Thieves steal Swedish royal jewels, escape by speedboat
By JAN M. OLSEN and BARRY HATTON
Thursday, August 2
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Thieves carrying out a daring daytime robbery smashed a security case at a cathedral in Sweden and stole gold and jewel-encrusted crowns from the early 1600s before hopping on bicycles and escaping via a nearby lake, police said.
The two men pulled off the heist at Strangnas Cathedral at noon Tuesday and vanished aboard a speedboat or jet skis into the vast patchwork of lakes around the city, located 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of the Swedish capital of Stockholm, police said.
The stolen artifacts included a gold crown and an orb dating to 1611 that were made for King Karl IX’s funeral, as well as a jewel-encrusted crown dating to 1625 that was used in Queen Kristina’s funeral. The items were on display at an exhibition, and visitors were inside the cathedral when they were taken.
“The alarm went off when the burglars smashed the security glass and stole the artifacts,” Catharina Frojd, a spokeswoman for the 14th century cathedral, told The Associated Press.
Strangnas Cathedral said on its website that the stolen pieces were kept “in accordance with the prevailing safety regulations in locked and alarmed displays.” It gave no further details.
Police sent out a helicopter and boat to hunt for the thieves but found nothing. Authorities said no one was hurt in the robbery but didn’t provide further details.
Tom Rowell, a visitor who was eating lunch outside the Lutheran church, said he saw two men running from the cathedral toward a small nearby jetty where a motorboat was moored.
“The two men hurriedly jumped on board and it sped off,” Rowell said, adding that they “appeared non-Nordic.” He didn’t elaborate.
However, police spokesman Stefan Dangardt said “witnesses’ testimonies varied quite a bit” and it was also possible the thieves escaped on jet skis.
The men used two stolen black bicycles equipped with baskets and a child’s seat to race to the lake, Dangardt added.
On Wednesday, divers were looking for clues in and along the shores of Lake Malaren, Sweden’s third-largest freshwater lake. Police said the thieves could have fled further on jet skis.
While the stolen artifacts are of great historic and cultural value, police expressed skepticism about whether the burglary would bring the perpetrators financial gain.
The stolen pieces are “impossible to sell” because of their uniqueness and high visibility, Maria Ellior of the Swedish police’s National Operations Department told the Swedish news agency TT.
The theft would be logged at Interpol, enabling an international search, the agency.
Strangnas, a small, quiet town with a population of about 13,000, is popular with Stockholm commuters and tourists, who come to see the cathedral and a street that has been called the prettiest in Sweden.
The Gothic-style cathedral, built between 1291 and 1340, is in the heart of the town. The cathedral’s red-brick tower with a black top can be seen for miles (kilometers) around.
The cathedral was closed Wednesday, and a grassy area by the jetty was cordoned off as police inspected the ground for clues. Police also questioned witnesses who were inside the church at the time of the theft and people outside who saw the suspects get away.
The stolen artifacts are funeral regalia, which are placed inside or on top of a coffin to symbolize a deceased royal’s identity and social ranking.
While some funeral regalia are kept in the cathedrals of Strangnas, Uppsala and Vasteras, Sweden’s crown jewels are in vaults of the treasury under the Royal Castle in Stockholm.
In 2013, 16th-century copies of King Johan III’s crown, orb and scepter were stolen from the cathedral in the central Swedish city of Vasteras, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the capital Stockholm, during a nighttime burglary. They were eventually found and returned to the cathedral. No one was arrested.
Rowell, the witness, is getting married at the cathedral next weekend.
“It’s despicable that people would steal from a holy building,” he said.
Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.
Trump’s Foreign Policy Is Awful, But There’s a Better Alternative than the Establishment’s Version
By Lawrence Wittner
Since the advent of the Trump administration, large numbers of Americans have been aghast at its narrow nationalist approach to world affairs. But many of them are also uneasy about the alternative championed by the foreign policy Establishment.
The Trump “America First” approach has largely dispensed with American-led alliances of the past and, instead, emphasized U.S. “deals” with powerful, often authoritarian regimes, threats of unleashing military power against smaller, weaker countries, and the abandonment of treaties and pretenses about defending human rights. To gird this policy, Trump has secured major increases in U.S. military spending, scrapped the Obama administration’s efforts at nuclear arms control and disarmament, and blocked refugees from entering the United States.
Appalled, the U.S. foreign policy Establishment has fought back―lambasting Trump for eroding America’s alliances and undermining U.S. world “leadership.” But that Establishment’s own foreign policy, conducted over the previous decades, was characterized by U.S.-dominated military alliances, soaring Pentagon budgets, and numerous wars. Indeed, since World War II, the United States has been almost continuously at war. Moreover, its regime change operations have numbered in the dozens, with some of the most notorious occurring in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Cuba, Chile, and Iraq.
Trump’s nationalist approach has its roots in the original foreign policy of the United States. George Washington’s farewell address of 1796 warned of “entangling alliances,” and the new nation generally did avoid them right up until 1917.
This go-it-alone approach―facilitated by the two oceans separating the United States from wars in Europe, Africa, and Asia―was broken by America’s military alliance with other nations during World War I. Although a brief retreat into nationalism occurred in the aftermath of that bloody conflict, American entry into the Second World War cemented an alliance approach. Remaining more or less firm through wars and assorted global crises, it has characterized U.S. foreign policy right up to the arrival of the Trump administration.
However, at the same time that the nationalist and alliance approaches dominated U.S. foreign policy, there emerged a third alternative: global governance.
It started with 19th century peace organizations that championed the development of an international organization that could resolve conflicts among nations short of war. By the early twentieth century, even many government officials began to toy with the idea of creating a global authority, and Woodrow Wilson insisted on making a League of Nations a part of the World War I peace settlement at Versailles.
When the Second World War convinced statesmen and millions of people around the world that the League had been too weak to prevent fascist aggression and the murderous, worldwide conflict that ensued, the victorious Allies created a somewhat more powerful successor to foster international peace and security: the United Nations.
Even so, during the following years, the U.S. government―like the governments of the other great powers―while giving lip service to the United Nations, slipped back into a more traditional approach of ignoring the will of the world organization when its decisions ran contrary to what they considered “the national interest.”
And this remains the key factor undermining effective global governance. Despite Washington’s treaty commitment to have the United Nations handle issues of international peace and security, as well as vital humanitarian ones, the U.S. government has repeatedly chosen to fall back upon the nationalist and alliance approaches to world affairs. Or, to put it another way, the United States (like the other great powers) has been unwilling to let the United Nations do the job it is supposed to do, and which needs to be done.
Certainly, tackling that job is more imperative than ever before. We live in a far more dangerous world than in the late 19th century, when the first serious plans to create an effective world governance system were discussed. Today, conventional war has more potential for mass destruction than at any time in world history, while nuclear war is capable of annihilating virtually all life on earth.
Furthermore, we live in a far more interconnected world, which faces problems that can only be effectively addressed by international action. No single nation, or small group of nations, can solve problems like climate change, environmental destruction, refugee resettlement, exploitation by multinational corporations, terrorism, and world poverty. These are global problems that require global solutions.
Fortunately, global governance remains remarkably popular among Americans.
An October 2017 poll of U.S. voters found that 79 percent of respondents declared their support for continuing the existence of the United Nations. This represented an increase in support since 2009, when 69 percent said the world organization was necessary. In addition, 88 percent of U.S. respondents (including 80 percent of Republicans) affirmed that it was important for the United States to play an active role in the United Nations.
Furthermore, many Americans favor expanding the power of the United Nations. In a 2008 poll, 79 percent of U.S. respondents said that “strengthening the United Nations” should be an important U.S. foreign policy goal. Only 21 percent disagreed. In fact, American support for a stronger United Nations was very consistent over the preceding three decades, with roughly eight out of ten respondents favoring it.
Although polling on this issue has almost entirely disappeared since 2008, a November 2013 Pew survey continued to find that 79 percent of American respondents gave strengthening the United Nations either a top priority or some priority as a goal for U.S. foreign policy.
Consequently, people searching for an alternative to the nationalist and military alliance-driven approaches of the past would do well to consider strengthened global governance. It’s a foreign policy that has enormous potential for addressing current world problems, as well as substantial public support.
Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of Confronting the Bomb(Stanford University Press).
Court strikes down Trump push to cut ‘sanctuary city’ funds
By SUDHIN THANAWALA
Thursday, August 2
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A divided U.S. appeals court on Wednesday struck down a key part of President Donald Trump’s contentious effort to crack down on cities and states that limit cooperation with immigration officials, saying an executive order threatening to cut funding for “sanctuary cities” was unconstitutional.
In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Congress alone controls spending under the U.S. Constitution, and presidents do not have the power to withhold funding it approves to pursue their policy goals, the court majority said.
“By its plain terms, the executive order directs the agencies of the executive branch to withhold funds appropriated by Congress in order to further the administration’s policy objective of punishing cities and counties that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies,” wrote Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, joined by Judge Ronald Gould, who both were nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The court, however, also said the lower-court judge went too far when he blocked enforcement of Trump’s order nationwide after a lawsuit by two California counties — San Francisco and Santa Clara.
Thomas said there wasn’t enough evidence to support a nationwide ban, limited the injunction to California and sent the case back to the lower court for more arguments on whether a wider ban was warranted.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, called the ruling a victory for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”
“The Justice Department remains committed to the rule of law, to protecting public safety, and to keeping criminal aliens off the streets,” he said.
The decision overall is a big win for opponents of the executive order, but Trump could try to enforce it against jurisdictions outside the nine Western states covered by the 9th Circuit, said David Levine, an expert on federal court procedure at the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
“If they wanted to go after Chicago, if they wanted to go after Denver or Philadelphia, they would not be bound by an injunction,” he said. “Those places would have to bring their own lawsuits and whatever happens, happens in those cases.”
Trump signed the executive order in January 2017 — part of a push by his administration to go after cities and states that don’t work with U.S. immigration authorities.
The government also has moved to withhold a particular law enforcement grant from sanctuary jurisdictions and sued California over three laws that extend protections to people in the country illegally.
The Trump administration says sanctuary cities and states allow dangerous criminals back on the street. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes the trust needed to get people to report crime.
The executive order directed the attorney general and secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that jurisdictions refusing to comply with a particular immigration law generally are not eligible to receive U.S. grants.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco ruled in November that the order threatened all federal funding and that the president lacked the authority to attach new conditions to spending approved by Congress.
The executive order potentially jeopardized hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, Orrick said, citing comments by Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as evidence of the order’s scope.
The Trump administration said the order applied to a relatively small pot of money that already required compliance with the immigration law.
“When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday. “The courts did that today, which is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.”
Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said the decision was a victory for a key provision of the U.S. Constitution.
In a colorful dissenting opinion, 9th Circuit Judge Ferdinand Fernandez said the executive order clearly says any action by the attorney general or Homeland Security secretary was to be taken in accordance with the law.
Fernandez, who was nominated to the 9th Circuit by Republican President George H.W. Bush, said Orrick had pushed that language aside. Fernandez called the counties’ fears about the order an “imagined beast.”
BORDER SECURITY: WALL VS. PRINCIPLES
By Robert C. Koehler
Consider the limited thinking that produces a concept such as “border security.” The essential assumption here is that the United States of America is primarily a physical container – three and a half million square miles of freedom and prosperity, whoopee, but the supply is limited. Sorry, have-nots, we don’t have room for you.
The border agents, presumably, are protecting all the exclusive goodies that constitute America.
With this assumption in place in the American mind, the concept of an “open border” is horrifying, conjuring up a land rush of the planet’s wretched refuse, sort of on the order of the Europeans’ land rush of earlier centuries that displaced the continent’s native inhabitants. (What goes around comes around. Most people have at least a subconscious awareness of this.)
The downside of such thinking has been partially laid bare by the Trump presidency, which, as it began taking children away from asylum-seeking parents at the Mexican border and warehousing the children in places unknown all over the country, triggered large-scale public outrage. No doubt much to their surprise, the bureaucrats in the departments of Justice and Homeland Security set off what can only be called an alarm of violated principle: Ripping families apart is a moral horror. It doesn’t keep us safe, but even if it did in some superficial way, it’s utterly wrong. This is not who we are as a nation.
A remarkable aspect of this phenomenon, unacknowledged by the media, is that the national outrage has been triggered not by some tangible fear – of terrorism, of Russian hackers, of job theft by foreigners – but by compassion. We don’t have to know the mothers and fathers whose children have been snatched in order to grasp their unbearable pain. We don’t have to know the children in order to reel in shock at their kidnapping and imprisonment.
Something far larger is at work here – a sense not merely of responsibility but of connectedness that transcends the concept of national borders. Because of it, an inhumane policy has been interrupted. The last time the U.S. government was held accountable to a transcendent principle – to compassionate sanity – and forced to change its behavior may well have been the mid-’70s, when it pulled out of Vietnam.
Since then, the principle of global connectedness as a governing force has been in slow retreat, back into irrelevance and cliché. The Reagan counterrevolution was a revolution of fear – of Commies and criminals and welfare queens. George H.W. Bush did a quick invasion of Iraq and defeated “Vietnam syndrome,” i.e., the public aversion to war. Bill Clinton strengthened the prison-industrial complex. And then along came W … and permanent war was underway. Barack Obama, the candidate of hope and change, didn’t change this.
But now the Electoral College has bequeathed us Donald Trump, who, as the face of America, has proven far more able to reveal the truth of who we are than his predecessors were. Whatever abuses occurred at the border under previous administrations did not, for instance, have this sort of news value:
“Numerous sworn testimonies in court affidavits indicated children at Shiloh (a Texas facility holding immigrant children) were regularly given psychotropic medication without the proper parental consent. Sometimes,” the Washington Post recently reported, “they were told these were vitamins.
“In an April 16 court filing, lawyers wrote that ‘psychotropic drugs can seriously and permanently injure children.’
“The importance of oversight when giving psychotropic medications to children is well established,’ the lawyers wrote. ‘Without it, the potential for abuse — including using drugs as “chemical straitjackets” to control children, rather than to treat actual mental health needs — is unacceptably high.’ …
“‘The staff threatened to throw me on the ground and force me to take the medication,” Julio Z testified. ‘I also saw staff throw another youth to the ground, pry his mouth open and force him to take the medicine… . They told me that if I did not take the medicine I could not leave, that the only way I could get out of Shiloh was if I took the pills.’”
Nobody sings “God Bless America” after reading something like this. But even if the takeaway is nothing more than a partisan smirk – the Trump administration is awful – a principle, raw and basic, emerges: Human lives matter. We can’t cage children or slap them in chemical straitjackets and call it security.
And suddenly the nature of the American border starts to fluctuate in our minds. Is it possible that what matters isn’t so much protecting the sanctity of a physical line as it is protecting a set of principles?
Is it possible that what makes America great isn’t its separation from, and power over, the rest of the world, but its connection to it? And could this connection include the natural world as well as the human one – jaguars and ocelots, black bears and armadillos?
Consider that the 650-plus miles of barbed wire and steel mesh wall sections we already have up along the Mexican border do little to keep violence-fleeing human beings out of the country, but they create a lot of eco-devastation. The fantasy wall Trump has been promoting since his campaign would intensify this damage.
“Now,” Vox reported recently, “(the Department of Homeland Security) is eyeing unfenced areas in two Texas wildlife refuges that conservationists consider some of the most ecologically valuable areas on the border — home to armadillos and bobcats. If a wall were to slice through these ecosystems, it could cause irreversible damage to plants and animals already under serious threat.”
And a Scientific American article last year, focusing on the Arizona border region, pointed out: “Although the region itself is vast, good habitat can be scarce. Water is the limiting factor and its availability is unpredictable. Many streams run only intermittently and rain tends to fall in quick bursts from isolated thunderheads, wetting one mountain range or section of desert grassland while the surrounding landscape dries out. To find food and water, animals need freedom to move.”
It’s time we stopped maintaining a false, reckless “security” in vast and utter ignorance of our connection to the rest of Planet Earth.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.