Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100312

Financial Crisis
»Is Goldman Sachs a Bubble Ready to Burst?
»Italy Faces a Derivatives Time Bomb
»Lehman Brothers’ Chiefs Concealed Losses With Accounting ‘Gimmick’ Days Before $700billion Collapse
»Obama: Serving Ambitions, Not Citizens
»Stern Backs $100bn IMF Climate Fund Plan
»Al Qaeda Suspect Had Worked at Nuke Plants in NJ and Pa
»Bill Requires U.S. Withdrawal From NAFTA
»Expert: Reagan Gets the Shaft in Textbooks
»Fed Agencies Seize Toys, Call Them ‘Machine Guns’
»Obama Czar in ‘Clean Energy’ Corruption?
»Obama Justice Department Shut Down ACORN Probe
»Pentagon Shooter Pot Scandal Grows
»Reforming the Way Public Employees Are Paid
»Ryan: Dems Ramming “Shell” HC Bill Through Committee Monday
»Senate Health Bill Would Up Costs for Millions in Middle Class, Analysis Finds
»The Disemboweling of America
»While Government Treats Citizens as Terrorists, Mexican Military Invades U.S.
»From an Ex-Muslim, True Islamophobia
Europe and the EU
»Agnes Heller Demands More Civil Courage of the Hungarians
»Care Does Not Include Sex — Dutch Nurses’ Union
»Dutch FM Verhagen: Wilders Spreads Hatred
»EU Spent at Least €14m Subsidising Convicted Fish Crooks
»Germany: Jesuits Hard Hit by High Number of Abuse Claims
»Hungary in the Throes of Social and Political Crisis
»Italy: Economy on the Rise, Berlusconi Says
»Italy: Berlusconi Accuses Magistrates of Dictating Campaign Tempo
»Italy: Police Seize Parmalat Founder’s Hidden Yacht
»Italy: “Army of Escorts” Used to Fuel Corruption
»Netherlands: Lives Left in Ruin by the ‘Brothers of Love’
»Paedophilia: Irish Bishops: Pope Asks Us to Help Judges
»Poles No Longer Fear Germany
»Pope: We Live in a Cultural Context Hostile to Faith
»Spain: Reliving Memory of Francoist Concentration Camps
»Sweden: Black Cobra Gang Steals Selection of Small Cakes
»UK: Checks to See if Foreign Out-of-Hours Doctors Can Speak English ‘Go Against EU Rules’
»UK: Don’t Raise Your Family in Britain, Say Expats: UK Voted Worst Place in Developed World to Bring Up Children
»Whether or Not the Western Allies Abandoned the Jews
Mediterranean Union
»EMPA: Buzek: Assembly is a Political Bridge Across the Med
North Africa
»Morocco: France’s New Off-Shoring El Dorado
»TLC: Egypt’s Mobile Penetration Reaches 71 Pct
»Tunisia: Minister: Textiles a Fundamental Sector
»Tunisia: 2010 Textile Exports to +12.7%, Italy Main Buyer
»Why Conservatives in Egypt See Women as Candy: Either Wrapped or Covered in Flies
Israel and the Palestinians
»Jews Displaced From Arab Lands Finally Recognized
Middle East
»Dancing for Their Lives: Undercover Visit to an Iraqi Expat Nightclub in Syria
»How to Make Defeatism Look Good: Let’s Give Up and Cheer the Islamists
»South Korea Eyes Nuclear Push in Turkey
»Surprise! Guess Who’s Biggest Islamic Threat
»Turkey: Baby Mortality Rate Down in Seven Years
»More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Arrested in Russia for Taking Part in a Public Protest
»Russia Signs India Nuclear Reactor Deal
»There is Only One Way to Govern Ukraine Today
South Asia
»“Swede” Killed in Afghanistan
»India: Madhya Pradesh: Hindu Religion Perhaps Compulsory Subject in Schools
»Some U.S. Officials See a Growing Taliban-Al Qaeda Rift
Far East
»China — Tibet: The Dalai Lama “Close to the Uyghurs’ Scares Beijing
»China Insists Google Must Obey the Law or Face Consequences
»Corruption is a Cancer to the Countries of South-East Asia
»Vietnam: Thousands of Vietnamese Women and Children Sold as “Sex Slaves”
Australia — Pacific
»Australia on Internet Censorship Threat List
»NZ Internet Filter Goes Live — Gov Forgets to Tell Public
»Court Thwarts Dutch Immigration Policy
»Italy: Immigration Rules Trump Education
»UN Concerned About Italy’s Security Package
Culture Wars
»Jail for Dissing ‘Gays’ Pulled After Publicity

Financial Crisis

Is Goldman Sachs a Bubble Ready to Burst?

One of the best lessons I’ve learned over my career as an investment analyst is the myth of excellent management or “great execution” is really just that — a myth.

When I see companies in troubled industries reporting quarter after quarter of great results, while all of their peers are getting killed, I know a fraud is going on. I remember in the early 2000s, WorldCom kept reporting profits when all of the other long-distance carriers were getting killed. I knew it couldn’t last. And it didn’t. WorldCom’s accounting was revealed to be a fraud — the company was counting its network access costs as capital expenses. Once the real numbers came out, the company collapsed in what was the largest bankruptcy in American history at that point.

About three years ago, I saw Goldman Sachs reporting quarter after quarter of unbelievable results when all of the other investment banks were hurting. I spent a lot of time looking at its numbers — which didn’t make any sense. It reminded me of Enron. It kept reporting bigger and bigger profits, but lost more money every year in cash. And its debt balances kept growing.


In October 2008, I figured out part of the big secret: Goldman had insured all of its subprime exposure via AIG. This allowed it to book huge profits on its subprime investments long before they were actually paid off because the bonds were insured.


But I completely missed one big part of the story. And once this fact becomes common knowledge, it will probably mean jail time for several leading Goldman executives and the end of the firm. What did I miss? The entire Goldman-AIG relationship was a complete sham. Let me explain.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy Faces a Derivatives Time Bomb

Financial markets are gripped by the role derivatives have played in Greece’s debt crisis, but Italy also has a derivatives time bomb, and hundreds of cities are in the €24-billion blast zone.

Many local governments eager to cut financing costs for years rushed to sign up for complex derivatives contracts, even when the terms were in English. But some cities, facing big losses when interest rates go up, are now trying to pull out of derivatives and suing the international and local banks that arranged the deals.

In a test case, a judge in Milan will decide in coming weeks whether to try 13 people and four banks — UBS, Deutsche Bank, Germany’s Depfa and JPMorgan Chase & Co — on aggravated fraud charges. The case stems from a derivatives swap over a €1.68-billion 30-year bond, the biggest issued by an Italian city.

Milan, Italy’s financial capital, is facing a €100-million loss on the deal, city officials say. Milan is also suing the banks for €239-million in overall liabilities.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Lehman Brothers’ Chiefs Concealed Losses With Accounting ‘Gimmick’ Days Before $700billion Collapse

Lehman Brothers used accounting gimmicks and had been insolvent for weeks before it filed for bankruptcy in September 2008 with more than $700 billion (£461 billion) in assets, an official investigation has found.

Some of Lehman’s management’s decisions can be questioned and the firm’s valuation procedures for its assets may have been wanting — but those responsible were not liable for the firm’s collapse, Anton Valukas found.

However, Lehman could have claims against former chief executive Dick Fuld and chief financial officers Chris O’Meara, Erin Callan and Ian Lowitt for negligence or breach of fiduciary duty, he added.

The revelations came in a 2,200-page report into who could be blamed for the firm’s collapse in 2008, which deepened the global financial crisis.

The examiner said there was also sufficient evidence to support a possible claim that the firm’s auditor, Ernst & Young, had been ‘negligent’ and that Lehman could pursue claims against the firm for ‘professional malpractice’.


The long-awaited report contains explosive allegations about a gimmick, known as ‘Repo 105,’ that was used for the sole purpose of manipulating Lehman’s books, contributing to the firm’s demise.

The examiner concluded that the gimmick, which dated back to 2001 and was used without telling investors or regulators, gave the appearance that Lehman was reducing its overall leverage levels in 2008 when in reality it was not.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama: Serving Ambitions, Not Citizens

This recession isn’t going to end as long as Obama is in office. The recession is an essential part of the “Progressive” plan to transform the foundation of the country from capitalism to socialism.

The unemployment rate of 9.7 percent represents only about half of the workforce that would be working if jobs were available. Jobs in the private (productive) sector continue to decrease, while government and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) taxpayer paid jobs continue to increase.

With less and less revenue from private sector production and more and more government dependence, you can see where this is headed. You can also see why our government keeps borrowing more money to pay for liabilities that aren’t being covered by tax revenue.

Eventually, the loan interest rate becomes unaffordable, or credit is denied altogether, and the nation’s economy collapses through default. That’s when the socialists take over and begin confiscating 50% or more of your income in taxes as a necessary step toward economic recovery.


This synthetic president said in his State of the Union address that “we were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.” Maybe Obama needs to start listening to his own speeches. He has done nothing but serve his own ambitions and special interests since taking office. He must be aware that nationalized healthcare is not popular with the American people, yet he continues to push it. How is that “serving our citizens?” Is he really listening to anyone other than Andy Stern, president of the SEIU?

“If the power of persuasion doesn’t work, then we’ll use the persuasion of power.”—Andy Stern, another Marxist advising Obama and influencing national policy. As the communist USSR president, Nikita Khrushchev, once said: “We will take you over from the inside!” At the time, in the late 1960s, few took him seriously. They should have. The communists now have their man in the White House.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stern Backs $100bn IMF Climate Fund Plan

London, 11 March: A climate fund proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 has won support from climate change economics guru Nicholas Stern.

Speaking in Nairobi on Sunday, IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said: “Sustainable growth in developing countries will require large-scale, long-term investments for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Copenhagen Accord suggests that $100 billion a year is needed by 2020, over and above existing aid commitments. This will be difficult to do with the standard approach — a series of ‘pledging conferences’ for decades to come.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Al Qaeda Suspect Had Worked at Nuke Plants in NJ and Pa

The American arrested in a sweep of al-Qaeda members worked as a laborer at five nuclear plants in South Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, federal officials said today.

Sharif Mobley had a “red badge” clearance, the highest level a laborer can obtain, while working on at the Salem-Hope Creek nuclear plants in Salem County, according to a spokesman from the local union of which he was a member.

Sharif was arrested last week with suspected al-Qaeda members in Yemen and officials said he then killed a guard while trying to escape from a hospital. He is under FBI investigation in Delaware. Law enforcement sources have said the investigation is terror-related.

In addition to PSEG’s Salem-Hope Creek plants on Artificial Island, Mobley worked at the Peach Bottom, Limerick and Three Mile Island I plants in Pennsylvania and at Clavert Cliffs in Maryland, according to an e-mail from Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Sheehan said the commission is investigating what level of access Mobley had at the plants.

He was a contractor with the Local 222 chapter of the New Jersey Laborer’s Union in Camden for projects in Salem County.

“He had full clearance to go where he needed to be,” said chapter Business Manager Curt Jenkins. “You have no way of knowing what somebody’s thinking. He went through the strenuous background checks that everybody else has to go through.”

The NRC’s Sheehan said, “A laborer typically would not have access to any security-related or sensitive information.”

Background checks include criminal history, drug testing, employment verification and psychological assessments. The companies — not the NRC — carry out the background checks and are required to do ongoing behavioral observation.

PSEG spokesman Joe Delmar said Mobley worked as a contract laborer during refueling outages from 2002 to 2008 and satisfied federal security requirements.

Federal authorities told state Homeland Security officials that there was no security breach involving Mobley at the nuclear plants, according to Mike Drewniak, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie.

Jenkins said Mobley, who worked on scaffolding at the nuclear plants and excavation projects in Camden County, would have been put through a repeated background check each time he worked on a new job. He said those checks are thorough, going as far back as childhood.

“If there’s anything there they’re going to find it,” he said.

Mobley transferred from the Philadelphia Local 322 in 2003 and then suspended his union membership in 2008, telling Jenkins he was going to school. He didn’t say where or what for. Jenkins assumed he was at a university in the region or “in the country at least.”

He said Mobley was polite and hard-working.

“He always was mild-mannered,” Jenkins said. “I never saw him angry or portray any sign that he would get violent.”

Mobley’s brother, Charles Beyah, also is a union member in Atlantic County.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Bill Requires U.S. Withdrawal From NAFTA

‘Proponents have had more than enough time to make this work — it didn’t’

A coalition of 27 lawmakers from across the political spectrum is sponsoring a bill to withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in as little as six months.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., has introduced HR 4759, “To provide for the withdrawal of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

“NAFTA and similar free trade agreements have resulted in a 29 percent decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 1993,” Taylor’s office said in a statement. “NAFTA discourages investments in U.S. manufacturing facilities and accelerates the erosion of our industrial base.”

Taylor called the loss of manufacturing jobs a matter of national defense He pointed out that the U.S. had a trade surplus of $1.7 billion with Mexico in 1993, prior to its entry into NAFTA — and that number turned into a deficit that peaked at $75 billion in 2007 and dropped to $47 billion by 2009. Additionally, his office said the trade deficit with Canada in 1993 was $11 billion prior to NAFTA, swelling to $78 billion and dropping back to $20 billion with the decline of the economy in 2009.

“I voted against this legislation in 1993 because I knew that this trade agreement would lead to a decline in jobs and our industrial manufacturing base,” Taylor said. “Just look at what happened when the Department of Defense needed to rapidly build Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.”

Taylor explained that the Department of Defense sought to increase the number of MRAP vehicles in Iraq in 2007 and purchased 17,700. He said because of diminished manufacturing capacity, it took nine different contractors working together to build all those vehicles.

“The decline in our manufacturing base left the contractors without a trained workforce to build these vehicles. This led to delays and choke points in production and overall delivery of the MRAPs,” he said. “This was a logistical nightmare.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Expert: Reagan Gets the Shaft in Textbooks

If you want to know just what your kids are learning from their history books, all you have to do is apply the “Reagan test,” says Professor Larry Schweikart.

As the Texas textbook battle continues to simmer, Schweikart says the first thing he does to determine whether a book is politically slanted is to go to any section discussing President Ronald Reagan. What you’ll find there, he says, will tell you everything you need to know, he says.

Schweikart says the majority of books he’s examined credit former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev with ending the Cold War, and not Reagan. That’s “a joke,” Schweikart says. “I lived through the Reagan years, I remember.”

“The reason why textbooks get to where they are is because this is the world view of (a) the people who write the text books, (b) people who edit the text books, and (c) people who publish them,” the history professor says.

Schweikart says the textbooks’ authors bring an inherently liberal viewpoint to their work.

“They all tend to come from New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia,” giving them a “drastically” different viewpoint from the rest of America, he says.

Aside from bias, there are factual errors as well.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Fed Agencies Seize Toys, Call Them ‘Machine Guns’

Claim pot metal frames actually could fire bullets

A gun rights organization has launched a Freedom of Information request following a decision by federal Customs and Border Protection agents to seize a shipment of toy pellet guns and a determination by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that they could be converted into machine guns so they must be destroyed.

Government agencies have explained that the Airsoft toys, made of a soft pot metal and lacking a firing mechanism, easily could be converted into a true weapon capable of automatic fire.

“Our firearms technology branch classified this as a machine gun,” BATFE Special Agent Kelvin Crenshaw said in a report assembled by Gun Owners of America. “With minimal work it could be converted to a machine gun.”

Gun Owners spokesman Erich Pratt told WND today his organization has launched a FOIA demand for information to find out on what basis the government reached that conclusion.


An analysis by John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners noted that, “To make the transformation, the entirety of the upper receiver would have to be replaced, but the lower receiver would still be unable to endure the intense force of live ammunition because it is made of pot metal (inexpensive alloys) instead of hard steel.

“And all of this work would actually cost more than buying a real — and stable — AR-15 rifle,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Czar in ‘Clean Energy’ Corruption?

Co-authored paper with financial bundler who boasted of gains for his company

President Obama’s “science” czar, John Holdren, was co-author of a 2004 energy policy paper that recommended “cap and trade” legislation, including “clean coal” technology and $2 billion from the federal budget for construction of one or two new nuclear facilities.

WND has learned a co-author of the paper with Holdren is John Rowe, a financial bundler for President Obama’s 2008 campaign who serves as chairman of Exelon, the mega-utility owning 30 percent of all U.S. nuclear plants.

Rowe, who has financial ties to several members of the Obama administration, last month boasted how his company stands to gain financially from the regulation of high-carbon emitting plants — the very recommendations Rowe set forth in his paper with Holdren.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Justice Department Shut Down ACORN Probe

FBI documents ‘reflect systematic voter registration fraud’

A nonpartisan, political watchdog group announced today that it has obtained documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation detailing federal investigations into the alleged corrupt activities of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.

Judicial Watch revealed that the documents it acquired reference serious allegations of corruption and voter registration fraud by ACORN and the Obama administration’s decision to shut down the criminal investigation without filing criminal charges.


“These documents reflect systematic voter registration fraud by ACORN,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is a scandal that there has been no comprehensive criminal investigation and prosecution by the Justice Department into this evident criminal conduct.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pentagon Shooter Pot Scandal Grows

Left-wing California politicians have been talking about legalizing and taxing marijuana to save the state from bankruptcy. But thanks to the state’s most notorious pothead, Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell, that vision may now go up in smoke. Bedell’s easy access to “medical marijuana” in California is quickly becoming a scandal that threatens the well-funded movement to increase access to the weed by legalizing it statewide—and perhaps nationwide.

Bedell had a doctor’s approval to get “medical marijuana” in 2006 and was reported by his father to have a “medicinal marijuana card” when he was declared missing in January of this year.

Facing a backlash over reports that Bedell was a psychotic pothead, the illegal-drug lobby is accusing anyone who brings up anything negative about “medical marijuana” of engaging in “reefer madness,” a term once given to chronic marijuana use of the kind that ultimately resulted in Bedell’s downward spiral and death in an exchange of gunfire at the Pentagon.

On top of the Bedell tragedy comes the apparent overdose of actor Corey Haim, who smoked marijuana at the age of 16 before moving on to other drugs, including cocaine, crack, stimulants and Valium.


However, after California passed Proposition 215 legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, media celebrities such as Bill Maher, dubbed one of the top ten “celebstoners” by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), began to vigorously promote the weed. “The only thing bad about marijuana is it makes you eat cookie dough,” he joked.

But after Bedell’s shooting rampage, which resulted in two guards being shot and wounded, no one is laughing.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Reforming the Way Public Employees Are Paid

Public employee compensation is breaking the bank. Two or three decades ago, it was commonly understood that public employees were underpaid; everyone knew that when they took a government position. The lower pay was balanced by job security, extra days off, and a generous benefit package, so government employers were able to attract qualified applicants in spite of the lower salaries.

Then, state by state, city by city, public employees were allowed to unionize, which — in hindsight — was perhaps the biggest fiscal mistake governments could have made. Predictably, public employee unions (PEUs) began to involve themselves in politic campaigns and amass enormous campaign war chests and eventually began electing the very people with whom they were negotiating their contracts.

If unions attempted this in the private sector, it would be a felony and people would go to prison…but almost no efforts have been undertaken to prevent this form of “bribery” in the public sector and today public employee unions routinely control both sides of the bargaining table.

Under this perverse new system, public sector salaries have grown until they are at par or greater than the salaries of similar job classifications in the private sector. However, these higher salaries are in addition to vastly superior, public sector fringe benefit packages.

Today, public employees in Oregon enjoy the best fringe benefit packages money can buy and, in addition to high salaries and first class fringe benefits, they routinely retire making more money in their pension than when they worked full time. Seriously.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Ryan: Dems Ramming “Shell” HC Bill Through Committee Monday

Rep. Paul Ryan says that Democrats are ready to ram a “shell” health care bill through the Budget Committee, on which he serves as ranking Republican member, to use as a vehicle to impose national health care.

In a phone interview with TAS Thursday afternoon, Ryan said that he expects Democrats to begin the complex process on Monday, under which they would have the Budget Committee approve a phantom bill by midnight, which they will then send over to the Rules Committee. At that point, the Rules Committee will strip out all of the language in the phantom bill, and insert the changes to the Senate bill that Democrats have negotiated.

“They don’t have the votes right now, but they’re creating the vehicle so that they can airdrop in whatever changes they want,” Ryan said.


He said he expected Democrats to dust off last year’s health care bills from the Education and Labor and Ways and Means Committees, to use as the vehicle for reconciliation changes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Senate Health Bill Would Up Costs for Millions in Middle Class, Analysis Finds

A nonpartisan study is casting new doubt on President Obama’s campaign pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.

The Senate health care bill crucial to saving President Obama’s signature domestic initiative will hit the wallets of a quarter of all Americans making less than $200,000 per year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Tax Committee that assessed the way the bill would hit taxpayers directly through new taxes and fees and indirectly through taxes levied on health care providers and passed on to consumers.

The committee also determined that the bill would subsidized insurance premiums for 7 percent of taxpayers — about 13 million people — while some 73 million people would face higher costs from the new fees and taxes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Disemboweling of America

Though Bush 41 and Bush 43 often disagreed, one issue did unite them both with Bill Clinton: protectionism.

Globalists all, they rejected any federal measure to protect America’s industrial base, economic independence or the wages of U.S. workers.

Together they rammed through NAFTA, brought America under the World Trade Organization, abolished tariffs and granted Chinese-made goods unrestricted access to the immense U.S. market.

Charles McMillion of MBG Information Services has compiled, in 44 pages of charts and graphs, the results of two decades of this Bush-Clinton experiment in globalization. His compilation might be titled, “Indices of the Industrial Decline and Fall of the United States.”

From 2000 to 2009, industrial production declined here for the first time since the 1930s. Gross domestic product also fell, and we actually lost jobs.


China accounts for 83 percent of the U.S. global trade deficit in manufactures and 84 percent of our global trade deficit in electronics and machinery.

Over the last decade, our total trade deficit with China in manufactured goods was $1.75 trillion, which explains why China, its cash reserves approaching $3 trillion, holds the mortgage on America.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

While Government Treats Citizens as Terrorists, Mexican Military Invades U.S.

While the U.S. government and federal authorities busy themselves targeting American citizens as domestic terrorists, it seems they couldn’t care less about the fact that the military of a foreign power is flying around American airspace with wanton abandon.

Residents of Falcon Heights, a south Texas border town, saw a Mexican helicopter hovering over a house shortly after 6pm on Tuesday night. The chopper conducted surveillance for about 15 minutes before flying back to Mexico.

“They had armored individuals in the chopper, open ramp, very military looking, in style and preparation,” said Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr.

“It’s proof the Mexican military sees no boundaries,” reported local KRGV News’ Stephanie Stone, adding that the incident wasn’t the first of its kind and wouldn’t be the last.

“The markings I understand read ‘La Marina’ which is equivalent to the Mexican Navy,” said Gonzalez.

[Return to headlines]


From an Ex-Muslim, True Islamophobia

The words stung me like a jolt of electricity: “Muhammad was a child rapist.” As if the slur were not sufficient, the speaker then insinuated my Islamic faith was filth. “I am ‘clean’ of Islam,” she sneered to her Toronto audience. As far as hate speech goes, the shoe was suddenly on the other foot.

For years, radical Islamists have cited freedom of speech to defend their attacks on Christians, Jews, Hindus and liberal non-observant Muslims. A hateful tone is never far from the surface — although great care is taken to couch this cancer in ambiguity and double-speak. Take for instance the Toronto imam caught on videotape praying to Allah for the “defeat of the kufaar,” a thinly disguised reference to Christians and Jews.

As a Muslim, I learned very early in life to walk in my adversaries’ shoes to feel their pain. This is why I have not shied away from calling a spade a spade and outing the segregationist hate mongers within my community, an effort that has paid dividends in the slow decline of overt anti-Semitism and Hinduhatred in the public religious discourse of Western Muslims.

But last week, it was not a Muslim cleric whose speech traumatized me; it was the words of an ex-Muslim…

           — Hat tip: flyboy[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Agnes Heller Demands More Civil Courage of the Hungarians

Magyar Narancs 25.02.2010 (Hungary)

The majority of the Hungarian population cannot identify with the republic which was created 20 years ago. Istvan Bundula talked with philosopher Agnes Heller, who blames in part Hungary’s former status as the “happiest shack” in the Eastern camp. “The paternalistic politics of the Kadar era so spoiled the people that even today they still expect everything from the state and feel no obligation to take responsibility themselves. Hungary lacks a strong civil society which acts independently of party allegiances, it has no independent initiatives — either in field of economics or politics. In his ‘Emilia Galotti’ Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote ‘Violence! Who can’t resist violence? […] Seduction is the true violence’“. One of the reasons for the recent surge in the popularity of the far right, Heller says, is the Hungarian propensity for blowing things out of proportion. “There was and is no limit to how wild things can get in Hungary, and the situation is getting more extreme all the time. People have got used to discussing all sorts of issues in public using the language of the extreme right. Neither the Hungarian laws nor Hungarian society tried to put a stop to this — and that is the real problem. Because the state wouldn’t have had to have made laws [against Holocaust denial] if society had not tolerated it. […] When the people hear this sort of talk they look away in fear instead of speaking up. But you fear has not place in a democracy, because the key virtue of democracy is civil courage. Without it, democracy cannot exist, however good the laws.”

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

Care Does Not Include Sex — Dutch Nurses’ Union

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) — A union representing Dutch nurses will launch a national campaign on Friday against demands for sexual services by patients who claim it should be part of their standard care.

The union, NU’91, is calling the campaign “I Draw The Line Here,” with an advert that features a young woman covering her face with crossed hands.

The union said in a statement on Thursday that the campaign follows a complaint it had received in the last week from a 24-year-old woman who said a 42-year-old disabled man asked her to provide sexual services as part of his care at home.

The young woman witnessed some of the man’s other nurses offering him sexual gratification, the union said. When she refused to do the same, he tried to dismiss her on the grounds that she was unfit to provide care.

“This type of action is not part of the job responsibilities of carers and nurses,” NU’91 said.

The case has been reported to police, the union added.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Dutch FM Verhagen: Wilders Spreads Hatred

THE HAGUE, 12/03/10 — In an address to foreign journalists, opinion-maker and students, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has stated that MP Geert Wilders spreads hatred.

Wilders is currently on trial on charges including hate speech. According to Verhagen it is not up to politicians but to the courts to decide whether freedom of speech has been violated. However, in the same speech, Verhagen himself pronounced a guilty verdict on Wilders.

“Only the courts can determine whether the law has been broken after utterances have been made,” stated Verhagen. But he also said: “By spreading fear and hatred, he is only destroying, not building. And in the process, he is damaging the interests of the Dutch people and the reputation of the Netherlands in the wider world.”

Wilders method is simple, according to the Christian democrat (CDA) minister. “He plays people off against one another — in a highly distasteful fashion, I might add. He is not looking to find common ground, uphold shared values or work toward constructive solutions based on these shared values. (…) If we allow discrimination and hatred to spread, this will only lead to segregation, polarisation, escalation and eventually, confrontation.”

Verhagen was speaking at a conference on public diplomacy. He announced that in a new pilot, the Netherlands “has established three public diplomacy hubs — in Washington, Beijing and Cairo — which are responsible for shaping a regional approach to public diplomacy.”

“Our primary, short-term goal is to respond to incidents and crises: damage control, if you will. Our secondary goal is to put our policies in context, with a view to building support. And our wider goal is to develop a long-term relationship with opinion makers, with a view to promoting a solid and positive image of the Netherlands.”

Media analysis, networking activities and visitors’ programmes as well as exchanges and cultural relations, are all used to this effect. “By applying these various instruments, usually through our embassies, we hope to create a more balanced picture of our country.” Verhagen noted that “politics is not just about whose military or economy wins, but also about whose ‘story’ wins.”

Verhagen began his speech by saying that “in the Netherlands, as elsewhere, diversity has come to be viewed not so much as a source of cultural enrichment, but as a threat. Many Dutch people fear radicalisation, and their fears are fuelled by international terrorist attacks in the name of Islam. This, together with a general feeling of unease caused by globalisation, has resulted in rising tensions between groups of people with different cultures, customs and beliefs.”

“_These tensions are disguised or denied by some and fuelled by others. I believe both responses are wrong. Downplaying tensions does not do justice to people’s legitimate concerns. Fuelling conflict, on the other hand, is equally irresponsible. Look at how Geert Wilders has influenced the public debate in the Netherlands over the past few years. Look at what he’s doing in the run-up to the June 9 elections.”

“We should condemn not religions, but rather people and groups who abuse religion to achieve their ends through violence. Islam is not the problem. (…) I prefer to focus on what we share as people and as nations, and how we can live together peacefully, on the basis of a number of universally shared convictions. Human rights are what bind us together in this world.”

Referring to a survey his ministry commissioned two years ago on the Netherlands’ reputation in fifteen countries, Verhagen said it “was striking that we scored lowest in the three Muslim countries that were part of the survey”. These were Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia.

“In Egypt and Turkey, neither opinion leaders nor the population at large expressed much appreciation for the Netherlands in terms of ‘moral values’ and ‘respect for other religions.’ That is a disappointing result in the sense that it is completely contrary to our self-image. This result goes against the core values we embrace: human rights and tolerance. We will thus have to learn and adapt our strategy. To help us better understand our interlocutors, more qualitative, in-depth research will be carried out in the Arab world.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

EU Spent at Least €14m Subsidising Convicted Fish Crooks

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The European Union has spent at least €14 million in subsidies to firms convicted of illegal fishing, a new report has revealed.

Some 36 law-breaking vessel owners with 42 convictions between them received €13.5 million between 1994 and 2006 according to an investigation by, a group of researchers investigating the recipients of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

In a laborious nine-month investigation, the team matched up records of court convictions with lists of who receives EU fishing subsidies. The investigators warn however that this is only the tip of the iceberg, as they only looked at boats in the waters of two major fishing nations, Spain and France. They had attempted to investigate Italian fishing as well but it proved too difficult and time-consuming.

Additionally, data on convictions is very hard to obtain. Unlike data on fisheries subsidies, there is no official data that governments provide on convictions. Instead, the information was culled manually from government websites, newspaper reports and court records.#

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Germany: Jesuits Hard Hit by High Number of Abuse Claims

The sexual abuse scandal in Jesuit-run German schools is spreading rapidly and is likely to involve more than a hundred former pupils, according to the head of one of the affected colleges.

The impact on the Catholic order, the Society of Jesus, has been devastating, since the Jesuits have always boasted: “Give us the child for seven years and we will give you the man.” Now it seems the order may lose some of its credibility, in Germany at least, as a pillar of Catholic education.

“I can imagine that we will reach a three-figure number,” said Father Klaus Mertes, head of the elite Canisius college in Berlin, talking of the number of possible victims. He did not exclude a compensation package.

Manuela Groll, a lawyer representing many former pupils, said: “More and more victims are coming forward every day.”

The problems are not confined to the Berlin college, with cases of possible abuse being investigated at schools in Bonn, Göttingen, in St Blasien in southwest Germany, Hanover and Hamburg. At the Alosius college in Bonn, alma mater of Thomas de Mazière, the Interior Minister, and Stefan Raab, one of Germany’s top TV entertainers, the director has resigned after a parent accused him of complicity.

The claims date from the late 1950s to well into the 1990s but all, so far, fall under the statute of limitations, meaning that there will be no official criminal prosecution.

Instead, the order has engaged an independent lawyer, Ursula Raue, to look into the allegations. Some abuse victims say that she is too close to the Jesuits.

Most cases reported to the order so far occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Catholic priests speaking off the record say that, as leaders of church youth groups during this period, they were confused by the rapid changes in society. Pupils were caught up in the sexual revolution of that time and wanted to discuss their sexuality with the priests, many of whom were in their twenties. Until then, say the priests, Catholic education had an innocence about it. But the problems run much deeper. Many of the complainants say they were put under pressure to masturbate their priests. The Süddeutsche Zeitung carried an interview with an anonymous 62-year-old who has been active in politics for the past three decades.

He described graphically how, 50 years ago, he would be expected to enter the priest’s room and perform a sex act. The priest left the college two years later, supposedly for health reasons, to a parish in the Tyrolean alps, where he died in 1972.

To judge by the testimony of the victims, this was part of a pattern of covering the tracks of offending priests. Serious sexual and psychological abuse appears to have been tolerated until word leaked out to parents.

The Jesuits have apologised to the victims but the order faces a long period of self-appraisal. Even within the order, the expectation is that the paper trail will show a record of shielding offenders and ignoring signs of child abuse.

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

Hungary in the Throes of Social and Political Crisis

Elet es Irodalom 05.03.2010 (Hungary)

For many years Hungary has been in the throes of social and political crisis, which manifests itself in a widespread mistrust of public institutions, politicians and an all-out rejection of the politics which emerged after the collapse of communism in 1989. As a result, the parliamentary elections in April are expected to result in a landslide victory for the right-wing conservative Fidesz party, which is promising a return to authoritarian order. The philosopher and communication scholar Mihaly Szilagyi-Gal is concerned that the liberation of 1989 could be reversed. And that, he writes, would be an even greater fiasco than the oppression under the dictatorship. “For the first time since the transition, Hungary is on the brink of a situation in which one side of the political camp is essentially becoming autocratic. The problem is not with the side itself but the one-sidedness — perhaps even for the victor. This situation, which so closely resembles the monotheism of the one party state is, this time around, not the result of a — from society’s point of view — external oppression, but of a society behaving badly. This makes the defeat even more hard to bear. […] The badly-behaved society has itself become the oppressive power. There is no such thing as ‘them’ and ‘us’ any more. We are our own worst enemies. It’s all us.”

According to sociologist Peter Kende, the crisis of society which is now coming to a head in a push for law and order, has three factors to blame for its enormity: the crisis of legitimacy of the democratic institutions; the Hungarian reality deficit (the fear of facing reality and real conditions, as described by Elemer Hankiss as the “morbus Hungaricus”); and the existential angst, which many connect with the market economy and others with the poor performance of the current government in protecting the peace: “It is tragic that this country which was so disappointed by the promises made in 1989, is now on the verge of wasting a unique opportunity. Because if not in 1989/90, when else have we Hungarians had a free say in shaping our future ? If we now decide to surrender these achievements even only in part, it is most likely that we will never see an opportunity like it. Certainly not in our lifetimes.”

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

Italy: Economy on the Rise, Berlusconi Says

Premier presents new ‘Bank of the South’

(ANSA) — Rome, March 11 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday was upbeat about the economy saying that a recovery, while slow, was in the works.

“After pulling out of a deep crisis, we are beginning to rise. This recovery will not be fast and the numbers won’t be big, but the trend is upwards,” the premier said.

Looking back at the economic downturn, Berlusconi recalled that “the government, when it tried to spread optimism, did not have its eyes closed but knew the importance of the psychological factor. We need to exploit this optimism”.

According to the premier, the fact that carmakers like Fiat did not insist on having last year’s ‘cash-for-clunkers’ initiative extended to 2010 “is a sign that the situation is getting better”.

Berlusconi made his remarks at the presentation of a plan to create a Banca del Sud, bank for the south, to help finance development projects in Italy’s economically depressed south, the so-called Mezzogiorno.

Also on hand was Treasury Minister Giulio Tremonti who said that as soon as the new bank opened a branch he intended to be the first person to open an account there.

Berlusconi added that if this were the case, he would be the second to do so.

The most recent data on the Italian economy indicates that the recovery is struggling to get going with GDP in the last quarter of 2009 falling 0.3% over the previous three-month period, after climbing 0.6% in the third quarter over the second and reversing a negative five-quarter trend.

National statistics bureau Istat on Wednesday again revised its data for the Italian economy in 2009 and said GDP fell by 5.1%.

Istat had initially put the decline in GDP at 4.9% and then on March 1 revised this to 5%.


The Banca del Sud will not be a retail bank with branches open to the public but operate as a so-called ‘second level’ bank which will coordinate medium and long-term credit through other banks. The credit will be channeled for projects aimed at creating new businesses, encouraging young and female entrepreneurs, allowing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to grow and expand abroad, investing in research and development and creating more jobs in the Mezzogiorno. This new network of existing banks, the Treasury explained, will only focus on coordinating credit for specific projects and not deal with other problems which typically affect the Mezzogiorno, like the lack of infrastructures and inefficient public services. However, Berlusconi said at the presentation, the State does intend to turn to the new bank to raise funds for major public works projects. The Banca del Sud will be a private bank although the State will hold a minority stake and make a symbolic financial investment. However, the state will sell its interest in the bank after its initial five-year development period has ended. Aside from making funds available for development projects, the Banca del Sud will also serve as a consulting agency for banks in its network and SMEs and will carry out evaluations of the various projects.

The 15-member organising commission has been tasked with selecting the new bank’s founding members, defining the bank’s governance, setting the minimum capital investment network members must contribute and defining their specific functions and activities. The founding members will include the Italian Postal Service and the 111 banks belonging to the Banche di Credito Cooperativo and Casse Rurali located in the south, for a total of 620 branches. The organising commission will be advised by a panel of representatives from Italy’s national organizations and unions representing industrial employers (Confindustria), artisans (Confartigianato), retailers (Confcommercio), retail services (Confesercenti, farmers (Coldiretti), farm cooperatives (Lega delle Cooperative), farm owners (Confagricolture) and chambers of commerce (Unioncamere), among others.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Accuses Magistrates of Dictating Campaign Tempo

(AGI) — Rome, 11 Mar. — During an election rally to support Renata Polverini, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said “The Left-wing judiciary is dictating the tempo of this electoral campaign. First they invented a non-existent Bribesville and now they have invented this rejection of our lists.” .

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Police Seize Parmalat Founder’s Hidden Yacht

La Spezia, 11 March (AKI) — Italian tax police on Thursday seized a 16-metre yacht owned by Calisto Tanzi as they continue to recover assets owned by the founder of the dairy giant Parmalat, nearly seven years after the company’s collapse.

Police located the yacht in La Spezia, a port city in the northwestern Liguria region, but did not provide any details about the estimated value of the yacht dubbed one of Tanzi’s “last treasures.”

Police in December found 19 paintings and drawings including works by Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh hidden in houses belonging to friends of the Tanzi family.

At the time, police said the value of the art works could be as much as 100 million euros.

Parmalat collapsed in December 2003 with a 14 billion euro discrepancy in its accounts.

The case was Europe’s biggest bankruptcy and Tanzi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corporate fraud in 2008.

A Milan court sentenced Tanzi to 10 years in prison for fraud in 2008. He appealed the sentence and is free awaiting trial.

He is also accused of fraudulent bankruptcy in a trial under way in Parma.

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

Italy: “Army of Escorts” Used to Fuel Corruption

Rome, 11 March (AKI) — An Italian investigation of a major corruption scandal linked to last year’s Group of Eight summit has claimed up to 350 prostitutes were offered to senior officials in a bid to win key contracts. Italian newspapers reports said on Thursday that prosecutors and police investigators discovered a vast network of escorts, who were each typically paid from 500 to 700 euros for appointments in Venice, Bologna, Florence and Rome.

The alleged prostitution network — which is said to have included Russians, Ukrainians, Cubans and Venezuelans — emerged from telephone taps recording conversations by former public works officials, Fabio De Santis and Mauro Della Giovanpaola, both of whom have been arrested for corruption.

Four men including Italy’s former civil protection deputy, Angelo Balducci, have been arrested for alleged corruption over construction contracts linked to the G8.

In one telephone conversation published on Thursday a businessman implicated in the unfolding scandal, Guido Ballari, is alleged to have booked a prostitute for De Santis in Rome at a cost of 500 euros.

According to the newspaper reports, when De Santis emerged from his appointment, Ballari telephoned him immediately.

“Do you realise you just made it by the skin of your teeth?” he was recorded to have said. “One minute after you came out, her husband arrived. What a mess that would have been!”

Diego Anemone, a Rome businessman among the four arrested in relation to the G8 corruption scandal is also alleged to have paid 5,000 euros for De Santis and Della Giovampola to stay in Venice during the city’s famous film festival.

According to the Italian daily, La Repubblica, Anemone’s brother, Daniele, booked a hotel and paid 1,500 euros for each escort supplied to the two government officials staying there.

Investigators have told the media that De Santis allegedly had more than 150 “contacts” with escorts during the period of telephone taps.

Florence magistrates are probing alleged kickbacks related to 327 million euros worth of construction contracts for last July’s G8 summit as well as other public works projects.

The G8 was held in the central quake-struck region of Abruzzo after being abruptly moved there from Sardinia last April.

Civil protection chief, Guido Bertolaso, a key ally of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is also under investigation for alleged sexual impropriety and corruption related to contracts awarded to companies at last year’s Group of Eight summit.

Bertolaso widely respected in Italy for his role after the powerful earthquake killed 300 people in L’Aquila last April has denied any wrongdoing in relation to an ongoing investigation by Florence prosecutors.

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

Netherlands: Lives Left in Ruin by the ‘Brothers of Love’

Every day, more people are coming forward with reports of sexual abuse suffered at Catholic boarding schools in the Netherlands. Eikenburg boarding school is one institution mentioned more often than others.

By Joep Dohmen

Misty-eyed men in their 50s and 60s finally tell the story of their abuse at the hands of priests now in their 70s and 80s. Those priest cry as well as they admit their wrongdoings. After 40 years, the silence surrounding the sexual abuse committed by the priest of the Brothers of Love order, at Eikenburg boarding school in Eindhoven, has been broken.

Last month, NRC Handelsblad and Radio Netherlands Worldwide first broke the story of former students who were abused by Salesian priests at the Don Bosco boarding school in ‘s-Heerenberg. Since then, 350 victims have reported cases of abuse to an office of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands.

Another boarding school

The joint investigation has now revealed a second boarding school where abuse appears to have been both widespread and serious in nature.

Eleven former students of the now defunct Eikenburg Catholic boarding school for boys in Eindhoven have come forward offering independent testimony of the sexual and physical abuse they and others suffered there between 1956 and 1983.

The former students have accused nine priests and one lay brother. Some 50 priests worked at Eikenburg in the period the abuse took place. In its heyday, 350 children lived at the boarding school, mostly the sons of diplomats, industrialists, merchants and employees of electronics manufacturer Philips.

The boarding school opened its doors in 1849 and is “tucked away in the pristine serenity, protected by sturdy oaks and ample forests,” according to a promotional leaflet from the 1950s. In 1996 the boarding school closed its doors because it no longer drew enough students. The last priests to serve the order still live at the school.

A truly religious upbringing

The priests’ stated goal was to “give the pupils a truly religious upbringing, and make them accustomed with an orderly and regular life, diligence and good manners.” Loving one’s neighbour was “the central mission in life” for the Brothers of Love.

Dolf — who asked to be mentioned by his first name only — boarded an airplane destined for the Netherland in the fall of 1956. His parents, who lived abroad, thought he would be in good hands with the order.

When he arrived at the school’s gate, his group leader awaited him amidst a tapestry of brown and yellow autumnal leaves, Dolf recalled. The priest had black hair combed back over his head and wore horn-rimmed black glasses and a toga of the same colour. He was a heavy-set, coarse man.

The “truly religious upbringing” touted by the promotional leaflet consisted mostly of terror and humiliation. “I got so nervous I wet my bed,” Dolf, now 63, recalled. “That would lead to more punishment, and public ridicule.”

If his group leader priest got very angry, he would walk into the dining hall and tug at the edges of the table cloths, leaving the students to clean up the resulting mess. Masses were held at six every morning. A meat jelly served often for dinner was so disgusting, some boys couldn’t keep their food down. Anyone who gagged would be forced to eat his own vomit, and was beaten to boot.

Nowhere to turn to

“After a few weeks, I was woken up in the dormitory in the middle of the night,” Dolf remembered his abuse so long ago. “The priest took me with him and made me kneel down. I was covered with 15 blankets, and sat there sweating for 45 minutes. Then I had to satisfy him. This process was repeated every week for a full year, in every way imaginable. As a child, I didn’t understand what was happening. Later, he also tried to rape me. He was so big and strong. His hands covered my entire face.”

After 18 months, the priest suddenly disappeared, but Dolf was left scarred for life. At school, he became impossible to handle. “Later I was taken in by some very sweet people, and I received psychiatric treatment. Now that I have retired, it is all coming back to me,” Dolf said.

The worst, Dolf recalled, was the combination of loneliness, home sickness and the lack of safety. “My parents were far away. I had nowhere to turn to,” Dolf said. Telling them of his plight by letter was impossible. All mail sent to and from students was checked by the priests.

Feeling hurt and saddened, Dolf sought out the Brothers of Love last year. “My story was belittled. They told me the priest had been a little crazy, but that it hadn’t been that bad,” Dolf said.

Father Van Heugten (74), now abbot of the order, told NRC Handelsblad that he was familiar with Dolf’s story. “The brother was sent to a psychiatric institution,” he said. The order did not investigate the matter any further at the time.

Pilgrimage of sorts

Ton, now 61, is the son of a successful businessman from Nijmegen. In the two years he stayed at the same boarding school, his life was “totally ruined,” he said. He was also abused by a man in a toga. “His hands would crawl under my bed sheets. His penis would be in my mouth,” Ton recalled.

Years later,Ton’s therapist called the man to confront him and he confessed.But he refused any further contact. “I was so happy he confessed,” Ton cried as he spoke about it. His therapist, José Klaassen, said there is no reason to doubt the veracity of his client’s story.

Ton was never able to put the abuse entirely behind him. On an annual pilgrimage of sorts, he still returns to a nook of the boarding school where he would beat the walls in despair as a child.

After the school became a co-ed institution, girls fell victim to it as well. One of them is now 42, married with two children. She still visits a therapist every week. She was abused by a young priest in her room at Eikenburg for three years, from 1980 to 1983. What began with consolation ended in years of regular sex.

There are many more victims like Dolf and Ton. Some willing to go on record, others not. Some still feel guilt or shame over what happened to them. The main thread running through their confessions is the wanton nature of the physical and sexual abuse by priests and laymen alike. In the rare cases the priests’ supervisors did act, perpetrators were only reassigned elsewhere. The abuse was never investigated nor did anyone put a stop it. The abuse continued until at least 1983.

Abbot Van Heugten at first refused to comment on the accusations. "My advisors and my doctor have told me: no publicity”, he said before hanging up. He returned the call a day later, sounding desperate. "We didn’t know one of our board members had a relationship with a 13-year-old girl,” he said, referring to one of the latter cases of abuse. “He was here a second ago confessing to me in tears. This morning, I spoke to another abused former student over the phone four hours. I am at a loss, sir. This is all coming down on me now. I can only hope you will refrain from mentioning priests’ name,” Van Heugten said.

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

Paedophilia: Irish Bishops: Pope Asks Us to Help Judges

(AGI) — Vatican City, 11 March — To avoid ‘disinformation’, Irish bishops have clarified in a press statement that at the meeting held in Rome with the Pope it was made clear that ‘the Letter of 2001 does not absolve the Church authorities from their civil obligations, in particular the obligation to communicate and fully cooperate with civil authorities’.

Ireland’s bishops also expressed ‘appreciation’ for the declaration from director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, concerning this ‘very serious issue’ above all with “reference to the victims; the proper starting point is recognition of what has happened and concern for the victims and the consequences of the actions’. .

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

Poles No Longer Fear Germany

Two decades after German reunification raised widespread concern in Poland, the overwhelming majority of Poles no longer fear their western neighbours.

A survey by Polish pollster CBOS that was published by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita showed only 14 percent of Poles still had anxiety associated with Germany. Back in 1990, when Germany first officially recognised its eastern border with Poland, 88 percent of Poles said they feared the Germans.

In contrast, half of all Poles still said they fear Russia, though the number was down from 67 percent five years ago.

Polish psychologist Janusz Czapinski said his countrymen had come to realise modern Germany had nothing in common with Poland’s wartime Nazi occupiers and that Germans now treated their neighbours in a “friendly and peaceful” fashion.

“The majority of EU funds that we use come from our western neighbour,” Czapinski told the paper.

Despite Germany’s troubled history with Poland, ties between the two countries have improved considerably since Warsaw joined both NATO and the European Union.

However, relations with Berlin suffered during the nationalist-conservative government of former Polish premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski from 2005 to 2007. Polish officials also bristled periodically due to a now resolved dispute about a foundation meant to remember the suffering of German civilians expelled from lands now part of Poland immediately after World War II.

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

Pope: We Live in a Cultural Context Hostile to Faith

(AGI) — Vatican City, 11 February. — Pope Benedict XVI commented that, “We live in a cultural context marked by a hedonistic and relativist mentality, which tends to remove God from life, hinder the acquisition of a clear framework of values, the ability to distinguish good from evil and the development of a mature sense of sin.” The Pontiff added that these days “there is a sort of vicious circle between blurring of the experience of God and the loss of a sense of sin.” He believes that this situation “due to various not wholly dissimilar aspects” is like post-revolutionary France, in which lived Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, mentioned in the current Annus Sacerdotalis as a model for modern priests. .

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

Spain: Reliving Memory of Francoist Concentration Camps

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 11 — Spain is reliving the memory of “Franco’s slaves” in the concentration camps, with the transfer of the archives from the State Auditors’ Department to the Ministry of Culture and from there to the Historical Memory Documentary Centre in Salamanca. The news was reported today by El Pais. The archives will arrive tomorrow, 145 cases filled with documents, and can be consulted thanks to the agreement that was signed one year ago by Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez Sinde, and the President of the State Auditors’ Department, Manuel Nunez. The documents contain the memory of 132 concentration camps and of the 541 battalions of prisoners sentenced to forced labour in military and civilian operations, after their arrest by the Francoist troops in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). El Pais daily has had access to the archives. The documents include the lists of people who have entered and left the prison camps. A copy of these monthly lists was sent to the Auditors’ Department to justify costs for provisions. And in the cases of forced labour, the lists also served as justification for the very low salary that was paid for this labour. The names of all prisoners are accompanied by their status or destination: “placed at the disposal of the civilian governor”; “to the chief of police”; “to hospital”; “deceased” or “released”. Few people knew of the existence of these archives for decades. “They were not hidden, we just didn’t have the space to have people consult them,” the vice director in charge of the archives of the State Auditors’ Department, Soledas Cases, told El Pais. According to historian Javier Rodrigo, a total of 188 camps were operational between 1936 and 1947. “They were camps for imprisonment, classification, reeducation and exploitation. They were sources of humiliation, famine, abuse, punishment, integration and transformation. And, in many cases, physical elimination”. The goal of the Francoist regime, according to Rogrido, was not to kill the opposition but to use a “social scalpel to separate the good from the bad, Spain from anti-Spain”. It is estimated that between 367,000 and 500,000 prisoners of the Civil War and, from 1940, refugees of WWII passed through the concentration camps to supply workers. The last camp to be closed was the camp of Miranda dell’Ebro, in 1947. This camp held World War II refugees from various countries: Germany, France, UK and Poland.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Black Cobra Gang Steals Selection of Small Cakes

Criminals with connections to the Black Cobra network are suspected by police of pilfering 120 boxes of almond tarts, punch rolls, apple crowns and brownies from a delivery truck in southern Sweden on Thursday.

“We have conducted raids at a number of addresses and have confiscated cakes,” police spokesperson Charley Nilsson told local newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad.

The tasty treats were stolen on Wednesday night from a truck belonging to Godbiten, an Åstorp-based firm specialising in the production of traditional Swedish cakes and buns. While the driver slept in preparation for a trip to Denmark, the sweet-toothed thieves cut open the truck’s protective covering and liberated its irresistible cargo.

But the police were soon hot on their heels and were able to observe as four men began unloading Godbiten cake boxes at a store in Helsingborg at lunch time on Thursday, Helsingborgs Dagblad reports.

The store’s 29-year-old owner was placed under arrest and police were quickly able to round up four further suspects.

One of the suspects was in the process of feeding his child with Godbiten cakes when the police knocked on his door on Friday morning, a source told the newspaper.

Three men have so far been detained on suspicion of theft and handling stolen goods. Several of the suspects are known to the police and some are linked to the Black Cobra criminal gang, which began life in Denmark before spilling over the border into Sweden.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: Checks to See if Foreign Out-of-Hours Doctors Can Speak English ‘Go Against EU Rules’

Britain is sticking rigidly to EU rules that outlaw checks on foreign doctors’ language skills while France flouts them, it emerged yesterday.

Britain is complying with the regulations even after the death of David Gray, who was killed by a German doctor with poor English skills, the General Medical Council said.

Health minister Mike O’Brien concedes we are ‘stuck’ with the rules for two years.

The GMC, which regulates doctors, also revealed the French get around the ban by not having tests as such, but by inviting prospective foreign GPs in for interview to check their language skills.

The council met Health Secretary Andy Burnham last week to demand an end to the ban on checks — but were told it could mean fines from Brussels.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

UK: Don’t Raise Your Family in Britain, Say Expats: UK Voted Worst Place in Developed World to Bring Up Children

Britain is the worst country in which to raise children, while Australia is the best, a study has found.

The survey of expatriates living in six different countries found there was a better standard of living Down Under, and a better quality of family life.


A massive 45 per cent of parents said the quality of their family life had decreased since moving to the UK — just 16 per cent noticed an improvement, according to the survey commissioned by HSBC.

Britain was rated the lowest of the six countries examined. The list, from best to worst, read Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and the UK.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Whether or Not the Western Allies Abandoned the Jews

Le Nouvel Observateur 04.03.2010 (France)

The cover dossier addresses the controversy between Yannick Haenel and Claude Lanzmann, over whether or not the western allies abandoned the Jews. Such, namely, is the view put forward by Haenel in his book about the Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski (more here), whereas Lanzmann rejects the idea wholeheartedly. Claude Weill and Laurent Lemire collect together all the known facts on the matter in a background article in which they also address the role of the Vichy regime and the Vatican. Their astounding conclusion is that the Allies are beyond reproach but that the Vatican is as guilty as Rolf Hochhut maintained in his play ‘The Deputy’ . The magazine aslo prints excerpts from Karski’s 1943 memoirs which have now been republished in France (see another article on the subject in Figaro) in which he — unsuccessfully — tried to inform Roosevelt about the death camps: “When I left the president, he was still as fresh, rested and smiling as at the start of our discussion. I, on the other hand felt very tired.”

Claude Lanzmann talks in his article about the “Myth of Rescue” and explains that in the pre-war days as well as during the war, Jews were “not the centre of the world” but had taken up residence on the sidelines, if not the margins, of society. “This not only applies to the United States, but to the whole of Europe as well, not to mention Germany. The Jews were not — and are still not — although some of them like to pretend otherwise — the centre of the world. It is from the perspective of this factual truth, that we must judge the behaviour of the Allies during the War and their supposed abandonment of the Jews. Was it possible to save ‘the Jews’ or ‘Jews’? Which ones could have been rescued. When? How?”

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

Mediterranean Union

EMPA: Buzek: Assembly is a Political Bridge Across the Med

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 11 — The Euro-Mediterranean Parliament represents “a political bridge across the Mediterranean, a unique form of cooperation which is now more than ever a reason to push ahead with the peace process and development of the region’s economies”. The Speaker of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was speaking on the eve of the plenary session of EMPA in Amman which is to run until Sunday. As Speaker of the European Parliament, Buzek is also Deputy Speaker of EMPA and he will be using the visit to have a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, on Sunday afternoon. The Middle East will be one of the main subjects on the agenda for the assembly and the Speaker of the European Parliament repeated its commitment “to reconstructing trust between the two sides. Our main concern is that talks should start as soon as possible and for this to happen what we need is goodwill” from the Israeli as well as the Palestinian side. Buzek went on to stress “the great potential there is for collaboration in the energy sector in the Middle East as a way of overcoming political differences. This cooperation is of key importance for our citizens: we want secure energy supplies at reasonable prices”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Morocco: France’s New Off-Shoring El Dorado

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 11 — With minimum wages at under 1 euro an hour and 44-hour working weeks, ridiculous benefit contributions, a five-year tax break and new cabled office space with security surveillance at just 8 euros a square metre, there is no real need to ask why French companies, from stock-market blue chips to SMEs are joining in the mass Morocco-bound exodus. Despite the campaign being waged by the Paris government against the temptation to off-shore, the former French colony has become a fashionable destination, with a 15% rise in transfers and 35,000 new jobs being generated. Insurers Axa, Bnp-Paribas, Bull, Ubisoft, Bouygues Telecom — to name just a few — have set themselves up directly on location while others are out-sourcing part of their businesses across the Mediterranean. And it seems that even Paris’ hospitals have joined the migration and are considering transferring some of their administrative departments to Casablanca. Not to mention all those companies that have set up their call centres in Morocco. The country has become “a suburb of the French economy”, says Mohamed El Ouahdoudi, the head of the Association of Call Centres and Offshore Information Services in Morocco. He was speaking to the Paris daily, Le Parisien, which has run a three-page reportage on “the kingdom of off-shore France”. Apart from the fact that the cost of living in Morocco “is 40% lower than that in France”, there is also the fact, says the Chair of Morocco’s Association of Customer Relations, Youssef Chraibi, that Moroccan employees speak French and often boast good quality university degrees. Young Moroccans are drawn to working for French companies as they pay better and there is no problem with practicing their religion. Hasna, who works for the company Ecowatt, in a country where the minimum wage is around 180 euros a month, is earning between 400 and 670 euros as well as having sickness insurance, banking facilities, and income tax limited to a 20% band, compared to the 38% imposed on other Moroccan workers. These are unusual perks indeed in the Maghreb country, where, in order to draw in further French investment, the government is footing the bill for new-staff training up to 5,800 euros over three years. In 2010 courses will be run to train 10,000 new engineers, says Quatiqua El-Khalfi, the Chair of Production at Morocco’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

TLC: Egypt’s Mobile Penetration Reaches 71 Pct

(ANSAmed) CAIRO, FEB 22 — The number of mobile subscribers in Egypt reached 55.35 million, or 71 percent penetration, by the end of December 2009, according to figures the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA). The penetration rate saw a 34.1 percent increase over the previous year’s 41.29 million subscribers; while growing 4.4 percent from 53.0 million the previous quarter. Mobinil’s total subscriber base reached 25.354 million by December 2009, growing by 2.9 percent over the previous year. Its market share is now equal to 45.8 percent, down from 46.1 percent in September 2009. Vodafone now has a total 23.325 million subscribers, up 5.7 percent from September 2009, equaling a market share of 42.1 percent, up from 41.6 percent. Meanwhile, Etisalat Egypt’s subscribers stood at 6.67 million, an increase of 5.9 percent compared to September. The third mobile operator’s market share is now 12.1 percent, up from 11.8 percent in September. In its daily market report, Beltone Financial said, “The Egyptian mobile market witnessed a slowdown in subscriber growth during the fourth quarter of 2009, particularly due to the fierce competition that emerged in quarter three, inflating subscriber growth during that quarter and, consequently, leading to weaker growth. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Minister: Textiles a Fundamental Sector

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 18 — The textiles and clothing sector in Tunisia, in spite of the crisis, remains a fundamental sector for the country’s economy, stated the Minister of Industry and Technology, Afif Chelbi, who spoke in Tunis at the conclusion of a seminar entitled “Textiles and Clothing: Trend and 2010 Domestic and International Prospects”, stressing that the it is the primary manufacturing export sector. It represents 36% of total exports, worth some 3 billion euros, and employs some 40% of workers in the domestic manufacturing. In 2009, Tunisia maintained its place as the fifth largest supplier to Europe’s clothing market (about 4% of the European Union), preceded by China, Turkey, India and Bangladesh. Regarding the performance of exports recorded last year, the minister reminded that, after a visible drop in the first half of the year, the last quarter showed signs of recovery, thus avoiding a two-digit negative balance. The final result was -8.8%. The result is judged as positive, he affirmed, and the result of the strategies implemented in Tunisia to consolidate the sector. (ANSAmed).

2010-02-18 20:10

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: 2010 Textile Exports to +12.7%, Italy Main Buyer

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 11 — Tunisia’s textile exports increased by 12.7% in volume and 16.9% in value since the start of this year. The t-shirt sector recorded the sharpest rise (+10.29% in value, +2.55% in volume). The Italian market, the country’s main buyer, takes in 67% of Tunisian textile exports. Tunisia is the fifth-largest clothing supplier of the European Union, and ranks second in women’s underwear and working clothes, third in jeans, fourth in trousers and fifth in ready-to-wear. Around a thousand foreign companies are active in the Tunisia textile-clothing sector. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Why Conservatives in Egypt See Women as Candy: Either Wrapped or Covered in Flies

Qantara 08.03.2010 (Germany)

A study in Egypt has produced shocking figures on sexual harassment, Mohammed Ali Atassi reports (here in English). “Ninety-eight 98 percent of the foreign women and 83 percent of the Egyptian women had been subject to sexual harassment — and nearly two-thirds of the men confessed to committing sexual harassment against women. On the other hand, conservative political and religious groups attempted to exploit the worsened incidents of sexual harassment to serve their own special interests. In a manner clearly demeaning to women, these factions attacked women’s dignity by pegging the blame for the assaults on the victims.” One of the examples Atassi gives is of a poster portraying a woman “as a candy that cannot be protected from flies (which means men in the language of these campaigns), save with the wrapper, which translates to the veil. Under the images of two candies, one wrapped and the second naked with flies hovering over it, a religious statement professes that an unveiled woman will not be able to protect herself — for God, the creator, knows what is in her best interest, and thus ordered the veil.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Jews Displaced From Arab Lands Finally Recognized

For the first time since they came to Israel, all 10 Jewish communities displaced from Arab countries have agreed on a course of action to address their grievances — and triumphed in the political arena.

The plight of the estimated 856,000 Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries after the establishment of the State of Israel has played a minimal role so far in negotiations for Middle East peace. But on February 22, the Knesset adopted a law under which any Israeli government entering into peace talks must use those talks to advance a compensation claim for those who became Israeli citizens.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Dancing for Their Lives: Undercover Visit to an Iraqi Expat Nightclub in Syria

Um Nour checked her watch. It was close to midnight and my guide to the Iraqi refugee underworld in Damascus wanted to get to the nightclub so she could start making money. I had failed the dress test, attempting to camouflage myself in an alluring outfit and eliciting only a pursed-lips stare, but Um Nour’s transformation was remarkable. I would not have recognized her on the street. On the many daytime occasions we had met during my reporting trips to Damascus in 2008, she dressed in baggy track pants, black hair tied back in a ponytail, her face lined and tired. This time, her long black hair was shiny and brushed with thick bangs that framed her face. She wore a tight-fitting black T-shirt sprinkled with sequins and black stretch pants tightly cinched at the waist. Her lipstick was deep red, her eyeliner heavy and black. She wore two rhinestone rings, her stubby fingers extended by fake red nails curled around an expensive cell phone.

Um Nour escorted me into the club, past men in black dinner jackets at the front door. Syrians owned the club, paid off the Syrian police when necessary, and called them in when there was trouble. Most of the clientele were Iraqis. The room was vast and dark, with spotlights trained on the dance stage. A live band played somewhere in the gloom behind the stage, making conversation almost impossible. There were at least a hundred tables. Most of the customers sat in small groups near the stage, drinking watered arrack and Johnnie Walker, sipping in the low haze of smoke from apple-infused tobacco in bubbling water pipes. Family groups sat farther back: mothers, fathers, and young daughters. Single women in their 20s and 30s had claimed seats in the darkest places, the better to survey the room. Um Nour picked a table near the back entrance, secured our spot, and gestured to the ladies’ restroom. We had gotten past the Syrian owners, but I would have to fit in with the mostly Iraqi clientele.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the Iraqi exiles in Syria had turned to the sex trade for survival. In Damascus, refugees were not permitted to hold jobs. As resources dwindled, many were led into the underground economy. Female-headed households accounted for almost a quarter of the refugees registered with the U.N. refugee agency. Widowed, divorced, or separated from husbands by the war, many women had children or elderly parents to support. Sex was often their only marketable asset.

“I will never dance until I get so drunk,” said a woman in a pink latex jumpsuit with clear-plastic shoulder straps that kept the tight fabric in place. She was bent toward the mirror in the ladies’ room, applying eyeliner, next to a line of Iraqi women in the same pose. It was an utterly familiar female ritual: women gathering in front of a public bathroom mirror. It could have been anywhere, but for the outfits of tight fabrics and silver spandex revealing tactile, soft, full breasts served up for inspection. Clinging fabric over ample round backsides. Long skirts, slit to the thigh, bellies exposed. Gleaming black hair. High-heeled boots. Young faces. Curvaceous bodies. One last look? Enough eyeliner? Another pat of powder? Anxiety also filled the room, because of the deals that would have to be concluded later in the evening. One woman, maybe 20 but probably younger, was dressed as a schoolgirl. As we all prepared for the night ahead, the Iraqi women chatted, traded names and phone numbers. They flipped open cell phones and showed the pictures of their young children. Lingering together in this comfortable female place, homesick, they were preparing to live off their bodies.

Another woman said her name was Abeer. “My husband tried to smuggle the kids to Sweden, but they got caught and are back in Baghdad,” she told me. She had divorced her husband when he set off for Sweden. She had agreed to the separation for the sake of her two children. Now, she lived with her sister, and worried about her kids. She sent her club earnings home for them. But why had she come to Damascus, I asked; what had driven her to come here in the first place? “I was a journalist,” she said. In 2007, she was hired by a television station based in Baghdad. She worked as a correspondent until the day her mother found a letter that had been thrown into the family garden: “Leave in 48 hours or we will kill you.” Syria was the only open border. While I was pondering Abeer’s choices, she clicked her cell phone shut, took one last look at her mirror image, and moved toward to door. “Have a good night,” she said knowingly, one businesswoman to another, as she made her way into the dark nightclub.

I could see why this was Um Nour’s favorite club. The system of cost and rewards favored women who wanted some control over their work. It was a freelance market. We had walked in through the front door for “free,” while the male patrons paid a steep cover charge and even more for the alcohol and snacks delivered to the table. Um Nour explained that women paid the Syrian men at the door at the end of the night — but only if they left with a man.

Iraq has a long historical connection to prostitution. The Whore of Babylon is a character in the Bible’s Book of Revelations, the symbol of all things evil. The world’s oldest profession was first recorded in Mesopotamia in the second millennium B.C. The code of Hammurabi, the ancient world’s first fixed laws for a metropolis, acknowledged prostitution and gave prostitutes some inheritance rights. But Iraq’s modern dictator, Saddam Hussein, had set the stage for the moral decline of his population.

That he did so came as no surprise even to the Iraqis I knew who were most disturbed by the rampant prostitution among the exile community. Many had lived in Baghdad when prostitution was public. At the close of the Iran-Iraq War, prostitutes, protected by the regime, were encouraged to welcome the returning troops — a benevolent “victory present” from Saddam. In the 1990s, another time of hopelessness, prostitution became more widespread. The United Nations sanctions, imposed in 1991 to force Saddam to reveal and destroy Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction, ushered in a decade of deprivation and corruption. Saddam was unmoved by the punishing financial and trade embargo, but ordinary Iraqis were impoverished, humbled by destitution, as the social fabric of the country unraveled. I had heard many stories about these years. Iraqis poured out searing memories that were as clear and important as the current U.S. occupation. “My father always said one Bush starved us, the other Bush drove us from our homes,” as an Iraqi doctor put it. His wealthy father had been ruined by the U.N. embargo, which reduced the family’s daily diet to tomatoes, bread, and onions, with small bits of meat for special occasions. Even the most common illnesses, previously treatable, could be a death sentence as medical supplies dried up. An Iraqi actor told me his bitterest memories came from the sanctions decade as his father moved the large family to cheaper and cheaper accommodations and his sister died prematurely due to inadequate medical care. In those desperate times, Iraqi women had also turned to prostitution to survive.

Another friend who had lived in Baghdad throughout this period observed: “You cannot overestimate the damage those sanctions did to the society. It was a casual thing for an Iraqi brother to help his sister, escorting her to a paying customer because it was improper for her to go alone. University students engaged in prostitution because they needed the cash for food. The administrative staff at the universities would take the role of pimps.” Iraqis keenly recalled not only the social wreckage but also the period in the 1990s when Saddam turned to Islam to shore up his legitimacy and suddenly acquired a new moral censoriousness.

Saddam’s national faith campaign had singled out prostitutes and included a public campaign to halt their activities. Appearing on Iraqi television, Saddam announced that these Iraqi women “were dishonoring their country.” Between 2000 and 2001, he unleashed the Fedayeen Saddam, a militia created by his son, Uday, to send an unmistakable message to a beaten-down population. Women accused of prostitution were rounded up and publicly beheaded in Baghdad and in other cities. The executioners carried out their work with swords. The severed heads of the condemned women were left on the doorsteps of their homes. Honor is a deeply held concept in Iraqi identity and women play a significant role. The horrific beheadings, the public humiliation of entire families, amplified Saddam’s cruelty and turned the punishment into a state-sanctioned desecration of a family’s name. But in the moral landscape of exile — shaped, in part, by Iraq’s sectarian civil war — honor was abandoned in the struggle to survive.

I would have to dance. In the dark at the back of the room the stage seemed like a bright planet, a place so distant I could barely make out the life forms. Um Nour had left me sitting alone. She was wandering around the club, greeting old friends. She had explained to the group of men sitting behind us that I was Ukrainian and therefore didn’t speak Arabic, but that didn’t stop them from sending drinks to the table and trying to engage me in drunken conversation. When one kissed me on the top of my head, I decided that I’d be safer on stage.

I climbed up into the bright lights. Most of the dancers seemed alone in the crowd. An older woman, in a simple red dress more appropriate for a day at the market, had been on the dance floor all night. She appeared to be listening to music from some distant time inside her head; eyes closed, she mouthed the lyrics of traditional laments of loss. With each refrain, her eyes moistened and she took the cigarette she was holding and brought the burning tip close to the exposed skin above her breasts. Over and over she brought the smoldering tobacco near her naked skin, about to inflict pain, but stopping short of contact. When the music ended she left the stage for a refresher of tobacco and alcohol.

Two girls danced together, fingers locked, madly twirling waist-long dark hair in circles to the beat of the music. One of them I recognized from the ladies’ room; no longer wearing her schoolgirl’s outfit, she had changed into a still more revealing costume and had paired herself with another long-haired beauty. Were they a package deal? Did they even know each other? They embraced like old friends but did not make eye contact with each other or with any other dancer on the stage. Beside them were two little girls, no more than 12 years old, in party dresses and lipstick. They copied the faces of the older women on stage — giddy, shiny-faced dancers at 3 o’clock in the morning.

The undeclared rules of the dance floor segregated the dancers. Men danced with men, arms entwined over shoulders, in short lines, flinging out one leg at a time and moving in a circle. Women danced alone or in pairs. Breaking the rules, pairing a man and a woman, would imply a business arrangement, and it was too early in the evening for that. The men mounted the stage to scout, to get a better look at the merchandise on offer.

The entertainment was tailored to an Iraqi audience, the music a medley of emotional, nostalgic old favorites from home. A comedian pumped up the audience by calling out the names of Iraqi cities. Baghdad! Sulaymaniyah! Mosul! The applause built for each constituency. He told jokes about the hard life in Damascus and played to the overwhelming longing for home. Then the band struck up another familiar tune and the next singer started the first few words of a song the audience knew well, a song of praise for Saddam. A blue laser light shot out from the audience and tapped the singer’s face. In mid-lyric, he switched to a tribute to the Iraqi national football team, eliciting widespread applause and calming the crowd of drunken men.

Abeer discovered me on the dance floor. I hadn’t seen her since our conversation in the ladies’ room. She wanted a dance partner and we were now old friends. She grabbed my hand and I was grateful. What choice was there? I was out of place, uncomfortable, a little scared in this crowd. My limited Arabic would not get me out of trouble. I needed a friend and Abeer had offered her hand, a partner for my charade. We danced. We rolled our eyes at the little girls on the stage as they became clumsy and tired and knocked into the other dancers. The red lady with the cigarettes was still with us and we shook our heads and wondered what trauma she was playing out. We moved around the dance floor, took in the details, looked at the faces, and then I saw Nezar Hussein, my translator and friend.

He was dancing, too, arms tangled in a line of men, smiling broadly when I finally noticed him. Unknown to me, he had been at the club all night, sitting across the room, my silent protector. I was relieved to see him. We made a plan to meet at the back entrance and share a cab for the trip home to compare notes on the rest of the dancers.

The man in the black dinner jacket at the front door demanded 500 Syrian liras, equivalent to about $15. He stretched out his hand and looked at me. He wanted his commission. I was leaving with a man, albeit Nezar, and I was now expected to pay up out of my expected proceeds. “But he’s my friend!” I said blurting it out in English, momentarily forgetting Um Nour’s instruction. Nezar and I had walked out together, reclaiming our identities at the front door, but to the Syrian controllers we were still part of the nightclub clientele. The dinner jacket stretched out his hand again and repeated, more forcefully this time, his demand for a cut of the deal. Five hundred, he said. We kept walking toward the cab and he watched us go. “Don’t ever come back here again,” he said glaring. That was easy. I did not ever want to come back again. The undertow of despair was too great.

In the taxi, Nezar and I marveled at the dancer in the red dress, the cigarette lady, who had sat out the intermissions on Nezar’s side of the room. “I saw her beating herself every time the singer started a song about mothers. She beat her breast really hard. When she saw me watching her, she came over to my chair and kissed me on my eyes. And she was crying.” We both shook our heads at the unimaginable calamity. We were tired, emotionally exhausted, and completely sober.

“I saw Um Nour showing pictures on her mobile phone,” said Nezar. He had saved this detail for last. “I mean, I wasn’t far from her when she came to my side of the room. Photos of almost-naked girls,” he said. Um Nour was a madam? She was trafficking young girls when she got up from the table and circulated among the male customers in the club? She was tough, a survivor. I should not have been so surprised. Each time I had asked her about her own daughter Um Nour had proudly answered that both of her children were in school. She was making sure they had a good future. Her children were Iraqis and one day they could go home.

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

How to Make Defeatism Look Good: Let’s Give Up and Cheer the Islamists

by Barry Rubin

I’m not going to bash or rant about a Newsweek article about Turkey by Owen Matthews-shocking and dangerous as it is—but rather talk about what is wrong and inaccurate about it. That article is part of a new wave of defeatism sweeping the West, though it still remains subordinate to the more ostensibly attractive idea that there is no real conflict or at least one easy to fix by Western concessions.

Here’s the title: “The Army Is Beaten: Why the U.S. should hail the Islamists.” Yes, we should thank the Islamists for taking over Turkey. But wait a minute! The ruling AK party says it isn’t Islamist. Indeed, I have been viciously attacked by them in the Turkish media for saying so. Up until now the line—including that from the regime itself—has been that we shouldn’t be afraid of them because they are really just democrats. But now some are willing to face the truth and still sugarcoat it.

Matthews writes:

“The political logic should be simple. The arrest of a shadowy group of generals for allegedly plotting a bloody coup should be a victory for justice. The end of military meddling in politics should be a victory for democracy. And greater democracy should make a country more liberal and more pro-European.”

Each of these sentences makes a false assumption and must be examined a bit.

Sentence one: Arresting military officers is only a victory for justice if they are guilty. Why does the author assume they are guilty? In fact, the claims are ludicrous. That a group of officers created a 5000 page plan for a coup that involved attacking mosques and massive attacks on civilians. It is one of a series of such accusations for which no real evidence has been presented, in which a widely disparate group of people have been arrested as alleged conspirators when their sole connection is that they are critics of the government.

This is ridiculously gullible. It’s like the famous sentence by a newsweekly magazine that even if the Hitler diaries were forgeries (they were) that would tell us a great deal about the history of the time. If in fact the arrests were trumped-up to tame the army so that the current regime can impose a dictatorship in practice it was not a victory for justice but for injustice. Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and Islamists in general lie a lot (and a lot more than democratic government) so why should they be taken at their word, especially when any serious examination of evidence shows the truth.

Sentence two: Of course, in general, keeping the army out of politics is a victory for democracy, but that ignores the specific history of Turkey. The army has viewed itself and been accepted there as the guardian of democracy. This history is certainly imperfect but when the country has been sliding into anarchy in the past or fallen into the hand of those who threatened to destroy the republic, the army has stepped in briefly, gotten civilians to reorganize things on a stable basis, and quickly gone back into the barracks.

The Turkish army is not like those of the Third World which hunger for power, destroy democracy, and unleash corrupt and repressive regimes. On the other hand, this article—and many others—show ignorance about the actual shifts in Turkey.

For example, there is no awareness that the regime is seizing control of the media; that the party leader (which means the prime minister for the ruling party) simply picks candidates for parliament as he pleases; that the reforms have strengthened the prime minister’s power and not parliamentary democracy; and that women are being forced out of high positions. Merely weakening the army doesn’t mean more democracy when in almost every other respect there is less.

Sentence three: If indeed-as is the case-the regime is systematically cracking down on the free media and imposing its control over all the institutions. This is not leading to greater but to less democracy. There should be a lot more reporting on what’s happening within the country instead of just repeating the regime’s claims.

Indeed, the author states:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

South Korea Eyes Nuclear Push in Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 11 — South Korea’s plans to become a global player in the nuclear industry were boosted yesterday by the signing of a co-operation agreement between Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) and Turkey’s Elektrik Uretim (EUAS), the two countries’ state power companies. The deal — as Financial Times reports — gives Kepco five months to conduct feasibility studies and produce a bid to build a 5,600 megawatt plant with four reactors in the Black Sea province of Sinop, Taner Yildiz, energy minister, confirmed in a telephone interview. If its proposal is accepted, an intergovernmental agreement would follow. Young Hak Kim, South Korea’s deputy prime minister, told a conference in Istanbul that construction could then begin in the short term. A Kepco-led consortium, with strong state backing, undercut US, French and Japanese rivals to secure a USD 20.4bn contract to build nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates last December. A Turkish deal would mark the start of a broader push into emerging markets, with officials in Seoul forecasting that Korean companies could earn some $400bn from reactor sales by 2030. The agreement also signals Turkey’s determination to succeed in a first foray into nuclear power, after four attempts dating back to the 1960s. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Surprise! Guess Who’s Biggest Islamic Threat

Interview Terror expert’s warning cites this NATO member

Famed PLO terrorist-turned-Christian Walid Shoebat is warning that the United States needs to be watching not Iran, Syria or even Hamas and Hezbollah as closely as it needs to follow the actions of the Islamic leaders of Turkey.

It was just a few months ago when Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin reported Turkey appeared to be seeking the restoration of the old Ottoman Empire.

The report said Turkey’s increasing disinterest in the European Union combined with its efforts to re-establish its influence in Turkic countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and its outreaches to Russian, Syria and Iran are cause for concern.

[Comments from JD: see URL for audio interview]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Baby Mortality Rate Down in Seven Years

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 11 — Baby mortality rate in Turkey was down in the last seven years, Anatolia news agency reports quoting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as saying adding that the rate was 2.85% in 2007. “This rate dropped to 1.3% today,” Erdogan said during inauguration ceremony of health institutions in Ankara. Erdogan said the rate of vaccination was up to 96% from 78%, and the measles cases were down to 5 from 7,810 between 2002 and 2009. The premier said malaria cases were also down to 39 in 2009. They were 10,224 in 2002. “Measures we have taken have been effective in this decline,” Erdogan said. The premier also said the government had launched free cancer scanning services in 81 provinces, and merged public hospitals under a single roof. “Thus, 35 million members of the Social Security Agency (SSK) can be treated at public hospitals,” he said. Erdogan also said the rate of contentment from health services rose to 62.5% from 39.5%between 2002 and 2009. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


More Than 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses Arrested in Russia for Taking Part in a Public Protest

Some 150,000 volunteers hand out about 12 million leaflets slamming the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, guilty of rejecting to military service and unfriendliness towards other religious groups. For their part, the Witnesses say that history is repeating itself with a return to Soviet-style persecution.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Between late February and early March, Russian police arrested at least 50 Jehovah’s Witnesses for handing out leaflets that describe how their religious freedom is curtailed. They are especially critical of the way their communities are being persecuted, labelled extremist and criminal for refusing the military draft.

On 26 February, the group’s national body launched a campaign to raise awareness about the violence Jehovah’s Witnesses encounter in many republics of the Russian Federation. It brought together almost 150,000 volunteers in the streets of Moscow, Rostov, Sverdlovsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Krasnodar, and Volgograd. Protesters handed out leaflets in railway as well as subway stations and at bus stops. Titled ‘Is history repeating itself? A question for Russians’, the four-page flyer quoted extensively from President Dmitry Medvedev’s speeches in which the Russian leader condemns political repression based on religion. Distributed to the tune of 12 million copies, the leaflet noted that the post-Soviet rehabilitation of Jehovah’s Witnesses had “turned to dust.”

Fifteen years ago, many veteran Jehovah’s Witnesses received a special “certificate of rehabilitation.” Now the same people, certificates in their pocket, are being charged as “extremists,” forced to go underground.

According to Lev Levinson, director of the Institute for Human Rights, the current persecution is the by-product of a perverse interpretation of anti-extremism laws.

As a religious group, Jehovah’s Witnesses are accused of being a “sect”, of being unfriendly towards other Churches, of rejecting military service, this despite the fact that Russia’s constitution allows for an alternative civilian service.

In their defence, Jehovah’s Witnesses say that they are being forced to organise their campaign because various courts in Russia have banned their publications and outlawed their activities (see “Court in Rostov bans Jehovah’s Witnesses for being religious extremists,” in AsiaNews, 17 September 2009, and “Altai court condemns Jehovah’s Witnesses for “extremism,” in AsiaNews, 5 October 2009)

Before that, they had turned to President Medvedev asking for justice (see “Jehovah’s Witnesses write to Medvedev, tell him they are persecuted like in Soviet times,” in AsiaNews, 13 November 2009), but now must try to move public opinion.

Following the latest incident, Jehovah’s Witnesses were interrogated after their arrest, their leaflets seized. Most of them were eventually released after a few hours.

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

Russia Signs India Nuclear Reactor Deal

Russia has announced it will build 16 nuclear reactors in India as part of defence and energy deals.

The long-anticipated nuclear agreement came as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited India.

He said nuclear co-operation was one of the most important aspects in the partnership between the two countries which have strong trade ties.

Russia’s state-owned nuclear company earlier said six of the reactors would be built by 2017.

Russia is already building two reactors in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“The agreement sees construction of up to 16 nuclear reactors in three locations,” Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, accompanying Mr Putin, said.

Russia is competing with French and US firms for contracts to build nuclear power plants in Asia’s third-largest economy which is looking to increase its energy supply to sustain rapid economic growth.

The increased competition began after India’s landmark civilian nuclear deal with the US in 2005 which ended the isolation India had experienced since it tested an atom bomb in 1974.

“This is one of our most important and promising areas of co-operation,” Mr Putin said in New Delhi on Friday.

Coal still accounts for more than 50% of India’s energy use — but a substantial expansion of nuclear power reactors is proposed over the next few decades.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

There is Only One Way to Govern Ukraine Today

The New York Review of Books 25.03.2010 (USA)

Historian Timothy Snyder is not panicking about Ukraine’s independence under its new Moscow-friendly president, because the ties Viktor Yanukovych maintains with the Ukrainian oligarchs are much too strong and these men like to do things their own way. The key issue for Snyder is if and how Yanukovych tackles corruption: “Because the office of the president is not very strong, and because Yanukovych is a client of industrialists, Ukraine is an unlikely candidate for the solution to corruption chosen by Vladimir Putin in Russia: to break the oligarchs — or some of them — by force and then declare a victory for law. Without reducing corruption, this has made Russia an authoritarian state. Russia, as it happens, is also tied for 146th in the Transparency International index. There is only one way to govern Ukraine today: close tax loopholes, tax oligarchs, give a tax break to the middle classes so that small businesses can emerge from underground, and above all ensure that the enforcement of tax laws is fair.”

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

South Asia

“Swede” Killed in Afghanistan

A Swedish woman from Örebro in eastern Sweden was shot and killed in Kabul in January. The woman was visiting relatives in the Afghan capital, according to a report in Nerikes Allehanda.

The woman died when men unknown to her opened fire as she sat in a car with a relative. Swedish authorities have been informed, but have not been told any more details of the events surrounding the killing.

“The information we have received from our consular office in Kabul is that the person who was was shot was a woman living in Sweden and who was visiting Afghanistan,” said Ellinor Lundmark at the Swedish foreign ministry to the newspaper.

According to the foreign ministry, the woman’s family have not sought the help of the Swedish authorities, who recommend against visiting Afghanistan due to the precarious security situation.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

India: Madhya Pradesh: Hindu Religion Perhaps Compulsory Subject in Schools

The Chief Minister of the State speaks of introducing the Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita as compulsory text in schools. Bishop of Madhya Pradesh Instead, we must study the values of all religions, to educate for tolerance and pluralism.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) — Shivraj Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, is “evaluating” whether to make it compulsory to study the Gita, the Hindu religious text, in schools as a text of “moral science”. The opinion of Mons. Cornelius, bishop of the state.

At the time of his election the CM had assured that he would not would introduce this book in school curricula. But this decision is strongly supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteers Organization), a very strong Hindu extremist group in the area, whose leader Mohan Bhagwat recently spoke in Bhopal confirming that non-Hindus can not be considered as real Indians.

Bishop Leo Cornelius, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Council of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, told AsiaNews that “the Church is convinced that there are values in every religion and all religions can enrich each one of us. There is nothing wrong with the Chief Minister introducing the Bhagavad Gita into the schools , but he should make the religious book the standard text of religious values. The CM can not impose one particular religion on everyone. I will insist that the texts of other religions, such as the Koran, the Bible, the sacred books of Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and others are also introduced. The Moral Science program should include the moral values of all religions. The choice of a single book stops children from understanding the great value of tolerance towards other religions. “

The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Divine) is a Sanskrit poem considered a sacred text, the most popular and beloved among the devout Hindus.

“In Madhya Pradesh — continues the prelate — it is a challenge to live the Christian faith. Members of the Barathiya Janata Party (BJP, a Hindu fundamentalist party) are for the most part good people, even the most indoctrinated by the ideology of the RSS are kind. But this ideology causes distortions, so it is essential to dialogue with them for a proper understanding. Too often, the BJP and the RSS have a misperception of the Christian faith and have the false belief that we distort their culture. The Catholic Church is engaged in a thorough and serious dialogue with these people, to correct the false vision they have for our faith and to foster peace and social harmony. “

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

Some U.S. Officials See a Growing Taliban-Al Qaeda Rift

Reporting from Washington — A growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment, according to U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials.

The officials, citing evidence from interrogation of detainees, communications intercepts and public statements on extremist websites, say that threats to the militants’ long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

As a result, Al Qaeda fighters are in some cases being excluded from villages and other areas near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where they once received sanctuary.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Far East

China — Tibet: The Dalai Lama “Close to the Uyghurs’ Scares Beijing

The Chinese central government and the administration of Tibet strongly attack the speech given yesterday by the Buddhist leader: “It distorts reality and foments separatism within China.”

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — In Tibet, “there is no serious problem, despite what the Dalai Lama says.” This is the declaration of the new president of the Autonomous Region of China Padma Choling, refuting accusations made yesterday by the Tibetan leader in exile, according to who Beijing “is trying to wipe out Buddhism. “ Yesterday, on the 51st anniversary of the uprising of 1959 and the second anniversary of the 2008 protests that occurred in many parts of China that is home to Tibetan people, there were no reported incidents.

“In Lhasa — said Padma, the so-called “ hawk “ of the Tibetan Administration — you can see monks and nuns everywhere. In Tibet there are about 1,700 religious sites home to 46 thousand monks.”

In his speech the Nobel Peace Laureate accused the Chinese central government of having reduced the monks to a state of “semi-slavery” and expressed his support for the peoples of Eastern Turkestan — the Uyghur, considered a separatist group by Beijing — and for those intellectuals who criticize the regime. This is a clear reference to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident author of “Charter ‘08” who has been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The regional president criticized the Dalai Lama for having called the Chinese region of Xinjiang “East Turkistan”, using the term coined by local anti-Chinese nationalists. “He should not foment rebellion in our country”, said the local leader. According to Tibetan exiles, about 200 people died in the 2008 protests while the government says that the victims were “little more than twenty.”

The central government has also attacked the Buddhist leader. According to the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, Qin Gan, “the Dalai Lama destorts” the real situation in Tibet. Furthermore, according to Qin, his support for the Uyghur “is a demonstration of his desire to harm the national unity of China and his separatism”.

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

China Insists Google Must Obey the Law or Face Consequences

It’s been quiet about the Google-China dispute for a while now, but today, the silence was broken by China’s minister of Industry and Information Technology, Li Yizhong, who stated that Google must either obey Chinese law or “pay the consequences”, leaving no room for a compromise. With more and more western countries building their own internet filters and internet monitoring schemes, it becomes ever harder to make a strong fist against China.

“If you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to pay the consequences,” said Li Yizhong about Google, “Whether they leave or not is up to them. But if they leave, China’s Internet market is still going to develop.”

[Return to headlines]

Corruption is a Cancer to the Countries of South-East Asia

According to a risk-consulting firm, Indonesia is the most corrupt country in South-East Asia along with Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The problem is pervasive in all sectors of the economy and society. Accusing adversaries of corruption has become a political tool of choice for many corrupt politicians to hang onto power. Catholic scholar in Manila says that if the common good were the priority, countries like Indonesia and the Philippines would be among the least corrupt countries in the region.

Manila (AsiaNews) — In Indonesia, South-East Asia’s most corrupt country, “Corruption has become a charge [. . .] used by corrupt people to protect themselves and to stifle reform,” said the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) in a report released yesterday. The Hong Kong-based consulting firm, which specialises in strategic business information and analysis for companies doing business in the countries in East and Southeast Asia, found that corruption is pervasive in Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Using a 1-to-10 scale, it scored the level of corruption among elected officials and public servants. Its informants are some 2,000 expatriate businessmen in 16 countries. Last year, it found that Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong were the least corrupt countries.

“The whole fight against corruption is in danger of being corrupted,” the PERC report said. The whole process could end up being taken over by corrupt politicians.

To illustrate its point, the consulting firm focused on Indonesia’s Bank Century, which was rescued from collapse with US$ 716 million of taxpayers’ money.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and members of his cabinet have come under investigation by parliament for the rescue plan. He came to power in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009 on an anti-corruption and economic reform platform, which gained widespread international support. For PERC, the charges against him by opposition politicians are a clear example of how the old establishment is using corruption to stay in power.

Corruption is one of the region’s main problems. In countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, it affects not only the public sector and big banks but also local government, resulting in billions of dollars wasted. According to World Bank data, the Filipino state lost US$ 4 billion in 2008 in kickbacks and waste.

“In the Philippines, corruption spread quickly because of the selfishness of big public and private companies, who represent the bulk of production and employment in the country,” said Crispulo Acuna, professor at the Catholic University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

“If the public good was the priority, countries like Indonesia and the Philippines would be the least corrupt in Asia.”

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

Vietnam: Thousands of Vietnamese Women and Children Sold as “Sex Slaves”

From 1998 to 2010 at least 4,500 women and children have crossed the borders of Vietnam to supply the prostitution racket. Some 65% go to China, then Cambodia, Laos, to the Europea, African and America. Internet sites sell children on the net. Is the new form of slavery which characterizes the 21st century.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) — Children sold on internet auctions to the highest bidder, through specialized sites that are updatedat least “three or four times day with new arrivals”. Women who end up in prostitution, treated as “sex slaves” by traffickers of neighbouring countries — Cambodia and China — or for the European, American and African markets. In Vietnam the evil trade in human lives continues, with numbers increasing every year.

A government document published recently, shows that from 1998 to early 2010 about 4,500 women and children have crossed the borders of Vietnam, in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers. A phenomenon that began in 1987 when Hanoi opened its borders to a market economy, and exacerbated by numerous cases of corruption involving local authorities or people of “middle class.” The intervention of NGOs and charities operating between Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand has had little effect.

In 2009, joint operations of the Vietnamese and Cambodian government led to the arrest of 31 traffickers, saving the lives of 70 victims preparing to cross the border into Cambodia. A social activist reports that, again last year, 981 women and children were sold in Cambodia or China. At least 781 people involved in the trafficking of human lives.

The highest trade is recorded at the border between China and Vietnam; where of the volume of total traffic is about 65%. Women feed the prostitution market, or are sold as brides to the highest bidder or exploited as labour. Another 10% is recorded along the border between Vietnam and Cambodia: the women are used as prostitutes, or transit in the country before reaching European countries including England, France and Germany. There is also a 6.3% crossing the Vietnamese border in the direction of Laos, passing through the provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Thanh Hoa and Quang Tri.

In some cases, the victims of extortion are brought to the ports of Tan San Nhat and Noi Bai, heading for Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Macau or to the nations of Europe, Africa and America. Since the authorities in Bangkok began a crackdown on prostitution, especially child prostitution, Vietnam has become the new “hot zone” for sex tourism. And as always the points of reference are the bars, discos, the resort areas of major cities including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Hai Phong and Da Nag.

P. Martino, a member of an NGO that deals with social issues, explains that the goal “is to help Vietnamese children, sold as ‘sex slaves’ in Cambodia.” Children are sold in their “hundreds” even on the internet, on sites that define them as “new products” and are updated at least “three or four times a day.” The sex market, he concludes, is “a new form of slavery characteristic of the 21st century.”

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

Australia — Pacific

Australia on Internet Censorship Threat List

A TOP media rights watchdog has listed Australia along with Iran and North Korea in a report on countries that pose a threat of internet censorship.

Paris-based Reporters Without Bordersput Australia and South Korea on its list of countries “under surveillance” in its “Internet Enemies” report (

Australia was listed for its government’s plan to block access to websites featuring material such as rape, drug use, bestiality and child sex abuse. Critics say the plan is a misguided measure that will harm civil liberties.

In South Korea, the RSF report added, “draconian laws are creating too many specific restrictions on web users by challenging their anonymity and promoting self-censorship”.

“These countries are worrying us because they have measures that could have repercussions for freedom of expression on the internet,” RSF secretary general Jean-Francois Julliard said.

Russia and Turkey were also added to the watchlist, which is a category below RSF’s top “Enemies of the internet”, the countries it considers the 12 worst web freedom violators.

These include Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Iran and Vietnam.

“The world’s largest netizen prison is in China, which is far out ahead of other countries with 72 detainees, followed by Vietnam and then by Iran, which have all launched waves of brutal attacks on websites in recent months,” RSF’s report said.

A senior manager of US internet giant Google, David Drummond, said there was an “alarming trend” of government interference in online freedom, not only in countries that are judged to have poor human rights records.

He cited Australia’s plans as an example, saying that there “the wide scope of content prohibited could include socially and politically controversial material”.

The Australian case “is an example of where these benign intentions can result in the spectre of true censorship”, he added.

“Here in Europe, even in France, at this very moment, some are tempted by this slippery path of network filtering.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

NZ Internet Filter Goes Live — Gov Forgets to Tell Public

The rise of the secret censor

New Zealand’s internet filtering system went live last month — but the government forgot to mention this to its electorate until its hand was forced by online freedom campaign, Tech Liberty.

Thomas Beagle, a spokesman for the group, said he was “very disappointed that the filter is now running” and that its launch had been conducted in such a “stealthy mode”. He added: “It’s a sad day for the New Zealand internet.”

In an interview with Computerworld this week, he claimed that the filter had gone live on February 1 but the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) delayed announcing this at until it had met with its Independent Reference Group.

The manager of the DIA’s Censorship Compliance Unit, Steve O’Brien, denied that there had been any subterfuge. The system has been undergoing trials for two years and the media have been aware of this throughout.

He said: “The Independent Reference Group has met and the filter system processes were demonstrated as set out in the code of practice, that is that the website filtering system prevents access to known websites containing images of child sexual abuse.”

While the DIA continues to be coy about exactly which ISPs are joining the filter, Tech Liberty understands that Watchdog and MaxNet have already signed-up to deploy the filter system, and that ISPs Telstra Clear, Telecom and Vodafone have said they will do so.

Orcon, Slingshot and Natcom have said that they won’t or, in the case of Orcon, that more data is needed as to how the filter will impact customer service.

[Return to headlines]


Court Thwarts Dutch Immigration Policy

The European Court of Justice has upended the minimum income requirement for foreign marriage partners. More aspects of Dutch immigration policy could be at odds with European law.

By Marjolein van de Water

The Moroccan M. Chakroun had lived in the Netherlands for two years when he married in 1972. His new wife remained in Morocco, while he worked as a manufacturing employee until he lost his job in 2005. A year later, Mrs. Chakroun applied for a Dutch residency permit so she could be with her husband. The request was denied: her husband’s unemployment benefits were below the required minimum income of 120 percent of minimum wage.

The Chakrouns appealed their case, finally ending up in the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled in the couple’s favour last week. The minimum income requirement for foreign marriage partners, which is higher in the Netherlands than anywhere else in the EU, is at odds with the European right to family laid down in European Council Directive 2003/86/EC.

Exit minimum income requirement

After the European court reprimanded the Netherlands for its policy, justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin told parliament this week he would be dropping the 120-percent requirement. His department will also stop distinguishing between people who were already married before they came to the Netherlands and people who want to bring a new partner here.

The minister was left with no other options, said professor Kees Groenendijk, the chairman of the Radboud University’s Centre for Migration Law. “The court’s ruling is unambiguous and sends a clear message to the Dutch government. It has been ignoring European regulations for years.”

Groenendijk thinks other aspects of Dutch policy will also need to be upended because they are at odds with European regulations. The minimum age requirement (21) for foreign marriage partners the Netherlands has introduced for instance, or the language test prospective immigrants are required to take in their country of origin before coming for the Netherlands. “The right to family reunification is fixed in European law. It is legally impossible to deny people that right.”

Minister Hirsch Ballin said he still stood behind an earlier letter he sent to parliament at the end of last year, announcing even stricter measures. He then proposed a ban on recognising marriages between first cousins and introducing a minimum education requirement for immigrants. The government is also looking to raise the bar on the language requirement.

Encouraging assimilation?

Groenendijk said these proposals were also in disagreement with European regulations: “The EU directive does not allow excluding people based on their marriage to a cousin or education,” he said.

Stricter legislation on family migration was introduced by a government comprised of conservative Christian Democrats and right-wing liberals between 2003 and 2006. Dutch government data show the number of successful requests for foreign marriage partners dropped from 23,000 in 2003 to 11,000 in 2007.

The government hopes stricter policies will prevent forced marriage and encourage assimilation and emancipation. Whether Ballin’s proposed measure would have such an effect remains to be seen, however. A study by the justice department’s science bureau could not find any relation between foreign marriage partners and forced marriage. Forced marriage is also common between partners both living in the Netherlands, as is marriage between cousins, according to the study. It also showed that young people who are looking to bring a partner to the Netherlands from abroad often quit school to get a job in order to meet the minimum income requirement. This means a negative impact on societal integration.

A stricter admittance policy will do little to improve emancipation and assimilation, according to Sabine Kraus, who is a policy worker for E-quality, a think tank for emancipation, family and diversity issues. The Dutch government has put an undeserved emphasis on reducing foreign marriage partners as much as possible, she said. “You cannot prevent family reunification, so that shouldn’t be your national focus. If you are looking to improve integration and emancipation, you should offer foreign marriage partners a fitting trajectory. That is a more effective way of preventing immigrants from drawing benefits.”

Kraus feels too little attention is devoted to talents and possibilities of immigrants who have often enjoyed an education back in their native countries. “Women are put in trajectories meant for housewives, even though most of them are highly motivated to work and learn. Cabinet’s goals regarding emancipation and integration would be better served if it appealed to that desire,” she added.

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

Italy: Immigration Rules Trump Education

Impact on kids no reason not to expel illegals, top court

(ANSA) — Rome, March 11 — Foreigners without permission to live in Italy must be expelled from the country, even if they have young children at school from whom they will be separated, the supreme court said on Thursday.

Italy’s highest appeals tribunal, the Court of Cassation, expressly overturned its own previous rulings that indicated the welfare of children was paramount in such cases. Rejecting an appeal by an Albanian national, whose pregnant wife is expecting their third child, the court said the man’s situation was not sufficiently “exceptional” to prevent his expulsion under Italian immigration law. The Albanian father had argued that the enforced separation from his children would be an “emotional trauma” that would hamper their psychological development and their educational performance.

But the court ruled that authorities are only able to overlook illegal residency for a limited period of time and “only when there are serious concerns linked to the psychological and physical development of a minor arising from an emergency situation”. It said that the impact of a separation on a long-term, ongoing process in a child’s life, such as its education, could not be characterized as an “emergency”.

“The fact that children are doing well at school and have formed stable friendships is neither exceptional nor temporary,” the court said. In the judges’ view, any finding suggesting a child’s education amounted to an “exceptional circumstance” would “give foreign families clearance to exploit childhood”. The Albanian man’s family are all legally resident in Italy and his wife is shortly expected to receive Italian citizenship.

The ruling appears to reverse at least two previous decisions by the same court, one of which from January.

In both earlier cases, the judges stressed that a child’s welfare should take precedence over a parent’s immigration status. But in the latest decision, the supreme court described the previous rulings as “reductive” in that “they focused entirely on safeguarding the needs of minors and failed to insert this concern within the wider legislative framework”. The decision drew an angry response from opposition politicians, who suggested it was confusing, contradictory and failed to give sufficient weight to the wellbeing of the children involved. Two deputies with the largest opposition group, the centre-left Democratic Party, said the decision violated “all international conventions”. “It is a serious error making expulsion the priority, as it condemns the children along with the parents,” said Jean Leonard Touadui and Guido Melis in a joint statement. Communist Refoundation leader and former minister Paolo Ferrero described the ruling as “inhumane and aberrant”, adding: “I thought Italy was meant to be the country that defended the family”. Antonio Borghesi, Deputy House Whip for the small Italy of Values party, said the decision was a product of “racist immigration laws” and the “climate of intolerance stirred up by the current government”. The immigration spokesman for the Italian Communists Party, Maurizio Musolino, described the ruling as “another step towards barbarity”, which had left him “aghast”. But Cabinet Undersecretary Carlo Giovanardi, who holds the family portfolio, said he agreed with the ruling, emphasizing that the court reached its decisions on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, he added, “it would be a devastating and unacceptable outcome if the instant expulsion caused a drop in the children’s productivity at school”.

Nevertheless, he added, “it would be a devastating and unacceptable outcome if the instant expulsion caused a drop in the children’s productivity at school”.

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the decision was a “fair one”. “The faults of the parents should not fall on the children but there can be no justification for using and exploiting children to circumvent situations of illegality,” she said. Organizations working with children and migrants also weighed into the debate. The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said the ruling created “further chaos” in Italy’s immigration laws. “Italian legislation is already contradictory and now the Court of Cassation is also reaching contrasting conclusions,” said UNICEF Italia Director Roberto Salvan, adding that the “impact of the separation from their father on the children in question should not be underestimated”.

The head of the Italian section of the international Terre des Hommes children’s federation, described the ruling as “a glaring step backward for Italy”. “Forcibly separating children, particularly foreign youngsters, from their parents places them in an extremely vulnerable position,” said Raffaele Salinari. But the immigration spokesman for the leading Catholic charity Caritas, Olivero Forti, said although the decision was disappointing, it did not mean the underlying principle had been overturned. “The Court of Cassation looks at each case individually,” he said. “I think in this specific instance it simply concluded that the children’s wellbeing would not be damaged”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UN Concerned About Italy’s Security Package

(AGI) — Rome, 10 Mar. — The UN has once again strongly criticised Italy’s immigration policy. “I’m still concerned about the provisions of the Italian security package which makes illegal immigration an aggravating circumstance” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay addressing the Senate Human Rights Commission. Pillay went on to say that: “It is the responsibility of the public authorities to make sure that immigrants are neither attacked nor vilified. Army troops patrolling the streets, continuous calls for emergency measures or the vigilante patrols also known as ‘ronde’, all of that helps create a difficult climate for immigrants and human rights. Politicians and public officials should refrain from discriminatory statements against immigrants that are likely to raise further suspicions. Those responsible for the recent acts of violence against immigrants in southern Italy should be quickly brought to justice”. .

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Jail for Dissing ‘Gays’ Pulled After Publicity

Mass. plan would have allowed year behind bars

A plan in the Massachusetts statehouse to allow jail time for those caught dissing homosexuality has been pulled abruptly after a conservative group publicized the move by lawmakers.

The apparent precedent of criminalizing opinions about homosexuality had been predicted by those who had opposed the nation’s “hate crimes” law before it was adopted as an amendment to a must-pass military bill in Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year.

According to officials at Mass Resistance, which monitors among other things the state legislature, and dispatchers alerts on developing situations, this case arose when lawmakers added onto a bill addressing schools an unrelated provision providing the jail time.


He said he was glad for the victory, but cautious because he doesn’t believe the plan is going away.

“Nothing happens by mistake,” he told WND. “Something as unlikely as this, which had nothing to do with the rest of the bill, didn’t just slip in accidentally. It is something they clearly want to do. We’re just going to have to watch for it.”

“This is the direction they want to go.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]