PM meets with Dutch leaders on MH17

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told the Dutch defence chief that people who want to see a better world are pleased the two countries are working together to bring to justice those who blasted MH17 out of the sky.

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Mr Abbott met General Tom Middendorp and top Dutch police officers in The Hague on Monday morning.

He was accompanied by Australia’s defence chief, Air Chief Marshall Mark Binskin, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Tony Negus and MH17 special envoy Angus Houston.

Mr Abbott said the first phase of repatriating victims to Australia was complete with bodies and personal belongings having been collected from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

“I think we can be confident that what is readily recoverable has been recovered and that is the least we can do for our people (and) for their grieving relatives,” the prime minister said before the official talks at the Dutch defence ministry.

“People who want to see a better world I think are encouraged to see Australia and the Netherlands working together to ensure some measure of justice at least is belatedly accorded to the people on that flight.”

Mr Abbott thanked General Middendorp and all the Dutch personnel “who so ably led what we call Operation Bring Them Home.”

“We were, of course, united in grief, anger, and the search for justice in the aftermath of this terrible atrocity,” he said, adding that the intrinsic friendship and co-operation between the two countries clicked into gear after the disaster resulting in a smooth partnership.

Mr Abbott has said pro-Russian militants are responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17.

The investigation at the crash scene has been suspended due to safety concerns after fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebels intensified.

But Mr Abbott has pledged that if fighting subsides and authorities think there are more remains to recover “obviously we’ll go back”.

Some of the hundreds of the Australian military and police personnel involved in Operation Bring Them Home are now in the process of heading home themselves.

A small team of forensic experts remains at a temporary morgue at Hilversum military barracks helping to identify the victims including 38 people who called Australia home.

Mr Abbott later on Monday will travel to Eindhoven airbase to inspect one of the RAAF C-17 transporters that has been used to repatriate bodies from Ukraine’s second-biggest city Kharkiv.

He will meet with RAAF crew and have lunch with ADF personnel.

The Liberal leader will subsequently lay a floral tribute to the victims at Hilversum and talk with the forensic experts who are using DNA, fingerprints and dental records to identify victims.

The trip will conclude with a bilateral meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday evening.

Mr Abbott and his party will then fly to London for talks with the British government and officials about counter-terrorism operations and the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

He’ll meet on Tuesday with UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond and defence secretary Michael Fallon before flying back to Australia, arriving home on Thursday morning.

All up the prime minister will have spent more time in the air than on the ground during his whistle-stop European trip.

Mickelson qualifies for US Ryder Cup

Phil Mickelson settled for second place to Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the PGA Championship, but he did book himself a spot on this year’s US Ryder Cup team.

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The 44-year-old lefthander fired a final-round 66 at Valhalla to finish on 15-under 269, falling by a stroke but producing his first top-10 finish since January in the final US Ryder Cup qualifying event.

“I feel like I’m closer to great play than what this year showed,” Mickelson said. “This is just a little glimpse of what I feel I can do and I’ll see if I can work on it some more.”

Mickelson, who began the week just outside the cutoff for making the team, achieved his goal of two decades of qualifying for the American squad on points, giving him a chance to help the US team reclaim the trophy from holders Europe in the match-play showdown next month at Gleneagles, Scotland.

The five-time major champion bumped injured 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner out of a qualified spot. Dufner withdrew from the event after 10 holes with a nagging neck injury that might have kept him from playing on the team anyway.

Zach Johnson settled for a share of 70th with long-time European Ryder Cup star Colin Montgomerie of Scotland at the PGA, but won just enough money to edge just ahead of Dufner for the last automatic points berth, booking his fourth Ryder Cup appearance.

Others who qualified, most having already sealed spots before this week, are Masters champion Bubba Watson, PGA third-place finisher and US and British Open runner-up Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Injuries figure to be an issue for the American side with Kuchar withdrawing from the PGA due to back pain.

Tiger Woods, a potential captain’s choice pick for US leader Tom Watson, has been nagged by back spasms the past two weeks after a long layoff following back surgery.

“We’ll be fine and we’ll be ready,” said Reed, who will make his Ryder Cup debut.

Ryan Palmer shared fifth at the PGA and figures to be among the contenders for the three captain’s picks Watson will make to complete the roster on September 2.

European teams have won five of the past six Ryder Cups, the only US win since 1999 coming at Valhalla in 2008.

Europe’s qualifying has another three weeks to run, ending two days before European captain Paul McGinley makes his captain’s choices.

England’s Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald remain on the outside of the lineup, set to be led by McIlroy.

Phelps departs US champs without title

Michael Phelps departed the US Swimming Championships without a title after a runner-up finish to Ryan Lochte in the 200m medley on Sunday, but with renewed resolve to return to the pinnacle of the sport.

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The top two swimmers in the history of the event shrugged off indifferent results earlier in the meet to deliver an exciting battle, Lochte charging to a wire-to-wire victory in 1min 56.50sec, second-fastest time in the world this year.

Phelps, whose 18 Olympic gold medals include three 200m medley triumphs, came on strong on the closing freestyle leg, but settled for second in the year’s third-best time of 1:56.55.

“Definitely better than where I was at the beginning of the meet,” said a delighted Phelps. “I got in the water and I was actually able to put together a full race.”

Only Japan’s Kosuke Hagino has gone faster this year, with a time of 1:55.38.

The three could meet in less than a fortnight at the Pan Pacific Championships in the Gold Coast, Australia, although Phelps and Lochte have yet to confirm their program for that meet.

Just getting to PanPacs was a priority for Phelps, who returned to competition in April after a retirement that lasted nearly two years.

In his biggest meet since his return, Phelps botched a turn in the 100m free to finish seventh, was out-touched by a fingertip in one of his signature events, the 100m butterfly, and finished sixth in the 100m backstroke.

He admitted he felt uneasy in the big races, knowing that he lacked a solid training base.

But the disappointments have only shown him what he needs to do to further a comeback that started as a way to shed unwanted pounds but is now clearly aimed at again becoming an international force.

“I know what I have to do,” he said. “Some of these races really upset me.”

Phelps, however, says he’s still having fun – his mantra since returning to competition in April. That’s because the drive to train and compete is all from within.

“I’m going to have to work because I want to,” he said. “That’s the reason I’m here and the reason I’m swimming.”

Lochte, who long swam in the shadow of Phelps but who counts an impressive five gold among his 11 Olympic medals, has endured a difficult year of his own, missing training time after tearing a ligament in his knee.

“My confidence wasn’t there because I always relied on my training, but this year I haven’t done that training,” he said.

Lochte had come up short in his previous races here, finishing second in the 100m free, third in the 100m backstroke and fifth in the 100 fly.

“This is good for me, to get a win under my belt,” he said.

Now they’ll hope a few more days’ training will have them swimming faster at the PanPacs, the August 21-25 meet featuring Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Japan and Brazil.

Results from the meet will determine the US team for the 2015 world championships in Russia.

Twelve-time Olympic medallist Natalie Coughlin won’t be making the trip to the Gold Coast after finishing sixth in the 50m freestyle won by 18-year-old Simone Manuel in 24.56sec.

Iraq PM clings on as conflict rages

Iraq’s prime minister has pulled a shock legal stunt in his increasingly desperate bid to cling to power, dragging Iraq into a tense political endgame even as fighting raged in the north.

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A defiant Nouri al-Maliki went on state television on the stroke of midnight to announce he was challenging President Fuad Masum in court for failing to nominate him as prime minister.

The move drew a sharp warning from the United States for Maliki not to worsen the chaos caused by a two-month-old jihadist offensive that has brought Iraq to the brink of breakup.

But Iraq’s federal court, the same that lifted the two-term cap for Maliki last year, swiftly ruled in his favour again.

“The federal court announces its decision confirming that State of Law is the largest bloc in parliament,” Iraqiya TV reported.

A constitutional tussle on how to define the largest bloc in parliament had been the main technical obstacle in Maliki’s way since his coalition’s comfortable electoral victory in April.

It remained unclear however whether Masum would comply and hand Maliki a chance to form a government or whether the president would explore other options.

Speaking before the court decision was announced, US Secretary of State John Kerry gave Masum his unequivocal support and said: “Our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.”

It had been thought Maliki was simply trying to gain leverage to impose his preferred replacement but the court ruling suggested the 64-year-old was prepared to go all the way to save his job.

Moments before he spoke on television, special forces, soldiers and police deployed across Baghdad, especially around the Green Zone district housing the country’s key institutions.

Several of the capital’s main thoroughfares and bridges were closed to traffic and on Monday morning unusual numbers of security personnel, uniformed and plain-clothed, remained deployed across the city.

In his brief address, Maliki said Iraq was facing a “dangerous” situation and urged “the sons of Iraq” to be on alert.

Observers argue that Maliki is too isolated to remain in power by force but security officials told AFP the security set-up was akin to state of emergency measures.

Maliki had pledged in a 2011 he would not seek a third term but he has since changed his mind despite losing the support of nearly all his erstwhile allies: the United States, Iran, Shi’ite clerics and even his Dawa party.

Masum is a Kurd and relations between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq have been strained of late.

The Kurds have long complained that the federal government was not sending them their 17 per cent share of federal oil resources.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters then seized long-coveted areas over which they were in dispute with Baghdad, including the oil-rich Kirkuk region, when routed federal forces retreated in the face of the jihadist onslaught two months ago.

That prompted Maliki to accuse the Kurdistan Regional Government of siding with the Islamic State (IS) group and the “caliphate” it declared in late June over parts of Iraq and Syria.

Cash-strapped Kurdistan’s troops initially fared better than Baghdad’s but over the past week jihadists made spectacular gains, seizing the country’s largest dam and advancing within striking distance of the Kurdish capital.

That was one of the reasons that prompted US President Barack Obama to announce on Thursday he was sending warplanes back over the skies of Iraq for the first time since the last US troops withdrew in 2011.

His other justification was the risk of an impending genocide against the Yazidi minority, many of whose people had been stranded on a mountain following an Islamic State attack.

Three days of strikes by US jets and drones appeared to make an impact on both fronts, raising hopes that US intervention could turn the tide on two months of jihadist expansion.

“The peshmerga have liberated Makhmur and Gwer,” peshmerga spokesman Halgord Hekmat told AFP, adding that “US aerial support helped”.

Meanwhile, officials said 20,000 mostly Yazidi civilians who had been trapped on Mount Sinjar since jihadists overran their hub of Sinjar a week ago had managed to escape.

They were escorted through Syria and back into Iraqi Kurdistan by Kurdish forces and added to the more than 200,000 displaced persons who have already entered the autonomous region since August 3, according to figures provided by several aid groups.

Metaphors for Metadata: Brandis’ ‘excruciating’ interview spawns metaphor spoofs

 

Brandis stumbles through ‘excruciating’ interview on data retention policy<strong style="line-height: 1.

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538em;”>Infographic: Metadata and data retention explained Comment: Data retention: protecting us from what, and how? Should the average Australian be worried about metadata laws? 

During an interview on Sky News last week, Senator George Brandis struggled to explain details of the government’s proposed data retention policy, which would require telecommunication companies to record users’ phone and internet activity. 

When Sky News journalist David Speers quizzed Senator Brandis on this explanation of metadata, the attorney general only caused further confusion. 

“Well it wouldn’t be extended to, for example, web surfing,” he said. “What people are viewing on the internet is not going to be caught.” 

Seeking further clarification, Speers asked: “So it’s not the sites you’re visiting?” 

Senator Brandis answered: “Well, um, what people are viewing on the internet when they web surf is not going to be caught, what will be caught is the web address they communicate to.” 

Inspired by these comments, social media users have posted ambiguous, tongue-in-cheek metaphors mocking Senator Brandis’ illogical train of thought. 

@ben_hr It’s the lettuce leaf, not the san/sang choy bow (I am never sure which is correct)

— Angus M-a-c-i-n-n-is (@AequoEtBono) August 9, 2014

@AequoEtBono It’s the pasta not the sauce, it’s the burger not the bun, it’s the basket not the washing… @ben_hr

— Clinton Ducas (@ClintonDucas) August 9, 2014

Under the proposal, the information would be kept for up to two years and be available to law enforcement agencies investigating crimes, without requiring a warrant.

Tony Abbott said in an earlier interview that websites people visited would be recorded but the government was not interested in “content.”

“It’s not what you’re doing on the internet, it’s the sites you’re visiting,” Mr Abbott said.

Do you have a metaphor for metadata that you’d like to share? Tweet @sbsnews or comment below.