Friday, May 08, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/8/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/8/2009Louis Caldera has taken the fall — as we all knew he would — for the Air Force One flyover stunt in NYC.

In other news, a dentist in the UK refuses to treat women unless they wear Muslim dress. Based on the photo accompanying the article, he requires a niqab — which covers the mouth, and would make normal dentistry problematic, to say the least.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Diana West, Insubria, JD, KGS, TB, Tuan Jim, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Diana West: ‘Hedge Fund Man’ for President
The Big Business of Big Labor
Video: How Bankers Seized Control of America
N.Y. Flyover Results in Resignation
Photos That Could Cost Lives
The Casualty Con: Bam Falling for Taliban Tricks
Nannies in Dhalla Scandal Called to Testify on Parliament Hill
Ruby Dhalla’s Notion of ‘Care and Compassion’
Europe and the EU
A Dutch Identity Crisis?
Denmark: Heroin Clinics Given Go-Ahead
Dutch MEP Calls European Parliament Bureaucratic
Fiat CEO Pitches Deal for Opel
Finnish-Funded Prison Turns Brothel?
Germany: Police Officer Arrested for Joining Berlin’s May Day Riot
Germany: Turkish Dads Discover Self-Help in Berlin
Greece: Soon Psychologists in All Schools
Italy: Northern League Proposes Milanese-Only Seats on Public Transport
Most Czechs Do Not Like Romanies — Poll
Muslims in Britain Have Zero Tolerance of Homosexuality, Says Poll
Poland: Hunt Launched for Missing Spy
Spain: Forgotten Fortresses, Old Garrisons Against Pirates
Sweden Admits Foreign Aid May Not Have Any Long-Term Impact
Sweden: ‘Curfews and Police’ Can Curb Rosengård Fires
Sweden: ‘Make Accused Rapists Prove Consent’: Experts
UK: Commons Calls in Police Over Leak of Expense Claims
UK: Health and Safety Bans Stepladders From Historic Oxford Library… But Nobody Can Reach the Books
UK: Is Britain Spawning a Generation of Violent, Alienated Lord of the Flies Children?
UK: Muslim Dentist ‘Refused to Treat Female Patients Unless They Wore Islamic Dress’
UK: Man ‘Killed Girlfriend and Her Sister in Attack So Brutal That Knives Broke’
UK: Ministers in Disarray as Gurkhas Strike Again
UK: Queen’s Medal of Honour Scrapped… Because It’s Too Christian for Muslims and Hindus
V. Klaus: Green Policies = Economic Decline
Westerners and Muslims Differ on Morals: Report
Wilders Wants to Attend British Court Hearing
Middle East
Cloning: UAE; Injaz, First Cloned Dromedary Born
David Frum: Netanyahu is Not the Barrier to Peace
Hamas Says ‘Kill Next Week’; Media Perceives Moderation
‘Lieberman Sees Europeans as Cowards’
Muslims Urged to Desist From Angry Protests Over Danish Journalist
Obama’s Green Light to Attack Iran
Qatar: A Raging Controversy
Turkey: Eleven People Die From Alcohol Poisoning
South Asia
Myanmar: No to Seeing Detained US Citizen
Singaporeans Express Relief
Singapore: Fugitive Terrorism Suspect Re-Captured in Malaysia
Far East
Japan: Having Kids is Fun, Not a Duty
S. Korea: Leader of Pro-North Alliance Arrested
S. Korea: What is Roh Doing With Ancient Roman Law?
Workers Left Fuming by Chinese Smoking Order
Australia — Pacific
Torching of Siev 36 Deliberate
Sub-Saharan Africa
Somali Pirates Hijack Dutch Freighter
Finland to Begin Repatriating Iraqi Asylum Seekers
Good Signal From Libya for Whole of EU, Tajani
Italy: Minister Hails ‘Historic’ Return of Libyan Migrants
Spain: Gov’t Studies Help for Returning Unemployed Romanians
Sweden: Flow of Asylum Seekers to Sweden Expected to Drop: Agency
Tired and Weary, Migrants Arrive in Tripoli
UK: English as a Second Language for Almost 900,000 Pupils
Culture Wars
Same-Sex Marriage Debate Showcases D.C.’s Conservative Base
Bjorn Lomborg: Kyoto vs. Kids: How Greens Hurt the Planet

Financial Crisis

Diana West: ‘Hedge Fund Man’ for President

I have seen the future of conservatism and … he is a hedge fund manager.

I refer to hedge fund manager Clifford S. Asness, and I’m only halfway kidding. Or maybe I’m not kidding at all. The fact is, Asness this week launched the single most lucid and inspiring counter-attack against the Obama administration’s brazen assault on capitalism as seen in its Chrysler bankruptcy shakedown.

Basically, the White House Chrysler plan picks economic losers and winners according to a naked political calculation that penalizes bondholders and rewards the union bosses of the United Auto Workers. It’s that simple, that appalling, and that anti-capitalist. The hedge funds, seeking not to surrender the protections afforded their investors by the bankruptcy court process, quite naturally balked at the Obama administration’s blatant power grab on behalf of what amount to union cronies. As Asness explained, “Some bondholders thought (the White House plan was) unfair. Specifically, they thought it unfairly favored the United Auto Workers. … So, they said no to the plan and decided, as is their right, to take their chances in the bankruptcy process.”

Their “right”? Hah. With a remarked-upon display of anger, President Obama publicly castigated bondholders for opposing his plan, deriding them as “speculators” who refused “to sacrifice like everyone else,” and who only opposed the White House deal to “hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It was after this that Asness penned what stands as the first post- Obama capitalist manifesto, now making the rounds on the Internet…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

The Big Business of Big Labor

Imagine if President George W. Bush used strong-arm tactics to bend the law to favor a politically connected company with $1.2 billion in assets, including a private golf course. What if that company’s political action committee had spent $13 million in the previous election, including more than $4 million to elect him?

Barack Obama has done just that. The company is called the United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union — or the UAW for short.

Obama and the Democrats will employ euphemisms when discussing the President’s plan to circumvent bankruptcy law and hand majority ownership of Chrysler over to the UAW. They will speak about “the workers” taking ownership of the company, with some arguing that the workers, by right, are the senior creditors in Chrysler’s bankruptcy.

This paints the union-versus-creditors battle for control of Chrysler as a fight between blue-collar workingmen and greedy hedge fund speculators in suits.

But that abstraction-equating the UAW with “the workers”-is grossly misleading. John Doe on the assembly line will not be running Chrysler or directing the use of billions in bailout dollar. No, the union management will become Chrysler’s management.

So this is a gift to the union management, which, when you look at it closely, is a big, politically connected company whose executives pamper themselves and practice patronage on the backs of the workers.

Compare the UAW’s political activity to that of the most notorious companies that were cozy with the Bush administration. The autoworker union’s political action committee spent $13.1 million on the 2008 election.

If you take the PACs of Exxon, Halliburton, Peabody Coal, and Lockheed Martin, combine their 2008-cycle political spending, and multiply it by four, you get just over $13.1 million. The UAW’s expenditures on the 2008 presidential contest alone exceed the total House, Senate, and White House expenditures of those four companies.

And even Exxon Mobil gave 11 percent of its donations to Democrats. The UAW gave less than 1 percent of its money to Republicans. The auto workers’ union is far more wedded to the Democratic Party than any company is to the Republican Party.

The union’s $1.98 million to Democratic candidates last cycle (not counting the $4.87 million in independent expenditures to elect Obama president) is more than any PAC spent on Republicans. If you combine the political spending of the top three oil company PACs and the UAW’s PAC, Republicans and Democrats come out about even.

Peer deeper into the UAW’s finances, and it starts to look even more like a big business. The organization sits on nearly $1.2 billion in investments. This is money the UAW took from the paychecks of workers, money that now functions as an endowment out of which the union pays its staff and subsidizes its golf resort.

Black Lake Golf Club, which the UAW brags is “one of the finest anywhere in the nation,” is owned by the union. Situated at the very top of Michigan, a drive of more than four hours from Detroit, it’s not exactly accessible to the union rank and file.

The resort is subsidized by workers’ paychecks, too-the union currently has $29.6 million in loans outstanding to the resort. That’s not their only posh real estate. The UAW’s Washington headquarters, home base for the union’s $1.6 million-a-year lobbying operation, is a beautiful $2.98 million townhouse in the DuPont circle neighborhood.

While UAW membership has fallen by 32.5 percent since 2002, the national headquarters has kept its spending nearly the same-a reduction of only 1.9 percent. Add these facts together, and it starts to look like the union management exists largely to preserve union management.

These are the people who would, practically speaking, own Chrysler under Obama’s plan. These are the benefactors of Obama’s upturning bankruptcy law and threatening investors.

But Obama’s team will maintain that it’s “the workers” who are taking ownership of Chrysler under their plan. When Obama and Democrats extend future bailouts and subsidies to Chrysler, they will have even more reason to claim that they are simply helping the workingmen. In truth, subsidies and special favors for the UAW are corporate welfare, and considering the UAW’s political activities, the right word might be crony capitalism.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Video: How Bankers Seized Control of America

In the video above, Bill Moyers interviews William K. Black, a professor of economics and law, who alleges American banks and credit agencies conspired to create a system in which risky loans could receive AAA ratings and zero oversight — exactly the kind of gluttonous overreaching and hair-raising kinds of risk-taking that Bourg talks about in his article.

This video, by the way, is one of the most enlightening videos on what the banks have done that I have ever seen. It’s an extraordinary interview and absolutely worth watching.

In it, Black calls it like it is — Fraud. Some people got very rich over a period of time, and now the entire country is paying the price.

And, both Bourg and Black agree that one of the most alarming problems now is that the same people who created this mess are able to use their political influence to prevent the reforms required to pull the economy out of its nosedive.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


N.Y. Flyover Results in Resignation

Air Force One Flight Unnerved Residents

The White House official who approved the alarming Air Force One flight over New York City last month resigned yesterday following an internal investigation.

In his resignation letter to President Obama, Louis Caldera wrote that the controversy had “made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office,” which manages Air Force One and other presidential aircraft.

“Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president,” he wrote.

Caldera’s resignation and the release of the review concludes what has been an embarrassing event for a young administration. Obama aides have said the president was furious when he heard about the April 27 flyover, which involved Air Force One and two F-16 military fighter aircraft in a publicity photo shoot.

The low-flying planes evoked the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for many New Yorkers.

The internal review, supervised by Jim Messina, the deputy White House chief of staff, concluded that “structural and organizational ambiguities exist within” the White House Military Office, particularly in how it advises the administration and the Air Force’s Presidential Airlift Group on the way it uses Air Force One. The report said “there are no clear procedures governing the approval process for the use of [Presidential Airlift Group] aircraft, including Air Force One, for operations other than Presidential support.”

In a letter made public yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates disclosed that the flyover cost taxpayers as much as $357,000. The letter was made public by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had raised questions about the incident.

Gates said in his letter that the flight included a training component for pilots to practice instrument approaches and landings at Atlantic City International Airport. He said that “with the exception of one combat photographer, a standard crew complement performed the mission. . . . There were no non-duty personnel or passengers on board.”

Gates wrote that the flyover had been planned for weeks and coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration liaisons in the region, air traffic control representatives and tower supervisors. The FAA notified the office of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), the U.S. Park Police, the New York Police Department and other local agencies three days before the flight.

But, Gates added, “I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force and [Department of Defense] officials.”

[Return to headlines]

Photos That Could Cost Lives

There is nothing to be learned from more images of detainee abuse

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it worth the death of a single American soldier? Is any photograph worth the life of your Marine Corps daughter? Or your neighbor’s deployed husband?

I would like to concede that these are tough questions, but they are really quite simple. The answer is a resounding “No.” Releasing photographs of alleged or actual detainee abuse in the War on Terrorism is not worth the life of a single American. Of course, as some have noted, the incidents at Abu Ghraib have already endangered our troops. So did any orders and policies that may have led to those incidents. But what is to be accomplished by continuing to provide ammunition and provocation to the enemy?

At issue is the Pentagon’s decision — in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — to release a “substantial number” of images depicting the treatment of detainees by May 28 after being ordered by a judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to do so. But given the riots that occurred after the release of the first round of Abu Ghraib photos and the enemy’s penchant for using such images for propaganda and recruiting purposes, the Defense Department owes it to the soldiers to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to block the release of these photos.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced his concern about the dangers of releasing photos in 2005. “It is probable that al Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill, which will result in, besides violent attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support and exacerbation of tensions between Iraqi and Afghani populaces and U.S. and coalition forces,” he said in a statement in support of the Pentagon’s efforts to oppose the ACLU’s request. He added, “riots, violence and attacks by insurgents will result.”

I was deeply disturbed by the images of Abu Ghraib. The military, however, has investigated the abuses and punished those involved. Moreover, the photographs that are now about to be released are already being used for investigative purposes. Other than self-flagellation by certain Americans, riots and future terrorist acts, what else do people expect will come from the release of these photographs?

Sen. Kit Bond (R., Mo.) warned of serious repercussions recently on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think there’s any question it will endanger all of us, because I think it will enhance recruitment for all kinds of terrorists willing to come after us,” he said.

Whether or not the photographs contribute to another attack on American soil remains to be seen. We do know, however, that it will be our troops who will most likely pay the price. We hope that others in Congress heed Mr. Bond’s concerns and not politicize a dangerous issue.

This is not so much a matter of “the people’s right to know” as it is a matter of needlessly endangering the lives of our brave troops — 99% of whom have had no role in any interrogations or allegations of detainee abuse.

As commander of the nation’s largest veterans service organization, I have had the honor to present Blue Star Banners to military families, with the Blue Star signifying the deployment of a service member. It is always a moving experience. But it is the Gold Star Banner, the star that signifies the death of a service member in war, that I never hope to present. I fear that there will be many Gold Stars as a result of this misbegotten policy.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

The Casualty Con: Bam Falling for Taliban Tricks

THE most effective weapon terrorists have found to wield against us isn’t the headline-grabbing suicide bomber or even the deadly roadside bomb, the IED.

Such weapons can harm us, but they can’t stop us. Terror’s super-weapon is the lie.

Lying about civilian casualties is the one sure way to impede or even halt US (or Israeli) operations, to force such tight restrictions on our troops that they can’t win.

The casualty con’s so effective as both propaganda and tactic that terrorists everywhere have adopted the technique. It’s been so successful that our enemies long ago transitioned to the next phase: creating civilian casualties and blaming us.

It works. The media love the charge. Our troops and pilots are always guilty — even if proven innocent. Because so many on the left want us to be guilty.

Few journalists bother to investigate. If the Taliban, al Qaeda, Hezbollah or Hamas says it, it must be so. In Media Wonderland, terrorists never lie. Now every successful strike on a Taliban target generates the instant claim that the dead were all civilians.

And it isn’t just the media who back the Taliban. The Obama administration — a case study in instant foreign-policy ineptitude — signs up, too.

This week, Taliban terrorists publicly beheaded three civilians in Afghanistan’s Farah province, then herded women and children into compounds from which they fought government forces and US advisers.

With a vicious ground battle under way, the Talibs knew attack aircraft would appear. According to military sources, they set up the target. And, just in case, they slaughtered those women and children with grenades before any aircraft appeared. The entire massacre was a planned media event.

And who gets blamed? Not the Taliban. Before the smoke cleared, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was apologizing. (Apologizing is one thing this administration does with real enthusiasm.)

Our SecState played right into the Taliban’s hands. It was instinctive on her part. Clinton and her new Cabinet peers know that our military’s evil. No need to say a single word about the Taliban’s atrocity.

A few hours later, President Obama stepped up to his mike and read a prewritten statement about his meeting with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s bookie-in-chief, President Asif Ali Zardari.

We’d need to comb the historical records, but it’s just possible that no American president ever read a statement so out of touch with on-the-ground reality. The platitudes were thick, the substance was thin and the vision was pure fantasy.

No criticism of Karzai for consistently playing the populist card and backing Taliban claims. No criticism of Zardari for cowering while the Taliban overruns his country and its huge military twiddles its thumbs, dreaming of a war with India.

No, our president announced that he’s going to bring civilian resources to bear now, sending $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan. Yet self-impoverished Pakistan has more than 170 million angry Muslims. Our president’s going to make them our pals for an annual nine bucks a head?

It wouldn’t matter if we poured in $90K for every Pak. Multi-year development projects are useless against an insurgency that’s 60 miles from the capital. We’re turning a home fire extinguisher on an inferno.

The Pakistanis have to fight. If they’re not willing to fight to save their own country, there’s nothing we can do.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, the Taliban strategy of creating civilian casualties — and lying about who the casualties are — is undercutting any potential effectiveness of the 21,000 more troops we’re sending to that worthless, hopeless country.

At the end of the day, the Taliban strategy works because our own government sides with the terrorists against our troops.

Instead of begging for forgiveness, Clinton needed to take a firm position. She should have said: “The deaths in Farah province were entirely the fault of the Taliban. To punish these terrorists and better protect Afghan civilians, we’re loosening our rules of engagement. We will not tolerate this cynical use of women and children as unwilling weapons of war. These war criminals will be hunted down and killed.”

Instead, Hillary blamed our military. Again.

This is war, Madame Secretary. Tragic mistakes happen, but the incident in Farah province wasn’t an error — it was a brutal, cynical set-up. And you stabbed our troops in the back. Again.

If the Obama administration doesn’t want to fight, it should bring our troops home now. And let’s see how much good those civilian-aid workers do.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Nannies in Dhalla Scandal Called to Testify on Parliament Hill

OTTAWA — The two nannies who allege mistreatment by the family of Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla are expected to testify about their experiences in front of a parliamentary committee next week.

Just as in a court of law, testimony at parliamentary committees is given under oath.

Ms. Dhalla, who has stayed away from the nation’s capital since the allegations were first reported earlier this week, will also be called to testify, said David Tilson, the Conservative MP who chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Mr. Tilson, a lawyer, represents the riding just north of Dhalla’s suburban Toronto riding.

“The two nannies . . . are saying that their rights have been violated,” Mr. Tilson said. “That is the very topic that we’re looking at, the issue of whether migrant workers . . . rights have been violated. Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t. The committee’s going to look at that.”

Liberal MP Bob Rae accused the Conservatives and NDP of organizing a political lynch mob.

“Absolutely it’s a partisan tactic,” Mr. Rae told reporters outside the House of Commons.

“I mean I’ve seen, in my 30-year career, I’ve seen a lot of feeding frenzies. I’ve seen a lot of lynch-mob activity and this is just another example of it. It’s a feeding frenzy and I think we should put it in perspective.

“We’re deeply committed as, all of us are deeply committed to, to fairness and justice for caregivers, and if there’s an investigation that’s required, let it take place. But don’t turn it into a political lynch mob. That’s really not the appropriate way to handle this kind of situation,” he said.

In the meantime, The Toronto Star reported Thursday a third foreign worker has emerged to complain that she, too, was treated as a low-paid servant by the Dhalla family.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did not speak to reporters again Thursday and has not taken questions since the accusations surfaced.

Ms. Dhalla, for her part, issued a statement Thursday asking the Ethics Commissioner, an independent officer of Parliament, to review the allegations.

“I have been saddened and troubled by the allegations made against my family and I this week,” Ms. Dhalla said in the statement. “I take these allegations very seriously, and believe that a transparent, third-party evaluation of the facts is required to clear my name.”

She also distributed a letter of support from the Brampton Filipino Seniors Club, who said the allegations were “unfair.”

The nannies, both from the Philippines, alleged they were overworked, hired without federal approval and asked to do jobs unrelated to caregiving such as shining shoes and cleaning family owned chiropractic clinics. One of the caregivers also alleged Dhalla had demanded and taken her personal documents, including a passport, which the MP denied.

Ms. Dhalla has said she was “shocked and appalled” by the allegations and denied any involvement in the selection and supervision of the workers.

But she has also been an aggressive critic and now finds the tables turned on her, as her political opponents smell blood.

Conservatives in the Ontario legislature as well as in the House of Commons quickly drew attention to the allegations to attack the Liberals, accusing the provincial Liberal government of protecting the federal MP, and alleging some laws were broken.

“I mean, it’s very suspicious that [the Ontario Labour Minister] has known about it for some time and did nothing,” Mr. Tilson said outside the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Mr. Tilson’s committee is made up of MPs from all parties.

New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, who is on the committee, said migrant workers often complain about the kinds of mistreatment that the nannies claim Ms. Dhalla and her family engaged in.

“I don’t know whether the allegations that appear in the media are true or not,” Chow said.

“However, the live-in caregivers and nannies and migrant workers, they are people that are fearful. They may have examples of how they themselves have been exploited. And perhaps they want to take this opportunity to speak out. So why wouldn’t we let these migrant workers that are most vulnerable have an opportunity to speak out in Parliament Hill so that the decision makers can come face to face and stare people in the eye to say that, yes, we now heard you.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Ruby Dhalla’s Notion of ‘Care and Compassion’

Don’t judge Michael Ignatieff too harshly for staying out of the limelight while the story of Ruby Dhalla’s alleged mistreatment of two foreign household caregivers explodes. If you’d spent the last 20 years lecturing everybody in sight about the rights of the most vulnerable, you’d probably want to avoid this mess, too. Mr. Ignatieff has apparently turned the file over to the man he keeps around for exactly such situations: Bob Rae, whose observations about Dhalla contained one of those mystifying political locutions one sometimes gets from men who are trying very hard not to say what they are thinking: “She [Ms. Dhalla] feels very strongly that the allegations against her are not true.”

If they are true, the once-up-and-coming Ms. Dhalla — young; telegenic; female; ambitious; “multicultural,” as they say — will soon be chasing down job leads in the private sector. Her foreign caregivers Richelyn Tongson, 37, and Magdalene Gordo, 31, say their 12-to-16 hour workdays were spent not only tending Ms. Dhalla’s mother, but washing cars, shining shoes and performing janitorial services in a family-owned chiropractic clinics — all for $250 per week. (That works out to about $3.50/hour, about a third of what you can earn at a fast food restaurant.) Moreover, the Dhalla family did not take the legal steps under the Canadian government’s Live-In Caregiver Program that would permit the two women to live and work in Ms. Dhalla’s house.

Ms. Tongson also says that Ms. Dhalla personally took possession of her passport and birth certificate at the outset of her employment, and kept them for several weeks. This in itself, ignoring the other allegations, would be extremely questionable behaviour, redolent of the tactics used by employers of servants in places such as Dubai to gain leverage over foreign workers. Ms. Tongson’s testimony that she was made to sign a formal statement declaring “I can take my papers back any time when ever [sic] I want” — a statement she physically provided to another newspaper — would suggest that the family anticipated there might be some sort of problem later and took a clumsy step to pre-empt criticism.

If the passport was taken, whoever took it away was, at the very minimum, guilty of abominable judgment. The same goes for the caregivers’ accusation that they were paid just $250 a week (well below market-rate for a caregiver in the GTA). The accusation that the workers spent little time doing work described in the application made on their behalf to the Foreign Worker Program, if true, would also signal improper behaviour.

There have been suggestions that Canadians who have a demand for family caregiver labour will be sympathetic to the Dhallas’ situation. Thousands reading this editorial must be in similar situations vis-à-vis older relatives; but most will not have used the Foreign Worker Program to save a buck, or indeed hired any help at all.

Mr. Rae says Ms. Dhalla “has a right to defend herself, and there will be full investigations, I’m sure at both the federal and provincial level” — which is no doubt true. But for her own part, Ms. Dhalla has gone further, telling the media that “anyone who has ever worked in our home has been treated with a lot of love, with a lot of care and compassion.” The mere fact that two women in her employ have stepped forward in a move that will likely ruin her political career, we believe, would seem to suggest otherwise.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Dutch Identity Crisis?

THE HAGUE — An artistic satire of The Netherlands hanging at European Council headquarters shows a country that has finally lost its battle with the North Sea. The only landmarks to survive the waves are a tightly packed jumble of minarets.

The depiction resonates with the Dutch, who are turning to anti-immigration politicians in increasing numbers as they worry that the country’s identity is being submerged by immigrants and Islam.

But the annual Queen’s Day celebration — when hordes of Dutch head into the streets to party, dressed up in the colors of the royal House of Orange — does not show evidence of an identity crisis, rather a society rejoicing in its diversity.

This year’s holiday on April 30 was marred when an unemployed security guard drove into the crowd cheering Queen Beatrix in the city of Apeldoorn, killing himself and six others. Before the tragedy, the festivities in the country’s big cities gave an indication of the multicultural society that the Netherlands has become.

Caribbean and Asian kids in orange baseball caps and Stetsons mingled with the crowds bopping to live music from outdoor stages around The Hague. An orange-clad North African dancer entertained passers-by on a street lined with Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese and Japanese restaurants while a few blocks away, a trio of blond grade-school musicians played Bach outside the centuries-old parliament building.

“This is normal. We are living in the Netherlands, so should be expressing the same feelings as the Dutch,” says Ali Bis, chatting outside a Turkish cafe decked in orange and the red-white-and-blue colors of the Dutch flag.

But recent surveys show the Party for Freedom, or PVV, has emerged as the kingdom’s most popular party ahead of June’s elections for the European Parliament. Support has grown since PVV leader Geert Wilders was expelled from Britain as a threat to public security, and a Dutch court launched legal action against him for inciting hatred and discrimination.

A distinctive figure with a shock of platinum blond hair, Wilders is best known for his movie “Fitna,” which denounces the Koran as a “Fascist book.”

Wilders contends that Islam is not a religion but a dangerous “totalitarian ideology.” His campaign has built on concern over crime among the youth from immigrant neighborhoods and fears of Islamic extremism. Those fears have grown after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a Dutch-Moroccan angered by a movie about women in Muslim society.

There are almost a million Muslims in the Netherlands, a nation of 16 million. Most are of Moroccan or Turkish origin — the descendants of workers who arrived during the 1960s and 1970s.

Wilders’ supporters say the spread of Islam has undermined traditional Dutch liberal values. He is seen by many as the successor to Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay political leader who cited Islamic intolerance to homosexuality as one of his major concerns. Fortuyn was assassinated by a Dutch animal-rights activist in 2002, but his party briefly became the second largest in the Dutch parliament after his death.

Wilders’ opponents counter that his anti-Islamic message does more to undermine traditional Dutch values of tolerance and openness to outsiders.

Nearly one-in-eight Dutch citizens have foreign parents or grandparents. Many are frustrated by the politicians’ obsession with national identity.

“It’s a lousy debate,” says Rabiaa Benlahbib, director of Kosmopolis, a cultural group that aims to bring down barriers between citizens in The Hague.

“I’m from different backgrounds; that gives me the chance to explore my identity, it’s a privilege,” adds Benlahbib, who is of Dutch-Moroccan parentage. “It’s never possible to say this part is Dutch and this part is something else.”

Benlahbib is one of the organizers of El Hema — an Arab-inspired variant of the eclectic El Hema chain of department stores that are an institution on high streets around the Netherlands. El Hema sells rubber gloves decorated with traditional Moroccan henna tattoo designs, Halal versions of El Hema’s famed sausages, Barbie-style dolls wearing Islamic headscarves and a range of North African-inspired kitchenware.

“We should look at the community like a salad. Every ingredient has its own taste, its own character, but it’s the dressing of Holland that keeps us together,” says Elyazid Bouziki, a trader who supplies mint to many of the city’s Moroccan tea houses and restaurants.

Bouziki considers himself lucky that his family chose to live in mainly Dutch neighborhoods when they moved from Morocco in the 1960s. That way he avoided joining the youth who often grow up alienated from society in immigrant “ghettos,” where many risk drifting into crime or extremism.

He is confident that the majority of Dutch people remain tolerant of minorities, but he acknowledges that Wilders has succeeded in exploiting a deep vein of unease.

“I have a lot of Dutch friends and when we start discussing these things, they say ‘you are like us, it’s no problem,’ but they are not in my skin,” he says. “I’m a very kind, polite person, but if I walk down a dark alley I know that any Dutch granny that meets me will be scared, her heart will pump harder because it’s me, rather than a blond Dutch guy. That’s in the people here, but hopefully one day it will fade away.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Heroin Clinics Given Go-Ahead

Despite being given the red light from politicians and millions in funding, the opening of some clinics has been delayed due to a lack of the heroin drug

Five city councils have been allocated financing for heroin clinics, where addicts will receive treatment and help with taking heroin.

However, the opening of the state-financed heroin clinic in Odense, Funen, has been delayed because of difficulty in securing enough heroin for the needs of the users, reports Fyens Stiftstidende newspaper.

In February last year, the parliament allocated 70 million kroner for the heroin clinics, which will be located in Copenhagen, Odense, Glostrup, Esbjerg and Århus. The Healthy Ministry and the Local Government Denmark organisation agreed on the distribution of financing to the local councils yesterday, with Copenhagen receiving the largest funding at 30 million kroner.

Odense city council will receive a 7.5 million kroner share of the funds to establish and operate a drug clinic and for the purchase of heroin. The drugs will be the biggest expense of the project. It is estimated that 25 to 30 heroin addicts will need 300 kroner worth of heroin per day, which works out at 300,000 kroner annually.

The National Board of Health has had difficulty in finding a pharmaceutical company capable of providing the heroin in the amounts required, in addition to packing and transporting it at a reasonable price.

Fyens Stiftstidende reports that these concerns, as well as other practicalities like the storage of the drugs, will be cleared up in the next few months with the help of a fact-finding trip abroad among other things.

The heroin clinic in Odense will be opened on 1 January next year where medical staff will help some of the most serious addicts take their heroin. However, according to Birthe Vorsum of the current Odense Drug Treatment Centre, they are having difficult finding a suitable location for both the users and the staff, because ‘people have a lot of prejudices’.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Dutch MEP Calls European Parliament Bureaucratic

The Dutch MEP Dorette Corbey of the Labour Party says the European Union is burdened by bureaucracy. She says she understands why many voters support the anti-European course set out by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party.

In an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide Ms Corbey said the European Parliament has failed to win the hearts of Europeans. In addition the parliament has too little power to scrutinize the decisions of the European Commission in Brussels.

Dorette Corbey is leaving her seat in the European Parliament after ten years in service. She is too low down on the Labour Party election list to win a seat in the upcoming European elections.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Fiat CEO Pitches Deal for Opel

German regional leaders concerned over employment

(ANSA) — Berlin, May 8 — Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne on Friday pitched his bid for German automaker Opel to the government chiefs in the regions where the car is produced and found his greatest obstacle was concern over job cuts.

Kurt Beck, premier of the Rhineland-Ruesselsheim region which is home to an Opel parts and engine plant in Kaiserslautern, said after meeting with Marchionne that closing the factory was unacceptable and that his concerns over Fiat’s overall plan “have grown rather than diminished” after their meeting. Marchionne responded by saying that the future of the Kaiserslautern plant was “still up for discussion”.

Job cuts are a very delicate issue ahead of German federal elections in September. The government chief of the Hesse region where General Motor’s European division has its headquarters, Roland Koch, questioned the basis of Fiat’s offer, given that it had not performed due diligence on Opel.

Nevertheless, Koch welcomed the Italian company’s interest.

A decision on Opel’s future needed to be made before the end of the month, Koch said, inviting Fiat to present a concrete offer soon, so it could be evaluated together with other options.

Marchionne agreed that it would be best to resolve the question of Opel before the end of the month, which coincides with the deadline US President Barack Obama gave GM to produce a restructurization plan in order to qualify for further federal aid.

Speaking after his meetings with the German officials, Marchionne said “Europe has a great interest in resolving the (Opel) problem”. Fiat, the CEO added, is examining “different solutions” and scenarios in regard to Opel.

“The press is awash with our alleged plans. What I can say is that we have made an in-depth internal review of possible solutions in the event an accord is reached with Opel and we are continuing to examine them,” Marchionne said.

This was confirmed by German Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenburg who said on Friday that “Fiat is still tweaking its plan” for Opel.

The Fiat CEO is courting both Germany’s central and regional governments because the acquisition operation hinges on receiving loan guarantees from them.

He also been carrying out parallel talks directly with GM in Detroit which are also believed to focus on Saab of Sweden, GM’s other European marque, and its divisions in Latin America and elsewhere in the world.

Marchionne’s ultimate goal is to create a global automotive giant to rival Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen.

Last month Marchionne successfully negotiated a non-cash deal which will give Fiat an initial 20% and later 35% stake in Chrysler and a possibility of gaining a majority stake once federal bail-out funds have been repaid.

According to the terms of the agreement, Fiat will receive up to 35% of Chrysler in exchange for its cutting-edge green technology, platforms for small, fuel efficient cars and producing its own cars in America.

Fiat will also offer the Detroit No.3 its sales and service networks in Europe and Latin America and in exchange will be able to rely on Chrysler’s networks in North America as well as its production plants.

This will allow Fiat to return to the lucrative American market, at first with its Alfa Romeo marque and probably the new Fiat 500 city car.

Once this partnership is finalised, Marchionne is expected to spin off Fiat Auto — the Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo marques — from the Fiat Group and merge it with GM’s European arm.

Marchionne is set to be the head of the future automotive giant.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Finnish-Funded Prison Turns Brothel?

Finnish officials suspect that a new women’s prison in northern Afghanistan, built through Finnish money and political will, may have been turned into a brothel.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspects that inmates may have been forced to sexually service guards, employees and their guests.

“We suspect that the prison’s top managers are involved, but we haven’t confirmed this, as inquiries into the matter are still ongoing,” says Rauli Suikkanen, a counsellor at the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Asian and Oceanic Affairs.

“It’s possible that this activity was not entirely forced upon all the women. Drug dealing and the presence of drugs may also be an issue,” he says.

The ministry got wind of the abuse when its own staff members were offered the inmates’ sexual services.

The prison was supposed to be a kind of haven for disenfranchised women. This may seem strange to Westerners, but many women in Afghanistan are imprisoned for adultery, various forms of ‘dishonour’, and for being the victims of rape. Children are often imprisoned with their mothers in squalid conditions.

The prison, which Finland paid for, was a way for aid workers to reach these women in order to provide security, health care and education for them and their children.

The prison’s grand opening was celebrated just two months ago — on International Women’s Day.

Model Prison “Missed Key Lessons”

The prison was intended to be a model to the rest of the country’s prison system. It was also an important goal for Finland’s development workers in Afghanistan, for whom women’s rights and welfare has been a key issue. The prison was not only a drastic improvement in infrastructure from the old, crumbling women’s prison, but it housed a day care centre for the children, and a sewing workshop where the women could make and sell handicrafts.

“Here you have the military doing work that primarily belongs in the civilian realm,” says Päivi Mattila, the deputy chair of Finland’s branch of the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

“They missed key lessons that the development community has learned the hard way over the past decades — that you can’t just set up one-time projects like putting up some infrastructure without committing to it long-term.”

The construction of the women’s prison was a small part of Finland’s overall development programme in Afghanistan, but the revelation that the model facility could have turned into a centre of such abuse is deeply embarrassing. Plans to build a new men’s prison in the area are now on hold as officials investigate why there was not adequate supervision of the prison’s operations.

Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb told YLE that funding the prison was a mistake and that financing has been cut off.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Germany: Police Officer Arrested for Joining Berlin’s May Day Riot

During the May Day protests last week, Berlin police clashed with nearly every kind of demonstrator imaginable — including one of their own. An off-duty police officer from Frankfurt has been arrested for stone-throwing during riots which left over 450 of his colleagues injured.

This year’s May Day riots proved to be a serious headache for the roughly 6,000 police officers on duty in Berlin last Friday. Over 450 of them — four times as many as last year — reported injuries, with 19 requiring out-patient hospital care, Berlin police chief Dieter Glietsch reported.

Adding insult to injury is the news that one of the 289 protestors police arrested during the violence was actually one of their own — a fellow officer with the German Federal Police.

The 24-year-old, usually stationed at Frankfurt International Airport, is suspected of taking part in the May Day riots in Berlin and — in at least two instances — throwing cobblestones and striking police officers. He was off-duty and staying in Kreuzberg, the multi-ethnic and alternative neighborhood at the center of the annual demonstrations, during his visit to the capital, where he completed his training in August last year.

The policeman has been suspended and will remain off-duty until the criminal proceedings are over, said a representative for the German Federal Police on Friday. “We are all a bit shocked, because this is not the behavior we expect from a colleague,” a spokeswoman for the Frankfurt Airport police told German news agency DDP.

The mass circulation German daily Bild wrote in its Friday edition that the officer, a reported paintball enthusiast, had described his mood online as “looking for a fight.”

The Labor Day holiday has been well-known for decades for its regular outbreaks of violence and the disorderly situation has become something of a tradition in Berlin — and has since spread to other German cities, Hamburg in particular.

In recent years, popular outdoor festivals held on May Day appeared to have cooled down some of the aggression — although the peaceful performances and gatherings usually morph into some degree of stone-throwing and car-burning as the sun goes down.

This year, however, marked an increase in mayhem, with some speculating that the amplified unrest might be in response to the ongoing economic crisis, especially rising unemployment. Protestors of all varieties — left-wing, far-right, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, and anarchist — clashed with riot police in various Berlin neighborhoods.

Until the early morning hours, police were attacked with bottles, stones, and firecrackers — and responded in turn with tear gas, batons, and pepper spray, arresting twice as many protestors as last year in the process.

On Saturday morning, street cleaning teams battled the trash — collecting 100 cubic meters of garbage, stones, and shards of broken glass.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Germany: Turkish Dads Discover Self-Help in Berlin

For Turkish men living in Germany, talking about difficult life issues — sex, women, abandonment and raising children — is not always easy. But one group in Berlin has found a way to help its members reflect upon their roles and their traditions — and sometimes to change their lives.

The last time Muhammet A. saw his wife outside a courtroom, she hit him. They’d been married for 20 years and had five children together, but now she stood in the doorway of his new apartment in Berlin’s Neukölln district, screaming and pounding her fists against his chest.

He had hardly seen her since she left him abruptly in the spring of 2005. Now she was yelling at him in Turkish and demanding the children back. But Muhammet had already decided that she wouldn’t get the children. So, now, there was only one important thing to do — stay calm. “If you stay calm,” Kazim Erdogan, a 55-year-old psychologist, had told him in a fathers’ group, “then you can have everything, absolutely everything.”

So Muhammet held his fingers firmly laced behind his back — another trick Erdogan had taught him — so that his hands wouldn’t accidentally slip out of his control. If they did, the Office of Youth and Family Services would certainly take his children away, even if he lashed out only once and in self-defense. The world can be so unfair — and the others in the fathers’ group agree.

‘Man School’

Muhammet, 39, goes to the fathers’ group meetings every Monday evening. It’s a regular part of his schedule — between 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday is a time for talking. There, he meets more than a dozen other Turkish men at the Office of Youth and Family Services in Neukölln, where they sit around a table with a blue checkered cloth, drink tea from tulip-shaped glasses and talk about their trials and troubles. It’s not just about letting off steam; these men also want to learn how they can become better fathers and husbands. It’s a sort of “man school” with night classes for guys who’ve realized they have to change.

Many Turkish and Arabic men have been criticized for their alleged self-righteousness, their adamant defense of archaic customs. A daughter who dares to venture into a disco, for example, will soon feel her father’s wrath — and even worse if she shows up with a boyfriend.

Erdogan’s fathers’ group is like taking a trip to another world. Here, men like Muhammet free themselves from old ways of thinking — and there are apparently more men wanting to do so than many think. The groups have grown rapidly since Erdogan started the first one up over two years ago. In Berlin alone, there are now eight of these groups.

Broken Promises

Muhammet, for one, would have never dreamed that his 12-year-old son would one day show him a photograph that his ex-wife Güleyla had taped up in the stairwell of his apartment building — as he believes, to make him lose his nerve in their custody battle. The picture showed his ex-wife locked in a loving embrace with her new boyfriend.

Even as a child, Muhammet A. knew that Turkish couples sometimes separate, too, but he never thought it would happen to him. Raising his children alone was never part of his life plan.

His family comes from a mountain village on the Black Sea, a place with 70 houses and many more cows, goats and sheep. The situation for farmers there in the 1960s was so grim that his father — like many other young Turkish men — left for Germany to seek better opportunities.

Muhammet grew up in Berlin, finished secondary school, completed an apprenticeship and has worked ever since in a factory for synthetic materials. At 17, he married his 18-year-old cousin from his father’s mountain village in Turkey. To their parents’ delight, the couple got along well and went on to have five children — three sons and two daughters.

And then one Saturday in the spring of 2005, Muhammet’s life changed in the blink of an eye. He went to pick Güleyla up at Berlin’s Tegel Airport, where she was supposedly returning after visiting relatives in Turkey for a couple weeks. He stood outside the baggage-claim gate and waited, but she never emerged. When he reached her on the phone, she gave him a not altogether convincing explanation. He mailed her a second and third return plane ticket; they went unused.

Then one night the phone rang; it was a relative in the village. “I saw Güleyla with another man,” she said. Her tone gave Muhammet the impression that he was now expected to act.

Separation, Loneliness and Hate

Turkish tradition allows for the killing of unfaithful women by their husbands or families. For example, just a few months earlier, in February 2005, a Turkish woman named Hatun Sürücü had been murdered by her brother on a street in Berlin. Three shots to her head were allegedly enough to restore the family’s so-called honor. Muhammet was aware of this tradition and this act. As he will admit, he too had “many bad thoughts.” But he also thought of his children — and refrained from acting.

For two months, he didn’t tell anyone what had happened — not his parents, not his colleagues. Then one evening, two friends from his school days visited him at home. As they sat over a glass of tea, one of the friends naturally asked where Güleyla was.

That was the moment when his new self-imposed discipline was really put to the test. The two men badmouthed his wife, calling her things that Muhammet would have preferred not to hear.

The anger and pain didn’t ease for another year and a half. In fact, it didn’t start to get better until he joined the fathers’ group. There, he can talk about things. And talking helps. The men understand him. Most of them have also been abandoned by their wives. They know firsthand what separation, loneliness and hate feel like.

At times, the voices in the group grow louder. Many of the men tell stories about how their wives took the children — and how they now have to fight for every hour they spend with them. At other times, their complaints are more general. One such topic is Germany’s system of social benefits. Back in Turkey, women used to be more financially dependent on their husbands; they couldn’t just pack up and leave. Here, they can.

As the men talk themselves into a rage, Erdogan keeps silent for a long time. With his hands resting gently on his knees, he sits — and listens. He knows that, at some point after many opinions have been shared, there will be a pause. And that is when he lifts his voice.

When that happens, the group goes instantly silent. The men respect Erdogan. They want to learn from him. He is their “hoca,” or teacher. And, like a teacher, Erdogan will boil down the discussion, or shepherd it along, or takes the men out of their comfort zone by posing a question they’ve never been asked, such as: “What is honor for you?”

No one in the group has voiced his support for “honor killings.” But, for all of them, their honor is still somehow tied up with their wives’ faithfulness and their daughters’ chastity. Erdogan knows this. And, for him, it’s a warning sign. At such moments, he always repeats: “Only my own behavior determines my honor.”

Erdogan wants to enlighten these men; he wants to make them reflect. He wants them to realize that there are other things besides their own traditions. He formed this group in his spare time; during normal working hours, he can be found in the psychosocial services office of Neukölln. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time visiting the area’s many coffeehouses looking for men who might want to join the group. It wasn’t easy. After all, what man is ready to admit that he’s in dire need of help?

And yet, once they’ve come, few leave. Some come hoping to talk about the problems they have with government agencies. Muhammet, for example, attended his first meeting because he had heard that he could get some parenting tips.

By then, Muhammet was living alone with his children. Unlike many Turkish men, he at least knew where they went to school and what size clothes they wore; but he didn’t know much more than that. In most Turkish families, the women are in charge of daily life. And he couldn’t exactly ask his friends such questions. “We only talk about soccer,” he says.

In the fathers’ group, though, the men even go so far as to talk about love and sex. For his part, Erdogan tries to act as a bridge between the sexes. He knows why many marriages fail, and he knows the grievances of many Muslim wives. His office is no stranger to the many wives who have filled tissues with tears faster than he could hand them to them.

The women say that their husbands hardly even speak to them, yet expect them to be superstars at washing, cooking, cleaning, caring for the children — and, of course, in bed. If not, there’s trouble. Many wives — at least those with exceptional patience and endurance — put up with it their whole lives. Others don’t. They leave — and their husbands no longer understand the world.

Learning from the Veterans of Pain

The lack of communication that grips many of these families ultimately tears them apart. Dursun G., 65, didn’t realize that that was happening in his family until it was almost too late. With three children and three grandchildren, he’s one of the oldest men in the fathers’ group. He’s a proud man. To show him respect, the others call him Grandpa Dursun.

Dursun came to Germany in 1968 and worked as a lathe operator in a number of factories until 1990, the year of Germany’s reunification. He raised his children just like he was raised in a village in Anatolia — with a firm hand. Talking and tenderness weren’t part of the equation.

That was before he saw his son Cuat hanging around Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor subway station 23 years ago with people who looked like junkies. Dursun screamed at his son and commanded him to immediately come home. But it didn’t help. The next day, his son was back at the subway station again, smoking pot and doing other drugs.

Having reached the limits of his authority, Dursun started drinking. Then one day a friend told him: “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to lose your son. You have to be strong.” In the end, he could think of only one solution: He put Cuat on a plane to Turkey and told him he could come back once he’d agreed to go to therapy.

Dursun G. never wants to re-experience that feeling of helplessness. He’s trying to do things differently with his grandchildren. He plays with them, talks to them and listens to their stories. He wants to impart the lessons he’s learned to the other men. And he does it in a calm, wise way. He does it like Erdogan, listening for a long time before eventually saying a few sentences that make an impression upon the other fathers.

Muhammet is learning a great deal from these conversations. During the day, his mother often takes care of the children. Even though he’s often the only man there, he also goes regularly to parents’ evenings at his children’s school. He was relieved when his son starting bringing home better grades again.

“I’m mother, father and friend, all in one,” he says.

He sounds like every other modern single parent.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Greece: Soon Psychologists in All Schools

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 14 — The Greek Education Ministry has long-term plans to appoint a psychiatrist at every school in the country to minimise the development of psychological problems in children. Last Friday a 19-year-old shot down three persons at a school in Athens before committing suicide. The plans were announced by Greece’s Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos, who pointed out that more people could have been killed in the incident, as happened recently in other countries. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Northern League Proposes Milanese-Only Seats on Public Transport

Election hopeful and taxi driver Raffaella Piccinni wants women-only and immigrant-only carriages. Northern League’s Salvini says: “But in the future.”

MILAN — The proposal is to reserve some carriages on the Milan metro for women only and some for non-EU immigrants. “It’s cheeky”, admitted deputy secretary Matteo Salvini at the presentation outside Palazzo Marino of the Northern League’s candidates for the provincial elections. The idea originated with one of the candidates, writer and taxi driver Raffaella Piccini, from the independent SITP union. Mr Salvini went on: “The proposal to set aside seats for Milanese travellers could be implemented in a few years’ time. I speak with regret as a user of public transport. As yet, there is no resolution or draft bill but if anyone wants to present one, we’re ready to lend a hand”. Mr Salvini went on to explain the reasons for his stance: “I’ve been using Milan’s public transport for twenty years. Given the general atmosphere of arrogance, rudeness and violence, if nothing is done about it, in ten years’ time there’ll be seats reserved for the Milanese and decent people, the way there once were for war veterans, invalids and pregnant women. If we don’t lay down limits for immigration, that’s what it will come to”.

REACTIONS — The immediate reaction from Milan’s political circles was one of outrage…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Most Czechs Do Not Like Romanies — Poll

Prague — Most Czechs, or more than three-quarters of them, consider Romanies the least likeable of all ethnic groups living in the Czech Republic, according to a poll the CVVM agency released to CTK today.

On the other hand, Czechs like themselves and Slovaks most of all, the poll showed, and they also have a good relationship to Poles, Jews and Greeks.

Romanians, Albanians and Ukrainians were mentioned by respondents among the least favourite minorities.

The poll was conducted at the beginning of March on more than 1100 respondents over 15. The respondents were offered a list of ethnic groups living in the Czech Republic and they used a 1-7 scale to express the extent of their sympathies and antipathies, with 1 point being the best assessment and 7 points the worst.

One to three points meant a positive assessment while the assessment over five points was negative.

Romanies received 5.69 points and were the only group crossing a 5-point assessment as 77 percent of respondents assessed them negatively, including 42 percent who said they resented Romanies.

Only 9 percent of people said they favoured Romanies, compared to 12 percent in an CVVM similar poll last year.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Muslims in Britain Have Zero Tolerance of Homosexuality, Says Poll

Survey shows UK Muslims have more conservative attitudes on sex than Muslims in France and Germany

Muslims in Britain have zero tolerance towards homosexual acts compared to their counterparts in France and Germany, according to a survey published today.

The Gallup poll features the results of telephone and face-to-face interviews with Muslims and non-Muslims in the UK, France and Germany and is designed to measure global attitudes towards people from different faith traditions.

It shows that British Muslims hold more conservative opinions towards homosexual acts, abortion, viewing pornography, suicide and sex outside marriage than European Muslims, polling markedly lower when asked if they believed these things were morally acceptable.

The most dramatic contrast was found in attitudes towards homosexuality. None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable. 1,001 non-Muslim Britons were interviewed.

By comparison, 35% of French Muslims found homosexual acts to be acceptable. A question on pornography also elicited different reactions, with French and German Muslims more likely than British Muslims to believe that watching or reading pornography was morally acceptable.

On the issue of sexual relations between unmarried men and women, general populations surveyed express similar views, with the majority believing it was acceptable. But the Muslim populations polled again reflected greater diversity on the matter. French Muslims ranked highest again, with 48% believing it was acceptable, followed by 27% of German Muslims responding favourably. British Muslims came last, with only 3% of those questioned personally believing that sex between unmarried men and women was moral. There was a similar outcome when asked for their views on extra-marital affairs.

The survey was formally launched in London today by Dalia Mogahed, who was recently appointed to US president Barack Obama’s advisory council on faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships and is executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies.

Mogahed said some of the findings surprised her, particularly that British Muslims identified more with their home nation than did non-Muslims because “it flew in the face of conventional wisdom”. She expressed concern that British Muslims were less happier and less “thriving” than Muslims overseas. “The British Muslim community is disproportionately unemployed.”

The report suggested that integration should be focusing on economic opportunity rather than religious issues, she added.

The survey, the Gallup Coexist Index 2009, concluded that while European Muslims not only accepted but welcomed the freedoms, democratic institutions, justice, and human rights that characterised their societies, their perceived lack of integration was often explained by their rejection of liberal, sexual mores.

It said: “Some researchers point out that the greatest differences between Muslims and westerners lie more in eros than demos. In other words, the Muslim-west gap rests on differences in attitudes toward sexual liberalisation and gender issues rather than democracy and governance.

“This theory implies that the west speaks with one voice on issues of morals, tolerance, and sexual freedom. Furthermore, this line of argument contends that this unified system of western values represents the logical progression in all civilized, modern societies and Muslims are expected to embrace such liberal views, if they are to live in the west.”

As an example the survey cited an incident from 2006, when the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany introduced a naturalisation test to assess applicants’ moral views. One of its questions was: “What do you think about the fact that homosexual people hold official offices in Germany?”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Poland: Hunt Launched for Missing Spy

Poland’s police and intelligence services have launched an intensive manhunt for a secret service officer, amid mounting concerns that the man may have fallen into the hands of a foreign power.

Stefan Zielonka left his Warsaw flat in mid-April, and since then nothing has been seen of the 52-year-old signals officer. The problem for the secret services is that Zielonka has a mind packed with all kinds of sensitive information. Along with having access to top-secret information, in particular he knows the code names, locations and contacts of Polish spies working overseas. If a foreign secret service could get its hands on all this, then much of the Poland’s intelligence framework could be compromised.

With the stakes both high and sensitive the government has so far remained coy on the subject. “Please understand me, no comments on this issue,” was the terse remark from defence minister Bogdan Klich. Investigators are also exploring the possibility that Zielonka may have taken his own life. The newspaper Dziennik quotes a source saying that the secret service officer had family problems. Along with this, he apparently had trouble at work owing to arguments over salary cuts. Police have not excluded the possibility that Zielonka may have suffered an accident or been the victim of a crime unrelated to his work.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Spain: Forgotten Fortresses, Old Garrisons Against Pirates

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID — Located between the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and the Moroccan border with Algeria are “micro-Spanish territories” in Northern Africa. The forgotten strongholds of Velez de la Gomera and Alhucemas, along with the Islas Chafarinas, have been declared “usurped territories” by Morocco for centuries. Garrisons that Spain occupied to protect its coasts from pirate attacks, a dramatic occurrence which has come back into vogue. Velez de la Gomera and Alhucemas are little more than large rocks, so small that they have been left off many maps. Velez de la Gomera is of equal distance from Ceuta and Melilla, autonomous Spanish cities in Morocco, conquered respectively in 1494 and 1668. “They were border outposts, garrisons protected by soldiers, and in some periods used as prisons,” explained Antonio Bravo, an historian from Melilla. “Castile, which was undergoing a period of expansion, attempted to protect its southern border in 1492 from pirate attacks to prevent other Moors from emulating Tarik, who defeated the Visigoths in 711.” Resulting from this expansion, all territories that were administratively controlled by Ceuta and Melilla were handed over to Spain, which gave rise to what historians consider “a lengthening of the reconquering of Northern Africa”. In 1508, a Spanish garrison landed on the rock of Velez del la Gomera, which is about 85 metres high, 250 metres long, and 100 metres wide. The rock was back under Muslim domination in 1522, and was then conquered again by a powerful armada of 93 Spanish galleons in 1564. Over 400 soldiers and about the same number of prisoners came to live on the “Penon”, which seems like a Lilliputian copy of Gibraltar. The prisoners were freed in 1622 and passed to the enemy side, given the scarcity of supplies and the horrible living conditions there. Only since an earthquake in 1934 has Verez been connected to the land by an isthmus, but entrance can only be gained with the authorisation of the Spanish Defence Ministry. Even smaller is the rock of Alhucemas, which is 27-metres high, 100km west of Melilla, and surrounded by water until 1673. A necessary outpost to control incursions by Berbers into the Sea of Alboran, a launching point for raids on the Iberian coast. These waters still reverberate with legends of pirates like the famous Francis Drake from the 17th century or Barbarossa, who attacked the Spanish galleons in the high seas while they were returning from the Americas with loads of riches. Of the “safety belt” built by Spain with the occupation of Mar Pequena, Cape Guer, Tripoli, Cazara, Burgia, Maralquivir, and the strongholds of Algiers, Tunis, and Oran, only Velez de la Gomera and Alhbucenas remain. However, these places no longer serve as outposts in the fight against today’s pirates, who re-emerged in Somali waters around 1991 with their base in the Gulf of Aden. The tiny rocks of Velez de la Gomera and Alhucemas have become territories forgotten by all, except for Morocco, which continues to call for their sovereignty. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden Admits Foreign Aid May Not Have Any Long-Term Impact

Sweden’s foreign aid may not have any long-term positive effects for developing countries, according to a comprehensive review of Swedish foreign development assistance.

The findings come from a report presented by Swedish government on Thursday which attempts for the first time to provide a thorough account of what Sweden’s extensive foreign aid programmes have achieved.

“All in all, the Government considers that many of the development assistance initiatives taken have been very useful in relation to the set goals,” said Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson in a statement.

“At the same time, the Communication shows the difficulties in describing the long-term effects of the activities receiving support via Swedish development assistance.”

The 150-page report reveals that Sweden’s foreign aid has an uneven track record and that “not all initiatives have been successful”.

Among other things, the report finds that projects funded by Sweden have not been sufficiently focused on results and that monitoring efforts have neglected pay enough attention to how projects improve quality of life for the poor.

The report is part of an ongoing effort begun when the current centre-right government came to power in late 2006 to improve the management and assessment of foreign assistance programmes implemented by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

“There are many good examples of development assistance initiatives that have made a difference to people’s lives, but we still have a long way to go before we have development assistance that we can prove leads to long-term results,” said Carlsson.

“We have done a lot to improve results-based management, but we will now increase our demands both on Sida and ourselves.”

Specifically, the report urges Sida to strengthen its “performance culture” by establishing a uniform system for results-based management as well as focusing on expected and actual performance in the preparation and implementation of individual aid programmes.

In addition, the government wants Sida to exercise greater control over Swedish support to multilateral organizations and to seek the help of other donors in sharing the cost of evaluating aid projects’ long-term impact.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Curfews and Police’ Can Curb Rosengård Fires

A prominent Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) Riksdag member on Wednesday called for targeted curfews and more police in Malmö’s Rosengård neighbourhood just hours before a communal refuse facility in the area burned to the ground.

Appearing on a debate programme on TV4, Johan Pehrson, the Liberal Party’s judicial policy spokesperson, said that “we ought to consider” restricting young people from being out on the streets if they are know to have been involved in disturbances which have plagued the neighbourhood in recent months.

He added however that any curfew shouldn’t be general, but instead directed at young people known to have taken part in vandalism, rock throwing, and other threatening actions against police officers or fire fighters.

“Otherwise it can really be stigmatizing and counterproductive,” he said.

Perhson emphasized that his suggestion differed from those put forward by local Malmö politicians from the Moderate and Sweden Democrat parties, who last week proposed general curfews for young people in order to stem the persistent occurrence of deliberately set fires and disturbances in the Herrgården area of Rosengård.

Just before 2am on Thursday morning, a few hours following Pehrson’s comments, firefighters were called to put out a fire at a neighbourhood garbage collection facility which police believe to be a case of arson.

A Liberal Party working group proposed last autumn that new rules be introduced allowing Sweden’s social services to take action, even if it as against parents’ will. The group also suggested that parents be made to pay the cost of damages caused by their children.

Perhson also explained on TV4 that police chiefs across the country are concerned that the unrest in Rosengård could spread to other parts of Sweden over the summer.

He proposed that the government urge local police authorities to assign officers to trouble spots in an effort to prevent things from spiraling out of control.

“I think that the government should consider initiating a national police offensive on order to counter the situation which is beginning to be serious, really serious, in parts of Rosengård in Malmö,” Pehrson said on TV4.

“And let’s make sure that there are so many police in place that it’s next to physically impossible to set these sorts of fires.”

But Malmö police chief Ulf Sempert is critical measures which resort to “water cannons and curfews”.

“It’s those sort of measures which haven’t done any good anywhere,” he said on TV4.

Sempert instead wants to continue with integrated neighbourhood policing with cooperation from residents as well as other municipal services.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Make Accused Rapists Prove Consent’: Experts

Two legal experts want to see changes to Sweden sex crimes laws to require a man accused of rape to prove he had the consent of the woman with whom he had sex.

In recent years, the number of reported rapes in Sweden has been steadily increasing, but a similar rise in rape convictions hasn’t been forthcoming.

Eva Diesen, a lawyer and researcher, and Christian Diesen, a professor of criminal law at Stockholm University, have followed up on around 1,200 rape reports and presented their results in a report due this week entitled Övergrepp mot kvinnor och barn (‘Attacks against women and children’).

Since 1965, when Sweden first enacted a sex crimes law, roughly 100 to 200 rapists have been convicted every year.

However, the number of rapes reported annually has increased from around 300 to more than 5,000.

Many of the reports are written off because they boil down to he-said-she-said disputes, writes the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

Diesen is convinced that it’s not only the number of reported rapes, but also the number of crimes, which is increasing.

The victims are also getting younger, with the median age of date-rape victims sinking from 27- to 22-years-old during the last decade.

Rape should be classified as a violation of personal integrity, rather than a violent crime, according to the researchers.

The way the law looks now, women are sexually available until they say no or put up resistance.

A law based instead on a requirement for consent, would those not require evidence of violence or threats.

Rather, a man would have to show that he had done something to ensure he had the woman’s consent, according to Diesen.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Commons Calls in Police Over Leak of Expense Claims

MPs have called in the police to investigate how details of expenses were given to a newspaper.

All Members of Parliament received an e-mail this afternoon saying that there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect criminal behaviour.

The message was sent by Malcolm Jack, the Clerk of the House of Commons, who oversees the administration of the expenses system.

This comes after a four-week investigation by the House authorities into how the scans of receipts relating to MPs’ expenses dating back to 2004 ended up in the hands a businessman, who offered them for sale to newspapers, including The Times, for £300,000.

A spokesman for the House said: “The House authorities have received advice that there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence may have been committed in relation to the way in which information relating to Members’ allowances has been handled.

“A report has been made to the Metropolitan Police, asking them to consider the matter.”

Gordon Brown earlier stopped short of backing Cabinet members who submitted extravagant, unusual or erroneous claims on expenses by refusing to say they acted with integrity.

In his first public comments since the receipt-by-receipt release of the expense claims submitted by his Cabinet, the Prime Minister blamed “the system” for generating negative headlines.

“I’ve said it doesn’t work, it’s got to be changed. We voted for change and that change has got to come quickly,” he told the BBC.

Asked whether MPs should learn to live in the “real world”, he said: “Absolutely. That’s why the system’s got to change.”

Later, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said Mr Brown had full confidence in all members of his Cabinet…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Health and Safety Bans Stepladders From Historic Oxford Library… But Nobody Can Reach the Books

It’s a puzzle even the brainiest of Oxford University students might fail to unravel — how to get the books down from the shelves of the world famous Bodleian Library? Health and safety fears have led to the removal of the step-ladders used to reach the books in the Duke Humfrey reading room for many decades. Students are now forced to travel to libraries in London to read books they can see on the shelves — but not reach — in Oxford.

And requests to move the books to lower shelves have been refused, because it would move them from their ‘original historic location’. The ladders were removed two weeks ago on the order of the university’s Health and Safety officer. Students requesting books on the top shelf — which include dozens of tomes about Art History and Poetry — are issued a notice by librarians which reads: ‘Unable to fetch, book kept on top shelf in gallery.

‘Due to new health and safety measures, step ladders can no longer be used.’ Art History student Kelsey Williams, 21, had to travel 80 miles to London to view a copy of Arthur Johnstone’s Delitif Poetarum Scotorum after librarians refused to get it down for her.

She said: ‘Access to these books is necessary for my research and when I did eventually consult a copy I wasted a day travelling to London and looking at the one in the British Library. ‘It’s madness because I can practically see the Bodleian’s copy every time I walk into Duke Humfreys.’ Laurence Benson, the library’s director of administration and finance, defended the move. He said: ‘The balcony has a low rail and we have been instructed by the health and safety office that this increases the risk to those in the balcony. ‘As part of the process the restriction on the use of ladders on the balcony have been introduced. ‘The library would prefer to keep the books in their original historic location — where they have been safely consulted for 400 years prior to the instructions from the Health and Safety office.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Is Britain Spawning a Generation of Violent, Alienated Lord of the Flies Children?

[Comments from JD: WARNING — GRAPHIC content]

When treating this youngest group of offenders, Dr Vizard also tends to uncover more severe psychological disturbances than she finds in slightly older clients. ‘It’s as if they have not been able to develop a moral compass in the way that older adolescents have,’ she says.

From the expert who evaluated Robert Thompson, this is a sobering pronouncement indeed. And, while it is undoubtedly right that everything possible should be done to identify and help these children, there is a far wider problem.

In a society where family breakdown, lack of community, absent or feckless parents and ill-discipline have rapidly become the norm, we have created the very conditions which are more likely to produce the sort of troubled children who indulge in this horrific violence.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Dentist ‘Refused to Treat Female Patients Unless They Wore Islamic Dress’

A Muslim dentist refused to treat patients unless they wore traditional Islamic dress, it was alleged today.

Omer Butt, 32, ordered women to put on head scarves or he would not register them or their families at his NHS-funded clinic, it was claimed.

At least two patients were left in pain after they declined to follow his self-imposed rules, the General Dental Council heard.

It is the second time that the dentist — who is the brother of a former spokesman of the radical Islamic group al-Muhajiroun — has appeared before the council’s disciplinary panel on similar allegations.

Two years ago he was reprimanded for telling an Asian mother-of-two he would not register her unless she wore the Muslim hijab.

The GDC heard how Butt believed it was his duty to stop Muslim patients committing what he believed was Al-Kaba’ir, a religious sin.

He even put a laminated sign on the wall of his waiting room telling patients they would have to adhere to his strict dress code or find another dentist.

John Snell, for the GDC, said: ‘He sought to impose a dress code on patients attending his practice.

‘He required that women cover their hair with a head scarf, or hijab, and that male patients remove any gold jewellery.

‘If he had simply expressed a preference, without imposing any compulsion to adhere to this dress code, there may be no cause for complaint.

‘However, he insisted — and those who did not comply were refused treatment.

‘He made compliance with Islamic dress code a condition of treatment, which is entirely inappropriate under the auspices of the National Health Service.

‘Patients should have access to NHS treatment regardless of their religious observance, or otherwise.’

One patient, referred to only as Mrs F, told how she went with her husband and three children to register as patients at the Unsworth Smile Clinic, in Bury, Lancashire, in 2006.

While they were waiting to be seen, Butt called her husband into an office and told him he would have to tell his wife to wear a head scarf or the family would not be seen.

They promptly left and made a formal complaint to the NHS.

Mrs F told the panel: ‘I was extremely annoyed. It’s my choice if I wear a Hijab or not. But he told my husband he wouldn’t treat any of us until I did.

‘He even offered to provide one for me to use, but I didn’t want to wear it. I shouldn’t have to wear it to get treatment.

‘I had great pain in my tooth at the time, but I wasn’t going to stand for that so we left.’

Another patient and her family had to leave the clinic in June 2007 because she would not wear the religious headdress after spending a year looking for a dentist in the area, the hearing was told.

The woman’s husband, known as Mr C, was also called into a private room at the surgery where Butt asked him to impose a dress code on his wife.

His wife said: ‘My husband came out and he looked quite angry and his face was red. He said ‘let’s go’.

‘He shouldn’t say to me that he can’t treat me unless I wear the hijab. He said he could provide one for us, but I didn’t want to wear one. I was in pain that day.’

Butt, of Prestwich, Manchester, denies charges of misconduct for his treatment of two patients at the clinic.

If found guilty he faces being removed the dental register.

In September 2007 Butt was formally reprimanded by the GDC for similar behaviour and found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The hearing, being held in London, continues.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Man ‘Killed Girlfriend and Her Sister in Attack So Brutal That Knives Broke’

A man killed his ‘on-off’ girlfriend and her sister in a brutal, depraved attack, knifing one of them more than 30 times, a jury heard today. Mohammed Ali was twice forced to rearm himself after knives broke as he stabbed Yasmine and Sabrina Larbi-Cherif, a court heard.

Opening the case against Ali, prosecutor David Crigman QC said the 29-year-old had been in a relationship with Yasmine, 22, before killing her and her 19-year-old sister Sabrina. Mr Crigman told Birmingham Crown Court that that Ali, who has admitted manslaughter on the grounds of provocation but denies murder, stabbed both women in the lounge of their flat before dragging their bodies into a bedroom, leaving a ‘swathe’ of blood on the floor.

After showing the jury CCTV footage of Ali leaving the Jupiter Apartments in Ryland Street, Birmingham, following the killings, Mr Crigman told the panel: ‘He had left behind a scene of carnage. ‘He had used violence of the most brutal and depraved kind and he had killed two young girls.’ The jury was told that the partially-clothed bodies of the Algerian-born siblings were found last September at their fourth floor flat near to Birmingham Broad Street entertainment district.

In his opening speech, Mr Crigman added that Ali, of Old Snow Hill, Birmingham, was arrested in Dover two days after being seen leaving the flat. ‘In this case, it’s likely that there will be overlapping motives — anger, control, base male brutality and a significant sexual dimension,’ the lawyer said. Warning jurors that some of the photographs taken by police inside the flat were distressing, Mr Crigman invited them to look at one showing the sisters’ bodies lying on a bed. Each of the victims was naked from the waist down, but an item had been thrown over their lower bodies, the court heard. Mr Crigman continued: ‘It is a certainty that where you see those girls is not where they were attacked or killed. ‘They were attacked in the lounge of the flat and they were dragged, dead or dying… and extremely likely already dead, into the bedroom.’ The prosecution barrister then went on to detail the wounds the sisters had suffered, revealing that Sabrina’s injuries from a series of ‘precision strikes’ had led to the loss of the entirety of the blood in her system. The younger victim was stabbed 32 times by Ali, who is thought to be from Morocco or Iraq. Yasmine had also undergone ‘a beating’, Mr Crigman said, sustaining wounds to her arm and wrist and an eight-inch-deep stab wound to her back which entered her heart. The prosecutor then returned to the CCTV image of Ali leaving the apartment with a carrier bag at about 1pm on Sunday September 14, noting that the image was chilling in its ordinariness. ‘What was he swinging in that carrier bag?’ Mr Crigman asked the jury. ‘He was swinging, very likely, his own bloodstained clothing and the other objects that he taken from the flat.’ Ali was arrested on September 16 at Dover docks in what the prosecution claim was an attempt to flee the country. The killer pleaded guilty to manslaughter at a previous hearing in March, claiming he was provoked into doing what he did during a loss of self-control. But Mr Crigman told the jury: ‘We reject absolutely any assertion of manslaughter — no doubt he was in an evil temper, but the prosecution say he knew what he was doing. ‘It’s not a case of him being provoked — it will be a case of him not getting something he wanted or something not going his way… or losing control of the relationship, as he probably was at this time. ‘This man knew exactly what he was doing — so in control was he that in the course of these attacks on these two girls, he broke off to rearm himself. ‘He launched the attack with fists and maybe feet and then he got a knife and he used it and he broke it… and he went to get another knife and he broke it. ‘He went and got a third knife and he used it until the girls were dead.’ Describing Ali’s claims of provocation as a last throw of the dice to avoid convictions for murder, Mr Crigman added: ‘Even if there was an element of provocation from either of the girls… no reasonable man would have reacted in the way that this man did.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Ministers in Disarray as Gurkhas Strike Again

The Government suffered another day of embarrassment at the hands of Joanna Lumley yesterday after it wrote to five Gurkhas refusing them residency.

The actress and campaigner, who a day earlier had emerged from Downing Street to say that she was reassured by Gordon Brown’s promise that he would “do the right thing” by the soldiers, said that she had been shocked at the letters of rejection.

To make matters worse, she claimed Downing Street did not know about the letters sent by the Home Office.

In scenes of extraordinary political pantomime, Ms Lumley revealed the Government’s desperate attempts to prevent her making her anger public. She then held impromptu talks with Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, after an encounter in a TV studio.

Chris Huhne, of the Liberal Democrats, said: “At worst this was a betrayal of the Gurkhas, at best a monumental shambles in Government.” David Cameron, the Conservative leader, urged Mr Brown to “get a grip”.

After the row erupted, Ms Lumley was telephoned by Downing Street saying it had “just heard” about the letters. Only a private last-minute meeting between the Absolutely Fabulous actress and Mr Woolas defused the matter when he told her that the cases would be re-examined.

“It seems the Prime Minister didn’t know about this and I think he was very anxious because it is exactly in contradiction to what he was talking about yesterday,” she said.

In a timely intervention, the minister “bumped” into Ms Lumley before she spoke to reporters. They held a hurried meeting in which he said that the Government remained committed to the Gurkha review. He said the letters were not a formal rejection but merely part of a legal process and each case would be reviewed. “We have 1,500 appeals against refusals that we are considering,” he said. “We have granted over 100 of those cases since last week. By the end of this month we will work through those 1,500 cases.”

The minister’s comments failed to satisfy all the campaigners who last week helped to push the Government to a defeat in the Commons. “We take comfort but we have taken comfort before, again and again,” said one of the lawyers who has been representing the Gurkhas.

Gyandendra Rai was one of those who received a rejection letter. He served for 131/2 years, including time in the Falklands, where he was badly injured by shrapnel.

Ms Lumley said: “For all the minister’s kind words of reassurance . . .. I think there is so little to be reviewed, so little to be looked at — except that all these men, all these applications, should be received with open arms. There are only 1,500, minister. Shall we wave them in?”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Queen’s Medal of Honour Scrapped… Because It’s Too Christian for Muslims and Hindus

A medal established by the Queen is being withdrawn after it was declared unlawful and offensive to Muslims and Hindus.

The cross-shaped honour — The Trinity Cross of the Order of Trinity — has been handed to distinguished members of the former colony of Trinidad and Tobago.

Cricketers Brian Lara and Garfield Sobers are among those who have received the medal along with diplomats and politicians.

The Christian name and cross are now being replaced with the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago — a circular medal featuring a sun, stars, water and a map of the islands.

The Privy Council, made up of 12 law lords, ruled the merit decoration was unlawful because it discriminates against non-Christians.

Now other honours are being reviewed over their references to Christian Saints or symbols.

The Queen established the Trinity Cross in 1969 and it took precedence over all other decorations except for the Victoria Cross and George Cross.

But questions at the time of its creation were raised over the Christian nature of the words ‘Trinity’ and ‘Cross’. Some of those nominated for the award have refused to accept it.

After the Law Lords decision, the Maha Saba attorney Anand Ramlogan told local newspaper Newsday: ‘It’s a vindication of the 40 years of disquiet and unease silently suffered by the Muslim and Hindu communities whose legitimate grievance with the Trinity Cross was flippantly dismissed by successive governments.’

The Maha Sabha, the Hindu organisation, and the Islamic Relief Centre Ltd have been fighting to get a new non-religious order of merit since 2004.

The High Court in Trinidad and Tobago ruled the decoration discriminated against non Christians but said it did not have the power to invalidate the royal order.

Judge Jamadar said: ‘The Trinity Cross — the nation’s highest award — is strictly a Christian symbol, and as a result, it discriminates in a multi-religious society.’

The islands’ government last year announced a new award the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago, which gained independence in 1962, is a multi-religious nation with large groups of Catholics and Hindus. Around 24 per cent of the populartion is Hindu, and five per cent is Muslim.

The Queen is expected to visit in November when the islands host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

A review of the British honours system by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee in 2004 recommended reducing the number of decorations from twelve to four, with the new proposed titles having no reference to the Cross or Christian saints.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

V. Klaus: Green Policies = Economic Decline

I am surprised at how so many people in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere have come to support policies underpinned by hysteria over global warming, particularly cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and subsidies for “green” energy sources.

I am convinced that this is a misguided strategy — not only because of the uncertainty about the dangers that global warming might pose, but also because of the certainty of the damage that these proposed policies aimed at mitigation will impose.

I was invited to address this issue at a recent conference in Santa Barbara, Calif. My audience included business leaders who hope to profit from cap-and-trade policies and from subsidies for renewable energy and “green” jobs. My advice to them was to not get caught up in the hysteria.

Europe is several years ahead of the United States in implementing policies intended to mitigate global warming. All of the European Union’s member countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and adopted a wide range of policies to lower their emissions and meet their Kyoto targets.

These policies include a cap-and-trade initiative known as the Emissions Trading Scheme, steep fuel taxes, and ambitious programs to build windmills and other renewable-energy projects. These policies were undertaken at a time when the EU economy was doing well and — one hopes — with full knowledge that they would have significant costs.

With the global financial crisis and the sudden economic downturn, two things are becoming clear. First, it will be difficult to afford these expensive new sources of energy. Second, energy rationing policies like cap-and-trade will be a permanent drag on economic activity. Ironically, emissions have not decreased as a result of these policies, but are doing so now as the world economy moves into recession.

This is not a surprise to someone like me, having been actively involved in my country’s transition from communism to a free society and market economy. The old, outmoded heavy industries that were the pride of our Communist regime were shut down — practically overnight — because they could not survive the opening of the economy. The result was a dramatic decline in carbon-dioxide emissions.

The secret behind the cut in emissions was economic decline. As the economies of the Czech Republic and other central and eastern-European countries were rebuilt and began to grow again, emissions have naturally started to increase. It should be clear to everyone that there is a very strong correlation between economic growth and energy use.

So I am amazed to see people going along with the currently fashionable political argument that policies like cap-and-trade, government mandates, and subsidies for renewable energy can actually benefit an economy. It is claimed that government, working together with business, will create “a new energy economy,” that the businesses involved will profit, and that everyone will be better off.

This is a fantasy. Cap-and-trade can only work by raising energy prices. Consumers who are forced to pay higher prices for energy will have less money to spend on other things. While the individual companies that provide the higher-priced “green” energy might do well, the net economic effect will be negative.

It is necessary to look at the bigger picture. Profits can be made when energy is rationed or subsidized, but only within an economy operating at lower, or even negative, growth rates. This means that over the longer term, everyone will be competing for a piece of a pie that is smaller than it would have been without energy rationing.

This does not augur well either for growth or for working our way out of today’s crisis.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Westerners and Muslims Differ on Morals: Report

Survey finds Muslims welcome democracy, reject homosexuals

Muslims living in Europe feel far more loyalty to their country than they are often perceived to feel but have differing views on what is considered morally acceptable than their non-Muslim counterparts, a survey on coexistence said on Thursday.

The Gallup Coexist Index survey said there are several misconceptions and generalizations about Europe’s Muslims because researchers often fail to consider cultural and socioeconomic differences in Europe that affect life as an immigrant.

“European Muslims want to be part of the wider community and contribute even more to society,” said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, but many found that they were not always successful.

The authors, Mogahed and Mohamed Younis, suggested that a combination of more strict views and religious practices by Muslims in certain countries had contributed to the misconception about their degree of integration, even while those Muslims were keen to integrate.

“This research shows that many of the assumptions about Muslims and integration are wide off the mark,” Mogahed, the executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, said.

Out of the three European countries polled, only 10 percent of British Muslims felt integrated, while 46 percent of French Muslims and 36 percent of German Muslims felt integrated into the wider society.

Morals and democracy

A seemingly counterintuitive finding was that European Muslims not only accepted but also welcomed the freedoms, democratic institutions, justice and human rights that characterize their societies.

Some researchers pointed out in the report that “the greatest differences between Muslims and westerners lie more in eros than demos. In other words, the Muslim-west gap rests on differences in attitudes toward sexual liberalization and gender issues rather than democracy and governance.”

Muslims in Germany and Britain were more likely than the general public to say they had confidence in the judicial system, financial institutions and the honesty of elections.

Sixty-one percent of German Muslims expressed confidence in their national government compared to only 36 percent of the non-Muslim German public.

Homosexuality and honor killings

Most Muslims had little tolerance for the moral acceptability of homosexuality, abortion, pornography, sex outside of marriage and suicide.

Britain’s Muslims showed zero tolerance for homosexual acts, while even in France, with the highest percentage of tolerance, only 35 percent said such acts were “morally acceptable.”

On the issue of sexual relations between unmarried men and women, non-Muslim populations believed it was acceptable whereas Muslim populations generally characterized it as immoral, with a mere three percent in Britain believing it was moral.

Although stereotypes of Muslims suggest support for honor killings, poll findings showed that French, German and British Muslims actually held similar opinions to that of the general public.

Only three percent of French and German Muslims and two percent of British Muslims said honor killings were morally acceptable compared to one percent of the German and British non-Muslim publics.


For the past two decades the headscarf, or hijab, has been at the center of public debate with some branding it a symbol of oppression or a rejection of modern values.

The poll found that the majority of European populations believed that Muslim women should remove the headscarf in order to integrate adequately.

When asked what types of associations the European public, including Muslims, made with the headscarf equal percentages in France, about (30), and Germany, (40), said they associate the headscarf with courage.

But others associated the hijab with women’s oppression, religiosity and fanaticism.

The survey, described as the first of its kind, polled at least 500 Muslims in June and July of last year to generate its findings on European Muslim integration. At least 1,000 members of the general public in each country were also randomly surveyed to create comparisons on specific issues.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Wilders Wants to Attend British Court Hearing

Anti-immigration MP Geert Wilders said on Friday he hoped to go to Britain on July 9 when a court in London will hear his appeal against being banned.

‘I want to be there in person, and defend myself together with a British lawyer, Wilders said on his website.

The anti-Islam campaigner was banned from entering Britain in February after the authorities said he could be a danger to public order.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Cloning: UAE; Injaz, First Cloned Dromedary Born

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, APRIL 14 — Last week the first cloned dromedary camel in the world was born in Dubai. The dromedary called Injaz is the result of five years of research by the Camel Reproduction Centre (CRC) and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL). The news was broken by the UAE press today. “We have turned a significant corner in our programme for the genetic conservation of dromedaries for racing and milk production”, commented the director of the CRC, Lulu Skidmore, introducing the baby dromedary Injaz, which means ‘result’ in Arabic. Injaz, a female dromedary weighing 30kg and in good health like her mother, was reproduced from the nucleus of cells extracted from the ovaries of an adult dromedary, bred in culture and then frozen using liquid nitrogen. A year ago, the same research team created two identical twin dromedaries using the technique of embryonic micromanipulation. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

David Frum: Netanyahu is Not the Barrier to Peace

A Netanyahu-Barak government: Now that sends a message to the world, and to Washington above all. It says: Don’t imagine you can push Israel into dangerous concessions by driving a wedge between Israel’s right and left.

During Benjamin Netanyahu’s first prime ministership, from 1996 to 1998, the Clinton administration treated Netanyahu as an irritating and temporary obstacle to its peacemaking plans. He was to be bullied as long as he held office — and pushed aside for a more amenable replacement as soon as possible.

The Clinton administration got its wish. Netanyahu was replaced by Ehud Barak, who showed himself to be the most ambitious peacemaker in Israel’s history. Barak offered up the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, even an acknowledgement of a Palestinian “right of return.”

For a brief, dizzy moment, it seemed the deal would happen: the Palestinians would get their state, Arafat his tomb in Jerusalem, Bill Clinton his Nobel Peace Prize and Israel…well, it was never certain what Israel would get. Peace? No, not very likely. But maybe a respite before the next round of demands.

Of course, it all went wrong. Arafat declined to sign, the Palestinians launched a second intifada, Israel invaded the West Bank, the separation fence was erected, Gaza was evacuated then invaded again, and here we all are. A small cottage industry has emerged in the West to argue that the Palestinians did not really walk away in 2000. Or that if they did walk away, they were entitled to walk away. Or even if they were not entitled, they should nonetheless get yet another chance.

Some people will believe this. Some people will believe anything. But comparatively few people in Israel believe it. As Israelis of almost all ideological points of view agree, the most arresting change in their country’s politics since 2001 has been the disappearance of what used to be called “the peace camp.” As David Hazony observed in Commentary’s blog after the February Knesset elections:

“Of the four major parties today, three of them are Likud and its spin-offs: Kadima was founded by Ariel Sharon and is mostly made up of former Likudniks; Yisrael Beitenu’s chairman cut his teeth as the head of the Likud’s central committee. Not only this: The classic parties of the pro-peace camp in Israel are but a tiny shadow of their former selves: Labor, which for decades, until as recently as 1996, led the country, is down to the lower teens. Shinui is gone. Meretz, the far-left party, is down from 10 seats in 1999 to around 4. If we call Kadima centrist, then the left in Israel as a whole will not break 20 seats [out of 120].”

The intellectuals of the left have reconsidered, too, most spectacularly the historian Benny Morris. Now Ehud Barak himself has enlisted in Netanyahu’s new government.

What remains of the left in Israel is appalled. “[T]his is a right-wing government. There has never been a government with (Avigdor) Lieberman as foreign minister. The Labor Party, with such a small number of party members supporting the coalition, can’t even act as a fig leaf,” former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said as Netanyahu took office.

Beilin shouldn’t get so excited. Netanyahu’s last prime ministership was hardly one of nationalist last stands. Netanyahu did not opt out of Oslo. Brought to office by a Hamas bombing campaign, he refrained from hitting back once in office. When Palestinian police actually opened fire on Israeli forces during the Tunnel riots of 1996, Netanyahu’s response was restrained: He did not dismantle the police force, did not break off negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. On the contrary, he joined the negotiations at Wye River and surrendered Hebron.

True, Netanyahu has said some tougher-sounding things since leaving office. Then again, he said tough-sounding things before entering office the first time. As prime minister, however, he governed well within the Israeli establishment consensus, and he will likely do so again.

For the ambitious peacemakers in the Obama administration, the problem is not Netanyahu, but the fact that Israelis have lost faith in peace processes that have brought them not peace but war, rockets not normality. Over the horizon, Israelis see the gathering threat of a nuclear Iran, which promises to annihilate their country as soon as it has the means to do so.

If the Obama administration wishes to make peace, these are the facts it will have to acknowledge. It can be feared, however, that the administration’s instincts will revert to the worst habits of the Clinton days: To imagine that we can reach peace by closing our eyes to the realities of conflict-and to treat Israel’s anxieties about the murderous intentions of its neighbors as impediments to be pushed aside. The “process” becomes everything; the “peace” will arrive just as soon as enough concessions can be bullied out of the Israelis.

Obama may be tempted to frame the coming debate as a personal contest between himself and Netanyahu, just as Clinton did, in the hope that his popularity within the American Jewish community will isolate him from criticism. If Obama chooses this option, he is peddling fantasies, not peace; Netanyahu speaks not only for himself, but for the majority of an Israeli public that has learned caution from bitter experience.

The right target for the Obama administration’s urgent pressure is Iran, not Israel. The obstacles to peace are the animosities of Israel’s neighbors, not the personality of Israel’s prime minister.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Hamas Says ‘Kill Next Week’; Media Perceives Moderation

by Barry Rubin

Nothing is funnier than when someone wants to avoid an obvious conclusion.

Nothing is sadder than people being borne away on waves of wishful thinking.

Following up on rewriting the clearly extremist words of Iran’s leader on the basis of wishful thinking and reinterpreting the equally extremist words of Syria’s leader based on wishful thinking ,it is now Hamas’s turn.

Right after giving op-ed space to the shadowy Alistair Cooke—whose group even dared to publish on the Internet its plan to fool the West into thinking that radial Islamism was no threat—the New York Times has an interview with newly reelected Hamas leader Khalid Mashal on May 4.

What wisdom does he and the interviewer have for us?

First this in the avoiding obvious conclusions’ department:

“In April, only six rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel from Gaza, which is run by Hamas, a marked change from the previous three months, when dozens were shot, according to the Israeli military….Mr. Mashal made an effort to show that Hamas was in control of its militants as well as those of other groups, saying, ‘Not firing the rockets currently is part of an evaluation from the movement which serves the Palestinians’ interest.’”

Note that the reporters, Taghreed el-Khodary and Ethan Bronner, interpreted this as showing Hamas deserved praise for its restraint and respect for its ability to control its militants and others.

Here’s my interpretation: Hamas got badly beaten up by Israel during the December-January fighting and wants a break. As soon as it rebuilds, though, it will start attacking again. (See below for more on this point).

The Times interpretation: Hamas works.

My interpretation: Force works, up to a point. This idea—so basic in international affairs—is impermissible under current thinking for which only concessions (mine and yours) can solve problems

But there’s much more here…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

‘Lieberman Sees Europeans as Cowards’

A day after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrapped up his first diplomatic trip to Europe with a meeting with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin, German lawmakers on Friday said the visit left them somewhat disappointed.

SLIDESHOW: Israel & Region | World “It was a swan song of soft power in every way,” Werner Hoyer, a foreign policy expert for the pro-business Free Democrats told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, according to a translation provided by the German English language Web site The Local. “Lieberman sees us Europeans as a pile of cowards.”

In his meeting with Steinmeier, Lieberman urged Berlin to support boosting ties between the EU and Israel and not to condition the planned upgrade on the progress of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Steinmeier called on Lieberman to abide by previous agreements with the Palestinians and to back a two-state solution.

“It’s important to strengthen moderate forces in the region and actively engage in peace efforts,” Steinmeier said in a statement after the meeting.

The two discussed the new government’s foreign policy review, which Lieberman said would be completed before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with US President Barack Obama later this month, Steinmeier said.

Nevertheless, Hoyer told Berliner Zeitung that he saw “no noticeable outlook for a secure Israeli future” during the visit.

Meanwhile foreign policy expert for the center-left Social Democrats Gert Weisskirchn said Lieberman focused mostly on containing Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas.

“If I try to frame it in a positive light, then Lieberman is playing the role of the bad guy,” Weisskirchen said, adding that although Lieberman spoke of the threat from Iran, he didn’t recommend military action.

The lawmaker said Lieberman had described peace negotiations thus far as an “industry” of fruitless diplomatic meetings.

However, Weisskirchen said the foreign minister didn’t directly criticize a two-state solution and that he urged the European Union to provide assistance to the Palestinians.

Vice head for the environmentalist Green Party’s parliamentary group Jürgen Trittin spoke in tough terms regarding the steps Germany expects Israel to take.

“Germany expects the Israeli government — and Foreign Minister Lieberman — to stop building settlements, for settlers to retreat from the West Bank, and for promises made in Oslo and Annapolis to be kept,” Trittin told Berliner Zeitung.

Lieberman’s trip this week also took him to Italy, France and the Czech Republic.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Muslims Urged to Desist From Angry Protests Over Danish Journalist

DOHA: Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre, popularly known as FANAR, has urged Muslims not to be involved in angry protests over the visit of Flemming Rose, Culture Editor of the Danish daily that had carried cartoons insulting Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), to Qatar, saying that would only make a hero out of Rose.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom said Rose, Culture Editor of Jyllands-Posten, was invited to the function by UNESCO, even as text messages were being exchanged among angry residents here yesterday decrying Rose, who attended a World Press Freedom Day function here recently.

“We have to think of some other way to register our protest — some way which does not make this man a hero,” said Abdussalam Al Basuni, media director of FANAR.

“We have made mistakes in the past and made heroes out of people like Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen, Haider Haider and Aala Hamid,” he told this newspaper yesterday. “We must not repeat these mistakes.”

Asked what kind of protest he had in mind, Al Basuni replied: “I don’t know. I haven’t given much thought to it, but definitely some other way.”

A former Central Municipal Council (CMC) member, Ahmed Al Muftah, reacting sharply to reports of Rose’s presence here, said: “Why host this Media Freedom Centre here? Today, they have invited Rose, tomorrow they may do something more humiliating.”

Rose and Jorgen Ejbol, chairman of the company, JP/Politiken Newspaper Ltd, which owns Jyllands-Posten, came here at the invitation of UNESCO, said the Centre for Media Freedom. JP/Politiken Newspaper Ltd is one of the three sponsors of the UNESCO Press Freedom Prize presented during the function. The prize was awarded posthumously to a Sri Lankan editor.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Green Light to Attack Iran

Arctic winds are blowing into Jerusalem from Washington these days. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s May 18 visit to Washington fast approaches, the Obama administration is ratcheting up its anti-Israel rhetoric and working feverishly to force Israel into a corner.

Using the annual AIPAC conference as a backdrop, this week the Obama administration launched its harshest onslaught against Israel to date. It began with media reports that National Security Adviser James Jones told a European foreign minister that the US is planning to build an anti-Israel coalition with the Arabs and Europe to compel Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

According to Haaretz, Jones was quoted in a classified foreign ministry cable as having told his European interlocutor, “The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.”

He then explained that the US, the EU and the moderate Arab states must determine together what “a satisfactory endgame solution,” will be.

As far as Jones is concerned, Israel should be left out of those discussions and simply presented with a fait accompli that it will be compelled to accept.

Events this week showed that Jones’s statement was an accurate depiction of the administration’s policy. First, quartet mediator Tony Blair announced that within six weeks the US, EU, UN and Russia will unveil a new framework for establishing a Palestinian state. Speaking with Palestinian reporters on Wednesday, Blair said that this new framework will be a serious initiative because it “is being worked on at the highest level in the American administration.”

Moreover, this week we learned that the administration is trying to get the Arabs themselves to write the Quartet’s new plan. The London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi pan-Arab newspaper reported Tuesday that acting on behalf of Obama, Jordanian King Abdullah urged the Arab League to update the so-called Arab peace plan from 2002. That plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights and accept millions of foreign Arabs as citizens as part of the so-called “right of return” in exchange for “natural” relations with the Arab world, has been rejected by successive Israeli governments as a diplomatic subterfuge whose goal is Israel’s destruction.

By accepting millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees,” Israel would effectively cease to be a Jewish state. By shrinking into the 1949 armistice lines, Israel would be unable to defend itself against foreign invasion. And since “natural relations” is a meaningless term both in international legal discourse and in diplomatic discourse, Israel would have committed national suicide for nothing.

To make the plan less objectionable to Israel, Abdullah reportedly called on his Arab brethren to strike references to the so-called “Arab refugees” from the plan and to agree to “normal” rather than “natural” relations with the Jewish state. According to the report, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was expected to present Obama with the changes to the plan during their meeting in Washington later this month. The revised plan was supposed to form the basis for the new Quartet plan that Blair referred to.

But the Arabs would have none of it. On Wednesday, both Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that they oppose the initiative. On Thursday, Syria rejected making any changes in the document.

The administration couldn’t care less. The Palestinians and Arabs are no more than bit players in its Middle East policy. As far as the Obama administration is concerned, Israel is the only obstacle to peace.

To make certain that Israel understands this central point, Vice President Joseph Biden used his appearance at the AIPAC conference to drive it home. As Biden made clear, the US doesn’t respect or support Israel’s right as a sovereign state to determine its own policies for securing its national interests. In Biden’s words, “Israel has to work toward a two-state solution. You’re not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement.”

FOR ISRAEL, the main event of the week was supposed to be President Shimon Peres’s meeting with Obama on Tuesday. Peres was tasked with calming the waters ahead of Netanyahu’s visit. It was hoped that he could introduce a more collegial tone to US-Israel relations.

What Israel didn’t count on was the humiliating reception Peres received from Obama. By barring all media from covering the event, Obama transformed what was supposed to be a friendly visit with a respected and friendly head of state into a back-door encounter with an unwanted guest, who was shooed in and shooed out of the White House without a sound.

The Obama White House’s bald attempt to force Israel to take full blame for the Arab world’s hostility toward it is not the only way that it is casting Israel as the scapegoat for the region’s ills. In their bid to open direct diplomatic ties with Iran, Obama and his advisers are also blaming Israel for Iran’s nuclear program. They are doing this both indirectly and directly.

As Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel made clear in his closed-door briefing to senior AIPAC officials this week, the administration is holding Israel indirectly responsible for Iran’s nuclear program. It does this by claiming that Israel’s refusal to cede its land to the Palestinians is making it impossible for the Arab world to support preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Somewhat inconveniently for the administration, the Arabs themselves are rejecting this premise. This week US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the Persian Gulf and Egypt to soothe Arab fears that the administration’s desperate attempts to appease the mullahs will harm their security interests. He also sought to gain their support for the administration’s plan to unveil a new peace plan aimed at isolating and pressuring Israel.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Qatar: A Raging Controversy

DOHA: Doha was seething with anger and resentment last evening with heated debates in majlises and drawing rooms and people exchanging angry messages — at least some calling Al Adeed (the security helpline set up by the Interior Ministry) after news that controversial Danish journalist, Flemming Rose, Culture Editor of the Jyllands-Posten, who had commissioned and published a series of cartoons derogatory to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) was in the city for the World Press Freedom Day conference.

The whispers grew into a raging controversy late in the evening with most citizens and expatriates alike upset with the news after Ahmad Ali, former editor-in-chief and now General Manager of Al Watan daily, in a signed editorial in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper lambasted the organisers of the Doha Center for Media Freedom for inviting Rose for the World Press Freedom Day conference. By inviting the controversial figure, who had insulted the Prophet (PBUH) by publishing the cartoons, he wrote, the Center’s head Robert Menard had insulted all Muslims. “Menard should know that there is a red line to media freedom and you cannot cross that border.” We cannot accept any media freedom that insults our dear Prophet,” Ahmad wrote.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Eleven People Die From Alcohol Poisoning

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 14 — Eleven people died in Turkey in the last three weeks from poisoning caused by bootled alcohol, local press reported quoting the Agriculture Ministry. Three German students holidaying in the Southeastern Mediterranean resort of Kemer are among the victims. The deaths were the result of methyl alcohol poisoning and inspections are stepping up to prevent further cases, the ministry declared in a statement, calling on consumers to be careful when purchasing alcohol to make sure that it is genuine. Among the dead, seven people died in the Northwestern province of Bursa, were reported. Most of the deaths were caused by fake raki, Turkey’s popular aniseed spirit. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Myanmar: No to Seeing Detained US Citizen

YANGON (Myanmar) — THE US Embassy in Myanmar said on Friday the government has ignored its repeated requests for access to a detained American arrested for allegedly swimming to the lakeside home of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and sneaking inside. The man’s motives remained unclear, and the embassy said it has not been able to confirm any information since his Wednesday arrest was reported by state-controlled media, which identified him as ‘John Willian Yeattaw.’ ‘We have made repeated requests to see him and we still have not been granted access,’ said embassy spokesman Richard Mei. ‘We would like to confirm the information ourselves and speak to the individual directly.’

Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, is rarely allowed visitors by Myanmar’s ruling junta.

Asian diplomats in Myanmar quietly expressed concern that Suu Kyi could face stricter penalties if authorities found that she allowed the man to stay. They spoke on condition of anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Her home is tightly guarded and she is not allowed visitors, aside from her doctor. On infrequent occasions she is allowed out under tight guard to meet with fellow party leaders and visiting U.N. representatives.

In addition, one of many strict rules the junta imposes on all citizens is that they must notify local officials about any overnight visitor who is not a family member. The law also states that foreigners are not allowed to spend the night at a local’s home.

Some members of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, have been jailed for about two weeks for violating that law.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party, noted that newspaper reports about the American’s arrest said he had entered Suu Kyi’s home but did not say he had met her. It remained unclear if the man was able to contact Suu Kyi.

‘I’m not really concerned she could be penalized for this break-in because she didn’t invite him in,’ Nyan Win said, adding that it was worrisome how easily the man accessed Suu Kyi’s tightly guarded home. ‘My main concern is her security.’

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported on Thursday that the man had confessed to swimming across Yangon’s Inya Lake to Suu Kyi’s home on Sunday night and then ‘secretly entered the house and stayed there.’ It said he left on Tuesday and was arrested when ‘security personnel found a suspicious-looking foreigner swimming’ early on Wednesday morning. It would be the first known instance that anyone has sneaked into Suu Kyi’s compound or swam across the lake in an attempt to get there. — AP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Singapore: Most Wanted Man Recaptured in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — The alleged leader of an Islamic militant group accused of plotting to crash an airliner in Singapore has been arrested in Malaysia after more than a year on the run, authorities said Friday.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Mas Selamat bin Kastari, who escaped from a high-security detention centre in Singapore by crawling through a toilet window, was plotting new attacks on the city-state when he was detained.

“We apprehended him here, his main focus at the time was Singapore,” he told reporters. “He was planning a lot of things in Singapore.”

“I congratulate the police on arresting someone who is deemed able to pose a threat to security,” he said.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Mas Selamat was being held under internal security laws but would not confirm reports he was arrested on April 1 in Johor state, which is separated from Singapore by a narrow waterway.

“We are becoming an expert on him so hopefully this time he won’t escape us, and the Singaporean experience will help,” Hishamuddin said of the Indonesian-born militant who has escaped custody several times.

Malaysian police chief Musa Hasan said Mas Selamat was detained early last month along with two other suspected militants in a joint operation by Singapore and Malaysian police.

“We are in contact with our counterparts (in Singapore and Indonesia) and have informed them about what we have gathered from them,” he told AFP.

Mas Selamat is said to be the head of the Singapore cell of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an underground group linked to Al-Qaeda and blamed for the 2002 Bali bombing and other bloody attacks in Southeast Asia.

Singapore officials allege he was part of a plot to hijack an airliner in Bangkok and crash it into Singapore’s Changi airport — one of Asia’s busiest — in 2001 following the September 11 attacks that year in the United States.

Now 48, he escaped from his high-security detention centre in Singapore on February 27 last year after squeezing through a toilet window that had no bars and climbing over a fence.

His flight triggered a huge manhunt, but a flood of tips from the public, some inspired by a bounty of one million Singapore dollars (647,520 US dollars) put up by two local businessmen, turned out to be false alarms.

The affair made the strict city-state an object of ridicule and triggered a sweeping review of security measures.

Najib said he had managed to enter Malaysia a few days after leaving the detention facility.

Singapore Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng told broadcaster Channel NewsAsia that Mas Selamat swam across the Johor Strait that separates the two countries, using an improvised flotation device.

The militant had not been formally charged at the time of his escape, and was being held under Singapore’s Internal Security Act which — like the Malaysian equivalent — allows for detention without trial.

He had fled Singapore in December 2001 after a security operation against Jemaah Islamiyah but was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 and handed back.

“He is an extremely skilled and dangerous terrorist and the fact that he has been recaptured improves the security situation in Singapore and the region,” said John Harrison, a security analyst at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“This is irrespective of what he may or may not have been able to accomplish during his escape,” he told AFP.

Sidney Jones, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, applauded the arrest, but said it did not erase the threat posed by regional militants.

“In some ways the bigger danger will still come from the people at large,” she told AFP from Jakarta.

“I think we’ve got a number of little splinters. I don’t think this arrest will change their strategies.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Singaporeans Express Relief

NEWS of the recapture of Mas Selamat was met with a sense of relief, especially as he was caught just as he was said to be planning to act against Singapore. ‘I was so proud when I read that the Malaysian authorities caught him with help from Singapore intelligence. We may have made a mistake when he got away, but I think we’ve more than made up for it with this arrest’, said Mr Mirza Khan, 37, who runs his own IT and logistics business.

The timing of his capture was critical for the deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Law and Home Affairs, Mr Alvin Yeo.

‘It would have been awful if he was planning something that would inflict harm to society. Relief was my immediate reaction to the news.’

Mas Selamat’s capture has also brought redemption to Singapore’s security agencies which came under fire for lapses which led to his escape on Feb 27 last year.

‘His arrest will bring closure for those who were responsible for inadvertently letting him escape last year. I hope they will feel better, and not blame themselves so much now’, said Ms Clara Loy, 50, a manager.

Politicians agreed with her sentiments. Senior Minister of State for Trade & Industry and Education Mr S. Iswaran added: ‘It is a tribute to the professionalism of the intelligence agencies who persevered and they worked across borders with their partners to secure his eventual arrest.’

While MP Indranee Rajah, GPC chairman for Defence and Foreign Affairs, also praised Singapore’s Internal Security Department for providing the intelligence which led to Mas Selamat’s capture, she and many of the 50 people interviewed in a street poll said the fugitive’s recapture was a reminder of the need to pay closer attention to security.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Singapore: Fugitive Terrorism Suspect Re-Captured in Malaysia

THE alleged leader of an Islamic militant group accused of plotting to crash an airliner in Singapore has been arrested in Malaysia after more than a year on the run, the government said today.

Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement Mas Selamat bin Kastari had been captured by Malaysian authorities.

“Mas Selamat has been arrested by the Malaysian Special Branch (MSB) in a joint operation between the MSB and the Internal Security Department,” the statement said.

The Straits Times said Kastari was caught on April 1 in the Malaysian state of Johor, which sits just across a causeway from Singapore, and has been held in custody by Malaysian authorities since.

Kastari is said to be the head of the Singapore cell of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an underground group linked to al-Qa’ida and blamed for the 2002 Bali bombing and other bloody attacks in Southeast Asia.

Singapore officials have alleged he was part of a plot to hijack an airliner in Bangkok and crash it into Changi airport — one of Asia’s busiest — in 2001 following the September 11 attacks in the US.

Now 48, he escaped from his high-security detention centre in Singapore on February 27 last year after squeezing through a toilet window that had no bars and climbing over a fence.

Kastari’s escape triggered a massive manhunt, but a flood of tips from the public, some inspired by a bounty of one million Singapore dollars ($857,926.47) put up by two local businessmen, turned out to be false alarms.

He had not been formally charged at the time of his escape, and was being held under the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial.

The Straits Times cited “senior intelligence sources” as saying Kastari was arrested on April 1 in Johor.

It is believed he is being held for interrogation by Malaysian authorities under the country’s own internal security law, which also allows for detention without trial.

“He is an extremely skilled and dangerous terrorist and the fact that he has been recaptured improves the security situation in Singapore and the region,” said John Harrison, a security analyst at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Kastari had fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against Jemaah Islamiyah. He was arrested in Indonesia in 2006 and handed back.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Far East

Japan: Having Kids is Fun, Not a Duty

TOKYO — HAVING children is not a duty, but should be seen as fun, Japan’s minister in charge of tackling the dwindling birth rate said on Friday, a day after Prime Minister Taro Aso said he had ‘done his duty’ by raising two children. Mr Aso withdrew his comments, but Yuko Obuchi, the first cabinet minister to be pregnant in office, was quizzed about them after a news conference in Tokyo. ‘It’s absolutely not a question of national duty. It’s a free decision,’ she told reporters.

Ms Obuchi, the mother of a one-year-old boy, heads the government’s campaign to solve one of its thorniest problems — people’s unwillingness to reproduce.

A government report issued last week estimated the number of people aged under 15 had fallen for the 28th consecutive year to 17.14 million, only 13.4 per cent of the total population.

Combined with the growing number of elderly — those aged over 65 make up 22.5 per cent of the population — the dearth of babies means Japan will face trouble paying off its vast debts and funding ballooning health care and pension needs.

‘We tend to hear a lot of stories about how tough it is, but we have to get the message across that bringing up children is something that’s full of fun and joy,’ Ms Obuchi, 35, said.

Nine years ago, she won the parliamentary seat that had belonged to her father, former prime minister Keizo Obuchi, who died after suffering a stroke while in office. Last year she became the country’s youngest post-war cabinet minister.

She says a more comprehensive plan is needed if Japan is to resolve an issue that has dogged it for decades. Tackling fundamental issues like lack of job security among young people will enable them to settle down and have families, she said.

Ms Obuchi says she wants an extra 3 trillion yen (S$44.1 billion) in funding to pay for services like free pre-school education and improved daycare services, which could be funded by adding 1 per cent to consumption tax.

If current population trends continue, the workforce will shrink and domestic demand will fall, cutting potential economic growth by 0.5 per cent by 2030, according to a report issued in February by the business lobby Keidanren. — REUTERS

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Leader of Pro-North Alliance Arrested

The National Intelligence Service and the National Police Agency raided the headquarters and regional offices of a group described as pro-North Korean and arrested its leaders yesterday.

Authorities suspect the group, called the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification, made unauthorized contact with North Korea and engaged in activities glorifying its regime.

Lee Gyu-jae, head of the alliance in Seoul, was among six executives arrested yesterday. The group was founded in 1995 with the stated goal of trying to achieve unification on the Korean Peninsula with the help of North Korea.

Investigators said yesterday they confiscated documents and computer hard drives from the group’s headquarters and that alliance members were being questioned at the National Intelligence Service for contacting North Koreans and entering North Korea.

In 1997, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled the alliance to be a “pro-enemy” agency detrimental to the national security in the South.

The six-hour raid of the alliance’s headquarters in Namyeong-dong, Seoul, began at 6:45 a.m., according to investigators. Simultaneously, they raided regional offices and the homes of the group’s key executives.

A police investigator said Seoul police believes members of the alliance received directives from North Korea, which would be in violation of the national security law in the South.

“We believe the suspects were in touch with the North from a third country, notably China, and exchanged intelligence,” the investigator said.

Kim Se-chang, one of two alliance workers present at the headquarters when the raid took place, said his group has been “a law-abiding agency for the past 13 years. We received authorization from the Unification Ministry before visiting the North,” Kim said.

“Obviously, we receive documents from our North Korean office. But to call that receiving North Korean orders and a violation of the law is to essentially tell us to stop working for unification.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

S. Korea: What is Roh Doing With Ancient Roman Law?

In ancient Rome, officials recognized the effectiveness of donations. A law called “cincia” which was created in 204 B.C. allowed a recipient to seek a legal mandate to have the donor make good on their pledge should they fail to live up to it. This law was enacted to get more people to make donations to the emperor and the temples of the gods. If a prisoner of war or a slave was granted his freedom, he merely needed to take an oath in front of many people when a donor paid for their freedom. No contract had to be signed to secure it.

Recipients of donations were not obliged to repay their debts, and the owner of a slave was not obliged to repay that slave for any services rendered. The Romans called this a “natural obligation.” The relevant law was enacted during the reign of the emperor Augustus between the first and second centuries A.D.

Modern law, which recognizes the binding nature of all contracts and debts, does not recognize natural obligations, but from a theoretical point of view the concept continues to exist, since there are still debts in real life that do not have to be repaid.

In 1993, the Seoul District Court said a worshipper who reneged on a pledge to donate W10 million (US$1=W1,278) to build a new church building, was not obliged to make that payment as demanded by church officials. The court considered his pledge a natural obligation that could not be enforced. Natural obligations also apply to debtors who are given a reprieve after being declared bankrupt or in cases where the lender and debtor both agree to write the debt off. Although interpretations vary, money that a patron of a bar promises to give to a hostess is also considered a natural obligation in some cases.

When questioned by prosecutors on April 30, former president Roh Moo-hyun is said to have claimed that the US$1 million he received from Taekwang Industry CEO Park Yeon-cha was used to settle a debt. When prosecutors asked Roh why he did not mention that debt when he revealed his assets as required by law for all public servants, Roh told them it was because the debt was a natural obligation.

When Changshin Textile chairman Kang Keum-won faked a real estate deal to raise money to repay a W1.9 billion debt Roh incurred while operating a mineral water venture back in May 2003, the former president called the transaction a “goodwill business deal.” When he apologized to the public on April 7, Roh also said the $5 million his niece received from Park was an investment that involved “goodwill.” Every time financial deals between him and those around him became a problem, Roh has used the defense that the transactions were based on “goodwill.” Now, being the lawyer that he is, Roh has dug up the ancient Roman concept of natural obligation. From any point of view, his behavior is undignified and does not honor the status of a former president.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Workers Left Fuming by Chinese Smoking Order

LIGHT up almost a quarter of a million cigarettes or face a fine.

It’s not a warning governments usually give to smokers, but that was the edict from China’s Gongan county to civil servants.

Concerned about a fall in its tax take as smokers turned away from locally produced cigarettes, it set a smoking target to boost consumption.

It ordered local officials to puff their way through 230,000 packs of local Hubei-produced cigarettes over the year. If they failed to meet the target, they would be fined. The aim was to boost tax revenues since the Government can impose duty on sales of cigarettes produced locally but not those from other provinces.

Locals prefer cigarettes from neighbouring Hunan province.

Newspapers criticised the policy as harmful to health, in a country where more than 350million people smoke, one million of whom die of smoking-related diseases each year.

The policy was adopted in March. When a senior Gongan official then found three Hunan cigarette butts during an inspection of a county office, he ordered a fine. The fine was scrapped but the office was issued a reprimand and the story emerged.

Some council workers described the policy as excessive, with one official saying: “The aim of this document was to stop the smoking of Hunan cigarettes.” The uproar forced the Government to retreat. It posted a notice on its website saying: “We decided to remove this edict”, adding that the matter was under study.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Torching of Siev 36 Deliberate

THERE was a deliberate attempt to set Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 36 alight off Ashmore Reef on April 16, but speculation has been raised as to whether it was an Indonesian crew member, rather than Afghan asylum seekers, who wanted to scuttle the boat.

The claims come as The Weekend Australian has learned that at least two of the nine Australian Defence Force personnel who were on the vessel when it blew up have had breakdowns and will not return to service.

“Several of them were beside themselves with the trauma,” a source said. “They did not cope very well and I do not say that as a criticism. It was a horrible event and they were not hardened individuals and they had quite serious mental breakdowns.”

It is emerging that there was an intention to set the boat alight, though not to cause a suicidal explosion. One Northern Territory investigation source said: “It is firming that it was deliberate.”

The Australian Federal Police have taken an interest in one of the Indonesian crew, Beni, now in Brisbane.

Edy Wardoyo, consul at Sydney’s Indonesian consulate, said Beni declined an offer of consular assistance two weeks ago, after he was transferred to Royal Brisbane Hospital from Darwin.

“When he arrived in Brisbane I tried to meet him,” Mr Wardoyo said.

“He declined. He doesn’t give me any reason why.” Consular people say little is known about Beni.

Another source claimed: “The recurring theme here is that the Indonesians splashed petrol around the vessel so their passengers would have to be rescued and taken aboard the naval ship.”

Vessels used to smuggle asylum seekers are written off by organisers, because they will invariably be destroyed in Australia. The cost is built into passenger fares.

Likewise, Indonesian crew are often paid upfront and give the money to their families before departure, because they expect detention.

One member of Perth’s Afghan community said the Indonesians were refuelling the vessel and there was accidental spillage. Other sources have said fuel was deliberately introduced to the bilges.

Why an Indonesian may have wished to destroy the boat remains unclear. It is known the navy had been keeping close to the vessel for two days; the Australians did not seem to want to take the Afghans aboard their boats and instead wanted to escort them to Christmas Island.

WA Premier Colin Barnett claimed the asylum seekers spread the fuel. But the commander of HMAS Albany, Barry Learoyd, who was at the scene, was asked specifically if asylum seekers had doused the decks. He said: “I certainly have no knowledge of anything like that.” Likewise, he claimed the Afghans were not agitated before the explosion. “Absolutely not,” he said.

The explosion happened minutes before a nine-person party from HMAS Childers had relayed a “high-threat situation” on the boat.

Norcom Commander David Gwyther said something “untoward” had occurred on the boat shortly before it blew.

A source said: “Fuel was definitely splashed around the vessel and the naval personnel didn’t know how to respond. They were at a loss because it was all happening so quickly.

“There was some degree of violence and punching on the boat. The Indonesians splashed it around so there would be no choice (for the authorities). They would have to take the passengers.” The Northern Territory coroner and police will not elaborate, saying that the investigation “remains in its early stages”.

They confirmed there were three types of fuel aboard the vessel: diesel for the main engine, petrol for the auxiliary bilge pump and kerosene for cooking appliances.

ADF personnel had been traumatised by the event: “In terms of psychological injuries a number have suffered severe psychological affront,” said a source.

It is understood the navy is treating them in-house.

Defence said it would not comment on any “medical in-confidence” matters.

The Royal Darwin Hospital, which treated the unidentified walking wounded, adopted code names for them such as BMW1, Cadillac 1 and Cadillac 2, Fiat 1, Toyota 1. The Indonesian consulate in Perth said one of the crew, Muhammad Tahir, was given between $500 and $800 for the journey but claimed he did not realise the passengers were asylum seekers.

Vice-consul Nurul Sofia Soeparan said Tahir was told to take the people and some goods to “an island” so they could go fishing. “He was just told to bring them to the island but wasn’t told what island,” she said.

“He thought his duty was to bring people and goods to the island and someone would receive them but in fact they were captured by Australian border protection.”

Tahir, from East Java, was the boat’s cook. He suffered burns to his hands, face and legs and claimed not to remember the explosion. He said Beni did most of the sailing.

Thirteen of the asylum seekers are still being treated at Royal Perth and Royal Brisbane hospitals. The others are in community detention in Perth, Darwin and Brisbane.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somali Pirates Hijack Dutch Freighter

A Dutch ship with an eight man crew on board has been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The ship is the MV Marathon from Zaandam, registered in the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch Ship Owner Association says the crew are probably Ukrainians. The Marathon transports coke, a coal residue that is used in steel production.

Another Dutch ship was hijacked a year ago in the Gulf of Aden. The pirates released the vessel on payment of one million dollars ransom.

Somali pirates are still seizing ships in the Gulf of Aden despite the presence of international naval patrols in the area. The pirates are shifting their operations to other zones, but are still active near the Somali coast. Some 20 ships are currently thought to be in the hands of pirates, with about 300 people being held hostage.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Finland to Begin Repatriating Iraqi Asylum Seekers

Finland is to begin returning some Iraqi asylum seekers to their home country. The move is based on a re-evaluation of Iraq’s security situation by the Directorate of Immigration.

The agency said on Friday that the security situation in the country has improved sufficiently to allow some asylum-seekers to return there.

The decision does not affect those applicants who have already been granted asylum here, only those awaiting a decision on their applications.

According to the Directorate of Immigration’s new policy, applicants from southern Iraq and Baghdad no longer need international protection as their home areas are considered safe enough to warrant their return. The same applies to the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq.

Meanwhile the central Iraqi provinces of Nineveh, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Diyala are judged to still be too unstable to return people there.

The repatriations will take some time. Asylum seekers have the right to appeal negative decisions to the Helsinki Administrative Court. The Directorate estimates that because of such appeals, the first repatriations will probably not be carried out until next spring — assuming the security situation in Iraq does not worsen.

Last year 1,225 Iraqis applied for asylum in Finland, the largest group of a record total of around 4,000 applicants. An additional 700 arrived in the first four months of this year.

Altogether there are some 1,500 Iraqis in Finland awaiting word on their asylum applications.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Good Signal From Libya for Whole of EU, Tajani

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, MAY 7 — Libya’s decision this morning to accept responsibility for three boat-loads of emigrants sighted yesterday off the Italian island of Lampedusa, represents a “good signal to the whole of the EU”. So said the Vice President of the EU Commission, Antonio Tajani, speaking on the sidelines of the plenary session of the Europarliament and on the eve of his visit to Valletta. The visit, scheduled some time ago, will focus on the subject of transportation, but in light of the current situation, Tajani thinks it “inevitable” that the topic of immigration will arise. “This is not an issue that can be resolved bilaterally between Italy and Malta”, Tajani stressed, reaffirming that “it is Europe and its states that have to take on responsibility”. “You can’t just leave it to the countries of the southern Mediterranean,” he said, “because this risks creating clashes between two EU member nations which are traditional friends, Italy and Malta”. The Vice President of the EU Commission said he supported the proposal made by EU Justice Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, of raising the question at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. European action also has to be in “harmony” with the immigrants’ countries of origin, Tajani stressed, saying that the signal sent out by Libya today was a step in this direction. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Minister Hails ‘Historic’ Return of Libyan Migrants

Rome, 7 May (AKI) — Italy’s interior minister, Roberto Maroni, has hailed the immediate return of 227 illegal immigrants to Libya after they were intercepted off the coast on Wednesday. “This is very important because it is a turning-point in the fight against illegal immigration,” said Maroni.

“For the first time ever, we managed to send straight back to Libya — from where they set sail — illegal immigrants aboard three boats,” Maroni told the Canale 5 commercial TV network on Thursday.

It is the first time that Italy has been able to intercept people-smugglers’ boats at sea and escort them back to their point of departure instead of having first to take them ashore in Italy and identify them before deporting them, Maroni noted.

A bilateral agreement to combat illegal immigration came into force this month.

Under the accord, Italy is to provide Libya with millions of dollars in aid while Libya will allow the Italian military to conduct joint patrols with its navy in patrolling the country’s coasts to intercept people traffickers’ boats.

“We worked on this agreement for a whole year, and it seems to me to be a truly historic result,” said Maroni, adding that it was the result of “intense diplomatic activity”.

The accord symbolised the Berlusconi government’s total success in achieving its immigration objectives in its first year in office, Maroni claimed.

The Berlusconi government has taken a tough line on illegal immigration.

It is planning patrols of ‘concerned citizens’ in Italy’s cities and is seeking to make school and health service enrolment conditional upon immigrants’ possession of a valid permit of stay.

Late last year it converted the temporary reception centre on the southernmost island of Lampedusa into an identification and expulsion centre for illegal immigrants.

This switch has caused severe overcrowding and unrest at the centre this year as illegal immigrants have been held there for months at a time rather than a few days, as occurred previously.

Lampedusa is the main drop-off point for tens of thousands of illegal immigrants that reach the southern coast of Italy each year from North Africa.

The government has sought repatriation agreements with the various North African countries from which the people traffickers’ boats set sale.

Maroni said in March that more than 3,000 illegal migrants had been expelled from Italy since the beginning of the year as part of the government’s crackdown.

Maroni said that more than 30,000 immigrants reached the Sicilian coast in 2008.

He claimed that as soon as the joint Italian-Libyan patrols began in the southern Mediterranean, Lampedusa would be “freed from this burden.”

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

Spain: Gov’t Studies Help for Returning Unemployed Romanians

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 4 — The Spanish government is to give “assistance in the form of an escort on the return journey” to Romanians left without unemployment benefits, who wish to go back to their country of origin. The measure, which is being examined by the executive, was announced today by Minister for Work and Immigration Celestino Corbacho, on an official visit to Bucharest. Corbacho was quoted by press agency Efe as saying that the Romanian citizens are unable to make use of the “voluntary return plan” laid out in Spanish law for workers from outside the EU. The Minister, who is in Bucharest to sign two employment and social security agreements with his Romanian counterpart Marian Sarbu, said that the new measure would be aimed at unemployed workers who had used up their unemployment benefits, and suggested that economic assistance could be funded by both countries. In fact, Romania is “very interested” in the return of its workers, given that the Bucharest government has had to resort to Chinese labour due to a lack of manual labour in recent years. Bucharest calculates that in the short to medium term a million workers will be needed to compensate for the loss of population caused by emigration. The number of unemployed Romanians in Spain in the first quarter of the year rose by 16,000 people, while 5,000 signed new employment contracts. In total, of the 718,844 Romanians resident in Spain, 253,038 are subscribed to social security and 70,912 were unemployed in March. These latter could be the beneficiaries of the assistance in returning to their country of origin. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Flow of Asylum Seekers to Sweden Expected to Drop: Agency

Sweden’s Migration Board (Migrationsverket) doesn’t forecast a rise in the number of asylum seekers coming to the country, but instead expects more relatives of existing refugees to seek residency in Sweden.

In its latest forecast, submitted to the government on Thursday, the Migration Board said it believes the number of asylum seekers coming to Sweden will stay at around 22,000 in 2009 and 2010, which is about 1,000 less per year than the agency forecast back in late February.

At the same time, however, the number of relatives of refugees already living in Sweden who seek residence permits for themselves is expected to reach 51,000 in 2009, up from the previous forecast of 43,000.

The agency expects, however, that the level of refugee-relative migration will dip once again, settling at 43,000 in 2012.

The economic crisis and weak economy have also caused the Migration Board to revise its forecast for how many immigrants are expected to take advantage of Sweden’s recently relaxed rules for granting permits for immigrant workers.

Instead of the previously expected 26,000 applicants per year, the agency now expects to have an annual applicant pool of around 23,000 people.

The Migration Board also expects more people who have been denied Swedish residents permits will be sent home due to its own efforts and those of the police.

Altogether, therefore, the agency expects the total number of immigrants registered in its system during the forecast period to drop from the current level of 33,900 to around 25,000 by 2012.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Tired and Weary, Migrants Arrive in Tripoli

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, MAY 7 — There is a more than weary look about the 227 migrants, who include 40 women, on their arrival back in Tripoli this morning aboard three motor launches of the Italian coast guard after being rescued in the Channel of Sicily and immediately repatriated. The return from Italy’s shores came as a result of an agreement made between Italy and Libya amid loud protests from NGOs and other humanitarian organisations. The migrants spoke of having been at sea for between four and six days, some of them with symptoms of dehydration. According to initial quayside reports, the refugees originate for the most part from Sub-Saharan Africa: Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Mali. Once back on land, officers from Libya’s Interior Ministry took charge of the migrants, and began an investigation to find out the port of departure of the three vessels on which they had made the crossing. Soon after the 227 migrants had disembarked, the Italian launches, two belonging to the Italian Coast Guard and one to the country’s financial police, turned round and made their way back to Lampedusa.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: English as a Second Language for Almost 900,000 Pupils

A record 900,000 schoolchildren do not speak English as a first language, according to new figures.

More than one-in-seven pupils in primary schools speak another language at home — double the rate a decade ago.

In secondary schools, numbers exceed one-in-10.

Opposition parties claimed the rise risked putting a strain on state schools as children with a poor grasp of English dominate teachers’ time.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the effort shown by pupils to pass exams in another language was often an “inspiration” to native English speakers.

According to figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, 862,860 pupils in the state system spoke English as a second language in January this year.

In primaries, they account for 15.2 per cent of under-11s, compared to 14.3 per cent in 2008.

In English secondary schools, 11.1 per cent of pupils speak another language at home, against 10.6 per cent a year earlier.

Baroness Warsi, the Conservative shadow communities minister, said the numbers were “shocking” and called for “an honest debate about the pressures that migration is bringing to our public services”.

“These figures illustrate how difficult life is for many teachers because of the Government’s long-term failure to control immigration,” she said.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: “Structuring teaching around children with such varied English skills can be a real challenge for teachers, especially if there are many different languages in the classroom. Government support for schools has been totally inadequate.”

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said the amount of money spent on pupils with weak English was increasing to £206m by 2010.

“The language of instruction in English schools is and always has been English — this is vital in boosting community cohesion,” he said. “The task is to get every child up to speed in English so that they can access the whole curriculum. The achievement gap between pupils who use English as an additional language and native learners is closing at all levels of the school system.”

Figures broken down by area will be published later in the year. But data published in 2008 showed that in 14 local authorities — almost one in 10 — English-speaking primary school pupils were in the minority.

In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, only 23 per cent of pupils spoke English as their first language.

But Dr Dunford said: “Children who come to this country speaking English as a second language are an inspiration to native British children in the speed in which they learn the language and the hard work they put in to pass exams within just a few years. I know many headteachers regard these students as a real benefit to their school community.”

It was also disclosed that increasing numbers of pupils were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The proportion of primary pupils described as non-white British rose from 23.3 to 24.5 per cent. In secondary schools, the proportion increased from 19.5 to 20.6 per cent in 12 months.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Same-Sex Marriage Debate Showcases D.C.’s Conservative Base

When it comes to gay marriage, Marion Barry makes too much sense.

“All hell is going to break lose,” Barry predicted to reporters at the Wilson Building the other day.

One must weed through the underbrush of the council member’s verbiage, his backtracking and obfuscations. But when you take the time to examine why he was the only vote against the council’s measure this week to recognize same-sex marriages, you arrive at some basic realities of religion and politics in our town.

“We may have a civil war,” he added. “The black community is just adamant against this.”

Never fail to honor Barry’s take on politics in D.C. He may be old, he may speak as if he his jaw is wired together, parts of his brain may be addled by decades of hard living, but he has a keen sense of public sentiment.

Barry understands that the black middle class is inherently conservative when it comes to matters of morality and religion. Black Washingtonians might be Democrats to the left of Obama on education and job training, but many would walk arm in arm with Pat Robertson on what the GOP calls the social agenda.

I took one of my unscientific polls this week of some friends and acquaintances in D.C.’s black middle class. I would call them old-school, native Washingtonians whose families go back a generation or two.

On gay marriage, one said to me: “That’s not civil rights; that’s a civil wrong.”

Over and over I heard people carving the controversy in their fashion: Civil rights and discrimination are matters of laws; marriage is a matter for God and preachers.

“You cannot order me through legislation to recognize gay marriage,” one friend told me. “Marriage is between God and man.”

And woman, I reminded him.

Let’s assume Barry has it right, and D.C.’s black middle class is in a rage about legislating on gay marriage. How might it play out? Will there be consequences for politicians who vote to allow gay marriage?

First, the power of the black clergy ain’t what it used to be. Gone are the preacher titans like Bishop Smallwood Williams at Bible Way or the Rev. Beecher Hicks at Metropolitan Baptist or, going back to the 1950s, Charles “Sweet Daddy” Grace at the United House of Prayer. These giants could speak on Sunday and lock down the city. Most have either died or moved to the suburbs.

I doubt whether black churches can muster the same discipline they once commanded; but I do believe solid middle-class communities in Michigan Park and Ivy City and Fort Totten could draw a political line over how their representatives vote on matters of marriage.

Who could pay? Any council member who votes for gay marriage. Even Mayor Adrian Fenty becomes vulnerable.

Many observers have discounted Barry as the representative of just Ward 8; on gay marriage, he speaks for people all over town.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Bjorn Lomborg: Kyoto vs. Kids: How Greens Hurt the Planet

IN the heart of a financial crisis, most of us carefully consider every last purchase. It is important that politicians do the same when making vital policy decisions.

Instead of focusing on initiatives with the greatest benefits, they tend to be swayed by those with the most vocal advocates. Take the Kyoto Protocol. Its $180 billion annual global cost would perhaps be worth the investment if it made any substantial difference to global warming. But even if Kyoto were implemented for the rest of this century, it would cut temperatures by just 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

This doesn’t pass a basic cost-benefit test. The investment would cause more immediate financial hardship than eventual good. There are many better uses for the money.

That point was underscored by Copenhagen Consensus 2008, a project I designed to champion the use of economic tools in international aid and development policy.

For two years before Copenhagen Consensus 2008, teams of experts wrote papers identifying the best ways to solve the world’s biggest problems: air pollution, conflict, disease, inadequate education, global warming, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water challenges, subsidies and trade barriers, terrorism and gender-disparity issues. They identified the investments that would best tackle each challenge and outlined the costs and benefits of each.

A group of prestigious economists — including five Nobel laureates — gathered and examined this research. They took the long menu of investments and turned it into a prioritized list of opportunities. At the bottom — the least cost-effective investment the world could make to respond to any of these problems — was dealing with climate change through immediate CO2 cuts, as the Kyoto Protocol attempts.

At the top was the provision of micronutrients — particularly vitamin A and zinc — to undernourished children in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

For just $60 million annually, we could reach 80 percent of the world’s 140 million or so undernourished children. The economic gains from improving their lives would eventually clear $1 billion a year.

For another $286 million, we could iodize salt and fortify basic food with iron for 80 percent of the children who are at risk of stunting and poor development because they’re going without.

Interestingly — and perhaps predictably — many of the economists’ top-ranked solutions were to problems that don’t attract many headlines or much celebrity attention. The simple act of deworming children in developing countries, for example, would improve nourishment and allow some of the world’s most disadvantaged kids to learn more and get better jobs later.

Copenhagen Consensus 2008 showed that we know how to stop people from dying from malnutrition, pollution, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Solving these problems would open a world of opportunities, including allowing a disadvantaged community to grow, develop and care about longer-term issues like global warming.

What we need to do now is cheap and simple. It’s mostly a question of getting what’s needed (micronutrients, cleaner forms of fuel, free condoms and mosquito nets) to those in need. Death tolls remain high because we have limited resources, and these problems are not considered our biggest concerns.

Economic tools such as cost-benefit analysis and prioritization will never offer the last word in public policy debate — and nor should they — but they can provide a vital input for decision-makers.

The process that worked for Copenhagen Consensus 2008 — and that encouraged philanthropic organizations to invest more in malnutrition — is also relevant for national and state governments and city administrations.

Prioritization is difficult for any politician, whether a member of the Obama team or a city administrator. The project would give a city like New York the opportunity to focus on the spending priorities that achieve the most. Vested interests and lobbying groups create a lot of noise. Copenhagen Consensus sets aside that noise, so that the costs and benefits of competing options can be seriously considered side-by-side.

The recession that has made life more difficult also offers an opportunity for us all to rethink our priorities — and ensure that each dollar spent achieves as much as possible.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Zenster said...

Photos That Could Cost Lives.

But what is to be accomplished by continuing to provide ammunition and provocation to the enemy?

Ermm ... an eventual defeat of a system which continues to oppress all dissemination of the "zero sum equation" that is being used to distort and warp global perception of America's relentless opposition to tyranny, theocracy and communism?

Perish the thought that our remaining global institutions might find sufficient reason to resist such barbaric and vicious institutions.

Zenster said...

N.Y. Flyover Results in Resignation.

In his resignation letter to President Obama, Louis Caldera wrote that the controversy had “made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office,” which manages Air Force One and other presidential aircraft.Precisely as I anticipated.

Good riddance of bad political rubbish.

What is "Occupation" said...

in the end...

everyone will take the fall for the promised ONE....

Nothing is his fault...

It's the way he leads...

the BUCK stops there.... or there... or there but never here....

Zenster said...

What is "Occupation": It's the way he leads...

the BUCK stops there.... or there... or there but never here...

Which is where there is a disturbing convergence with respect to BHO playing the race card of minority victimhood and his stealth Muslim profile of how everyone else is to blame but him for all wrong doings.

The longer that BHO passes the buck regarding how urgent it is to begin crushing Islam, the more likely it becomes that the buck will multiply into millions on the Islamic butcher's bill. But, of couse, that won't be his fault either.

It will be a curious spectacle to see just exactly who BHO does blame when America is hit with another 9-11 style atrocity. As What is "Occupation" noted, you can be certain BHO will not take any responsibility.

You also can bet your bottom dollar that The One firmly believes his own minority status has somehow bought him a brotherly reprieve from further Islamic depredations. As if Islam's swivel eyed psychopathic terrorist goons will actually abstain from striking at America over another FOUR SOLID YEARS just out of respect for his own precious Blackness.

I wonder just how shocked BHO will be to discover that being Black means exactly Jack $h!t to Islam's terrorist elite.