the betterment of life for American citizens and to do away with a chaotic policy that seeks to undermine our sovereignty and to destroy our civil society.


By Don 

As President Obama and the mainstream media mark his 100th day in office the White House is being dogged by the controversy generated by a photo op of Air Force One flying over New York City on Monday.

The operation authorized by Louis Caldera who heads the White House Military Office (WHMO) had the president’s plane fly low over Manhattan followed by two F-16 fighters so that the office could get shots of the plane with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Instead of what Caldera thought was going to be an easy task turned out to be a PR nightmare as frightened workers streamed out of buildings fearing another 9/11 style attack on the city.

Since WHMO wanted to protect the route the planes would take it was a very hush hush operation.  And even though city officials were notified of the plans the message never reached New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who reacted angrily to the PR stunt.

To add insult to injury, besides the frazzled nerves of office workers the Air Force now estimates that the cost of the three-hour trip from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and back was $328,835 including fuel.

Until now WHMO has operated in relative anonymity and is normally run by someone with military experience, hence the word military in the name.  Caldera who did briefly serve as secretary of the Army under Bill Clinton is a Harvard trained lawyer and former California State Assemblyman and not a strategist which would have been helpful along with a dose of common sense in this case.

When Obama appointed Caldera to his post on Dec. 2, he said "I know he’ll bring to the White House the same dedication and integrity that have earned him the highest praise in every post."

I may be wrong here, but I don’t think Caldera can count on receiving high praise from Obama after this incident.


I may be wrong here, but I don’t think Barack Hussein Obama gives a rat’s ass considering he not only knew, but approved of the stunt to begin with.

The debate over torture is getting personal for two of cable TV’s prime-time hosts.

After Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity made a seemingly impromptu offer last week to undergo waterboarding as a benefit for charity, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann leapt at it. He offered $1,000 to the families of U.S. troops for every second Hannity withstood the technique.

Olbermann repeated the offer on Monday’s show and said in an interview Tuesday that he’s heard no response. He said he’ll continue to pursue it.

"I don’t think he has the courage to even respond to this — let alone do it," Olbermann said.

Fox News Channel representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The two men are on opposite poles of a debate that has preoccupied the worlds of talk TV and radio. Hannity says waterboarding is a fair and necessary interrogation technique for suspected terrorists; Olbermann calls it torture, says it’s ineffective and should not be done by Americans.

Charles Grodin was challenging Hannity on the issue on Fox last week, and asked whether he would consent to be waterboarded.

"Sure," Hannity said. "I’ll do it for charity … I’ll do it for the troops’ families."

It wasn’t exactly clear how serious the conversation was, since Grodin joked, "Are you busy on Sunday?" and Hannity laughed.

"I’ll let you do it," Hannity said.

"I wouldn’t do it," Grodin said. "I’ll hand you a towel when you come out of the shower."

Olbermann’s offer was quick. Besides the $1,000 per second, Olbermann said he’d double it if Hannity acknowledges he feared for his life and admits that waterboarding is torture.

"The idea of putting somebody in a position they have volunteered for, for charity, to respond to their own unsupportable claims, is in many ways priceless," Olbermann said.

Olbermann, who hasn’t missed any chance to criticize his ideological enemies at Fox, concedes TV competition plays a part in his offer. But he said it was sincere, because he believes Hannity has had a damaging role in the debate.

"If you expose people to reality, even with someone who is denying reality, that can have a powerful and important impact," he said.


 Denver Post

Denver’s school board on Monday heard plans to create 18 schools in 2010 as well as a recommendation to close one troubled school at the end of this school year.

Amandla Charter Academy in northeast Denver was facing closure Monday by the board in a vote on whether to approve the school’s charter for the 2009-10 school year.

Denver Public Schools officials recommended the school board deny the charter, saying the school doesn’t have a sustainable business model and has not shown academic growth for its 450 students.

The school also has asked for at least $200,000 from DPS to help the program survive financially through May.

District officials say they are working with Amandla to help the school through this school year and will help students find schools next year if the board votes for closure.

"The important thing, at this point, is to work closely with the students, families and staff to have a successful transition next year," said Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Amandla is operating under a one-year contract with the district this year and had to deliver a charter application to continue next school year.

The school, which was formerly called Challenges, Choices and Images charter school, was accused last year of using public funds for a private enterprise, had the worst academic ranking in DPS and was forced by its financiers to change leadership.

A new board was brought in, as well as a new principal.

District officials were not impressed with Amandla’s charter application, saying it had holes in how the school would survive financially and how it would boost achievement.

In the past decade, only one school was successfully closed by a school board, in Jefferson County. But the district has promised to hold more schools accountable while supporting the creation of high-performing schools.

On Monday, groups presented summaries of 18 schools being proposed for 2010, including 13 charter and five district "performance" schools.

The proposals include:

• Denver Green School, a preschool through 12th-grade school that focuses environmentalism and community awareness.

• The Girls Athletic Leadership School, a sixth- through 12-grade school for girls.

• Denver Language School and Global Village Academy, two language-immersion K-8 schools focused on Spanish and Chinese.

• Global Outreach Academy, a dual language (Russian/English) K-8 school for the Russian community.

Presenters also included established charter organizations.

Starting in 2010, four sixth- through 12th-grade schools are being proposed — one a year for the next four years — by the Denver School of Science and Technology; two middle schools by West Denver Preparatory School, and a fifth- through eighth-grade school by the Knowledge is Power Program.

District officials will make recommendations before the board votes to approve the schools during June’s regular board meeting.

By Jaime Daremblum

In a 2006 national referendum, Panamanian voters approved a $5.2 billion project to expand the Panama Canal. As the Panama Star reports, "Percentage wise, the canal expansion dwarfs any stimulus project the United States is planning. The project represents nearly a quarter of Panama’s $23 billion gross domestic product."

President Martín Torrijos, a member of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), eagerly championed the canal expansion, but it won’t be completed on his watch. This coming Sunday (May 3), Panamanians will elect his successor. PRD presidential candidate Balbina Herrera is trailing opposition candidate Ricardo Martinelli by double digits. It is hard to see how Herrera can make up so much ground in so little time. All signs point to a Martinelli victory.

Compared to a Herrera regime, a Martinelli administration "would be a much more pro-American government." At least that’s what Martinelli told a Miami Herald columnist last month, saying he would push aggressively for the U.S. Congress to approve a bilateral free trade pact with Panama, which was signed in June 2007. Founder of the center-right Democratic Change party, the 57-year-old Martinelli is representing a multiparty coalition in the May 3 election. He is a supermarket tycoon with a range of other business interests and a record of government service. Martinelli has worked in two different Panamanian presidential administrations. When the government officially assumed control of the Panama Canal at the end of 1999, Martinelli was serving as both board chairman of the Panama Canal Authority and minister of canal affairs.

The scandal-plagued Herrera, meanwhile, has a background in radical left-wing politics. A former National Assembly deputy and mayor of San Miguelito, she was a close confidant of Manuel Noriega, the drug-trafficking Panamanian dictator who was toppled by U.S. military forces in December 1989. In fact, Herrera was a leader of the thuggish Dignity Battalions, Noriega’s paramilitary units, and Noriega hid in her home during the American invasion. Under the Torrijos administration, Herrera served as housing minister.

In a global economic environment characterized by recession and financial upheaval, Panama stands out as a relative bright spot. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean projects that Panama’s economy will expand by 4 percent in 2009 while the regional economy as a whole will contract by 0.3 percent. But 4 percent annual GDP growth represents a major drop from 9.2 percent growth in 2008 and 11.5 percent growth in 2007. In those years, Panama benefited from robust global trade and a massive housing boom. Its unemployment rate plummeted. Now international trade is shrinking rapidly and, as Jeremy Schwartz notes in the Austin-American Statesman, the Panamanian real-estate sector "might be heading for a sharp downturn."

Panama’s economic slowdown has been deep and abrupt, and Panamanians seem increasingly unhappy with the incumbent Torrijos government, which has been in power since 2004. Torrijos, the son of former Panamanian military ruler Omar Torrijos, has pursued a range social programs but only managed to achieve a small drop in the national poverty rate, which fell from 32 percent in 2003 to 28 percent in 2008. Given Panama’s strong economic growth over that period, the public expected more progress on poverty reduction. Living costs have increased sharply due to inflation, and Panamanians remain widely dissatisfied with their public services (namely health care and education). The country has also been dealing with a spike in crime.

For all these reasons and more, the Panamanian electorate is restless, and many voters appear to be taking out their frustrations on the PRD. However, the party currently holds a majority of seats in Panama’s National Assembly, so even if Martinelli wins the presidential election, his agenda may be constrained by legislative opposition.

Twenty years after the U.S. operation that overthrew Noriega, Americans don’t pay much attention to Panama. But it is a strategically important country that is playing a growing role in global trade. Indeed, it is estimated that 5 percent of all international trade-and a much higher percentage of U.S. trade-goes through the Panama Canal. Torrijos has successfully promoted Panama as a tourist hotspot and commercial hub. It is an increasingly popular retirement destination for Americans; indeed, U.S. expatriates helped fuel the recent Panamanian housing boom.

Now more than ever, responsible management of the Panama Canal is deeply important to the global economy in general and the U.S. economy in particular. Efficient canal management depends on political stability and sound governance. Torrijos has provided such governance. Let’s hope his successor does too.

Lisa Ashton, a £15,000-a-year stewardess with BMI, was told that in public areas in Saudi Arabia she was required to wear a black robe, known as an abaya. This covers everything but the face, feet and hands. She was told to follow her male colleagues, irrespective of rank.

Ashton, 37, who was worried about security in the country, refused to fly there, claiming the instructions were discriminatory. She was sacked last April.

“It’s not the law that you have to walk behind men in Saudi Arabia, or that you have to wear an abaya, and I’m not going to be treated as a second-class citizen,” Ashton said last week.

“It’s outrageous. I’m a proud Englishwoman and I don’t want these restrictions placed on myself.”

Saudi experts and companies that recruit women to work in the country say it is a “myth” that western women are required to walk behind men. There is no requirement for them to wear the abaya in public, though many do.

Earlier this year an employment tribunal in Manchester ruled that BMI was justified in imposing “rules of a different culture” on staff and cleared it of sexual discrimination. Ashton has consulted Liberty, the human rights organisation, and may seek a judicial review of the decision.

Ashton joined BMI in March 1996, flying to the Caribbean, the United States and India. Based in Manchester, she was told in the summer of 2005 that BMI was starting a service to Saudi Arabia and she might be required to work on it.

The Foreign Office was then advising visitors of a “threat of terrorism” in the country. Ashton did not want to travel there because of the security risks, and was offended by the rules for staff travelling to the region.

A BMI document circulated to staff who might travel to Saudi Arabia stated: “It is expected that female crew members will walk behind their male counterparts in public areas such as airports no matter what rank.”

Staff were also given abayas and were required to put them on when leaving the aircraft. Ashton, a practising Christian, was advised by union officials that it was considered a part of the uniform and she could face disciplinary action if she did not wear it.

Ashton said she did not want to fly to Saudi Arabia, but wished to continue flying long-haul routes. The firm said she could transfer to short-haul flights but that would have meant a pay cut of about 20%. She declined to switch to short-haul flights.

On June 13, 2007, she was told she was rostered for a flight from London to Saudi Arabia and refused to go. She was dismissed for refusing to fly and for making it clear she would not travel to Saudi Arabia.

Her letter of dismissal said it was “proportionate” to ask female employees to walk behind men out of respect for Saudi culture. BMI has also defended its decision to require female staff to wear abayas.

The Foreign Office advises women to dress “conservatively” but does not specifically advise wearing an abaya in public places. It also does not refer to any rule or convention that western women should walk behind men.

In a legal case in 2002 Colonel Martha McSally launched a legal action over American military orders that female servicewomen should wear an abaya in public places in Saudi Arabia when American women diplomats and the wives of servicemen were not expected to wear the garment. The Senate subsequently passed legislation that prohibited defence officials from requiring female personnel to wear abayas.

In the employment tribunal decision over Ashton’s case it was ruled there was no evidence that women would regard BMI’s requirements on wearing the abaya, or walking behind men, as “placing them under any disadvantage”. Ashton’s case was dismissed.

The firm said last week the tribunal ruling was “self-explanatory” and would not comment.

Since leaving BMI, Ashton has embarked on a musical career. She said one of her first songs, Shame, Shame, Shame, performed by the band Looby, was inspired by the airline.

Heads_Up CFP

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