Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100527

Financial Crisis
»Are We About to Witness the Greatest Banking Consolidation in U.S. History?
»Greece: 25 Bln From Govt for Banking System
»Italy: Many Firms ‘Managed Well’ In Recession
»Italy: Spending Cuts Needed ‘To Save What’s Good’
»Italy: Industrialists Want Bigger Budget Cuts
»Italy: Stock Markets: Milan Closes at +4.5%; Good Results in Europe
»Of Course We Don’t Want a New Crisis, But the Euro’s Demise Could Prove to be to Our Salvation
»Pensions: France; Strike, Hardships and Protest Marches
»Spain: Cuts Decree Passes by Single Vote in Congress
»Spain: Central Bank Clamps Down on Property Assets
»Spain: Government Cuts Public Enterprises
»US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner Calls for European Action as EU is Divided Over Bank Reforms
»Airline Bans Sexy Body Scan Ad
»Apple Passes Microsoft as No. 1 in Tech
»Document Says Number of Attempted Attacks on U.S. Is at All-Time High
»Drawing a Line in the Dust at Ground Zero
»Gulf Well ‘Shouted’ Warnings for Hours Before Bp Rig Explosion
»Italian Product Bidding for Place in Gulf Oil Clean-Up
»Just Another Act of Deadly Treason
»Obama Admin May Have Illegally Spent $10 Million Promoting Abortion in Kenya
»Obama Names Rationing Czar to Run Medicare
»Scramjet-Powered X-51a Waverider Missile Breaks Mach 6 Record
»Sestak White House Scandal Called ‘Impeachable Offense’
»The TSA’s Mini ‘Watch List’
»Why Glenn Beck Isn’t Crazy
Europe and the EU
»Danish Cartoonist to Appear on German Talk Show After All
»Early Warning System on Illict Nuclear Trade to be Set Up
»Finland: Prime Minister Vanhanen Encourages People Not to Give to Beggars
»Greece: Huge Brawl Between Bangladeshi Immigrants in Athens
»Hungary Approves Historic Citizenship Law
»Iceland Volcano: Spain: Spending Down in April
»Italy: Almost One-Third of 30-34 Year Olds Live at Home
»Italy: Rome Mayor Targets Pubs and Bars
»Italy: Ex-Parmalat Executives to Pay €105 Mln in Damages
»Italy: Birds’ Housing Boost in Elba Town
»Italy: Couple in ‘Parrot Abuse’ Case
»Italy: Tanzi Sees 10-Year Sentence Conformed
»Italy: VW Takes Over Giugiaro
»Italy Grants ‘Political Asylum’ To Jailed Imam
»Morocco: Tanger Med is Winning Bet
»Netherlands: Wilders Accuses the Telegraaf of Censorship
»PC and the Rise of Geert Wilders
»Secret Clause Reveals Europe Bailout Designed to Destroy Global Economy
»Tony Blair to Earn Millions as Climate Change Adviser
»Turkey: Govt Supports Company Acquisitions in Europe
»UK: Pregnant Teenager Watched Torture of Boyfriend Who Was Then Murdered
»UK: Video: RFID Chip Implanted Into Man Gets Computer Virus
»EU: Albania Visas Abolition; A Dream Come True, Berisha
»EU: Visa Abolition for Albania, Bosnia Gets First Approval
»Serbia: Italian Lusis, Power Plants at River Lim
»Serbia-Albania-Croatia Free Trade Agreements
Israel and the Palestinians
»Frattini: Coop-Conad Initiative Dangerous and Racist
»Hamas Gains Ground as Obama Brokers Talks
»Israeli-Arabs Accused of Spying for Hezbollah
»Mankell Joins Swedish ‘Ship to Gaza’
Middle East
»Atheist Turkish Family Wins Case on Compulsory Religion Classes
»No Tears Shed for Iranian Dissident
»Obama to Focus on Homegrown Extremists in New Security Strategy
»Turkish Military Sacks Officer for Erdogan Password Insult
»Putin’s Party Embarrassed by Local Poll Debacle
South Asia
»Bangladesh Proposes 15 Days Paternity Leave for Fathers to Care for Newborn
»Deaths in India Train Collision
»Pakistan: Islamabad Seeks US Support on India Talks
»Pakistan: Youtube Unblocked Following ‘Blasphemy’
Far East
»China: Wave of Suicides at Foxconn’s Shenzhen Plant: Alienating Work
Australia — Pacific
»Push to Let Australian Doctors Mutilate Genitals of Baby Girls
Latin America
»Luis Fleischman: Connecting the Dots: Internal Developments in Latin America & National Security
»23 Illegal Migrants Intercepted Near Greek Coast
»Finland: Promised Legislation to Protect Grandparents of Immigrants Fizzles
»Libya: Italy OK, But Rejections Not Enough
»Mexico: ‘U.S. Troops OK, But No Stopping Illegals!’
»Record Number of Foreigners Receive British Passports as Figure Soars by 58%
»USA: City Pleads: Let Illegals Vote in Elections!
Culture Wars
»Modern Civil Rights: Cockfighting & Same-Sex Proms
»USA: Homosexuals in Military Three Times More Likely to Sexually Assault Than Straights: Survey
»‘X-Woman’ Coexisted With Neanderthals, Modern Humans

Financial Crisis

Are We About to Witness the Greatest Banking Consolidation in U.S. History?

As the number of bank failures in the United States continues to accelerate, many analysts are warning that we could soon see unprecedented changes in the U.S. banking industry. In fact, there are some economists that are warning that we could be about to witness the greatest banking consolidation in U.S. history. As dozens of small and medium size banks have failed, the megabanks have systematically been gobbling up larger and larger slices of market share. In fact, if current trends continue, it doesn’t take much imagination to foresee a future where the entire U.S. banking industry has been consolidated down to between 5 and 10 “superbanks”. So would that be so bad? Well, yes it would. It would represent a massive shift in financial power away from the American people to big, global corporate banks. But if you happen to be a fan of big, global corporate banks perhaps you will really love what is about to happen to the U.S. banking industry.

On Friday, federal regulators seized Pinehurst Bank, which brought the total number of U.S. banks closed this year to 73. At this point in 2009, only 36 banks had failed.

That means that the number of bank failures has doubled compared to the same time period a year ago.

Is that a good trend?

Well, it is a good trend if you are one of the megabanks that is gobbling up the remnants of these banks that were “small enough to fail”.

And the sad thing is that we are likely to see dozens and dozens more small and medium size banks fail in the coming months.


The truth is that in 2009, the biggest U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in lending since 1942.

So what were they doing with their money?

Well, thanks to the Federal Reserve, the megabanks were using the U.S. Treasury carry trade to make huge gobs of cash. In fact, the little game that they are playing with U.S. Treasuries is working so well that four of the biggest U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup) had a “perfect quarter” with zero days of trading losses during the first quarter of 2010.

The truth is that the game is rigged to benefit the largest financial institutions, and they are slowly but surely gobbling up the entire U.S. banking market.

Back in 2000, the “Big Four” U.S. banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo — held approximately 22 percent of all deposits in FDIC-insured institutions. As of June 30th of last year that figure was up to 39 percent.

The Founding Fathers of this country warned us of the danger of big banks getting too much power, but we have not listened to their warnings.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Greece: 25 Bln From Govt for Banking System

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 27 — The Greek government has decided to allocate 25 billion euros to shore up the banking system as an injection of liquidity onto the market and as a way to grant easier access to credit for households and enterprises. According to the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade(ICE) office in Athens, the measure was adopted after a meeting between the Economy Minister Giorgios Papaconstantinou and Greece’s Central Bank Governor Giorgios Provopoulos.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Many Firms ‘Managed Well’ In Recession

Rome, 26 May (AKI) — A large number of Italy’s smaller manufacturing companies hired new workers and boosted exports during last year’s recession, according to Istat, the national statistics agency. The Italian economy contracted 5.1 percent in 2009.

“The small and medium-sized manufacturers, being more efficient, have managed the difficult times better than the large and micro (with no more than 9 employees) ones,” said Istat president Enrico Giovannini on Wednesday, in a statement accompanying the agency’s annual report.

“Notwithstanding the seriousness of the recession, many manufacturing companies have boosted employment and exports, demonstrating the vitality of an important part of the Italian system of production,” he said.

Europe’s fourth-largest economy experienced fragile growth between January and March after contracting in the final quarter of 2009.

Although some Italian businesses hired staff during the economic slowdown, this was not enough to counter layoffs which caused Italian unemployment to hit a 14-year annual high in 2009.

Unemployment rose to 8.6 percent, from 7.1 percent in 2008, according to Istat.

Giovannini warned that signs of economic recovery are fragile as Italy and other economies risk returning to recession.

“If 2008-2009 was extremely difficult for the world economy, 2010 — with signs of rebound in production and international trade — shows even more risks of instability,” Giovannini said.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italy: Spending Cuts Needed ‘To Save What’s Good’

Rome, 26 May (AKI) — Italy’s 24 billion euro austerity measure is needed to help “save the euro” and the future of Europe’s fourth richest country, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday, presenting the plan to reporters in Rome, flanked by finance minister Giulio Tremonti.

“The economic crisis forced all European countries to reduce public debt,” Berlusconi said. “Italy will do that especially by reducing public spending and cracking down on tax evasion.” Cuts are needed “to defend the euro, the future of Italy and its 5 million businesses.”

Among the two years of cuts is a 10 percent salary reduction for politicians, a civil-service hiring freeze and a vigorous fight against tax evasion.

The European Union has asked its 27 members to implement measures to curb public spending in a bid to prevent a repeat of the Greece’s debt crisis. Italy is the latest after cuts were announced in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

“We must cut excessive spending and save what is good,” Berlusconi said, reiterating that his government has no intention to raise taxes.

“Our objective is now and will be in the future to reduce taxes,” he said.

Tremonti described the European spending cuts as “historical” and necessary to save the social welfare states.

“There’s more public debt than wealth and it isn’t sustainable,” he said.

While Italy held its budget deficit to 5.3 percent of GDP last year — well below the EU average — the budget aims to slash it to 2.7 percent by 2012.

The plan hasn’t been without conflict. Union leaders on Wednesday threatened a general strike.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italy: Industrialists Want Bigger Budget Cuts

Confindustria says economic growth is a national emergency

(ANSA) — Rome, May 27 — Italy’s powerful industrial employers association Confindustria said on Thursday that it will back the government’s austerity package but added that it did not go far enough and needed to be bolstered when it reaches parliament.

Speaking at Confindustria’s annual meeting, Chairman Emma Marcegaglia said the government’s package “contains measures which we have been demanding for some time. Thus we will give it our full support. However it lacks structural initiatives to boost growth”.

“Correcting public finance is not enough and its effects will not last unless they are accompanied by major structural reforms. Reforms to the structure of the government itself,” she added.

According to the Confindustria chief, the cost of the state has to be reduced by at least one percentage point of GDP a year for the next three years “and no costs or salaries are untouchable. Salaries need to be cut, retirement ages need to be raised, unjustified disability pensions revoked and health care costs reduced”.

“The budget cuts for local administrations, state agencies and those for politicians are just a start. When a nation is called upon to make sacrifices politicians need to be the first to energetically slash their privileges,” Marcegaglia observed.

“The proposed 10% salary cut for members of government, when viewed from an international standpoint, is a very timid beginning. The time has come for Italian politicians, from those in parliament to those all the way down to the smallest village, to cut their salaries and those of their staff and advisors,” the Confindustria chief said.

The same went for public employees, Marcegaglia added, in view of the fact that their salaries over the past ten years have risen by an average of 16% compared to 3.9% for the private sector, “increases totally unrelated to the logic of efficiency and responsibility”.

“Politics employs too many people in Italy. It is the only sector which has not suffered any crisis nor seen temporary layoffs. Inefficiency in the public sector is not only caused by low productivity, but also by too many political party interests, too many salaries which need to be protected,” she said.

Aside from cutting state spending, which Marcegaglia said was dictated by the market, the great challenge facing Italy was boosting economic growth.

“This is now a national emergency. Economic growth has to come first. It is more important than gaining political leverage or achieving political ambitions past, present and future,” she explained.

In order to boost growth, the Confindustria chief said, it was essential that management and unions join forces to “agree on a common formula for growth by the end of the summer”.

“To all unions without exception I say the time has come to put Italy’s interests first. We need to work together to build confidence and responsibility. Being opposed to everything on principle does not help resolve this nation’s serious problems,” Marcegaglia said.

“To those in government, in the opposition, our friends in the unions and colleagues in other national associations, I say we have to make sure that those who have the responsibility of leading this country do not make the wrong tactical and strategical decisions. That they move in the right direction and do so quickly before it’s too late.

“Otherwise it will be the companies, their employees, their families, Italy as a while and especially those citizens in the weakest conditions who will pay the highest price,” Marcegaglia said.


The measures Italy has drawn up for its 2011-12 austerity budget aim at raising 24 billion euros, 12 billion euros each year, through spending cuts and increased revenue, mostly through combating tax evasion, in order to reduce Italy’s massive public debt.

Similar action is being taken in other European Union countries to stabilise markets in the wake of the fiscal crisis in Greece which undermined confidence in the EU and its single currency.

Among the proposals for Italy are a three-year wage freeze for all state employees, including magistrates and law enforcement; cutting ministry budgets, but not across-the-board; cracking down on fraud in regard to disability pensions; reducing funding for regional and local governments; abolishing small provinces; and a major effort to get unregistered real estate assets recorded on tax rolls.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Stock Markets: Milan Closes at +4.5%; Good Results in Europe

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 27 — The Milan Stock Exchange today recorded one of its best performances of the past weeks, closing at +4.5% after being up all day. All European stock markets reported good results today, except Athens (-0.46% at closing). Paris closed at +3.42, Madrid at +3.23, London at +3.12 and Frankfurt at +3.11%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Of Course We Don’t Want a New Crisis, But the Euro’s Demise Could Prove to be to Our Salvation

When the European Union agreed a €750 billion bailout fund to save Greece and other southern European countries from bankruptcy two weeks ago, many leading politicians announced that the crisis was finally over.

Unfortunately, the markets have begged to differ.

The euro has reached a new low against the dollar, and has even weakened against the sickly pound.

World stock markets have continued to dive, though there was something of a rally yesterday.

Evidently the much trumpeted bailout has not convinced investors that the Greek problem has been solved.

There is renewed talk of a double-dip recession which might make the first dip seem like a gentle undulation.


There is another way of looking at this problem. The demise of the euro, though accompanied by disagreeable economic shocks, might turn out in the longer term to be the best outcome for Britain and Europe. Let me explain.

The euro is a ‘political construct’. It is nothing less than the main engine of European integration, designed to bind together the countries of the EU.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pensions: France; Strike, Hardships and Protest Marches

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 27 — Not a “black Thursday”, but the first strike by trade unions against the French Government’s project to raise the pension age above the traditional 60 year mark caused quite a few hardships to the population. In expectation of this afternoon’s strike, with the trade union hoping to draw 800,000 people into the squares of France. The statistics are uncertain for now, but already there is a big divide between the Government’s data and the trade unions’ figures. In schools, the most affected sector, trade unions speak of a 40% participation by teachers, the Ministry of 12.29%. In postal services, 12.80% of employees went on strike, whilst in transport the situation is fully under control as the “cheminots” benefit from special contracts which for the time being are not being affected by the pension reform, considered a priority by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Domestic rail services are affected by an average 25% reduction in number of circulating trains. As for city transport, conditions differ from city to city, but in Paris they are almost normal. With regard to airports, 30% of flights were cancelled this morning at Orly and 10% at Roissy, the two Paris airports.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Cuts Decree Passes by Single Vote in Congress

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 27 — The decree for the 15-billion-euros-in-cuts austerity package to reduce the public debt by 2011 — approved on May 20 by the Council of Ministers — was today approved by a single vote of Congress. The government under Socialist Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero saved the measure with 169 votes in favour, 168 against and 13 abstentions, after having received an onslaught of criticism, demands that he resign and that early elections be called. The PP, PNV, UpyD and the left made up of the Erc, Bng, IU, ICV and Nafarroa Bai voted against, while the CiU, Coaliccion Canaria and UPN abstained, making it possible to get the decree passed.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Central Bank Clamps Down on Property Assets

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 27 — The Bank of Spain has tightened the rules on property assets obtained from banks for insolvency, a total of 59.7 billion euros. The central authority will raise the reserves which these financial institutes have to earmark from 20 to 30% of the values of these assets, if they stay for more than two year on the balance sheet. This change, according to the economic daily Cinco Dias, will come into force in the fourth quarter of this year. The supervisor justified the move by underlining that the fact that these assets remain on the balance sheet “is a clear sign of deterioration”, and therefore “its recognition should not be postponed”. With this measure, the Bank of Spain wants to make sure that banks get rid of “toxic” assets as soon as possible. The new rules will have a serious impact on the balance sheets of savings banks, which have accumulated “a large number of property assets with a low level of reserves”, as the Japanese investment bank Nomura explained today in a statement, quoted by Europa Press. On the other hand, BBVA, Santander and Banesto will feel no impact of the measure on their profits, since they have already increased their reserves to 30%. Today European Commissioner for Competition, Joaquin Almunia, urged Spanish savings banks “not to postpone” mergers “to tomorrow”, underlining that the Spanish government so far has not asked for an extension of the Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Government Cuts Public Enterprises

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 26 — State-owned enterprises, public consortiums, foundations, autonomous organisations, commercial associations: a total of 2,447 State-owned companies depend from the State or the autonomous communities in Spain, after a 78% increase in the past ten years, according to the latest inventory of the State’s general inspection service, quoted today by the press. The government has set its eyes on these organisations as part of the 15 billion euros cut in spending to further bring down the public deficit by 2011. A decree was passed today in Congress by one vote. The move includes the total dissolution of 14 public companies and the merger of 24 others. Most of the State-owned enterprises in Spain, around 1970, are managed by the governments of regional autonomies, with a 90% increase in the past decade; 477 are led by the central government, a 43% increase over the same period. In the absence of official figures, some economists claim that around 30% of the State budget is spent on the wages for employees of these companies. Finding their origins in better economic times, when Municipalities and Regions multiplied the number of foundations, consortiums and public companies thanks to the property boom, many of these are now causing unsustainable costs for the Treasury. To give an example, in Castile-La Mancha and Andalusia alone, in a period of ten years, the number of public organisations grew exponentially by 675% and 262% respectively. According to figures of the Bank of Spain, the enterprises that depend on the autonomous communities in 2009 accumulated a debt of 15.4 billion euros, 20% more than in the previous year. The State-owned enterprises recorded a total debt of 25.4 billion euros, 19% more than in 2008. Some regions, like the Canaries, Madrid, Catalonia, Valencia or Andalusia have already announced substantial cuts. The Generalitat of Valencia in particular has approved the elimination of 25% of its companies or public foundations, to save 115 million euros. The government of the Canary Islands yesterday announced that it will cut these organisations by 30-40% in 2011. Madrid, for the moment, has only decided to slim down the boards of directors and the executive boards of the Region’s enterprises. In Andalusia, the council is negotiating with the unions on a 5% wage cut for employees of the public companies. Finance and Public Administration Councillor Carmen Martinez Aguayo has a meeting today with the central unions of CcOo, Ugt and Csif-A, in which she will have to indicate which companies will be cut, dissolved or merged. In Catalonia, public television channel TV3, the Catalan water company, youth hostels and the Nacional theatre are most at risk. In Estremadura, 18 enterprises have already been merged into a total of 6, and in Aragon 6 have been dissolved and public funding has been withdrawn to 25. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner Calls for European Action as EU is Divided Over Bank Reforms

Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, has called for Europe’s leaders to shore up the euro and calm global markets by putting their €750bn (£635bn) rescue plan into action quickly.

However, as Mr Geithner embarked on a two-day tour of the continent, Europe was yesterday divided on how best to stop banks from needing further government bail-outs. Tensions rose as the European Commission proposed a bank levy, while France and Britain raised strong objections to the plan.

Chancellor George Osborne spoke out against the EU’s new proposals, saying they could create a “moral hazard” by encouraging banks to consider them as an insurance policy.

Mr Osborne’s comments came after a meeting with Mr Geithner at 11 Downing Street, where the US Treasury Secretary urged his European counterparts to put forward a “strong programme of reforms” with the “right elements”.

He added that now “markets want to see action”.

In a warning that implied America is impatient with the pace of European change, he said: “The big lesson of the US financial crisis is that you have to act quickly and with force.”

Mr Geithner, who went from London to meetings in Germany, argued for global reforms that should be agreed by the G20 meeting in Korea next month.

But it appears that Europe is deeply divided over the way banking reform should be conducted. Michel Barnier, Europe’s Internal Market Commissioner, yesterday unveiled a radical framework for a bank levy on assets, liabilities or profits to be introduced across the 27 member state.

Mr Barnier said: “I believe in the ‘polluter pays’ principle. We need to build a system which ensures that the financial sector will pay the cost of banking crises in the future.”

The Commission stressed that the money would not be used for bailing out or rescuing banks but “only to ensure that a bank’s failure is managed in an orderly way and does not destabilise the financial system”.

The Government opposes the plan and intends to introduce a separate levy on UK banks — even if other countries do not follow suit — and could announce the tax in the emergency Budget on June 22. But it plans to use the funds raised to pay down Britain’s £156bn deficit.

Mr Barnier believes his banking proposals could be pushed through under the EU’s single-market rules, which in theory means they could be imposed on reluctant member states if a qualified majority supported the plan. British officials are seeking legal opinion.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Airline Bans Sexy Body Scan Ad

A RAUNCHY advertisement showing a woman dressed only in her underwear supposedly getting a full-body scan has been rejected by an airline for being “inappropriate”.

The ad was created by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for Southwest Airlines’ inflight magazine Spirit.

It features the words “Be proud of your body scan: go vegan” displayed over the woman’s underwear.

Southwest Airlines shied away from the ad, saying it was “too provocative” for their magazine.

“Unfortunately, because of the illustration used, the specific ad was not a good fit for publication in our magazine,” Southwest spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said.

PETA is baffled by the rejection as the airline recently covered one of their planes with an image of a bikini-clad Sports Illustrated model, and had favoured its flight attendants wearing hotpants in the past.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Apple Passes Microsoft as No. 1 in Tech

SAN FRANCISCO — Wall Street has called the end of an era and the beginning of the next one: The most important technology product no longer sits on your desk but rather fits in your hand.

The moment came Wednesday when Apple, the maker of iPods, iPhones and iPads, shot past Microsoft, the computer software giant, to become the world’s most valuable technology company.

This changing of the guard caps one of the most stunning turnarounds in business history for Apple, which had been given up for dead only a decade earlier, and its co-founder and visionary chief executive, Steven P. Jobs. The rapidly rising value attached to Apple by investors also heralds an important cultural shift: Consumer tastes have overtaken the needs of business as the leading force shaping technology.

Microsoft, with its Windows and Office software franchises, has dominated the relationship most people had with their computers for almost two decades, and that was reflected in its stock market capitalization. But the click-clack of the keyboard has ceded ground to the swipe of a finger across a smartphone’s touch screen.

And Apple is in the right place at the right time. Although it still sells computers, twice as much revenue is coming from hand-held devices and music. Over all, the technology industry sold about 172 million smartphones last year, compared with 306 million PCs, but smartphone sales grew at a pace five times faster.

Microsoft depends more on maintaining the status quo, while Apple is in a constant battle to one-up itself and create something new, said Peter A. Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. “Apple is a bet on technology,” he said. “And Apple beating Microsoft is a very significant thing.”…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Document Says Number of Attempted Attacks on U.S. Is at All-Time High

Washington (CNN) — Just weeks after the failed car bombing of New York’s Times Square, the Department of Homeland Security says “the number and pace of attempted attacks against the United States over the past nine months have surpassed the number of attempts during any other previous one-year period.”

That grim assessment is contained in an unclassified DHS intelligence memo prepared for various law enforcement groups, which says terror groups are expected to try attacks inside the United States with “increased frequency.”

CNN obtained a copy of the document, dated May 21, which goes on to warn, “we have to operate under the premise that other operatives are in the country and could advance plotting with little or no warning.”

The intelligence note says recent attempted terror attacks have used operatives and tactics which made the plots hard to detect.

The document specifically mentions the cases of Afghan national Najibullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty in February to plotting attacks on New York’s subways, and Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American.

The intelligence report says both men spent significant time in the United States and were familiar with their alleged targets. Furthermore, the plots involved materials that can be commonly purchased in America without causing suspicion.

The document also says Shahzad and Zazi had short periods of training overseas “compared to lengthier training cycles for earlier operations, reducing our ability to detect their activities.”

The report say U.S. officials “lack insights in specific details, timing and intended targets,” but trends indicate terrorists are looking for “smaller, more achievable attacks against easily accessible targets.”

The report mentions both al Qaeda and associated groups such as the Tehrik e-Taliban Pakistan, which is known as the TTP.

The intelligence document also says terror groups increasingly are using westerners as operatives or in leadership positions in which they make public statements calling for Muslims to strike the United States. The document cites as examples Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Alawki and al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn.

The report also mentions Omar Hammami, who grew up in Alabama and is now believed to be an operative with al-Shabaab in Somalia. Although al-Shabaab has not executed attacks in the United States, law enforcement officials have expressed concern that Somali-Americans who have gone to Somalia to train and fight could return to the United States and commit acts of terrorism.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Drawing a Line in the Dust at Ground Zero

Think back for a moment to those sad and mournful days in the wake of 9/11, when the images of death were being replayed over all the news channels. Think back to the occasional clips of our Muslim enemies dancing in the streets of their countries, celebrating the death and destruction on American soil. Think back to the unity and resolve of Americans in the heartland, and the selflessness of those who prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Now consider being given a glimpse into the future, and answer the following honestly:

Had you been told that in seven years, a little-known man of questionable background named Barack Hussein Obama, a man considered by many Muslims to be a Muslim himself, a man who proudly admits to being accomplished at reciting the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) would occupy the White House, would you have believed it? Or would you have scoffed, or at least wondered how we lost the war or permitted our country to be overtaken?

If you were told that in 2010, the construction of a 13-story mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero would be unanimously approved by New York City planners, and just a few hundred yards from where you stood, where bodies fell and others jumped to their deaths, would you have believed it? What if you were told that the funding source for that mosque originated from the same blood money declined by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani when it was offered to him on October 11, 2001 by Saudi Prince al Waleed bin Talal. You probably would have asked how any American, let alone any New Yorker, would allow that to happen. Is it a case of their unbridled stupidity, naiveté, or perhaps something more nefarious?

If you were told that a memorial planned and approved for the heroes and victims of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA would contain Islamic symbolism, you probably would have laughed, as many still do in their attempts to marginalize those who point out the obvious. I wonder if those who called such claims conspiratorial nonsense might reconsider, in light of the planned construction of the ultimate Islamic symbol of victory — a mosque — at Ground Zero.

[Return to headlines]

Gulf Well ‘Shouted’ Warnings for Hours Before Bp Rig Explosion

The crew of the Deepwater Horizon had a number of warning signs extending over five hours that conditions were worsening deep underwater before the oilrig exploded in the Gulf on April 20, BP’s own investigators told a House inquiry into the cause of the deadly accident.

Details of BP’s internal investigation provide fresh information about the extent of failures on the ill-fated rig, but the oil company’s inquiry skirts the central question: why were those warnings ignored?

The apparent complacency of the BP crew comes as the Obama administration wrestles with the scope of possible new regulations on deepwater drilling and as a White House ordered inquiry is poised to release its findings on the explosion and spill.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italian Product Bidding for Place in Gulf Oil Clean-Up

Innovation forms easily removable floating ‘paste’, say creators

(ANSA) — Rome, May 26 — An Italian innovation is a possible candidate to take part in the clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is causing one of the world’s worst ever environmental disasters.

The American company in charge of the clean-up operation has asked for samples of Polysolver, a product developed with scientists at the National Research Council (CNR) that turns into a paste-like substance when it comes into contact with oil.

This paste is relatively easy to remove from the water and can even be used as fuel afterwards or have the oil squeezed back out of it, creators claim.

“Other products bond to the crude oil from above and sink, taking it down and polluting the sea bed,” said Luigi Reale of the Arcobaleno company, which is part of the group that created the product. “Our product, on the other hand, attacks the hydrocarbons from below and bonds with them indissolubly, forming a paste that floats on the surface, making it easy to recover”.

Experts are still trying to stop the leak that has been gushing for at least 33 days after an explosion killed 11 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which was drilling in a BP oil field.

The resulting oil slick threatens to devastate the area’s fishery and tourism industries and the habitat of hundreds of wildlife species. As well as being effective in reducing the damage, the Italian product could also be relatively cheap. “It would cost much less than traditional methods,” said Reale. “Usually they go from 15,000 to 10,000 euros a tonne, compared to 4,000 to 5,000 for Polysolver, with one kilo needed for every 10 litres of sea-water to clean up”. photo: a clean-up boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Just Another Act of Deadly Treason

Yesterday, The New York Times published another front-page article based on a leaked classified document. This time, it was an order signed by Gen. David Petraeus authorizing black operations against adversaries and such dubious friends as Iran, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Gee, thanks. We really needed to know that. The world’s a better place now.

Yet the Times’ sin was the lesser one. The paper has long since given up any pretense of patriotism. (Ugh! Yuck!) Its editors are just publishing and perishing as citizens of the world.

It’s whoever leaked the document that bears the burn-in-hell blame.

We must be able to keep secrets in wartime. But we can’t. Because domestic political agendas trump national security in every administration nowadays.

Exposing that seven-page classified document warned our enemies (and pseudo friends) that we’ve expanded our efforts to uncover terror networks and potential targets. This not only increases the virulent paranoia in the region’s police states, but poses a mortal danger to agents, special operators and the innocent.

The only question is whether this betrayal was the act of an individual, or if it was orchestrated.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Admin May Have Illegally Spent $10 Million Promoting Abortion in Kenya

Washington, DC ( — New information obtained by a member of Congress makes it appear the Obama administration has spent $10 million potentially illegally promoting a pro-abortion constitution in Kenya. Obama officials were thought to have spent $2 million but Rep. Chris Smith says that figure could exceed $10 million.

Lobbying for or against abortion is prohibited under a provision of federal law known as the Siljander Amendment annually included in the State, Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.

The amendment reads, “None of the funds made available under this Act may be used to lobby for or against abortion,” and violations are subject to civil and criminal penalties under the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341.”

Smith, the leading Republican on the House Africa and Global Health Subcommittee, and two other members of Congress have called for a probe into the Obama administration’s spending in support of a campaign to get the pro-abortion constitution approved in Kenya in August.

The three sent a May 6 letter to the Inspectors General at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development seeking a probe.

Today, Smith’s office informed that subsequent information uncovered by investigators has revealed that actual U.S. taxpayer expenditures in support of the pro-abortion constitution are estimated to exceed $10 million.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Names Rationing Czar to Run Medicare

Dr. Donald Berwick of the Harvard Medical School does not like free enterprise, but he does like rationing.

Two years ago, in England, he delivered a talk celebrating the 60th birthday of Great Britain’s National Health Service, the bureaucracy that runs that nation’s socialized medical system. He apparently entertained some fear that day that the Brits might turn back to free enterprise. So, in his address (as reprinted in the July 26, 2008, edition of the British Medical Journal), and as reported this week by Matt Cover of, he offered British socialists some words of advice.

“Please,” he told them, “don’t put your faith in market forces—it’s a popular idea: that Adam Smith’s invisible hand would do a better job of designing care than leaders with plans can. I find little evidence that market forces relying on consumers choosing among an array of products, with competitors fighting it out, leads to the health care system you want and need. In the U.S., competition is a major reason for our duplicative, supply driven, fragmented care system.”

To Berwick, America’s health care system is not the model for the world. Great Britain’s is. In his view, it is vital for the Brits to hold high the flame of socialized medicine so the world can follow its lead. “I hope you will never, ever give up what you have begun,” said Berwick.

“I hope you realize and affirm how badly you need—how badly the world needs— an example at scale of a health system that is universal, accessible, excellent and free at the point of care—a health system that, at its core is like the world we wish we had: generous, hopeful, confident, joyous and just.

“Happy birthday,” the ebullient doctor told the British health care socialists. If you have not noticed already, this man has a crush on collectivism. “Cynics beware,” he said. “I am romantic about the National Health Service; I love it.” This love extends to approbation for rationing health care and using the health care system to redistribute wealth.

“You cap your health care budget, and you make the political and economic choices you need to make to keep affordability within reach,” Berwick told the Brits. “You plan the supply; you aim a bit low; you prefer slightly too little of a technology or a service to too much; then you search for care bottlenecks and try to relieve them.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Scramjet-Powered X-51a Waverider Missile Breaks Mach 6 Record

[Note: At well over 4,500 MPH, a Mach 6 rocket can reach almost anywhere around the entire world in just a few hours of cruising time. The implications of this are huge. It represents a tremendous extension of military power. Deployment of troops and warships could be foregone in favor of immediate retaliation or preemption via a long distance strike that would be nearly impossible to intercept via conventional means.. No longer would a flight of aircraft have to be launched or refueled in air to reach a distant target some portion of a day later.

Additionally, this same hypersonic thrust system can be used to accelerate the final targeting phase of an incoming warhead. The burrowing capability of a properly reinforced or shaped hypersonic payload is not to be underestimated. Plus, at a few thousand miles per hour just the projectile impact, even without a warhead, begins to assume a formidable degree of kinetic force. — Z]

On Wednesday morning, a US Air Force X-51A Waverider missile sustained speeds of Mach 6 for more than 200 seconds, the US Air Force has announced. The X-51A Waverider, which was launched over the southern California coast, is powered by next-gen scramjet technology.

The US Air Force has confirmed that its X-51A Waverider cruise missile — a next-generation vehicle powered by scramjet technology — hit speeds of Mach 6 during a test run over the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday morning. According to the Air Force, the X-51A Waverider was carried by a B-52 aircraft to an altitude of 50,000 feet, and launched somewhere off the southern California coast.

The X-51A Waverider reportedly sustained a Mach 6 speed for approximately 200 seconds, before “a vehicle anomaly occurred and the flight was terminated.” Still, the 200 seconds at Mach 6 was enough to beat the previous scramjet record of 12 seconds. In an interview with the Associated Press, Charlie Brink, an X-51A program manager at the Air Force Research Laboratory, called the flight historic.

“We are ecstatic to have accomplished many of the X-51A test points during its first hypersonic mission,” Brink said. “We equate this leap in engine technology as equivalent to the post-World War II jump from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines.” A USAF source interviewed by Wired magazine agreed, noting “some hitches at the end of flight,” but calling the Waverider test “a magnificent first flight..”

Pratt and Whitney, which designed the scramjet engine on the Waverider described the launch from the B-52 thusly:

A solid rocket booster fired and propelled the cruiser to greater than Mach 4.5, creating the supersonic environment necessary to operate the engine. The booster was then jettisoned and the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine ignited, initially on gaseous ethylene fuel. Next the engine transitioned to JP-7 jet fuel, the same fuel once carried by the SR-71 Blackbird before its retirement.

The X-51A program is the product of a partnership between the USAF, Pratt and Whitney, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), NASA, and the Boeing Company. According to Pratt and Whitney, the scramjet technology on the X-51A could be used in a range of scenarios, including defense and space flight.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Sestak White House Scandal Called ‘Impeachable Offense’

‘It’s Valerie Plame, only bigger, a high crime and misdemeanor’

If Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak is to be believed, there’s someone in the Obama administration who has committed a crime — and if the president knew about it, analysts say it could be grounds for impeachment.

“This scandal could be enormous,” said Dick Morris, a former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, on the Fox News Sean Hannity show last night. “It’s Valerie Plame only 10 times bigger, because it’s illegal and Joe Sestak is either lying or the White House committed a crime.

“Obviously, the offer of a significant job in the White House could not be made unless it was by Rahm Emanuel or cleared with Rahm Emanuel,” he said. If the job offer was high enough that it also had Obama’s apppoval, “that is a high crime and misdemeanor.”

“In other words, an impeachable offense?” Hannity asked.

“Absolutely,” said Morris.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The TSA’s Mini ‘Watch List’

Some people say the first mistake was to create the Transportation Security Administration — it doesn’t really stop terrorism, makes flying an even more unpleasant experience, and created a bureaucracy that will live on far past the initial threat.

Not sure I’d agree with all of that. But I will say that we made a fundamental mistake allowing the TSA to unionize. That makes about as much sense as unionizing the military.

For example, we now come to find out that the TSA is keeping a mini “watch list” of its own. It’s not a watch list of potential terrorists. It’s a watch list of peeved travelers who since 2007 have scared TSA workers by showing anger such as punching walls or kicking equipment. It makes their workplace uncomfortable, don’t you know.

And how many pushy travelers are on this list that started in 2007, which includes names, Social Security numbers, home addresses, etc.? Well, TSA says their database has records from about 240 incidents. About 30 incidents involve passengers or airport workers threatening screeners. The remaining 210 incidents involve screeners in conflict with other screeners.

Screeners threatening other screeners? If you think I’m making this up, then click here for the rest of this sad story.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Why Glenn Beck Isn’t Crazy

NEW YORK — For the past year, Fox News host Glenn Beck has used his mega-platform to warn President Obama is deeply tied to and backed by a fringe, anti-American extremist nexus.

For his groundbreaking work, Beck has been called a liar, conspiracy theorist, fear-monger, hater, racist and even just plain nuts.

I defy those who doubt Beck’s central thesis to read my new book, “The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s ties to communists, socialists and other anti-American extremists.”


The work, a culmination of two years of extensive research by me and co-author Brenda J. Elliott, documents Obama not only was mentored by extremists but that many of those same anti-American activists are currently inside the White House or helping from the outside to craft key legislation that seeks to transform the U.S.

Among the many finds of “The Manchurian President:”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Danish Cartoonist to Appear on German Talk Show After All

Copenhagen — Controversial Danish newspaper cartoonist Kurt Westergaard said he believes that complaints from television viewers helped lead to his appearance on a German talk show on Thursday.

German broadcaster ZDF had earlier this month planned an interview with Westergaard, known for his contentious caricature of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, but then cancelled the appearance on the talkshow “Markus Lanz.”

ZDF cited editorial reasons for not conducting the interview. Westergaard, 75, called it “self-censorship” at the time.

Viewers reportedly were upset over the decision and their protests helped sway ZDF, Westergaard told the Danish news agency Ritzau.

He added that the interview with Markus Lantz was taped Tuesday in Germany without a studio audience.

The Danish cartoonist, who has received several threats over the 2005 cartoon, said ZDF had made amends and “there was nothing we couldn’t touch on” during the interview, the report said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Early Warning System on Illict Nuclear Trade to be Set Up

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MAY 27 — The European Union held a conference in Amman to set up an early warning system on illicit trade of biological, radiological and nuclear material, according to participants. The five million Euro project is expected to be set up somewhere in the region, with Jordan is the most likely candidate to host it. Organizers said the centre will help countries from the Middle East and North AFrica to improve national policies on biohazard material to stop these dangerous material from reaching terrorist groups. “The threat of nuclear and biological material is constant, at war and peace times”, said Fuad Zubi, Jordans representative at the conference. Organizers said at least 14 Arab league joined hands with European countries in the conference to share know how and establish contacts for future cooperation. Arab league representative Mahmoud Nasreddine said the centre is a necessary tool to help countries control borders to prevent spread of dangerous materials and the possibility of them falling in the wrong hands. “The movement of these materials should be known and tracked so they do not fall in the hands terrorist groups who want to inflect harm on humans or the environment,” he told ANSA on the sideline of the conference. Bruno Dure, representatives off the EU foreign affairs commission at the EU said establishing a multi-million centre for excellence is paramount to secure the region from potential risks. The nuclear threat does not know borders. In the end it is a question of developing a culture of safety and security in the region, he said, admitting that many countries are reluctant to sharing information about their possession of hazardous material. Countries can cooperate in a transparent manner without breaching the secrets of a country on nuclear or biological issues, he said. Jordan is one of the first countries to start a project to run a nuclear reactor to generate electricity and believed to have one of the highest uranium reserves in the world. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Finland: Prime Minister Vanhanen Encourages People Not to Give to Beggars

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen has encouraged the public not to give money to street beggars. Speaking to a gathering of political journalists on Wednesday, Vanhanen doubted whether begging could be stopped by law.

In the Prime Minister’s view, if people did not give money the problem would disappear effectively and quickly within a matter of weeks.

He added there were indications the current wave of begging was organized making it even more repulsive.

Finnish towns and cities have witnessed a proliferation of street beggars, mainly from Eastern Europe, over the past year.

Earlier this week, the Minister of the Interior, Anne Holmlund, set up a working party to examine whether legislative means could be found to ban street begging.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Greece: Huge Brawl Between Bangladeshi Immigrants in Athens

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 27 — Thirteen Bangladeshi nationals were injured in Athens during a huge brawl in the city centre in which over 200 immigrants from the country were caught up. After having received the necessary treatment, those injured will be arrested, Greek police have announced. Investigators noted how even in the past Athens had been the theatre for violent clashes among immigrants, often of the same nationality. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hungary Approves Historic Citizenship Law

BUDAPEST, Hungary, May 27 (UPI) — Millions of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring nations will be granted Hungarian citizenship, the country’s new Parliament has decided.

The law drew immediate criticism from Slovakia, which retaliated by banning dual citizenship, Voice of America reported Thursday.

To apply for Hungarian citizenship, ethnic Hungarians must prove they are of Hungarian origin and speak the language.

It’s been 90 years since Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory under a peace treaty after World War I. About 3 million ethnic Hungarians live in those areas, part of neighboring nations including Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and Romania.

The new law, to take effect in January, fulfills a campaign promise of Hungary’s center-right opposition Fidesz Party, which in April won the two-thirds majority needed in Parliament to pass laws and amend the constitution.

Slovakia said it would strip ethnic Hungarians of their Slovakian citizenship if they become citizens of Hungary.

Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico said the Hungarian citizenship law would pose a security threat to his nation. He called the Hungarian government “egoistic and arrogant” for going ahead with the law without consulting him and said doing so would damage relations between the two countries.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

Iceland Volcano: Spain: Spending Down in April

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 27 — After the timid signs of recovery early this year, the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland which has caused the cancellation of thousands of flights has led to a 11.3% decline in total spending by foreign tourists to Spain in April, compared with the same month in 2009. Foreign tourists spent a total of 3.395 million euros in Spain in April. According to the results of a survey into tourist spending published today by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade, the total number of tourists in April fell by 13.3%, mainly due to the cancelled flights in the six days after the ash cloud. In the first four months of the year, tourism spending totalled 11.165 billion, a 2.2% decline from the same period in 2009. Tourists in April spent 90 euros per day on average, 1.8% more than in the same month in 2009. The sharpest decline was recorded in the number of tourists from the UK and Germany, leading to lower spending by 22.4% for British tourists and 24% for German tourists. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Almost One-Third of 30-34 Year Olds Live at Home

Rome, 26 May (AKI) — Almost 30 percent of Italy’s 30 to 34-year-olds live at home because of economic difficulties, triple the rate recorded in 1983, statistics agency Istat said on Wednesday. In its annual report, the state agency said almost 59 percent of Italians between the age of 18 and 34 lived with their parents.

“The prolonged co-habitation with their parents is primarily related on economic problems,” Istat said in the report.

“They are people who leave their jobs and the longer their inactivity lasts the more difficult it becomes to rejoin the workforce,” the Rome-based agency said.

Europe’s fourth-largest economy shrank 5.1 percent in 2009 as the country felt the impact of the global recession.

Italy’s overall unemployment rate rose to 8.8 percent in March, its highest level in six years.

That rate rose to 27.7 percent for Italians between 15 and 24, according to a previous report by Istat.

Formal education doesn’t guarantee independence for young people either.

Twenty-one percent of Italians from 15 to 29 year-olds holding high school degrees still live at home. This figure falls slightly to 20.2 percent for the university educated in the same age group.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italy: Rome Mayor Targets Pubs and Bars

Rome, 25 May (AKI) — Rome’s conservative mayor Gianni Alemanno has unveiled tough measures to crack down on pub crawls, night-time revelry and pavement-hogging bars and restaurants.

Individuals and commercial enterprises making “bothersome or unnecessary” noise will be fined 50 to 500 euros, under a new bylaw which will remain in force throughout the capital until 31 December, Alemanno announced on Tuesday.

Littering public areas will be punishable with a 500 euro fine under the ordinance.

A second bylaw bans the organisation via Internet of pub crawls, which have become increasingly popular with young people, both Italians and foreign students and tourists.

Bars and pubs which allow their premises to be used for such pub crawls will be closed for a period of 3 to 60 days under the ordinance.

A third bylaw targets cafes, bars and restaurants whose tables spill beyond the authorised pavement space with 200-500 euro fines and closure for up to 15 days. Those who ‘reoffend’ will not be allowed to have tables outside for two years and face closure for 30 days.

The anti-pavement hogging meausures only cover Rome’s historic centre and will initially be in force until 30 October.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italy: Ex-Parmalat Executives to Pay €105 Mln in Damages

Milan, 26 May (AKI) — A Milan appeals court has upheld a 10-year jail sentence imposed on Calisto Tanzi, founder of Italian dairy company, Parmalat, after the company’s collapse. After conferring for six hours, the judges upheld the initial sentence and also ruled that Tanzi and two other executives should repay 105 million euros in damages to individual investors.

The Court of Appeal on Wednesday found two others guilty, after they had previously acquitted of wrongdoing in relation to Italy’s worst-ever bankruptcy.

An independent Parmalat adviser, Luciano Silingardi, was sentenced to three years in prison and Giovanni Bonici, manager of Parmalat Venezuela, was sentenced to two years and six months.

Tanzi’s lawyer, Giampiero Biancolella, immediately announced his client would appeal to the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court.

“The diversification and fragmentation of the trials in both Milan and Parma have hampered the reconstruction of the facts and the full verification of the truth,” he told reporters after the decision.

In December 2008, Tanzi was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Milan judge for misleading investors about the health of his company before it collapsed in Italy’s biggest bankruptcy in 2003.

The executive was convicted of market manipulation in connection with the company’s failure which left the manufacturer of Santal juices and long-life milk with 14 billion euros in debt.

Three officials from Bank of America: Antonio Luzi, Luca Sala and Louis Moncada, were acquitted.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italy: Birds’ Housing Boost in Elba Town

Builders must cater to swallows and swift nesting needs

(ANSA) — Livorno, May 25 — A town on the island of Elba has become the first in Italy to compel architects and builders to cater to the housing needs of swallows and swifts in all construction and renovation projects. Marciana, one of the largest towns on the Tuscan island, has approved an amendment to municipal regulations designed to make it easier for the two migratory species to find nesting spots. Under the rule, anyone restoring rooftops or constructing new buildings must ensure that the first row of roof tiles has a hole granting birds access.

Swallows and swifts have lived in buildings alongside humans for hundreds of years. Both like high holes, which they find it easier to launch themselves from, but swifts prefer houses and churches, while swallows favour barns and farm-buildings. But the numbers of both birds have plummeted across Europe in recent years, partly as a result of changes in architectural styles. New buildings are no longer constructed with holes in roofs and walls, while old structures have these features covered up following renovation. “Transformations in building practice are the main cause of the drop in numbers of these species, which have nested in human buildings in towns for centuries,” said Marciana Mayor Anna Bulgaresi. “This decision by our council, the first of its kind in Italy, is intended to make a positive mark”. In addition to requiring new and renovated structures to leave space for swallows and swifts, building owners will be prohibited from covering existing access points. The council has also agreed on incentives to encourage builders to use rough plaster on exterior walls, which makes it easier for the birds to build nests. Commenting on the decision, the head of the National Archipelago Natural Park, which covers the entire island of Elba, expressed her delight.

“We are really proud that the council decided to make such a strong decision in support of the environment,” said Franca Zanichelli. “We could hope for absolutely no better move from a town council within the park’s perimeters”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Couple in ‘Parrot Abuse’ Case

Woman claims estranged husband pulled off feathers ‘in revenge’

(ANSA) — Trento, May 26 — A northern Italian woman has taken her estranged husband to court for allegedly pulling the feathers off her pet parrots.

The woman in the northeastern village of Vallagarina near Trento claims he did so “for revenge”, a local daily reported Wednesday.

The couple legally separated in 2007 but stayed in the same house along with the five birds, l’Adige newspaper said.

“He couldn’t stand my parrots and took it out on them,” the woman was reported as telling the judge.

The man denied charges of mistreating the animals, claiming he had even risked his life to save one of them.

“One flew out the window and perched on a tree 12 metres off the ground. I didn’t think twice and climbed up after it”.

The woman gave a different version of the incident. “He only went up there to scare it away,” she told the judge.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Tanzi Sees 10-Year Sentence Conformed

Parmalat founder must pay small investors 100 million euros

(ANSA) — Milan, May 26 — An appeals court here on Wednesday upheld a ten-year sentence handed down against disgraced Parmalat founder and former chairman Calisto Tanzi for market-rigging in connection with the collapse of his food multinational at the end of 2003.

Tanzi was handed the sentence last December after he was found guilty of feeding false information to the stock market on the state of his company and misleading stock market regulators.

In its ruling on Wednesday, the court also said that Tanzi will have to reimburse some 32,000 Parmalat share and bond holders for a total of about 100,000 euros.

Commenting on the court’s ruling, Tanzi said “I’m stunned because I was actually expecting my sentence to be reduced”.

In December he said he was “surprised” by his conviction and “amazed” that he was held him solely responsible.

The appeals court also confirmed a two-year six-month sentence for former Parmalat Venezuela chairman Giovanni Bonici and a three-year sentence for Luciano Silingardi, an ex-independent consultant for the group.

Tanzi’s lawyers said they would file an appeal with Italy’s supreme Court of Cassation. Tanzi is also on trial in Parma, the seat of company headquarters, for the fraudulent bankruptcy of the food conglomerate which resulted in some 14.5 billion euros in losses, making it the biggest financial meltdown in modern European history.

Tanzi’s defence here, as well as in Parma, has always been that he was manipulated by banks which, while aware of the group’s dire finances, forced him to make acquisitions and issue more bonds so they could recover their loans to the multinational.

The Parmalat founder is involved here in another trial along with 12 others and five international banks — Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, UBS and Citigroup — which are accused of share price manipulation and organizing bond issues to cover their own potential losses, in the event Parmalat defaulted on loans they had extended to it.

In Parma Tanzi and 23 others are on trial on charges of fraudulent bankruptcy, accounting fraud, issuing false financial statements and criminal conspiracy.

Most of the 24 along with others are also on trial in Parma in two related proceedings — focusing on Parmalat’s acquisition of the mineral water company Ciapazzi and the bankruptcy of Parmalat’s tourism division Parmatour — bringing the total number of defendants to 56.

A fourth Parma trial focusing on Parmalat’s 1999 purchase of milk company Eurolat from Cirio, another food giant which went bankrupt, is currently in preparation.

Parmalat was declared bankrupt in December 2003 after it emerged that four billion euros it supposedly held in an offshore Bank of America account did not in fact exist.

The case escalated, eventually leading to Parmalat’s collapse amid debts of some 14.5 billion euros and a fraud scandal which rocked the Italian financial world.

Investigators found that from 1990 until 2002 Parmalat lost money every year except one but nonetheless reported uninterrupted profits and routinely forged documents in order to deceive banks and regulators.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission called the case “one of the largest and most brazen corporate financial frauds in history”.

Parmalat’s bankruptcy — dubbed ‘Europe’s Enron’ — left more than 150,000 investors with virtually worthless bonds.

Parmalat has since been put back on its feet by corporate turnaround expert Enrico Bondi who, first as government-appointed administrator and later as official CEO, shed the group’s non-core activities, cut foreign activities and reduced staff.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: VW Takes Over Giugiaro

Italian design firm to work exclusively for German automaker

(ANSA) — Turin, May 25 — German automaker Volkswagen (VW) has acquired a 90.1% stake in the Italian automotive design and chassis maker Italdesign-Giugiaro, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn announced here on Tuesday.

“This is an important day for me, my son Fabrizio and our whole company. For us this represents a new beginning which we look upon with confidence,” Italdesign’s founder and Chairman Giorgio Giugiaro said at a press conference here.

Giugiaro, the firm’s chief designer, and his son, the deputy chairman and head of the Style division, will remain with the company in which they will maintain a 9.9% stake.

There was no indication of the price tag for the operation, but Winterkorn admitted that it was “substantial”.

“When something is good then it’s worth what you pay for it. However, I cannot go into numbers,” the German CEO said.

In the future, Giugiaro explained, Italdesign will work exclusively for the VW group “which will give us a lot to do and this leaves no room for working for others”.

In regard to its outstanding contracts, Giugiaro said “anyone who wishes to rescind their contracts will be free to do so. Each client will decide for themselves what they want to do.

We will ensure total confidentiality”.

Last January Italdesign struck a $500-million deal with China’s HK Motors to build six million hybrid vehicles by 2018 in three American plants. Giugiaro has in past designed a number of models for the Fiat group but Winterkorn said he did not think VW’s acquisition of Italdesign would create any problems for the Italian automaker or its CEO Sergio Marchionne.

“Fiat and Marchionne are our competitors as are many others. In regard to personal relations I see no problem. I don’t think we’ve created any problems for Sergio,” Winterkorn said. Fiat last year won the bid to acquire Giugiaro’s bankrupt competitor Bertone.

According to Automotive News Europe, VW wants to become the world’s biggest automaker by 2018, producing 10 million vehicles, and intends to introduce 60 new models already this year.

Aside from VW, the Volkswagen group also includes the marques Audi, Skoda, Seat, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti as well as a 49.9% stake in Porsche and a 19.9% interest in Suzuki.

Giugiaro has a long working relationship with VW and has designed a number of its models as well as those of Bugatti, Lamborghini and Seat.

His first design for VW dates back to 1974: the top-selling Golf model.

Before forming his own company in 1968, Giugiaro worked for Fiat, Bertone and Ghia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Grants ‘Political Asylum’ To Jailed Imam

Rome, 27 May (AKI) — The Italian government has granted political asylum to a former imam of Milan’s central mosque who was recently jailed on terrorism charges, unnamed sources in the interior ministry have told Adnkronos. Radical preacher Abu Imad was arrested in April after Italy’s top appeals court upheld a previous sentence and jailed him for 44 months.

Egyptian-born Imad was granted asylum 15 days after the Court of Cassation ruling. An earlier request was turned down.

A member of the Muslim community in Italy’s Lombardy surrounding Milan, Muhammad Rida al-Badri, said Italian authorities had granted asylum to Imam, who is reportedly close to Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, to prevent him being extradited to Egypt as Cairo had requested.

“Abu Imad first asked for political asylum in Italy 17 years ago,” said al-Badri.

“He has now been given political asylum because they want to keep him in jail in Italy for several reasons, and one of these is to avoid any criticism from the European Union that he should be handed over to Egypt.”

Imad led prayers at Milan’s central mosque until early 2009 but had not previously been arrested.

Under Italian law, suspects can remain free until they have completed their appeal, if a judge does not consider they are likely to flee the country or tamper with any evidence against them.

The Court of Cassation on 28 April upheld a previous prison sentence imposed on Imad by a Milan court in December 2007.

The court sentenced Imad to three years and eight months in prison for conspiracy to carry out a terrorist act.

Ten other people were also jailed for the same offence, receiving sentences that varied from two to 10 years, while four others were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Milan prosecutors had asked for jail terms ranging from four years and six months to 15 years for the defendants.

Imad and his co-defendants had allegedly set up a Salafite cell that was active in Milan and elsewhere in the northern Lombardy region.

The cell’s mission is believed to have been recruiting suicide bombers, trafficking illegal immigrants and indoctrination.

The Viale Jenner mosque has been linked to Islamist terrorism several times but has so far managed to avoid closure, despite a July 2008 order from the government.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Tanger Med is Winning Bet

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Two operating Terminals, 1600 linear metres of wharf, a 3 million-capacity for containers over an overall surface of 80 hectares: supported by structures and investments, the port of Tanger Med is in the forefront of the world traffic network. Thanks to the work for expansion under way, in the next few years it will become the major Mediterranean port, as well as one of the first 10 worldwide, handling more than 8 million containers per year, 10 million tonnes of hydrocarbons, 7 million passengers and 3 million vehicles. An astounding amount of traffic which explains the reasons for the construction of the Moroccan port, not only a reference port, but also a logistics and entrepreneurial reference for the entire region. Favoured by its strategic geographic location, in the Straits of Gibraltar between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the structure can intercept the handling of container ships both on the East-West routes and on the North-South routes. After the opening, in summer 2007, of Tanger Med I, operations are due to begin in July this year in the Passenger Terminal, which opened on the quiet some weeks ago, and which will strengthen the port’s receptive capacity, handling point — along with its major competitor, the Spanish port of Algeciras — of the tourist flows across the Mediterranean. There is also work under way to expand the TFZ (Tanger Free Zone), which will increase it from the current thousand to five thousand hectares destined for industrial plants and services which will join the 500 companies already there, including several small and medium foreign companies. Highway connections are not lacking, some are already implemented, which will connect the city of Tangiers with the port and seafront between Ceuta and Tetouan, as well as links to Moroccan railway. In 2009, moreover, the second phase of the project started up to realise Tanger Med II, whose inauguration is planned in five years time. A massive infrastructural effort with the participation of several foreign companies, committed to realising plants and installations. The second expansion phase, which the Moroccan Transport Minister, Karim Ghellab, says will cost about 1.14 billion dollars, in fact, has been awarded to a consortium headed by the French Bouygues, participated by Belgian Baisex, Moroccan Bymaro and Somagec along with Italian Saipem, which is responsible for the fuel storage terminal. And results, also due to a slight recovery in world trade, are obvious: according to the Speciale Tanger Mediterranee’ agency (TMSA), which administers the port hub, in first quarter 2010 Tanger Med handled an overall traffic of 3.8 million tonnes, up 74% year-on-year and 43% from last quarter 2009, whilst containers marked an increase of 50% year-on-year, up to 407,844 units. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Wilders Accuses the Telegraaf of Censorship

PVV leader Geert Wilders has accused the Telegraaf newspaper of censorship for refusing to place two cartoons in the special election edition being published on Monday.

The PVV has two pages of the paper to fill and wanted to publish two drawings by cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, arrested in 2008 on charges of publishing work which discriminates against Muslims and inciting hatred.

The Telegraaf said in a statement both the paper’s editor and publisher felt the cartoons were ‘unnecessarily offensive’. ‘There is no place for this in our paper and therefore not in our election special,’ the paper said.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

PC and the Rise of Geert Wilders

More and more voters in the Netherlands are casting their ballots for the extreme right. For the Romanian weekly Dilema veche, the Dutch state is largely responsible for this phenomenon. Political correctness gone mad has undermined the cherished value of freedom of speech and paved the way for the rise of Geert Wilders.

Madalina Schiopu

In the March regional elections, a year after it won four seats in the European Parliament, the Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, which came first in the town of Almere and second in the Hague, caused yet another severe headache for the Dutch political establishment. The prospect of Wilders as a major political player appears increasingly likely — some commentators have even remarked that he may become the Netherlands next prime minister following general elections in June. Dutch journalists and politicians, who have responded with alarm, apportion blame for Wilders’ ascension to a variety of phenomena: an overall resurgence of the far right, populism, a new type of fascism etc. But relatively few have had the courage to come to grips with the roots of the problem. The rise of the PVV is the direct result of a climate of fear prompted by state court actions and excessive political correctness, which a growing number of Dutch voters now consider to be intolerable.

As a people, the Dutch have always had a great affection for iconoclastic display. The Netherlands is a country where the population turns out in force to watch extravagant gay parades, and to participate in wild festivities on Queen’s Day. No one makes a fuss about nude bicycle races, or caricatures and cartoons of Dutch royals who are depicted in absurd and occasionally sexual postures. No doubt this contributed to the immense public astonishment at the late-night arrest two years ago of a cartoonist who publishes under the pen name Gregorius Nekschot. The arrest had been ordered in response to a series of drawings that poked fun at the Islamisation of the Netherlands: one of the cartoons depicted the socialist mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, disguised as an Islamic terrorist holding a banner marked “Islamsterdam.” Although he was later released, Nekschot now lives with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head: a case taken by the public prosecutor for discrimination and inciting hatred of Muslims and immigrants will be heard soon. The absurd affair provided Geert Wilders with a fresh source of ammunition that was almost as powerful as the killing of film director Theo van Gogh, who was assassinated in Amsterdam by a Muslim fanatic in 2004.

Fortuyn a revered figure for many

Wilders’ recent political successes have directly resulted from a similar public prosecution for incitement of racial and religious hatred. Preliminary hearings began in February 2010, but the criminal court in Amsterdam has yet to set a date for the trial: the whole story has now become too absurd. There is no doubt that Geert Wilders should be taken to task for his inflammatory declarations — e.g. “The Koran incites hatred like Mein Kampf, and it should be banned like Mein Kampf” — but to prove incitement of racial hatred is another matter. Why should Muslim scripture be protected from criticism that also targets other religions? At one of the court hearings, Geert Wilders proposed that the Netherlands and the EU introduce a constitutional change similar to the first amendment to the constitution of the United States, which guarantees freedom of speech. In the context of suspense created by the court case, this declaration proved to be a surefire vote winner.

Dutch politicians have a knack for relativizing and problematizing ideological categories. Ten years ago, Pim Fortuyn, another opponent of Islam and immigration, broke the mould of the traditional far-right politician. There was a world of difference between Fortuyn — an openly gay and libertine proponent of marxism and feminism, who championed such causes as the legalization of drugs and gay marriage — and the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Fortuyn’s political career, which ended when he was assassinated by an extremist in 2002, was built on the unabashed assertion that “Islam is a backward culture,” which has no place in the Netherlands. In the wake of his murder, his political party gained control of the Rotterdam municipal council, and he remains a revered figure for many Dutch voters.

Europe’s most pro-Jewish politician

Geert Wilders has also redefined the far right. In the European parliament, he has refused to form alliances with nationalist groups, and only collaborates with the spin-off of the British conservative party, the UKIP. When questioned on this policy, he insists, “I have nothing in common with fascists.” At the same time, he is probably Europe’s most pro-Jewish politician. Born a Catholic and now a declared atheist, Wilders spent two years in Israel and talks about the special feeling of brotherhood it inspires in him: “Israel is an extension of Western civilization in the Middle East. In response to Islam, we are all Israel.”

In the Israeli daily Haaretz on 23 March, Karni Eldad wonders about Wilders anti-Islamic stance in an article entitled “Holland is Scared”): “I watched interviews that Wilders gave after a hearing in his trial. He unblinkingly declared that if he is elected prime minister he will outlaw the wearing of burkas, ban the construction of additional mosques and stop immigration from Muslim countries. Would anyone dare to say these things here? Wilders is a prominent figure in Dutch politics, and his views are backed by many. How is it conceivable that in Holland the arguments against Islam are much more extreme than in Israel, which is saturated with Islamic terror?” The delay in the setting of a date for the Wilders trial in Amsterdam may well be politically motivated: the court must be aware that the continued persecution of Wilders is the best way to help him win the general elections in June.

Dutch opinion

Wilders has made our country “normal”

In the context of the rise of populist Geert Wilders, De Groene Amsterdammer wonders about the image of the Netherlands abroad. The weekly reports that other countries have not been scandalized to the extent that was expected, even though British and French media outlets — unlke their Dutch counterparts — describe Wilders’ PVV as a “far-right” and “xenophobic” party, while wondering how the Netherlands could have changed so quickly. Why has the condemnation of Wilders been so limited? Because no one is surprised by him: “nowadays, every European country has major xenophobic and anti-Islamic parties.” For this reason, Wilders has not prompted an outcry like Jörg Haider in the Austria of ten years ago.

“His success is also in direct contradiction to the persistent German assumption that the Dutch are tolerant liberals.” With Wilders, the Netherlands has become “a normal country. But that is no cause for celebration,” remarks the newspaper. No doubt, the small size of the Netherlands and the country’s lack of influence in European institutions have led the Dutch “to embrace a hypochondriac discourse about veils and minarets, which channels their sense of powerlessness.” De Groene Amsterdammer argues that “under the influence of Wilders, and other parties that have no time for tolerance and discretion, Dutch politics is increasingly marked by an insular outlook typical of Switzerland, where conservative, xenophobic and petit-bourgeois politics are standard issue.”

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Secret Clause Reveals Europe Bailout Designed to Destroy Global Economy

A secret exit clause written into the trillion dollar European bailout agreement will ensure the creation of more debt in Europe, worsening the global economy, decimating nation states and allowing power to be consolidated into fewer super-elite hands.

As the Financial Times reports today, the major German newspaper Bild says it has obtained a copy of the bailout agreement and has set about “exposing” a series of secret clauses.

The most revealing of these clauses states that if any country finds it cannot raise funding for the bailout at interest rates below the 5pc charge agreed for Greece, it can opt out of the bail-out altogether, leaving the rest of the eurozone states to pay the difference.

If this happened, a domino effect could ensue, as the London Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans Pritchard explains:

BNP Paribas said this would escalate quickly into a systemic crisis if Spain were in such a position, because the other countries cannot carry an ever-rising burden. The bank warned the euro project itself may start to disintegrate rapidly if these rescue provisions are ever seriously put to the test.

As financial analyst Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge explains, this means bad news for American taxpayers because the U.S. is essentially being used as the engine for global consolidation:

The second Portugal, Spain and Italy are dragged under by the vigilantes, their participation in the $1 trillion bailout ends. And when that happens, the full cost of the bailout will be borne by none other than the “richest” member of the IMF, the United States.

Obviously, the incentive to blow up one’s borrowing costs in this arrangement are huge, now that both Germany and the US have no choice but to bail out each and every dropping domino.

* * *

The secret clause essentially creates a huge incentive for weaker eurozone countries to blow up their debts — the agreement creates massive moral hazard.

[Return to headlines]

Tony Blair to Earn Millions as Climate Change Adviser

Tony Blair is set to earn millions of pounds advising an American businessman on how to make money from tackling climate change.

The former prime minister will be paid at least £700,000 a year to act as a “strategic adviser” to Khosla Ventures, a venture capitalist firm founded by Indian billionaire Vinod Khosla.

The Californian company bankrolls businesses hoping to profit from technology that helps reduce global warming and carbon emissions.

Mr Blair secured the job thanks to his “influence” and high level international contacts, whom he will be expected to lean on to open doors.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Govt Supports Company Acquisitions in Europe

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MAY 27 — The Turkish government is working on a wide-ranging project of support and incentives for local enterprises that acquire foreign companies, and especially European ones. This was reported by the Turkish State Minister for Foreign Trade Zafer Caglayan, who said that the government was “conducting very in-depth studies to verify in which European countries and which sectors there are enterprises that need to sell or acquire foreign partners.” “Our aim, he said, “is for Turkish enterprises to benefit from the most well-known brands and the operating network of these enterprises. I believe that this, our new policy of support for internationalisation, will soon produce results.” According to a study by the European Union quoted by Caglayan, in Europe there are over a million companies bound to change ownership over the next 5-6 years, of which 350,000 are in France and over 600,000 in Germany. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Pregnant Teenager Watched Torture of Boyfriend Who Was Then Murdered

[Comments from JD: WARNING: Disturbing content. Note how many times the victim went to a police station to report that he was assaulted and threatened prior to this fourth and fatal attack.]

A former soccer star was tortured and murdered after his pregnant girlfriend set him up to be attacked by two thugs so she could watch the savage beating for pleasure.

Chelsea Platt, 18, despised Martin Hyde, 22, and enjoyed seeing him bullied and humiliated.

When Mr Hyde got caught up in a petty row over £15, sadistic Platt lured her lover into the clutches of two thugs who ambushed him as he followed her down the street.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Video: RFID Chip Implanted Into Man Gets Computer Virus

Researchers have found that implanted identity chips can pick up computer viruses.

Reading University’s Mark Gasson conducted an experiment to show how radio frequency identity (RFID) chips could become electronically infected.

He explained to Rory Cellan-Jones the risks involved with the new technology including its effects on medical implants such as pacemakers.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


EU: Albania Visas Abolition; A Dream Come True, Berisha

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, MAY 27 — “An old dream of ours has come true. Today is a historic day for all Albanian citizens”. This was the reaction of the country’s Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, to a proposal announced at midday by the European Commission in Brussels, to abolish visas for citizens of Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina with biometric passports in the Schengen area of free circulation. “This decision is the result of hard work and of this government’s promise to undertake all necessary reforms to fit in with the criteria of Brussels,” Berisha said. The proposal by the European Commission is conditional, however, for Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina, with both countries still needing to meet three criteria, chiefly concerning the fight against corruption and organised crime. “I guarantee all member states that all three criteria will be addressed with the utmost commitment and application by the government,” Berisha promised. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU: Visa Abolition for Albania, Bosnia Gets First Approval

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — The Balkans have set another step towards European integration. The year 2010 should be the end of the need for visas for Albanian and Bosnian citizens who travel within the Schengen area (all EU member States except the UK and Ireland, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland). This decision was already taken for the citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro in December 2009. The proposal was launched today by the European Commission, which underlined that Tirana and Belgrade still have to meet three requirements, mainly regarding the fight against corruption and organised crime. “This proposal is the result of hard work, which still has to be completed”, said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom. According to the timeframe, this summer a mission of the European Commission will assess if Albania and Bosnia have met the requirements. After that the member States and European Parliament will be informed. A decision may be taken as soon as this autumn. After the alarm early this year when hundreds of Serbs and Macedonians asked for asylum, mainly in Belgium and Sweden, now the European Commission also dedicates much attention to communication. “This freedom” the European Commissioner added, “would come with responsibility. So I encourage national authorities in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue informing their citizens about the rights and obligations stemming from short-term visa-free travel. We will continue to monitor the situation, as we already do with Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro”. The Albanian and Bosnian ambassadors in Brussels are optimistic. They think that their goal will be reached this year, despite the crisis on political level. “The required conditions” explained Mimoza Halimi, Albanian ambassador to the EU, “will be met by this summer: they are technical and concrete conditions. Albania has to break the political stalemate, respect the constitutional State, the constitution and the principle of transparency”. Also according to Osman Topcagic, ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU, the political situation will not make it impossible to respect the requirements set by the European Commission. “These tasks are part of a plan of action” said Topcagic, “which should be completed before the start of July. At that moment we expect the arrival of the EC monitoring commission, which will confirm that we have done our work”. Kosovo should be the next in the process of visa abolition for the Balkans. “There are still some requirements that have to be met”, said the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, “and we are working closely together with the Kosovar authorities, so that the whole Western Balkan area can benefit from the same treatment”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Italian Lusis, Power Plants at River Lim

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MAY 27 — The Italian company Lusis and partners has begun the construction of the first two mini-electric power plants on the Serb river Lim. The overall project presented by the Italian company to the Serb Energy Ministry, reports the ICE (Italian Trade Commission) in Belgrade, provides for the construction of another 4 plants. The investment is for about 120 million euros. The company has communicated that the project has been realised in a totally environmentally friendly manner. The electricity power plants, with a maximum power of 10 megawatts, will be included in Serbia’s energy network and will guarantee the economic development of both the Municipality and the Region were they are located. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia-Albania-Croatia Free Trade Agreements

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MAY 27 — New free trade agreements are in sight for Serbia’s agricultural sector. The country’s Chamber of Commerce is in fact close to making a deal with Albania and Moldavia, and the liberalisation process with Croatia is expected to be completed in two separate stages. In the first stage, the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Belgrade explains, preferential customs duties will be lowered by 50% and the volume of tradable goods will be increased by 100%. In the second stage, in 2011, customs duties will be eliminated all together and the volume of goods will be raised by another 100%, except for tobacco and sugar. Serbia has already reached liberalisation agreements for the trade in agricultural products with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and the ad interim government of Kosovo. With Albania, Moldavia and Croatia the country has signed deals on several levels of liberalisation. According to Serbia’s Economy Ministry, the biggest obstacle to the free circulation of goods is formed by the long and complex border procedures. These obstacles include problems of technical, veterinary and medical nature, the fact that certificates are often not recognised and the lack of institutions responsible for issuing these certificates within a short matter of time. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Frattini: Coop-Conad Initiative Dangerous and Racist

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON, MAY 26 — An initiative that “introduces an extremely dangerous element of racism in the market dynamics”, said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini from Washington, regarding the decision of Coop and Conad — two Italian large-scale retail chains — to suspend the sale of some fruit and vegetable products from the occupied Palestinian Territories, of which the exact origin has not been established. The Minister continued that this is a “dangerous and hasty initiative” which “groups political and economic questions and damages the development of the entire area. Choosing a product on its origins and not its quality could lead to racist dynamics”, particularly in this case, “in which the case involves Israeli products, because they are Jews”. Frattini underlines that “tens of thousands of Palestinians work in the occupied Territories, therefore this initiative could have an impact on the local economy which gives work to the Palestinians”. According to the Minister, what we should do is “continue to increase our efforts for peace”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hamas Gains Ground as Obama Brokers Talks

Fears rise terror group working to seize strategic West Bank

Israel and the Palestinian Authority recently seized a large quantity of weapons, including rockets, in the strategic West Bank meant for the Hamas terrorist organization, an informed Israeli security official told WND.

The Obama administration has backed a Fatah-led state in the West Bank, which borders Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Israel’s international airport. The U.S. is in the midst of brokering proximity talks between the PA and Israel aimed at the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Israeli security official said there were signs Hamas was gaining strength in the West Bank, in particular by infiltrating Fatah forces and smuggling weapons and cash into key West Bank cities. The official said Hamas has been using young girls to smuggle cash, and that Fatah militants have been instrumental in smuggling weapons on behalf of Hamas.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Israeli-Arabs Accused of Spying for Hezbollah

Haifa, 27 May (AKI) — Israeli prosecutors have charged two Israeli Arab activists with spying for the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, it has been revealed. Amir Makhoul and Omar Sayid confessed they passed information about Israeli bases to the Lebanese organisation (photo).

According to the Israeli daily, Haaretz, Makhoul has been charged with secretly meeting Hezbollah agents in Denmark in 2008.

Prosecutors allege that Makhoul agreed to spy on Israel for the Shia Muslim group which gave him specific missions and equipped him with computer programmes to send encrypted information over the internet, the daily said.

Lawyers for the accused men said their confessions were made under duress and Makhoul has denied all charges against him.

Speaking to reporters outside a court in the northern city of Haifa, Makhoul said the accusations would collapse very quickly.

“This legal proceeding is invalid and I reject all the allegations against me,” he said.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Mankell Joins Swedish ‘Ship to Gaza’

The author Henning Mankell is among eleven Swedes on the “Ship to Gaza” — a flotilla of small ships heading to Gaza over the Mediterranean aiming to raise awareness and show solidarity for the Palestinian people.

“Our goals are threefold — humanitarian, political and for solidarity. Firstly we wish to contribute with necessities such as medicines and materials for reconstruction, secondly to raise political interest in the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, and thirdly to show the people in Gaza that they are not alone,” said Mikael Löfgren at Ship to Gaza-Sweden to The Local on Thursday.

Mankell, the creator of the Wallander detective novels, is joined by among others, Ulf Carmesund, theologian and international secretary for the Christian Social Democrats, Swedish Green Party MP Mehmet Kaplan, Jewish artist and musician Dror Feiler, and religious history professor Mattias Gardell on the “Freedom Flotilla”.

The eight vessel strong fleet of ships, carrying 500 passengers from around 50 different nations, reported to include 35 parliamentarians, are currently dispersed around various ports in the eastern Mediterranean.

“They are on their way from various ports. The aim is for all the ships to converge south of Cyprus and continue the journey together,” Löfgren said.

The Israeli navy has vowed to enforced a 20 nautical mile exclusion zone but, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has offered to deliver the activists’ cargo to the Hamas-controlled territory, once it has been inspected.

The newspaper writes that a “forum of seven senior ministers” decided on Wednesday to enforce the blockade and thus prevent the flotilla from reaching its destination, warning that it would employ force if necessary.

Mikael Löfgren explained that the activists were aware of the Israeli government’s warnings, while stressing that the “Ship to Gaza” project is a peaceful non-violent operation.

“We will not meet violence, with violence,” Löfgren said forecasting that if all goes according to plan the flotilla is expected to approach Gaza sometime on Saturday afternoon.

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt was asked by Social Democrat MP Helén Petersson on Tuesday what measures the Swedish government has taken to protect the “Ship to Gaza” initiative.

“I assume that the voyage to Gaza is carried out by peaceful means and that the Israeli authorities respond accordingly. The work to ease Gaza’s isolation is not helped if this situation were to develop into a confrontation,” Bildt said while underling that Sweden shares the EU’s position to work to lift the blockade of Gaza.

Bildt added that the government has no opinion on the methods adopted by the activists, as long as Swedish law is respected.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Atheist Turkish Family Wins Case on Compulsory Religion Classes

An administrative court in Istanbul has ruled that the child of an atheist couple can be exempt from compulsory religion classes at a primary school, Anatolia news agency reported Tuesday.

Parents S.K. and Y.K., whose full names have not been disclosed, first lodged a petition with the local administrator’s office in Eyüp, an Istanbul district known for its conservatism, to have their fourth-grade child exempted from religion classes.

The office rejected the family’s request on the grounds that the religion class is compulsory in schools according to the Constitution.

As a result of the office’s decision, the family filed a lawsuit with the local administrative court, which decided by consensus that the family had the right to have their child exempted from the classes.

Along with Christian and Jewish citizens, atheist people should have the right to be exempt from religion classes, the court said, adding that the Turkish Constitution and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms protect freedom of belief.

“Religious and Moral Education” is a compulsory course for primary school students in accordance with Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution, which was prepared after the 1980 military coup and approved by a public referendum in 1982.

Despite this, the Council of State found compulsory religious classes in primary and secondary schools to be against the law based on its content in a 2008 ruling.

The classes have been especially criticized for allegedly only teaching Sunni Islam. Alevis, members of a community widely perceived as a liberal branch of Islam whose religious practices differ markedly from those of Turkey’s Sunni majority, have been fighting to abolish compulsory religious lessons or at least amend their content.

The Turkish government, which is slowly proceeding with European Union accession talks, amended the textbooks, but many Alevis remain unsatisfied.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the right of an Alevi child to opt out of religion classes.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

No Tears Shed for Iranian Dissident

Majid Tavakoli, academic and activist, has been held in solitary confinement in Evin prison in Tehran since May 23. He has begun a hunger and thirst strike. His mother denounces his graver health conditions: no politicians intervene to free him, as was the case with the film director Jafar Panahi.

Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) — As the world celebrates the release of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, another political prisoner — in the complete indifference of the international community — is risking his life in prison to protest against the ongoing repression in the Islamic Republic. Majid Tavakoli, a member of the Islamic Association of Amir Kabir University, was arrested three times in the past. The last arrest dates to December 7, 2010, after a speech he delivered at the university as part of protests against the outcome of presidential elections in June. On Sunday, May 23, the young activist was transferred to solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran and simultaneously he began a hunger and thirst strike.

The family of Majid denounces his grave health conditions — he already suffers from kidney problems — and the indifference of the world and “democratic” Iran to his fate. In an interview with pro-opposition Jaras website, Majid’s mother observed: “My son is not a politician nor an artist. The world knows nothing of him and no one weeps for his hunger strike. “ The reference is to Juliette Binoche’s tears during the award at Cannes last week. The French actress mobilized support, along with other international artists for the release of Panahi, who is also on hunger strike. International pressure led to yesterday’s release of the director of “The Circle”, arrested on March 2. The release took place after the payment of bail amounting to about 200 thousand dollars, on the orders of Tehran prosecutor general.

Mrs. Tavakoli notes that her son is a mere student on whose behalf no politician has tried to intercede with the Iranian Justice. Especially since the courts also deny her the opportunity to speak to him. So far, only the “reformist” leader Karroubi has visited the Tavakoli family or interested himself about the young man’s health conditions. “I have no choice but to ask the world to come to our aid,” said the woman, who is leading a hunger strike in solidarity with her son at home.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Obama to Focus on Homegrown Extremists in New Security Strategy

President Barack Obama’s administration will focus on homegrown extremists in a new security strategy to be unveiled on Thursday.

Mr Obama will stress that US military superiority must be matched by muscular diplomacy and all the tools of statecraft, from development aid to intelligence gathering.

The released of the document comes as the United States continues to have a huge foreign military commitment, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US is also facing new terror threats in a world destabilised by the worst economic meltdown since the 1930s.

The document will be closely read for signs that Mr Obama has adjusted his policy of offering dialogue to US foes like Iran and North Korea, which has yet to bear fruit, and will come against a backdrop of his nuclear non-proliferation effort.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, will on Thursday make a speech at the Brookings Institution, laying out diplomatic and military aspects of the strategy and national security advisor James Jones is due to weigh in later.

For the first time, the government strategy document, which lays down a doctrine for national security policy, is likely to focus attention on the threat posed by homegrown, radical extremists.

Following a spate of attacks or near misses — at Fort Hood military base last year and in Times Square, New York, this month — the administration appears to have reframed the matrix of threats to US national security.

“We’ve seen an increasing number of individuals here in the United States become captivated by extremist activities or causes,” said John Brennan, deputy national security advisor for counter-terrorism and homeland security.

“The president’s national security strategy explicitly recognises the threat to the United States posed by individuals radicalised here at home,” Mr Brennan said Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We’ve seen individuals, including US citizens, armed with their US passport, travel easily to terrorist safe havens and return to America, their deadly plans disrupted by coordinated intelligence and law enforcement.”

Faisal Shahzad, the top suspect in the failed car bombing in Times Square on May 1, is a naturalised US citizen, who allegedly became radicalised after years in the United States and received training by Pakistani extremists.

Major Nidal Hasan, an American-born army psychiatrist who is the only suspect in the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood army base last year, was allegedly drawn to radical thought while serving in the armed forces.

Mr Brennan said that “unprecedented” pressure ratcheted on al-Qaeda since Mr Obama took office had severely limited the group’s ability to move, raise funds, recruit and carry out attacks.

But he said the network was now relying on poorly trained “foot soldiers” who might be able to slip past US defenses because they do not fit the conventional profile of a terrorist.

“This is the new phase of the terrorist threat, no longer limited to coordinated, sophisticated, 9/11 style attacks,” Mr Brennan said.

“As our enemy adapts and evolves their tactics, so must we constantly adapt and evolve ours.”

Mr Brennan also appeared to deliver the White House’s most explicit rejection yet of “war on terror” terminology favored by the former administration of George W. Bush, which drove US foreign policy for years after the September 11 attacks of 2001.

“The president’s strategy is absolutely clear about the threat we face. Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is but a tactic.

“Our enemy is not terror because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear.

“Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.”

Mr Brennan said that Mr Obama had a single-minded focus on his goal to disrupt, dismantle and destroy al-Qaeda.

In his last national security strategy in 2006, ex-president George W. Bush targeted terrorism as a concept much more specifically, declaring boldly “the war on terror is not over”.

Mr Brennan said that Mr Obama envisaged using the full arsenal of diplomatic, military, developmental, law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security powers available to a US president.

           — Hat tip: El Inglés[Return to headlines]

Turkish Military Sacks Officer for Erdogan Password Insult

Turkey’s military fired a naval officer for allegedly creating a password used to enter a base that insulted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s character, Anatolia news agency reported Wednesday.

The password “Ignoble Prime Minister” was allegedly used in February by officers to gain access to the Erdek navy base in the western province of Balikesir, Anatolia reported citing the decision.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Putin’s Party Embarrassed by Local Poll Debacle

The ruling United Russia party of Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was scrambling Monday to explain how it suffered a rare defeat to the Communists in a local election in Siberia.

Communist Party candidate Alexander Serov was overnight elected mayor of the central Siberian city of Bratsk, known for its immense hydroelectric plant, with just under 40 percent of the vote, Russian news agencies reported.

United Russia was hit by fielding two competing candidates, serving Mayor Alexander Doskalchuk and local deputy Sergei Grishin, who won 22 percent and 17 percent of the vote respectively.

“Unfortunately, personal ambitions and the absence of a united candidate… led to the Communists winning,” top United Russia official Sergei Neverov said in a statement published on the party website.

“We will not let this situation pass without attention. We will discuss the situation and I do not exclude that personnel decisions will be taken,” he added.

The upset has parallels to a similar setback for United Russia in local elections in March when its candidate for major of the Siberian city of Irkutsk was thrashed by the Communist Party.

Russia’s leadership remains nervous about the effects of the economic crisis on public opinion, even if the authorities believe they avoided the worst of the global slowdown.

Defeats such the loss in Bratsk, which has a population of 260,000, are extremely rare for United Russia. But analysts say that polling trends are often very different on a national level.

United Russia dominates the Russian parliament and its views closely reflect those of Russia’s leaders.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh Proposes 15 Days Paternity Leave for Fathers to Care for Newborn

With the bill, new fathers will have the opportunity to absent themselves from work for 15 days before or after childbirth. The request was made by the Ministry of Public Administration and is available to government employees and private companies related to ministries.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Giving men “paternity leave” to help their wives in the care of the newborn. This was the proposal put forward May 18th last by the Ministry of Public Administration in Bangladesh, urging the government and Ministry for Women and Children to consider the “paternity leave” as a statutory right for men.

Mohammed Hanif, Secretary of the Ministry for Public Administration chief proponent of the proposal, says: “In our country women are entitled to four months maternity leave, in the future it will be increased to six, but are not permitted leave when a child is born or their wife is pregnant. “ According to Hanif’, husbands instead play a key role in caring for the infant and contribute a lot in the period of childbirth.

With the proposed bill, new fathers will have the opportunity to be absent from work for 15 days before or after childbirth. It is valid for the first two children and is now will only benefit government employees and private companies related to the ministry. A future extension to the entire male population has not been rules out. Several human rights organizations have applauded the initiative, which if approved, will set a precedent in the history of an Islamic country.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Deaths in India Train Collision

At least 15 people have been killed and dozens more injured after an explosion derailed an overnight passenger train in northeastern India, flinging its coaches into the path of an oncoming goods train.

A spokesman for Indian railways said sabotage was suspected as the cause of the collision.

The incident occured early on Friday in an area of West Bengal state known to be a stronghold of Maoist fighters.

Reports from the site described a scene of chaos with several passenger cars badly damaged and many dead and injured.

The Press Trust of India reported that 15 people had been killed, but other reports quoted higher figures.

The passenger train was travelling to Mumbai from the eastern city of Kolkata in West Bengal state.

“The blast derailed 13 coaches of the Gyaneshwari Express. These coaches then fell on the other track where a goods train rammed into some of them,” Soumitra Majumdar, a railway spokesman, told Reuters news agency.

“We fear many casualties. There could be many people dead. We don’t have details yet.”

Another official said many passengers were still trapped in the mangled coaches.

‘Soft target’

Mamata Bannerjee, India’s railways minister, rushed to the scene of the collision early on Friday.

“The fear is that this was a Maoist attack,” Bannerjee told reporters.

“The railways are a soft target. They are a lifeline … which the Maoists have attacked in the past and, it seems, even now,” she added.

Maoist groups in the area have been blamed for a series of attacks on police, government buildings and infrastructure such as railway stations.

In recent months they have stepped up attacks in response to a government security offensive to clear them out of their jungle bases.

Earlier this month an attack on a bus in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh killed 35 people.

Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, has described the Maoist insurgency as India’s biggest internal security challenge.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Islamabad Seeks US Support on India Talks

Islamabad, 26 May (AKI/DAWN) — Pakistan has urged the United States to ask India to address contentious issues as the two countries seek to rebuild their relationship after the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008. The message has been conveyed to the Obama administration through diplomatic channels as Pakistan and India move through a process worked out by their foreign ministers to rebuild trust and confidence before fresh peace talks.

“Our two countries do need to build mutual trust and confidence. It is, therefore, necessary that we engage each other with sincerity of purpose with a view to settling our differences and disputes and achieving peace and prosperity in the region,” foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said.

India has always denied entertaining US pressure in its ties with Pakistan, but analysts believe that a February meeting between foreign secretaries in Delhi and recent meetings between prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani (photo) and his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh had US support.

Discussions on rebuilding trust will begin when interior ministers of the two countries meet on 26 June.

On the same day foreign secretaries are due to meet in Islamabad.

Pakistan wants India to end the exercise of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Kashmir and release all political prisoners.

“It is a key for both of us to first agree on the cause of trust deficit before we find ways to deal with it,” one diplomat said.

He warned that India’s tendency to see terrorism as the only cause of distrust could complicate matters. “It is a self-delusional approach.”

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Youtube Unblocked Following ‘Blasphemy’

Islamabad, 27 May (AKI) — Pakistan unblocked Google-owned video sharing website YouTube late Wednesday after banning it over accusations of blasphemy for content considered offensive my many Muslims.

Last week, Pakistan’s telecommunications authorities blocked access to YouTube and social networking site Facebook, as well as other links.

The move came after Facebook users announced a competition to draw depictions of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad. Representations Mohammad is considered un-Islamic by many Muslims. YouTube and about 1,000 other sites have been blocked for the same reason.

“YouTube has been unblocked, but the links to sacrilegious content would remain inaccessible in Pakistan,” Khurram Mehran, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokesman, said in a news report.

Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and the row sparked comparison with protests across the Muslim world over the publication of satirical cartoons of Mohammed in European newspapers in 2006.

Several thousand Pakistanis took to the streets at the behest of religious groups to protest.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Far East

China: Wave of Suicides at Foxconn’s Shenzhen Plant: Alienating Work

The plant had its ninth suicide yesterday. It manufactures Apple components. The company reacts by insisting that it respects workers’ rights and by opening its doors to the press. Many employees complain about an alienating job regimented by military-style discipline.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A 19-year-old man who jumped to his death from the 5th floor of his dormitory is the latest suicide among workers at the Foxconn plant in Longhua (Shenzhen), the ninth since the start of the year. Today, Terry Gou, founder and president of the Foxconn Technology Group, opened the doors of his company to journalists to respond to criticism from media and the authorities.

Li Hai, a young graduate from Human, had been working for Foxconn for only 42 days. Eyewitnesses saw him jump. A suicide note found in his dormitory said there was a huge difference between his career expectations and reality, and that he was under pressure over family matters.

So far this year, 11 Foxconn employees have attempted suicide. Two failed. Yesterday’s successful suicide came just three days after a 21-year-old man tried the same.

The high number of suicides has set off alarm bells and attracted the interest of the public. Company officials responded to the situation by saying that working conditions in Longhua are the same in all of the company’s plants, which are long hours, de facto compulsory overtime during peak production periods, few opportunities for leisure activities, life in dormitories and eating at the cafeteria to save money. Unpleasant it may be, but no more alienating than in any other Chinese plant.

Beijing has reacted expressing concern over the situation—it urged the Taiwan-based company to monitor working conditions.

Some workers told the South China Morning Post that they are forced to work very long shifts under a military-style discipline.

A 21-year woman from Guangxi said she has to work from 8 am to 8 pm, six days a week. She has to rise at 6.30 am, walk for an hour from the dormitory to the plant “because there is no shuttle bus”.

“The atmosphere inside our workplaces is so tight and depressing that we’re not allowed to speak to each other for 12 hours or you’ll be reproached by supervisors. You’ll only be given 30 minutes for lunch and are not allowed to use toilets for more than 10 minutes,” she said.

“You face being named and shamed by your supervisors several times a day,” she added, “with no respect at all, if you can’t strictly follow all their discipline requirements.”

A 22-year-old worker from Hunan complained the assembly line moved too fast and she needed to check and measure thousands of mainboards a day, but her monthly salary plus overtime pay was only 2,000 yuan (US$ 290).

“Although Foxconn always pays us on time and provides free meals and accommodation, I feel I have an empty life and work like a machine,” she lamented.

Foxconn is the largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components worldwide. Its Longhua plant makes components for Apple iPhone and iPod.

The wave of suicides has had an impact on its share prices, which have fallen by more than 50 per cent this year.

In order to deal with the situation, health authorities are sending psychiatrists to counsel workers. Similarly, Shenzhen police has deployed 300 security guards at the factory to prevent further suicides

Despite the wave of self-inflicted deaths, Foxconn remains a popular place to work, with hordes of applicants lining up for jobs during the hiring season.

Considering the fact that the company employs 400,000 workers in Shenzhen, experts also note the number of suicides in its plants is below the national average of 16 per 100,000.

Even so, the company has decided to take countermeasures, putting up safety nets around its buildings to make suicide harder to carry out, and sending a memo asking workers to sign a pledge not to hurt themselves in an extreme manner.

In the meantime, Apple is concerned about the bad publicity and its effects on sales, announcing inspections.

Other important Foxcomm partners, like Nokia and Dell, said they too would also look into the situation.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Push to Let Australian Doctors Mutilate Genitals of Baby Girls

AUSTRALIAN doctors are considering a controversial form of genital mutilation on baby girls.

The practice involving cutting a girl’s genitals, sometimes with razors or pieces of glass, could be allowed in a clinical setting to stem illegal backyard procedures which are leaving young girls scarred for life.

The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians will next month discuss backing “ritual nicks”, a modified form of genital mutilation.

But experts are divided on whether to allow the practice, given that in some cultures it is used to remove the sexual feelings of women.

Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in Australia since the 1990s but is common among African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities.

With the rise in Somali and Sudanese numbers in Australia, doctors are seeing more cases of young girls, and women, needing surgery after illegal operations. Backers of “ritual nick” said it was a superficial procedure leaving no long-term damage.

RANZCOG secretary Gino Pecoraro said the policy would be discussed at next month’s Women’s Health Committee meeting.

“We will need to start to think about [its introduction] but we would have to speak to community leaders from Australia,” Dr Pecoraro said.

“If a nick could meet the cultural needs of a particular woman, then it might save her from going through what can really be drastic surgery.

“But we need to make sure we do not legitimise the ritualistic maiming of children.”

But many are outraged, some saying a “ritual nick” is still child abuse and legitimises female mutilation.

University of Newcastle’s professor of perinatal and infant psychiatry Dr Louise Newman said some doctors were being approached to perform the procedure.

“We know it is happening here . . . but [the] majority are done in the home in a traditional way,” she said.

Reasons given by practising populations include religion, despite the Koran not requiring it, and that it can help maintain cleanliness and health.

“The problem is some people see it similar to male circumcision but the reasons for both are very different as well as the impact,” Dr Newman said.

“The actual procedure can be pretty devastating.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Luis Fleischman: Connecting the Dots: Internal Developments in Latin America & National Security

Today, a large part of the Latin American continent is in danger of collapsing into a situation that fluctuates between totalitarianism and anarchy; between authoritarianism and chaos. The region is also in danger of falling under the strange influence of insurgent and terrorist groups, drug cartels and distant countries that historically have been poles apart from the region’s culture and civilization (mainly Iran, China, and perhaps Russia).

Part of the reason for this is the rise of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution, which has had a mix of domestic, and foreign policy repercussions. The Bolivarian revolution has opened up a “window of opportunity” for external actors such as those mentioned above.

Venezuela has established a model of government and ideology that have implications on domestic and foreign policy. In terms of domestic policy, the regime is socialist and absolutist. It attacks private property and market forces, and, it suppresses the political and civil opposition as well as the media. For foreign policy, the model expands the Bolivarian revolution and is inclined to unify Latin America as much as possible under Chavez’s leadership.

Domestically, the model is currently being reproduced by other leaders in the region (so far Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua). Thus, under the veil of pursuing social justice, executive power has been strengthened at the expense of civil society. Likewise, judicial independence and freedom of expression have been undermined.

Important to note is the perpetuation of power at the expense of civil society. Chavez has a continental agenda where he seeks to create a new block in the country under Venezuelan hegemony. The existence of pro-Chavez authoritarian regimes makes the decision making process faster and Bolivarian continental domination easier. Indeed, decisions that affect a vast region could ultimately be made by a handful of leaders that do not have to be accountable to Congress, civil society or any other institution.

Chavez also tries to co-opt grassroots and indigenous movements emerging in different countries in order to incorporate them in his revolutionary hurricane. However, Chavez as a true revolutionary relies and appeals mostly to violent groups. Thus, his main ally is none other than the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


23 Illegal Migrants Intercepted Near Greek Coast

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MAY 27 — A sailboat with 23 clandestine immigrants including three under the age of 18 have been intercepted by the Greek Coast Guard off Pilio. According to initial investigations, the immigrants were to have been disembarked on the Magnesia coast by Turkish traffickers from the Erntek region. Traffickers and would-be immigrants will now be taken before the public prosecutor, who will decide on their fate.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Finland: Promised Legislation to Protect Grandparents of Immigrants Fizzles

The government’s promise to quickly amend the Aliens’ Act to the benefit of grandparents who would like to live in Finland with their immigrant grandchildren seems to be fizzling, as police make moves to deport the two grandmothers whose cases prompted moves for legislative change.

Promises to change the law have not moved forward, and consequently, police are making moves to implement earlier court decisions for the deportation of Russian citizen Irina Antonova and Egyptian Eveline Fadayel.

Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors (Swedish People’s Party) is still considering whether or not legislative changes are necessary.

The Ministry of the Interior is examining various options and their impacts.

“It has not yet been decided that the act will be amended. There are also no decisions, that it would not be changed”, says Thors’s aide Thomas Bergman.

In March Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) said that the government had agreed that there would be amendments that would give decision-makers more discretion to take humanitarian factors into consideration in such situations.

At the time Vanhanen said that the changes would come already before the summer, allowing the two women in question to apply for residence permits in the coming months.

The police agreed to delay the expulsions, pending legislative changes, which were expected to come in short order.

The police are no longer waiting. According to National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero, so much time has elapsed that the lawful exclusion orders must be implemented.

Police in Vantaa ordered Eveline Fadayel to leave Finland by June 13th. Police in Helsinki say that the expulsion of Irina Antonova is under preparation, and is expected to be implemented in the early summer

Prime Minister Vanhanen said that he had discussed the matter with Thors on Tuesday.

“She said that the bill is not ready, and that there are problems involved.”

He emphasised that the government remains in favour of the legislation, but that the initiative is incomplete. Vanhanen admitted that he had promised new legislation himself.

The Prime Minister did not want to go through the problems related with the legislation, saying that he was not familiar with them.

At the Ministry of the Interior, Pentti Visanen, Director-General of the ministry’s Migration Department, does not expect possible legislative change to come into force this year.

“It is not likely that the legislative change would be ready in the early autumn yet. The proposal should come before Parliament by early December, if Parliament is to have the chance to handle it”, Visanen says.

Helsingin Sanomat could not reach Astrid Thors for comment on Tuesday.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Libya: Italy OK, But Rejections Not Enough

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, MAY 27 — The Bengasi Accord between Rome and Tripoli is working to control irregular immigration, but the rejections policy, on its own, is not enough. “Many irregulars have been repatriated” and, most importantly, “their flow toward Italy has remarkably decreased, as President Berlusconi’s Government has repeatedly stated”, said the President of the Libyan Foreign Affairs Committee, Suleiman Shuhumi, one of Colonel Gaddafi’s right-hand men, at the end of a meeting with Margherita Boniver, President of the Parliamentary Committee for Schengen-Europol Immigration, in Tripoli with a delegation. At the current state-of-the-art, a “new auspicial step”, for Shuhumi, “is a direct intervention in the countries of origin” of irregular immigrants. “Security and police measures on their own are not enough”, he emphasised, “just as rejections are not enough. Interventions in the countries of origin, such as for example, the creation of job opportunities for these people, are needed”. The Libyan exponent said he is “optimistic” over this “new form of collaboration” with Italy, which he considers “can lead to important developments in the near future”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mexico: ‘U.S. Troops OK, But No Stopping Illegals!’

Foreign gov’t warns 1,200 soldiers must not enforce immigration laws

The Mexican government has announced it respects the Obama administration’s decision to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S. southern border to counter cross-border drug and weapons trafficking — just as long as the troops don’t enforce U.S. immigration laws.


Upon learning of the statement, former Rep. Tom Tancredo told WND, “The Mexican government can be assured that there will be no attempt to enforce immigration law by the National Guard because there is no attempt to enforce immigration law by the president of the United States.”

Tancredo said he is certain the statement was released after the Mexican government communicated its expectations with the White House.

“I guarantee you that before Barack Obama decided to send the troops, he called the president of Mexico to let him know,” Tancredo said. “Things like this don’t happen without that kind of communication. This is proof of that. What they’re doing here is reaffirming what the president told them.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Record Number of Foreigners Receive British Passports as Figure Soars by 58%

The number of British passports issued to foreigners had soared by more than half, latest Home Office figures reveal today.

A record total of 203,790 were issued in 2009 with more than half of the recipients coming from Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and people from Filipinos were the nationalities that made up most of the statistics.

Nearly 50 per cent of people were awarded a passport because they were long term residents. Another quarter gained British citizenship through marriage.

The numbers of passports issued was the highest since records were first published 47 years ago.

The 203,790 total was a 58 per cent rise from 129,375 in 2008.

Separate statisitcs released today reveal that long-term immigration to Britain had dropped by nine per cent

About 503,000 people came into the country over the period, compared with 555,000 in the previous 12 months.

Provisional data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) also indicated that the number of entrants from eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 also dropped 55 per cent to 45,000.

This includes people from countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic -

Net immigration over the year stood at 142,000 — even though the number of British citizens leaving the country fell from 173,000 to 134,000.

The IPS is considered a good broad guide to migration movements, but does not take into account adjustments for asylum seekers, people who stay longer or less than intended, and migration to and from Northern Ireland.

Long-term immigrants are defined as those who plan to remain for more than 12 months.

The figures will be interpreted by Labour as evidence that its points-based system was starting to have an effect.

Several candidates in the party’s leadership contest have identified immigration as a key factor in its General Election defeat.

The new Government has committed itself to introducing a cap on non-EU immigration, although the level has yet to be set.

Immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘These figures illustrate the scale of the immigration challenge facing the new Government.

‘It is now our duty to control immigration for the benefit of the UK and that is what I am determined to do.

‘I believe that immigration has been far too high in recent years which is why we will reduce net migration back down to the levels of the 1990s — to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

USA: City Pleads: Let Illegals Vote in Elections!

‘We want to make sure all immigrants here have a say’

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is seeking to grant illegal aliens the right to vote in school-board elections if the illegals’ children attend taxpayer-funded schools.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced proposed charter amendment 100635 on May 18. The amendment may be added to the Nov. 2 ballot if at least six spuervisors vote for the legislation.

“One out of three parents of the kids in our public-school system is an immigrant,” Chiu told CBS. “We want to make sure that they have an opportunity to have a say.”

When a reporter asked Chiu whether it would concern him if illegal aliens vote, he responded, “What we don’t want to do is turn our elections department into INS agents. That was an administrative situation that we wanted to avoid. Again, what we wanted to do is empower all parents and give them a voice in their kids’ education.”

“Even the ones that are here without documents?” the reporter inquired.

“We want to make sure all immigrants here have a say,” Chiu replied.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Modern Civil Rights: Cockfighting & Same-Sex Proms

Watching TV this week, at first I thought Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul had flown a commercial jet into the World Trade Center. But then it turned out that he had only said there ought to be discussion about whether federal civil rights laws should be applied to private businesses.

This allowed the mainstream media to accuse Paul of being a racist. Twisting a conservative’s words in order to accuse him of racism was evidently more urgent news than the fact that the attorney general of the United States admitted last week — under oath in a congressional hearing — that he had not read the 10-page Arizona law on illegal immigration, the very law he was noisily threatening to overturn.

And really, how could the U.S. attorney general have time to read a 10-page law when he’s busy doing all the Sunday morning TV shows condemning it?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

USA: Homosexuals in Military Three Times More Likely to Sexually Assault Than Straights: Survey

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 26, 2010 ( — An analysis of publicly available documents indicates that homosexuals in the military are three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals, relative to their numbers, announced the Family Research Council Wednesday.

The release comes on the heels of news that Democrat U.S. senators on the Armed Services Committee seek to attach a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule banning open homosexuals from the military to an essential defense spending bill. Although Pentagon officials had begun a year-long review of the possible repercussions of repealing the ban, homosexual activists hope to squeeze the controversial overturn through before November elections — when several Democrats are expected to lose their seats — before the results of the Pentagon study are in.

The FRC analysis released Wednesday demonstrates one of the main causes of alarm for supporters of the ban: a review of the “case synopses” of all 1,643 reports of sexual assault reported by the four branches of the military for Fiscal Year 2009 (October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009) found that over eight percent (8.2%) of all military sexual assault cases were homosexual in nature. Yet homosexual activist groups themselves have stated that less than three percent of Americans (2.8% of men and 1.4% of women) are homosexual or bisexual.

The analysis, conducted by Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg, was based on the Pentagon’s own annual report on sexual assault in the military for Fiscal Year 2009, and on published decisions from military courts of appeals over the last decade and a half.

“Taken together, these figures suggest that homosexuals in the military are about three times more likely to commit sexual assaults than heterosexuals are,” noted Sprigg. “Concerns about privacy when homosexuals share facilities like showers and sleeping quarters with heterosexuals are well grounded,” he added.

“The report found that the most common type of homosexual assault is one in which the offender fondles or performs oral sex upon a sleeping victim.”

“If open homosexuality is permitted in the military, these numbers will only increase,” Sprigg warned. “The numbers of homosexuals in the military would grow, the threat of discharge for homosexual conduct would be eliminated, and protected class status for homosexuals would make victims hesitant to report assaults and make commanders hesitant to punish them for fear of appearing ‘homophobic.’“

[Return to headlines]


‘X-Woman’ Coexisted With Neanderthals, Modern Humans

An unknown type of human, nicknamed “X-Woman,” coexisted with Neanderthals and our own species between 30,000 to 50,000 years ago, according to a new study that suggests at least four, and possibly more, different forms of humans existed in Asia after Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa. The as-of-yet-unnamed new human species, documented in the journal Nature, represents the first time that a hominid has been described not from the structure of its fossilized bones, but from the sequence of its DNA. Researchers focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), genes passed down from mothers to their children — hence the X-Woman nickname. Her mtDNA shows that X-Woman shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals and modern humans one million years ago, so X-Woman and her species likely migrated out of Africa 500,000 years before the ancestors of Neanderthals left Africa. Modern humans are thought to have made the journey much more recently, at just 50,000 years ago. “So whoever carried this mtDNA out of Africa was a creature that was not on our radar screen before,” co-author Svante Paabo told Discovery News.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]