Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100317

Financial Crisis
»China — Japan: Beijing, Tokyo Drop US Treasury Bills as China Faces Inflation and Bad Debt
»Deficits Making U.S. Military Nervous
»ECB: ‘Europe Must Bear the Burden of Its Own Shortcomings’
»Great Britain Stars in Its Own Greek Tragedy
»India: Record Inflation as Food Prices Climb Steeply
»Italy: Four Banks on Trial in Derivatives Case
»Pension Funds Too Optimistic: Central Bank
»Terrorism’s New Target: ‘Econo-Jihad’
»Bellinger: ‘Obama’s Terror Policy Identical to Bush’s’
»Cahill Bashes State — And National — Health Care Reform Law
»E-Mails Suggested Fort Hood Suspect Subpar for Army
»Hawaii Considers Law to Ignore Obama ‘Birthers’
»News Media Faces ‘Worsening’ Crisis
»Pelosi’s Push to ‘Kick Through the Door’
»The Truth About Progressives — aka Marxists
»Uncle Sam Wants to “Friend” You
»US Rage as Clinton Opts for Swedish Crystal
»Why Team Obama Thrives on Creating Crises
Europe and the EU
»Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Wilders Channels Anger
»Child Abuse is Pope’s Road of Thorns
»Church Deals With Abuse Fallout
»Denmark Wants Brussels to Stop UK Mohammed Cartoon Lawsuit
»Erdogan Urges German Turks Not to Integrate
»EU Countries Sell Tools of Torture, Says Report
»EU Recovery Fragile, FSB Chief Warns
»Europe Lacks Resources to Tackle Cross-Border Crime, Says Eurojust
»Finns in a Genetic Class of Their Own
»Germany: Church Suspends Priest Whom Benedict Helped
»Italy: Rome Film Festival Looks at FARC Documentary
»Italy: Berlusconi Claims Innocence in New Probe
»Italy: “Outraged” Berlusconi Investigated at Trani With Minzolini and Innocenzi
»Italy: Three Youths Arrested for Attack on Asian Food Outlet
»Italy: Berlusconi Asks Media Probe Papers Sent to Rome
»Muslim Cemetery Demand Sparks Debate
»Netherlands: PVV ‘Open for All Constructive Proposals’
»Netherlands: ‘Moroccan Criminals’ Could be Frustrated Youth
»Pope to See Queen, Beatify Newman
»Sweden Offers Refuge to Exiled Iranian Activist
»Sweden: Turks Leave Social Democrats in Protest
»Switzerland: Forests Spread in Size and Diversity
»UK: Airline Insider Accused of Tipping Off Al-Qaida
»UK: Animal Rights Enthusiast Cleared of Killing Hunt Supporter With Gyrocopter Blade
»UK: Doctor With ‘Disregard’ For Patients Who Sent Baby Girl Home to Die is Suspended for Just Four Months
»UK: How Low Will They Go? Power of TV Revealed in Disturbing French ‘Torture’ Game Show
»UK: How a Quarter of NHS Trusts Are a Breeding Ground for Bugs
»UK: Mother’s Outrage as Healthy Five-Year-Old Son Weighing 4st is Branded Obese by NHS
»Ukraine’s “No” To NATO: An Example for Serbia
North Africa
»Children Abandoned as Morocco Deports Adoptive Parents
Israel and the Palestinians
»Palestinian Authority Shuts Down the Only Christian TV Broadcaster in the Territories
Middle East
»Dubai Jails Indian Pair for ‘Sexy Texts’
»Iran Nuclear Programme ‘Solely Civilian’ — Turkish PM
»Iran: Police Deployed to Contain Iranian Festival of Fire
»Iraq: Christian Killed in Northern City of Mosul
»Turkey: Europe is Asking Ankara to Recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Other Religious Minorities
»Turkey PM Hails ‘Friend’ Reinfeldt
»Turkey Threatens to Expel 100,000 Armenians
»Turks Barred From Receiving Sperm or Egg Donations Abroad
»Why What General Patraeus Said is Wrong About the Middle East (Or is it Just Being Misinterpreted?)
»Russia — South Korea: Russian Racism Against Young Koreans
South Asia
»Burka-Clad Bomb Attackers Shot Dead in Lashkar Gah
»Germans Cringe at Hitler’s Popularity in Pakistan
»Indonesia: Protests Planned for Obama Visit
»Taliban Harness Power of the Web
Far East
»North Korea: Pyongyang is Preparing the First Portrait of the “Third Kim”
»North Korea: Kim Jong-Il Grooms a “Bulldog” As Heir
»Uzbekistan: Tashkent Cracks Down on Business
Latin America
»Colombia: Documentary Reveals Violence in FARC
»Haiti: Girls as Young as Two Facing Rape in Tent Cities as UN Security Patrols Fail to Protect Women After Haiti Earthquake
»Finland: Immigration Experts Face Racist Harassment
»Finland: Vantaa: No New Municipal Asylum Seeker Places for Two Years
»US Freezes Funds for ‘Virtual’ Border Fence With Mexico
Culture Wars
»UK: Catholic Adoption Agency Wins Landmark Ruling Against Gay Rights Law
»UK: Mothercare Worker ‘Bullied Into Keeping Quiet About Pregnancy… In Case She Upset Staff Who Had Abortions’
»Women Embrace Feminism Through Islamic Religion

Financial Crisis

China — Japan: Beijing, Tokyo Drop US Treasury Bills as China Faces Inflation and Bad Debt

China cuts its US assets by US$ 5.8 billion; Japan drops US$ 300 million. Wen Jiabao wants the US to give assurances over China’s dollar holdings; Washington wants Beijing to stop manipulating the yuan exchange rate, which is penalising the rest of the world economy. A majority (51 per cent) of Chinese fear inflation will rise. Bad debt is growing as the government’s aid package ends.

Beijing (AsiaNews) — Beijing and Tokyo cut their holdings in US securities, concerned the US economy might collapse. In the meantime, people in China are jittery over inflation and bad loans to banks and state-owned corporations.

China remained the biggest foreign owner of US Treasuries, even as its holdings dropped by a net US$ 5.8 billion to US $ 889 billion, this according to Treasury Department data released yesterday in Washington. Japan cut its holdings in January by US$ 300 million to US$ 765.4 billion.

China has sought assurances from the United States over the safety of US government debt, especially at a time when the US budget deficit has increased to unprecedented levels, raising the spectre of runaway inflation. Because of this, Chinese officials have questioned the dollar’s role as a reserve currency.

Last week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sought assurances that the US would protect the value of China’s dollar assets. At a press conference in Beijing marking the end of China’s annual parliamentary meetings, Wen said dollar volatility is a “big” concern and that he was “still worried” about China’s US currency assets.

Complicating matter is the fact that the low exchange of the yuan has made Chinese exports unbeatable, according to some analysts, in a world still reeling from a global crisis that cannot absorb all of them.

Indeed, about 130 US lawmakers called on US President Barack Obama to get tough with mainland over its currency practices. “The impact of China’s currency manipulation on the US economy cannot be overstated. Maintaining its currency at a devalued exchange rate provides a subsidy to Chinese companies and unfairly disadvantages foreign competitors,” the legislators said in a letter.

Economist Maurizio d’Orlando told AsiaNews that the low level of the yuan is “something abnormal, excessive and beyond any conceivable limit.” Currently, the yuan is pegged against the US dollar at 6.833. However, based on purchasing power the yuan should appreciate by 33.43 per cent and be exchanged at around 5.121 against the US dollar (see Maurizio d’Orlando, “G8, toxic securities, US and Chinese addictions,” in AsiaNews, 7 July 2009). For d’Orlando, “China’s strategy is hegemonic; its purpose is one of national grandeur in the Far East.” But, “It is being achieved by destroying the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world, enslaving entire domestic groups of people.”

By contrast, Yao Jian, spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry, said, “If the exchange rate issue is politicised, then in coping with the global financial crisis this will be of no help in co-ordination between the parties involved”.

Nobel Prize-winning US economist Paul Krugman countered saying that “China’s policy of keeping its currency, the renminbi, undervalued has become a significant drag on global economic recovery. Something must be done.”

Right now, inflation and possible financial bubbles are Beijing’s greatest concern. In the latest quarterly survey published in the China Securities Journal, 51 per cent of those questioned said they were dissatisfied with the current rate of inflation of 2.5 per cent. They said that they also expected inflation to continue rising next quarter. Consumer prices actually rose 2.7 per cent in the year to February, up from a 1.5 per cent pace in January.

Inflation appears to be the logical consequence of the government’s approach to the world crisis. In 2008, the authorities pumped 4 trillion yuan into the economy through loans to banks and companies, reaching 9.59 trillion last year (US$ 1.4 trillion). Experts note that much of the aid money was used to fuel real estate speculation and prop up bankrupt state-owned banks and companies.

Now, many fear that if the government stops giving out loans, China’s banks might collapse under the weight of bad debt; defaulting on their own loans and having customers default on theirs.

In a “worst-case scenario,” non-performing loans of local-government investment vehicles could climb to 2.4 trillion yuan (US$ 350 billion) by 2011, said Sjen Minggao, Citigroup’s Hong Kong-based chief economist for greater China.

If this should happen, the government would have to devise a massive financial bailout for the financial sector.

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

Deficits Making U.S. Military Nervous

Will Obama have enough money left for national security?

With the Obama administration pressing for a government takeover of one-sixth of the U.S. economy to grant health-care benefits to all Americans, the U.S. military is worried that the United States is already losing the ability to afford national defense.

The deteriorating international trade position of the U.S. as documented by the CIA is a national security concern by the U.S. military, according to the Joint Operating Environment 2010 report, or JOE 2010, released Monday by the United States Joint Forces Command, or USJFCOM.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

ECB: ‘Europe Must Bear the Burden of Its Own Shortcomings’

ECB executive Lorenzo Bini Smaghi wants to keep the IMF out of Europe.

By Caroline de Gruyter in Frankfurt

From the 34th floor of the European Central Bank building in Frankfurt it is easy to see that large parts of the city were destroyed during the Second World War. Unlike Dresden, few houses and public buildings were rebuilt here, but over the years empty areas have been filled up with commercial and industrial buildings. Even when seen from the air, the city will not win any beauty contest. But, pretty or not, Frankfurt has become one of the financial centres of Europe.

Listening to Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, one of the Bank’s six executive board members, one gets the impression that the construction of Europe shows similarities to that of Frankfurt. When asked about the lessons he has learnt from the crisis, he replies without hesitation: “The most important lesson for me is that the construction of Europe is not finished. The construction of Europe always takes place on the basis of functional criteria: if there is a problem, you solve it. If there is no problem, you don’t. That’s the way we are building Europe: only when something is needed, will we take action.”

Such a moment could be on hand again. While the Bank’s executive board members are careful not to make any controversial statements (after all, financial markets weigh their every word), Bini Smaghi (born in Florence in 1956) does not try to avoid the subject: the Greek debt crisis that is shaking the very foundations of the euro. The other euro area countries have imposed strict expenditure cuts on Athens, which the Papandreou government is now implementing. The country has virtually been put on a chain to ensure that discipline does not lapse again. The ECB is closely involved in this supervision. This is not self-evident: normally it is the task of the European Commission, guardian of the Stability and Growth Pact. But if there is one European institution that is capable of convincing the financial markets at the moment, it is the European Central Bank.

The euro has had ten calm years. Will it survive this first storm?

“I’m not sure whether the first decade of the euro has been such an easy ride. Many people, especially in the United States, thought that the euro would not survive for very long. We have certainly seen a few crises. First the dotcom bubble burst. Then there was 9/11. We have had a fivefold increase in oil prices. And the euro has also weathered the biggest financial crisis since the war well, that of the banks in 2008. People had their doubts whether the ECB could manage a new currency. But inflation has remained stable, at around two percent, and per capita growth has not been lower than in the United States. International trade has suffered some severe blows during the crisis. If we hadn’t had the euro, exchange rates within Europe would probably have fluctuated wildly. I can assure you: speculators would have had a field day.”

Now they’re after the euro. Is the euro in danger?

“The challenges facing us are not worse than those facing other countries.”

Which countries?

“The United States, Japan and the United Kingdom.”

What is the challenge for Europe? That a monetary union cannot survive without political union?

“I wouldn’t say that full political union will necessarily solve all problems..”

What do you mean?

“The biggest blunder of recent times, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, was committed in the United States, a country with a strong executive. This happened a few weeks before the elections, during a leadership vacuum. People panicked. Politicians focused far too much on the elections in October, and could not look beyond that day. Nobody pointed out longer-term interests to citizens. This caused the short-sighted argument that no taxpayers’ money should go to Lehman to win out. Europe has no political union, but we have not made such an unbelievable blunder.”

Here, Greece is threatening to collapse.

“Greece has seriously misbehaved. It will now have to get back on track without endangering the rest of the euro area. Technically, this should be feasible. Did you know that the US State of California is in a worse financial position than Greece? The spreads are larger there than here. And nevertheless, California’s problems are less contagious to the rest of the United States.”

Doesn’t that stand to reason? Investors know that Washington will not allow California to fail. They have bail-outs. In Europe, large money transfers of that sort are impossible.

“Correct. That makes prevention all the more important to us. The European Ministers of Finance should have implemented the rules laid down in the Stability and Growth Pact. They haven’t been strict enough. As early as 2003, there was a crisis regarding the Pact, as a number of countries violated the rules and did not accept to be sanctioned for that. We should not forget who stood at the origins of the relaxation of the rules”

Have ministers also been too nice to Greece?

“The Greeks have misbehaved. They even withheld data. They carry the main responsibility. But it must be said that European ministers acted too late. In an incomplete political union, without any central authority, peer pressure is vital. And this pressure proved to be too weak.”

Should we have a stronger, central authority? Greece may be followed by other countries.

“Yes, we should go a step further. We have no choice. That’s the way European unification proceeds. First we had a common market. Because there was not enough competition, a real internal market was established. But that market was hampered by exchange rate fluctuations. That is the reason for the single currency. When problems arose with fiscal discipline, the Pact was amended. We are now missing another link in the chain.”

Should the Pact be stricter?


Should there be enforceable sanctions for misbehaviour?

“Sanctions are not enough. You have reached the end of the road by then. Prevention is absolutely crucial. Supervision, for instance, must be improved considerably. But that is not all. At the time, we set up the currency union, so that we would no longer be the prey of financial markets. But now that a country is implementing considerable fiscal corrections, that have been approved by the Council, financial markets remain sceptical. On 11 February, the EU Heads of state and government said that they would not abandon Greece if it took the right steps. The country is doing that now. In fact, it is doing even more than that. We are pleased about this and have said so — but investors continue to test whether the Heads of Government really meant what they said. They are testing the euro area’s decisiveness. All this indicates that not only must the management of the euro be enhanced, and be given more powerful means for preventive action and sanctions, but we also need a financial mechanism. So that we are ready when the euro is attacked.”

What do you think of the plans for a European Monetary Fund? Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the ECB, has said that, as yet, there is no official view on this matter and that the plans require further study and discussion. But colleagues of yours have been critical about them.

“Initially it was only an acronym, and now the bones are being fleshed out. I think that it is important to work towards such a mechanism, provided that it meets certain conditions. For instance, there can be no bail-outs with taxpayers’ money for euro area countries. This would be in violation of the Treaty. But help can be provided temporarily to a country that still needs support even though it is implementing all measures imposed by the Eurogroup. What I have read in the press about statements by German finance minister Schäuble seems very reasonable and deserves to be explored further.”

Providing help: the IMF can do that, surely?

“I think it is better to have our own European solutions, instead of solutions imposed by an organisation whose shareholders have an important say in the matter, but the majority of whom are not European. I also consider it wrong to engage the IMF when what didn’t really work as expected is the European Stability and Growth Pact. If it is the Pact that did not work properly, Europe should fix it. As an incentive, that is important. If countries know that the IMF will help them out anyway, they will not be sufficiently encouraged to comply with the Pact the next time.”

You want a European Fund that may only provide funds as a true last resort. So recourse to it must be made as difficult as possible? This could help strengthen the Pact?

“The mechanism and the Pact may reinforce each other, yes. In the past, ministers did not dare to be tough to one another, because they had nothing to gain. If ministers know that they might ultimately be asked to provide financial support to one country, they will be tougher with that country ex ante.”

Doesn’t the IMF prick European pride a little?

“It’s not only prestige that’s involved here. Euro area countries need to be aware that this situation was caused by their own laxity. Solid prevention only works if countries take more responsibility for their actions. This will not be possible if the IMF is waiting in the wings, you know. That’s the gap we will have to fill.”

Can’t the IMF be much tougher than an EMF could be?

“I don’t see why. Within the IMF, the Europeans have always been among the toughest of the lot, especially on conditionality. That is common knowledge.”

Are you in favour of a European economic government, as suggested by the French?

“I’m not saying that a single European government is the next step. What I am saying is that prevention should be improved considerably. As a result of the banking crisis, banking supervision is being intensified. You can do the same thing for countries, in order to identify problems at an earlier stage and to correct mistakes in a timely way. Only if, despite everything, it is really necessary, you need to have an emergency mechanism. Misbehaviour must never be rewarded, but we should prevent extreme cases like the failure of Lehman Brothers. Sometimes you have to do something because it would be worse not to do it.”

The European Commission is currently putting forward proposals for greater economic cooperation. Is that enough?

“Be careful, our European system has many advantages, which some people tend to forget. The Federal Reserve in the United States, for instance, is currently buying large quantities of government bonds. The United Kingdom is doing the same. If we, too, had a more centralised system like they do, we would perhaps be pushed to do the same. In that case, we would have a less independent ECB. A less than fully centralised system has advantages as well.”

What is the advantage in this context?

“Our system is forcing us to address the fiscal adjustment problem, while others are just postponing it. At the end of the day, that is better.”

Have European politicians learned the right lessons from the crisis?

“We need more European leadership. Politicians must be able to look to the future and explain to citizens why certain policy choices are better in the long term. Too many politicians use “Brussels” as a scapegoat, I think. But “Brussels” is no more than the place where national ministers meet and take decisions. If they took better decisions, they would not need to pass the buck to a city. But, yes, in times of crisis, instinct is sometimes stronger than reason.”

You haven’t answered my first question yet. Will the euro survive?

“Of course it will — for there is no country that would want to get rid of the euro!”

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

Great Britain Stars in Its Own Greek Tragedy

By Marco Evers

Greece’s budget deficit is impossibly high. But Great Britain’s is even higher. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has his work cut out for him in this election year — and the coming cuts will be painful

For the darkest hours in the fight against Adolf Hitler, the British Ministry of Information — which existed for the duration of World War II — had set aside a special poster. Intended to bring calm to the home front, it depicted the crown of King George VI against a red background, with the words “Keep Calm and Carry On” printed beneath the image.

The situation never became sufficiently desperate to justify using the poster, and the millions of copies that had been printed were stored away unused. Ten years ago, a bookseller discovered a single copy and hung it up in his shop. That may well have been the end of the poster’s career, but then the country was suddenly faced with multiple crises: terrorist attacks, a banking debacle and, finally, the economic and credit crisis.

The bright-red poster now hangs in the offices of directors and members of parliament, in soldiers’ barracks and student dormitories. Entire ministries are using it to boost morale, and framed versions of the posters are even said to grace the walls of No. 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

If only keeping calm and carrying on were that easy this time around. The British pound is tottering. The economy finds itself in its worst crisis since 1931, and the country came within a hair’s breadth of a deep recession. Speculators are betting against an upturn. Instability in the banking sector has had a more severe impact on government finances in Great Britain than in other industrialized countries. London’s budget deficit will amount to £186 billion (€205 billion, or $280 billion) this year — fully 12.9 percent of gross domestic product.

Nobody Knows How to Fix the Problem

The country that was once referred to as “Cool Britannia” is in a serious crisis, with a hole in its budget even bigger than Greece’s budget deficit, now at 12.2 percent. And nobody knows how to fix the problem.

Indeed, the problem has become so worrisome, that the European Commission told London on Wednesday to do more to tighten its budget, according to a draft report leaked to Reuters earlier this week. “The fiscal strategy outlined in the United Kingdom’s convergence program does not foresee the correction of the excessive deficit by the fiscal year 2014/2015, as recommended by the Council,” the European Commission said in a statement.

To complicate matters, Britons will go to the polls in a few weeks, probably on May 6. The next prime minister will have his work cut out for him: reducing the massive budget deficit, restructuring the banking industry and successfully reorienting the economy. And he’ll have to do it all on a shoestring budget.

Both candidates provide voters with reason to question their qualifications for the tasks at hand. Incumbent Gordon Brown, 59, in his former position as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government of his predecessor, Tony Blair, boasted of having put an end to the ups and downs of the economy once and for all. But he had hardly taken the reins from Blair before the economy plunged into the cellar.

Brown was ridiculed in the press, faced revolts within his party and encountered contempt from the people. But he was persistent. He swallowed the criticism and gradually acquired a reputation as a capable crisis manager, at least during the global economic crisis. Polls in recent weeks show that while few Britons like him, more and more are willing to vote for him anyway.

Higher Taxes and Fees

Brown’s strong showing is primarily attributable to his Conservative challenger David Cameron, 43, part of the arrogant upper class whose stint as a special advisor to the chancellor of the exchequer, during the 1992 crash of the British pound, is seen as his only experience in coping with economic difficulties. Furthermore, even his fellow Tories question the qualifications of George Osborne, 38, Cameron’s designated chancellor of the exchequer.

Tough times are ahead for the United Kingdom, so tough, in fact, that none of the parties has dared to say out loud what many in their ranks already know. At a minimum, Britons can look forward to higher taxes and fees. “We will have to make a lot of sacrifices,” says economist Carl Emmerson of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies in London. “The cuts,” he says, “will be more drastic than those under (former Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher.”

Tougher than Thatcher. Such words still trigger a flight instinct today — away from the Conservatives. In the 1980s, barricades were set on fire and police clashed with protestors in the streets. It was a time many Britons haven’t forgotten.

The Iron Lady may have advocated austerity measures, but real government expenditures continued to grow from year to year under her aegis, with only one exception: 1988. Because of the budget deficit the next government, no matter who leads it, will have no choice but to sharply cut government spending.

The accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers have calculated that starting next year, Britain would have to make across-the-board budget cuts of 5 percent a year to come close to cutting the deficit in half by 2014. But because the Brown government has already declared the budgets for health, law enforcement and schools to be off-limits, cuts of up to 10 percent — per year — are to be expected in most areas, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. And things could even turn out to be much worse if there is no strong economic upturn during this period.

It Will Be Brutal

There is still disagreement over when the austerity measures would have to begin. Many Tories want them to take effect immediately, a view 20 leading economists advocated in a much-noticed letter in the Sunday Times.

A few days later, Labour supporters responded with two letters of their own, printed in the Financial Times and signed by more than 60 prominent economists, including two Nobel laureates. They warned that if harsh austerity measures were imposed now, they would inevitably reverse the frail economic recovery and trigger another recession.

No matter when this era of cutbacks begins, it will be brutal. More than 100,000 jobs in local governments are at acute risk, says Tony Travers of the London School of Economics. Some communities are already reducing personnel, and playing fields, libraries and social workers are threatened.

There will also be massive cuts in low-income housing construction and transportation, translating into even more dilapidated housing, more potholes on Britain’s already miserable roads, and new cutbacks in high-speed train service. Universities have already lost close to £1 billion in funding, and various think thanks predict that the defense budget could shrink by about 15 percent between now and 2015.

The Independent called such numbers games “unthinkable” or even “unintelligible.” Others say they are unavoidable.

Paying for the Banks’ Debts

“The British will spend the rest of their lives paying for the debts that the banks and this government have brought upon us,” says Mike Whitby, the Tory mayor of Birmingham, who has just laid off 103 people, to be followed by as many as 2,000 more city employees this year.

Birmingham is one of England’s oldest industrial cities, although it has almost no industry today. In the past, companies like Dunlop, Austin, Vickers and Morris had factories in the region, but since the beginning of Tony Blair’s administration, another 130,000 jobs have been lost there.

The city, which is now heavily in debt, invested in shopping centers, new buildings in its downtown area and the country’s most spectacular library, a £190 million project. Birmingham decided to shift the focus of its economy to conventions and tourism, as well as to expand the service sector.

But even when the investments failed to produce new jobs, the city continued to pump money into its ambitious projects. There were piano teachers, diet assistants, debt counselors and park security guards on the city payroll. Birmingham was pursuing the same kind of public utility model that had developed throughout the country in the Labour years, a model that held up until the crisis began.

Today Mayor Whitby, an amateur boxer with a booming voice, ruefully admits that the city will have to develop new strategies, without the government. He is searching for new investors in China, India and the Gulf Emirates, and he has even had some success. There is a model car in his Victorian office, which he proudly shows off to visitors. Whitby convinced Chinese carmakers to buy up the residual assets of MG-Rover. The city’s old MG plant is expected to start producing new models at the end of the year.

‘Poorer Than It Thought’

Birmingham is a typical example of the British crisis. In large parts of the country, outside London, in places where the world’s factory chimneys once belched smoke, the government has already become the biggest employer. The cradle of industrialization has become largely de-industrialized, refocusing its economy on banking and services. Manufacturing’s share of GDP was already in decline under Thatcher, but it shrank even more quickly under Blair and Brown.

“The UK is poorer than it thought it was,” writes the Financial Times. And there is nothing in sight that could provide the country with reliable support.

Brown intends to correct these mistakes after the election. He conjures up a new form of industrialization, saying that up to 1.5 million highly qualified jobs could be created in the next five years in key, future-oriented industries, like biotech, renewable energy, software and the Internet. The country needs engineers, not financial jugglers, says Brown. But the way Brown puts it, it sounds like a deathbed prayer.

But the country isn’t completely without prospects. Great Britain has some of the world’s top universities, and few nations are responsible for as many patent applications. Business parks and innovative high-tech firms have developed around the universities, and some are very successful.

Talented Oxford and Cambridge graduates will be working for these companies in the future and not, as in the past, for London investment banks. But while these business will undoubtedly employ larger numbers of young people, will it be 1.5 million, as Brown predicts?

Some innovative graphic designers are already a step ahead. They have taken the successful “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster from World War II and adjusted it to suit the current situation — creating an instant hit in the process. The new poster features an upside-down crown and the words: “Now Panic and Freak Out.”

           — Hat tip: Perla[Return to headlines]

India: Record Inflation as Food Prices Climb Steeply

Inflation reaches 9.89 per cent; sugar is up 55.47 per cent; potatoes rise 30 per cent. Opposition slams government over fuel tax, announces battle in parliament over budget. Action by central bank is on the agenda. Some analysts slam budget for lack of medium-term perspective.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) — India’s benchmark wholesale-price index climbed 9.89 per cent in February from a year earlier, the highest increase since October 2008. The government announces that the current five-year plan is likely to generate 58 million new jobs.

Inflation, which rose by 8.56 in January, is raising concerns because of rising food staple prices. For instance, sugar prices rose by 55.47 per cent in February year-on-year, whilst potatoes rose by 30 per cent. Among fuel items, petrol prices rose by 11.73 per cent and high-speed diesel around 9 per cent.

Medium-term forecasts point to further rises, especially since oil prices are going up.

The index measuring wholesale prices of lentils, rice and vegetables slowed to a 17.81 per cent in the week ending 27 February after a 17.87 per cent gain the previous week.

Overall, experts expect food prices, the main driver of inflation, to ease. In fact, the wheat harvest should reach record levels this year with a positive effect on prices, Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said.

Manufactured-price inflation was 7.42 per cent in February but industrial output expanded 16.7 per cent in January.

Manufacturing inflation is strengthening in India, central bank Governor Duvvuri Subbarao said last week. He expects prices to rise further after tax increases in the 26 February budget go into effect.

Economists expect the Reserve Bank of India to raise interest rate; they had recently hit their lowest levels.

Investors are waiting for the government bond auction to start for the fiscal year beginning 1 April. When he unveiled the budget on 26 February, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government would borrow a record 4.57 trillion rupees (US$ 100.1 billion) in the next fiscal year.

GDP growth in the fiscal year ending this month is estimated at 7.2 per cent, after 6.7 per cent last year, with government spending a key component. At the same time, general government debt should reach 82 per cent of GDP.

Critics have attacked the government’s budget, saying that it focused too much on a handful of one-off items rather than establishing a basis for medium- and long-term fiscal consolidation.

On the expenditure side, Delhi is spending too much on subsidies, principally on food, fertilisers and fuel, ostensibly to help the poor, but too much of it going to middle- and high-income households, as well as civil servants.

In the next 20 years, India will have to create jobs for 240 million new entrants to the labour force, a million new jobs per month. Hence, the government needs to improve education and health care and ensuring that infrastructure can match growth.

High inflation is going to prove politically very controversial. Opposition parties have already announced their intention to vote against the budget unless the fuel tax is not cancelled. In their view, such a levy will just cause more inflation. The budget vote in parliament will be close since the ruling United Progressive Alliance can count only on 268 votes in the 543-member chamber.

Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjum Kharge on Monday told the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) that 58 million new job opportunities should be created during the 11th five-year plan (2007-12), thanks to various steps including three stimulus packages since December 2008.

Employment is projected to grow at an average rate of 2.73 per cent annually.

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

Italy: Four Banks on Trial in Derivatives Case

City of Milan allegedly mislead in bond swap

(ANSA) — Milan, March 17 — Four leading international banks were ordered to stand trial on Wednesday for allegedly defrauding the city of Milan in a 2005 derivatives swap operation.

The banks are Switzerland’s UBS, JP Morgan of the United States, Deutsche Bank and the Dublin-based German-Irish bank Depfa.

This is the first time in Italy that banks have been brought to court on charges of defrauding municipalities. Thirteen people have also been ordered to stand trial, 11 bankers, former Milan city manager Giorgio Porta and Mauro Mauri, an expert in municipal debt restructurization.

The banks are accused of illegally earning over 100 million euros in hidden fees on a derivatives swap for a 1.68-billion-euro bond issued by the city of Milan.

Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo, who brought the charges, said later “this is one step in a very delicate path”.

The trial is set to open May 6.

JP Morgan issued a statement “vigorously” defending its position and saying it was convinced its staff had acted appropriately.

UBS has also denied any fraud or illegal earnings on its part.

Wednesday’s development follows a year-long probe which also saw bank assets seized.

In the first part of the decade, local Italian governments and other agencies and groups engaged in a rash of complex derivative operations to restructure their debts.

A similar court case took place in Britain during the 1990s which ended with local government being told not to engage in derivative contracts with banks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pension Funds Too Optimistic: Central Bank

Dutch pension funds are often over-optimistic when estimating their future returns on investment, according to a letter sent to some 600 funds by the central bank, Nos tv reports.

In the letter, the central bank urges pension funds to improve their investment strategies. Some are showing ‘such serious shortcomings that they can undermine faith in the pensions sector’, the letter says.

Some 340 of the country’s pension funds got into difficulty because of the financial crisis and were forced to freeze payouts, increase premiums and adapt their investment strategy into order to restore their fortunes.

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

Terrorism’s New Target: ‘Econo-Jihad’

‘Islamic terrorism’s future devices will focus on operations that will yield the most economic damage,’ says Prof. Weimann

Jihadist terror organizations have set economic terrorism as their new target, intending to harm and paralyze Western economies, the United Sates in particular, claims Prof. Gabriel Weimann, expert researcher of terrorism over the Internet at the University of Haifa. Prof. Weimann monitored websites hosted by terrorist and terrorism-supporting organizations and concludes: “For the Jihadists, the present economic crisis signifies an ideal opportunity and platform to leverage an economic terrorist campaign.”

In the course of a study that was carried out over a number of years, Prof. Weimann surveyed public and encoded websites run by Islamic terrorist organizations, forums, video clips, and practically all the information related to Islamic Jihad terrorism that is flowing through the network.

According to Prof. Weimann, the focus on economic terrorism was set in motion with the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers, when Osama bin Laden stated on the video tapes that he sent out that these attacks mostly damaged the United States’ economic base and that these attacks, which cost $500,000 to carry out, cost the U.S. $500 billion.

Other publications by bin Laden himself and by other terrorist leaders show that they understand that Western and U.S. power lies in their economic strength and that the jihad movement should focus on damaging this power by employing various tactics, including: hitting international corporations directly; harming international corporations by means of 1.5 billion Muslims boycotting them, which would pressure the respective governments to adjust their policies; striking at resources that were “looted” from Muslim countries, such as oil-drilling companies in Iraq; assassinating key personalities in the global economy, most of whom they believe are Jews, and killing anyone who collaborates with these personalities.

Monitoring the Muslim terrorist-related information on the Internet, Prof. Weimann also revealed that the armed struggle against the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan is aimed at prolonging American expenditure on maintaining forces in these countries, and not necessarily at military defeat. The jihadists believe that this would help drain America’s financial resources and eventually critically damage the American economy. Therefore, they aim to make the U.S. open as many military fronts around the world as possible.

Another result of this new focus on Econo-Jihad is an increasing jihadist interest in websites and online information on the American and Western economies, so as to glean an understanding of how these economies can be hit the hardest. Not only official websites are monitored: forums and e-mails of individual surfers are penetrated too. By tracking Jihadist forums, Prof. Weimann has found that these surfers are increasingly following Western finance-related media publications too, as well as expert and academic analyses of the factors influencing Western economy, such as the war in Iraq, global terrorism, natural disasters, oil prices, unemployment rates, and declines in the stock market.

“One might think that an Econo-Jihad is less violent, but this is not the case. Jihadist Internet monitoring alongside terrorist activity in the field, is evidence that the economic turn actually influences the terrorists’ targets, which have included oil-drilling infrastructures, tourism, international economic institutions and more. Indeed, Islamic terrorism’s future devices will focus on targets that will yield the most economic damage,” Prof. Weimann concludes.

Amir Gilat, Ph.D.

Communication and Media Relations, University of Haifa

           — Hat tip: Aurelian[Return to headlines]


Bellinger: ‘Obama’s Terror Policy Identical to Bush’s’

Former Bush official John Bellinger feels Obama’s terror policies are little different to his former chief’s.

By Tom-Jan Meeus in Washington DC

President Obama’s new approach to fighting terrorism is still very much a work in progress. He has banned torture. But Guantanamo Bay remains open. The practice of ‘rendition’ by the CIA continues to be part of U.S. policy. And Republican Senator Lindsay Graham confirmed over the weekend that he is having talks with the administration to try the suspected mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, in a military tribunal, not a civilian court as the administration had previously announced.

Meanwhile, the Cheney family is pushing hard to spread the perception that Obama is weak on terror. A group led by Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, recently put out a video that questions the loyalty of nine officials of the department of justice.

The nine lawyers gave legal council to suspected terrorists before they attained their current position in the Obama administration. In the video, it is suggested that Obama’s justice department is in fact a “ministry of jihad”, while supporters of Cheney have referred to the officials as the “Al-Qaeda nine”.

Prominent Republican lawyers responded last week with a fierce statement that claims Cheney’s advocacy group, Keep America Safe, is conducting “shameless attacks” with a “destructive” impact on the debate over legal proceedings to fight terrorism.

The statement was co-signed by Kenn Starr (the conservative special prosecutor who almost brought down Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal), David Rivkin (a former Justice department official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) and John Bellinger, who was the legal counsel of secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in George W. Bush’s second term.

What is “shameless” about the attacks?

John Bellinger: “The U.S. has had a long-standing tradition of private lawyers representing unpopular causes, whether they agree with the causes or not. And I and the others who signed the letter believe it is utterly inappropriate to criticize those individuals, and to question their motives, now they are in government. These lawyers work in the tradition of John Adams [America’s second president] who risked his personal popularity by giving legal counsel to British soldiers who had been involved in the Boston Massacre [in which British soldiers killed U.S. citizens in 1770].”

But isn’t this simply politically smart?

“I suspect they see some political advantage here. We have seen an increasing politicisation of terrorism issues over the last eight years. That is terribly sad. These are very serious issues. The underlying problem is of course that the country cannot bind together on this issue. We have not seen a group in Congress that tries to find common ground. Of course we have already seen this inside the Bush administration. It is well known that we had great battles about this. So I really wanted to stand up and condemn this terrible video: enough is enough, this has got to stop.”

And do you expect that to happen?

“No, I don’t. But I do believe that if you have so many serious people condemning this it can help.”

You already favoured closing Gitmo while in the Bush administration. Do you expect the Obama administration to succeed in their plan to close it?

“By about 2003, certainly 2004, I concluded that it should be closed. And in the following four years I tried to accomplish that at the state department. We got to the point that the president stated the intention. Of course no one believed him, but we were quietly doing the work necessary to get it done. We got 500 people transferred out but no European country wanted to work with us.”

“I hope Obama succeeds. But it will be difficult. It is nearly impossible to get it closed in an election year, which means it won’t happen in 2010 or 2012. They have a narrow window in 2011. It will require the administration to convince the Democratic majority — if there still is one — to support them. So I don’t think it will happen this year, and it may not happen in the next three years.”

“There is certainly a bit of chortling among some former colleagues in the Bush administration: you guys thought this was easy, huh? But I personally take no pleasure in it. I would like to see Gitmo closed. I would like to see trials for the 9/11 planners in federal court. The approach of the Obama administration is pragmatic and middle of the road and I have no problem supporting it.”

Did the president make mistakes?

“They failed to understand the political opposition. They didn’t realise the American people don’t feel about Gitmo as Europeans do. The stunning thing about this is that huge Democratic majorities in the Congress rejected the signature foreign policy initiative the president announced on his first day in office. They obviously didn’t see it coming. They should have built up the support they needed.”

The possibility has been raised that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed will not be tried in a civilian court. How do you see that?

“I hope it is not true. I think the administration would prefer that not to happen. It will be an embarrassing reversal of their policies. It will make their base really unhappy. And federal trials are really the right thing to do here. I don’t think it is an easy call. I don’t think you try everyone in federal court. These are people who have committed federal crimes but also attacked the U.S. And it is hard to tell at this point where the Obama administration will come out. I think the administration is still trying to do this at a safe facility, perhaps a military base. I know they have explored both the legality and the practicality of establishing a federal court, for a one-time purpose, in the middle of a military base.”

People say that closing Gitmo is probably going to be easier if they shift to a military tribunal.

“That is obviously something the Obama administration is looking at.”

The bottom line is that the Bush and Obama terrorism policies are very similar?

“Oh, absolutely. The military commissions have been maintained. The policy of rendition has been maintained. The idea of holding people indefinitely under the laws of war and without trials has been maintained. There has been no movement on the Geneva Conventions. The president has said he affirms the conventions but the president has not announced that he holds these people as prisoners of war. So all the policies that soured U.S. relations with Europe during the Bush administration have been continued. There has been more continuity than change.”

So what you’re saying is: Secretary Rice could have easily executed Obama’s terror policies?

“I think that many of the initiatives she took as secretary of state have been continued by the Obama administration. The big policy changes were implemented on her watch, in Bush’s second term. And Obama obviously has the same pragmatic and moderate approach.”

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

Cahill Bashes State — And National — Health Care Reform Law

State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent candidate for governor, today offered a wide-ranging and scathing criticism of the state’s universal health care law, saying it is bankrupting Massachusetts and will do the same nationally, if a similar plan is passed in Congress.

“If President Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health insurance reform here in Massachusetts on a national level, they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years,” Cahill said in a press conference in his office.

Echoing criticism leveled by congressional Republicans in recent weeks, Cahill said, “It is time for the president, the Democratic leadership, to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan that does not threaten to bankrupt this country.”


Cahill said it is the governor who has not done enough to lower costs imposed by the state’s health insurance law, which Cahill said “has nearly bankrupted the state.”

Cahill said the law is being sustained only with the help of federal aid, which he suggested that the Obama administration is funneling to Massachusetts to help the president make the case for a similar plan in Congress.

“The real problem is the sucking sound of money that has been going in to pay for this health care reform,” Cahill said. “And I would argue that we’re being propped up so that the federal government and the Obama administration can drive it through” Congress.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

E-Mails Suggested Fort Hood Suspect Subpar for Army

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, charged in the Fort Hood shootings, was too fat and “chronically” unprofessional during his psychiatric training, according to internal e-mails exchanged by his superiors.

The communications are the latest in a series of early signs that showed officers had reason to suspend Maj. Hasan’s training, and perhaps re-evaluate his suitability as a military physician, but failed to do so.

Yet, his bosses at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington allowed him to complete his residency in 2007, enter an advanced fellowship program, win promotion to major and transfer to Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.

It was there on Nov. 5, while shouting “God is great,” Maj. Hasan fatally shot 13 Army colleagues, according to witnesses.

The e-mails highlight another point at which the U.S. military government could have intervened to stop Maj. Hasan’s career before the shooting. The FBI and other intelligence agencies learned that Maj. Hasan had sent e-mail messages to Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda-affiliated radical imam in Yemen who urged followers to join the terrorist group and kill Americans.

However, the FBI said in a statement that it dismissed the e-mails as apparently part of Maj. Hasan’s work as a psychiatric counselor. The bureau did not share the intercepted communications with the military people who could have stopped Maj. Hasan, nor did the FBI question the major.

An Army inquiry released in January recommended the service look at disciplining Maj. Hasan’s medical superiors who failed to raise red flags about his conduct, and instead passed him along to the next program and command. The e-mails reviewed by The Washington Times were among the report’s restricted annex material not released to the public.

Maj. Hasan, who was wounded by police during the shooting, has been charged with 13 counts of murder and faces the death penalty if convicted. He is awaiting a court martial. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

The e-mails show superior officers had plenty of problems with Maj. Hasan.

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

Hawaii Considers Law to Ignore Obama ‘Birthers’

AP HONOLULU (March 17) — Birthers beware: Hawaii may start ignoring your repeated requests for proof that President Barack Obama was born here.

As the state continues to receive e-mails seeking Obama’s birth certificate, the state House Judiciary Committee heard a bill Tuesday permitting government officials to ignore people who won’t give up.

Mike Cardew, Akron Beacon Journal / MCT

Still receiving e-mails from “birthers” asking to see President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Hawaii is considering a law that would allow officials to ignore them.

“Sometimes we may be dealing with a cohort of people who believe lack of evidence is evidence of a conspiracy,” said Lorrin Kim, chief of the Hawaii Department of Health’s Office of Planning, Policy and Program Development.

So-called “birthers” claim Obama is ineligible to be president because, they argue, he was actually born outside the United States, and therefore doesn’t meet a constitutional requirement for being president.

Hawaii Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino issued statements last year and in October 2008 saying that she’s seen vital records that prove Obama is a natural-born American citizen.

But the state still gets between 10 and 20 e-mails seeking verification of Obama’s birth each week, most of them from outside Hawaii, Kim said Tuesday.

A few of these requesters continue to pepper the Health Department with the same letters seeking the same information, even after they’re told state law bars release of a certified birth certificate to anyone who does not have a tangible interest. Responding wastes time and money, Kim said.

Both Fukino and the state registrar of vital statistics have verified that the Health Department holds Obama’s original birth certificate.

The issue coincides with Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

“Do we really want to be known internationally as the Legislature that blocked any inquiries into where President Obama was born?” asked Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kaneohe-Kailua. “When people want to get more information, the way to fuel that fire is to say, ‘We’re now going to draw down a veil of secrecy.’“

Nobody at the hearing questioned the fact that the president was born in Hawaii.

Attorney Peter Fritz asked why the state would pass a law punishing repetitive requests for open records. Instead, the state could simply say it would only answer each person’s question once.

If the measure passed, the state Office of Information Practices could declare an individual a “vexatious requester” and restrict rights to government records for two years.

The committee will schedule a vote on the measure, said Chairman Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-Waipahu-Waikele.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

News Media Faces ‘Worsening’ Crisis

Washington, 16 March (AKI) — A crisis in traditional US news media has worsened in the past year with newspapers forced to cut their expenses amid dramatic falls in advertising revenue, according to a report by a major Washington media research group. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism said losses suffered by traditional news outlets in the last year were “so severe” that they overtook recent innovation in news and journalism.

“Last year was significantly harder on the news industry even than 2008, and the report predicts still more cutbacks in 2010, even with an improving economy,” the centre’s director Tom Rosenstiel said.

“And while there is more discussion of alternative ways of financing the news, there is not yet much concrete progress.”

According to the report entitled “State of the News Media 2010” which was published on Monday, newspaper advertising revenue fell by 26 percent, while local television advertising fell by 22 percent and network TV advertising was down 8 percent in 2009.

Some well-known American newspapers including The New York Times and The Boston Globe were among some of the major newspapers and magazines to cut jobs and expenses.

The report said that newspapers were forced to cut back their outlays on reporting and editing in 2009 and cut spending by 1.6 billion dollars.

Network television audiences have also slumped by hundreds of millions of viewers since ratings peaked in the 1980s.

For the third consecutive year, the only growth recorded in news broadcasting was through cable networks and those were largely captured by one network, Fox.

In the ever-expanding field of the Internet, online news consumers said they could identify at least one “favourable” news website, but a massive 79 percent of online news consumers said they never or rarely clicked on an online advertisement.

Traditional media is still seeking a wider audience through Internet blogs — newspapers and broadcast networks accounted for 80 percent of all linked-to stories on blogs.

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

Pelosi’s Push to ‘Kick Through the Door’

By David Asman

“Kicking through the door.”

That’s the phrase Nancy Pelosi is now using for health-care legislation. Talking about the upcoming vote in the House, Speaker Pelosi was quoted in a Washington Post blog this week: “My biggest fight has been between those who wanted to do something incremental and those who wanted to do something comprehensive. We won that fight, and once we kick through this door, there’ll be more legislation to follow.”

So what legislation will follow? Speaker Pelosi has been very clear over the years about what she wants: A world without private health insurance. She believes the government can do a better job. The shorthand for this is “single payer,” where the government completely replaces the private sector as the middle man that pays your health care bills. “Like Medicare for everybody,” is what Barney Frank calls it.

Forgetting for the moment whether “Medicare for everybody” would truly make health care simpler and cheaper, what would happen to all the folks now employed by private insurers if we went to single payer? There are close to a half million folks directly employed by private insurers in this country. And if we extrapolate from there, the way the administration did in counting workers in the auto industry, there must be well over a million jobs hanging in the balance. What happens to those jobs when the government takes over?

They’d go away, presumably replaced by government workers paid for by higher taxes. And since it takes about twice as much money to pay a bureaucrat to do what a private sector worker does, the government would have to squeeze a lot more out of the private sector to pay for all these new government jobs. That means the private sector would have a lot less money available to hire folks.

And this brings us back to the President’s last state of the union address, in which he promised to focus on jobs first and health care later. He also said that it’s the private sector that creates jobs in this country, not the public sector.

But replacing private insurers with one massive government insurance agency would be a direct violation of the president’s pledge about jobs. That’s why there’s a scramble inside the Beltway to move this health-care bill forward without actually voting on it. Politicians realize folks care a lot more about jobs that they do about changing health care. And they don’t want their fingerprints on a bill that moves us closer to a government takeover of health care at the expense of at least a million private sector jobs.

Nancy Pelosi may be willing to “kick down doors” to get single payer that Americans don’t want. But I suspect that there are a lot of Democrats in Congress who don’t even want to knock on that door.

           — Hat tip: Wally Ballou[Return to headlines]

The Truth About Progressives — aka Marxists

To fully understand the progressive movement and their current rush to grab one-sixth of the US economy via unconstitutional federal health care mandates, one must follow the trail that leads from the Maoist Movement of the 60s that started in Berkley California, and the Marxist Movement that has culminated in the joint venture between the Communist Party USA and Socialist Party USA, today’s Democratic Socialists of America.

You do not have to believe what I tell you in this column. But if you study the sources linked in this column, no reasonable mind can come to any other conclusion. Information is power. If most Americans were aware of all that is presented in this column, they would know exactly what to do to save their Constitutional Republic, while they still can.

Today’s US Congress is controlled by two Democratic Socialists of America (DSAUSA) organizations, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The DSAUSA explains it very clearly in their publication, What is Democratic Socialism—

“We are not a separate party. Like our friends and allies in the feminist, labor, civil rights, religious, and community organizing movements, many of us have been active in the Democratic Party. We work with those movements to strengthen the party’s left wing, represented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

They explain their primary methods as well—in the spirit of Joseph Stalin —”Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”


Vladimir Lenin explained why the political left always targets young minds in the pursuit of the leftist agenda, — “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

And so it is in America today. What our children understand to be “progressive,” the older generations know to be socialism, communism, Marxism and most accurately, totalitarianism. Young people have been taught to call it “social justice,” the central governments power to control individual outcomes regardless of individual productivity, or as Karl Marx put it, — “to take from each according to his abilities, and give to each according to his needs.” This is the fundamental basis of Marxism, “social justice” and today’s progressive ideal.


As long as Americans think they are debating with Democrats or liberals, they are no match for the international socialist juggernaut they are up against.


The Health Care debate is NOT over health care, it’s all about FREEDOM versus unbridled federal power.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Uncle Sam Wants to “Friend” You

(AP) The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, too.

U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.

Think you know who’s behind that “friend” request? Think again. Your new “friend” just might be the FBI.

The document, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, makes clear that U.S. agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target’s friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs and video clips.

Among other purposes: Investigators can check suspects’ alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree — people posing with jewelry, guns or fancy cars — can link suspects or their friends to robberies or burglaries.

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

US Rage as Clinton Opts for Swedish Crystal

Swedish glass maker Orrefors Kosta Boda has landed a $5.4 million contract to supply fine crystal stemware to US embassies worldwide.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department handed the multi-million dollar contract to a small Washington-based firm who in turn brought in Orrefors, one of Sweden’s best-known brands.

The items are to be embellished with the seal of the United States and used for functions at 400 embassies and ambassadors’ residences worldwide.

“We are very happy and proud to have won the contract. We are hopeful that this prestigious order will boost our international sales — especially in the USA,” company spokesperson Eva-Marie Hagström told The Local on Tuesday.

The order has however been met with angry reactions from some quarters in the US who feel that the contract should have gone to an American firm.

“Hillary Clinton’s State Department is spending $5.4 million to buy fine crystal stemware for American embassies — but it won’t give the US economy much of a boost,” the New York Post tabloid reported on Monday.

Politicians have also expressed concern over sending the prestigious contract overseas while unemployment remains high in the US.

“This is about fighting for American jobs. The US government should not turn its back on American workers and send job opportunities abroad,” Republican Pat Tiberi and Democrat Eric Massa wrote in a letter to Hillary Clinton two weeks ago, according to news agency TT.

The firm, located in Sweden’s Kingdom of Crystal in rural Småland in southern Sweden, explained that it had brought home the order in the face of stiff competition and that the US state department had warmed to the firm’s environmental profile.

“We won the contract for our design but they were also interested in our lead-free products and environmentally-friendly approach to glass making,” Eva-Marie Hagström said.

The specially designed glass dinnerware series is taken from a classic Orrefors model created by Gunnar Cyrén and has been given the name Jasmine.

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

Why Team Obama Thrives on Creating Crises

The Obama administration’s primary mode of governance is literally to create crises where none actually exist. As I have explained previously, “Big Lies” transform people and entire societies, and the most powerful form of “Big Lie,” at least when it comes to government, is the manufactured crisis.

Before we turn our 10,000-watt spotlight on the outrageous turmoil Obama and company have promoted in America, let’s take a few moments to understand what a manufactured crisis really amounts to.

As I explain in my new book “How Evil Works,” anyone even superficially familiar with the history of the political left has heard references to the strategy of creating crises as a means of transforming society. You’ve probably heard of the “Hegelian dialectic,” a key Marxist technique whereby an idea (“We need more gun control laws!”) generates its opposite (“No, we don’t need more gun laws, we just need tougher sentencing of criminals!”) which leads to a reconciliation of opposites, or synthesis (“OK, we’ll compromise by passing new gun-control laws, but watering them down somewhat”).

Likewise, maybe you’ve heard of the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” — inspired by leftwing radical organizer Saul Alinsky, whose methods Barack Obama adopted — which openly advocates the creation of crises to destroy capitalist society. This is how socialist progress is achieved “peacefully” — through conflict or crisis — and always in the direction of greater socialism.

The problem is, this “crisis-creation” talk just sounds so crazy, so foreign to us, that it’s hard to believe our fellow human beings, no matter how confused or deluded, could actually engage in such a practice. But it’s not only true, it’s actually a common part of everyday life.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Wilders Channels Anger

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has returned to the Netherlands with the same message as when she left: Islam needs its own period of ‘Enlightenment’. Ms Hirsi Ali is back for one week to promote her most recent book, Nomad. It’s her first substantial visit since leaving the Dutch parliament four years ago to live in the United States.

Her main point still is that Muslim integration into Dutch society can only succeed if Muslim immigrants fully embrace Dutch values and leave their own values behind. The two systems of thought cannot be combined.

“The idea that the two can be combined is why the problem has lasted so long, and become so entrenched as to be nearly intractable: people have contradictory expectations.”

Wilders good

In her criticism of Muslim integration, the former Dutch conservative VVD party MP echoes many of the ideas of Geert Wilders, once her VVD colleague and now leader of his ‘own’ Freedom Party (PVV). Mr Wilders’ party is likely to become one of the largest, if not the largest, in the country after the general election on 9 June.

He is currently on trial facing charges of inciting hatred toward Muslims. Ms Hirsi Ali disagrees. She says that on the contrary, Mr Wilders is preventing violence by allowing a segment of the population to channel their anger by voting rather than rioting. Wilders is good for the Netherlands she says.

But she also criticises the Freedom Party leader for raising false expectations.

“I have also learned that you have to translate political proposals into policy, and my critique for Geert Wilders is that his proposals have raised expectations that cannot be translated into policy.”

Ms Hirsi Ali portrays herself as more pragmatic than Mr Wilders.

Still controversial

Ms Hirsi Ali’s future remains uncertain. The publication of her latest book here in the Netherlands, and the publicity tour she has organised, reveal her ongoing interest in Dutch affairs.

And, in case anyone forgot, she can still stir things up. An avowed atheist, she says the government should promote the Enlightenment — the period in and around the 18th century when many in Europe began to emphasise the importance of science and reason over religion — as an alternative to Islam.

“And for those who really cannot live without God, better then a caring Jesus than a warlord like Mohammed.”

Nomad is Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s third book.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Child Abuse is Pope’s Road of Thorns

By Bas Mesters in Rome

With each successive revelation, the spectre of child abuse comes closer to endangering the position of pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI has his own cross to bear on the way to Easter this year. Revelations of child abuse have deeply grieved the ecclesiastical leader, or so rumours emanating from the Vatican would have it. Every day seems to bring new scandals, as hidden crimes come to light in yet another country. Rampant child abuse was first revealed some years ago in the US and Australia, but now revelations in Ireland, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland have followed.

“As always, he has undergone the matter in the deepest of prayers and with understandable concern,” a close associate of the pope was quoted as saying in Italian daily La Repubblica. The German scandals, in particular, have upset pope Benedict, since they are encroaching ever more closely on him personally. Not only has the scale of the abuse led to disquiet and disappointment within the Vatican’s walls, there is also a great deal of worry over the damage this could cause to the German pope’s position.

Last week, the authoritative Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed that a paedophile priest, referred to as “Brother H.”, had been transferred to the diocese of Munich in 1980. Benedict, then still known as Joseph Ratzinger, was archbishop in the same city. Brother H. was supposed to undergo therapy there, but was allowed to serve in a pastoral capacity again, a position he promptly abused to resume his paedophile activities .

In an attempt to control the damage caused by this revelation, father Federico Lombardi, a spokesperson for the Vatican, responded to the allegations immediately. “Everything has been cleared by the diocese of Munich,” he announced on Radio Vatican. “The vicar-general, mgr. Gerhard Gruber, has assumed all responsibility,” he added. According to Lombardi, Ratzinger was not involved in the decision to allow Brother H. to reassume pastoral duties. The priest in question was suspended earlier this week.

A plot against the pope?

That the Vatican has been driven on the defensive is aptly demonstrated by Lombardi’s bitter insinuations of a possible ecclesiastical plot against the pope. “It’s rather clear that in the last days there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence, in Regensburg and Munich, to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of the abuses,” he told Vatican Radio.”For any objective observer, it’s clear that these efforts have failed,” he added.

Lombardi called it an “unlikely coincidence” that the news broke on the same day the prelate of the Catholic church in Germany, Robert Zollitsch, received papal permission to start an investigation into the reported abuse.

Pope Benedict, the Vatican emphasised, could not be held responsible for the physical abuse of boys in the choir led by his brother in Regensburg. Benedict should also not be held accountable for the suspected child abuse that took place in Ettal abbey, which falls under the diocese of Munich, Ratzinger’s former seat as archbishop.

A growing number of people are now leaving the Roman Catholic church in Germany, and the Vatican is starting to worry about the effect the paedophilia scandals could have on priest recruitment. Last Monday, in anticipation of World Youth Day which will be held on March 28, the pope asked young people not to be afraid to engage in religious life. “Do not fear, dear boys and girls, when the Lord calls you to a religious, monastic or missionary life. He gives great joy to those courageous enough to answer His call!” the pope said.

An old enemy of ‘filth’

The greatest tragedy for pope Bendict is that he has come under fire for a policy he had already condemned before becoming pope. In the week before his election to the papacy in 2005, he referred to priests who abused their positions as “filth”.

The pope’s change of heart came at the beginning of the last decade. The stories of the American abuse victims and growing pressure from his associates at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made him realise that the cover up of scandals — for which he had long been responsible as the Congregation’s prefect — was a disastrous position. Ratzinger has since visited the Australian and American victims of paedophile priests to apologise on behalf of the Church. Bishops have been sacked and damages paid to the victims.

Now Benedict sees himself confronted yet again with the Church’s filth, this time in Europe, the continent he holds so dear. Shortly after his installation, he declared Europe a missionary area. As Ratzinger is well aware, if he is to stop the decline in church attendance and vocations to the priesthood, he will need to eradicate the “cancer of child abuse” as it is referred to within Vatican circles. He can only hope the process of eradication within the Church’s ranks and the related inquiries will not yield any more evidence that can hurt him.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini tried to put the matter into context in the Italian weekly Genter, saying, “the Church has known darker years. In the end, the Church is now present in all countries worldwide, something which has never been the case before.”

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

Church Deals With Abuse Fallout

Officials vow end to abuse, Irish church defends cardinal

(ANSA) — Vatican City, March 16 — The issue of child abuse in the Catholic Church was back in the spotlight on Tuesday, as senior clerics sought to deal with the fallout of recent weeks. In separate remarks, two high-ranking Vatican figures discussed the impact of the scandals and pledged to prevent a recurrence of abuse, while the Irish Catholic Church issued a statement defending a top cardinal’s actions in handling past allegations. The Holy See’s Permanent Observer at the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, said abuse by Catholic priests was “a grave betrayal of trust”, which Pope Benedict XVI viewed as an “odious crime”.

The pope has “unequivocally condemned sexual violence of children and young people” and views it as “a grave sin that offends God and human dignity”, said Tomasi.

The archbishop said there was “no excuse” for past abuse but insisted that rooting out and preventing abuse remained “an absolute priority” for the Church. “Anyone guilty of such crimes is immediately suspended from his duties and is punished in accordance both with civil and canon law,” said Tomasi, who made his remarks during a speech last week, the text of which was only released by the Vatican on Tuesday. “In some cases large sums of compensation have been necessary, while in others, the guilty have ended up in jail,” he said. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone discussed the impact of the abuse scandals on the church at a meeting with Italian industrialists association Confindustria. “Trust in the Church institutions has dropped sharply,” admitted the cardinal.

He said the Church was doing its best to regain this confidence through “a high sense of morality”.

Meanwhile, the Irish Church issued a statement “clarifying” the role Cardinal Sean Brady played in dealing with a serial abuser, Father Brendan Smyth, in 1975. Brady, a priest and teacher at the time, was involved in meetings where two boys of 10 and 14 were asked to sign oaths of secrecy over the allegations.

The statement explained that Brady took notes at one meeting but conducted the interview alone in the other case. According to the statement, the confidentiality vows were requested “to avoid potential collusion in the gathering of the inquiry’s evidence” and to ensure the process was “robust enough to withstand challenge by the perpetrator, Fr Brendan Smyth”.

Brady, who held a relatively junior role at the time, did not pass the information on to the police but did pass it on to his superior, who withdrew Smyth’s right to practice as a priest. According to the statement, Brady’s findings were then transmitted to the head of Smyth’s religious order who failed to take appropriate action, resulting in more children being abused. Brady has defended his actions, saying he did everything possible given his junior position at the time. Four Irish bishops have already tendered their resignations in the wake of a November report, which found they failed to report some 300 cases of child sex abuse to the police from the 1960s to the 1980s.

In mid-February, the pope held an unprecedented emergency meeting with 24 Irish bishops in order to discuss the report, during which he described child abuse as a “heinous crime”. He also promised to issue a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics discussing the Church’s future in that country. However, several fresh scandals have broken since then.

Germany has been particularly hard hit, with 19 of the country’s 27 dioceses dealing with allegations, but new allegations have surfaced across Europe. Dozens of victims have spoken out in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Poland in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi also confirmed the church was dealing with a case in Brazil. “Contrary to media reports, none of the three people involved was a bishop,” he said.

“A ‘monsignor’ is already being tried in criminal proceedings by the civil authorities. “The other two individuals, a ‘monsignor’ and a priest, have been suspended from the ecclesiastical duties and are at the centre of a canonical inquiry into suspected paedophilia, although both have denied all charges so far”.

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

Denmark Wants Brussels to Stop UK Mohammed Cartoon Lawsuit

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The Danish minister of justice has called on the European Commission to put a stop to a lawsuit by a Saudi lawyer who is using the UK’s famously libel-happy courts to go after Danish newspapers for their publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

“It’s fundamentally reasonable that judgments in the EU can often be exercised across borders,” the minister, Lars Barfoed, said according to the Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

“But it would be taking it to the extreme if a UK court could rule against the Danish media and then require compensation and court costs to be paid.”

Celebrities, eastern European oligarchs and Gulf sheikhs regularly fly into London not to see the sights, but for a very different kind of vacation. The British capital is also the “libel tourism” capital of the world.

In English and Welsh courts, the burden of proof is borne by the accused rather than the complainant, and as a result they have become the jurisdiction of choice for oligarchs and mafiosi, Saudi billionaires and even totalitarian governments.

Already in 2007, Icelandic investment bank Kaupthing sued Ekstra Bladet, another Danish newspaper, after a reporter wrote articles critical of the bank’s handling of tax shelters for the wealthy. British courts accepted jurisdiction after the bank argued that Ekstra Bladet had translated some of the stories into English and put them on its website mean the stories could be read in London.

On Monday, the Danish government said that they had had enough. Danish justice minister Lars Barfoed demanded that Brussels step in to prevent lawyer Faisal Yamani from suing the Danish papers for damages in British courts on behalf of 95,000 descendents of the prophet who say they and their faith have been defamed.

In August 2009, Mr Yamani asked 11 Danish publications to take down the Mohammed cartoons from their websites. While most papers have refused to do so, the left-leaning daily Politiken, finally agreed to do so in February.

Rebuffed by the Danish publications, Mr Yamani has moved his fight to UK jurisdiction, where even publication on the internet in a foreign country in another language is considered as good as published domestically.

The EU’s Rome II regulation, which entered into force in January last year, creates a harmonised set of rules within the bloc, governing which jurisdiction and which laws take precedence over another.

The regulation underwent a particularly knotty process of negotiations — in the words of one EU official “horrendously difficult” — between member states. The biggest sticking point was libel and defamation law.

In the end, as a result, it was left out of the regulation, meaning Mr Yamani is free to head to the British capital to try his luck with English judges.

Commission justice spokesman Matthew Newman told EUobserver that Brussels’ hands are tied.

“The commission has no power to intervene in such an area. The matter is covered by national law. People are free to file lawsuits and Brussels is in no position to stop them. This is their right,” he said.

Mr Newman also said that the EU executive has not yet received any requests regarding the matter from the Danish government.

At the same time, Rome II is up for review in 2011 and defamation and libel issues may form part of the assessment. “Commissioner Reding recognises there is a problem here as it has regularly been raised by MEPs and member states and will carefully analyse the situation and take into account their concerns,” Mr Newman said.

“This might well not be the end of the story.”

One EU official admitted that the UK situation and libel tourism in general is “a big problem,” telling this website: “The commission has been looking into this very issue for years. It’s an ongoing issue and comes up all the time.”

Ebbe Dal, president of the Danish national newspaper association told EUobserver that their lawyers and the Justice Ministry believes that the relevant piece of community law is Brussels I, not Rome II.

Rome II covers conflicts of a so-called non-contractual nature, while Brussels I regulates which courts have jurisdiction in legal disputes of a civil or commercial nature.

Mr Dal believes that the Danish request rests on firm ground. Explaining to this website why the issue concerns a commercial realm, he said: “When the question has been resolved by Danish courts and Danish newspapers are working under job conditions that Danish law gives them, it is very odd if others can then go to foreign courts and sue them for their journalism.”

“The problem is not a problem for us alone, but for authors and the media in all member states. The UK must live up to EU standards and reconsider their legislation.”

The British government for its part recognises there is a problem.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The government is concerned about any potential chilling effect that our libel laws are having on freedom of speech. In response to the concerns that have been expressed, the justice secretary has set up a working group to examine a range of issues around the substantive law on libel.”

In addition, three weeks ago the country’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published the report of its inquiry into libel, which criticised the current situation.

“The government is considering this report and the recommendations that it makes very carefully,” the spokesperson said.

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

Erdogan Urges German Turks Not to Integrate

The Turkish government has reportedly angered Turkish-German politicians by inviting them to an Istanbul conference and then urging them to resist political and social integration in their adopted homeland.

At the meeting last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Turks living in foreign countries to take out citizenship of the new homelands — not to integrate, but rather to become more politically active, according to the website of news magazine Der Spiegel.

Ali Ertan Toprak, deputy chairman of the Alevi community in Germany, told the magazine government representatives had said: “We have to inject European culture with Turkish.”

Erdogan told the meeting countries that did not allow dual citizenship violated basic rights and also likened Islamophobia to anti-Semitism.

Participants told Spiegel that Erdogan repeated elements of his widely criticised speech in Cologne in 2008 in which he said: “Assimilation is a crime against humanity.”

The invitation to politicians and religious leaders of Turkish descent included lunch in a five-star hotel in Istanbul and offered to cover their travel costs.

The title of the meeting was: “Wherever one of our countrymen is, we are there too.”

About 1,500 Turks from several European countries attended, including a Belgian MP and representatives of companies and NGOs.

The meeting was organised by Erdogan’s reigning Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has conservative-religious leanings and has been criticised for pulling the country away from its secular tradition.

Faruk Celik, a minister in Erdogan’s cabinet, described German politicians as “my honourable parliamentarians” and described Erdogan as “our Prime Minister.”

German politicians and religious representatives of Turkish descent were shocked by the brazen political lobbying and were sharply critical of Ankara.

“It was an absolutely clear lobbying event by the Turkish government,” said Ali Ertan Toprak. He said he was appalled by how often the Turkish government had said Turkish-Germans should represent the interests of Turkey.

“If opponents of (Turkey’s) EU entry from the (European) Union had been there, they would have got a whole lot of material for their argument,” Toprak said.

Canan Bayram, a Turkish-born Greens member of the Berlin city parliament, said she had travelled to the conference as the integration spokeswoman for her party but had insisted on paying for herself.

“It was important for me to make clear that as a German MP I was not financed by the Turkish government,” she said.

Former Social Democrats member of the European parliament and businessman Vural Öger said: “The Turkish government should worry about the interests of Turks in Turkey rather than trying to use Germans of Turkish descent as their messengers.”

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

EU Countries Sell Tools of Torture, Says Report

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Several EU countries buy and sell equipment used in torture such as spike batons, metal thumb cuffs and electric-shock stun sleeves delivering 50,000-volt shocks to detainees, despite a 2006 EU law against the trade, according to a report from human rights watchdogs Amnesty international and the Omega Research Foundation.

The report reveals how EU countries including Spain, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic have authorised exports of policing weapons and other possible torture tools to at least nine countries where use of such equipment in torture has been documented.

“The introduction of European controls on the trade in ‘tools of torture’ … was a landmark piece of legislation. But three years after these controls came into force, several European states have failed to properly implement or enforce the law,” said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International’s EU office.

According to the document, law enforcement equipment suppliers in Italy and Spain have promoted the sale of illegal electroshock cuffs or sleeves thanks to loopholes in the EU law that permit their trade, even though similar electric stun belts are prohibited for import and export across the EU on the grounds that their use inherently constitutes torture or ill treatment.

Hungary in 2005 even declared its intention to introduce such electric stun belts into its own prisons and police stations, despite the import and export ban.

According to the report, companies can use various ways to by-pass strict EU regulation around the trade. One way is to sell components of the equiment in separate shipments.

“Order our stun gun kit and you will receive it no matter which country you are in … Stun gun kits are shipped internationally to avoid strict export regulations. Our stun gun kit is sent in two shipments. The first shipment includes the electric parts fully assembled. The second shipment is the plastic molded case with four screws. The instructions will NOT be shipped,” the report quotes a company sales website as writing.

The report also lists clever ways to avoid customs staff suspicion at borders, for instance by imaginative naming of the devices transported.

Content description on a container that arrives to an EU customs office may read “Electrical machines and apparatus, having individual functions, not specified or included elsewhere in this chapter,” instead of the more accurate description of “electric-shock stun batons”.

According to the document, only seven states have fulfilled their obligations to publicly report their exports of such products, which will be formally discussed at a meeting of the European Parliament’s sub-committee on human rights on Thursday (18 March).

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

EU Recovery Fragile, FSB Chief Warns

Banks need to recuperate essential role in economy, Draghi says

(ANSA) — Brussels, March 17 — The recovery in Europe from the recent global economic downturn “is uneven and weak in Europe and fragile everywhere,” Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi said on Wednesday.

Speaking to the European Parliament in his role as chairman of the G20’s Financial Stability Board (FSB), Draghi observed that “almost all banks are on the way to resolve their financial problems, but their balance sheets are still exposed to elements of fragility linked above all to the state of the economic recovery”.

“We have come a long way since the crisis began to bolster the financial system but we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us,” he added.

According to the FSB chairman, “it is essential that we be able to count, in the years to come, on the ability of the banking sector to fully recover its essential role in the economy”.

Turning his attention to needed reforms to the banking and finance sectors, Draghi observed that “an adequate transition period will be necessary in order not to damage the recovery. We must not allow the current situation to compromise the establishment of new standards”.

Reforms need to be coordinated on an international level “and this cannot take place without the support of all national political leaders and those in a position to make final decisions,” he added. GREEK CRISIS NEEDS IMMEDIATE ACTION.

Draghi also spoke on the budget crisis in Greece and said the anti-crisis plan drawn up by Athens needed to be implemented “swiftly and directly” in order to obtain the confidence of markets.

Greece, he observed, “is in the grips of a budget crisis and budget crises must be dealt with through immediate and direct actions in order to convince markets”. According to Draghi, the Athens plan “corrects accounts in a credible way, but its immediate and firm application is even more important than the details of the plan itself”.

The actions which the Greek government adopts, he added, “must be structural otherwise the markets will ignore them”. In regard to Germany’s suggestion that the European Union set up its own European Monetary Fund, Draghi said that such a future fund would need to “serve as an emergency line of credit to be used only when there is a cash emergency”. Greece is believed to need some 20 billion euros before the summer to cover its budget commitments.

Greek Economy Minister Louka Katseli said on Wednesday that the probability that Athens will turn to the IMF for help was “70%”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Europe Lacks Resources to Tackle Cross-Border Crime, Says Eurojust

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Fighting cross-border crime in the EU still faces “practical difficulties” due to scarce resources in member states and the ability of criminals to move freely from one country to another, Eurojust’s new chief Aled Williams told MEPs on Wednesday (17 March).

Tasked with ensuring co-operation of prosecutors and police when faced with cross-border criminal cases, Eurojust is grappling with 27 different legal systems while skilled criminals are easily able to take advantage of the confusion.

“The first set of difficulties in judicial co-operation between member states is very practical — lack of resources and the fact that criminals are able to take advantage of the freedom of movement all other law-abiding citizens enjoy,” Mr Williams said during a hearing in the European Parliament’s justice and home affairs committee.

He gave the example of a case where British criminals set up a fake company in Seville — a so-called boiler-room used to persuade citizens in the UK to buy worthless shares.

“When it came to the investigation of this case, there were difficulties because of the fact that we were dealing with criminals based in one member state and victims in another,” the British prosecutor explained.

Eurojust also encounters legal definition difficulties, for instance in the definition of money laundering, which requires different sets of proofs in various member states.

One way to solve these problems would be to transform Eurojust into a European Prosecutor’s office. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the new legal framework of the EU, this is possible but requires the consent of all member states.

This is unlikely as several countries would oppose the move, seen as denting national sovereignty in legal matters, especially since it would require a harmonisation of criminal codes.

Eurojust has however set up a “task force” for discussing the matter, Mr Williams said.

Foreign envoys for Eurojust

Another novelty made possible by the Lisbon Treaty is to have liaison officers for Eurojust in countries outside the EU. They would feed the Hague-based body with information and help with practical matters when it comes to extraditions and joint investigations abroad.

That too would have to be decided by EU ministers, jointly with the European Parliament which now has increased powers in the area of justice and home affairs.

Meanwhile, a set of new measures adopted in 2008 and aimed at making Eurojust more operational still need to be implemented by member states. These include sending more staff to the EU body and establishing national co-ordination systems in each country, a representative for the Spanish EU presidency said.

Set up in 2002, Eurojust has seen a gradual increase of cases brought to its attention. In 2009, there were 1,400 cross-border investigations which requested Eurojust’s assistance, an increase of 15 percent compared to the previous year.

“Joint investigation teams” can in such cases make sure the proper arrest warrants are issued and the bank accounts frozen when major cross-border arrests take place in order to obtain evidence which is admissible in the courts of the various states.

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

Finns in a Genetic Class of Their Own

Finns belong to a unique genetic group of their own. According to a new wide-ranging genetic mapping study, Finns differ from Central Europeans as well as from their neighbours in the east.

The study also found that the Finnish genetic pool does not resemble that of the closest linguistic group, the Hungarians, but shares more commonalities with the Dutch.

The results of the study show that Finns may be more closely related to the Dutch and to Russians from eastern Moscow, than to Hungarians, whose language can be most closely linked to Finnish. The researchers have therefore concluded that Finnish genetic ancestry follows geographical rather than linguistic patterns.

Senior Researcher Samuli Ripatti. Senior researcher Samuli Ripatti of Finland’s Institute for Molecular Medicine FIMM described the link between Finns and to western Europe via Sweden, and to the east by way of Estonia.

“The links are strong. Then we discovered that the relationship between geographic variations and location and genetic heritage is quite strong and can be clearly seen.”

Ripatti added that the genetic research did not support the links thought to exist because of linguistic similarities.

Great Differences Among Finns

Genetic variations among Finns can be traced back to location for eastern, western and northern communities. The genetic differences become larger the bigger the distance between communities.

When researchers compared local communities in Finland, they found genetic differences based on location, with the greatest differences revealed between communities in southwest Finland and Kuusamo in northeast Finland.

Similarly, coastal dwelling Swedish-speaking Finns show more genetic similarities to Swedes than they do to other Finns.

FIMM has compiled a genetic atlas for Finland by collecting genetic data from 40,000 Finns to determine their genetic origin. The genetic atlas project was conducted under the stewardship of the late academic Leena Peltonen-Palotie.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Germany: Church Suspends Priest Whom Benedict Helped

The Catholic priest at the centre of a paedophilia scandal that has embroiled Pope Benedict XVI was suspended from duty late Monday amid revelations he was still working with children 25 years after he was convicted of sexual abuse.

Another priest who had the job of overseeing convicted paedophile Peter H., resigned in response to the latest information was made public.

Priest Peter H. had violated the conditions of his employment by continuing to have contact with children and youths and had therefore been suspended from his duties “with immediate effect,” said Bernhard Kellner, spokesman for the diocese of Munich and Freising on Monday, according to daily Bild.

Peter H. was accused of sexually abusing boys in the Diocese of Essen in 1980, including forcing an 11-year-old to perform oral sex. Pope Benedict XVI, who was then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Freising, approved Peter H.’s transfer to Munich for therapy.

Peter H. was soon approved for return to full pastoral duties and continued to serve in a series of Bavarian parishes but six years later was convicted of sexually abusing children in the Bavarian town of Grafing.

According to daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Peter H. had conducted several youth church activities, including a camping trip as recently as last summer, though there were no indications of further abuse.

The senior minister in the archbishopric, Josef Obermaier, resigned, acknowledging that he had failed in his duty to oversee Peter H.’s compliance with the agreement not to have contact with children.

The child sex abuse scandal currently rocking Germany has affected 19 of the country’s 27 Catholic dioceses, with new accusations almost daily from former school pupils and choir members.

Pope Benedict XVI, who spent much of his early church career in his home country of Germany, has actively spoken against paedophilia and made promises that accusations would be investigated wherever they arose.

After a meeting on Friday with Germany’s top Catholic cleric, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, he also approved moves to appoint a watchdog to prevent child sex abuse.

Rupert Frania, the priest in charge of the congregation in Bad Tölz, where Peter H. spent the last year and a half, said in an interview on Sunday that his superiors did not tell them about the priest’s history of sexual abuse. The Archbishopric of Munich and Freising has however distanced itself from this claim.

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

Italy: Rome Film Festival Looks at FARC Documentary

Rome, 16 March (AKI) — The International Rome Film Festival’s artistic director, Pietra Destassis, says she will consider featuring a powerful documentary on the outlawed Columbian armed group FARC. The group is considered Latin America’s best organised guerrilla movement.

The 64-minute film ‘Liberenlos ya!’ (‘Free Them Now!’) by Peruvian movie maker Judith Velez charts the evolution of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from its creation in the 1960s as a Marxist guerrilla group through to its involvement in drug trafficking and dramatic kidnappings.

‘Free Them Now!’ also examines FARC’s complex network of contacts and its influence on revolutionary movements in neighbouring countries in the region.

The documentary draws on new archive material and footage and includes powerful interviews with witnesses and experts who drive home its key message: revolutionary armed struggle, despite its seductive appeal, especially to the desperately poor, cannot provide a solution to Latin America’s problems.

Velez first emerged on the film making scene in 1991, with her documentary on the Peru’s Maoist guerrilla group, the Shining Path.

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

Italy: Berlusconi Claims Innocence in New Probe

Rome, 16 March (AKI) — Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has denied that he abused his office by pressuring a broadcasting regulator to remove a critical political chat show aired on one of the country’s state media channels. An investigation has been launched into telephone taps which allegedly reveal Berlusconi urging Giancarlo Innocenzi, a senior member of the parliament-appointed regulator, to “shut down” the show, Annozero, broadcast on the state RAI network.

Berlusconi has been a frequent subject of debate and criticism on the popular television talk show.

“It’s the right of the prime minister to talk on the telephone with whomever he likes without being recorded,” Berlusconi told state radio late Monday. “I’m not worried about the investigation.”

Investigators in the southern Italy city of Trani on Monday confirmed reports that Berlusconi was under investigation for abuse of office and using threats or violence against Innocenzi.

“Not only are the accusations not based on truth, and against common sense, they are contrary to anything contained in the penal code” Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said in a statement released late Monday.

Berlusconi last week called the probe “ridiculous and grotesque” and accused Trani investigators of using their office to influence the outcome of the forthcoming 28-29 March regional elections.

Justice minister Angelino Alfano has accused Trani investigators of abusing the use of wire taps and leaking confidential information to the press.

Berlusconi and Alfano “are acting exactly like members of the mafia, threatening and denigrating investigators that are trying to do their job,” Antonio Pietro, former corruption prosecutor and head of opposition Italy Values party, told reporters in Rome on Tuesday.

Berlusconi is already facing two trials and a separate probe for corruption in Milan. Parliament last week passed a law allowing senior government members to have criminal trials against them stopped because they conflict with schedules.

Italy’s state broadcaster RAI announced on Monday that it would uphold a controversial order to pull political chat shows from the air until after the regional elections, despite a court decision last week to overturn a rule keeping such programming off the air on private stations.

The law applied to three analog channels belonging to billionaire Berlusconi’s Mediaset broadcasting empire, as well as Rubert Murdoch’s Sky cable channel and La7, a channel owned by Telecom Italia’s media business.

Sky and Telecom Italia Media were plaintiffs in the court appeal to overturn the law.

It provoked accusations of censorship by some of Italy’s most prominent TV journalists, although broadcast officials insisted they were only complying with election law.

Transcripts reveal Berlusconi phoning Innocenzi in November when Annozero discussed an inquiry into the alleged mafia ties of a member of his government.

“It’s obscene,” Berlusconi is reported as saying. “Now you need to make a concerted effort to push RAI to say enough, we’re shutting everything down.” In other calls, Berlusconi reportedly criticised other shows he considers unbalanced and called for Innocenzi to resign.

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

Italy: “Outraged” Berlusconi Investigated at Trani With Minzolini and Innocenzi

Allegations: bribery and menaces for prime minister; complicity for AGCOM commissioner Innocenzi; TG1 news director Minzolini accused of revealing details of questioning

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi is officially under investigation by the Trani public prosecutor in the RAI-AGCOM inquiry for bribery and “violence or menaces to a political, administrative or judicial body” (articles 317 and 338 of the penal code), committed against the head of the communications watchdog authority (AGCOM). According to press agencies, the news comes from sources close to the inquiry. Under investigation with the prime minister are the AGCOM commissioner Giancarlo Innocenzi, facing charges of personal complicity relating to statements made during a hearing when he is alleged to have denied being pressured by Mr Berlusconi to close the Annozero talk show, and RAI TG1 news director Augusto Minzolini, accused of revealing confidential information on criminal proceedings. Mr Minzolini is alleged not to have complied with the order by public prosecutor Michele Ruggiero not to reveal details of his questioning at Trani on 17 December 2009 in relation to the American Express credit card investigations.

“CLEAR VIOLATIONS” — The prime minister himself intervened. During an interview on TG1 news, he said: “I am outraged. These are clear violations of the law”. Mr Berlusconi also spoke about the “grotesque initiative” which, however, “does not worry me at all” since “I have intervened all over the place” against TV trials and my positions are “not just permissible. They are my duty”. Mr Berlusconi went on: “I am not in the slightest worried about the content because it is the right of the prime minister to speak on the telephone to anyone without being intercepted, even surreptitiously as was the case here”. According to the prime minister, Saturday’s demonstration was merely a photograph of the “poisoned atmosphere” in which “the Left has set the public prosecutor’s offices against us and is using phone taps and time-bomb justice in its smear campaign”.

GHEDINI’S NOTE — Mr Berlusconi’s lawyer Nicolò Ghedini said: “If they are really alleging bribery and violence or menaces to a political, administrative or judicial body against the prime minster at Trani, then we have abandoned all logic and are in a legally inconceivable situation of intolerance. Not only is the allegation devoid of any basis in fact; it is at odds with good sense and any offence described in the code. It is no surprise that the charge should come a few days before the elections, accompanied by continuous leaks of information which can only come from within, but there should be some limit to the legal fantasies of the magistracy”.

DANDINI WORRIED — Others are, however, worried by the revelations emerging from the inquiry. “It’s not pleasant to part of the prime minister’s obsessions”, said Serena Dandini, who is thought to be among those mentioned by Silvio Berlusconi in the tapped phone conversations with the AGCOM commissioner, Giancarlo Innocenzi. “So far I haven’t received any communications from the Trani public prosecutor’s office. If I were summoned, I would go along like any other citizen”, added the host of RaiTre’s satirical talk show, “Parla con me”. Ms Dandini concluded: “I find the whole of this story anomalous for a democratic country, especially if, whether as a consequence or not, the RAI’s talk shows of journalistic analysis are suspended in the run-up to the elections”.

CSM — The case of magistracy ruling counsel member Cosimo Maria Ferri, who is thought to be involved in the Trani inquiry, is very likely to be on the agenda at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the CSM presidency committee. “I am completely relaxed”, said Mr Ferri when asked how he felt. “I hope all the recordings of my phone calls to Innocenzi are made public because I have nothing to hide”, added Mr Ferri. Fifteen CSM counsellors have asked the council’s presidency committee to initiate proceedings in the first committee [which has responsibility for investigations into magistrates — Trans.] for an “in-depth verification” of the affair in order to “avoid the risk” that the CSM “could become involved or exploited in the current dispute”.

INSPECTORS — The majority of counsellors also ask for the CSM to put under the microscope the inspection ordered by the justice minister, Angelino Alfano, at the Trani public prosecutor’s office, to ascertain whether there is any interference in the current inquiries concerning “politicians of national prominence”. Counsellors point out that the inspection was directed at an inquiry “currently pending and regarding, directly or indirectly, political figures of national prominence”. “Since the minister is reported to have ordered the inspectorate to verify events and circumstances (territorial competence, admissibility of telephone interceptions made and the reasons for divulging their contents) which are the exclusive concern of judicial activities, it needs to be ascertained, in the context of a consolidated interpretation supplied by the council on the relationship between investigative confidentiality and the powers of the inspectorate in a spirit of sincere collaboration, what the actual conditions were in which the inspectors were ordered to carry out their administrative activity in parallel with a judicial inquiry under way”.

DE MAGISTRIS — Italy of Values (IDV) MEP Luigi de Magistris intervened to comment on the inspection. “The minister of justice is the operational arm of Silvio Berlusconi and of the attempt to destroy the magistracy. The relationship between government and justice is not democratic because it shows pathological signs of authoritarian intrusion. The executive wants to bury the independence of the judiciary under laws while striving to undermine the legitimacy of its actions when they involve the prime minister. Alfano’s decision to send inspectors to the Trani public prosecutor’s office is unacceptable. It’s a sliding tackle directed at the separation of powers. If there is nothing in the phone taps that constitutes grounds for criminal charges, as Berlusconi’s political and other defenders claim, this will have to be established by the magistracy and certainly not by Cicchitto, Ghedini or Alfano. This affair reveals a power that aspires to control information in order to put the power of reasoning of an entire nation to sleep”.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Three Youths Arrested for Attack on Asian Food Outlet

Rome, 16 March (AKI) — Italian police have arrested three youths who allegedly attacked Bangladeshi immigrants at their takeaway food outlet in the Italian capital, Rome, on Sunday. The youths are reported to have beaten three immigrants with iron bars and stolen hundreds of euros in cash during the attack.

The youths have been accused of robbery and physical assault, aggravated by racist motives. Two of the three people arrested were minors and one is only 18 years old.

The attack which took place in the relatively prosperous suburb of Magliana is the latest in a series of violent attacks against immigrants in Rome and other Italian cities that have drawn condemnation from politicians across the political spectrum.

The three youths who were arrested allegedly belong to a gang responsible for vandalism, other attacks and insulting other immigrants in the area.

“There are too many young people in Rome, as in all the major western cities who vent their frustrations in violence and intolerance,” said Rome’s conservative mayor Gianni Alemanno (photo) on Tuesday.

“The growth of juvenile violence and intolerant gangs of intolerant thugs whose behaviour often borders on xenophobic.”

Alemanno was speaking after a meeting to discuss security in Magliana and other neighbourhoods with the Italian interior ministry’s top official in Rome, Giuseppe Pecoraro, following the attack.

Alemanno said he intended to launch a major new law and order campaign in April, after the regional elections.

“This will build up existing initiatives in Rome’s suburbs to educate people to be law-abiding and tolerant, especially young people,” he said.

The Rome mayor was speaking about violence after his own son, 15-year-old Manfredi and a 16-year-old friend were attacked by a gang of youths allegedly from the Cape Verde islands and the Philippines in the upscale Parioli neighbourhood on Monday.

Sunday’s Magliana attack was thought to be a reprisal for a dispute between a Bangladeshi street hawker and one of the three youths who was arrested, according to police.

Centre-left opposition politicians and Bangladeshi residents held a sit-in Magliana on Monday to protest against “racist intimidation that has been going on for a long time”.

“I and other Bangladeshis have been being intimidated” said the takeaway’s owner, Mohamed Masumia.

Masumia, who is an Italian citizen, flies the Italian flag in his takeaway.

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

Italy: Berlusconi Asks Media Probe Papers Sent to Rome

Napolitano calls for calm ahead of regional elections

(ANSA) — Trani, March 17 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday asked for prosecutors to reroute a probe into his alleged pressure to stop a talk show on state broadcaster RAI.

Berlusconi’s lawyers asked the southern Italian prosecutors to send wiretap transcripts and other papers relating to the probe to a special court in Rome that deals with allegations against ministers.

Carlo Maria Capristo, chief prosecutor in the Puglia city of Trani, said he was “weighing” the request.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano stepped into the controversial case on Wednesday to urge politicians to “respect” both the probe and Justice Minister Angelino Alfano’s decision to send inspectors to Trani to assess press leaks and whether the probe should have been moved to Rome earlier.

The president, who is titular head of the judiciary’s self-governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM), said it was “highly desirable” that the case should not be “dramatised” in the run-up to elections in 13 of Italy’s 20 regions on March 28-29.

The CSM’s vice-president and executive chief, Nicola Mancino, stressed that the CSM’s decision to weigh the inspection “did not call into question” the minister’s “legitimate” powers.

But Mancino also said the CSM wanted to make it clear that “no inspection can interfere with an ongoing probe”.

Prosecutor Capristo has said he will offer the inspectors “fair collaboration” but they will not be given access to sub judice papers.

Napolitano also emphasised that while Alfano’s move was “wholly legitimate”, inspections “cannot interfere with the activities of any probe”.

Alfano reacted to Napolitano’s statement by saying “the president has once more confirmed he is the highest guardian of good sense and balance”.

The leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, Pierluigi Bersani, praised Napolitano for his “wise words” but criticised Berlusconi for portraying the probe as a plot by leftwing prosecutors and magistrates to damage his centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party ahead of the elections.

He also urged Berlusconi to “leave television to the viewers”.

“It is regrettable to see a premier who devotes his time to bothersome programmes which all world leaders in democratic leaders are used to seeing,” Bersani said.

PdL spokesman Daniele Capezzone responded by claiming that Bersani had “not understood” Napolitano’s request for politicians and the CSM not to “second-guess” the case. Berlusconi is under investigation along with a member of Italy’s media watchdog Agcom, Giancarlo Innocenzi, for allegedly trying to find ways to stop a purportedly hostile talk show, Annozero.

A CSM member, Cosimo Ferri, is also involved after allegedly receiving a request for legal advice on ways of stopping unfavourable coverage.

Also under investigation, for allegedly telling Berlusconi about the probe, is the head of RAI’s flagship news programme, Augusto Minzolini.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslim Cemetery Demand Sparks Debate

The call for Islamic cemeteries in every canton by a Swiss Muslim umbrella group has provoked a wave of reactions.

Swiss Islam specialists say the legal strategy proposed by Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, is the wrong approach to an inexistent problem.

On Sunday Afshar told the Sonntag newspaper he was preparing a legal case concerning freedom of religion after the Bernese commune of Köniz recently rejected a separate burial ground for Muslims.

“With this strategy we are turning something into a problem that isn’t one really — it’s a clumsy approach,” said Stéphane Lathion, head of a research group on Islam in Switzerland at Lausanne University.

Lathion said a federal solution was particularly inappropriate, as in 90 per cent of cantons where there had been discussions about Islamic cemeteries, solutions were found that satisfied everyone.

Nine communes in the cities of Zurich, Bern, Basel, Thun, Lucerne and Geneva have special cemetery space set aside for Muslims. Islamic law says Muslims should be buried separately from people of other faiths.

Burial space

But Afshar says he has received many complaints from Muslims in Switzerland. “Muslims who came here 40 years ago are dying and have the right to be buried with dignity,” he told the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

Nobody is putting into question the right to a decent burial, said Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, from the Religion Research Centre at Lucerne University, but the legal approach is the wrong one.

“Swiss regulations and Muslim requirements can normally be reconciled, but this has much to do with the needs at the local level and these are defined by the authorities and Muslim representatives,” he noted.

“The numbers may increase in the years to come, but there is no use trying to have one fixed solution for the whole of Switzerland. In some cantons there are hardly any Muslims; one shouldn’t exaggerate the issue.”

Lathion went even further: “There is no demand — 90 per cent of Muslims who die in Switzerland are repatriated.”

Both experts felt Afshar was not very representative of Switzerland’s 400,000 Muslims, mainly from the former Yugoslavia and Turkey.

Political storm

Meanwhile, in political circles the question of religious cemeteries continues to provoke heated debate.

“Right until death, Muslims want to create a parallel structure,” the rightwing Swiss People’s Party parliamentarian Oskar Freysinger told the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

Green parliamentarian Daniel Vischer felt Afshar’s legal strategy had little chance of success, while his colleague Antonio Hodgers warned it risked “getting the population’s back up”.

“I would put Ashfar’s declaration in the same category as those made by Christophe Darbellay the evening of the minaret vote,” said Lathion. “It’s one-upmanship rather than an attempt to make people understand or explain what is happening.”

In December 2009 Christian Democratic Party President Christophe Darbellay called for a ban on new Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, just days after Swiss voters approved a halt to building new minarets. He later apologised.

Muslim reactions

Afshar’s comments have provoked a mixed response in the Swiss Muslim community.

While the question of Islamic cemeteries is relevant, his strategy and timing are flawed, said Abdel Lamhangar, a Swiss Muslim and Socialist councillor for Romont, in canton Fribourg.

“The country is under pressure from all sides and it’s not the moment to have another legal tussle,” he told the French-speaking national radio show Forum.

And Afshar should recognise that Swiss culture is one of negotiation and consensus, he added.

“When things are imposed by the judicial system it’s the rule of law, but when they are imposed by negotiation it’s adhesion and the building of a future,” he said.

Hafid Ouardiri, general-secretary of the Geneva-based interfaith foundation Entre-Connaissance, said in theory Afshar had the right to defend his religious difference, but his method was perhaps wrong.

“Before going to court you need to think about other ways,” he said. Ouardiri highlighted the example of Geneva, where after a long political battle fought jointly by the Muslim and Jewish communities, the local government granted both special burial grounds in a state cemetery in May 2007.

For Swiss Jewish communities Geneva is a special case; in Zurich, Basel and Bern, they have their own cemeteries built on private land, explained Nicole Poëll, deputy president of the Platform of Liberal Jews in Switzerland.

“For us the issue of religious cemeteries is not an issue — it’s been resolved,” said Poëll.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: PVV ‘Open for All Constructive Proposals’

The anti-Islam party PVV is open for ‘all constructive proposals’ from the other parties in The Hague about forming a coalition to run the city, local leader Sietse Fritsma is quoted as saying by Nos tv on Tuesday.

Fritsma made the comments during a public debate between all the parties represented on the city council.

However, despite repeated questioning, he refused to say what elements of the PVV’s election manifesto he would be prepared to make a compromise on, such as the headscarf ban and closure of all Islamic schools.

Labour, the biggest party in The Hague, will not form a coalition with the PVV because of its standpoints. The PVV is the second biggest party in the city since the local elections earlier this month.

‘The divisions between our parties are not only too big, but some of their ideas are against the Dutch constitution and European human rights legislation,’ local leader Jeltje van Nieuwenhoven said.

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

Netherlands: ‘Moroccan Criminals’ Could be Frustrated Youth

A police study of “Moroccan criminals” paints an undeservedly bleak picture of a demographic group which wants to be part of Dutch society.

In no time at all, “criminal Moroccans” has become commonplace terminology. Last week, the Dutch national police force issued a report on “Moroccan perpetrator populations” in Dutch municipalities. The report included new measures quantifying the Moroccan problem in several Dutch cities, including the local “Moroccan strain” and “problem hierarchy”.

The study was intended to give the Dutch government a fair method of distributing extra funds between municipalities. As it turns out, the city of Gouda leads the pack when it comes to these new crime statistics. One out of three perpetrators here is Moroccan, corresponding to 0.55 percent of Gouda’s entire population.

It is unclear if, and to what extent exactly, other ethnic categories are over-represented. A ranking of municipalities according to their total number of criminals read as follows: Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Tilburg, and Nijmegen. Gouda, with its 1,066 criminals, clocks in at number 14, between Ede and Zeist.

Statistics are rarely without weakness, as is the case here. As the police noted in their report, “over-representation” is a relative term by definition. Wherever crime levels are high to begin with, Moroccan over-representation is moderate. Also, police data are partially the product of police priorities. The growing public attention for Moroccans could well have led to a higher number of complaints and arrests.

Even though the police claim their analysis was one of “perpetrator populations”, this is anything but certain. The report does not compare the number of crimes solved, but the number of persons of whom “the police are convinced” they have committed a crime. Here too, matters are seen exclusively from a police perspective. Also, many of the “Moroccans” mentioned in the report are actually Dutch, even if their parents were born in Morocco.

The problem is actually the cultural, social and economic assimilation of the second generation of Moroccan immigrants. There is a wider body of knowledge available regarding these Dutch boys of Moroccan heritage. There are clear indications for instance, that this group is, by and large, sent to prison for less serious crimes than native boys. Comparative studies have also shown that incarcerated Moroccans have fewer emotional and behavioural issues than native criminals. This could indicate an increased willingness on the part of law enforcement to put this group behind bars.

The most paradoxical finding of this study, conducted by the NICIS Institute, is that Moroccan boys who integrate most into Dutch culture, are the ones who become criminals. “Moroccans who want to be a part of Dutch society, who want to have a future in the Netherlands, are more sensitive to life in a society which is negatively disposed towards their own ethnic group,” the study states. If that is true, the statistics are mainly representative of frustration and anger. These sentiments recall the Paris suburbs in 2005, then the scene of extensive rioting. The term “criminal Moroccan” conceals more than it clarifies.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Pope to See Queen, Beatify Newman

Benedict’s September trip will focus on inter-Church dialogue

(ANSA) — Vatican City, March 16 — Pope Benedict XVI will see Queen Elizabeth II and beatify England’s most famous convert to Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman, during his visit to England and Scotland this September, British authorities and bishops announced Tuesday in London.

The pope will meet the queen at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, the official royal residence in Scotland, while he will beatify Newman, an Anglican churchman who converted to Rome in the mid-19th century, at a public Mass at Coventry in the West Midlands.

Benedict will also visit Birmingham, Britain’s second city where Newman worked and studied, as well as Glasgow in Scotland, where he will say Mass.

After leading a prayer vigil and a gathering about education in London, the pontiff will also see the Archbishop of Canterbury and pray with other Christian leaders, in a gathering seen as particularly significant given the Vatican’s recent opening of a special department for groups of Anglicans to ‘return to Rome’.

The theme of Benedict’s trip will be “inter-Church and interreligious relations,” the English, Scottish and Welsh authorities said.

During his visit, Benedict will also make a speech to representatives of civil society at Westminster Hall, where Sir Thomas More, England’s first saint, was tried and condemned to death in 1535 for his loyalty to the Vatican against King Henry VII. More and Sir John Fisher, another dissident against King Henry’s break with Rome, were canonised in 1935.

Should Newman follow them he would be England’s most recent saint.

Benedict’s visit will be the first official visit by a pope to the United Kingdom, the authorities pointed out, since the late John Paul II’s visit in 1982 was a pastoral one.

The pope’s full schedule will be published online “shortly before” his visit at

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden Offers Refuge to Exiled Iranian Activist

Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist Parvin Ardalan has accepted Sweden’s offer of refuge after she was sentenced to several jail terms in her native country.

“She has accepted our offer and should be here by the end of the month,” Fredrik Elg, cultural attaché in the southern city of Malmö, told AFP.

Ardalan had been invited to Malmö within the framework of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), and would be housed at a secret address in the city for up to two years, he said.

The activist, born in 1967, would also receive a grant to allow her to “freely carry out her profession,” the city of Malmö said in a statement.

Ardalan had left Iran and was “out travelling,” Elg said, adding that he did not know where she would be staying before settling in Malmö.

Last week, she was in Paris accepting a “Net Citizen” award from Google and French media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on behalf of the women’s rights blog

Ardalan, who has been sentenced to several jail terms in Iran on charges of seeking to harm national security, became a household name in Sweden after she won the 2007 Olof Palme Prize for her work to promote women’s rights in her home country.

Teheran’s refusal to allow her to attend the ceremony in March 2008 caused outrage in the Scandinavian country.

The Olof Palme Memorial Fund on Monday welcomed the news that Ardalan would

be coming to Sweden.

“It has been a pleasure to see the interest surrounding her work and I am convinced that Parvin Ardalan will contribute to both the cultural life in Malmö and increased work for human rights in Iran,” head of the Fund Pierre Schori said in a statement.

The Olof Palme Prize is named after the Swedish prime minister who was gunned down in February 1986.

Created to promote peace and disarmament and combat racism and xenophobia, the prize consists of a diploma and $75,000.

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

Sweden: Turks Leave Social Democrats in Protest

The association of Turkish Social Democrats in Gothenburg has elected to discontinue its operations after last week’s parliamentary vote to recognize as genocide the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The left-green opposition voted unanimously in favour of the motion. As a result, the Turkish Social Democrats in Gothenburg called a meeting to consider their position on Saturday. The association’s board subsequently voted in favour of closure and has recommended that its 200 members leave the main Social Democrat party.

“We feel let down, misled and cast out of the party,” said the association’s secretary and former municipal councillor Mustafa Atik.

Atik confirmed that he had already begun talks with other parties regarding a cooperation. As the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party all voted in favour of the motion, there remain only centre-right alternatives.

“This issue is so important that it gives us the energy to proceed with the election campaign, but against the Social Democrat party,” he said.

But the decision has been met with criticism from other Turkish groups in Sweden.

“The Gothenburg Turks are wrong. If we do not stay in the party how will we then influence the genocide question?” said Hasan Dölek, chair of the Turkish Association of Sweden and Stockholm city councillor, to news agency TT.

“We should work during the election, raise the turnout and vote red. At the next congress we can change the decision,” he said.

Sweden’s parliament moved last week to recognise as genocide the mass killings of Armenians and other ethnic groups — Chaldeans, Syrians, Assyrians and Pontian Greeks — in 1915 during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, going against the government’s advice.

The Swedish parliament previously voted on the issue in 2008 when the Social Democrats voted against the motion, which was rejected (by 245 to 37). The Social Democrat parliamentary bloc changed its position after a vote among members at the party congress in 2009.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Forests Spread in Size and Diversity

Swiss forests are larger and more diverse than in the 1990s, with protective woodlands now more stable against landslides and avalanches, a report has revealed.

The Federal Environment Office and the Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape Research said on Tuesday that woodlands now cover 1.28 million hectares of Switzerland, about 600 square kilometres more than 11 years ago. That new growth is about the same size as canton Glarus.

The forestry inventory report, released ahead of World Forestry Day on March 21, showed that new forests are growing most rapidly in the country’s alpine regions, where half of all forests help guard against avalanches and landslides.

Forests in mountainous areas now cover 31 per cent of the total surface area, up from 29.6 per cent from the last time an inventory was conducted in 1993-1995.

Nearly one third of the country’s protective forests have benefited in the past 11 years from measures designed to promote forest health and development. About 16 per cent of Swiss forests now cover watersheds tapped for drinking water.

At the same time, nearly three times as much deadwood can be found in Swiss forests compared with 1985, the report found. Storms, insect infestations and heat waves are largely to blame. Researchers added they would study the effects that climate change may have on wood stocks.

Forests with just one type of tree are also becoming less common. Fifteen years ago 27 per cent of woodlands were monocultures. Today it is 23 per cent.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Airline Insider Accused of Tipping Off Al-Qaida

Worker suspected of passing along ‘sensitive’ information

LONDON — Intelligence agents in the United Kingdom have launched an urgent investigation of up to a thousand recruits who are expected to fill in later this month if cabin staff workers for British Airways call a strike as expected, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The review has been launched by MI5 after agents arrested a heavily bearded IT expert working at the airline and identified him as Rajib Karim.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Animal Rights Enthusiast Cleared of Killing Hunt Supporter With Gyrocopter Blade

[Comments from JD: Warning — graphic description.]

An animal rights activist who killed a fox hunt supporter by driving a gyrocopter at his head walked free from court today after being cleared of manslaughter.

Bryan Griffiths, 55, was piloting the aircraft when its 200mph blade cleaved the head of Trevor Morse from top to bottom.

Mr Morse, 48, died instantly after refusing to move out of the way of the gyrocopter, which was being used to film the Warwickshire Hunt on March 9 last year.

Today a jury took seven-and-a-half hours to find Mr Griffiths not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence after a two-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

The verdict was met with ecstatic applause and cheers from his family and friends.

But the Countryside Alliance condemned animal rights campaigners for taking the law into their own hands.

Chief executive Simon Hart said: ‘It is not for animal rights activists to police the Hunting Act or any other law, especially not using clearly unsafe methods such as using a gyrocopter or any other aircraft.

‘This was about harassing people who hunt. We expected justice and I have to say I am not entirely sure justice has been done.’

Previously the trial heard how Mr Griffiths, who runs a heating business in Bedworth, Warwickshire, drove the aircraft along the ground towards Mr Morse following a stand-off at Long Marston airfield.

Jurors were shown horrifying footage of the moment the rear propeller sliced through his head, killing him instantly.


During the trial, Mr Griffiths told the court he did not feel responsible for the death.

He said: ‘I feel regretful about what happened. I obviously feel regret and sadness for Mr Morse’s family.

‘In my opinion this was something that could have definitely been avoided but given the fact he had been told several times to move out of the way, not only by myself and others, and had clearly been told the aircraft was going to take off, I feel that all the things that could have been done were done.

‘I do not actually feel responsible.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Doctor With ‘Disregard’ For Patients Who Sent Baby Girl Home to Die is Suspended for Just Four Months

A doctor with a ‘disregard’ for patient safety was suspended for just four months today for sending home a baby girl who died the next day from blood poisoning.

Dr Salawati Abdul-Salam failed to spot little Aleesha Evans’ deadly condition and sent her home saying she had a viral infection that needed only Calpol and Nurofen.

She died the next day.

A year before the baby’s death, another of Abdul-Salam’s patients died after a wrong diagnosis, while a pensioner suffered a collapsed lung under the trainee’s care.

GMC panel chairman Professor Denis McDevitt said the doctor’s actions demonstrated a ‘total lack of attention to detail’ and a ‘serious degree of carelessness.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: How Low Will They Go? Power of TV Revealed in Disturbing French ‘Torture’ Game Show

A French game show which featured contestants willingly delivering what they believed were near lethal electric shocks to a rival has been aired.

Those behind the show say the experiment has exposed the dangerous influence of television.

Featuring a roaring crowd and a glamorous hostess, the show had all the usual trappings of a traditional television quiz show.

But what the contestants did not know was that they were taking part in an experiment to see if they could be pushed to morally outrageous lengths.

The experiment features in a documentary due to be broadcast in France today, called How Far Will Television Go?

The stunt is a reproduction of an experiment conducted by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, in which volunteers were ordered to inflict electric shocks on a student in order to improve memory.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: How a Quarter of NHS Trusts Are a Breeding Ground for Bugs

A quarter of all hospitals are failing to meet basic hygiene standards with some treating patients on blood spattered wards or with mouldy instruments, a damning report has found.

A third of ambulance trusts have also missed the targets set, according to the Care Quality Commission.

The watchdog’s report on its tough new hygiene standards introduced following a series of scandals at Maidstone, Basildon and Stafford found that many patients were still being treated in filthy conditions.

It comes as a survey of NHS staff found they were often too overstretched to do their job properly, because of staff shortages.

On hygiene, the CQC found that 42 out of 167 NHS trusts inspected were in ‘breach’ of NHS registration requirements by failing to meet standards.

The report said that some hospitals were warned over blood-spattered wards and mouldy instruments.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Mother’s Outrage as Healthy Five-Year-Old Son Weighing 4st is Branded Obese by NHS

With an active lifestyle and diet rich in fruit and vegetables, five-year-old Cian Attwood would appear to be the picture of health.

So his parents were astounded to receive a letter from the NHS saying he is ‘clinically obese’.

It warned that he is in the fattest one per cent of his age group and risks heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Cian is 4st 2lb when the recommended weight for his age is between 2st 13lb and 3st 11lb.

But he is 3ft 10in, taller than average for a five-year-old, and is clearly not fat.

His mother Kriss Hodgson, 27, warned that labelling children as obese while they are still growing could make them anxious and lead to anorexia.

‘There’s not an ounce of fat on Cian,’ she said at the family home in Overdale, Shropshire. ‘When he takes his top off he has a concave tummy and you can see his ribs.

‘The NHS is making everybody think they need to be celebrity size zero and it’s going to give people eating disorders.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Ukraine’s “No” To NATO: An Example for Serbia

By Srdja Trifkovic

Ukraine’s decision to pass a law that will prevent the country from joining NATO should be a model for Serbia to follow. The government in Belgrade is still intent on seeking NATO membership, and it is still encouraged to do so by various ill-informed and not necessarily well-meaning Americans, such as Senator George Voinovich. His advice should be rejected: it is contrary to Serbia’s interests, and detrimental to peace and stability in the Balkans.

Bill Clinton’s air war against the Serbs eleven years ago marked a decisive shift in NATO’s mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational security force based on the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.” The defensive alliance of 1949 thus had morphed into a blatant aggressor in 1999. The bombing had a profound effect on the Russian perception of NATO. In the eyes of the Russians, it was aimed to prove that NATO is the decisive force in the post-Cold War Europe, and to reassert the leading positionof the United States in that organization. Better than any other post-Soviet event, the Kosovo war exposed the position of Russia in the new world order. Earlier warnings by Moscow’s NATO-skeptics were suddenly validated: the US was attempting to encircle Russia, after all. This conclusion has not changed over the years. The National Security Strategy approved by President Medvedev in May 2008 and reiterated last winter identified NATO as a threat to Russian national security.

The Traps of Membership — If Serbia were to join NATO, it would inevitably face two major challenges: sharp internal divisions that would further undermine the country’s stability, and Russian counter-measures. It is worth pondering what would Serbia do, once in NATO, if the US asked it to play host to elements of an anti-ballistic missile system, like those introduced to Romania? Far from treating Serbia as a friendly nation, Russia would be perfectly within her rights to respond by targeting Serbia with nuclear missiles. Clearly, in that case there would be a threat, but it would be a threat of Washington’s own manufacture. Moscow views plans to deploy an ABM system in Eastern Europe as major threats to Russia’s core security interests: if these plans were to come to pass, Russia’s deterrent capability—the key to its security—would be drastically undermined. European Russia would be surrounded by hostile forces.

NATO and the uses to which Washington puts it constitute a messy tangle of contradictions. Outwardly, it appears to be what it always was: a defensive organization dedicated to collective security. Inwardly it is something else entirely. NATO’s mission was to contain the USSR—universally perceived as a threat—through collective security: an attack against one would be an attack against all. Although NATO had a war fighting doctrine, it sought mainly to deter attack. In this it succeeded splendidly; but with Marxism-Leninism relegated to the ash heap of history, NATO morphed from a defensive alliance to fend off a commonly acknowledged threat into a vehicle for the attainment of the United States’ global ambitions.

By virtue of its location, Russia controls the crossroads of Eurasia and therefore access to its huge natural resource wealth. As Washington craves cheap and easy access to that wealth, Russia is its target — and the U.S. has an ideology to complement its geo-strategic ambitions. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice described it succinctly: in U.S. foreign policy there is no distinction between ideals and self-interest, she asserted, they are one in the same. U.S. foreign policy is its values, and the US will stop at nothing to assure that its values prevail. The world is divided into two camps: one is made up of states that share U.S. values; the other of states such as Russia and China, who are consigned to a lesser status because their relations with the US are “rooted more in common interests than in common values.” Some of Dr. Rice’s statements reflected a mindset reminiscent of the early Bolshevik leaders’ revolutionary dynamism: “It is America’s job to change the world, and in its own image… The old dichotomy between realism and idealism has never really applied to the United States because we do not accept that our national interests and our values are at odds… We prefer preponderances of power that favor our values, over balances of power that do not. We have dealt with the world as it is, but we have never accepted that we are powerless to change to world.”

Whether viewing U.S. foreign policy through the prism of geo-strategy or ideology, Russia remains in NATO’s crosshairs.. It has become an important means of changing the world in America’s image. If Serbia were to join, Belgrade would be enlisting in a crusade to encircle Moscow for the benefit of those who bombed Belgrade for 78 days eleven years ago. Such policy would be not only geopolitically self-defeating, but also morally criminal.

At a time of extreme political, economic, military and moral weakness Serbia needs to pursue its key national interest—that of maintaining friendly relations with Russia.. This cannot and will not happen if Serbia resorts to provocative acts such as joining a NATO bent on Russia’s encirclement. In defining its security arrangement Belgrade should adopt certain criteria based on the conventional understanding of Serbia’s national interest. They should include:

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Children Abandoned as Morocco Deports Adoptive Parents

Last week, Morocco deported a large number of Christians on suspicion of proselytizing.

By Gert van Langendonck in Rabat

Their only crime, Herman Boonstra said, was letting children read from a children’s Bible. “Stories of Noah and the Ark and Jonas and the whale. Stories which appear in the Koran as well.”

Last week, Boonstra and 15 other people working at the Village of Hope orphanage in Ain Leuh, a town in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, were booted out of the country for suspected proselytizing. Elsewhere in Morocco, Christians were also deported, including a “significant” number of Americans, the US embassy reported.

Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch acting minister of foreign affairs, immediately summoned the Moroccan ambassador to protest the deportation of Boonstra and six other Dutch people. Confessional parties have asked questions about the matter in the Dutch parliament.

33 children, abandoned anew

On Friday evening, Boonstra and the other adoptive parents from the Village of Hope appealed to the Moroccan king to “to act with mercy and help us reach a point of compromise and reunite the 33 children with the only parents they know,” Village of Hope’s website said.

For Herman and Jellie Boonstra their deportation is a personal drama. They had come to see the eight children they had taken in as their own. The Village of Hope was not an everyday orphanage. Here, children were adopted into real families. The Village was home to 33 children in all, mostly abandoned by women who had become pregnant out of wedlock. “They were our children. Now suddenly they aren’t anymore,” an emotional Boonstra said, speaking on the phone from Spain.

The proposition was risky to begin with: adoption is illegal in Muslim countries. Something resembling it is allowed, a practice called kafala in Arabic, but Christians are not eligible.

On the other hand, Village of Hope had just been officially recognised as a children’s care facility early this year, which made the deportation an even bigger surprise, Boonstra said. “We have always tried to be clear. They knew exactly who we were and have not interfered with us one bit for ten years. Now, suddenly they are treating us like criminals and having us carried off under police escort.”

Practice, don’t preach

Responding to the criticism, the Moroccan minister of communication Khalid Naciri announced that Morocco would “continue to take stern action against everyone belittling religious values.” According to Naciri, Christians are free to practice their religion in Morocco, but proselytizing will not be tolerated.

The minister of justice had earlier stated that the deported foreigners had exploited the poverty of a number of Moroccan families to convert minors to Christianity. In a joint statement, the Catholic and evangelical churches of Morocco distanced themselves from the deported Christians. Converting people in a relatively weak position is a “deplorable practice,” according to the churches.

Jack Wald III, an American reverend with the protestant Rabat International Church, said the deportations were indicative of a policy shift in the government. Deportations of Christians are nothing new in Morocco, “But we considered the deportations in 2009 as anomalies.” said Wald, who was chairman of the Village of Hope’s board until 2008. “This is different; this seems to be a coordinated effort”

Morocco has taken stern measures against Shia Muslims in the past, as it has against Salafi and other strains of Muslim faith at odds with the official Moroccan variety of Islam: Sunni Malikism.

The Moroccan constitution guarantees religious freedom, but Islam is the official state religion and converting people to another one is punishable under the law.

“The way it was done has been traumatising for the children: they have been abandoned a second time,” said Wald. “It was a shameful act on the part of the Moroccan authorities. What they’re saying is that the perceived threat from Christianity trumps the welfare of these children.”

Boonstra said he never intended to convert the children in his care. “Of course they are more familiar with Christianity since they grew up with us, but they got Koran lessons all the same. We have always tried to make everything as Moroccan as possible. We have never held a grudge against Muslims and still don’t. We have tried to uphold the Dutch standard of care in Morocco, to show that things don’t have to be the way they are in the official Moroccan orphanages, where children have to share their beds with two others.”

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Palestinian Authority Shuts Down the Only Christian TV Broadcaster in the Territories

After 14 years on the air, the government shuts down the only Palestinian Christian TV station. Located about 350 metres from Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the station broadcast shows with social, religious, economic and cultural content. Its general manager tells AsiaNews the order is unfair, stressing the high regard in which viewers held the station.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) — The Palestinian National Authority has shut down Al-Mahed “Nativity” TV for operating without a licence. Samir Qumsieh, owner and general manager of the Christian broadcaster, slammed the decision. After 14 years on the air and despite a long list of “thank you letters” by grateful viewers, Palestinian police raided the broadcaster’s offices yesterday at 2 pm. Waving an order by the Interior Ministry, they put the station off the air.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Mr Qumsieh said he was baffled by the order, which for him was “unjustified”.

Located on high ground at about 350 metres from the Church of Nativity, in Bethlehem, Al-Mahed “Nativity” TV was for years the “only Christian voice” among Palestinian media.

It broadcast programmes in all sorts of domains, from education to the environment, from politics to local culture and society, as well as programmes with a religious content: masses, prayers and the most important celebrations on the liturgical calendar. Its audience was not limited to Christians but included Muslims as well.

According to unconfirmed reports that reached AsiaNews, the closure appears to be financially motivated. Palestinian authorities demanded money, a “licence” that was not paid.

In a letter addressed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Mr Qumsieh slammed the unjustified closure of the Christian TV station because of the “lack of a licence”.

He said that 14 years of broadcasting earned the station the gratitude of viewers as demonstrated by the many thank you letters and e-mails, worthy of a “Guinness world record”.

In his letter to the authorities, he said that he “would not beg” to have the station re-opened. The “ingratitude” shown to him is “unacceptable by any religion, logic or conscience”.

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

Middle East

Dubai Jails Indian Pair for ‘Sexy Texts’

Steamy text messages have resulted in a three-month jail sentence for a Indian man and an Indian woman in Dubai.

Judges ruled that they had planned to “commit sin”, a reference to an extramarital affair — which is illegal in the United Arab Emirates.

The unnamed pair, aged 47 and 42, were working as cabin crew for Dubai’s Emirates airline.

Their “sexy texts” first surfaced last year, in a divorce lawsuit by the woman’s estranged husband.

Crimes of passion

The Indian pair were originally sentenced to six months in jail, followed by deportation.

But an appeals court reduced the term and gave them the option to remain in the country.

The court said there was not enough evidence to determine whether the man and the woman had actually had an affair, which could have brought a harsher sentence.

This is the latest in a series of cases where foreigners have been found to have broken Dubai’s conservative laws.

Earlier this week, a British couple said they would appeal a one-month jail sentence for exchanging a passionate kiss in a restaurant.

In 2008, two Britons were sentenced to three months in jail for what authorities described as sex on the beach. The sentences were later suspended.

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

Iran Nuclear Programme ‘Solely Civilian’ — Turkish PM

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has told the BBC that he believes Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.

Mr Erdogan said he was confident Iran’s nuclear programme was for civilian purposes only and described President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a “friend”.

“I told him I don’t want to see nuclear weapons in the region,” he added.

Meanwhile, a top US general has said intelligence suggests Iran will not be able to build a nuclear bomb this year.

Gen David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, said Tehran’s weapon development programme appeared to have suffered delays.

“It has, thankfully, slid to the right a bit and it is not this calendar year, I don’t think,” he told a Senate committee hearing, according to the Reuters news agency.

Experts believe that Iran could enrich enough uranium for a bomb within a few months. However, it has apparently not yet mastered the technology of making a nuclear warhead.

‘Manipulating the facts’

In an interview with the BBC’s Nik Gowing, Mr Erdogan said he believed it was Iran’s “most natural right” to develop a nuclear programme for civilian purposes.

It was, he added, “unfair” of nuclear-armed countries to “manipulate the facts” about Turkey’s neighbour while at the same time not telling Israel to dispose of its nuclear weapons.

“Countries with nuclear weapons are not in a position to turn to another country and say: ‘You are not supposed to produce nuclear weapons,’“ he said.

“Iran has consistently spoken of the fact that it is seeking to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes and that they are using uranium enrichment programmes for civilian purposes only.”

“That is what Mr Ahmadinejad has told me many times before.”

Mr Erdogan said he had personally warned the Iranian president about the risks of nuclear conflict in the Middle East.

“I told him I don’t want to see nuclear weapons in the region, and Mr Ahmadinejad told me that they do not have an intention to produce nuclear weapons.”

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

Iran: Police Deployed to Contain Iranian Festival of Fire

For Khamenei, the celebration brings harm and corruption. It is better to avoid it. Opposition urges people to use the festivity to demonstrate against the regime. Police take into custody 50 people for being a “nuisance to the public.”

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Iranian police was deployed in various cities to prevent possible opposition rallies on Chaharshanbe-Suri, the ancient Zoroastrian Festival of Fire that began last night. Some online sources reported sporadic clashes in the capital, whilst police said 50 people were arrested.

Chaharshanbe-Suri is an ancient festival from the Zoroastrian tradition that is celebrated the Wednesday before Norouz, the Iranian New Year that falls on 21 March.

The night before, celebrants set fireworks, make seven bonfires in the streets and jump over them to mark the passage from winter to spring.

The authorities have dismissed the celebrations as heretical fire-worship without any basis in Sharia.

A few days ago, Supreme Leader Alì Khamenei said that it “creates a lot of harm and corruption, which is why it is appropriate to avoid it,”

The authorities actually fear that the opposition will use the festival and the public gatherings it generates to demonstrate as it did on other occasions following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election and the emergence of the green wave.

Some opposition groups have called for demonstrations against the regime, but one leader, Mir Hossein Moussavi, has called on his supporters not to cause any turmoil.

Opposition website Jaras, reported clashes in several parts of Tehran. Other witnesses said that celebrations are taking place with greater discretion but without a glitch.

Nevertheless, police announced that it arrested 50 people for causing “an unacceptable level of nuisance to the public”.

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

Iraq: Christian Killed in Northern City of Mosul

Baghdad, 17 March (AKI) — Masked gunmen on Wednesday shot dead an Iraqi Christian in the northern city of Mosul, the Assyrian Christian website reported. The city has been at the centre of a number of attacks targeting Christians in recent months.

Yaqub Adam, a 54-year-old father was hit by a hail of bullets fired from a pistol with a silencer. He was murdered near the shop where he worked as a glassmaker.

It was the first Christian killing since Iraq’s national elections on 7 March and came less than a week after 122 Christian families returned to Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province.

Around 800 families had left their homes in Mosul in the past few months to seek safety in villages in the surrounding province, Mosul’s bishop Monsignor Emil Shimoun Nona, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Over 40 Christians have been killed in Mosul in the past three months in bomb and gun attacks in a resurgence of the violence which killed 40 Christians and caused more than 12,000 to flee in 2008.

It is not clear if Al-Qaeda or factions involved in a violent territorial and power struggle between Kurds and Arabs are behind the spike in attacks against Christians and their churches.

Christians number around 250,000 to 300,000 in Nineveh province, out of approximately 700,000 Christians remaining in Iraq.

Before the US-led invasion in 2003, there were over a million Christians living in Iraq, according to data collected by the country’s dioceses.

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

Turkey: Europe is Asking Ankara to Recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Other Religious Minorities

A ruling of the European Commission for Democracy says in fact that the title “ecumenical” Patriarchate of Constantinople is universally recognized and it does not understand the insistence of Turkish authorities in denying a historically established fact. Europe’s warning useful to Erdogan’s in his battle to reform the constitution.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) — The European Commission for Democracy has made a ruling urging Turkey to recognize as from time immemorial the entire international community has done, the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its historical role as it was already defined the sixth century. In the same ruling the legal status of all religious minorities in Turkey is recognized.

The committee, the so-called Venice committee, named after the lagoon city where it gathered the day before yesterday, is part of the Council of Europe, which brings together 47 states, including Turkey.

The Turkish authorities, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, have refused to recognize the religious status of the See of Constantinople, considering it simply as a single diocese of the Orthodox community and the recognizing the Patriarch of Constantinople the sole function of the pastor of his community.

This ruling, observes the noted journalist, editor of Nikos Papachristou, in addition to restoring the historic right of Constantinople, lays the foundation not only for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki (pictured), but also to change the current situation, for which the metropolitans must be Orthodox Christians of Turkish nationality.

The Commission states that the title “ecumenical” from the Patriarchate of Constantinople is universally recognized and that it does not understand the insistence of Turkish authorities in not recognizing a historically defined fact that is accepted throughout the world. This committee links the work of the theological school to the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and has called for its immediate reopening. It explicitly calls on Turkey to legally recognise the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all the religious communities present in Turkey. The discussion was attended by two representatives of the government from Ankara, whose arguments were rejected.

The committee also reminded Turkey of compliance with Article 9 of the Treaty on Human Rights, which establishes the right to religious freedom, which must not hinder the exercise of religious functions and the See of Constantinople to be titled the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Certainly, it is said in the ruling, Turkey is not obliged to recognize the ecumenical title, but it can not, however, force anyone to deny this historical title that is defined and universally accepted. And on that point, the grand jury said they did not understand the legal reasons for which Turkey refuses to recognize the historic role of the patriarchate.

The ruling rejected Ankara’s appeal to the Lausanne Treaty, in so far as it makes no mention of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and therefore places no restriction on the exercise of its role. In this regard, committee members commented that the Treaty of Lusanne (1923) is now superseded and surpassed by recent treaties on the rights of man. So continuing to invoke it is a sign of defensive positions that have long been exceeded.

The sentence, though once again condemns Turkey for breach of human rights, in essence, does not displease Erdogan, who can now reproach the godfathers of the old bureaucratic nomenclature, concentrated in the judiciary and the Supreme Court, a mentality that is not appropriate to European dimension, and may invoke the need to accelerate the reform of the Turkish Constitution, widely seen as responsible for all the ills of Turkey.

It may be coincidence, but at last Thursday’s meeting in the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, that included the Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who is also responsible for the religious foundations, and all the spiritual leaders of religious minorities, including Bartholomew, when asked by reporters about the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, the same Arinc replied that the Erdogan government has decided to allow its reopening.

Hopes are born for a real springtime for religious minorities in Turkey.

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

Turkey PM Hails ‘Friend’ Reinfeldt

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s decision to distance himself from a Swedish parliament vote on the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks has been hailed as “very positive” by his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Speaking after talks with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, Erdogan welcomed a telephone call made by Swedish premier on Saturday, voicing his sadness over the vote.

“I believe that the statements made by my friend the prime minister of Sweden Mr Reinfeldt are very important,” he said, speaking through a translator.

“He has explained in his statements that such decisions taken by the parliament of Sweden are politicising… he regrets to see that such decisions are being taken and he also assures that the Swedish people have very positive views about the Turkish people.”

Erdogan added: “I believe that these are all very positive statements… and I thank him for it.”

Sweden’s parliament moved last week to recognise as genocide the mass killings of Armenians and other ethnic groups in 1915 during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, going against the government’s advice.

Ankara quickly recalled its ambassador and cancelled a visit by Erdogan to Sweden after the vote, which came just days after a similar move by a US Congressional panel.

Armenians, and the majority of international researchers, say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed in a systematic campaign of extermination during World War I as the Ottoman Empire fell apart.

Turkey categorically rejects the genocide label, arguing that between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks were killed in civil strife when Armenians rose up for independence and sided with invading Russian forces.

But much to Ankara’s ire, parliaments in several countries have recognized the killings as genocide.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Turkey Threatens to Expel 100,000 Armenians

Turkey’s prime minister has threatened to deport 100,000 Armenian migrants, amid renewed tensions over Turkish mass killings of Armenians in World War I.

Recent resolutions in the US and Sweden have called the killings “genocide”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the BBC that of 170,000 Armenians living in Turkey “70,000 are Turkish citizens”.

“We are turning a blind eye to the remaining 100,000… Tomorrow, I may tell these 100,000 to go back to their country, if it becomes necessary.”

Thousands of Armenians, many of them women, work illegally in Turkey. Most do low-skilled jobs such as cleaning.

Faltering diplomacy

Mr Erdogan was speaking in an interview with the BBC’s Turkish Service, in which he was asked about the recent votes by lawmakers in the US and Sweden.

The resolutions, recognising the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as “genocide”, were passed narrowly, and in both cases Turkey reacted angrily.

Mr Erdogan said the resolutions “harm the Armenian people as well… and things become deadlocked”.

Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian was quoted as telling parliament on Wednesday that Mr Erdogan’s comments only reminded Armenians of the mass killings.

“These kinds of political statements do not help to improve relations between our two states,” he said.

“When the Turkish prime minister allows himself to make such statements it immediately for us brings up memories of the events of 1915.”

Diplomatic moves to normalise relations between Turkey and Armenia have faltered recently.

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

Turks Barred From Receiving Sperm or Egg Donations Abroad

ISTANBUL — Women seeking help becoming pregnant have had their options further limited by a new regulation preventing the obtaining of sperm or egg donations abroad. The rule amends an existing law barring such procedures domestically; women who break it could face up to three years in prison

With domestic egg and sperm donations already banned, Turkish women seeking to become pregnant have now been prohibited from receiving similar fertility treatments abroad by a new regulation seeking to “protect the country’s ancestry.”

According to Irfan Sencan, the director of the Health Ministry’s Health Services Department, the recent amendment to the law was made to “protect the ancestry, to make the newborn’s father and mother known.”

“It has nothing to do with race,” Sencan told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Why What General Patraeus Said is Wrong About the Middle East (Or is it Just Being Misinterpreted?)

by Barry Rubin

General David Petraeus is a smart guy, one of the smartest in the U.S. government at present. But he’s no Middle East expert. Let’s examine two remarks he made in his congressional testimony. Before we do, though, promise me you will read paragraph 17 because there’s a very explosive point made there you won’t find anywhere else. Agreed? OK, let’s go.

Please note, by the way, that what he actually said is far milder than earlier leaks claimed. In addition, of course, Petraeus has to support White House policy, whatever he really thinks or knows. The Defense Department’s recent Quadrennial review, also written to please the White House, contained not one mention of Iran’s drive to get nuclear weapons or the threat of revolutionary Islamism. And he also has advisors who tell him the wrong stuff.

Statement One:

“A credible U.S. effort on Arab-Israeli issues that provides regional governments and populations a way to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the disputes would undercut Iran’s policy of militant ‘resistance,’ which the Iranian regime and insurgent groups have been free to exploit.”

On the surface this makes a lot of sense. But let’s examine it closely. Let’s assume there is a comprehensive settlement to which the Palestinian Authority (PA) agrees. It isn’t going to happen but this is for demonstration purposes.

In order to get an agreement, the PA would have to make some concessions, let’s keep them to the minimum for our discussion. At a minimum, it would have to say that the conflict is at an end, recognize Israel, renounce Palestinian claims to all of Israel, and agree to settle all Palestinian refugees in Palestine. In addition, it might have to make some small territorial swaps, not get every square inch of east Jerusalem, and agree to some limits on its military forces.

What would happen?

First, none of this would apply to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Hamas, Hizballah, Syria, Iran, Muslim Brotherhoods, and many others would renounce this as treason. Hamas would continue to attack Israel; its forces in the West Bank would stage cross-border raids into Israel and try to seize power in the West Bank.

Would the kind of people who are now prone to support revolutionary Islamism then say: “What a fair settlement. This settles all our grievances. Thank you, America for being so wonderful!”

While to many Western observers such a reaction would seem logical this is not what would happen. The Western onlooker is assuming a pragmatic, facts-based response rather than an ideological response based on massive disinformation by governments, media, religious leaders, and political movements.

They would say, paraphrasing the words of an ancient Chinese military theorist: The enemy retreats, we advance. They are weak and fearful. The day of victory is near! They would denounce the puppet Palestinian state as a Western lackey. They would redouble their efforts to sabotage the settlement.

Moreover, it would change nothing regarding their goal of overthrowing their own governments…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]


Russia — South Korea: Russian Racism Against Young Koreans

The South Korean Embassy calls on Russian authorities to protect the 2,000 South Koreans studying in Russia. Too often, they are beaten, some even killed. Russian Prime Minister Putin calls the situation “tragic”.

Moscow (AsiaNews) — Xenophobic and racist attacks are nothing new in Russia. The usual targets are people from the Caucasus, Tajikistan or Africa; increasingly, young South Koreans studying in Russia in exchange programmes are the victims of the same racist violence. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the South Korean Embassy has called on the Kremlin to ensure the safety of the 2,000 South Korean students present on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The latest episode on 7 March saw a masked man attack a South Korean student with a knife, injuring him on the neck. The 29-year-old is still listed in serious condition in hospital after undergoing surgery.

Last month in the Siberian city of Barnaul, capital of the Altai Krai, a group of young Russians beat to death a student from Gwangju. Police arrested three youths in connection with the attack, whose motive “cannot be reduced to theft” according to South Korean diplomats posted in Russia.

The Korea Herald is now reporting that South Korean students feel vulnerable, afraid that racist attacks might continue. Trusting Russian authorities is another issue, according to the paper, because the latter are already hard pressed with a wave of racist attacks in the country.

Attacks against non-European looking residents are a daily occurrence in Russia. However, Russian authorities claim that the number of racist crimes dropped last year following a crackdown against extremist elements. In February, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the problem of racism in Russia was “tragic”, but insisted that the police response corresponded to the level of threat.

Yet, many human rights groups continue to deplore t general atmosphere of impunity that pervades the country because courts tend to treat xenophobic violence as mere vandalism.

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

South Asia

Burka-Clad Bomb Attackers Shot Dead in Lashkar Gah

Afghan security forces have shot dead two militants who attacked a charity office in the southern city of Lashkar Gah, officials say.

They say the two men, wearing burkas, were killed before they could detonate their explosives-laden vests.

A woman working for the International Relief and Development charity and a guard were injured in the attack.

Lashkar Gah is near Marjah in Helmand province, the focus of a major Nato-led offensive against the Taliban.

Last Saturday, suicide bombers launched an assault on the city of Kandahar, in the neighbouring province, which left at least 35 people dead.

A Taliban spokesman said the attacks were in response to a planned major offensive by US and Nato forces against militants in the Kandahar province.

[Return to headlines]

Germans Cringe at Hitler’s Popularity in Pakistan

Germans are popular in India and Pakistan, but not always for the right reasons. Many in South Asia have nothing but admiration for Adolf Hitler and still associate Germany with the Third Reich. Everyday encounters with the love of all things Nazi makes German visitors cringe.

Pakistan is the opposite of Germany. The mountains are in the north, the sea is in the south, the economic problems are in the west and the east is doing well. It’s not hard for a German living in Pakistan to get used to these differences, but one contrast is hard to stomach: Most people like Hitler.

I was recently at the hairdresser, an elderly man who doesn’t resort to electric clippers. All he has is creaky pair of scissors, a comb, an aerosol with water. He did a neat job but I wasn’t entirely happy.

I said: “I look like Hitler.”

He looked at me in the mirror, gave a satisfied smile and said: “Yes, yes, very nice.”

I decided not to challenge him, went home and tried to get rid of the strict parting he’d given me.

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

Indonesia: Protests Planned for Obama Visit

Jakarta, 17 March(AKI) — US president Barak Obama’s forthcoming trip to Indonesia has provoked a strong reaction from conservative Muslim leaders who are calling for protesters to take to the streets during his stay. Habib Salim Alatas, a leader from the hardline Islamic Defender Front (FPI) told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the visit was an “insult” to Muslims.

“Half a million people will be in the streets to protest against his arrival,” Habib Salim Alatas, head of the Jakarta branch of the FPI, told AKI.

“I don’t understand why the government invited Obama. His country continues to conduct war against Muslim countries, and I do not see how Obama can really improve relations between us and them (western countries).”

Obama is due to leave the US on 21 March for a five-day trip to Indonesia and Australia.

He is expected to spend two days in the capital Jakarta -where he spent about four years as a child — and a day on the Hindu island of Bali.

During his two-day stop in Jakarta, Obama will meet Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and deliver his first address to the Muslim world since his historic Cairo speech last year.

Masdar Farid Mas’udi, a leader of 40 million-member strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Islamic group in Indonesia, was more accommodating and welcomed Obama’s visit as an opportunity for dialogue.

“Global problems are so big that it would be an error to expect too much, but NU will continue to support the message of dialogue that Obama will bring,” he told AKI.

“We want better relations between Indonesia and the US and between the US and the rest of the world and we consider Obama the best possibility in bringing about this improvement.”

Indonesians have already participated in scattered peaceful demonstrations to protest the approaching visit.

Thousands of members of the Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that is committed to the creation of an Islamic calaphate, protested in East Java’s provincial capital of Surabaya, South Sulawesi’s capital of Makassar and three other cities on Sunday. The group has pledged to stage further protests.

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

Taliban Harness Power of the Web

The Taliban banned the internet when they were in power in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 declaring it immoral and un-Islamic.

But eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the internet has become one of the main platforms for insurgents in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan.

As military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan intensify, the Taliban are increasingly using the internet to generate popular support and undermine local governments and their international partners.

The Taliban use the internet very successfully and they have established “virtual” sanctuaries.

Their multi-lingual websites (in Arabic, English, Dari, Pashto and Urdu), “al-Emarah” and “Shahamat”, are regularly updated with battlefield reports.

The websites also offer readers interviews with Taliban leaders, propaganda videos, commentaries and official statements.

It seems that they are trying to become less dependent on other local and international media.

The Taliban also send their material to a number of other “independent” websites in an effort to make their actions seem more acceptable to audiences.

E-mails are used to issue press releases, to inform local and foreign journalists of their activities in the field and to give their own version of events.

Online race

In fact, the Taliban are generally faster than the Afghan government and its foreign allies to circulate information about a particular incident.

“The important usage of the internet by the Taliban is they are sending the messages through e-mails to the media”, says Masoom Stanekzai, home security adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“This way, they are quoted in daily news and news analysis. And that is why they seem to be very sophisticated in using the internet.”

The main target of the Taliban’s internet activity is the educated elite who have access to the internet and more influence in the community.

“I think they have gone from using the internet first for really western audience or audiences outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to do fundraising and recruitment and other things”, says Vikram Singh, a senior adviser on communications to Richard Holbrooke, the special US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“It [the internet] is certainly an important part of the Taliban strategy and it is growing.”

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

Far East

North Korea: Pyongyang is Preparing the First Portrait of the “Third Kim”

On April 15 celebrations for the birth of Kim Il-sung, “eternal president” of North Korea. For the occasion, the portrait of Kim Jong-un, third child and heir apparent of Kim Jong-il will be exposed in public.

Pyongyang (AsiaNews) — In less than a month, North Korea and the world we finally will see the face of Kim Jong-un, third son and heir of the dictator Kim Jong-il. The official portrait of the Dauphin will in fact be displayed alongside those of his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung, on 15 April: a national holiday that marks the birth of the founder of the nation.

Yeonghwa Lee, professor of economics at Japan’s Osaka University and expert on North Korean affairs announced the event in a lengthy interview yesterday morning in the Yomiuri Shimbun, the most popular Japanese newspaper. Japan and South Korea, given the geographical proximity to the last totalitarian dictatorship in Asia, follow the events in the country very closely.

Lee claims to have learned of the preparations underway from a North Korean collaborator, according to whom the Workers ‘Party of the North “is preparing all the necessary measures to make the portrait of Kim Jong-un, the 26-27 year old third son of the ‘Dear Leader’ and the chosen — according to Western intelligence services — as successor as head of the communist state.

There is much expectation for the next president of North Korea: According to his fellow citizens, he is “crueller than his father”, despite having been educated in the West. Kim Jong-un’s only picture dates to the time of his studies in Switzerland, when he was little more than a teenager. On the occasion of the celebrations for the “eternal president”, the portraits of three generations, according to Lee, “will be displayed next to one another.”

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

North Korea: Kim Jong-Il Grooms a “Bulldog” As Heir

On April 15 the portrait of Kim Jong-un, third son of North Korean dictator and heir apparent will be publically unveiled. But the father, who fears being murdered, at the same time is promoting another child and giving him the weapons to hold off the heir to the throne.

Pyongyang (AsiaNews) -A few days ago North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il appointed his second son, Kim Jong-chul (see photo), vice chairman of the Department of Organization and the leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea. This is a key role, allowing the young 27 year old to use the National Security Agency guards at will and sit inside the small politburo of the North.

According to AsiaNews sources in Korea, the move was decided by the “Dear Leader” to curb the ambitions of the third son and designated heir, Kim Jong-un, who it is said will finally be anointed as the “third Kim” to lead the increasingly repressive country on April. The sources explain that the father, who is single handedly responsible for the famine that is ravaging the population, in fear of being killed appointed his second child to “rival” his third and ensure a mutual control that would limit the heir’s expectations and hunger for power.

The appointment was confirmed by the Mainichi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper close to the Stalinist regime. According to sources in the newspaper, the newly-appointed “was assigned an office adjacent to that of his father, the headquarters of the party. Every time there is a problem, the two get together and exclude all others”. The possibility of a dichotomy in command in Pyongyang, the sources tell AsiaNews, “is the highest probability for the future.”

The lack of food and the disastrous currency reform, says the source, “have exacerbated the population that is eager to blame someone. Catalyzing their hate on a single figure could be very dangerous which is why Kim Jong-il has divided the power between the two children. In this way, he also keeps them better under observation “.

According to other analysts, however, this appointment could also represent a last-minute change in the choice of a successor to the throne of Pyongyang. The “Dear Leader”, in fact, was appointed by his father Kim Il-sung to the same chair now occupied by the 27 year old when he was 27, in the mystique of dynastic power; this could be a signal to the detriment of third son Jong-un. In any case, doubt will be dissolved in less than one month: April 15, a national holiday celebrating the birth of the “eternal president” Kim Il-sung, the North Korean capital will be hung with portraits of the two leaders. But, internal officials report, for the first time spaces are being made for three portraits: therefore the successor will be announced on that date.

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

Uzbekistan: Tashkent Cracks Down on Business

Many of the country’s top business leaders have been arrested. Little is known of what is going on and why, but some speak of tax fraud and corruption. Some analysts believe that President Karimov might be trying to wipe the slate clean and carry out a generational change among Uzbek elites. Ordinary Uzbeks should not be affected by the changes at the top.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Uzbek authorities are arresting some of the wealthiest businessmen in the country. Little is officially known, but some are talking about an anti-corruption campaign of sort. Others are speculating that Uzbek President Islam Karimov is trying to wipe the slate clean of the old oligarchs in ordner to replace them with younger people beholden to him.

Among the latest information, sources in the Finance Ministry are saying that the authorities plan to revoke the licence of Uzbekistan’s Alp Jamol Bank and that individual deposits in the bank would be transferred to the state-owned Xalq. The situation around the bank’s corporate deposits is not clear yet.

According to unconfirmed online information, an inspection has started at the bank. The chairman of its management board, Fazliddin Abdurashidov, and its owner, Mukhiddin Asomiddinov, are also said to be on the run.

Some independent websites report that Dmitry Lim, owner of the Karavan Bazaar, Uzbekistan’s largest wholesale market, was taken into custody along with more than 50 high-ranking officials of the market. Other sources are reporting that he fled to the United States where his wife and son have been long time residents.

Alik Nurutdinov, who heads the Bekabad cement factory, and Batyr Rakhimov, businessman and president of one of Tashkent’s main football clubs, Pakhtakor, have also been reportedly detained. Batyr’s brother Bakhtiyor is also wanted but is thought to have fled the country.

It seems that one of the two Uzbek owners of the Swiss-registered company Zeromax, which is involved in Uzbekistan’s oil and gas industry, was brought in for questioning.

Official sources are saying that all those involved in the crackdown are accused of financial crimes, ranging from tax evasion to corruption. However, few details have been made public.

The operation appears to have its origins in a speech President Islam Karimov gave in December during a national holiday, when he said, “There will be no oligarchs in our country.”

Aleksey Volosevich of says it could simply be that the state needs money. In order to fill the state coffers, what better way than to “take over an established and successful business or threaten legal action to get the rich to put huge amounts of money into state coffers.”

Other experts note that many of the people involved have been in power for decades and that the operation against them might be part of a strategy by the Karimov family to create a new, younger elite beholden to them. Speculation has it that the crackdown might actually be directed at Zemlikhan Khaidarov, a shadowy figure who is believed to be real owner of many of the companies affected.

Surat Ikramov, head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan, thinks that this campaign will not produce desired results because those who will replace the disgraced businessmen will continue to run businesses the same crooked ways. The fact that ordinary Uzbeks are not being informed of what is going on is a telling point.

He added that the situation was reminiscent of the liquidation of Biznes Bank in March 2005, when depositors were not allowed to transfer their money to banks of their choice, because the Central Bank specified to which banks they should transfer their money.

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

Latin America

Colombia: Documentary Reveals Violence in FARC

Rome, 16 March (AKI) — A powerful new documentary has revealed the violent face of Colombia’s outlawed armed militant group FARC. Peruvian director Judith Velez’s 64-minute film, called ‘Liberenlos ya!’ (or ‘Free Them Now!’) charts FARC’s evolution from its creation in the 1960s as a Marxist guerrilla group through to its more recent involvement in drug trafficking and kidnappings.

The documentary on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was made together with Peruvian journalist Pablo O’Brien and consists of a series of interviews with witnesses and experts.

“I wanted to achieve maximum objectivity, without interjections and commentaries from outsiders,” Velez told Adnkronos International (AKI).

The film has a didactic approach and pays “great attention to the topic of human rights” in delivering a two-fold message, said Velez (photo).

“First, revolutionary armed struggle, despite its seductive appeal, especially to the desperately poor, cannot provide a solution to Latin America’s problems.”

“Second, in Europe, there’s too much romanticism surrounding revolutionary groups like the FARC, which has found support in Europe simply owing to a lack of information about the group.”

The film draws on previously unpublished documents and images, such as that of a young Pedro Antonio Marin, FARC’s historic leader later also known by his battle names of Manuel Marulanda or Tirofijo (sureshot). He died in 2008.

“To make this documentary, we carried out a real investigation, during which we uncovered sensational things, like the killing in Equador in March, 2008 of FARC leader Rafael Reyes,” she said.

“Apart from the historic and documentary aspect, I wanted to give ample space to FARC’s human aspect, to show the great suffering that can be caused by an ideology which disregards the social impact of its actions to achieve its political aims.”

The film contains excerpts from the pathbreaking radio programme ‘Voices of the Kidnapped’ presented by journalist Herbin Hoyos, who was himself held by FARC guerrillas for 17 days in 1994.

The film captures the anguish and heartbreak of kidnap victims’ families in footage of tearful fathers who appear on the radio programme, urging FARC to allow their children hear their voices over the airwaves.

“It took the case of Ingrid Betancourt’s kidnap to raise awareness outside Latin America of a reality that affects many people in the continent,” said Velez in a reference to Colombia’s highest profile hostage and former politician whom FARC freed in July 2008, after six years in captivity.

“Betancourt’s release forced us to completely alter the film,” said Velez.

She described how travelling to the border between Ecuador and Colombia gave the film crew a sense of the nightmare facing the region and how many feel like foreigners at the mercy of armed groups and drugs barons in a place where anything could happen.

“The lost influence and prestige of the FARC today is due to its bloody drift, which shows that violent political change cannot work”, added Velez, with reference to the years of The Shining Path’s terrorism in her country.

‘Liberenlos ya!’ aims to show how revolutionary movements grow up and inevitably become violent.

“These movements become strong because of the enormous gap between the rich and the poor. The weakest in society are attracted to armed groups when they don’t see any other way out,” said Velez.

“If the gap between rich and poor is not reduced in the future, there is a risk that armed movements will continue to to be formed.”

Velez is already known in Italy for her film ‘Schermi d’Amore’ which won first prize at Italy’s Verona Film festival and her earlier film ‘La Prueba’.

‘Liberenlos ya!’ has not yet won any Italian awards, and Velez was unable to present it at the Bombay Film Festival because she was ill.

“But I hope to have a more luck in future. We are already entering festivals in Europe or Italy.”

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

Haiti: Girls as Young as Two Facing Rape in Tent Cities as UN Security Patrols Fail to Protect Women After Haiti Earthquake

Girls as young as two are falling victim to rapists who are preying on women and children left homeless by the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Rape is rife in the sprawling tent cities that have become home for hundreds of thousands of Haitians and men are demanding sexual favours in return for food and shelter, according to a report published today.

Doctors are treating children aged two and seven who have been raped in the past fortnight at a refugee camp set up on a golf course in Port-au-Prince.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Finland: Immigration Experts Face Racist Harassment

Finnish researchers into issues related to immigration have increasingly become victims of online threats against themselves and their families.

Some of them have withdrawn from public discussions rather than face the intimidation.

University of Helsinki Chancellor Ilkka Niiniluoto does not know of a time when the Finnish scientific community had faced such attacks.

“It could be compared with situations in history such as the Soviet Union of the time of Stalin, or when Galileo Galilei was victimised by the Inquisition”, he says.

“Few know the kind of direct harassment that researchers undergo today”, says Veronika Honkasalo, a researcher at the Youth Research Network.

Honkasalo pointed out that Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen (Nat. Coalition Party) said last spring that people should be able to speak critically about immigration issues without being labelled a racist.

“With that excuse it would be possible to say anything at all”, Honkasalo said.

Withdrawing from the public eye would mean conceding victory to the attackers, which is why Honkasalo feels that it is the duty of researchers to counter the negative tones in the debate.

“One has to be ready for powerful reactions, but there has to be a limit”, she says.

Niiniluoto says that if fear goes so far that experts avoid expressing opinions, society has to react.

The Finnish constitution guarantees that university researchers are free to choose their topics, apply for funding, and defend their views with scientific arguments.

But how is society to make sure that a researcher is not victimised by threats. An anonymous contributor wrote in the Helsingin Sanomat letters to the editor column on Monday that police did not investigate online attacks against the writer, saying that the process would be expensive, and that the matter is of little societal importance.

“I cannot take a stand on this individual case, but I am surprised at what was said. The cost of the process is not an argument in our investigative culture. Many forget that it is possible to commit largely the same crimes on the Internet as in life in general”, notes Robin Lardot, Chief Inspector of Police at the Ministry of the Interior.

Illegal threats and libel on the Internet are crimes that require a complaint from the victim before police can investigate.

However, Lardot says that the police understand the seriousness of the problem of online racism. On Thursday last week the police introduced the “blue button” tipoff system, which makes it easy to report to police all types of improper content.

“It is possible to collect evidence from the Internet. The police has agreed with prosecutors on how to make sufficient note of racist motives”, Lardot says.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Finland: Vantaa: No New Municipal Asylum Seeker Places for Two Years

The City of Vantaa plans to suspend the granting of municipal places to asylum seekers for a period of two years citing a lack of resources. Last year over one hundred asylum seekers moved independently to the city.

Over the past two years, a total of almost 350 asylum seekers moved to Vantaa representing an increase of 70 percent.

According to Anna Cantell-Forsbom, Service Manger, Psychosocial Services at the City of Vantaa, the city is not preventing the move of asylum seekers to the area.

“We want to concentrate our services on helping asylum seekers who have already moved to the city,” she told YLE News.

The number of asylum seekers moving independently to the city rose by over 20 percent last year. Cantell-Forsbom adds many family reunifications are in progress leading to a further increase in numbers.

She clarifies there is no real difference for either the asylum seeker or the City whether a person receives a municipal place or moves independently.

“They all get the same reception. We arrange housing for them and offer social and health facilities,” she adds.

Unlike Vantaa, Ministry of the Interior data shows that, for example, Helsinki and Espoo have neither concluded agreements on allocating municipal asylum seeker places. The Ministry says a total of 1226 new places were allocated around the country.

Anna Cantell-Forsbom says the number of asylum seekers has increased dramatically in recent years. Limiting the number of municipal places is the only way to guarantee the provision of integration services for existing residents.

She hopes the situation will improve within a couple of years. “Vantaa wants to secure integration services for all those who need them,” she emphasizes.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

US Freezes Funds for ‘Virtual’ Border Fence With Mexico

The US is freezing funding for a “virtual” fence designed to detect people illegally crossing the Mexico-US border, after a series of problems.

US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said spending was being halted until the project was reviewed.

In addition, $50m (£32m) is being redirected to other tested technology.

The “virtual” fence, which currently just covers part of the Arizona-Mexico border, was designed as a network of cameras, sensors and radar.

The programme was launched by the Bush administration in 2005 and was supposed to be in operation along the 2,000 mile (3,200km) border by 2011.

The aim is to allow Border Patrol agents to monitor the border via cameras, ground sensors and radars and respond when crossings by illegal immigrants or smugglers are detected.

“Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost-effective way possible,” Ms Napolitano said on Tuesday.

“The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines.”

‘Complete failure’

Ms Napolitano said $50m would be reallocated to other tested, commercially available security technology including mobile surveillance, thermal imaging devices, mobile radios, cameras and laptops for vehicles used by Border Patrol agents.

No further money will be spent on expanding the project beyond Arizona until a reassessment is completed.

Arizona Senator John McCain, who has described SBInet as a “complete failure”, welcomed the move.

“Napolitano has decided to instead turn to commercial available technology that can be used to immediately secure our border from illegal entries,” he said.

The House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee is due to hold a hearing on the virtual fence project this week.

Its chairman, Bennie Thompson, said Ms Napolitano’s decision showed that the programme “needs better management and stronger oversight”.

Among the problems, the radar system had difficulties in distinguishing between people and trees when it was windy, while it took too long to send information from the ground back to a command centre.

Boeing, which manages the project, said it was “fully committed to delivering border-security technology that successfully assists” the homeland security department.

The issue of border security has been given added importance by the level of drug-related violence in Mexico.

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

Culture Wars

UK: Catholic Adoption Agency Wins Landmark Ruling Against Gay Rights Law

The last Roman Catholic adoption agency in England and Wales today won a High Court battle today over legislation forcing it to consider homosexual couples as parents.

Catholic Care, which serves the dioceses of Leeds, Middlesbrough, and Hallam in South Yorkshire, launched the legal action saying it would have to give up its work finding homes for children if it has to comply with the legislation.

The agency is the only one of 11 Catholic adoption agencies in the country to continue to fight the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs).

The law outlawed discrimination against gay couples in the provision of goods and services and was pushed through Parliament in 2007 in spite of protests from leaders of all the mainstream religious faiths.

It meant that Catholics adoption agencies — which together found new homes for about 250 children in care each year — were obliged to assess same-sex couples as potential adopters or foster parents.

The Catholic Church teaches that gay adoption is ‘gravely immoral’, however, and it has since either closed its adoption agencies or relinquished control of them, without a single agency surviving.

Pope Benedict XVI told English and Welsh bishops last month that the effects of the Government’s equality laws represented a ‘violation of the natural law’ and that they imposed ‘unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs’.

Catholic Care’s plea to be allowed an exemption was opposed by the Charity Commission.

Today Mr Justice Briggs, sitting in London, allowed Catholic Care’s appeal and ordered the commission to reconsider the case in the light of the principles set out in his judgment.

The Rt Rev Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds, welcomed the judge’s decision, saying it would “help in our determination to continue to provide this invaluable service to benefit children, families and communities”.

He said the judgment confirmed that Catholic Care was correct in its reading of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 and that the exemption could apply ‘to any charity subject to it being in the public interest’.

The bishop said: ‘We look forward to producing evidence to the Charity Commission to support the position that we have consistently taken through this process: that without being able to use this exemption, children without families would be seriously disadvantaged.

‘Catholic Care has been providing specialist adoption services for over 100 years.

‘We have helped hundreds of children through the recruitment, assessment, training and support for prospective adoptive parents as well as offering ongoing and post-adoption support to families that give such security and love for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

‘The judgment today will help in our determination to continue to provide this invaluable service to benefit children, families and communities.’

[Return to headlines]

UK: Mothercare Worker ‘Bullied Into Keeping Quiet About Pregnancy… In Case She Upset Staff Who Had Abortions’

A Mothercare worker claims she was ‘bullied’ into keeping silent about her pregnancy in case it upset colleagues who had experienced abortions or miscarriages.

Traci Winchcombe, an assistant manager with the baby clothing giant, says she was told not to mention she was expecting in case it hurt the feelings of staff who had suffered birth traumas.

She told a tribunal that her former store manager’s attitude towards her ‘changed’ when she broke the news that she was pregnant in March last year.

The 32-year-old said Jacque McDonald suddenly became ‘abrupt’ and ‘rude’ in her dealings with her at a high street branch of the store in Canterbury, Kent.

Ms Winchcombe, from nearby Westgate-on-Sea, said she was reduced to tears after the harassment she received daily at work got ‘worse and worse’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Women Embrace Feminism Through Islamic Religion

Rome, 16 March (AKI) — A new book by Italian writer Renata Pepicelli challenges popular perceptions that Islam is a patriarcal religion and that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, fails to address equality of the sexes. The book entitled, Islamic Feminism, takes a historical perspective on the role of women in Islam and a global movement in which Pepicelli argues women are advancing their emancipation.

Activists and theorists both in the East and the West are looking at alternative interpretations to the sacred texts to advance judicial and institutional reforms and promote female equality.

The book offers a comprehensive historical view on the theory and development of feminism in Islam.

“Can you be a Muslim woman and a feminist at the same time?” Pepicelli asks her readers.

According to some reviewers, the best comparison presented in the book is comparing life in the 1930s and 1940s in Turkey and Egypt to modern living conditions today.

Legendary founder of the Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, was an army general before becoming the country’s first president in 1923.

He freed the country from laws that defined women to religious obligations and abolished the veil in public places, while in Egypt the “Muslim brotherhood” in a bid to support Islamisation proposed using the veil as a kind of “public judgement”.

The book recounts the birth and progress of Islamic feminism and describes the development of a wave of feminist activism in the Islamist movement.

A paints a portrait of a Muslim world undergoing transformation that defies many of the stereotypes perpetrated in the West.

“The status of Muslim women today is more than ever a crucial element not only in the politics of Muslim states, but also in those countries in which Muslim minorities are on the rise,” Pepicelli says.

Although there is a prevailing view among Muslims that there is a lot to be done regarding the advancement of the rights of women in predominantly Muslim countries, regarding everything from literacy to choosing a marital partner, there is also a debate about how to achieve the goals.

It is a complex situation especially when you compare Afghanistan, where the Taliban issues decrees denying women the right to work or study, with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran where a greater number of women graduate from university than in Italy.

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


Zenster said...

Erdogan Urges German Turks Not to Integrate

Encouraging an immigrant group to avoid assimilation and, instead, seek imposition (per shari'a law), of their own non-constitutional government should be regarded as an ACT OF WAR and responded to accordingly.

Anonymous said...

"A Mothercare worker claims she was ‘bullied’ into keeping silent about her pregnancy in case it upset colleagues who had experienced abortions or miscarriages."

It's getting harder and harder, these days, to distinguish between satire and straight news reporting.