Friday, February 20, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/20/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/20/2009Our email is still out, so many of our usual tipsters are unrepresented here tonight. Sorry, everybody!

Dymphna did a lot of the work digging up these stories. Thanks to Holger Danske and Reinhard for sending theirs in via skype. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Annual Consumer-Price Gauge Hits 53-Year Low
GOP to Hound Pro-Stimulus Blue Dogs
Indonesia: Minister Seeks Backing for Global Crisis Fund
Irish Mogul’s Empire Totters as Slump Tames Celtic Tiger
Italy: Outlook Bleak for Tourism Industry
Jindal to Refuse Some Stimulus Money
Jindal’s Refusal: Tell the Whole Story, Please
Latvian PM Quits as Crisis Bites
 
USA
“Nation of Cowards”: Is He Nuts?
American Muslims Call to Action to End Domestic Violence
Attorney General Holder’s Speech on Race: “Nation of Cowards”
Community Welcomes New Muslim Chaplain
Exclusive: Postmaster Got $800,000 in Pay, Perks
Guantánamo Meets Geneva Rules
Islamic Supremacism in New Jersey: Muslim Prayer in Public School
More Perks for United Auto Workers
Obama, Osama and Medvedev
Obama’s Durban Gambit
Obama’s Durban Dalliance
Pot Laden Truck Hits Border Agent
San Francisco: Bus Ads Aim to Shatter Muslim Stereotypes
The New President’s Governing Style
USA Turns Toward Religious Persecution
 
Europe and the EU
“Think Like Bombers” Education Pack Withdrawn
Children as Young as Two ‘Must be Tested for Obesity’
Guantanamo Inmate Will Fly to UK
Health Chiefs’ ‘Obesity Tour’ of Supermarket Backfires — as No One Turns Up to Take Part
Medics Upset Over ‘Gender-Based’ Abortion
Police Race Quotas Scrapped Ten Years After Macpherson Labelled the Force ‘Institutionally Racist’
Public Support for Sweden’s ‘No’ to Saab
Sweden: Couple Suspected of Khat Smuggling Arrested in Malmö
Swedes Abandon Political Parties in Droves
Walking House
 
Balkans
Bosnia: Serb Leader Accused of Stealing State Funds
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic Has Expressed Concern Over Slovenia’s Moves to Block His Country’s Entry Into the European Union and NATO Over an Unresolved Border Dispute.
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Hamas “Sends Letter to Obama” Via US Senator
 
Middle East
Israeli Army Chief Apologizes to Turkey Over General’s Remarks
Turkish Army Says No Demands Yet From U.S. for Local Military Base
 
Russia
U.S. to Consider Russian Missile-Defense Stance, Gates Says (Associated Press)
 
South Asia
Both Sri Lanka Troops and Tamil Rebels Accused of Law Violations
India: Majority of Drugs Coming From Afghanistan, UN Says
Officials Find Afghan’s Ties to Terrorist
Pakistan: Taliban Wants Amnesty for Militants in Exchange for Peace
Pakistan: Deadly Bomb Attack Strikes Funeral in Northwest
Pakistan: Govt Dismisses Criticism Over Sharia Law Deal
Sri Lanka: Tamil Tiger Planes Target Colombo
Thailand: Soldiers Killed and Beheaded in Troubled South
 
Far East
Chinese Officials Protest Sinking of Cargo Ship by Russians
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
American Somali Children Join Jihad
 
Immigration
Italy: Migrants and Sex Offenders Face Tough New Measures
 
General
‘Coffee Makes You See Things’
Record Gamma-Ray Blast With Power of 9, 000 Exploding Stars Spotted in Space
Why Cows Point North

Financial Crisis

Annual Consumer-Price Gauge Hits 53-Year Low

By BRIAN BLACKSTONE

U.S. annual inflation vanished for the first time in over half a century, a government report showed, as the severe recession and sharp decline in energy prices since last summer led to a rapid reversal in price pressures.

Still, consumer prices advanced on a monthly basis in January for the first time in six months, easing fears somewhat that the U.S. might face a protracted stretch of falling prices known as deflation.

The consumer price index rose 0.3% in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Friday, slightly more than the 0.2% rise Wall Street economists in a Dow Jones Newswires survey had expected.

The CPI slid 0.8% in December. That number was revised from a 0.7% drop earlier this week when the government released annual adjustments to the CPI data.

The core CPI was up 0.2% last month, also slightly higher than expected.

Unrounded, the CPI rose 0.282% last month. The core CPI rose 0.177% unrounded.

Consumer prices were unchanged compared to one year ago, the lowest rate of change since August 1955 and well below the 2% annual rate of inflation that most Fed officials think is consistent with their dual mandate of price stability and maximum employment.

Core CPI was up 1.7% in the last year, however.

The core CPI increase “suggests the U.S. has not yet slipped into serious deflation,” said Zach Pandl, economist at Nomura.

In fact, as long as price declines stay centered in energy and commodities, it’s generally a plus for the economy by freeing up more disposable income for households to spend. It’s when those declines get embedded more broadly in inflation expectations and cause consumers and business already facing a severe recession to further delay spending and hiring that they become an economic headache known as deflation.

According to the Fed’s January meeting minutes released Wednesday, many officials saw “some risk” of “excessively low inflation” while “a few even saw some risk of deflation.”

Having already lowered official interest rates to near zero, Fed officials have two main options for combating deflation: quantitative easing through their myriad credit programs and communicating a more explicit inflation target.

The Fed’s balance sheet has already doubled in the past five months to almost $2 trillion, and the Fed recently increased by five-fold the size of its Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, to as much as $1 trillion.

Meanwhile, in their January meeting minutes officials extended their inflation forecast horizon, which Fed watchers interpreted as a defacto target. The Fed’s longer-term inflation forecasts — measured by the price index for personal consumption expenditures — are centered between 1.7% and 2%, though most officials think 2% is appropriate. If that catches on with markets and the public, it could keep inflation expectations from turning negative…

[continue reading at URL]

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GOP to Hound Pro-Stimulus Blue Dogs

by S.A. Miller

The handful of the House’s Blue Dog Democrats who switched their votes from “no” to “yes” on the huge economic stimulus are working overtime this week in their conservative-leaning districts to explain the change of heart.

None more so than freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., whose reversal on President Obama’s $787 billion bill secured him a top spot on the Republican Party’s list of vulnerable Democrats targeted for defeat in 2010.

Fending off criticism that the Democrat-led Congress loaded the bill with unnecessary spending, Mr. Kratovil will be out every day of this week’s holiday break touring his sprawling Maryland district and touting success in trimming frivolous programs from the package and highlighting the jobs it’s estimated to produce.

Maryland freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., is a member of the Blue Dog coalition.

“Although this bill is still far from perfect, in a crisis of this magnitude we can’t afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the necessary,” Mr. Kratovil said after the vote switch Friday.

[…]

Blue Dogs who backed the White House plan risk being viewed by conservative voters as tied to the Democratic Party’s more liberal leaders, such as Mr. Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

“There is a difference between the salesman and the product,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Democrats arrogantly proclaimed that Republicans who voted against the stimulus package did so ‘at their own peril,’ but now it appears that in many Democrat-held districts, there could be greater risk in actually having voted for Pelosi’s pork-laden package.” …

[lots more blather and excuses at URL]

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Indonesia: Minister Seeks Backing for Global Crisis Fund

Indonesia’s trade minister Mari Pangestu has asked Australia to back a proposal for the world’s rich nations to support developing countries through the global financial crisis.

Pangestu sought the support as Australia and Indonesia agreed to begin negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement.

The Indonesian minister’s comments were made during a visit to Australia, during which she agreed with her Australian counterpart Simon Crean to resume negotiations for a free trade agreement between the two countries.

Their discussions took place ahead of a high-powered conference in Sydney on Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations.

Crean called trade the best stimulus to economic growth, which is especially necessary during the global financial crisis.

But Pangestu said a free trade deal would bring clear benefits to Indonesia as long as it was based on a true partnership in which trade and market access were matched with capacity building, training and investment.

“Australia has already identified certain skilled worker areas they are in need of, they have a shortage of, so there’s a clear need from the Australian side,” she said.

“So, how do you actually combine this need with the capacity-building that will benefit Indonesia? It’s combined with the training [and] language training skills, and this will also have a positive impact on the training and education sector in Australia.”

According to media reports, the Indonesian government is still forecasting growth of between 4 and 5 per cent in 2009, a prediction that could prove to be optimistic as the global credit crisis worsens.

Jakarta last year organised a loan from international partners for budget support worth 5 billion dollars, a fifth of which has been pledged by Australia.

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Irish Mogul’s Empire Totters as Slump Tames Celtic Tiger

by Aaron O. Patrick

Sir Anthony O’Reilly long has been a symbol of Irish resurgence, a national rugby hero and raconteur who conquered the U.S. corporate world before returning home to oversee a sprawling business empire. That empire now shows signs of unraveling.

Sir Anthony, once America’s highest-paid chief executive while leading H.J. Heinz & Co., has seen the value of his holding in his Dublin-based global newspaper group, Independent News & Media PLC, plunge to $52 million from more than $1.1 billion just 18 months ago.

Concerns about a €200 million ($253 million) debt payment that Independent News faces in May have sent its shares down 90% over the past year to 18 European cents — less than the price of most of its newspapers. Facing declining advertising and readership in addition to its debt load, say analysts, the company could be forced into a fire sale of assets that could cost the firm its trophy publication: the London-based Independent.

In another corner of the O’Reilly world, Waterford Wedgwood PLC, the historic maker of fine china and crystal controlled by Sir Anthony and his brother-in-law, is in the equivalent of bankruptcy reorganization, and workers are occupying a shuttered factory. U.S. private-equity investor KPS Capital Partners LP is negotiating a possible purchase of the company that could be announced within days, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Sir Anthony is an example of how, for some business titans, the credit crunch and recession have become a brutal multifront assault. His big bets on newspapers, luxury goods and the remaking of Ireland itself made him the richest man in the country. Now each of those areas has boomeranged on him.

Mr. O’Reilly, 72 years old, sounds pessimistic about his prospects and Ireland’s, saying in a recent interview that the Irish economy will be “lucky” to contract just 4% this year and that there is little the country can do about it. “It is impossible that if Ireland does not do well, that any of us can do well,” he said.

The drama also finds Sir Anthony fending off a business nemesis, Irish industrialist Denis O’Brien. Sir Anthony owns 27.9% of Independent News & Media. Mr. O’Brien has acquired a 26.2% stake and is pressing for changes, in a move that could disrupt the possibility of Mr. O’Reilly’s being succeeded by his son, Gavin.

At Waterford Wedgwood, a sale to a foreign buyer such as KPS Capital would be another blow to Sir Anthony, who was deeply proud that he helped turn the 250-year-old Irish company into a global brand. KPS has acknowledged discussing a possible purchase of Waterford Wedgwood but wouldn’t comment further.

Sir Anthony’s problems are unfolding against a backdrop of Ireland’s severe downturn following a decade of boom. In the 1990s, the country’s low corporate taxes, business-friendly governments and English-speaking work force attracted huge amounts of foreign investment, driving up incomes and property prices. The global recession reversed the flow, puncturing the property boom and hammering major banks. The Irish economy is now one of the sickest in Europe.

[continue reading at URL]

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Italy: Outlook Bleak for Tourism Industry

The global economic downturn could wipe out 150,000 jobs and 13,000 businesses in Italy’s tourism sector, its main association of workers and employees, Confturismo, has warned.

In a grim portent of the looming crisis, association president Bernabo Bocca said in January alone, hotels in Italy employed 4.5 percent fewer people after a 7.2 percent drop in bookings that month.

The 150,000 jobs at stake in the sector is far higher than the 60,000 jobs at risk in the car industry as a result of the recession, he noted.

Travel agencies employed 3.2 percent fewer people in January, a figure that could rise to 10 percent by mid-2009 if holiday bookings do not pick up in the next few months, according to Confturismo.

“Only emergency incentive measures including the payment of an income-based bonus to families booking holidays in Italy can tackle this severe crisis,” said Bocca.

The global recession had less impact on Italian beach and mountain resorts than cities known for their artistic attractions and spa resorts.

Last year there were 7.8 million fewer bookings, especially from American, British and Japanese tourists. Cities known for art and culture were the hardest hit by the slump in foreign visitors.

“A weak dollar, yen and British pound have caused the collapse, and this year we’re expecting 40 percent fewer British visitors than last year,” said Bocca.

“Despite discounts of 30-50 percent being offered, hotels remain empty,” he added.

Hotel reservations in Italy’s northern business capital, Milan, slumped 30 percent in January.

Overall, hotel reservations from foreign tourists fell 5.8 percent in 2008, compared with a 0.9 percent drop by Italians.

Visitors to Italian cities such as Rome, Florence and Venice were down 6.9 percent and visitors to spa locations dropped by 9.9 percent last year.

“To get tourists flocking to Italy, we need infrastructure. Italy’s entire metro system is smaller than Madrid’s and its highways are strained to breaking-point,” Bocca said.

“We also need lower valued added tax (VAT) that entices visitors as well as more readily available credit facilities.”

Besides bonuses for Italian families and allowing businesses in the tourist sector to delay tax payments, Confturismo is seeking to urgent talks with the government, he said.

He wants the tourism sector to benefit from the kind of government incentives being offered to the car and electrical goods manufacturing industries.

The Italian economy entered recession last year after industrial output shrunk in the third and fourth quarters to reach its lowest level since 1980.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund warned that Italy’s recession could stretch into 2010 “in line with the rest of the euro area, … although its financial sector has remained relatively resilient.”

Italy’s tourism industry currently employs some two million people and accounts for 10 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product.

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Jindal to Refuse Some Stimulus Money

By Alexander Burns

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Friday that he will decline stimulus money specifically targeted at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage, becoming the first state executive to officially refuse any part of the federal government’s payout to states.

In a statement, Jindal, who is slated to give the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s message to Congress on Tuesday, expressed concern that expanding unemployment insurance coverage would lead to increased unemployment insurance taxes later on.

“The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill,” Jindal said. “We must be careful and thoughtful as we examine all the strings attached to the funding in this package. We cannot grow government in an unsustainable way.”

Jindal is one of a small group of Republican governors, which includes South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, who have said they might refuse some or all of the stimulus money targeted to their states.

[details continued at URL]

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Jindal’s Refusal: Tell the Whole Story, Please

Think Progress and even some media outlets are reporting LA Gov Jindal’s refusal of some stimulus dollars without really telling the whole story. But the information is right there to be had.

Jindal is increasing unemployment payments from his state budget and refusing a bribe to alter State law that determines who is eligible for unemployment. If Washington simply wanted to help, why not just offer the dollars to support existing unemployment programs?

This is another example of DC looking to centralize power for state lawmaking at the Federal level. In short, it’s a power grab. And the suggestion that LA or whomever could just change the law back later is foolish. It puts the state government at a political disadvantage should it want to revert to its own law in 3 years. I can see the headlines now. LA Gov pushes move to cut unemployment insurance. Yeah, that will sell. Jindal is right to tell the Feds no. They should mind their own business. We’d all be better off.

“Today, Governor Bobby Jindal announced that the state will not change its law to use a part of the $787 billion federal stimulus bill that would result in an unemployment insurance tax increase on Louisiana businesses. The Governor also announced that the state will use a provision in the legislation to increase state unemployment benefits for recipients by an extra $25 per week, and reaffirmed his acceptance of the transportation funds included in the bill to fund shovel-ready transportation priorities in the state.”

His reasoning…

[ story continued at the URL]

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Latvian PM Quits as Crisis Bites

Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis and his government have resigned, amid political turmoil triggered by the Baltic state’s economic crisis.

President Valdis Zatlers has accepted the resignations.

Earlier the two largest parties in the ruling centre-right coalition had demanded the PM’s resignation.

International lenders, including the IMF, World Bank and EU, have pledged 7.5bn euros (£6.6bn; $9.5bn) to shore up Latvia’s struggling economy.

Protesters demanding the government’s resignation clashed with police in the capital Riga on 13 January.

But Mr Godmanis then survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote on 3 February.

Latvia’s economy is in recession, having shrunk at the fastest rate since the early 1990s, when it split from the Soviet Union. It is expected to contract by 12% this year.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell 10.5% in the last quarter of 2008, compared with the same period a year earlier.

The Latvian economy had been booming for several years, but the global credit crunch hit the country hard.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

USA

“Nation of Cowards”: Is He Nuts?

by Heather Mac Donald

Attorney General Eric Holder, a Clinton administration retread, wants to revive Bill Clinton’s National Conversation on Race. (What’s next? Hillarycare?) Holder recently told his Justice Department employees that the United States was a “nation of cowards” for not talking more about race. “It is an issue we have never been at ease with and, given our nation’s history, this is in some ways understandable,” Holder said. “If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.”

Is he nuts? Leave aside for a moment Holder’s purely decorative call for a “frank” conversation about race. The Clinton-era Conversation also purported to be frank, and we know what that meant: a one-sided litany of white injustices. Please raise your hand if you haven’t heard the following bromides about “the racial matters that continue to divide us” more times than you can count: Police stop and arrest blacks at disproportionate rates because of racism; blacks are disproportionately in prison because of racism; blacks are failing in school because of racist inequities in school funding; the black poverty rate is the highest in the country because of racism; blacks were given mortgages that they couldn’t afford because of racism. I will stop there.

Not only do colleges, law schools, almost all of the nation’s elite public and private high schools, and the mainstream media, among others, have “conversations about . . . racial matters”; they never stop talking about them. Any student who graduates from a moderately selective college without hearing that its black students are victims of institutional racism-notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of black students there will have been deliberately admitted with radically lower SAT scores than their white and Asian comrades-has been in a coma throughout his time there.

Education bureaucrats maintain an incessant harangue on white racism because they see the writing on the wall: most students are indifferent to race and just want to get along. If left to themselves, they would go about their business perfectly happily and color-blindly, and the race industry would wither on the vine. Thus the institutional imperative to remind black students constantly about their victimization and the white students about their guilt. Last month, the elite Phillips Academy at Andover proudly announced a student presentation on White Privilege: A History and Its Role in Education. Would the student have come up with such a topic on her own without the school’s educators deliberately immersing her in such trivial matters? Of course not.

But if Attorney General Holder is really sincere about wanting a “frank” conversation about race, he should put the following items on the agenda…

[continued at URL]

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American Muslims Call to Action to End Domestic Violence

By Fedwa Wazwaz

On Thursday February 12, 2009 — Aasiya Zubair Hassan, a 37 year old mother of four, was found decapitated in Buffalo, New York by her husband. Read on it here.

Today is the national event: American Muslims Call to Action to End Domestic Violence.

American Muslims are making a coordinated, unified, national effort to have all imams and religious leaders finally discuss this tragedy, as well as domestic violence and battery of women, for today, February 20, 2009 during the Friday’s Khutbah [Religious Sermon].

2-20-09. Imams Speak Out: Domestic Violence Will Not Be Tolerated in Our Communities.

The murder of Aasiya Zubair represents the most vile and barbaric example of its kind.

It is now a nationwide, unified, official event with support from a diverse INTERNATIONAL community: religious imams, mainstream organizations, community leaders, grassroots activists, and American and international citizens of all colors and religions are behind this.

There are amazing grassroots activists who pushed for this in 3 days. One notable activist behind this effort is Wajahat Ali, who even started a couple of facebook groups for this effort as well as wrote an article on several blogs and the guardian titled: A wake-up call for the community.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


Attorney General Holder’s Speech on Race: “Nation of Cowards”

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must — and will — lead the nation to the “new birth of freedom” so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet …

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Community Welcomes New Muslim Chaplain

PrintEmail Article Tools Page 1 of 1 For many people, the events of Sept. 11 caused them to question their faith, but for Mount Holyoke’s new Muslim chaplain, Tahera Ahmad, her faith only strengthened. Ahmad, who began at Mount Holyoke Feb. 1, was in high school when the terrorist attack occurred, and her prospective career path changed from pharmaceuticals to the ministry.

“I did some soul-searching after Sept. 11, and I wanted to answer not only other people’s questions [about Islam], but also my own,” she said.

Ahmad grew up in Chicago, and has been a member of the Islamic faith her whole life. She attended the Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin, Illinois, a residential institute with separate boys’ and girls’ campuses. She then received her graduate certificate in Arabic from Al-Diwan Institute in Cairo, Egypt. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in Islamic Chaplaincy/Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.

While this is her first missionary job, Ahmad has worked at other colleges in Chicago and has spoken at numerous events. Having come from a family of a various professions, ranging from beat-boxers to doctors, her career in the field of ministry was an interesting addition. The decision led Ahmad to star in a video segment entitled, How To Stay True to Yourself, a McGraw-Hill video about diversity in America.

Ahmad was drawn to Mount Holyoke for its diversity and sense of community. “Some things that stuck out to me were the staff at the Eliot House, the diversity, and that it didn’t matter where I was coming from,” she said.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


Exclusive: Postmaster Got $800,000 in Pay, Perks

Raise came amid calls for cuts in delivery

by Jim McElhatton

Postmaster General John E. Potter recently warned that economic times are so dire that the U.S. Postal Service may end mail delivery one day a week and freeze executive salaries. But his personal fortunes are nonetheless rising thanks to 40 percent in pay raises since 2006, a $135,000 bonus last year and several perks usually reserved for corporate CEOs.

The changes, approved by the Postal Board of Governors and contained in a little-noticed regulatory filing in December, brought Mr. Potter’s total compensation and retirement benefits to more than $800,000 in 2008. That is more than double the salary for President Obama.

The new compensation package, much of it deferred to later years, goes beyond a newly beefed-up salary, now $263,575, that Congress arranged for him as part of a 2006 law to make top postal salaries more competitive with those in the private sector. At least four other postal officials got more than a quarter-million dollars in total compensation in 2008, according to Postal Service records reviewed by The Washington Times.

Lawmakers, already trying to limit compensation of Wall Street executives, have taken notice of Mr. Potter’s good fortune when the Postal Service is posting nearly $3 billion a year in losses and now wants to raise the price of a stamp by 2 cents.

The House Oversight and Government Reform federal workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia subcommittee “will investigate during this Congress,” said Marcus A. Williams, a spokesman for the panel that oversees the Postal Service.

Outside analysts also said Mr. Potter’s recent vow to freeze postal executive salaries at 2008 levels means little when several got such generous compensation packages.

“It’s easy to freeze your pay when salaries were running as hot as a dragster the previous year,” said Pete Sepp, vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan groups that monitors spending of the government and its spinoff agencies like the Postal Service.

“There is something to be said for attractive compensation. But at the same time, the Postal Service has a government guaranteed monopoly on the delivery of first-class mail, and UPS and FedEx don’t have that. Because of that, there is a fundamental difference in the Postal Service’s business model and that of package delivery firms.”…

[Continue at URL

ed. note: be sure to read the usual excuse for gluttony in government service in last paragraph]

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Guantánamo Meets Geneva Rules

By WILLIAM GLABERSON

A Pentagon report requested by President Obama on the conditions at the Guantánamo Bay detention center concludes that the prison complies with the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva conventions, but it makes many recommendations for increasing human contact among the prisoners, according to two government officials who have read portions of it.

[…]

The review, conducted by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of naval operations, describes a series of steps that could be taken to allow detainees to speak to one another more often and to engage in group activities, the government officials said. For years, critics of the prison have said that many detainees spend as many as 23 hours a day within the confines of cement cells and were only permitted recreation alone in fenced-off outdoor pens.

The report, which Admiral Walsh is scheduled to discuss publicly at the Pentagon next week, is being presented to a White House that some government officials have described as caught off guard by the extreme emotions and political cross-currents provoked by Guantánamo. Some critics said that the report’s conclusions are likely to intensify the debate about the prison, and put the Obama White House for the first time in the position of defending it.

Included in the report are recommendations to increase social contact among the 16 prisoners described by the Bush administration as “high value detainees,” the men once held in secret overseas prisons by the Central Intelligence Agency. Among them are the accused architects of many major terrorist attacks, including those of Sept. 11, 2001…

[report continues at URL]

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Islamic Supremacism in New Jersey: Muslim Prayer in Public School

FINDING A PLACE TO PRAY New Jersey.com

WAYNE — Rola Awwad wants a private space for her 10-year-old son at Albert Payson Terhune Elementary School to exercise his right to Muslim prayer.

Adam Awwad, 10, praying at the Circassian Benevolent Association in Wayne after being driven there from school by his mother. The school district had offered to let him pray at recess — either outside or in a classroom while classmates are there. And that, says Awwad, is “unacceptable.”

All students are constitutionally guaranteed the right to pray during the school day as long as it doesn’t interfere with learning. But Wayne is struggling with what accommodations to make if a Muslim student requests privacy for prayer.

This is all about imposing Islam on infidels. This is creeping sharia. This is the march to Islamic domination.

This is about power. There is no special treatment for “special classes”. This is how they impose their Islam on a secular society. Muslim footbaths in airports and universities, Muslim cab drivers who refuse to take passengers with dogs or alcohol, prayer times in public schools, prayer times in the work place… this is how you lose your country…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


More Perks for United Auto Workers

by Henry Payne

As General Motors and Chrysler asked U.S. taxpayers for $21 billion more in loans this week, a press report here quietly revealed that the United Auto Workers have preserved for themselves the right to personal legal expenses — to file divorce papers, draw up wills, and so on — on the company dime.

Like the infamous jobs bank — which pays idled UAW workers not to work — the legal-services perk is unprecedented in any other industry and another indication that the Detroit Three auto companies are in trouble because their business models are disconnected from the real world. And you, dear taxpayer, are now picking up the tab.

“I’ve never heard of a company offering that,” John Challenger, head of a Chicago-based workplace-consulting firm told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s something you wouldn’t see anywhere else in corporate America.”

GM, Chrysler, and their union have failed to make hard choices for decades, which is precisely why they are in their present pickle. By seeking refuge in Washington, they only continue to defer hard choices. Even now, with GM kept alive by public drip, the UAW is drawing a line in the sand on personal legal expenses, when they should be offering concessions on major issues like health benefits. Uncle Sugar, they confidently assume, will be there to bail them out.

Last week, GM announced the termination of 10,000 salaried jobs, and forced cuts in white-collar health-care benefits, retiree medical coverage, and 401k matches. Yet, under contract, the company must negotiate with the UAW on similar emergency measures. So while UAW workers maintain their gold-plated retirement health benefits, their former bosses in management have had to go on Medicare.

Detroit apologists claim that public welfare is necessary for automakers that are otherwise on course for profitability once the credit crisis passes.

But if this is so, why did the UAW itself refuse Wednesday to accept GM’s offer of equity in exchange for precious cash to fund its health-care obligations?

Or why does Chrysler’s own owner — the private equity firm Cerberus — refuse to invest more money in its property? This week, it assured Washington of its future by pointing to its new alliance with Fiat — even as Fiat refused to take a equity share and made its involvement contingent on more public loans!

America’s taxpayers, in other words, are being asked to loan money to a company that its own union, owner, and suitor refuse to invest in. So far, Washington is taking its constituents for chumps. But as stories of legal-fee bon-bons for UAW workers leak out, the public is going to get educated real fast…

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Obama, Osama and Medvedev

By Pepe Escobar

For those who harbored any doubts, the Barack Obama administration’s adoption of the George W Bush framework of the “war on terror” — it does feel like a back-to-the-future “continuity” — here are two key facts on the ground.

Obama has officially started his much-touted Afghanistan surge, authorizing the deployment of 17,000 US troops (8,000 marines, 4,000 army and 5,000 support) mostly to the Pashtun-dominated, southern Helmand province. Justification: “The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention.” The marines start arriving in Afghanistan in May. Their mission is as hazy as it is hazardous: eradication of the poppy culture, the source of heroin (which accounts for almost 40% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product). There are already 38,000 US troops in Afghanistan, plus 18,000 as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 50,000 contingent.

Obama administration nominees, in confirmation testimony that seemed to have disappeared in a black hole, stressed they are in favor of continuing the Central Intelligence Agency’s extraordinary rendition practices and detaining — ad infinitum — “terror” suspects without trial, even if they were captured far, far away from a war zone. (Considering the Pentagon’s elastic definition of an “arc of instability”, this means anywhere from Somalia to Xinjiang.) That has prompted New York Times writers to come up with a delightful headline: “Obama’s War on Terror May resemble Bush’s in some Areas.”

When in doubt, bomb ‘em

Basically, the Obama administration’s strategy — for now — boils down to turbo-charging a war against Pashtun farmers and peasants. Poppy cultivation has been part of Afghan culture for centuries…

[story continues at URL]

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Obama’s Durban Gambit

by Caroline Glick

While most Americans were busy celebrating Valentine’s Day, last Saturday the Obama administration announced that it would send a delegation to Geneva to participate in planning the UN’s so-called Durban II conference, scheduled to take place in late April. Although largely overlooked in the US, the announcement sent shock waves through Jerusalem.

The Durban II conference was announced in the summer of 2007. Its stated purpose is to review the implementation of the declaration adopted at the UN’s anti-Israel hate-fest that took place in Durban, South Africa, the week before the September 11, 2001, attacks against America.

At Durban, both the UN-sponsored NGO conclave and the UN’s governmental conference passed declarations denouncing Israel as a racist state. The NGO conference called for a coordinated international campaign aimed at delegitimizing Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, and belittling the Holocaust.

The NGO conference also called for curbs on freedom of expression throughout the world in order to prevent critical discussion of Islam. As far as the world’s leading NGOs — including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — were concerned, critical discussions of Islam are inherently racist.

In defending US participation in the Durban II planning sessions, Gordon Duguid, the State Department’s spokesman, argued, “If you are not engaged, you don’t have a voice.”

He continued, “We wanted to put forward our view and see if there is some way we can make the document [which sets the agenda and dictates the outcome of the Durban II conference] a better document than it appears it is going to be.”

WHILE THIS seems like a noble goal, both the State Department and the Obama White House ought to know that there is absolutely no chance that they can accomplish it. This is the case for two reasons.

First, since the stated purpose of the Durban II conference is to oversee the implementation of the first Durban conference’s decisions, and since those decisions include the anti-Israel assertion that Israel is a racist state, it is clear that the Durban II conference is inherently, and necessarily, anti-Israel.

The second reason that both the State Department and the White House must realize that they are powerless to affect the conference’s agenda is because that agenda was already set in previous planning sessions chaired by the likes of Libya, Cuba, Iran and Pakistan. And that agenda includes multiple assertions of the basic illegitimacy of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The conference agenda also largely adopted the language of the 2001 NGO conference that called for the criminalization of critical discussion of Islam as a form of hate speech and racism. That is, the 2009 conference’s agenda is not only openly anti-Israel, it is also openly pro-tyranny, and so seemingly antithetical to US interests.

Beyond all that, assuming that the Obama administration truly wishes to change the agenda, the fact is that the US is powerless to do so. As was the case in 2001, so too, today, the Islamic bloc, supported by the Third World bloc, has an automatic voting majority. Beyond chipping away at the margins, the US has no ability whatsoever to change the conference’s agenda or expected outcome.

SINCE IT came into office a month ago, every single Middle East policy the Obama administration has announced has been antithetical to Israel’s national security interests. From President Barack Obama’s intense desire to appease Iran’s mullahs in open discussions; to his stated commitment to establish a Palestinian state as quickly as possible despite the Palestinians’ open rejection of Israel’s right to exist and support for terrorism; to his expressed support for the so-called Saudi peace plan, which would require Israel to commit national suicide by contracting to within indefensible borders and accepting millions of hostile, foreign-born Arabs as citizens and residents of the rump Jewish state; to his decision to end US sanctions against Syria and return the US ambassador to Damascus; to his plan to withdraw US forces from Iraq and so give Iran an arc of uninterrupted control extending from Iran to Lebanon, every single concrete policy Obama has enunciated harms Israel.

At the same time, none of the policies that Obama has adopted can be construed as directed against Israel. In and of themselves, none can be viewed as expressing specific hostility toward Israel. Rather, they are expressions of naiveté, or ignorance, or — at worst — deliberate denial of the nature of the problems of the Arab and Islamic world on the part of Obama and his advisers.

The same cannot be said of the administration’s decision to send its delegation to the Durban II planning session this past week in Geneva. Unlike every other Obama policy, this is a hostile act against Israel. This is true first of all because the decision was announced in the face of repeated Israeli requests that the US join Israel and Canada in boycotting the Durban II conference.

Some could chalk up the US’s rejection of Israel’s urgent entreaties as an honest difference of opinion. But what lies behind Israel’s requests for a US boycott is not a partisan agenda, but a clearheaded acknowledgement that the Durban II conference is inherently devoted to the delegitimization and destruction of the Jewish state. And by joining in the planning sessions, the US has become a full participant in legitimizing and so advancing this overtly anti-Jewish agenda.

On Thursday, Prof. Anne Bayefsky, the senior editor of the EyeontheUN Web site, demonstrated that by participating in the planning sessions the US is accepting the conference’s anti-Israel agenda. Bayefsky reported that at the planning session in Geneva on Thursday, the Palestinian delegation proposed that a paragraph be added to the conference’s agenda. Their draft “calls for implementation of… the advisory opinion of the ICJ [International Court of Justice] on the wall, [i.e., Israel’s security fence], and the international protection of Palestinian people throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.” …

[continue at URL]

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Obama’s Durban Dalliance

Does an anti-Semitic conference deserve U.S. participation of any kind?

Last December, we wrote that an “early test” for the Obama Administration would be whether it participated in a forthcoming U.N. conference on racism, better known as Durban II. Uh, oh.

The first “Durban” — named for the South African city where the U.N. held its 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance — was chiefly notable as a virulent display of anti-Semitism. Yet last weekend, the Administration announced it would participate in “conference preparations,” while reserving judgment on whether to attend the conference itself. If this isn’t failing the big test, it’s flunking the pop quiz.

So here’s a make-up review. Back in 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to appear at Durban for fear that it would turn into a carnival of hatred and grievance. That’s exactly what happened, prompting Mr. Powell to withdraw the U.S. delegation. As he put it at the time, “I know that you do not combat racism by suggesting that apartheid exists in Israel.”

Undeterred, the U.N. has been merrily planning what it formally calls the “Durban Review Conference,” which is scheduled for April and whose purpose is to “reaffirm the Durban Declaration.” The preparatory committee is chaired by Libya. Vice chairs include Iran and Cuba, which does double duty as the committee “rapporteur.” The conference is organized under the auspices of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Bush Administration refused to join.

As for what this Review Conference is supposed to achieve, some clues are provided in the latest draft of the so-called Outcome Document. Israel’s “racial policies” are a major theme, as is “the plight of Palestinian refugees and other inhabitants of the Arab occupied territories,” meaning Israel itself. Under debate, however, is whether to include a line that the Holocaust “resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people.” Presumably Iran objects.

The draft also calls “on states to develop, and where appropriate to incorporate, permissible limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression into national legislation.” Yes, you read that right. The transparent purpose is to criminalize all criticism of Islam, a.k.a. “Islamophobia.”…

[continue reading at URL]

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Pot Laden Truck Hits Border Agent

U.S. Border Patrol agents shot a suspected drug smuggler in the New Mexico desert after the man ran over an officer with a pickup truck, officials said Friday.

Doug Mosier, a Border Patrol spokesman in El Paso, said agents were trying to stop the truck on a desert road Thursday night when one of them was hit. At least one other agent opened fire, hitting the driver.

[…]

The FBI does not know who the driver is because he carried no identification, but believes he is a Mexican national, Mr. Hulsey said.

The truck contained 1,500 pounds of marijuana, wrapped in 25-pound bundles that filled the interior of the pickup “so that only one human being could fit inside of it,” he said…

[Full story at URL]

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San Francisco: Bus Ads Aim to Shatter Muslim Stereotypes

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — A Bay Area Islamic organization is turning to San Francisco Muni buses to educate people about their religion.

The group is posting advertisements on the outside of Muni buses. They include phrases like “you deserve to know” and “why Islam,” along with a phone number for more information.

Their goal is to urge more non-Muslims to learn about Islam and help remove negative stereotypes.

“We’re basically sick and tired of people labeling us, of defining us, framing us, so I think it’s time for us to stand up and basically inform the American public of who we are and what is our true identity,” said Muhammad Hanif with the Islamic Circle of the Bay Area.

The ads will appear on about 170 Muni buses and 10 cable cars.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


The New President’s Governing Style

by Tony Blankley

In the middle ages, when a young prince suddenly and prematurely became king, the royal court, the church leadership and other senior aristocrats would scrutinize his every word and habit for signs of what kind of mind would be deciding their country’s fate and their personal prosperity and safety. Today, around the world, President Barack Obama’s every word, every action, every inaction is being likewise scrutinized for similar reasons.

Prior to the November election, the only evidence we had of Mr. Obama’s managing style, and that evidence was indirect, was the management of his campaign — which was brilliant. But whether he was its active manager or merely took guidance from a shrewd Svengali remains to be known.

Since the election, we are beginning to get hints of his management style in four items Mr. Obama himself has described as of the highest priority to him — and thus, one presumes, items to which he would have given his personal attention: Cabinet selection, closing Gitmo, the stimulus package and bipartisanship.

Regarding the Cabinet selection, he famously said he “screwed up.” But from a management perspective the unanswered question is how did he “screw up”? Did he actively design the failed vetting process and actively assess the various negative information and fail to see its significance? Or, did he “screw up” by letting others design the failed system and assess the data inflow? The former would show poor substantive judgment. The latter would show he wasn’t paying sufficient attention to a presumably vital matter. We don’t know yet which kind of “screw-up” it was.

The second item, President Obama’s performance at the Gitmo executive order, provided a brief but revealing insight into the president’s personal involvement in vital decision-making. He had campaigned hard on closing Gitmo. His first public signing as president was of that executive order to close it down. The central issue of the Gitmo closing was, and is — what do we do with the dangerous inmates? President Bush kept it open primarily because his administration couldn’t figure out an answer to that question.

Thus it was breathtaking that at the signing ceremony, President Obama didn’t know how — or even if — his executive order was dealing with this central quandary:

President Obama: “And we then, we will then, uh, provide the process whereby Guantanamo will be closed no later than, uh, one year from now. We will be… Uhhh … Ummm. … Is there a separate executive order, Greg, with respect to how we’re going to dispose of the detainees? Is that it, eh, uh, what we’re doing?”

White House Counsel Greg Craig: “We’ll set up a process.”

To be at the signing ceremony and not know what he was ordering done with the terrorist inmates is a level of ignorance about equivalent to being a groom at the altar in a wedding ceremony and asking who it is you are marrying.

Once again in the third item — the stimulus process — his lack of personal involvement in its design is curious. He has recently said (incorrectly, I believe) that his presidency will be judged only on whether he fixes the economy or not. Thus, as he has identified the stimulus as essential to the recovery process, his willingness to let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid design a bill that even after it passed, Mr. Obama has continued to criticize as needing improvement (on bank executive compensation) leaves one puzzled as to why he didn’t use his currently vast political clout with his own party allies to shape a bill more to his liking.

The final item to examine here is his repeated campaign and post campaign commitment to bipartisanship. While he was gracious in inviting leading Republicans to the White House for a Super Bowl party, he permitted his congressional allies to completely shut out (except for the three collaborators) all Senate Republicans and all House Republicans, including their leadership and the GOP’s titular leader, Sen. John McCain, in the drafting of the bill and the final conference committee.

He says he wants bipartisanship. Why would he permit his congressional allies to kill any hope of bipartisanship by their egregious conduct?

I can think of four possible explanations for this almost unprecedented presidential detachment from the decision-making of policies the president publicly declared to be vital to the country and his presidency:

[Read the four explanations of Obama’s governing style, and why they might be dangerous, continued at URL]

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USA Turns Toward Religious Persecution

by Hamma Mirwaisi

The United States is known around the world as the “Land of Opportunity.” Millions of people from every end of the globe have strived to reach America, whether to escape unjust persecution due to religion, ethnicity, or corrupt governments, or simply out of a sense of adventure seeking a better life for themselves and their families. In 1976, I found myself in such a situation. I am a Kurd from Northern Iraq. I sought refuge from years of abuse at the hands of the Arabs who have come into the region under the guise of Islam all the while with a goal of stealing our lands. The Islamic army taught us that their religion is a “religion of peace,” but as it turns out, the religion is simply a pretext used for them to seize the region little by little.

Life for Kurds is very difficult in Iraq. It is even more so now in America where we are viewed as “Muslims” with Arabic origins by many people who have no knowledge or understanding of our origins. In my case, I fled Iraq just in time as my name was on a list of those to be executed by Saddam Hussein. I found this out by accident years later while working for the United States government as a translator.

After all of this time spent living in America, becoming a citizen, paying taxes, and even working for the government, I am being accused of not being loyal to the United States simply because I was born in Iraq. I am viewed by many within the government itself as a second class citizen. Unfortunately, this is not new to me. In my birthplace I am treated the same way by Arab and Turkish occupiers. The difference is that in America there are supposed to be laws to protect me and others like me. I will not accept second class status in the United States. I am here legally; I have been for over 30 years. I pay taxes; I have done so for over 30 years. And for over 20 years I have been a citizen of the United States.

This is why I am reaching out to the people of the US for help and hope to find a lawyer willing to take my case against the US Government as I do not have the resources to defend myself in this situation.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

“Think Like Bombers” Education Pack Withdrawn

The Government has apologised for causing offence as it withdrew a teaching pack telling children to think about the July 7 terror attacks from the bombers’ perspective.

The pack, put together by the borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, was displayed on the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ Teachernet website as a way of addressing controversial issues.

But ministers decided to withdraw it after admitting it was “misguided and inappropriate”.

A DCSF spokesman said: “While the resource in no way looks to justify or excuse the terrible events of 7/7, and is designed to educate against violent extremism, we appreciate that it may not be appropriate for use in schools. It’s important young people discuss these difficult and controversial issues in a controlled environment but, in this case, ministers apologise for any offence caused.”

The resource, Things Do Change, looks at life in multicultural Britain.

The first module examines all faiths and the “golden rule” of treating others as you would want to be treated. But a later module focuses specifically on the July 7 bombings and the impact on different communities in Britain. It suggests students could: “Prepare a brief presentation on the 7/7 bombings from the perspective of the bombers.”

The resource also suggests pupils could look at the attacks from the perspective of Muslims in Britain, non-Muslim Asians in Britain and other Britons in general.

Sail Suleman, author of the pack, told the Times Educational Supplement (TES): “Radicals, extremists and fundamentalists come in all different forms. We’re looking at why people become extreme. Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it justified? Why do young people go out and do what the bombers did? Was it pressure from individuals they were hanging out with? Hopefully, we’ll encourage pupils to stay away from those individuals.”

All of the 7/7 bombers — Siddique Khan, Shezad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain and Jermaine Lindsay — were originally from West Yorkshire.

The resource was adopted by the DCSF as part of a toolkit to help schools tackle violent extremism.

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Children as Young as Two ‘Must be Tested for Obesity’

By Laura Clark

Two-year-olds are to be checked for signs of obesity under Government plans, it has emerged.

Health officials have asked experts to develop suitable weight assessments for toddlers after checks on five-year-olds found a quarter were already overweight.

Advisers have claimed that primary school reception classes are ‘too late’ to start tackling the problem.

But parents said the plans risk stigmatising very young children and warned of difficulties in judging whether two-year-olds are becoming overweight.

Officials admitted that the age of two was a time of ‘rapid growth and change’.

It is thought that the proposals for the weigh-in scheme will be put forward within a year.

Children are already weighed and measured in reception class, when they are four or five, and in year six — when aged 11 — as part of a programme introduced three years ago.

Parents should be informed when children’s body mass index indicates they are overweight and are then encouraged to improve their offspring’s diets.

At a recent seminar hosted by the Westminster Health Forum, Dr Will Cavendish, from the Department of Health, said: ‘The evidence is pretty horrible that one in four children are overweight or obese at reception and one in three at year six.

‘Of course we know that child obesity doesn’t suddenly pop up at age four, five. We also know that we need to act on the early years, and indeed the pre-birth, family environment, in order to get at this really effectively.’

On the potential difficulty in finding measurement criteria for two-year-olds, he admitted that there were ‘very differing views’ on this.

‘We are asking the experts to bring back to us what would be the most appropriate measurement, if one is available, in order to assess early stage obesity at that age,’ said Dr Cavendish…

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Guantanamo Inmate Will Fly to UK

A British resident held at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years is expected to be flown back to the UK early next week.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today the UK and US governments had “reached agreement” on the transfer of Binyam Mohamed.

The detainee will be returned to Britain “as soon as the practical arrangements can be made”, Mr Miliband said in a statement.

Ethiopian-born Mr Mohamed, 30, has been held at the controversial US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba since September 2004. He went on a hunger strike for more than a month at the start of this year and was described by his legal team as “close to starvation”.

A team of British officials who travelled to Guantanamo Bay last weekend said he was well enough to travel back to the UK.

The detainee, who lived in London before his arrest in Pakistan in 2002, alleges he was tortured into falsely confessing to terrorist activities and claims MI5 officers were complicit in his abuse. No date has been confirmed for his return to Britain, but reports suggest it could be as early as Monday.

Mr Miliband said: “The UK and US governments have reached agreement on the transfer of Binyam Mohamed from Guantanamo Bay to the UK. He will be returned as soon as the practical arrangements can be made.

“This result follows recent discussions between the British and US governments and a medical assessment, undertaken by a UK doctor, that Mr Mohamed is medically fit to return.”

The detainee’s return to Britain does not constitute a commitment from from Home Secretary that he can remain in the UK permanently, he added.

Mr Miliband said: “His immigration status will be reviewed following his return and the same security considerations will apply to him as would apply to any other foreign national in this country. As always, all appropriate steps will be taken to protect national security.”

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Health Chiefs’ ‘Obesity Tour’ of Supermarket Backfires — as No One Turns Up to Take Part

Health bosses were criticised last night for spending hundreds of pounds to take people around Asda to point out unhealthy food as part of an anti-obesity drive.

But despite advertising the scheme and having health staff on hand to offer advice, no one turned up for the nutrition class.

Undeterred, Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust says it will hold another at Asda in Canterbury next Tuesday.

Health chiefs’ ‘obesity tour’ of supermarket backfires — as NO ONE turns up to take partBy Daniel Martin

Last updated at 8:36 AM on 19th February 2009

Comments (0) Add to My Stories Health bosses were criticised last night for spending hundreds of pounds to take people around Asda to point out unhealthy food as part of an anti-obesity drive.

But despite advertising the scheme and having health staff on hand to offer advice, no one turned up for the nutrition class.

Undeterred, Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust says it will hold another at Asda in Canterbury next Tuesday.

An insider said: ‘There had been a really encouraging response and we expected a good turnout. We will, however, persevere with these tours.’

Maidstone MP Ann Widdecombe said: ‘This is a complete waste of money. It is not the role of a primary care trust to conduct tours of supermarkets.

‘People should be able to read the back of packets themselves to see the fat and sugar content of foods. And if the first event was cancelled it seems like a big investment for very little return.

‘It is all part and parcel of the same silly mentality of paying people to lose weight rather than paying for essential drugs.’

Susie Squire, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘This is a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money and a prime example of government nannying.

‘Judging from the level of public interest, there is neither demand nor need for this expensive gimmick and some serious questions need to be asked about the spending priorities of this PCT.

‘At a time when taxpayers can’t get doctor’s appointments and the right cancer drugs, to fritter away precious funds on such a patronising and pointless initiative is a disgrace.’

But Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘Introducing people to the good, the bad and the ugly of food is very important. It is essential that this sort of education is considered so people know what to look for in supermarkets and understand labels.

‘I congratulate the PCT for doing this. They started the scheme to pay people to lose weight, and they are getting to be a very progressive PCT in this area.’

The trust said: ‘The idea is to help people build better understand of food labelling in a familiar environment.’

It was criticised last month for offering to pay £425 to fat people who hit a slimming target.

A quarter of UK adults are now obese — so fat that their health is in danger. Experts fear that unless the trend is reversed, more than 50 per cent will be obese by 2050.

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Medics Upset Over ‘Gender-Based’ Abortion

A doctor in Sweden has asked health authorities for clarification after a woman twice had abortions carried out upon learning her fetuses were girls.

The woman in question was already mother to at least two girls when she once again became pregnant and visited a health clinic in central Sweden.

Initially, the woman requested an amniocentesis in order to allay concerns about possible chromosome abnormalities. At the same time, she also asked to know the fetus’s gender.

While there was no medical reason to go through with the amniocentesis, the procedure was nevertheless carried out.

The test revealed normal chromosome development and that the woman was carrying a girl.

Six days later, the woman requested an abortion which was subsequently carried out.

Pregnant again at a later date, the woman returned to the clinic and once again requested an amniocentesis.

This time, however, her request was denied.

One month later, the expectant mother scheduled an ultrasound screening. During the procedure she asked to be told the gender of the fetus.

The midwife carrying out the examination told the woman the fetus was a girl.

The same day, the woman scheduled an abortion, which was performed four days later.

“The above matter has given rise to strong feelings among those involved who, perhaps justifiably, believe that the patient has gone through two abortions because of [the fetus’s] gender,” writes the head of the clinic, Kaj Wedenberg, in a letter to Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).

Wedenberg explains that his staff has asked him to draw up guidelines on how to handle similar requests in the future in which they “feel pressured to examine the fetus’s gender” without having a medically compelling reason to do so.

“In part, I wonder if a caregiver within the public health system has the right to make reference to their own views and the dominant view in our country about gender’s equal value, in preventing a patient, with perhaps a different valuation, from learning the gender of the fetus,” he writes.

Wedenberg adds that he wants the agency to provide additional direction on what his rights are as head doctor at the clinic to overrule other medical professionals which may have different appraisals of what sort of procedures ought to be performed for “medical, social, or psychological” reasons.

[ed. note: in other words, Muslim male preference has become a Swedish issue. Or is this “ethnic” Swedes who have suddenly started to prefer male offspring?]

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Police Race Quotas Scrapped Ten Years After Macpherson Labelled the Force ‘Institutionally Racist’

By James Slack

Police minister Vernon Coaker has decided central targets can be dropped

Police are to scrap controversial race ‘diversity’ targets that made it harder for white men to win jobs.

The decision could end the positive discrimination which has seen ethnic minority applicants selected where white rivals were at least as well qualified.

The targets were imposed after police were labelled institutionally racist in the 1999 Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Forces were told to recruit ethnic minority officers in direct proportion to the make-up of their local community.

The targets, dictated by Whitehall, left many forces under severe pressure to employ thousands of black and other minority groups as soon as possible.

Some overstepped the mark into positive discrimination.

Gloucestershire Police even went to the extent of ‘deselecting’ more than 100 potential recruits purely because they were white.

The force later admitted it had acted unlawfully.

Now police minister Vernon Coaker has decided central targets can be dropped, even though few areas have met them. Individual forces will be able to decide their own recruitment pattern.

The news came as the Association of Chief Police Officers insisted the service was no longer guilty of institutional racism.

ACPO said repeating the charge now was ‘unfair and unhelpful’.

Since the blistering Macpherson Report, ten years ago on Tuesday, the number of ethnic minority officers nationwide has doubled.

But it is still only around 4.1 per cent, compared to seven per cent in the population as a whole.

Steve Otter, ACPO’s lead officer on race and diversity, welcomed the decision to axe the Whitehall targets.

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Public Support for Sweden’s ‘No’ to Saab

Swedes generally support the government’s refusal to rescue beleaguered carmaker Saab using taxpayer money, according to several polls.

Half of respondents to a survey by the Sifo polling firm don’t think the Swedish state should intervene to save Saab.

Only one third of those who participated in the study want the government to offer billions of kronor in financial support to the struggling automaker, according to results published in the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Of the 1,000 people interviewed on Wednesday night following a decision by Saab’s parent company General Motors (GM) to abandon the Swedish brand, young people are most positive toward the idea of supporting Saab with public money.

Around 40 percent of Swedes between the ages of 15- and 29-years-old think that the government should take action.

Among respondents over 65-years-old, only 20 percent support a taxpayer funded rescue.

In another survey carried out by the Demoskop polling firm for the Expressen newspaper, 70 percent said they don’t believe the Swedish state should provide Saab with economic support.

The Demoskop poll results are based on responses from an online panel of 550 people, a slight majority of which also believe that Saab will manage to survive its present crisis.

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Sweden: Couple Suspected of Khat Smuggling Arrested in Malmö

Police in Malmö have arrested a man and a woman on narcotics charges after finding the pair had two suitcases filled with amphetamine-like substance khat.

Following a tip from customs officials, the two were apprehended after exiting a taxi around 2am on Thursday morning in Malmö’s Rosengård disctrict.

Something arose the customs officials’ suspicions when the couple crossed the Öresund Bridge connecting Sweden to Denmark.

Acting on the tip, police followed the taxi as it drove into Malmö.

The two were arrested on suspicions of drugs offences, according to the Malmö police department. The couple’s bags contained less than 200 kilogrammes of the drug, which is the minimum amount required to be charged with serious drugs offences.

Neither the woman nor the man were carrying passports with them and both remained unidentified when questioning began early Thursday morning.

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Swedes Abandon Political Parties in Droves

Sweden’s political parties continue to shed members, as parties on the right and the left together saw thousands drop from their membership rolls in 2008.

The Moderate Party lost 6,400 members last year, according to a study carried out by the Dagens Samhälle magazine.

Over the last two years, the party’s membership has shrunk by 20 percent, and now stands at 54,858.

Together, five of the seven parties represented in the Riksdag lost a total of 9,000 members last year,

Calculations for the Left Party and the Centre Party have yet to be completed, but both parties also forecast a drop in membership.

The Christian Democrats have lost 1,100 members, bringing their total to 22,919 at the turn of the year, and Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) membership has shrunk by 900 members to 17,799.

While the Social Democrats also continue to lose members, the rate of attrition has level-off since from 2007 when the party shed 19,000 members. In 2008, only 519 supporters left the party.

Only the Green Party experienced an upswing in members in 2008, adding a modest 65 members, for a total of 9,110.

Sweden’s traditional political parties have been declining since the early 1990s. Since then, the number of people who belong to the parties has been cut in half.

At the same time, smaller political parties not currently represented in the Riksdag have seen their memberships swell.

The Pirate Party has added a lot of members, but all that’s required to join is the click of a mouse in the party’s homepage.

As the debate out file sharing has raged over the last four months, the party has added 4,000 members, bringing its total to more than 10,000.

The far-right Sweden Democrats, meanwhile, added 400 members last year and now have a total of 3,300.

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Walking House

Artists in Denmark have teamed up with US scientists to create a walking house built on six hydraulic legs.

They say it would make the ultimate home for beating floods or neighbours from hell, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The 10ft high home is solar and wind powered and can stroll at walking pace across all terrains. It has a living room, kitchen, toilet, bed, wood stove and mainframe computer which controls the legs.

The pod is set to take its maiden stroll around rural Cambridgeshire at the Wysing Arts Centre in Bourn. It was built by art collective N55 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in conjunction with engineers at MIT in Massachusetts, USA.

N55 artist Oivind Slaatto, who says he was inspired by meeting Romany travellers in Cambridgeshire, plans to live in the house when it returns to Copenhagen.

“This house is not just for travellers but also for anyone interested in a more general way of nomadic living,” he said.

Designers say it provides a solution to the problem of rising water levels as the house can simply walk away from floods.

The prototype cost £30,000 to build, including materials and time, but the designers believe it could be constructed for a lot less.

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Balkans

Bosnia: Serb Leader Accused of Stealing State Funds

Bosnia’s state investigating agency SIPA intends to press criminal charges against the country’s Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, for allegedly embezzling 70 million euros of state funds, local media reported on Friday.

Dodik, prime minister of the Bosnian Serb entity, denies the charges, claiming they are a plot by his political enemies whom he called a ‘sect’ committed to his dismissal.

However, SIPA director Mirko Lujic denied the agency was pressing official charges against Dodik.

Nevertheless, the head of SIPA’s investigative department, Dragan Lukac, submitted a report to the state prosecutor accusing Dodik and ten others of having committed “criminal acts”.

The report said that Dodik, several government ministers and businessmen had been involved in “a number of criminal acts of organised crime, money laundering and abuse of office”.

Nikola Spiric, Dodik’s party colleague and president of Bosnia’s federal Council of Ministers said Dodik was a victim of “a special kind of war” which was being directed against the Serb entity by “parallel power structures” in Bosnia.

“If Serbs fill the jails in Sarajevo and the Hague, I’m afraid that this country has a poor chance of survival,” Spiric said.

He was referring to the fact that the Hague-based United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has charged 161 individuals, mostly Serbs, for crimes allegedly committed during the 1990s Balkan wars that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Rumours have circulated for the past year in the Bosnian media of financial impropriety in the construction of a government complex in the capital of the Serb entity, Banjaluka. The project is worth about 100 million euros.

Last year SIPA confiscated accounts relating to the Banjaluka construction project. These seem to have formed the basis of Lukac’s report to the state prosecutor.

Dodik said the charges coincided with the imminent appointment of the international community’s new top envoy in Bosnia, to replace outgoing Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak.

Observers say the autocratic Dodik has been the main obstacle to constitutional changes in Bosnia demanded by majority Muslims and the international community which would reduce the powers of the entities and strengthen those of central government.

Under the Dayton peace accord that ended the 1992-1995 war, Bosnia was divided into a Serb entity and a Muslim-Croat federation, each with most of the powers of a state.

Muslim leaders have called for the abolition the two entities, a move that has been strongly resisted by Serbs, whose leaders have threatened to secede from Bosnia.

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Croatian President Stjepan Mesic Has Expressed Concern Over Slovenia’s Moves to Block His Country’s Entry Into the European Union and NATO Over an Unresolved Border Dispute.

Slovenia is the only country of the former Yugoslavia that has joined the EU and NATO and Croatia is an official candidate for both organisations.

It has vowed to block Croatia’s integration into the two blocs unless a long-running border dispute is resolved.

“We have been put in an unfavourable position but it doesn’t mean that we should dramatise or give vent to negative emotions,” Mesic told Croatian television.

Croatia and Albania were invited to join NATO at a summit in Bucharest last year and were expected to join the alliance at a summit in Strasbourg in April.

But Mesic said Croatia might end up like Macedonia whose entry has been blocked by neighbouring Greece in a dispute over Macedonia’s state name.

Slovenia supported Croatia’s invitation at Bucharest but changed its mind as the border dispute worsened.

The Slovenian People’s Party leadership has initiated a drive for a public referendum which would block Croatia’s entry into NATO, after the Slovenian parliament refused to take a stand on the issue.

The party has to collect 40,000 signatures by 26 March.

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Israel and the Palestinians

Hamas “Sends Letter to Obama” Via US Senator

The Palestinian group Hamas has sent a letter addressed to the US president via a US politician visiting Gaza, a senior UN official has said.

“A letter addressed to Obama was left at the gate of our offices in Gaza; it is believed to be from Hamas,” said Christopher Gunness of UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees.

Asked about the contents of the letter, Gunness said: “We are very polite at UNRWA, we don’t open other people’s mail.”

He said the letter was given to the influential senator when he met UN officials at the compound during his Gaza tour on Thursday.

Kerry did not meet any Hamas representative but stressed that his presence in the Palestinian territory, which no US official had visited for years, did not indicate a shift of US ignore towards Hamas.

Kerry, a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who now heads the Senate’s foreign relations committee, was scheduled to hold talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Friday.

He planned to fly on to Syria on Saturday as part of a regional tour.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who ran a campaign for president in 2004, and two members of the House of Representatives, Brian Baird and Keith Ellison, entered the Gaza Strip separately.

Ellison is the first Muslim member of the US House of Representatives. He was elected in 2006.

The visit follows a 22-day offensive which Israel launched attacks against the Gaza Strip. The bombardment killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, a third of them children in Decemcer 2008 on Gaza and wounded 5,300 Palestinians, and Gaza infrastructure suffered massive damage totaling at least 476 million dollars, according to Palestinian medics and officials.

Israel barred U.S. diplomats from entering the impoverished coastal enclave since 2003.

Former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney attempted to travel to Gaza by sea in December, but the ship was rammed by an Israeli gunboat and diverted to Lebanon.

In 2008, former US President Jimmy Carter was denied permission to enter Gaza by the Israeli government. Carter did meet Hamas officials in Syria and Egypt.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Israeli Army Chief Apologizes to Turkey Over General’s Remarks

The Israeli army chief telephoned this week his Turkish counterpart to apologize for the harsh remarks made last week by the country’s Ground Forces Commander Avi Mizrahi, The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday. The Turkish military confirmed Friday reports of the phone conversation. (UPDATED)

Israel’s Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke this week with Turkish military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug in an effort to prevent deterioration in military relations with Turkey, the newspaper said.

Mizrahi said last week Erdogan, who severely criticized Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, “should first look in the mirror”, and accused Turkey of “committing a massacre of Armenians, as well as suppression of the Kurds”.

After Mizrahi’s remarks, Turkey summoned the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and handed a note of protest demanding clarification, while the military denounced them as “excessive, unfortunate and unacceptable”.

A spokesman from the Turkish military confirmed that the Israeli military chief telephoned Basbug on Monday regarding Mizrahi’s remarks.

Ashkenazi told the Turkish army chief that he was disappointed and saddened over the incident, adding he would look into the matter, the spokesman said at a weekly press briefing.

The Israeli army chief also said in a letter sent to the Turkish military on Thursday that he followed up on the promises made to Basbug during their conversation and that he had dealt with the issue, the army spokesman added.

ASHKENAZI REPRIMANDS MIZRAHI

Ashkenazi summoned Mizrahi this week and reprimanded him for the comments he made during a lecture, The Jerusalem Post also reported Thursday. During a press briefing on Tuesday, Mizrahi was asked about the incident and said he was behind it, the paper added.

“IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his Turkish counterpart this week and said that the remarks attributed to Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi were not the official IDF position and that IDF generals and commanders were permitted to only express opinions on military and security issues,” the Israeli paper quoted a statement released by the IDF Spokesman’s Office.

Mizrahi’s remarks did not reflect the IDF’s official position, and Israel highly valued the strategic relationship it had forged over the years with the Turkish military, officials told the paper.

The IDF did not expect the incident to impair relations, military sources also told the Jerusalem Post.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


Turkish Army Says No Demands Yet From U.S. for Local Military Base

The U.S. has not knocked on Turkey’s door to set up a military base on the Black Sea coast after the Kyrgyzstan decision to close a key base for Afghanistan operations, a spokesman for the Turkish army said Friday.

Recent media reports have suggested that the U.S. may look at setting up a military base in the Turkish city of Trabzon as an alternative to the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan which is due to close later this year.

“There is no such demand as yet,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Metin Gurak told a weekly press briefing.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed into law on Friday the closure of the Manas air base outside the Kyrgyz capital, a key U.S. military supply base for Afghanistan, making good on a decision that shocked Washington.

Bakiyev’s announcement last month for the closure came after Russia offered more than $2 billion in aid to the struggling Kyrgyz economy. The government has insisted that Moscow did not set the closure as a condition.

The U.S. Air Force has been deployed at an airbase in Turkey’s southern city of Incirlik since the signing of a joint agreement in 1954. The NATO base is currently home to the United States’ 39th Air Base Wing and some 5,000 U.S. service personnel.

Gurak also said the number of the Turkish troops could increase in Afghanistan, in line with the handover of the command of the Kabul Area Command to Turkey in August.

Foreign policy experts here suggest that U.S. President Barack Obama may have asked for more Turkish troops or other Turkish contributions in Afghanistan during separate phone conversations he had with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week.

Turkey currently has some 800 troops serving with NATO forces in Afghanistan, most of who are based in the capital, Kabul. Having the second biggest army within NATO and as the only Muslim country in the alliance, Turkey is uniquely placed to help.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Russia

U.S. to Consider Russian Missile-Defense Stance, Gates Says (Associated Press)

Washington will take Russia into account when it decides on a European missile-defense plan, the U.S. defense secretary said Friday in comments welcomed by Moscow but certain to worry the former communist countries that agreed to host the system.

Robert Gates said at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Krakow that President Barack Obama hasn’t yet decided whether to carry through with a Bush administration-backed project to put missile-defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, a plan that outraged Russia.

Mr. Gates said Washington would review the plan “in the context of our relationship with both Poland and the Czech Republic, our relationship with the NATO alliance, the commitments we have made as members of the alliance in terms of European missile defense — and also in the context of our relationship with the Russians.”

The language marks a departure from the tone of the Bush administration, which enthusiastically promoted the plan and signed deals last year with Warsaw and Prague. The Bush administration offered to be transparent with Moscow as it proceeded with sites in Russia’s backyard — but never suggested that Russia’s position could play a role in the system’s fate itself…

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South Asia

Both Sri Lanka Troops and Tamil Rebels Accused of Law Violations

Campaign group Human Rights Watch on Friday accused the Sri Lankan army and separatist ethnic Tamil fighters of violating international law. An estimated 2,000 civilians trapped in the northeastern war zone have died as casualties have soared in the fierce fighting seen over the past month, the group said.

In a new report on the long-running conflict, HWR urged the Sri Lankan government to “immediately cease its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the northern Vanni region”.

The 45-page report called on the Tamil rebels, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, to stop using civilians as human shields, cease deploying forces near populated areas and to allow civilians to safely leave the war zone.

The same plea was made on Thursday by a top UN humanitarian official during a visit to the area.

The report urged the government to end its policy of detaining homeless Sri Lankans in squalid “internment camps” just outside the war zone, which is off-limits to journalists and human rights observers.

About 30,000 ethnic Tamils are currently in government-run camps south of Sri Lanka’s war zone and tens of thousands of others are expected to join them in coming weeks.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the LTTE for “increased brutality” towards trapped civilians and for allegedly shooting at those trying to flee to government-controlled territory.

Top UN humanitarian official John Holmes is currently in Sri Lanka visiting camps in the northeast. He said on Thursday LTTE rebels should allow civilians safe passage from the war zone.

HWR said that both the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE were responsible for the dramatic increase in civilian casualties during the past month — approximately 2,000 killed and another 5,000 wounded, according to independent monitors.

The government and rebels both strongly deny targeting civilians. HWR said civilians have been forced into an increasingly narrow strip on the northeast coast of the island as the Sri Lankan army has advanced against the rebels.

The army claims it is close to its ‘endgame’ in the 26-year conflict in which at least 70,000 people have died.

“With each battlefield defeat, the Tamil Tigers appear to be treating Tamil civilians with increased brutality,” said James Ross, HWR legal and policy director.

“They’ve shot at those trying to flee and stepped up forced recruitment and forced labour.”

LTTE ‘conscripts’ include children forced to fight or work as porters on the battlefield, according to HWR.

The Sri Lankan government has indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks, HWR said.

“The LTTE’s grim practices are being exploited by the government to justify its own atrocities,” the report stated.

“Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas crowded with displaced persons. This includes numerous reported bombardments of government-declared “safe zones” and of the remaining hospitals in the region.”

The humanitarian crisis has been made worse by the government’s decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the Vanni region, said HWR. The hospital in Vavuniya “lacked even the most basic necessities” the report stated.

The report , entitled ‘War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni’ is based on a 10-day fact-finding mission to northern Sri Lanka conducted earlier this month.

About 50,000 government soldiers are pressing the Tamil Tigers into a patch of north-eastern jungle after taking the key areas of Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu.

LTTE militants have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east for a quarter of a century.

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India: Majority of Drugs Coming From Afghanistan, UN Says

More than 55 percent of the heroin which is being smuggled into India is coming from Afghanistan through Pakistan, claims a report by the United Nations.

The UN said the Taliban is earning millions of dollars annually from a surcharge it levies on illegal trade in that country.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that “the Taliban have an annual revenue of between $200-300 million dollars from a surcharge levied on illicit drug trade”.

This was revealed by International Narcotics Control Board in its report for the year 2008. The report was released on Thursday.

The report said security is “weak” in southern provinces of Afghanistan and an “overwhelming” majority of villages are involved in illegal opium poppy cultivation. It, however, said the illegal opium cultivation has dropped by 19 percent from its record level of 193,000 hectares in 2007 to 157,000 hectares last year. Despite this, the country accounts for 90 percent of illegal opium in the world.

The eradication efforts in Afghanistan are being “hampered” by a lack of security, the report said.

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Officials Find Afghan’s Ties to Terrorist

Citizenship papers fraud cited

by Ben Conery

Federal authorities arrested an Afghan national on Friday and accused him of lying on his U.S. citizenship application about his ties to a terrorist — a brother-in-law who was Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard.

Ahmadullah Sais Niazi was indicted on federal charges of procurement of naturalization unlawfully, use of passport procured by fraud, perjury and false statement. He could receive up to 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

He is not charged with taking part in any terrorist acts or belonging to any terrorist groups.

Mr. Niazi, 34, was arrested by members of the Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force at his home in Tustin, Calif., and was scheduled to appear late Friday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif.

According to an indictment unsealed Friday, Mr. Niazi lied on his naturalization application in 2004 when he claimed no connections to any terrorist groups.

Authorities say Mr. Niazi’s sister is married to Amin al-Haq, who is described by prosecutors as one of bin Laden’s security coordinators. Prosecutors say Mr. al-Haq has ties to al Qaeda, the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, which links Mr. Niazi with those groups.

Prosecutors say Mr. Niazi also lied to authorities at Los Angeles International Airport in 2005 when he said he was returning from a trip to Qatar. In reality, prosecutors said, Mr. Niazi was returning from a trip to Pakistan, where he visited family including Mr. al-Haq…

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Pakistan: Taliban Wants Amnesty for Militants in Exchange for Peace

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

The Pakistani Taliban is demanding an amnesty for jailed militants and the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Swat Valley in the country’s north-west before it endorses a peace agreement in the region. Taliban sources told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the Taliban’s shura, or tribal council, was expected to finalise its position late Friday and announce its response at the weekend.

Sources said that the leader of Sufi Mohammad, the leader of Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi, discussed details of the government’s proposal to Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, demanding that the Taliban lay down its arms.

But the Taliban expressed its concerns and demanded guarantees regarding the withdrawal of around 10,000 Pakistani army soldiers deployed in the Swat Valley.

The Taliban is also demanding the release of all prisoners including Maulana Abdul Aziz, a radical cleric linked to the Red Mosque seige that resulted in the deaths of more than 170 people in July 2007, as well as unconditional amnesty so that the Taliban can operate from its headquarters in Imam Dheri in Swat.

Leaders also want financial compensation for the families of members who were killed and for property damage caused by the Pakistani army.

After presenting the Taliban’s views, Fazlullah entrusted Mohamamad to negotiate with the government on the Taliban’s behalf.

Sources said that the Taliban and Mohammad had completed the third phase of their talks.

Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, is also said to be in contact with colleagues in North and South Waziristan and also consulted the head of the Tekrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud.

Meanwhile, a curfew was imposed and troops were deployed after a suicide attack in Dera Ismail Khan in North West Frontier Province killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 50 others on Friday.

Security forces have confirmed that the cities of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore were also on high alert in case the Swat peace negotiations failed, as a Taliban backlash is expected in the bigger cities of the country.

The Pakistani government has dismissed growing criticism of a peace accord it endorsed with Mohammad’s Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi for the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the Swat Valley.

The peace deal announced on Monday allows for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the former tourist region and surrounding districts, in exchange for an end to the Taliban insurgency which has killed hundreds and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

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Pakistan: Deadly Bomb Attack Strikes Funeral in Northwest

A bomb blast at a funeral procession in Pakistan’s troubled North West Frontier Province on Friday killed at least 25 people and injured 60 others. The attack took place in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, located 270 kilometres southwest of of the capital Islamabad, during a funeral procession of Shar Zaman, a Shia Muslim leader who was assassinated by unknown gunmen on Thursday.

It was not clear whether the attack — aimed at a crowd of 1,000 people — was carried out by a suicide bomber. No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, there have been persistent clashes in recent years between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority.

Following the attack, angry mobs began rioting, shops were ransacked and buses were set on fire.

The Pakistani military then imposed a two to three day curfew and security forces have orders to shoot at sight, said Pakistan’s Geo News.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari and prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani strongly condemned the attack and said jointly that the government would not give into extremists, militants or terrorists and would take all necessary measures to establish law and order.

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Pakistan: Govt Dismisses Criticism Over Sharia Law Deal

The Pakistani government dismissed as speculative the growing criticism of the accord signed with the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (Movement for the enforcement of Islamic laws) for introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the Swat valley, warning speculations would not be helpful.

“Establishing peace, security and stability are matters of highest priority for the Pakistani government and it will use all necessary means to achieve these objectives,” said Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit at a weekly media briefing on Thursday.

His comments came as the United States envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, in his fresh criticism of the peace accord said the US was ‘troubled and confused’ about what happened in Swat because “it is not an encouraging trend”.

He termed the situation very serious and cautioned against the area being ceded to “bad guys”.

The US is likely to take up the Swat peace deal with Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi when he visits Washington next week.

Previously, NATO and Britain had severely criticised the accord, both fearing that the situation in Swat would worsen. Basit said the government was engaged with the international community and putting across its viewpoint.

He said the accord was part of the government’s three-pronged strategy — dialogue, deterrence and development.

Monday’s peace deal allows for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the former tourist region and surrounding districts in exchange for an end to the Taliban insurgency which has killed hundreds and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Allaying concerns about enforcement of Sharia in the valley, the spokesman explained that it meant a ‘system of justice’, which was linked to the restoration of peace and tranquillity.

He reassured the international community that Pakistan remained fully committed to rooting out terrorism. ‘Pakistan attaches immense importance to eliminating militancy and terrorism,’ he said

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Sri Lanka: Tamil Tiger Planes Target Colombo

Two planes operated by Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels attacked the capital Colombo late Friday, bombing a government building and injuring at least 40 people, the military said.

“One plane dropped a bomb at the inland revenue building in Fort, which resulted in a fire in the building,” defence ministry spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told the media.

One of two light planes was shot down near the international airport, which was closed to other traffic.

The raid occurred as the army claimed to be driving the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam into a small area on the north of the island as fierce conflict continues between government troops and separatist rebels.

Earlier on Friday the campaign group Human Rights Watch accused the Sri Lankan army and the separatist ethnic Tamil fighters of violating international law.

An estimated 2,000 civilians trapped in the northeastern war zone have died as casualties have soared in the fierce fighting seen over the past month, the group said.

The group urged the Sri Lankan government to “immediately cease its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the northern Vanni region”.

The 45-page report called on the Tamil rebels to stop using civilians as human shields and to stop deploying forces near populated areas .

The same plea was made on Thursday by a top UN humanitarian official during a visit to the area.

About 50,000 government soldiers are pressing the Tamil Tigers into a patch of north-eastern jungle after taking the key areas of Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaitivu.

LTTE militants have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east for a quarter of a century.

The army claims it is close to its ‘endgame’ in the 26-year conflict in which at least 70,000 people have died.

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Thailand: Soldiers Killed and Beheaded in Troubled South

Two soldiers were killed and later beheaded on Friday in an ambush believed to have been carried out by Muslim separatists in southern Thailand. Police said the soldiers were shot dead on their motorcycles as they guarded teachers at a school in Yala, one of the three southern predominantly Muslim provinces at the centre of a long-running insurgency.

“At least 10 gunmen using army weapons ambushed the group, killing two soldiers,” a police official said. “Then they beheaded them and took away their guns and bullet-proof jackets.”

No-one claimed responsibility for the killings, the latest in a violent campaign which has killed more than 3,500 people since January 2004.

Earlier this month, two paramilitary police were shot dead and decapitated in the region and last week three policemen were killed in a bomb attack.

Yala is the southernmost province of Thailand and was part of a Muslim sultanate until annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand a century ago.

Tensions have simmered in the region since Thailand annexed the mainly Malay sultanate in 1902.

The sultanate includes Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, which have a Muslim majority in the Buddhist country.

Demands by Thai Muslims include the introduction of Islamic law and making ethnic Pattani Malay (Yawi) a working language in the region, as well as the improvement of the local economy and education system.

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Far East

Chinese Officials Protest Sinking of Cargo Ship by Russians

by EDWARD WONG

BEIJING — A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official said Friday that Russia had an unacceptable response after one of its warships sank a Chinese cargo vessel last Saturday.

The warship fired 500 rounds at the vessel, sinking it in stormy Russian waters near the eastern port city of Vladivostok. Seven sailors are still missing, according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency. The ship, named the New Star, was owned by a company based in Hong Kong and was flying a Sierra Leone flag at the time of the sinking.

Zhang Xiyun, director general of the Department of European-Central Asian Affairs in the Foreign Ministry, said the attitude taken by the Russian Foreign Ministry was “hard to understand and unacceptable,” according to Xinhua. Mr. Zhang made his opinion known on Friday to Morgulov Igor, the Russian minister counselor to China.

Li Hui, the deputy foreign minister, has also expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the way Russia has handled the episode, and has accused Russia of not making strong enough efforts to save the drowning sailors, Xinhua reported…

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Sub-Saharan Africa

American Somali Children Join Jihad

By: Judy West.

Several Somali children have left the US to join the ‘jihad’ against foreign forces in Somalia, it has been reported.

According to the MidEast News Source, the children, mainly from Minneapolis and Minnesota left the country in secret, with one mother claiming that the first she knew of it was when her son called her from Mogadishu. She had earlier reported her son missing to police.

Somalia, which has been without an effective government since 1990, recently appointed a new leader, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a moderate Islamist cleric. But hopes for peace were rocked this week when a group of 300 clerics and elders set a deadline for the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers.

Ahmed is hoping to work with the clerics to bring peace to war-ravaged nation, and they also called for Islamist fighters to back peace moves. They urged the militants to stop killing, abducting, robbing and harming foreign aid workers in the country.

However, the call for the removal of peacekeepers puts the nascent government in a difficult position, as it needs them to establish order.

Observers believe that American children are now joining the jihad, and they have suggested that some were involved in a string of suicide attacks in Somaliland and Puntland.

It seems that their involvement coincided with the arrival of Ethiopian troops, who defeated the Islamic Courts Union. Following the recent peace deal, the Ethiopian troops have now departed.

Most of the children appear to have links with Abubakar Alsiddiq mosque in Minneapolis. But the imam there, Sheikh Abdirahman Ahmed, claimed the accusations were baseless and denied that he was recruiting fighters. There are also concerns in Europe and other continents that children are leaving for jihad in Somalia

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Italy: Migrants and Sex Offenders Face Tough New Measures

The Italian government on Friday issued an emergency decree to crack down on illegal immigration and sexual violence, following a number of high-profile rape cases allegedly committed by Romanian immigrants. The emergency decree provides for a mandatory life sentence for the rape of minors or attacks where the victim is murdered.

It also speeds up trials for sex offenders, removes the possibility of house arrest, and offers free legal assistance for rape victims.

Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno said he was “satisfied” with the emergency decree, following several shocking rape cases that occurred in and around the Italian capital, Rome, recently.

“I am very satisfied,”Alemanno said. “We will organise a massive protest against sexual violence to support this cause and create a groundswell against this abominable plague of sexual abuse in all its forms, from family abuse to those that take place on the outskirts of the city.”

The decree, which takes effect immediately, must be approved by both houses of parliament within 60 days.

Under the decree’s provisions, illegal immigrants can be kept in preventative custody for up to six months — instead of the current two months. During this period, he or she will be properly identified and any asylum claims processed. Immigrants denied asylum or special protection who are not allowed to stay in Italy will be deported.

Another controversial measure provides for vigilante-style or unarmed ‘citizen street patrols’.

City mayors will be able to approve the patrols. Volunteer groups in charge of the patrols will have to register with the police. Priority for membership will be given to retired police and military on leave.

“They will not carry weapons, and will only be equipped with radio transmitters or mobile phones to alert police,” said Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni, who comes from the anti-immigrant Northern League party.

Video surveillance will be introduced in public places and an extra 100 million euros will be given to Italy’s ministry of the interior to pay for the recruitment of 2,500 new police and other measures.

Arrest will be mandatory in cases of rape with the possibility of a ‘summary judgment’ within 48 hours. Victims of sexual abuse will have all their expenses paid by the state as well as free legal counsel.

The crime of stalking that could lead to a sex-related crime or homicide carries a minimum sentence of six months and up to four years in jail.

The decree still has to be approved by both houses of parliament within 60 days, however, conservative Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and its coalition enjoy an ample majority.

The measures were adopted by the conservative government as racial tension and attacks against immigrants are rising throughout Italy. Gangs of thugs attack Romanians in a Rome neighbourhood following the rape last weekend of a 14-year-old girl by two Romanian suspects.

On 1 February, a homeless Indian labourer was savagely attacked and set on fire, in the coastal town of Nettuno, 70 kilometres south of Rome, allegedly by three young men.

In a separate incident in late January, four Romanian immigrants were arrested in the town of Guidonia, near Rome, for allegedly gang-raping an Italian woman.

A day after the attack, groups of Albanians and Romanians were beaten up by a mob and there were attempts to burn down Romanian-owned shops.

Last November, four youths beat up and set alight a homeless Italian man sleeping on a park bench in the northern city of Padova.

Official estimates say 68 percent of rape victims are Italian. However, 58 percent of rapists are Italian, while 9.2 percent are Romanian.

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General

‘Coffee Makes You See Things’

Drinking too much coffee dramatically increases the risk of hallucinating, according to new research.

Healthy young men and women who had more than seven cups of instant coffee a day were three times more likely to hear or see things that were not there.

It is thought that caffeine boosts levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, reports the Daily Mail.

The Durham University researchers asked 219 students to document their caffeine intake, working on the principle that a cup of instant coffee contains 45mg of caffeine.

Coffee brewed at home contains more than twice as much, while that from cafes such as Starbucks can have almost 190mg of caffeine.

The volunteers were also asked how often they suffered hallucinations. The high caffeine users were three times as likely to have had problems as those who rarely drank coffee.

Large amounts of caffeine also made people more likely to think they could sense the presence of ghosts, the journal Personality and Individual Differences reports.

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Record Gamma-Ray Blast With Power of 9, 000 Exploding Stars Spotted in Space

Astronomers have detected the strongest radiation blast from deep space ever known, exceeding the power of almost 9,000 exploding stars.

The gamma ray burst occurred 12.2 billion light years away in the constellation Carina. Its light has taken most of the age of the universe to reach us.

Gamma ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the universe. Scientists believe they occur when exotic massive stars run out of fuel and collapse to form a black hole.

Jets of material powered by processes that are not yet fully understood are thought to blast outwards at nearly the speed of light, generating intense gamma rays.

The new explosion, designated GRB 080916C, was spotted last year by the American space agency Nasa’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which is designed to detect gamma radiation.

Astronomers soon discovered that the gamma ray burst belonged in the record books.

The short-lived blast, described today in the online version of the journal Science, was more powerful than nearly 9,000 ordinary supernovae, or exploding stars.

Scientists calculated that the material emitting the gamma rays must have been moving at 99.9999% the speed of light.

The explosion was enigmatic as well as spectacular due to a curious time delay separating the highest-energy emissions from the lowest.

Scientists are still trying to understand the reason for the time delay, which may have a straightforward physical cause or be due to peculiar quantum effects.

Professor Peter Michelson, a member of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope team, said: ‘Burst emissions at these energies are still poorly understood.

‘This one burst raises all sorts of questions. In a few years, we’ll have a fairly good sample of bursts, and may have some answers.’

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Why Cows Point North

Cows automatically point north because they have their own in-built compasses, say scientists.

Their ability to find north is believed to be a relic from when their ancestors needed an accurate sense of direction to migrate across the plains of Africa, Asia and Europe.

Dr Sabine Begall and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen looked at thousands of images of cattle on Google Earth in Britain, Ireland, India and the USA.

Although, in many cases, the images were not clear enough to determine which way the cattle were facing they were aligned on a north/south axis, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Huge variations in the wind direction and sunlight in the areas where the beasts were found meant that the scientists were able to rule out those factors as being responsible for the direction they were facing.

“We conclude that the magnetic field is the only common and most likely factor responsible for the observed alignment,” the scientists wrote in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

It is already known that many species use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate across the planet. Examples include migratory turtles, salmon, termites and birds.

Animals are thought to use their own internal magnets made of crystals of magnetite. Homing pigeons have a small amount of the substance on their beaks, which gives them their uncannily accurate powers of navigation.

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3 comments:

Tuan Jim said...

Notice that in the article about Swedes leaving political parties (from thelocal) that while all the "mainstream" parties are losing members, smaller parties like SD actually gained 400 members over the year.

Dymphna said...

Tuan Jim-

i noticed the SD increase when i posted that story. They are still small,but still...400 new members while others are losing people left and right. Or should I say "left and left".

SD is gaining because its party platform is actually sane, which is more than can be said for some planks in the other parties.

And SD has grown despite govt efforts to sabotage their existence.

[btw, SD was the group LGF tried to tar with the anti-semitism brush. Chazzer was duped by a lefty ngo in Sweden and he drank the kool aid w/o bothering with due diligence; he didn't vet the people or group feeding him this trash. When his information turned out to be wrong, wrong, wrong, there was no big announcement or apology by The Boy with the Banning Stick. Ol' Chazzer simply got on his bike and rode away from the mess he made...his usual reaction to bad news]

Go SD!

islam o' phobe said...

There is a good article on Peter Hitchens' blog about nuclear submarines:

Clonk! Two independent nuclear deterrents collide. Nobody hurt.

Skip down to the bottom of the comment section to read Hitchens' interesting reply to a reader on the financial crisis at 11:15 AM.