Bikies arrested over Qld extortion ring

Three bikies who police say were involved in an extortion ring have been arrested in simultaneous raids on Thursday morning.


Police say the Bandidos members who lived in Brisbane and Logan were threatening victims with violence unless they paid a $5000 “fine”.

The extortion racket allegedly started after a public brawl between two men over a woman.

It’s understood one of the men called in friends from the Bandidos and the fight escalated.

The bikies allegedly threatened violence to others involved in the fight unless each paid a $5000 “fine”.

A victim’s car windscreen was smashed with a baseball bat, police said in a statement.

Detectives say they know of four victims but believe there are others and have urged them to come forward.

A 26-year-old former president of the Bandidos’ Gold Coast chapter was among the bikies arrested, as well as two 22-year-old alleged gang members.

All were charged with committing extortion as vicious lawless associates, while both younger men were also charged with drug offences and wilful damage.

A 21-year-old man and a 36-year-old man were also arrested and charged with possessing drugs and utensils.

The five are expected to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said the operation demonstrated the use of standover tactics by criminal gangs.

“These offences were committed in public places and targeted everyday Queenslanders, threatening victims with violence for money,” he said.

“They have done this as a group, using their criminal gang association to further intimidate victims to both comply with their demands.”

Police expect to lay more charges.

China cracks down over blow-up toad joke

The installation of a giant inflatable duck in Hong Kong’s harbour last year sparked a national craze for oversized blow-up wildlife, with several Chinese cities launching their own imitations.


The latest, a 22-metre-high (72-feet) toad, appeared in a Beijing park last weekend, but met with mockery from social media users who compared its appearance to that of former President Jiang Zemin.

The website of China’s official Xinhua news agency and popular web portal Sina had deleted their reports on the animal — seen as a symbol of good fortune in traditional Chinese culture — by Wednesday.

A message on Xinhua’s website read: “Sorry, the report you are attempting to access has been deleted or has expired,” although reports on some lower-profile news sites were still accessible.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly controls the Internet, blocking foreign sites such as Facebook while ordering local outlets to remove articles on political topics it deems sensitive, such as criticism of senior leaders.

Last year China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo blocked searches for “big yellow duck” after users posted an image of the iconic “Tank Man” photograph showing a Tiananmen Square protester but with military vehicles replaced by giant ducks.

Jiang — who stepped down as president in 2002 but still wields influence within the party — has been mockingly nicknamed “toad” by some Internet users for his jowly features.

Rumours have been swirling around Jiang amid reports that current party chief and president Xi Jinping is targeting some of the former president’s allies in an anti-corruption drive.

A spokesman for Yuyuantan park in Beijing said there were no immediate plans to remove the toad.

Gym workouts and sunbathing do more for your brain than crosswords

By Rachel Feltman | @rachelfeltman

Doing puzzles and listening to classical music might improve your concentration momentarily, but they don’t actually make you any smarter.


That is, they don’t improve your long-term brain function, according to The Economist’s interview of Nicholas Spitzer, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California and editor-in-chief of BrainFacts南宁夜生活,.

“Let me dispel a brain development myth,” Spitzer told The Economist. “Many people think classical music is going to enhance brain function (the Mozart effect) or playing particular games sharpens one’s cognitive function. These theories have been looked at in detail and they don’t stand up. It is disappointing in a way, but what we have learned is that exercise is the key thing for brain function.”

By exercise, he means general activity and—more importantly—exposure to sunlight. In a recent study (paywall), he found that rats produced different brain-altering chemicals based on environmental factors. He thinks that our brains change their behavior (like “a railway switching yard”) based on environmental factors to help us conserve energy during winter. But when we give in to the evolutionary impulse to stay inside under the covers, we give our brain a further signal that it’s time to use as little energy as possible. This feedback loop, he says, is what causes Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that affects otherwise healthy people during the dark winter months.

So to keep your brain at tip-top shape, you should stay active. That gives your body cues to devote lots of resources to cognitive function. Then again, puzzles do help with some specific things, like increasing verbal aptitude (paywall) and helping you learn a new subject more quickly. So as long as you get plenty of time outside, there’s no reason to drop the sudoku.

And getting into bed, for certain purposes at least, can help brain function, too. A recent study found that female orgasms trigger an increase in blood flow to all regions of the brain, improving overall cognitive performance. Keep that in mind when you’re figuring out how to get that exercise in.

This article was originally published on Quartz. Click here to view the original. © All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


Rockets found at UN Gaza school missing

The UN secretary-general says he is “alarmed” to hear rockets were placed in a UN-run school in Gaza and now “have gone missing”.


A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon says he has demanded a full review of such incidents.

In a statement released on Wednesday night Ban expressed “outrage and regret” at the placement of weapons at a site run by the global organisation.

The UN says that has happened at least twice so far in the current fighting.

“Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” UN staff and anyone seeking shelter, the statement said.

The rockets had been placed at one of the schools run by the UN refugee agency for Palestinians, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza.

Once they were found, “in accordance with standard practice, UNRWA handed them over to the local authorities. Since then, they have gone missing,” Ban’s deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said in an email.

The Islamic militant group Hamas controls Gaza. The US, Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, but the UN does not.

A week ago, UNRWA said that during a routine check it discovered about 20 rockets hidden in one of its vacant Gaza schools and called on militants to respect the “sanctity and integrity” of UN property. It said the incident was “the first of its kind in Gaza”.

On Tuesday, UNRWA reported a second incident, saying it found rockets hidden at a vacant school during a regular inspection.

“UNRWA staff were withdrawn from the premises, and so we are unable to confirm the precise number of rockets,” it said.

“The school is situated between two other UNRWA schools that currently each accommodate 1500 internally displaced persons.”

UNRWA said it was looking at all possible ways to safely remove the rockets and would investigate the incident.

The UN statement on Wednesday said Ban has asked for the immediate development of a plan to safely handle any weapons found on UN premises, and he told the UN Mine Action Service to immediately send people to deal with the situation of the missing rockets.

NRL set to double serious injury payouts

NRL players who suffer career-ending injuries will be eligible for payouts of up to $1 million under a newly-proposed temporary insurance scheme.


The planned policy, unanimously supported by the league and all 16 clubs, doubles the current amount of $500,000.

The payout will apply to the most serious injuries, including paraplegia, quadriplegia, loss of sight and the loss of the use of a limb which end a player’s career.

It will cover the top 25 contracted NRL players in each club, 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

The interim scheme is currently under consideration by players, and will operate through to March next year while a new whole-of-game policy is developed.

“Everyone in the game has been working together for some months to develop an insurance scheme which looks after the welfare of our players,” NRL chief executive Dave Smith said on Thursday.

“Obviously players will always be able to take their own insurance to protect their income in the event of a serious injury.

“But it is also important that the game has its own scheme and the players, clubs and NRL are working towards that.”

Smith said the league was also planning to set up a foundation to assist players who suffer catastrophic injuries.

South Sydney boss Shane Richardson backed the proposal on behalf the clubs.

“The clubs and the NRL recognise the importance of the improved insurance arrangements and support the proposal that was put to the Players Association for their members’ review,” he said.

The announcement follows last weekend’s Rise For Alex round, which raised more than $1.1 million for Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon.

McKinnon suffered a devastating spinal injury after a lifting tackle in the Knights’ round-three clash with Melbourne.

Twitter admits to diversity problem

Twitter says it has been hiring too many white and Asian men to fill high-paying technology jobs, just like several other major companies in Silicon Valley.


The lack of diversity in Twitter’s workforce of roughly 3000 was detailed in data released by the San Francisco company behind the popular short messaging service on Wednesday.

The breakdown revealed 70 per cent of Twitter’s worldwide workforce is comprised of men.

In the US, nearly 90 per cent of Twitter’s workers are either white or Asian. Racial data wasn’t provided for the global workforce.

Things look even worse for computer programming positions and other technology jobs that tend to pay the highest salaries.

Just 10 per cent of those jobs are held by women worldwide. More than 90 per cent of Twitter’s technology jobs in the US are being handled by whites and Asians.

Twitter’s scarcity of women, black and Latino workers mirrors similar situations at Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn.

All of those companies have released their diversity data since late May in response to a campaign led by the civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH coalition.

Jackson has spent much of this year pressuring major Silicon Valley companies to diversify their workforces because the booming technology industry is expected to be a major source of employment for years to come.

Many of those jobs pay high salaries and give out stock options that can become worth millions of dollars.

In a statement, Jackson lambasted Twitter’s diversity numbers as “pathetic” but called the disclosure of the problem a “step in the right direction”.

Twitter vowed to change its ways.

“We are keenly aware that Twitter is part of an industry that is marked by dramatic imbalances in diversity,” Janet Van Huysse, the company’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, wrote in a blog post.

Like some other technology companies, Twitter is supporting programs that teach women how to program computers and introducing internal training programs aiming to eliminate biases.

NSW government open to trial of medical cannabis

Clinical trials of medicinal cannabis could happen in NSW, but Premier Mike Baird is waiting on details about regulation and supply before making any commitments.


Under a private member’s bill to be introduced next month by Nationals MP Kevin Anderson, terminally ill people and their carers will be legally able to carry up to 15 grams of cannabis.

Mr Baird indicated his support after meeting Daniel Haslam, a 24-year-old who in 2010 was told he would only live for a few more months.

Asked if he would support a clinical trial, as proposed by the Australian Medical Association, Mr Baird said “it may well be something we have to do”.

“I’m open to that,” he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

Mr Haslam began taking cannabis to relieve his symptoms and help deal with the side effects of chemotherapy.

His retired nurse mother Lucy and father Lou – former head of the drug squad in northwest NSW – are now asking politicians to legalise the controversial drug.

“I was struck with Daniel and the battle he’s in. It’s heart-wrenching,” Mr Baird said.

“I’ve got deep sympathy and empathy with their position.”

But Mr Baird is waiting to see details of the bill and whether it will address his concerns about the sale and regulation of the drug.

“I’ll be looking closely at that,” he said.

“Let’s get to the details of what comes forward.”

He wouldn’t say whether government MPs would be given a conscience vote on the proposal, which is supported by the Greens and has provisional backing from the opposition.

But if the bill satisfies Mr Baird, it seems likely Daniel and his family won’t be forced to break the law for much longer.

“If we can provide relief to them in those circumstance, well, what premier would not want to do that?” Mr Baird said.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said he’s willing to work with the government but, like Mr Baird, wanted to see how the bill addresses things such as supply and access before fully endorsing it.

“I’m not writing a blank cheque, but I am very supportive of his notion,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“If marijuana is part of the solution to dealing with those issues as a means of relieving people’s pain, then we should be looking at that.”

‘My saddest photo yet’: Astronaut tweets Gaza conflict from space


The latest updates on the Gaza conflictJews and Arabs refuse to be enemies: Selfies that promote peace

German astronaut Alexander Gerst has tweeted a photo of the Gaza conflict from space, saying it was his ‘saddest photo yet.


Gerst was onboard the International Space Station when he captured the conflict, claiming that he could see ‘rockets and explosions’ firing over the region. 

My saddest photo yet. From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel pic.twitter广西桑拿,/jNGWxHilSy

— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) July 23, 2014

The UN Human Rights Council has launched a probe into the Gaza offensive, backing calls by the Palestinians to hold Israel to account, despite fierce opposition from the Jewish state.

The decision came after a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the top UN human rights body, where the Israelis and the Palestinians traded accusations over war crimes.

The Palestinian death toll climbing to 714 and airlines continuing to suspend flights to Israel over rocket fears.

Palestinian medics said Israeli attacks on Thursday hiked the death toll to 714 with a Gaza-based rights group saying more than 80 per cent of them were civilians.

Eighteen people were killed early on Thursday and 66 died in bombardments on Wednesday, medics said – most in Khuzaa on the Israeli border, close to the southern city of Khan Yunis.

The Israeli army said three more soldiers were killed inside Gaza on Wednesday, raising to 32 the total number of soldiers killed since the start of a ground operation on July 17.

Female Somali singer and MP shot dead in Mogadishu

Witnesses said armed men ambushed Warsame’s car, sparying it with bullets, as it was travelling in the south of the capital, killing her and her driver.


“Lawmaker Saado Ali Warsame was killed with her driver by unidentified gunmen,” police officer Mohamed Hassan said.

The attack is the latest in a string of shootings and bombings targeting government officials.

Community in mourning

Somalia’s Prime Minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, has strongly condemned the killing of Warsame, describing it as “barbaric.” 

The US and the UN have also condemned the shooting.

“We offer our deepest condolences to her family. As a singer, songwriter, poet and parliamentarian Warsame exemplified all the best qualities of Somali culture and tradition,” the US State Department said in a statement.

“This is a tremendous loss to the people of Somalia and to Somalis around the world.”

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia (SRSG), Nicholas Kay, urged authorities to act quickly to ensure the perpetrators are punished. 

“I call on the authorities to make every effort to bring the perpetrators to justice swiftly. We remain resolute in our support for the Somali people and their representatives as they work to realise their hope for a peaceful and stable future,” he said.

Warsame is the fourth Somali lawmaker to be killed since the start of the year.

Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shebab has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier this year, the group threatened to kill the country’s MPs “one by one”.

The Shebab has vowed to intensify attacks during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“I saw the gunmen driving in a car following the MP, then they opened fire… she died instantly and the gunmen then escaped,” said Abdukadir Ali, a witness.

“The dead body of the lawmaker and her driver were left in a pool of blood.”

Warsame famed for songs on political and social justice

Warsame was famous for her songs in the 1970s, when she sang about political and social justice in opposition to the hardline rule of then dictator Siad Barre before he was toppled in 1991, an event that triggered the all-out civil war in Somalia that still drags on today.

Al-Shebab fighters fled fixed positions in Mogadishu three years ago and have since lost most large towns to a 22,000-strong UN-backed African Union force, fighting alongside government soldiers.

But they still hold sway in vast swathes of the rural hinterland from which they regularly launch guerrilla raids.

Recent al-Shebab attacks in Somalia have targeted key areas of government and security forces in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities and AU troops that they are winning the war.

While the AU force launched a fresh offensive in March against al-Shebab bases, seizing a series of towns, the insurgents have largely fled in advance and suffered few casualties.

Earlier this month al-Shebab launched an assault on the presidential palace using similar tactics as an attack on the same fortified compound in February.

In May, the Islamist insurgents also launched a similar attack against the national parliament.

Peaches Geldof’s death ruled a drug overdose

Peaches Geldof, daughter of Live Aid founder Bob Geldof, was a heroin addict who died from a drug overdose, a coroner has ruled.


Her husband told a hearing that the 25-year-old TV presenter had started taking the drug again in February this year, having given it up three months earlier. She had been taking the substitute drug methadone in the two and a half years before her death.

A police search of the rural family home found 6.9 grammes of “importation quality” heroin and drug paraphernalia hidden in a black bin bag in a cupboard over a bedroom door.

The officer in charge of the police investigation estimated that the drugs would have been worth between STG350 ($A638), and that they “far exceeded” the purity levels normally found at street level.

Geldof’s husband, Thomas Cohen, a musician, spoke of witnessing his wife flushing a stash of drugs down the toilet after a conversation about her addiction.

The 23-year-old confirmed that he had spoken to Geldof several times over the weekend before her death and that she had seemed fine, with the last call taking place at 5.40pm on Sunday, April 6.

When he was unable to make contact the following day, Cohen and his mother went to the property with the couple’s son Astala, 2, where they found Geldof’s body on her bed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

After hearing the evidence, coroner Roger Hatch concluded that Geldof’s death was drugs-related.

“It’s said that the death of Peaches Geldof-Cohen is history repeating itself but this is not entirely so,” he said to the hearing on Wednesday.

“By November last year she had ceased to take heroin as a result of the considerable treatment and counselling that she had received.

“This was a significant achievement for her but for reasons we will never know prior to her death she returned to taking heroin.”