Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100625

Financial Crisis
»U.S. Isolated on Spending at G-20
»A Lefty Litmus Test
»Democrats: Free Speech for Me, Not for Thee
»Factbox — Key U.S. Shale Natural Gas and Oil Deals Since 2009
»House Democrats Vote to Illegally Silence Everyone But Unions
»Illinois Police Rescind Chaplain Offer to Muslim Cleric With Holy Land Ties
»In 2010, Conservatives Still Outnumber Moderates, Liberals
»Is Big Oil Turning Against BP?
»Kellogg Recalling 28 Million Boxes of Cereal
»President Obama Rewards the Hamas Lobby
»Top Dem Asks Wilson Center to Rescind Award for Turkish Foreign Minister
Europe and the EU
»Hungary: Fidesz Sweep Means Moment of Truth for American Policymakers
»Hungary’s Far-Right Backed by ‘Rolling Moscow Roubles’
»Jamaat Links to UK War Crimes Meeting
»The Fall of the Belgian Church
»UK: Welfare Cuts Put Added Health Strain on Population
Israel and the Palestinians
»UN Chief Says East Jerusalem Demolition Plan ‘Illegal’
Middle East
»Jonah’s Burial Place Bombed
South Asia
»Caroline Glick: The Western Way of War
»India: Marriage With Stepmom is Rape: Deoband
»India: Campaigners Dismiss Bhopal Compensation as Insufficient
»Nepal: DeLisi in Mosque
»Pakistan to Monitor Google and Yahoo for ‘Blasphemy’
»UK Court Rejects Halt to Afghan Prisoner Transfers
Far East
»China Says Terror Bust Underscores Enduring Threat
»Japan to Start Nuclear Power Talks With India
»The Chinese Are Desperate to Live Abroad, Just Not in England if Possible
Australia — Pacific
»Gillard Reassures Obama on Afghanistan
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Norwegians With Congo Death Sentence Seek Clemency
»Sudan: JEM Rebel Group Says No Darfur Peace Without it
Culture Wars
»Germany: Assisted Suicide OK if Patient Consents
»The Organization Final Exit Network is Putting Up Billboards to Let You Know That You Have the “Right to Die.”
»Africa’s Water Most Precarious, Iceland Best — Study
»Details of Cold War Intelligence Pact Published
»The DNA of Abraham’s Children

Financial Crisis

U.S. Isolated on Spending at G-20

…huge gaps have emerged between the Obama administration and allies in Europe.

Germany, France and Great Britain have all launched austerity campaigns designed to reduce public debt. They’re motivated in part by the Greek debt crisis, which continues to scare countries across Europe.

“In the run-up to the summit, a clear plurality of G-20 countries has come up on the side of fiscal consolidation and not stimulus spending,” said Dan Price, a senior partner at Sidley Austin and former President George W. Bush’s “sherpa” for G-20 summits.

Japan has also introduced a strategy to reduce its budget deficit, while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is hosting the summit in Toronto, has challenged G-20 members to cut their deficits in half.

The motivation for the Obama administration is different. In less than five months, voters will elect a new House and Senate, and Democrats are in danger of losing their majority in the House…

[Return to headlines]


A Lefty Litmus Test

By hiring General Petraeus, Barack Obama has taken just one more step toward President Bush’s approach to fighting the war on terror — along with okaying the Patriot Act, drone attacks, intercepts, military tribunals, rendition and more.

More than anything, this is turning out to be a moment of truth for the left. Will they continue to stand by Obama, suggesting that their opposition to “Bush’s war” was just an unprincipled cover for their hatred for a socially conservative, Republican President? Or are their convictions about (not) fighting terrorism strong enough to compel them to speak out even against a President they once idolized?

It will be interesting to see. The fact that has scrubbed their site of the attack ad they took out on Petraeus back when he was a Bush nominee isn’t encouraging for those who believe in the left’s purity.

[Return to headlines]

Democrats: Free Speech for Me, Not for Thee

In March, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision struck down campaign finance limits on political expression by individuals working through corporations and unions as a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. A cry ensued among liberal Democrats predicting doom if they and their special interest allies were required to follow the Constitution. Big Labor’s bosses promised to spend millions to protect the Democratic majority if it would speedily pass legislation to circumvent the decision (and thus the Constitution), but restore limits on their corporate foes.

The resulting DISCLOSE Act, according to its backers, will ensure transparency in campaign ad funding. Thursday, the House of Representatives approved the bill 219-206, with 36 Democrats and 170 Republicans in opposition to the measure, which was written by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year, and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who led the Senate Democrats’ campaign panel in 2008.

The bill is full of draconian restrictions on individual political speech expressed via corporations, but gives privileged status to the Democrats’ union masters. A provision pushed by Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Bob Brady, for example, allows unions to transfer unlimited funds among affiliated groups to pay for political ads with no disclosure whatever. That makes campaign funding more transparent?

Then there’s the ban on advocacy for or against a candidate by any company that received Troubled Asset Relief Program funds. That silences General Motors’ white-collar workers, but not the United Auto Workers union, which, oh by the way, got, among other things, $6.5 billion in preferred GM stock, paying a government-guaranteed 9 percent cash dividend. Could the fact the UAW gave more than $2 million to Democrats in 2008 explain why Democratic leaders pushed a proposal that so blatantly favors the union?

[Return to headlines]

Factbox — Key U.S. Shale Natural Gas and Oil Deals Since 2009

REUTERS — Companies eager to capitalize on the U.S. shale gas revolution are buying up firms which have deeds to land with access to reserves.

Despite rumblings of environmental concerns, cheap and plentiful gas from shale is increasingly becoming a larger part of U.S. domestic energy production.

Below are major shale gas sector acquisitions since 2009:

JUNE 2010:

- India’s largest listed company Reliance Industries will invest $1.36 billion in the U.S. shale gas assets of Pioneer Natural Resources.

APRIL 2010:

- British gas producer BG Group said it would pay $950 million to buy a 50 percent interest in shale gas assets in Appalachia from EXCO Resources.


- Canada’s Progress Energy Resources Corp agreed to buy certain northeast British Columbia Foothills assets for about C$390 million ($366.2 million) from Suncor Energy.


- Exxon Mobil Corp announced its plan to buy XTO Energy Inc for about $30 billion in stock. XTO’s resource base is the equivalent of 45 trillion cubic feet of gas and includes shale gas, tight gas, coal bed methane and shale oil.

- Ultra Petroleum Corp said it would pay about $400 million to an unnamed private company to buy 80,000 net acres in the burgeoning U.S. Marcellus Shale region, giving it about 250,000 net acres and a potential for 1,800 net drilling sites.


- Denbury Resources Inc said it would buy Encore Acquisition Co for $3.2 billion, creating a company with 426 million barrels of oil equivalent in proved reserves.

The acquisition would allow Denbury to leverage its enhanced-oil-recovery business into Encore’s properties in Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota, and would give it a large stake in the Bakken shale on the U.S.-Canada border.

JUNE 2009:

- British gas producer BG Group paid Dallas-based Exco Resources Inc $1.3 billion for an interest in shale gas resources in Texas and Louisiana.

The companies said each would own 50 percent of a venture to which EXCO is contributing 120,000 acres of land in the Haynesville shale gas area and associated gas infrastructure.

MAY 2009:

- Talon Oil & Gas LLC bought 60 percent of Denbury Resources Inc’s natural gas assets for $270 million.

- Independent oil and gas company Quicksilver Resources Inc agreed a joint venture with Italian energy giant Eni to develop its Barnett shale properties in Texas.

As part of the deal, Eni agreed to buy a 27.5 percent stake in Quicksilver’s Alliance leasehold interests in the Fort Worth basin for $280 million.

MARCH 2009:

- Independent Canadian oil exploration firm TriStar Oil & Gas and Crescent Point Energy Trust agreed to buy Talisman Energy Inc’s lands in the prolific Bakken shale region of Saskatchewan and Montana for C$720 million ($567 million).

TriStar was later acquired by Petrobank Energy and Resources Ltd, which combined its own conventional oil assets with TriStar to create a new company called PetroBakken Energy Ltd.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

House Democrats Vote to Illegally Silence Everyone But Unions

In a stunning act of treason against the Constitution, Democrats voted 219-206 Thursday to defy the Supreme Court and murder the 1st Amendment rights of everyone other than major Democrat campaign donors, through the DISCLOSE Act.

This tyrannical attack on free speech violates everything the left pretends to stand for (civil liberties, fairness, equality, etc.), protecting only unions from extreme “transparency” measures and exploding the influence of lobbyists…and they even know that it will once again be struck down by the Supreme Court, but not before it silences everyone but Democrats for Election 2010.

Conservatives have warned from the beginning that tolerating unconstitutional nanny state intrusions and interferences in the free market for temporary relief from this government-created economic crisis would come with strings attached, and now here we sit, watching TARP recipients like GM get banned from the electoral process, while the unions that ran it into the ground get full access.

Take a good look. This is what tyranny looks like in its early stages, when citizens still have a chance to rise up and stop it.

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

Illinois Police Rescind Chaplain Offer to Muslim Cleric With Holy Land Ties

Read more at:

The Illinois State Police have revoked the appointment of a Muslim cleric to become a chaplain with the agency after learning about his documented ties to terrorist financiers.

In January, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) reported that Kifah Mustapha had completed a training program and was poised to become the agency’s first certified Muslim chaplain. The story pointed to court records in which Mustapha acknowledged working as a fundraiser for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which was shut down by the U.S. government in 2001 due to its connections to the Hamas terrorist group.

Mustapha was included on a list of unindicted co-conspirators during the Holy Land Foundation’s subsequent prosecution for providing material support to terrorists. The case ended in November 2008 with convictions on 108 counts.

Mustapha was listed among members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee. Prosecutors described the Brotherhood as “an international Islamic fundamentalist organization” that is “committed to the globalization of Islam through social engineering and violent jihad.”

Internal records entered into evidence in the case showed that the Palestine Committee was created to support Hamas “with what it needs of media, money, men and all of that.”

Mustapha not only was a fundraiser for HLF, he was on their payroll. In testimony, FBI case agent Lara Burns said Mustapha sang in a band that performed at fundraisers. She pointed to internal HLF records to confirm Mustapha was a paid employee from 1996 through 2000.

In addition to persuading 12 jurors, the evidence convinced the presiding judge of the defendants’ guilt. “The purpose of creating the Holy Land Foundation was as a fundraising arm for Hamas,” Judge Jorge Solis said just before sentencing the defendants a year ago.

Mustapha was not charged with a crime. In March, however, the Illinois State Police acknowledged that they were reviewing Mustapha’s appointment. On Friday, officials told him he would not be accepted into the program.

During a news conference in Chicago Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced that it would help Mustapha file a discrimination complaint against the state police. It will allege that he was treated differently from chaplains of other faiths, said Christina Abraham, CAIR-Chicago’s civil rights director…

[Return to headlines]

In 2010, Conservatives Still Outnumber Moderates, Liberals

Conservatives have maintained their leading position among U.S. ideological groups in the first half of 2010. Gallup finds 42% of Americans describing themselves as either very conservative or conservative. This is up slightly from the 40% seen for all of 2009 and contrasts with the 20% calling themselves liberal or very liberal.

…The 42% identifying as conservative represents a continuation of the slight but statistically significant edge conservatives achieved over moderates in 2009. Should that figure hold for all of 2010, it would represent the highest annual percentage identifying as conservative in Gallup’s history of measuring ideology with this wording, dating to 1992.

The recent rise in conservatism’s fortunes follows a decline seen after 2003; liberalism has experienced the opposite pattern. From 1993 to 2002, the ideological trend had been fairly stable, with roughly 40% identifying as moderate, 38% as conservative, and 19% as liberal. Before that, the presidential bid of independent candidate Ross Perot may have contributed to a heightened proportion of Americans (43%) calling themselves moderate in 1992.


Independents today are slightly more likely to say they are moderate than conservative, with fewer than 20% identifying as liberal. While this is similar to 2009, it represents an increase in conservatism among this group since 2008.

[Return to headlines]

Is Big Oil Turning Against BP?

CBS News has learned that some oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico are considering litigation against BP for lost revenue due to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the environmental disaster it has caused. The administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling is said to have hurt revenues industry-wide.

But one legal expert says a lawsuit by an oil and gas company against BP for ruining the industry would be a tough fight in court.

“There is no cause of action for bad apples,” said complex litigation expert Georgene Vairo of Loyola Law School Los Angeles. “Countrywide was a bad apple. Should we sue them?”

Vairo said the oil companies would have to find something in a federal statute that would allow them a private right to sue because there is no contractual duty between BP and their fellow oil and gas companies.

James Noe, general counsel for Hercules Offshore says that while his company is not suing he understands why others are weighing litigation.

“If you are pushed against the wall you explore all options and you ask, ‘Who is responsible for this?’“ he said.

Noe says industry losses extend beyond deepwater drillers who had to heed the moratorium, saying, “Make no mistake — there is a de facto moratorium on shallow water drilling.” Noe says while the Interior Department used to approve 10 to 15 new shallow drilling permits each week, there have been no approvals in a month.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department says permits will be issued as soon as the shallow water drillers prove that they have complied with new safety measures.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his office would work to reinstate the deepwater drilling moratorium overturned by a judge on Tuesday. New Orleans federal judge Martin L.C. Feldman struck down the moratorium saying it was causing “irreparable harm” to the industry and other affected businesses in the Gulf.

Exxon Mobil would not comment on any possible participation in a lawsuit against BP.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Kellogg Recalling 28 Million Boxes of Cereal

Breakfast-cereal giant Kellogg (K: 52.44, -0.4, -0.76%) said it will be voluntarily recalling 28 million boxes of cereal due to an “uncharacteristic off-flavor and smell coming from the liner in the package.”

The cereal brands being recalled include Apple Jacks, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, and Honey Smacks. The cereals being recalled have the letters “KN” next to the “Better if Used Before Data” are included in the recall, Kellogg said.

Kellogg said there was low potential for serious health problems related to the consumption of the cereal, but eating it may result in temporary nausea and diarrhea.

“We apologize to our consumers and our customers and are working diligently to ensure that the affected products are rapidly removed from the marketplace,” said David Mackay, president and chief executive officer of Kellogg, in a statement.

Consumers with questions or who want to inquire about a replacement may contact Kellogg at (888) 801-4163 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

Shares of Kellogg were down 0.3% on Friday at $52.69 a share.

           — Hat tip: AP[Return to headlines]

President Obama Rewards the Hamas Lobby

by Steve Emerson

A ship packed with violent, radical activists tries to run a blockade aimed at preventing terrorists from receiving illicit material. Video shows them beating commandos with clubs as they land on the ship, pelting them with slingshots and carrying knives.

What is America’s response? To demand that the nation whose soldiers were attacked conduct an investigation to “find out the facts.”

It is clear Israel sought to peacefully secure the Mavi Marmara on May 31 as it approached Gaza. But the hardened activists, who openly discussed their desire for martyrdom, weren’t going to let that happen. Fighting for their lives, the Israeli soldiers opened fire with their sidearms, killing nine people on the ship.

But that does not make the Obama administration’s demand for an investigation from an ally any more sensible. It was the first such demand made by the U.S. of another country, let alone an ally, in recent memory. There was no call for a probe on Russia’s treatment of Chechnyans, for Egypt’s persecution of the Christian Copts or for the murderous rampages against the Ahmadiyan Muslim sect in Pakistan.

Just Israel made the history books. Israel, however, has proof of what really happened. It released at least five videos on YouTube showing Israeli soldiers being attacked as they landed.

Moreover, details emerged about IHH—the Turkish charity instigating the attack—and its long history of abetting Islamic terrorist attacks and Islamic terrorist organizations. Reports produced by MEMRI showed the violent attack at sea was planned by radicals vowing to go to their “martyrdom.” By June 3 more YouTube videos appeared showing the efforts by the Turkish flotilla extremists to battle with the Israelis.

But that wasn’t enough for President Obama. Appearing on CNN’s Larry King show on June 3, he repeated his demand for an Israeli investigation. But this time, Obama revealed his own biased predisposition when he told King, “You’ve got loss of life that was unnecessary.”

Unnecessary? According to whom? For Turkey’s radical Islamist regime, it was not only unnecessary, but evidence of a premeditated “bloody massacre.” But to the Israeli soldiers who would have been murdered had they not used their sidearms, the deaths on the ship—as tragic as any death is—were anything but unnecessary.

And then the president blurted out his real agenda, when he criticized the Israelis for their blockade of Gaza: “you’ve got a blockade up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.” Here, he joined the world Hamas lobby—Islamic and European countries—in piling on Israel for creating such a humanitarian mess in Gaza, which in reality does not exist.

Stores are full of food. Pharmacies are stocked with medicines. Fancy restaurants on the coast flourish. There is no hunger. Every week Israel sends in hundreds of Israeli truckloads with food and other essentials.

The embargo exists because Hamas has proven it is more interested in arming itself and attacking Israel than in helping create a better life for its people. What country would ignore these provocations and terrorist attacks? In the past, Israel intercepted two international vessels destined for Gaza containing vast arsenals of weapons, explosives, rockets and missiles. Does Israel have an obligation to help a terrorist government bent on its destruction?

After falling for the agenda of the Free Gaza flotilla, whose membership included more than 100 known Islamic militants and terrorists, the president blurted out in the CNN interview something that was truly incredulous. He said, “…and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy.” Turkey? The country that sponsored the would-be killers on the Mavi Marmara?

Turkey has allowed IHH to operate freely. IHH’s accomplishments include assisting the Millennium bomber, supporting Hamas and smuggling weapons to mujahedeen. Arab language newspapers have reported that the leaders on board the Mavi Marmara planned to “martyr” themselves by attacking Israeli troops that might come on board. These newspapers also reported that the Turkish leaders armed themselves with knives and slingshots before boarding the Turkish ship.

Instead of rewarding Turkey, the president should have demanded that an international investigation be conducted of its role in inciting and arming the terrorists aboard its ship. He should have ordered Treasury to list IHH as a terrorist entity and ordered the Justice Department to investigate the activities of the Free Gaza Movement in the U.S. and its predecessor the International Solidarity Movement for materially supporting Hamas.

Israel alone was the recipient of the demands for an investigation.

Faced with the pressure from the president, Israel created a committee to investigate the flotilla incident. Moreover, Israel also capitulated to U.S. and international pressure this past weekend and loosened the blockade that will surely help to prop up the declining popularity of the Hamas regime in Gaza. It only goes to prove that terrorism pays.

[Return to headlines]

Top Dem Asks Wilson Center to Rescind Award for Turkish Foreign Minister

A top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to rescind a planned award for Turkey’s foreign minister.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) wrote Lee Hamilton, the director of the Smithsonian-based memorial institute, to criticize a planned public service award for Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister.

The award, Ackerman said in a letter, “is absolutely inconsistent … with the mission of the WWC and the ideals that animated President Wilson’s administration and foreign policy.”

Ackerman expressed dismay over the award given Turkey’s longstanding dispute with Armenia in recognizing a historic slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide. Ackerman also criticized Turkey’s role in sponsoring a recent flotilla to deliver supplies to Israel, an attempt that led to the deaths of nine in an incident Davutoglu had likened to 9/11.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Hungary: Fidesz Sweep Means Moment of Truth for American Policymakers

[Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed piece by Frank Koszorus, Jr., a Washington, D.C. Attorney who currently serves as President of the American Hungarian Federation, was previously chair of the steering committee of the NATO Enlargement Working Group, and is a regular commentator and university lecturer on foreign policy, public diplomacy, human rights and minority rights issues. welcomes submissions for op-ed pieces pertaining to Hungary.]

President Obama has sought to reassure leaders from Central and Eastern Europe feeling neglected by the United States and fearful of growing Russian influence in the region. He used the occasion of the signing of the START Treaty in Prague this spring to meet with Washington’s new European allies who had previously been dominated by the Soviet Union.

While this dinner meeting was an encouraging and promising step, it is too early to tell whether these newer NATO members will be assuaged. Much will depend on the Obama administration’s approach toward the region, especially as it pursues its reset policies with Russia in the coming months.

The President’s ability to connect with the people of Central and Eastern Europe will also help determine whether he will succeed or fail in shoring up NATO. An early indicator will be how Washington reacts to the new government in Hungary, following the landslide victory of Viktor Orbán and his center-right party, Fidesz, in the recent parliamentary elections.

Hungarian and other Central European sympathy toward the United States and its foreign policy goals stood in marked contrast to West European ambivalence about U.S. global leadership after the end of the Cold War. Central European identification with the U.S. extended beyond elite opinion and was rooted strongly in the popular imagination. This reservoir of popular support was a precious commodity that gave U.S. foreign policy a competitive advantage in the region during the Cold War and the years that have followed.

This instinctive popular support has been at risk in Hungary in recent years, mainly due to the perception of official U.S. bias favoring the Hungarian reform Communists, now known as the Socialist Party. In 2002, for instance, then-Prime Minister Orbán was not welcome at the Bush White House. One administration official commented that while he realized that Fidesz may be viewed as patriotic from a Hungarian perspective, the Socialists are “easier to deal with.” The snubbing by previous administrations of Fidesz when it was in opposition or governing Hungary has contributed to the ongoing perception that there is a lack of even-handedness when it comes to U.S. policy towards Hungary.

The potential for disillusionment by Hungarians with the United States has not been fully appreciated or recognized by Washington, or even by some Hungarian American spokesmen. This disillusionment could have been avoided and can still be remedied.

It is imperative, however, that the U.S. now seek specific ways to address those democratic-minded Hungarians who overwhelmingly voted against radicals and Socialists, supported the center-right and remain bewildered by what they perceive as a series of snubs in the past. Many of these voters helped topple the Communist system at considerable cost and risk to themselves when the outcome of the late 1980s was far from certain. The democratic center, center-right’s victory this spring demonstrates that their supporters represent more than half of the nation today and are in the ascendancy. This strength will enable them to easily oppose and defeat radical programs proposed by extremists.

But more than Hungarian domestic politics are at issue now. Even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of these voters were steadfast supporters of a Washington-led NATO, in contrast to former enemies of that alliance. There is a chance, however, that if the U.S. fails to dispel perceptions of favoritism, these disappointed long-time friends of America may adopt more cynical attitudes and thus weaken the alliance. Such a development would damage U.S. interests, as it is beyond dispute that a successful war against international terrorism requires steadfast and genuine friends.

The Obama administration must decisively move to dispel the notion of favoritism and move to reassure the new government of Hungary that the United States stands firmly with them. Specifically, the American embassy in Budapest as well as in Washington should take highly visible and concrete steps, on a sustained basis, to restore a balanced and even-handed policy and become better acquainted with the actual views of the democratic center, center-right, as opposed to what had been reported about them in the mass media by political opponents. If this is done skillfully and combined with policies that demonstrate continued and robust engagement with Central and Eastern Europe, the dinner in Prague will prove to have been a success for American diplomacy and security policy and a success for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Hungary’s Far-Right Backed by ‘Rolling Moscow Roubles’

Hungary’s Jobbik party, the shrillest among Central and Eastern Europe’s far right parties, has been exposed as having received secret financial support from Russia as a quid pro quo for its anti-European Union and anti-Nato bluster.

The issue of “rolling Russian gold roubles”, and alleged “Iranian cash gifts” helping sustain a virulently anti-Roma and anti-semitic party that flaunts its hostility to Western liberal democracy is troubling Hungarian public opinion.

The proto-fascist party’s xenophobia and strong-arm actions against what it calls “the criminal Roma” have secured it a measure of popularity — and, because of its anti-Western stance, Russian interest is not surprising.

Moscow’s alleged influence with this extreme right-wing party has been raised in Hungary’s Parliament and investigated by the National Security Commission (NSC).

Jozsef Gulyas, an independent MP in the last parliament, who brought the troubling issue to the attention of the Parliamentary National Security Committee, said that “though the ‘rolling Russian gold’ was discussed by the NSC in a closed session, officials would not give an unambiguous denial whether this was true”.

Jobbik’s Russian nexus began in 2008, when party leader Gabor Vona attended an “intellectual conference” on Russian-European links in Moscow, though he refused to name it. In an interview with the Budapest weekly paper HVG he said: “After a secret session of the Commission, neither the secret services minister nor the Commission chairman could give me a reassuring reply.”

Jobbik, formed in 2003, won 47 seats in the Hungarian Parliament in last April’s General Election and has three MEPs in Strasbourg — a swift rise considering it had failed to get a single MP elected in the previous parliament.

Its failure to publish its budget in the first five years of its existence, although obliged by law to make public

its income and expenditure every year, has heightened concerns about its sources of income. It is now being investigated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Yielding to public pressure, it has now published its accounts from 2004 to 2008. Its income, solely from private donors, hovered between 2.6 million and three million forints (about £7700-£8800), with expenditure in three out of four years slightly less than that.

So, the party’s annual budget is allegedly smaller than the smallest of Budapest family businesses — yet it is running a well-oiled nationwide party machine, supports 47 MPs and three MEPs, and, it is claimed, spent more than 30 million forints (£100,000) in the April election campaign. The size of its expenditure, coupled with the irregularities of its declared income, have reinforced public concerns.

Who, then, is bankrolling Jobbik, the scourge of Hungary’s gypsies and a thorn in the side of Viktor Orban’s new centre-right Fidesz government?

The belief that Russia is using its roubles to manipulate public figures and finance parties useful in opposing liberal Western policies dates back to between the war years, when the Moscow-based Comintern — the Communist International’s executive — used “rolling Russian gold” to further Soviet interests and subvert Europe.

At first glance, the Russian connection is questionable, if only because of Jobbik’s erstwhile anti-Russian rants. But it quickly abandoned its Russian-bashing stance, changed its platform, exploited the “Roma crime issue” and latent antisemitism and focused on countering “decadent Western liberalism”.

The latter strand has found a positive echo in certain nationalist quarters in Moscow. According to informed Budapest sources, Russian money is reaching the party via key individuals. Sources close to investigators of the Public Prosecutor’s Office fingered Bela Kovacs, Jobbik’s foreign policy adviser, as one of Moscow’s channels.

Jobbik’s Russian nexus began late in 2008, when party leader Gabor Vona attended an “intellectual conference” on Russian-European links in Moscow, though he refused to name it.

Vona’s invitation was arranged by Kovacs, who attended as the party’s foreign policy adviser. At the conference they met several high-ranking Kremlin officials. Afterwards a pro-Russian and anti-Western trend became discernible in Jobbik’s public posture, with high praise for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian, “managed democracy” and rejection of the EU’s liberal values.

The sources point out that Kovacs’s Russian links go back to communist times, when he worked there on the legal side of inter-state foreign trade. In 2003, he qualified as an investment lawyer at the Russian State Academy’s law faculty. His Russian business links have since been ongoing.

Party finances specialists say that, if Jobbik is being financed from abroad, the money could only reach it covertly, through private entrepreneurs. Kovacs, they claim, fits the bill and is involved.

Reports that Jobbik is also receiving Iranian money focus on the fact that Tehran’s gold is intended to reward pro-Iranian and anti-Western attitudes. Krisztina Morvay, a Jobbik MEP, is known in Brussels for her pro-Iran views. Recently she attended President Ahmedinejad’s “Human Rights Conference” in Tehran as her party’s official representative and also privately met several influential Iranian politicians. Jobbik’s pro-Russian and pro-Iranian posturings appear to be rewarding.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Jamaat Links to UK War Crimes Meeting

by David Bergman

London, June 23 ( — A United Kingdom human rights parliamentary committee has admitted that a high-profile seminar it is hosting at the House of Lords on Bangladesh’s 1971 war crimes trials has been organised with the assistance of a group accused of having links to the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Members of the Jamaat and its then student organisation Islami Chhatra Sangha are alleged to have committed crimes during the nation’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The seminar discussing the compatibility of the International War Crime (Tribunals) Act 1973 with international legal standards is hosted by Lord Avebury and includes speakers from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Bar Association.

In March 2010, the War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association, an independent legal body, sent the Bangladesh government a legal opinion outlining changes that it considered should be made to the 1973 Act that would help ensure that the trials would be compatible with international legal standards.

Its detailed advice reflected the concerns previously set out by the international human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, in a letter it sent to the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina in July 2009.

Even though the Bangladesh government has consistently stated in public that its trials will meet international standards, it has however yet to engage with these arguments in any level of detail…

[Return to headlines]

The Fall of the Belgian Church

by Alexandra Colen

In Belgium, today, police searched the residence of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and the crypt of the Archbishop’s cathedral in Mechelen. They were looking for evidence of cover-ups in the ongoing investigation into widespread pedophilia practices within the Belgian church in the decades during which Cardinal Godfried Danneels was Archbishop. Danneels retired in January of this year.

Police also confiscated 450 files containing reports of pedophile offences by members of the clergy, that had been submitted to an investigation committee which was established within the church to deal with pedophilia cases.

Since the revelation in April that Cardinal Danneels’s close friend and collaborator, Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, had been a practicing pedophile throughout, and even before, his career as a bishop, victims have gained confidence that they will be taken seriously, and complaints have been pouring in, both to the courts and to the extra-judicial investigation committee of the archdiocese. The new archbishop Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard, has urged victims to take their case to the courts.

His predecessor, the liberal Cardinal Danneels, who was very popular with the press in Belgium and abroad, was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium from 1979 until 2010. The sympathy for pedophile attitudes and arguments among the Belgian bishops during this period was no secret, especially since 1997 when the fierce controversy about the catechism textbook Roeach made the headlines. The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

UK: Welfare Cuts Put Added Health Strain on Population

Analysis of European data showed that a £70 reduction in welfare spending per person is associated with a 2.8% rise in alcohol-related deaths and 1.2% rise in deaths from heart disease.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the UK research team said ordinary people may be paying the ultimate price for budget cuts.

One expert added that social support was vital for health.

The study comes after the government announced sweeping budget cuts, including reductions in tax credits for families, housing benefit and maternity grants.

To pick out the effects of welfare funding on health, researchers looked at government spending in 15 European countries, including the UK, from 1980 to 2005.

Continue reading the main story If we want to promote a sustainable recovery in Britain, we must first ensure that we have taken care of people’s most basic health needs

Generally the trends showed that when social spending — including support for families and the unemployed — was high, death rates fell, but when they were low, rates rose substantially.

In fact, for every £70 drop in spending per person there was a 1.19% rise in overall deaths.

The biggest effect was seen in illnesses linked to social circumstances, such as heart disease.

And a more in-depth look showed that this link was specific to social welfare spending and independent of healthcare spending.

The analysis also showed that reducing other forms of government spending, such as on the military or prisons, had no such negative impact on the public’s health.

There are currently around 200,000 heart disease deaths each year in the UK and around 9,000 deaths from alcohol.

Ringfenced budgets

Study leader Dr David Stuckler, a lecturer at the University of Oxford, said that although governments may feel they are protecting population health by safeguarding the healthcare budgets, welfare spending may actually be more important.

In addition, he warned that the added burden of poor health linked to welfare cuts could place more strain on the NHS.

“So far the discussions around budget cuts have largely focused on economics.

“But social circumstances are crucial to people’s health and our study shows there could be quite significant harms.

“If we want to promote a sustainable recovery in Britain, we must first ensure that we have taken care of people’s most basic health needs.”

Professor Alan Maryon-Davies, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: “Health is much wider than the health service and social support is crucially important.

“It would be tragic if we find ourselves in this recession dismantling the welfare state.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are committed to reforming the welfare system to make work pay.

“We know that work itself is the best way out of poverty.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

UN Chief Says East Jerusalem Demolition Plan ‘Illegal’

The demolition plans are strongly opposed by the Palestinians UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said the plan to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a tourist park is illegal and unhelpful.

On Monday Jerusalem City Council approved the plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in Silwan — part of a major redevelopment of the area.

The move has drawn criticism both at home and from the Obama administration.

Mr Ban said the plan was “contrary to international law” and “unhelpful” to efforts to restart peace negotiations.

The scheme is still in an initial stage.

Settlement activity

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to advance planning for house demolitions and further settlement activity in the area of Silwan,” Mr Ban’s office said in a statement.

Israel’s government had a “responsibility to ensure provocative steps [were] not taken” that would heighten tensions in the city, he said.

On Tuesday, the US State Department criticised the move, saying it undermined trust and increased the risk of violence.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak also criticised Jerusalem’s municipality for “bad timing” and poor “common sense”.

Under the plan, 22 Palestinian homes would be demolished to make room for an Israeli archaeological park. Another 66 buildings constructed without Israeli permission would be legalised.

Israel has come under international pressure over its settlement plans in East Jerusalem, including the construction of 1,600 housing units in a Jewish neighbourhood there.

Under international law the area is occupied territory. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jonah’s Burial Place Bombed

MOSUL (Iraq) — A BOMB on Friday damaged the perimeter wall of the Nabi Yunes mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, revered by Christians as the burial place of the Biblical prophet Jonah, police said.

The explosion caused no casualties and the mosque itself was untouched, police said.

The large mosque, built on the site of an earlier church, sits on a hill that marks one of the two main settlement mounds of ancient Nineveh, in the eastern part of modern Mosul.

It lies not far from the surviving walls and gates of the great Assyrian city constructed at the turn of the 7th century BC.

The mosque’s current prayer leader, Sheikh Mohammed Abdul-Wahab Shammaa, is a follower of the mystic Sufi tradition of the Muslim faith which is anathema to hardline Islamists. — AFP

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Caroline Glick: The Western Way of War

General Stanley McChrystal has paid a huge price for his decision to give Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings free access to himself and his staff. But he performed a great service for the rest of us. US President Barack Obama fired McChrystal — his hand-picked choice to command NATO forces in Afghanistan — for the things that he and his aides told Hastings about the problematic nature of the US-led war effort in Afghanistan. But by acting as he did, McChrystal forced the rest of us to contend with the unpleasant truth not only about the US-led campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He told us the unpleasant truth about the problematic nature of the Western way of war at the outset of the 21st century.

Hastings’ now famous article, “The Runaway General,” told the story of an argument. On the one hand, there are people who want to fight to win in Afghanistan. On the other hand, there are people who are not interested in fighting to win in Afghanistan. Obama — and McChrystal as his general — occupy the untenable middle ground. There they try to split the difference between the two irreconcilable camps. The inevitable end is preordained…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

India: Marriage With Stepmom is Rape: Deoband

LUCKNOW, India: With an eight-year older step-mother, Husna Beghum, as his love interest, things had never been smooth for Ronak Ali, 25, an unskilled labourer. Eldest among five, Ronak stunned his family and the little hamlet of Gunnor in Baghpat last Tuesday when he surfaced with Beghum — both had been missing since June 13 — by his side, this time, as his one-day-old bride.

Hounded by family, friends and relatives, the couple has gone into hiding again after the Islamic seminary of Darul Uloom, Deoband, has denounced the union as null and void. The terse edict delivered by the fatwa department on Wednesday, maintains that relationship with a mother, even if she is a step-mother, is sacrosanct. Therefore, the union will be deemed to be rape and the violators of the Shari’ah will evoke the stringent punishment as per the tenets of Islam.

Confirming the fatwa, deputy vice-chancellor of the seminary, Maulana Abdul Khalique Madrasi said: “The episode was extremely unfortunate and shows perversion of the worst order. Such a ‘nikah’ can never be permissible under the Shari’ah.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

India: Campaigners Dismiss Bhopal Compensation as Insufficient

Thousands of people were affected by the gas leak in December 1984 A $280m compensation package announced by the Indian government for victims of the Bhopal gas disaster has been denounced by campaigners.

The compensation announced late on Thursday is the latest is a series of pay-offs made by the authorities to victims of the disaster.

The money will go into cleaning up the polluted factory site and improving medical treatment of surviving victims.

Some 3,500 people died within days and more than 15,000 in the years since.

The move follows public outrage after seven former managers at the plant were given two-year jail sentences.

The convictions are the first since the disaster at the Union Carbide plant — considered to be the world’s worst industrial accident.

Campaigners say that the $280m compensation package is based on outdated numbers of the dead and the maimed. They say that 525,000 people have died or been disabled by the toxic gas during the leak and its aftermath.

Campaigners also want the government to treat the bulk of victims as “permanently injured”, instead of “temporarily injured”, since they have to visit hospitals regularly for treatment. They also want them to receive more compensation.

It has taken more than two decades for the government to announce this package, but clearly it will not mark the closure of the tragedy in any way.

The government says Thursday’s announcement will double the payout to families of the dead to $22,000, and increase payments for those with health defects.

It paid “interim compensation” of 3.6bn rupees ($78m) to victims in 1990.

And 20 years ago Union Carbide paid $470m (£282m) in compensation to the Indian government.

Amid rising public and media pressure the government appointed a group of senior ministers to look again at issues such as increased compensation for those affected, and what to do about continued pollution at the now abandoned plant.

Campaigners and groups working for the gas victims are meeting in the capital, Delhi, on Friday to protest against what they call the failure of the government to give “enhanced compensation” for the victims.

‘Severely affected’

“We are not satisfied with the compensation, we are not satisfied with the rehabilitation [plan for victims] and we are not satisfied about the approach to corporate liability [in the new compensation package],” Rachna Dhingra told the BBC.


Continue reading the main story Initial deaths (3-6 December): more than 3,000 — official toll

Unofficial initial toll: 7,000-8,000

Total deaths to date: over 15,000

Number affected: Nearly 600,000

Compensation: Union Carbide pays $470m in 1989

Source: Indian Supreme Court, Madhya Pradesh government, Indian Council of Medical Research

Bhopal voices: ‘Justice denied’

‘Travesty’: Indian papers react

Information Minister Minister Ambika Soni said the government would also gather new evidence against Warren Anderson [the then chairman of the US-based Union Carbide parent group] and “thereafter press the request for [his] extradition”.

Mr Anderson is retired and lives in the US.

“More than 45,000 victims who were affected most severely by the tragedy will receive additional ex gratia payments,” Ms Soni was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The funds will be also used to upgrade local medical facilities and set up a research centre in Bhopal.

They will be used to clean up the polluted factory site which will be dismantled by 2012, Ms Soni said.

Dow Chemicals, which bought the company in 1999, says this settlement resolved all existing and future claims against the company.

But campaigners like Satinath Sarangi, who heads a group of survivors, said that the government must take “strong action” against Dow Chemicals.

“The government has failed to understand the scale of damage,” Mr Sarangi said ahead of Thursday’s announcement.

“There is no mention of the second and third generation victims and the constant medical complications being caused by the contamination,” he added.

Correspondents say the fact that the Bhopal tragedy is back in the news at the same time as the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has added to the sense that victims of the 1984 disaster have been terribly let down.

An extradition treaty does exist between India and the United States — but so far all requests by India for Warren Anderson’s extradition have been turned down by the American government.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Nepal: DeLisi in Mosque

KATHMANDU: US Ambassador to Nepal Scott H DeLisi said his country was committed to further engagement with the Muslim community in Nepal for cementing mutual relations and interests.

Addressing a special event organised by Madrasa Islamiya School in Ghantaghar today, DeLisi said, “I am delighted that we have begun to build this relationship and I look forward to expanding our outreach programme in the months and years ahead.”

Earlier, the US Embassy had organised the outreach programme for the country’s Muslim community in December 2009, reaching more than 3,000 individuals in 19 areas. Stating that such contact between Nepali and US communities was a must to better know each other, DeLisi said he had served in Pakistan with a predominantly Muslim population.

“I have seen the strengths and challenges of Muslim communities first hand. Through our outreach, I hope to learn more and expand mutual understanding and partnership with the Muslim community in Nepal,” he mentioned.

The outreach campaign was organised in collaboration with the Teacher Educators’ Society, Nepal (TESON) to support dialogue with local Muslim communities, with whom the US Embassy historically had limited contact.

The US envoy said, “Our goal is not only to tell you about the United States but also hear from you about your challenges here. We know that we should understand your concerns and your hopes if we are going to be effective partners.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Pakistan to Monitor Google and Yahoo for ‘Blasphemy’

Pakistan says the main website will be unaffected Pakistan will start monitoring seven major websites, including Google and Yahoo, for content it deems offensive to Muslims.

YouTube, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail and Bing will also come under scrutiny, while 17 less well-known sites will be blocked.

Officials will monitor the sites and block links deemed inappropriate.

In May, Pakistan banned access to Facebook after the social network hosted a “blasphemous” competition to draw the prophet Muhammad.

The new action will see Pakistani authorities monitor content published on the seven sites, blocking individual pages if content is judged to be offensive.

Telecoms official Khurram Mehran said links would be blocked without disturbing the main website.

Cartoon controversy

The ban on Facebook was lifted after about two weeks, when the site blocked access to the page, called Everybody Draw Muhammad.

The Draw Muhammad page on Facebook sparked protests in Pakistan Facebook itself is not on the new list of websites to be monitored. A number of links from YouTube will be blocked but not the main site itself.

Many Muslims regard depictions of Muhammad, even favourable ones, as blasphemous.

In 2007, the government banned YouTube, allegedly to block material offensive to the government of Pervez Musharraf.

The action led to widespread disruption of access to the site for several hours. The ban was later lifted.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK Court Rejects Halt to Afghan Prisoner Transfers

LONDON — A British court said Friday that suspected Taliban captives face the risk of mistreatment in a Kabul jail, but rejected an attempt to ban British troops from handing them over to Afghan security forces.

Anti-war activist Maya Evans asked the High Court to forbid British troops from transferring detainees to Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security. Her lawyers said prisoners had suffered abuse including beatings, electrocution and sleep deprivation.

Judges Stephen Richards and Ross Cranston rejected Evans’ suit, but said an existing ban on sending prisoners to the directorate’s Kabul facility should continue because “there is a real risk that detainees transferred to NDS Kabul will be subjected to torture or serious mistreatment.”

They said prisoners could be sent to Afghan-run prisons in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan as long as conditions were monitored.

The judges said isolated examples of abuse at those facilities “are possible, but the operation of the monitoring system — including observance of the specified conditions — will be sufficient to guard against abuse on such a scale as to give rise to a real risk of torture or serious mistreatment.”

The judges called the ruling “a partial victory” for Evans, who said she was pleased with the outcome.

“Transfers to Kabul have stopped as a result of this case and transfers to Kandahar and Lashkar Gah are now subject to conditions,” she said.

The British government also said it was satisfied.

“I am pleased that today’s High Court judgment rules that U.K. forces can lawfully continue to transfer U.K.-captured insurgents to sovereign Afghan authorities,” said Defense Secretary Liam Fox.

He said safeguards against abuse of detainees “will be reinforced in line with the court’s recommendations.”

The court challenge was the latest example of concerns expressed by activists around the world about how captured militants have been treated at prisons such as Abu Graib in Iraq and secretive holding tanks at the U.S. Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Says Terror Bust Underscores Enduring Threat

.BEIJING — China said Thursday its uncovering of a “terrorist” cell linked to a banned separatist movement in the country’s far west underscored the enduring threat of attacks, a year after deadly ethnic riots rocked the traditionally Muslim Xinjiang region.

The gang had gathered pipe bombs, molotov cocktails, knives and other weapons to carry out attacks in southern Xinjiang cities between July and October 2009, Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping told a media briefing. After the plot was revealed, gang members scattered to different parts of China and overseas, and authorities have arrested 10 suspects, he said.

Wu claimed the group was linked to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, a banned organization advocating independence for Xinjiang. China says the group is allied with al-Qaida.

Wu left the briefing without taking questions from reporters and his assertions could not be independently verified. He did not say when the plot was uncovered or when the arrests were made.

The announcement came days before the anniversary of last year’s violence, in which long-simmering tensions between Turkic Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese migrants turned deadly in the regional capital, Urumqi, on July 5.

According to the official count, nearly 200 people died in the violence, which Beijing claims was plotted by overseas Uighur activists. The gang’s planned attacks were apparently aimed at further inflaming tensions.

“The uncovering of this major terrorist group again proves that the ETIM and other terrorist organizations constitute the gravest terrorist threat that our nation faces at this present time and in the future,” Wu told the briefing.

The claims were immediately questioned by overseas activists seeking to draw attention to Beijing’s heavy-handed controls on religious practices and policies they say that favor Han Chinese migrants, fueling resentment among many Uighurs.

“China associates all Uighur causes with the ETIM, although no one seems to know what this group is or where they are located,” said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress which advocates a nonviolent approach.

Though Wu did not identify what countries the suspects fled to, he said three were among a group deported to China in December. That same month, Cambodia repatriated 20 Uighurs it said had illegally entered the country, touching off an international outcry.

The Rev. Marcus Ramsey, director of the Macau Interfaith Network that collaborated with other missionary groups to help the Uighurs escape to Cambodia, said greater transparency was needed to give the accusations credibility.

“There is no press freedom, there is no independent verification of these things so I think they have the luxury of being able to make these claims,” Ramsey said in a phone interview.

Slides shown at Wu’s briefing showed knives and what appeared to be pipe bombs made from black powder and ball bearings. Another showed a minivan and a four-wheel drive vehicle allegedly used by the gang, while a third showed a kitchen-like room described as a bomb factory in Xinjiang.

Wu said the group was behind a pair of deadly attacks aimed at disrupting the 2008 Beijing Olympics that reportedly killed 29 people, including 10 attackers. It swung into action again following last July’s rioting, the worst communal violence to hit Xinjiang in more than a decade, he said.

The riots, and the harsh crackdown that followed, inspired a new generation of terrorist cells with only rudimentary skills but a strong desire to carry out attacks, said Singapore-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna.

“China faces an enduring medium to low-level threat from terror and extremism and that threat increased after the riots,” Gunaratna said in a telephone interview.

The relatively unsophisticated nature of such operations reflects the immense pressure militants face from powerful, well-funded security forces. Unlike in Pakistan and Afghanistan, militants in China face difficulties in communicating and organize effectively and have no apparent access to firearms and military-grade explosives.

Liu Shanying, a security analyst at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, called the gang’s defeat a “major breakthrough in counterterrorism.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Japan to Start Nuclear Power Talks With India

TOKYO (Reuters) — Japan will start talks with India over a civil nuclear energy deal, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said on Friday, a move that would give Japanese firms access to the rapidly growing market amid rising global competition.

Firms from countries such as the United States, France and Russia have scrambled for a foothold in energy-starved India’s civilian nuclear market, worth about $150 billion, after a 2008 U.S. nuclear accord opened up global access to it.

India, Asia’s third-biggest economy, aims to double the share of nuclear power on its grid to more than 8 percent over two decades. Nuclear energy is also being touted as a way for the world’s fourth-biggest emitter to curb fossil fuel emissions.

Major Japanese firms have partnered with companies abroad and engage in joint development for nuclear reactors, such as Hitachi Ltd’s cooperation with General Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with France’s Areva.

But Japanese companies currently cannot access the Indian market due to a lack of legal framework.

“There are projects that suppliers of other countries are involved in (in India) that require Japanese technologies. That is a point of consideration,” Okada told a news conference.

A deal between Japan and India would allow Japan to conduct nuclear trade with India, the foreign ministry official said, adding that the United States and France have big expectations for a pact.

The 2008 civil nuclear accord between the United States and India ended the nuclear isolation India had experienced since its 1974 atomic test and gave it access to U.S. technology and fuel, while also opening up the global market to India.

Japan, the world’s only country to suffer atomic attacks, had been cautious about negotiating a nuclear pact with India, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But Okada said Japan cannot go against the international trend, referring to a 2008 decision by a group of major nuclear suppliers to lift a ban on nuclear trade with India.

The first round of negotiations will be held in Tokyo on June 28-29. It is unclear how long it will be until an agreement is reached, an official at the ministry said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The Chinese Are Desperate to Live Abroad, Just Not in England if Possible

Given China’s turbulent modern history and the fact it continues to be largely a poor country, there have always been lots of people happy to trade in their Chinese citizenship for a life elsewhere.

Traditionally, the United States has been the destination of choice and has benefited enormously from the legions of smart Chinese immigrants it has welcomed. By some accounts, as many as 70 per cent of the Chinese who study in the US end up living there.

In recent years, Canada has also emerged as a popular destination, and a poll in the Canadian Globe & Mail newspaper shows that 77 per cent of Chinese, when given the choice, would choose to move to Canada over staying in China.

(Over half the Brits they polled also said they would be keen to jump ship)

But is the UK seen as an attractive destination too? We did a very informal poll among some young Chinese living in Shanghai and it seems the answer is a resounding no. Indeed one respondent even studied in the UK but decided to flee, and leave her boyfriend behind too.

Minna, a 34-year-old PR executive said that she had discussed emigration with her husband as recently as yesterday, but had decided to stick to China. Her opinion about the UK? Taxes are too high and the standard of living is just too low.

“A couple that are friends with my husband are living in the UK. The husband teaches at a university and the wife works in a school library. You would think they have a middle-class life, but when they came to Shanghai on holiday they said their financial position was very awkward,” she said.

“They live on the outskirts of London because they cannot afford to buy in the city. I guess they make around £5,000 a month between them, but they have to pay huge taxes. They only get £3,000 a month in total. Any middle class family in Shanghai earns more than that! After paying their mortgage and sending some money to their parents, they have nothing left. And now they have a baby girl but cannot even afford a nanny! They drive a car, but cannot go downtown because the parking costs too much.”

Most of the other Chinese we quizzed expressed similar complaints. “The UK is really expensive, for food and everything,” said Ting Ting, a 24-year-old sales person. “The US is much cheaper, has more business opportunities and is much better. Japan is also quiet and has a good living environment.”…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Gillard Reassures Obama on Afghanistan

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has spoken with US President Barack Obama to assure him of her full support for the military campaign in Afghanistan.

In a 20-minute phone conversation with Mr Obama on Friday morning, Ms Gillard said the government’s commitment to Afghanistan would continue under her watch.

“I fully support the current deployment,” Ms Gillard said in a press conference in parliament house after the phone call.

Australia has 1550 soldiers in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. The recent deaths of five diggers have sparked calls for the troops to come home.

Ms Gillard, a member of Labor’s left faction, went beyond the Afghanistan issue to say that the US alliance was the foundation stone of Australia’s security policy, and she hoped to strengthen it as leader.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was due to meet Mr Obama at a G20 meeting in Canada this weekend. Newly-anointed Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan will represent Australia at the meeting.

Ms Gillard said she apologised to Mr Obama for not attending herself — and invited him to make a visit Down Under.

Mr Obama has cancelled two trips to Australia this year, and is expected to come early next year.

“He would be very, very welcome indeed,” Ms Gillard said, adding that Mr Obama had told her he had fond memories of visiting Sydney as an eight-year-old.

US ambassador Jeffrey Bleich said the president was “not at all concerned” that the new prime minister hails from Labor’s left, which tends to place a lesser emphasis on the US alliance.

“It was a very, very positive conversation, in which both of them reaffirmed the importance and the strength of the US-Australia alliance,” Mr Bleich told reporters in Canberra of the phone call.

“The president and prime minister Gillard, they have very similar views, values, strengths. I think they’re going to get along famously.”

Mr Bleich called on Ms Gillard in her parliamentary office, where the pair chatted about AFL as well as more serious issues. Ms Gillard is a Western Bulldogs fan.

The ambassador said the two leaders would meet “as soon as they can, they are very anxious to meet with one another”.

But Mr Rudd has not been forgotten. Mr Bleich said Mr Rudd and Mr Obama would stay friends and retain contacts in public life.

Ms Gillard, whose dramatic rise to the top job on Thursday surprised the nation, is hitting the phone to world leaders on Friday to introduce herself.

She will be speaking to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has already spoken with Ms Gillard; she apologised that she would not be able to address the NZ parliament next week, as Mr Rudd had been scheduled to do.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Norwegians With Congo Death Sentence Seek Clemency

OSLO, Norway — A lawyer for two Norwegians sentenced to death for spying in Congo says his clients are requesting clemency from the country’s president.

Morten Furuholmen says the two signed a letter Friday asking that Congolese President Joseph Kabila grant them a full pardon or commute their death sentences.

Furuholmen says his clients deny any wrongdoing in the letter, to be delivered to Kabila next week.

A Kisangani court on June 10 convicted Tjostolv Moland and Joshua French, who is also a British citizen, of espionage and the 2009 murder of a local driver.

Furuholmen says the men will not appeal because they have “no faith” in receiving a fair trial.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sudan: JEM Rebel Group Says No Darfur Peace Without it

DOHA (AFP) — The head of Darfur’s largest rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, said peace talks that began on Wednesday between the Sudanese government and another rebel group will be fruitless without his movement.

“Peace is impossible without the JEM,” Khalil Ibrahim told Al-Jazeera television when asked about the negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha between Khartoum and the Liberty and Justice Movement.

“What is going on in Doha is a falsification of what our people want” and “what comes out of it will not be peace,” Ibrahim added. “The Doha process has gone off course, and represents nothing more than what the Sudanese government wants.”

Without naming names, he said “they fabricate movements to negotiate with, and these movements obey everything from the Sudanese intelligence services.”

The Liberty and Justice Movement began talks in Qatar with the Sudanese government on Wednesday aimed at reaching a peace deal by mid-July.

The two sides, which signed a framework accord in March establishing a ceasefire, will hold direct negotiations through five committees, said a statement from Qatari Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdullah al-Mahmud and Jibril Bassole, a mediator for the United Nations and the African Union.

They began indirect talks on June 7, but without JEM participation.

That group signed a framework accord in February in Doha, but JEM-Khartoum talks later ran into problems, and a deadline set under the accord for completing the peace deal passed on March 15 without agreement.

Darfur, an arid desert region the size of France, has been gripped by a civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 people and displaced another 2.7 million, according to UN figures. Khartoum says 10,000 people have died.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Germany: Assisted Suicide OK if Patient Consents

BERLIN — Germany’s top criminal court issued a landmark ruling Friday legalizing assisted suicide in cases where it is carried out based on a patient’s prior request.

The ruling came as the court overturned the conviction of a lawyer who had counseled his client in 2007 to stop tube feeding her mother, who had been in a non-responsive coma for five years. A lower court had convicted attorney Wolfgang Putz of attempted manslaughter and given him a nine-month suspended sentence.

The Federal Court of Justice said the 71-year-old woman had said in 2002 that she did not want to be kept alive under such circumstances before falling into the coma.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger welcomed the ruling as a major step toward respecting an individual’s wishes. “There cannot be forced treatment against a person’s will,” she said in a statement. “This is about the right of self-determination and therefore a question of a life in human dignity until the end.”

Germany took political steps to clarify the legal situation surrounding assisted suicide late last year.

Parliament passed a law that made people’s declarations on whether they wanted treatment to prolong their life following an accident or when terminally ill binding for doctors.

But the court ruling now makes it legal to end a person’s life by halting medical treatment, if it is their wish.

In the case considered, the 71-year-old woman fell into a coma after a cerebral hemorrhage in October 2002. Confined to a nursing home, she was fed through a tube for five years.

“An improvement of her health situation was not to be expected anymore,” the court said.

But the nursing home refused to let the woman die.

The woman’s daughter eventually cut the feeding tube on her lawyer’s advice, with her brother and the attorney present. The nursing home reinstalled a new tube shortly thereafter, but the woman died two weeks later “of natural causes,” the court said.

A state court in Fulda acquitted the woman’s daughter as she was acting on the advice of her lawyer, a specialist in medical law. The attorney, however, was convicted in April 2009 and then appealed to the high court.

The court did not release the names of the 71-year-old patient or her daughter.

Across Europe, authorities are struggling to find an answer to the morally charged question of how to end a terminally ill patient’s life in dignity and in accordance with the law.

Switzerland has one of the most liberal laws that allows assisted suicide, even though they are coming under increasing public scrutiny as scores of foreigners every year travel to Switzerland to take their lives.

The Swiss government last year proposed restricting so-called “suicide tourism,” and a law is due to be sent to parliament later this year.

The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2002, requiring the agreement of several doctors that a patient is suffering greatly with no hope of recovery, and has asked to die. Similar regulation is in place in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

But assisted suicide is illegal in Finland, Spain, France and in Italy, where the influence of the Vatican is still strongly felt.

Following a controversial case in which a family ended the life of a girl who had been in a vegetative status for 17 years, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government last year introduced legislation banning caregivers from taking such action.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The Organization Final Exit Network is Putting Up Billboards to Let You Know That You Have the “Right to Die.”

“Final Exit” Network Sponsors Euthanasia Billboards

The controversial non-profit announced plans to put up billboards along highways in California, New Jersey and Florida, promoting what president Jerry Dincin calls “the last civil right of the 21st Century” — the right for a person to determine his or her own death in certain medical situations.

The billboards, which will feature the slogan “My Life, My Death, My Choice”, are reportedly funded in part by volunteer donations to FEN. According to FEN’s website, the group hopes to offer support and information for those who are ill and wrestling with the idea of ending their lives, rather than change any existing legislation. FEN operates on the central belief that all “mentally competent adults have the basic human right to end their lives when they suffer from a fatal or irreversible illness or intractable pain, when their quality of life is personally unacceptable.”

While FEN isn’t the only organization to support the right to die, they do provide counseling to those with illnesses that other groups might turn away, such as Alzheimer’s, emphysema and congestive heart failure.

Four members of the group, including former medical director, Dr.Lawrence Egbert, are currently awaiting trial in Georgia on charges of assisting suicide, à la Jack Kevorkian. Physician-assisted suicide is currently only legal in three states: Montana, Oregon and Washington.

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Africa’s Water Most Precarious, Iceland Best — Study

.ATHENS (Reuters) — African nations led by Somalia, Mauritania and Sudan have the most precarious water supplies in the world while Iceland has the best, according to a survey on Thursday that aims to alert companies to investment risks.

The ranking, compiled by British-based risk consultancy Maplecroft, said climate change and a rising world population meant that stresses on supplies would be of increasing concern in coming decades for uses from farming to industry.

A “water security risk index” of 165 nations found African and Asian nations had the most vulnerable supplies, judged by factors including access to drinking water, per capita demand and dependence on rivers that first flow through other nations.

Somalia, where just 30 percent of the population has clean drinking water, topped the list above Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkmenistan and Syria.


At the other end of the scale, rain-soaked Iceland had the most secure supplies, slightly better than Norway and New Zealand.

“With climate change there is going to be a greater strain on limited water resources in many nations,” Anna Moss, author of the study, told Reuters.

Shifts in monsoon rains and melting of glaciers, for instance, could disrupt supplies with the potential to cause cross-border conflicts. Construction of hydropower dams or more irrigation, for instance, can disrupt supplies downriver.

The study said irrigation accounted for 70 percent of freshwater consumption across the globe. Industry uses another 22 percent.

It said that companies including Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Marks & Spencer, Coca-Cola or Devon Energy were among those seeking to reduce water use.

Water stress was not only a problem in poor nations. Nations such as the United States and Australia have regions that are at risk.

“Countries in Europe, such as Bulgaria, Belgium and Spain, have issues with water stress,” Moss said. Bulgaria ranked 47 on the list, Belgium 50, Spain 68, Australia 95 and the United States 104.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Details of Cold War Intelligence Pact Published

LONDON — Details of the sweeping intelligence sharing pact struck between the United States and Britain at the dawn of the Cold War were made public for the first time Friday, laying bare the details of an unprecedented espionage arrangement.

The 1946 UKUSA agreement — a secret deal to not to spy on one another and to share nearly every single piece of radio intercept material — was a keystone of the United States’ global intelligence-gathering apparatus, allowing it to pool its resources with Britain and other countries.

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand signed on to the pact in later years.

At the heart of the agreement was a pledge that “each party shall make available to the other without request and as a matter of routine, and shall furnish as requested, all communication intelligence produced by its operating agencies.”

Both the U.S. and Britain agreed not to tell any third party about the agreement. And while the existence of the UKUSA became common knowledge well before then, Britain’s communications espionage agency, GCHQ, did not officially acknowledge it until 2006.

With the Soviet Union beginning to flex its muscles on the world stage, the agreement was an attempt to systematize the ad hoc intelligence sharing that already existed as the U.S. and Britain confronted the Nazis during World War II, according to Ed Hampshire, the principal records specialist at Britain’s National Archives, which declassified the material Friday.

“As the threat posed by Nazi Germany was replaced by a new one in the east, the agreement formed the basis for intelligence co-operation during the Cold War,” he said.



           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The DNA of Abraham’s Children

Analysis of Jewish genomes refutes the Khazar claim. [Excerpts]

Jews have historically considered themselves “people of the book” (am hasefer in Hebrew), referring to sacred tomes, but the phrase is turning out to have an equally powerful, if unintended, meaning: scientists are able to read Jewish genomes like a history book. The latest DNA volume weighs in on the controversial, centuries-old (and now revived in a 2008 book) claim that European Jews are all the descendants of Khazars, a Turkic group of the north Caucasus who converted to Judaism in the late eighth and early ninth century. The DNA has spoken: no.

In the wake of studies in the 1990s that supported biblically based notions of a priestly caste descended from Aaron, brother of Moses, an ambitious new project to analyze genomes collected from Jewish volunteers has yielded its first discoveries. In a paper with the kind of catchy title you rarely see in science journals-”Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era”-scientists report that the Jews of the Diaspora share a set of telltale genetic markers, supporting the traditional belief that Jews scattered around the world have a common ancestry. But various Diaspora populations have their own distinct genetic signatures, shedding light on their origins and history. In addition to the age-old question of whether Jews are simply people who share a religion or are a distinct population, the scientific verdict is settling on the latter.

Although the origin of the Jews has been traced, archeologically, to the Middle East in the second millennium B.C.E., what happened next has been more opaque. To sort it out, researchers collected DNA from Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, and Ashkenazi Jews around New York City; Turkish Sephardic Jews in Seattle; Greek Sephardic Jews in Thessaloniki and Athens; and Italian Jews in Rome as part of the Jewish HapMap Project. (All four grandparents of each participant had to have come from the same community.) As the scientists will report in the next issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, the analysis shows that “each of the Jewish populations formed its own distinctive cluster, indicating the shared ancestry and relative genetic isolation of the members of each of those groups.”

Jewish populations, that is, have retained their genetic coherence just as they have retained their cultural and religious traditions, despite migrations from the Middle East into Europe, North Africa, and beyond over the centuries, says geneticist Harry Ostrer of NYU Langone Medical Center, who led the study. Each Diaspora group has distinctive genetic features “representative of each group’s genetic history,” he says, but each also “shares a set of common genetic threads” dating back to their common origin in the Middle East. “Each of the Jewish populations formed its own distinctive cluster, indicating the shared ancestry and relative genetic isolation of the members of each of those groups.”

The various Jewish groups were more related to each other than to non-Jews, as well. Within every Jewish group, individuals shared as much of their genome as two fourth or fifth cousins, with Italian, Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi Jews the most inbred, in the sense that they married within the small, close-knit community. In general, the genetic similarity of any two groups was larger the closer they lived to one another, but there was an exception: Turkish and Italian Jews were most closely related genetically, but are quite separated geographically.

The DNA analysis undermines the claim that most of today’s Jews, particularly the Ashkenazi, are the direct lineal descendants of converted Khazars-which has angered many in the Jewish community as an implicit attack on the Jews’ claim to the land of Israel, since it implies that today’s Jews have no blood ties to the original Jews of the Middle East. Instead, find the scientists, at most there was “limited admixture with local populations, including Khazars and Slavs … during the 1,000-year (second millennium) history of the European Jews.”

Analysis of Jewish genomes has been yielding fascinating findings for more than a decade. A pioneer in this field, Michael Hammer of the University of Arizona, made the first big splash when he discovered that genetics supports the biblical account of a priestly family, the Cohanim, descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses: one specific genetic marker on the Y chromosome (which is passed on from father to son, as membership in the priestly family would be) is found in 98.5 percent of people who self-identify as Cohanim, he and colleagues reported in a 1997 paper in Nature (the PBS science series Nova did a nice segment on that work, summarized here). The Cohanim DNA has been found in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, evidence that it predates the time when the two groups diverged, about 1,000 years ago. DNA can also be used to infer when particular genetic markers appeared, and suggests that the Cohanim emerged about 106 generations ago, making it fall during what is thought to be the period of the exodus from Egypt, and thus Aaron’s lifetime.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]