Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100331

Financial Crisis
»Greece: Government Tax Measures Timid, Sev
»Home Price Dip Extends to 4th Month
»Italy Needs to Lower Debt, Moody’s
»Italy: One-Third of Young Italians Unemployed
»It’s Official — America Now Enforces Capital Controls
»Anarchists Plan War on April 15th Tea Parties
»Attack on Christianity at Trinity University
»Barack Obama to Allow Offshore Oil Drilling
»Cab-Slay Rage
Europe and the EU
»Anti-Immigrant Support Rises as Italian Far Right Makes Big Gains in Poll
»Belgian Politicians Take First Key Step to Ban the Burqa
»Belgium Moves to Become First European Country to Ban the Burka
»Belgium Moves Toward Banning Muslim Face-Covering Veil
»Church Backs State Investigations
»For 250 Years, Turkey’s Presence in Europe Was Invariably as an Armed Invader in Christian Lands
»Italy: Napolitano Sends Labour Law Back
»Italy: Center Right Winner in Regional Vote
»Merkel: ‘Rules Changed’ For Turkish EU Bid
»Merkel Says EU-Turkey Talks Are ‘Open-Ended’
»Muslim-Jewish Tensions Roil Swedish City
»The Roles of the Jews in Italian Society
»UK: Bride-to-Be’s Fury as Boy Racer Who Killed Her Fiance and Left Her in Wheelchair is Jailed for Just Three Years
»UK: Parents of Persistently Naughty Pupils ‘Must Face Courts’ Schools Minister Says
»Vatican Radio Accuses NYT of Unreliable Articles
»Saudi Princes Sponsor Turbulence: Found to be Funding Balkan Muslim Jihadists
Israel and the Palestinians
»NY Times Defends Obama, Not U.S. Interests; Blames Israel, Not White House or Palestinians for All Problems
Middle East
»Iraq: Links to Ba’athists Could End Allawi’s Hopes of Seizing Power
»Iraq: Allawi Accuses Iran of Election Interference
South Asia
»India: Orissa: Church Commission to Examine Christians’ Martyrdom
Australia — Pacific
»Banned Website ‘Blacklist’ Won’t be Made Public
»Gordon Brown: ‘Immigrants Must Honour British Values’
»Netherlands: Immigration Comes at Hefty Price
»UK: Immigration is Not Out of Control, Says Gordon Brown
»Magnetic Zaps to the Brain Can Alter People’s Moral Judgments

Financial Crisis

Greece: Government Tax Measures Timid, Sev

(ANSAmed)- ATHENS, MARCH 31 — The Greek Association of Businesses and Industry, SEV, has called the government’s new tax bill ‘timid’, pointing out in a statement that the new law will come down hard on businesses and not on tax dodgers. There are three main disadvantages to the bill, the statement says. Firstly, argue the SEV, tax evaders are not hit as they are not included in verifications on the ‘income-meter’. The bill is particularly damaging to those who cannot escape paying taxes. Finally, according to the SEV, the few decisive structural interventions are timid, while the bill also contains measures likely to have a negative impact on businesses and to discourage investment. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Home Price Dip Extends to 4th Month

NEW YORK ( — The market seems to have pulled the rug out from under housing industry hopes for a sustained early recovery.

After a five-month run-up in home prices starting last spring, prices have now fallen for four consecutive months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index of 20 cities, a gauge of market values, released Tuesday.

In January, prices were down 0.4%, compared with December and have fallen 0.7% from a year earlier.

“The rebound in housing prices seen last fall is fading,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s. “Fewer cities experienced month-to-month gains in January.”

30 days and counting: Homebuyer tax credit expiring

Buoyed by the government’s program of tax credits for first-time buyers, home prices had come 5.4% off their low set last April. Since the impact of the credit crunch started to fade last fall, prices have flopped again, down about 1% since September.

“People rushed to beat the tax credit deadline,” said Richard DeKaser, a housing market analyst.

That exhausted the supply of bargain hunters. Even after the credit was extended, there were fewer potential buyers because so many had moved up their purchases.

Blitzer pointed to other housing data that also suggests weakness in the market.

“Housing starts continue at extremely low levels, recent reports of home sales suggest the market remains difficult, and concerns remain about further foreclosures and a large shadow inventory of unsold homes,” he said. “We can’t say we’re out of the woods yet.”

DeKaser said he believes that banks will start to ease their restrictions on mortgage lending over the next several months, which should boost markets. Underwriting standards are so tight right now that many people who would be buying homes cannot because they can’t obtain a mortgage.

The tax credit helped offset that market weakness but when it expires at this month — contracts have to be signed by the end of April and sales closed before July 1 — the lenders will have to step up.

“If lenders don’t return to the market, we could experience another letdown in the housing market,” he said.

Only two cities recorded home price gains in January: Los Angeles prices rose 0.9% and San Diego gained 0.4%.

Portland, Ore., reported the largest decrease, 1.8%. Other large losses were sustained by Chicago and Seattle, both down 1.7%, and Atlanta, off 1.5%.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Italy Needs to Lower Debt, Moody’s

Large primary surplus would set stage for ratings upgrade

(ANSA) — Rome, March 31 — Italy needs to lower its national debt if it wants to improve the country’s credit rating, according to a new report for Moody’s Investors Service entitled Italy: Reversing High Debt in a Low-Growth Environment.

In order to reduce its debt of some 1.8 trillion euros, the third highest in the world after the United States and Japan, Moody’s said Italy must return to producing a large primary budget surplus, state revenue minus public spending and excluding interest on debt.

However, this will be a major challenge for Rome given that Italy is only sluggishly coming out of its worst post-war recession which in 2009 caused its GDP to shrink by 5.1% and resulted in the country posting its first primary deficit rather than surplus since 1991.

Nevertheless, Moody’s analyst Alexander Kockerbeck said that “Italy has a proven track record in managing” its accounts.

Although the recovery so far has been slow, Moody’s observed, Italy has the potential to boost its GDP this year by about 1% and next year by 1.5%.

The Italian economy will need “between six to nine months” to return to its levels before the global economic downturn, which began in 2008, Moody’s said.

Despite its massive debt and budget deficit last year of 5.3% of GDP, Moody’s observed, Italy is in a better condition than other euro area countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain which will need to make “brutal budgetary adjustments” to curb their swelling debts.

Italy has had an AA2 rating from Moody’s since 2002, while in October 2006 Standard & Poor’s lowered its rating on long-term debt from AA1 to A+ and Fitch Ratings dropped it to AA- from AA.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: One-Third of Young Italians Unemployed

Rome, 31 March(AKI) — Almost one in three young Italians is unemployed as Europe’s fourth richest-country still feels the effects of the worst recession in more than 60 years. At the end of February, there were about 2.13 million jobless in Italy, while 22.81 million others were employed, the state statistics agency Istat said on Wednesday in a statement about preliminary figures.

Nationwide 8.7 percent of Italians were out of work in February, 1.2 percent more than in February 2009. But the percentage of jobless Italians more than tripled to 28.2 percent for people aged between 15 and 24 years old, a 4 percent jump from a year earlier.

“I can’t stress enough how disturbing the high youth unemployment is,” said Gugliemo Loy, a leader from one of Italy’s largest union, the Italian Work Union (UIL), which includes workers in the textile, metal and transport industries.

Italy emerged from a recession during the third quarter of last year but slipped back into contraction during the final three months of 2009.

Moody’s Investors Service Wednesday said the country’s ability to tackle its slow economic growth depended on the government’s ability to manage its unusually high 1.800 billion euros in debt, which is a quarter of the euro region’s total debt.

“The government faces some challenges in growing out of its high public-debt levels given the current context of low economic growth,” Alexander Kockerbeck, a Moody’s analyst, said in a report released on Wednesday.

“Italy has a proven track record in managing.”

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

It’s Official — America Now Enforces Capital Controls

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer country. On March 18, with very little pomp and circumstance, president Obama passed the most recent stimulus act, the $17.5 billion Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (H.R. 2487), brilliantly goalseeked by the administration’s millionaire cronies to abbreviate as HIRE. As it was merely the latest in an endless stream of acts destined to expand the government payroll to infinity, nobody cared about it, or actually read it. Because if anyone had read it, the act would have been known as the Capital Controls Act, as one of the lesser, but infinitely more important provisions on page 27, known as Offset Provisions — Subtitle A—Foreign Account Tax Compliance, institutes just that. In brief, the Provision requires that foreign banks not only withhold 30% of all outgoing capital flows (likely remitting the collection promptly back to the US Treasury) but also disclose the full details of non-exempt account-holders to the US and the IRS. And should this provision be deemed illegal by a given foreign nation’s domestic laws (think Switzerland), well the foreign financial institution is required to close the account. It’s the law. If you thought you could move your capital to the non-sequestration safety of non-US financial institutions, sorry you lose — the law now says so. Capital Controls are now here and are now fully enforced by the law.

Let’s parse through the just passed law, which has been mentioned by exactly zero mainstream media outlets.

[Return to headlines]


Anarchists Plan War on April 15th Tea Parties

WARNING: Be on the lookout— Bring your cameras. Violent anarchists are planning on infilitrating and sabotaging the Tea Party Protests on April 15th.

[Return to headlines]

Attack on Christianity at Trinity University

When one attends a school with a Christian heritage, a connection to a Christian denomination, and an obviously Christian name, should one be surprised — or offended — by a reference to Jesus Christ on one’s diploma? And should “>one expect that the reference be deleted from every student’s diploma because a minority of students take offense at it?

One would think that the answers to such questions would be obvious. Indeed, one would think that the need to even ask the questions is laughable. But that is not the case at San Antonio’s Trinity University…

[Return to headlines]

Barack Obama to Allow Offshore Oil Drilling

US president will modify 20-year ban to exploit reserves off Virginia’s coast as officials claim plan will end reliance on fuel imports

In a reversal of a long-standing ban, Barack Obama is to allow oil drilling off Virginia’s coast — while rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.

Obama’s plan offers few concessions to environmentalists, who have been strident in their opposition to more oil platforms off US shores. Hinted at for months, the plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama will announce the new drilling policy today at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. White House officials claimed the changes would reduce US reliance on foreign oil and create jobs but the president’s decisions could help secure support for a climate change bill languishing in Congress.

The president, joined by interior secretary Ken Salazar, was set to announce that proposed leases in Alaska’s Bristol Bay would be cancelled. The interior department planned to reverse last year’s decision to open up parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Instead, scientists would study the sites to see if they’re suitable to future leases.

Obama is allowing an expansion in Alaska’s Cook Inlet to go forward. The plan also would leave in place the moratorium on drilling off the west coast.

In addition, the interior department has prepared a plan to add drilling platforms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico if Congress allows that moratorium to expire. Congress in 2008 allowed a similar moratorium to expire; at the time president George W Bush lifted the ban, which opened the door for Obama’s change in policy.

Under Obama’s plan, drilling could take place 125 miles from Florida’s Gulf coastline if Congress allows the moratorium to expire. Drilling already takes place in western and central areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The president’s team has been busy on energy policy and Obama talked about it in his state of the union address in January to Congress. During that speech, he said he wanted the US to build a new generation of nuclear power plans and invest in biofuel and coal technologies.

“It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development,” he warned.

Obama urged Congress to complete work on a climate change and energy bill, which has remained elusive. The president met with lawmakers earlier this month at the White House about a bill cutting emissions of pollution-causing greenhouse gases by 17% by 2020. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.

White House officials hope the announcement will attract support from Republicans, who adopted a chant of “Drill, baby, drill” during 2008’s presidential campaign.

The president’s plan would be paired with other energy proposals that were more likely to find praise from environmental groups. The White House planned to announce it had ordered 5,000 hybrid vehicles for the government fleet. And on Thursday, the environmental protection agency and the transportation department are to sign a final rule that requires increased fuel efficiency standards for new cars.

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

Cab-Slay Rage

No jail, despite ‘fess-up

When off-his-meds, epileptic cabby Hassan Afzal had a seizure behind the wheel in lower Manhattan four years ago, he killed a beautiful young college sophomore, and badly injured her three friends.

But the heartless hack won’t spend a single day behind bars for the carnage of that 2006 cab ride from hell, even though he’d repeatedly lied to hide his epilepsy on licensing forms and had stopped taking his anti-seizure medication weeks before the crash — an outcome that left his victims in tears.

“There is no justice,” Anna Sallustio, 20, said from her Brooklyn home after learning of Afzal’s no-jail deal, struck in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday.

“I am appalled,” said Sallustio, whose leg and pelvis were shattered in the horrific West Side Highway crash.

Her big sister, Enza, 25, was left comatose for two weeks from head injuries.

Afzal, 25, will serve just five years’ probation for criminally negligent homicide.

“We’re heartbroken,” Richard Ricco, 50, said of the bittersweet outcome in the death of his daughter, beautiful Danielle Ricco, 21 — crushed by an oncoming cab after being thrown from Afzal’s taxi as it careened through the Meatpacking District.

On the one hand, Ricco said, he and his wife, Diane, of Staten Island, were finally able to sit in court yesterday and hear Afzal admit his seizure caused the crash after four years of insisting his brakes had failed.

Had Afzal kept up his “bad brakes” fiction, it would have been difficult to give jurors medical evidence that he had a seizure.

But on the other hand, family members said, the slap on the wrist stings them far more than it does the cabby.

“We really wish that he had been a decent human being and shown some sign of remorse,” said Judy Vallarelli, of Westchester, whose daughter Amy, 25, is only now able to walk unassisted after suffering a fractured pelvis and a shattered femur.

But Afzal’s lawyer, Bryan Konoski, insisted, “He has actually expressed great remorse. He feels extremely bad for the pain and suffering the girls and their families went through.”

That’s news to the families.

“I look him in the eye, I give him the opportunity to say he’s sorry,” said Richard Ricco. “But he doesn’t. I don’t know what he holds in his heart.”

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Anti-Immigrant Support Rises as Italian Far Right Makes Big Gains in Poll

Regional elections see surge in votes for Northern League party, which campaigned on anti-migrant agenda

The leader of the Italian Northern League, Umberto Bossi (r), and his son Renzo in their headquarters in Milan. Photograph: Daniel Dal Zennaro/EPA

Final results from Italy’s regional and local elections have confirmed a surge in support for the anti-immigrant right, mirroring similar gains recently seen in the Netherlands and France.

With Silvio Berlusconi and his allies taking four regional governorships from the left, Umberto Bossi’s Northern League has emerged as the undisputed winner. The League was expected to take 13% of the national vote, up from 8% at the last general election in 2008 when it used a poster of white sheep kicking out a black one.

Bossi’s party won two important governorships — Piedmont, the region around Turin, and the Veneto. In the Veneto it received a 10% higher share than the prime minister’s Freedom People movement.

The League also continued its expansion into areas outside its Po valley homeland. In “red” Emilia-Romagna it won almost 14%.

The party’s success fitted an emerging pattern. Earlier this month the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, who has compared the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, made big gains in local elections. In France Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front won nearly 10% of the vote in regional ballots.

The League’s platform in the campaign leading up to the Italian poll on Sunday and Monday was less overtly racist than the NF’s or that of Wilders’ Party for Freedom. But Bossi’s party is in government and, with control of the interior ministry, it has been able to implement many of the policies it sought to introduce, including the turning back of would-be clandestine immigrants at sea and the setting up of “centres for identification and expulsion”.

Welcoming the results, Bossi called his party “unchained”. He gave a hint of what that could mean when he clashed with another minister, loyal to Berlusconi, after declaring that he wanted a Leaguer to be the next mayor of Milan. There was another spat after Berlusconi’s public sector minister, Renato Brunetta, was defeated in a bid to become mayor of Venice. He said “friendly fire” from Bossi’s followers had brought him to grief.

In the main election the governorships of 13 of the country’s 20 regions were up for grabs. Six went to the right and seven to the left — a relative victory for Berlusconi, who entered the campaign handicapped by the economic crisis and the rank incompetence of his own officials who failed to submit on time the list of his party’s candidates in the key region of Lazio.

Berlusconi, who controls a daily newspaper, a weekly news magazine and three television channels, said he had survived a “terrible campaign of slander and defamation”. He added: “Once again, love has conquered envy and hate.”

He said the result would enable his government to enact “the reforms necessary for the modernisation and development of our country”. The reform at the top of his agenda before the poll was an overhaul of the judiciary intended to draw the claws of the prosecutors who have been trying to put him in jail for more than 20 years.

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

Belgian Politicians Take First Key Step to Ban the Burqa

A Belgian parliamentary committee voted Wednesday to impose a nationwide ban on wearing the Islamic burqa in public. FRANCE 24 examines the issues surrounding this controversial ban.

A top Belgian parliamentary committed voted unanimously Wednesday to impose a nationwide ban on wearing the burqa — or all-enveloping Islamic garment for women — in public. The vote paves the way for the first clampdown of the garment of its kind in Europe.

The vote came a day after a top legal body in neighbouring France warned the French government that a nationwide ban on the burqa would be vulnerable to legal challenges.

Following Wednesday’s approval of a burqa ban by the Belgium parliament’s home affairs committee, a draft law will be put before a full house vote — possibly toward the end of April.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Felice Dassetto, a sociologist and president of the

Belgium-based CISCOW (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Islam in the contemporary World), for the inside track on this thorny issue.

FRANCE24: What has been the reaction in Belgium to this issue so far?

Felice Dassetto: Pretty good. It should be noted that this ban will affect the niqab [Islamic veil only revealing the eyes] and the burqa and it will be a nationwide ban, thereby, a measure that will apply to all of Belgium. We have not had a debate or committee established to examine the issue, which has helped in the decision making process. Moreover, the Muslim community in Belgium has not really commented on this subject, except for small groups. So there has been no real outcry against the proposed ban.

There already exists a Belgian law dating from the nineteenth century that prohibits covering the face in public. Opponents of the burqa and the niqab have relied on it to defend their position. Moreover, in many regions within Belgium, wearing the full veil in public is prohibited by police regulations. Here, the real issue the idea that the ban with now be nationwide.

F24: How do you explain the disinterest of Belgian Muslims and the population as a whole on this issue?

Felice Dassetto: In the first place, only very few Muslim women in Belgium use the niqab or burqa. This minority usually belong to the minority Salafiist community. Secondly, the Muslim community and the general population are instead focused on the issue of headscarves in schools. That’s the real debate in this country. On this issue, Muslim groups are really exerting pressure. About 50% of Muslim children are enrolled in private schools which are more flexible on the issue of headscarves. The other half go to state/public schools. A significant number of schools have elected to ban headscarves. In recent years, the Muslim community have been demanding the right to wear headscarves in state schools.

F24: Can we compare the situations in Belgium and France?

Felice Dassetto: They are not really comparable, given the fact that there is no real debate on the burqa or niqab in Belgium. The only common point is perhaps the fact that non-Muslims in France, as in Belgium, are mostly opposed to wearing the burqa and niqab. But there has not been much debate on the issue in Belgium as there is in France. There was a sort of implicit “deal” between Belgian political leaders and the Muslim community. The latter hopes that by letting the law banning the burqa go through, the government will be inclined to be more flexible on the issue of headscarves in schools.

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

Belgium Moves to Become First European Country to Ban the Burka

Belgium is on the verge of becoming the first European nation to ban the burka.

A parliamentary committee agreed yesterday to outlaw the wearing of face-covering veils in public. The full Parliament will vote later this month.

Under the proposals, women could face a week in prison or a fine for wearing a veil in public.

There are an estimated 650,000 Muslims in Belgium — 6 per cent of the population.

The text of the new law does not specifically mention burkas but makes it illegal for anyone to wear clothing ‘that covers all or most of the face’ in any public place.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Belgium Moves Toward Banning Muslim Face-Covering Veil

( A parliamentary committee in Belgium voted on Wednesday to ban the wearing of face-covering veils in public, and the full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill in late April. The Interior Affairs Committee, in which all major parties are represented, was unanimous in its decision.

“We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen,” MP Daniel Bacquelaine of the French-speaking MR liberal-values party told the Associated Press. “It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and encloses an individual.”

Similar legislation is being mulled in France as well and has been supported by President Nicolas Sarkozy. On Tuesday, however, France’s Council of State warned that the prohibition risked being found unconstitutional. The Belgian legislation could also be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

Last November, Swiss citizens voted to ban minarets on mosques.

Only ‘a couple of dozen’ wearers

The Belgian legislation specifically targets the burqa and the niqab, both of which which cover the face, although these are not commonly seen in Belgium. “We have to act as of today to avoid (its) development,” Bacquelaine said. “Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society,” he said.

There are about 500,000 Muslims in Belgium. The Belgian Muslim Council says only “a couple of dozen” wear full-face veils. Several districts of Belgium have already banned the burqa in public places.

Supporters of the ban say that face-covering garb poses security problems and violates women’s civil rights. Opponents like Isabelle Praile, the Vice President of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, said it could set a dangerous precedent. “Today it’s the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini-skirts,” she told the AFP news agency.

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

Church Backs State Investigations

Cooperate with police over child abuse, Italian bishops say

(ANSA) — Vatican City, March 30 — Italian bishops on Tuesday stressed the importance of cooperating with secular authorities investigating child abuse claims and expressed their support for victims of attacks by priests. In a statement issued at the end of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) assembly, under way since last week, the bishops refuted claims they opposed working with police and investigators. “They agree on the fact that a rigorous and transparent application of canonical procedural and criminal rules are the main path to search for the truth,” the statement said. “They do not oppose the state authorities whose task it is to investigate the substance of allegations, but rather support those authorities through faithful cooperation”. It said the bishops “reaffirmed their support for the victims of abuse and their families, wounded and offended by the Church itself”. Victims’ associations and media reports have repeatedly questioned the extent to which the Catholic Church has worked with the police to punish offenders and prevent further abuse over the years. Last week, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi strongly denied allegations by the New York Times that a longstanding Vatican secrecy rule prohibited senior church figures from reporting paedophilia cases to the police.

A 1962 canonical law cited by the daily “never in fact prohibited reporting abuse to the judicial authorities”, he said. Pope Benedict XVI has also come under fire over a 2001 directive he issued in his former role as Vatican doctrinal chief saying that investigations should be kept in-house.

But in the CEI statement, Italian bishops rallied to the pope’s defence, insisting he had shown a “determined and enlightened attitude”.

They praised him for leaving “no margins of uncertainty” and refusing to “indulge in downplaying” the scandals. “He invited the ecclesiastical community to ascertain the truth of what happened and take action where needed,” they said.

“He has the full and affectionate support of Italy’s bishops”.

The statement also underscored the need for detailed consideration before accepting candidates for the priesthood and reiterated the importance of priestly celibacy. The issue of celibacy has been in the spotlight lately, after an Austrian archbishop appeared to suggest the Catholic Church should reconsider the issue in light of the abuse scandals.

“Once again [the Italian bishops] confirm the need for a careful selection of candidates for the priesthood, valuing human and emotional maturity, as well as spiritual and pastoral maturity,” the statement said. “The value of celibacy, which is in no way an impediment or impairment of sexuality, represents, particularly in these days, an alternative and humanly enriching way to live one’s humanity”. The Catholic Church has been caught at the centre of an ever-widening scandal of abuse claims in recent weeks, with dozens of fresh allegations surfacing in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Poland.

On Tuesday, the Church in the pope’s native Germany announced it was launching a telephone hotline for sexual abuse victims.

In a long-awaited letter to the Irish faithful ten days ago, Benedict apologised for the abuse cases and ordered a clerical inspection of Irish dioceses but took no action against bishops there.

The pope’s letter met with a mixed reception and many victims’ groups said it did not go far enough.

Some called for a personal ‘mea culpa’ from Benedict, particularly in regard to his 2001 guidelines.

While Church representatives have repeatedly expressed their sympathy and support for the victims of abuse, some have also accused the media of overstepping the line. On Tuesday, an editorial in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore described “cowardly rumours against a pope”. “It is clear that more than one party wants to besmirch the white robes of this strong and clear-sighted witness, doing their very best to shape destructive projects,” it read. Also on Tuesday, one of Italy’s most senior church figures came to the Church’s defence in an interview with Vatican Radio.

Ex-CEI chief and former vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, said some in recent weeks had sought to “eradicate from people’s hearts their faith in the Church and, I fear, their faith in Christ and in God”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

For 250 Years, Turkey’s Presence in Europe Was Invariably as an Armed Invader in Christian Lands

President McAleese’s strong endorsement of Turkey’s membership of the EU is, presumably, government policy. But why? How is full Turkish membership of the EU in our interests, when the emigrants from both countries will be competing for jobs in mainland Europe? Or is it simply an ideological issue, in which we faithfully follow the EU party-line as once good Communists adhered to the diktats from the Comintern?

The largely undiscussed reason to worry about Turkish membership of the EU is the most delicate: religion. But Turkey is eager to present itself as an agent of the Islamic world: they recently even proposed making an “Islamic car” (whatever that is) with Malaysia. When the Danish prime minister Lars Rasmussen was proposed as head of NATO, the Turkish PM, Racip Tayyip Erdogan, alleged that the Dane’s handling of the Mohammed-cartoons issue had made him unpopular in the Muslim world. So Turkey is already acting as an Islamic emissary, and on an issue of free speech that goes to the very core of European secularism. For in our culture, we can call Jesus Christ a sodomite son-of-a-whore without legal consequence. But I would not even jokingly use such language about Mohammed for fear of Islamic death-squads.

So is the EU expected to arrange its affairs in order to please the Muslim world? And is Turkey’s role to be a judge of what we may (or may not) say about Islam? Take President Abdullah Gul, whose political roots are unashamedly Islamist, and whose wife wears a headscarf (for which Ataturk would have banned her from government buildings).

He recently told Mary Fitzgerald of the ‘Irish Times’: “If secularism is to be interpreted in a way to limit the freedom of faith and religion, this would be a misinterpretation. For that reason, we advocate that Turkey needs to have a real secular system but it is also important that there will be full freedom of faith as well.”

Full freedom of faith means sharia law for Muslims. With the exception of urban Turkey, sharia law either co-exists with or is superior to state law wherever Muslims are in the majority. And “full freedom of faith” is precisely what the founder of secular-Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk specifically outlawed, because he knew what Islamic “freedom” meant: rule by imams. Yet Turkish Anatolia has endured imam-rule throughout the supposed reign of secular law in Turkey. Indeed, honour killings remain not merely commonplace in Anatolia but are largely tolerated by a complicit state-police.

President Gul boasted that Turkey disseminates modern ideas to the Middle East “such as democratic values, human rights, and free market economy”. Human rights, eh? Well, just one month before those ringing declarations, a Turkish court sentenced a newspaper-editor to 21 years for printing Kurdish propaganda. Courts are courts, you might argue. However, just two days before that interview, Mr Erdogan threatened to expel Armenians from Turkey in response to (admittedly fatuous) votes by legislators in Sweden and the US that branded the mass-killings of Armenians in 1915 as “genocide”. Imagine the outcry if the German chancellor threatened to expel Turks because of her dislike of some absurd, mountebank historical posturing in a third country. But, of course, that would be impossible because it would violate the fundamental ethos of European political culture. However, Turkey’s response to the US vote also reveals the gulf between us and Turkey; for Ankara promptly withdrew its ambassador from Washington. Such is not the conduct of a modern European state.

But that’s exactly what Turkey says that it is. Turkey’s foreign affairs minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote recently: “Since the 14th century, and even before, the bulk of our history has been wrought in (Europe).” Quite so: though along the Danube they’d probably say that the bulk of Turkish history was not so much wrought as fought in Europe. For a full quarter of a millennium, from the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 to the siege of Vienna in 1683, Turkey’s presence in Europe was invariably as an armed invader in Christian lands.

There now. The dreaded C-word. We’ve become so apologetic about our defining cultural origin, the EU Constitution dare not name it.

But the Turks have no such reservations. Unless we admit Turkey, says Mr Erdogan, the EU will “end up a Christian club”. Well, is that so very bad? Didn’t Christians invent just about everything for the last 400 years? And how would Europe remain recognisably European (or even Christian) after a mass-movement of Anatolian Muslims into our cities?

For one thing that Ryanair has taught us is the overnight mobility of populations. And Turkish immigration will probably not consist of cosmopolitan elites but of peasants and their imams from Anatolia, accompanied by their burkas, naquibs and madrasas.

And if you wonder about the outcome, wonder no more: simply go to Bradford and Blackburn and ask them about the boundless delights of mass-Islamic immigration. Go on. Ask them.

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

Italy: Napolitano Sends Labour Law Back

First time president has exercised prerogative

(ANSA) — Rome, March 31 — Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday sent a labour law back to parliament, citing an article that lowers safeguards for workers.

The new norm gives sacked workers the option of resorting to arbitration instead of an automatic appeal to a magistrate over allegedly unfair dismissal.

It is the first time since he was elected in 2006 that Napolitano has exercised his prerogative not to sign laws but instead resubmit them for further consideration, although he has sent back a number of government decrees.

In an accompanying letter to the two houses of parliament, the president urged legislators to combine their “praiseworthy reform plans” with “precise guarantees” for workers.

He called for “a clearer and better defined balance between legislation, collective bargaining and individual contracts”.

The law’s easing of Italy’s strong job protection norms raised union and opposition hackles when it became law on March 3.

Italy’s biggest and most leftist trade union, CGIL, threatened a mass protest against it.

On Wednesday CGIL leader Guglielmo Epifani hailed Napolitano’s move, saying it “confirmed” the union’s arguments against the norm.

Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi said he would take Napolitano’s “considerations into account” and strengthen the parts of the law covering collective bargaining. Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government has insisted that workers would still enjoy the same safeguards against sacking but CGIL and the centre-left opposition said the change would make workers and job applicants more vulnerable.

Business associations agreed with government claims that workers’ rights had, in fact, “been reinforced”.

If the law had been promulgated by Napolitano, Epifani said the CGIL might appeal to the Constitutional Court.

The other two main unions, CISL and UIL, also distanced themselves from the norm but stopped short of joining a general strike against government economic policy on March 12.

CGIL and the opposition claimed the norm was a veiled version of a change to Article 18 of the Workers’ Statute which caused a huge battle between unions and a previous Berlusconi government eight years ago.

Berlusconi was forced to pull that reform after then CGIL leader Sergio Cofferati mustered three million people to a Rome protest.

Article 18 only applies to firms with more than 15 workers, a minority in Italy where small family-based companies are still the backbone of the economy.

Economists say many firms choose to keep their workforces small to have the flexibility to shed workers but most would like the option of growing them without being held back by the safeguard.

Studies have shown that judges more often than not side with workers in unfair-dismissal cases.

Union experts say big firms want greater powers to get rid of workers in economic downturns and arbitration gives them greater leeway to shrink their labour forces.

Sacconi denied this.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Center Right Winner in Regional Vote

Govt coalition takes four regions away from center left

(ANSA) — Rome, March 30 — The center-right government coalition of Premier Silvio Berlusconi came out the winner in Sunday and Monday’s regional elections taking four regions away from the center-left.

The center right held on to Veneto and Lombardy, the only regions where it governed going into the vote, and picked up Piedmont in the north, Lazio in central Italy and Campania and Calabria in the south.

Five years ago, the center right lost six of the eight regions it held, while the center left raised its tally from five to 11.

The center left retained Liguria in the north, the central regions of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Marche and Umbria and the souther regions of Puglia and Basilicata.

The elections were held in 13 of Italy’s 20 regions.

Within the center-right coalition, the devolutionist Northern League turned in the best performance boosting its percentage of the vote to 12.7% from 10.2% in last year’s European Parliament elections, 8.3% in the 2008 general elections and 5.6% in the regional vote five years ago.

The League’s advance appeared to be at the expense of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party which saw its share of the vote fall to 26.7% from 35.3% in the European elections, 37.4% in the general elections and 29.3% in the 2005 regional vote.

The opposition Democratic Party (PD) won 25.9% of the vote, close to the 26.1% it collected in the European elections but below the 33.2% it won in the 2008 general elections, when it ran together with the Radical Party, and the 32.6% it had in the last regional elections.

Piedmont and Lazio were the biggest prizes for the center right and the closest races.

In Piedmont, the Northern League’s Roberto Cota beat rival and incumbent Mercedes Bresso with 47.3% of the vote to her 46.9%, while in Lazio former union leader Renata Polverini clinched 51.1% compared to 48.3% for ex-European Commissioner Emma Bonino.

Absenteeism was particularly high with about one third of voters staying away from the polls.

Voter turnout was put at 64.2% of the over 41 millio eligible voters, compared to 72% in the regiobnal elections five years ago

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Merkel: ‘Rules Changed’ For Turkish EU Bid

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkey Monday that its membership talks with the European Union did not guarantee accession and urged it to grant trade privileges to EU-member Cyprus.

“The rules of the game have changed” since Turkey first applied to become a member of the bloc five decades ago, Merkel said through an interpreter after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The (accession) negotiations are an open-ended process. We should now pursue this open-ended process,” she added, suggesting that Turkey’s integration with the bloc does not have to be full membership.

Along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Merkel remains one of the staunchest opponents of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, arguing that a vast, relatively poor country with a mainly Muslim 71-million population has no place in Europe.

She has instead proposed a “privileged partnership” between Turkey and the bloc, an alternative Ankara flatly rejects.

Merkel however stressed the immediate task for Ankara was to open its ports to vessels from Cyprus — an EU member Ankara does not recognise — under a customs union accord with the Union.

“The most important issue is the implementation of the protocol… We have to deal with the Cyprus issue. That would be to the benefit of us all,” she said.

Turkey’s refusal to grant trade privileges to Cyprus has led Brussels to freeze talks in eight of the 35 chapters that candidates must successfully negotiate prior to membership. Since starting the talks in 2005, Turkey has so far succeeded in opening

only 12 chapters.

Merkel also pushed Turkey on Iran, urging it to back Western allies in imposing a possible fresh set of sanctions over Tehran’s suspect nuclear activities.

“If Iran fails to take a clear step shortly, we will decide on the sanctions issue… Germany would be very happy if we could vote together with the United States, Europe and Turkey,” she said.

Erdogan, whose country holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, reiterated that he remained opposed to new sanctions against Iran and preferred diplomacy.

The two sides, however, appeared to have come to an agreement on another contentious issue in bilateral ties, that of opening Turkish schools for the estimated 2.5 million Turkish immigrants and their descendants in Germany.

Prior to Merkel’s visit, Erdogan put forth the proposal only for it to be immediately rejected by the German leader.

Merkel pointed out on Monday that there are already schools teaching Turkish in Germany, but that should not be used as a “pretext” for Turkish immigrants not to learn German and integrate with German society.

“Learning the language of the society one lives in is the precondition of integration. This is not assimilation,” Merkel said.

An aide to Erdogan said the prime minister’s proposal was misunderstood, explaining that Ankara was calling for schools abiding by the German education system and teaching both languages. Both countries should act to ensure “integration while protecting one’s cultural roots,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish community in Germany is the country’s largest ethnic minority and the world’s largest Turkish diaspora. While later-generation Turks have fully integrated with German society, large sections have never learned German and live in closed communities.

Merkel was scheduled to wrap up her visit Tuesday after touring historic sites in Istanbul and attending a business forum there.

Germany is one of Turkey’s principal economic partners — bilateral trade amounted to almost €25 billion ($36 billion) in 2008. More than 4,000 German companies operate or have partnerships in Turkey.

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

Merkel Says EU-Turkey Talks Are ‘Open-Ended’

Chancellor Angela Merkel made a symbolic concession on language concerning Turkey’s EU membership prospects during a visit to Ankara on Monday (29 March) but tensions remain between the German leader and her Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Speaking to the press following their talks, Ms Merkel said she now understood that the term “privileged partnership does not have a good connotation in Turkey.”

Both Berlin and Paris have peddled the term as an alternative to Turkey’s full membership of the EU, something which they vigorously oppose.

Turkey rejects the idea saying it opened accession negotiations in late 2005 on the understanding that it would one day join the Union.

But Ms Merkel did not soften her general message that Turkey’s EU prospects are not guaranteed.

“The (accession) negotiations are an open-ended process. We should now pursue this open-ended process,” she said, according to AFP.

She also urged Turkey to fulfill a customs agreement with the EU by opening its airports and harbours to traffic from Cyprus, an EU member state Ankara does not recognise.

“The most important issue is the implementation of the protocol … We have to deal with the Cyprus issue. That would be to the benefit of us all,” she said.

Turkey’s refusal to implement the customs agreement with Cyprus has resulted in eight of the 35 negotiating chapters that have to be negotiated for EU membership to be frozen. So far, Turkey has open 12 chapters since 2005 and only closed one.

By contrast, Croatia, which started the process at the same time, hopes to become a member of the EU next year.

On another contentious issue, concerning the alleged question of integration of Germany’s large Turkish community into German society, the two leaders struck a more conciliatory tone.

Ahead of the meeting Ms Merkel had rejected Mr Erdogan’s calls for Turkish language secondary schools. But in Ankara she indicated that such schools could indeed be opened, although she noted that this should not be an “excuse” not to learn German.

“If Germany has German schools in other countries, for example in Turkey, … then of course Turkey could also have schools in Germany,” she said, according to Stern magazine.

With Germany host to around 3 million Turkish nationals, a large number of whom still live in closed communities, integration and what it means to be part of German society have become hot political issues.

Meanwhile, relations between the two sides is also grounded in the fact that they have strong economic ties. Turkey is one of Germany’s most important export markets.

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

Muslim-Jewish Tensions Roil Swedish City

Malmo’s Jewish community worried about rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes, which has prompted several families to leave

Marcus Eilenberg is a Swedish Jew whose family roots in Malmo go back to the 19th century. His paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors who found shelter in this southern Swedish city in 1945. His wife’s parents fled to Sweden from communist Poland in the 1960s.

Now the 32-year-old law firm associate feels the welcome for Jews is running out, and he is moving to Israel with his wife and two children in May. He says he knows at least 15 other Jews who are leaving for a similar reason.

Harsh Words

That reason, he says, is a rise in hate crimes against Jews in Malmo, and a sense that local authorities have little desire to deal with a problem that has exposed a crack in Sweden’s image as a bastion of tolerance and a haven for distressed ethnic groups.

Anti-Semitic crimes in Sweden have usually been associated with the far right, but Shneur Kesselman, an Orthodox rabbi, says the threat comes from Muslims. “In the past five years I’ve been here, I think you can count on your hand how many incidents there have been from the extreme right,” he said. “In my personal experience it’s 99% Muslims.”

Sweden prides itself on having taken in tens of thousands of the world’s war refugees, and Malmo, its third largest city, should be a showcase: 7 percent of its 285,000 people were born in the Middle East, according to city statistics, and it has large numbers of from the Balkans, including the Macedonian who heads the city’s largest mosque.

After the Holocaust, it took in many Jews who survived the World War II Nazi genocide.

Bejzat Becirov, the mosque head, said he feels “great sympathy for the Jewish community” and knows what it’s going through because “the Muslim community, too, is exposed to Islamophobia.”

He listed a range of incidents, including an anthrax letter sent to him after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, and several arson attacks against his mosque.

But Jews are feeling the heat disproportionately. Malmo police say that of 115 hate crimes reported in 2009, 52 were anti-Semitic. Becirov estimated there are about 60,000 Muslims in Malmo, while the number of Jews is about 700 and shrinking — it was twice as big two decades ago, according to Fredrik Sieradzki, a spokesman for the Jewish community.

Last year at least 10 of the hate crime complaints were filed by Kesselman, from the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose black fedora and long beard single him out as he moves around the city.

Walking home from the Jewish community center on Malmo’s snow-flecked streets, the 31-year-old rabbi recalls some of the worst incidents: a young man who shouted “Heil Hitler” and chased him off a city bus; a car that suddenly reversed and almost hit him on the crosswalk by the opera house.

“A typical situation is I’m walking in the streets and a car with Muslim youth between 18 and 30 will roll down the window and yell ‘(expletive) Jew,’ give me the finger and shout something in Arabic,” he said.

Malmo’s Jewish community is mostly secular and long felt safe because few display Jewish symbols that would distinguish them from other Swedes.

But things changed after a series of fierce anti-Israel protests and a spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes following Israel’s offensive in Gaza last year, which deeply angered Malmo’s Arab immigrants.

Tempers flared when Jews held a peaceful pro-Israel rally outside City Hall a week after the offensive ended. A bigger crowd waving Palestinian flags threw bottles, eggs and firecrackers.

‘Degree of hate never experienced before’

Tensions rose again two months later when Malmo authorities, saying they couldn’t guarantee security, forced Sweden and Israel to play their Davis Cup tennis matches in a near-empty stadium as police held off rock-throwing anti-Israel activists outside who wanted to stop the competition completely.

Eilenberg said it was a wake-up call — “a degree of hate that none of us — except those who survived the Holocaust — had experienced before.”

Jewish groups say anti-Semitic attacks increased in several European countries following the Gaza war, notably the Netherlands and France.

Across the narrow Oresund Strait, Jews in Copenhagen say they have also felt a rise in Muslim anti-Semitism but are less worried, said Yitzchok Loewenthal of the Jewish International Organization in the Danish capital.

“The fundamental difference is that here in Copenhagen, Jews feel that the police, state and authorities take the issue very seriously and are on top of the situation, while in Malmo the Jewish community feel unsafe because the political will is not there,” he said.

Malmo’s Jews say they feel little support from Mayor Ilmar Reepalu, a left-winger who told a Swedish newspaper in January he thought the anti-Semitism was coming from extreme-right groups. He also drew criticism for suggesting the Malmo Jews should distance themselves from Israeli violence against civilians in Gaza.

“Instead they choose to hold a demonstration … which can send the wrong signals,” Reepalu was quoted as saying by Skanska Dagbladet.

Jewish leaders sensed a blame-the-victim attitude. Reepalu has since spoken out against anti-Semitism and claims the media twisted his comments.

In an interview aired by Danish broadcaster TV2 this month, Reepalu said he was being misrepresented by “the Israeli lobby who aren’t interested in what I say and believe.”

Reepalu didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

The city recently appointed an anti-hate crimes coordinator, Bjorn Lagerback, who said Reepalu has sent a letter to the city’s 20,000 employees denouncing all attacks against minorities in Malmo, though without specifically mentioning Jews.

Asked whether Jews were particularly targeted by hate crimes in Malmo, Lagerback said anti-Semitism had become “more explicit.” He added that “we also have discrimination against women who wear a hijab. They are also exposed to various kinds of insults.”

Susanne Gosenius, a hate crimes investigator at Malmo’s police department, said the rise in anti-Semitic incidents was linked to the Middle East conflict, and immigrants who are “having a hard time distinguishing between Israel and Jews.”

Muslims: Put politics aside

Malmo is one of several examples of how conflicts related to the Middle East and Islam have been carried into Sweden’s streets. There was an alleged plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks for his caricature of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body, and an article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet last year that caused Jewish and Israeli outrage by claiming, without any evidence, that Israeli soldiers harvested organs from dead Palestinians.

Daniel Levin said he has felt stronger animosity toward Jews since moving from Stockholm to Malmo to study real estate.

“It’s not recommended to walk around with a Star of David. That’s how bad it is,” he said, referring to the symbol many Jews wear on necklaces.

Levin was warming up for practice on a frozen dirt field with SK Hakoah, a low-ranking Malmo soccer team with a Jewish history and a few Jews among its players.

Hakoah Coach Daniel Krook said that in matches against teams with players and fans from Muslim countries his players have been subjected to anti-Jewish slurs and even pitch invasions. The team asked to be moved to a league outside the city, but local soccer officials refused.

This year, Hakoah is in the same league as Palestinska, which plays in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Krook said he expected police protection when the two teams play.

But Ali Kabalan, a representative of Palestinska, didn’t foresee any trouble and said spectators would be urged to refrain from violence.

“Put politics aside,” Kabalan said. “It’s best for everybody.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

The Roles of the Jews in Italian Society

Interview with Dan Segre

  • Most Italians think there are many times more Jews in Italy than the thirty-one thousand paying members of the Italian community. Native Italian Jews probably number no more than fifteen thousand. There are sizable communities of Libyan (mainly in Rome) and Lebanese and Iranian origin (mainly in Milan). The false perception of a large number of Jews in Italy results from the fact that several Jews have indeed played key roles in Italian society over the past century and a half.
  • Jews see themselves — and also are seen as such by many educated Italians — as one of the “tribes” of what can best be called “the Italian nation in the making.” The rise in recent decades of the Northern League shows once again that the idea of Italy as a single state is a contested one. In such a context there is suddenly a place again for the Jews as one of the distinct Italian groups, as was the case for many centuries before Italian unity.
  • Another development of the last decades has been the reinvention of the Italian Fascist Party. Most of its members joined in 1995 a new movement, Alleanza Nazionale. Its leader, Gianfranco Fini needed the Jews and Israel to give legitimization to his party as genuine democrats.
  • External developments have fostered a sudden reemergence of Italian Jewry. This has made Italian Jews again proud of their identity…

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

UK: Bride-to-Be’s Fury as Boy Racer Who Killed Her Fiance and Left Her in Wheelchair is Jailed for Just Three Years

A bride-to-be confined to a wheelchair by a road smash which killed her fiance condemned Britain’s ‘joke justice’ system today after the driver who caused the tragedy was jailed for three years.

Nikki Thomas, 47, was left with crippling injuries after she and husband-to-be Roy Ashton were thrown from their motorbike in a head collision with a man behaving ‘like a Formula one driver’.

But yesterday 20-year-old driver Stuart Halliday, who pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, was sentenced to three years in jail, with the possibility of being released in 18 months on good behaviour.

Ms Thomas said: ‘It just seems our legal system is geared towards those in the dock and the victims in the case just don’t stand a chance. It’s a joke.

‘I miss Roy deeply and my whole quality of life has been ruined. It has been living hell since he died.

‘That young man has taken the lives of both Roy and me and took all our future plans away with his driving.’

Father-of-two Mr Ashton, 46, was catapulted 60 feet by the force of the impact, suffering multiple injuries.

Ms Thomas, a mother of one works in a bank, was in a coma for six weeks after the crash. She missed her fiancé’s funeral and will never walk again after being left with permanent pelvic and leg injuries.

She is now being cared for by her 17-year-old son.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Parents of Persistently Naughty Pupils ‘Must Face Courts’ Schools Minister Says

Schools were told today that they must take parents of persistently naughty children to court.

Ministers said they want headteachers to make use of parenting orders — which can force parents to make their children behave, or face fines of up to £1,000.

Under the orders, they can also be told to make sure their child does not stay up late, cannot drink alcohol at home and goes to school on time.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Vatican Radio Accuses NYT of Unreliable Articles

(AGI) — Vatican City, 31 Mar. — Following the publication of memories by Father Thomas Brundage, the Milwaukee judicial vicar who investigated Father Murphy’s alleged crimes, the Vatican Radio has harshly attacked the New York Times “for the unreliability and inaccurate articles against the Pope.

“Brundage has accused the NYT of having presented an imprecise and sloppy reconstruction of events, also founded on lies said by Monsignor Rembert Weakland, the great accuser, passed off as a credible witness when he had allegedly been involved in a homosexual relationship with a former student of theology.” According to the Vatican Radio the reporting has been “imprecise, inaccurate and based on lies.” ..

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Saudi Princes Sponsor Turbulence: Found to be Funding Balkan Muslim Jihadists

LONDON — MI5, the United Kingdom’s security service, has determined “at least” 300 princes of the Saudi royal family are providing millions of British pounds for Islamist groups in the Balkans to spread hatred of the West and to recruit hundreds of fighters for jihad, holy war, in Afghanistan, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

With their mansions in the center of London and in the countryside around the capital, many of the princes are members of the Wahhabi sect, named after the founder of modern Islamic extremism.

>From bank accounts in the city of London held by these petrodollar billionaires has gone the financing to construct scores of mosques to preach the Wahhabi doctrine and recruit al-Qaida terrorists. Schools and colleges have also been opened.

[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

NY Times Defends Obama, Not U.S. Interests; Blames Israel, Not White House or Palestinians for All Problems

by Barry Rubin

The New York Times has now crossed the line from being a grossly slanted newspaper in its Middle East coverage to being one so partisan, blinkered, and defensive as to lose its value altogether. I do not write this lightly and have no wish to exaggerate. But the newspaper’s editorial of March 26 is so mendacious, so made up to suit the political purposes of the Obama administration without any reference to the facts that it is a work of politically tailored fiction.

Basically, the themes or omissions are as follows:

—Israeli policy is the result of extreme right-wing politicians.

—Most Israelis support Obama rather than their own government.

—The U.S.-Israel agreement of last October never existed.

—The Palestinians don’t exist and one doesn’t need to mention their actions or the administration’s total catering to them.

—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done something so awful that it proves he doesn’t want peace. What did he do? Precisely what he told the U.S. government he was going to do five months ago and which it then called a major step toward peace!

The Administration’s and Times’ goal is to portray the issue as not being one of Obama versus Israel but rather Obama plus the Israeli majority against a relatively small number of right-wing extremists who have hijacked the country.

If only such tactics were used against America’s enemies.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to discuss this editorial in detail. It begins:…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iraq: Links to Ba’athists Could End Allawi’s Hopes of Seizing Power

Iyad Allawi’s grip on a lead in the Iraqi elections was in doubt last night after a committee said that four candidates on his winning list should be disqualified due to links to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.

If the recommendation by the Justice and Accountability Committee is upheld by the courts, the opposition leader Mr Allawi’s two-seat advantage over the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could evaporate. Mr Allawi’s slender lead is already under threat from Mr Maliki, whose challenge to the electoral outcome escalated yesterday when he attacked the UN for not supporting his call for a recount on the grounds of vote-rigging and fraud.

Even before last night’s news, a handful of newly-elected members of parliament opposed to Mr Maliki had already been arrested or gone on the run. The UN says that the poll was fair and transparent.

Mr Maliki is making desperate efforts to prevent Mr Allawi being given the first opportunity to form a government because his political bloc had more members of parliament elected than anybody else. Mr Maliki can harass his opponents by using his control of the security forces and the courts against them. His main political strength is that he remains Prime Minister while negotiations go on to form a new government.

“Nobody should place a bet on Allawi becoming Prime Minister,” says the Iraqi political commentator Ghassan Attiyah, “and Maliki is only a little better placed.”

Mr Allawi is in a weak position because his al-Iraqiya coalition is disunited and his election success was largely due to the support of the Sunni Arab community, which is only one fifth of Iraq’s population. It is not clear how the Sunni community will react if they feel that the election is being stolen from them, but if marginalised they are likely to increase their support for armed action.

Mr Maliki’s weakness is that he has too many enemies at home and abroad. He needs to merge his State of Law bloc with the other main Shia party, the Iraqi National Alliance, but the followers of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won at least 39 out of the INA’s 70 seats, and will be chary of any alliance with Mr Maliki. They blame him for betraying them when he ordered the army to crush their Mehdi Army militia in Baghdad and Basra in 2008.

A delegation from the Prime Minister’s office has been to see Mr Sadr to persuade him to lift his veto on Mr Maliki remaining Prime Minister. Mr Maliki’s lieutenants claim they succeeded in their mission but this is denied by the Sadrists. A coalition of State of Law and the INA would have 157 seats out of 325 in parliament and would demand that it have first go at forming a government.

Mr Maliki will also have to win the support of the Kurdish leaders with whom he has been on very bad terms in recent years. Whatever promises the Prime Minister makes now to the Sadrists and the Kurds, they are unlikely to trust him and are suspicious of his authoritarianism.

Mr Maliki, whose political list won 89 seats compared to Mr Allawi’s 91, has sent special forces loyal to him known as the Baghdad Brigade into Diyala province to arrest or drive from their homes opposition members of parliament. It is not clear how far the Prime Minister will go, but it is unlikely that he has the support in the army and police to stage a military coup.

None of the foreign powers involved in Iraq will be sorry to see Mr Maliki go apart from the US, but even Washington is not committed to his survival. The Americans hope for a stable Iraq so the US military withdrawal can go ahead as planned. Saudi Arabia and Syria are hostile to Mr Maliki and Iran is angry that he would not join a Shia united front last year. The departure of the US troops and the success of the Sadrists in the election means that Iranian influence will be higher under the new government.

Mr Maliki did less well in the election than he had expected and was not prepared to pay court to the Sadrists and the Kurds before the poll, as he now must do. In the long run they will probably get rid of him. But his efforts to stay in power may provoke a fresh wave of violence from the Sunni Arabs if they suspect he is trying to steal an election which they thought they had won.

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

Iraq: Allawi Accuses Iran of Election Interference

Iyad Allawi, the man who won Iraq’s parliamentary elections, has accused Iran of trying to prevent him from becoming prime minister.

The leader of the secular alliance that narrowly won this month’s poll told the BBC that Tehran was interfering directly in Iraq’s electoral process.

His Iraqiyya bloc beat the rival State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki by just two seats.

Both the UN and US envoys to Iraq have said the 7 March poll was credible.

But Mr Maliki has said he will challenge the count through the courts.

Despite winning the election, Mr Allawi is a long way short of the majority he needs to form a government, says the BBC’s Andrew North in Baghdad.

Much of his support came from Iraq’s Sunni minority, our correspondent adds, but most of the parties he would need to back him represent Iraq’s Shia majority, and have close ties to Iran.

Difficulty governing?

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Allawi said it was “very clear” that Iran was trying to stop him from becoming prime minister.

“Iran is interfering quite heavily and this is worrying,” he said.

He accused the Iranian government of interfering by inviting all the major parties to Tehran for talks, except his own Iraqiyya bloc.

“They have invited everybody — but they haven’t invited us — to Tehran,” he said.

He said he was concerned Tehran was also influencing a commission that has been vetting candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, which may disqualify more of his supporters.

Some are likely to see Mr Allawi’s comments as an excuse for the possibility he may not be able to form a government, says our correspondent.

While many Shias backed him, others are suspicious of his past links to the Baath party.

The Iranian embassy in Baghdad declined to comment.

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

South Asia

India: Orissa: Church Commission to Examine Christians’ Martyrdom

Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Bhubaneswar, tells AsiaNews, that the 2008 clashes were probably religious in nature. Some believe other factors played a role. Now the Church is going to “shed light on what happened” and decide accordingly. Sadly, “peace is still a far-off dream”.

Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) — The Bishops’ Conference of India has set up a commission to examine the massacre of Christians in Kandhamal District to determine whether the victims could be considered martyrs of the faith. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath told AsiaNews that the Orissa Council of Priests wants to “shed light on the clashes” that victimised the community.

Violence broke out in the summer 2008 and touched both clergy and lay people. Because of false accusations of proselytising, churches and Christian-run schools were attacked and destroyed. Christians were forced to abandon their homes and land to seek refuge elsewhere. Many eyewitnesses have said that many Christian converts from Hinduism had their life threatened if they did not go back to the Hindu religion.

During a meeting of the Council of Priests, questions were raised, the prelate said, about the victims’ status. “Many brothers agree with me that the victims should be considered ‘martyrs’. Others believe that religion was not the only motivating factor behind the massacres. Economic issue like access to land as well as politics played a role. What is more, many Protestant clergymen were also among the victims of rightwing Hindu violence.”

The commission is not yet official. “We are just at the initial stages,” Archbishop Cheenath said.”Now we are going to collect evidence and testimonies to see who could be deemed a martyr.”

“Sadly, peace is still a far-off dream in the district,” he added. “Like Jesus dying on Good Friday, the Calvary of our people continues; they are still suffering.”

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

Australia — Pacific

Banned Website ‘Blacklist’ Won’t be Made Public

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy has agreed that greater oversight of which websites will be banned under the Government’s mandatory internet filter is needed but has ruled out making the list public.

The Federal Government plans to introduce a filter aimed at blocking access to illegal material such as child pornography or content refused classification (RC) by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

But the blacklist put together by the communications watchdog has not been made public, raising concerns that governments can impose censorship without proper oversight.

Senator Conroy said conceded greater transparency was needed in terms of what was deemed RC material.

“We have a discussion paper that we’ve issued calling for increased transparency measures,” he said.

The measures were needed to make sure governments could not slip things onto the list, he said.

However, Senator Conroy said making the list public would undermine what the internet filter policy was designed to achieve.

“Out of all the issues in the filter (policy) this is the one that’s caused me the most thought because a URL address is just that, it’s an address,” he told ABC Radio.

“When you publish a list of titles of books that are banned, or movies that are banned, you don’t give access to the materials by producing that list.

“The problem when you produce a list of URLs is you are actually giving the address of where to go and look.”

Some of the world’s largest providers of internet services, including Google and Yahoo, have criticised the Government’s plans to introduce a filter, describing the move as heavy-handed.

Google said last week that while protecting the free exchange of ideas and information could not be without some limits, people should retain the right to freedom of expression.

The US administration has also raised concerns about the plan.

A State Department official has reportedly said it was contrary to US foreign policy of encouraging open internet access and the spread of economic growth and global security.

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


Gordon Brown: ‘Immigrants Must Honour British Values’

Mr Brown said that migrant numbers had fallen by tens of thousands in the past two years

Roland Watson, Political Editor

Immigrants who refuse to honour British values are unwelcome, Gordon Brown said today as he pledged to do more to meet the concerns of the “mainstream majority”.

Mr Brown said he agreed that it was unfair if newcomers took advantage of Britain’s freedoms without making a fair contribution in return.

But his attempt to meet voter concerns over immigration was undermined when he was criticised by the chairman of the national statistics watchdog for exaggerating the fall in migrant numbers.

Sir Michael Scholar said that the Prime Minister had used details in his weekend podcast that were “not comparable” when claiming a recent big fall in net inward migration.

Mr Brown conceded the point today, but stuck to his theme, saying that migrant numbers had fallen by tens of thousands in the past two years.

He defended Labour’s recent record on immigration as he sought to draw the sting from a potentially inflammatory campaign issue.

Immigration is cited as the No 1 concern by many voters, more important even than the economy, and — especially with the BNP threatening an electoral challenge in some seats — Labour strategists know that they cannot ignore it.

In a speech in East London, Mr Brown called on all parties to treat immigration sensitively during the election and to unite against extremists.

Without mentioning the BNP by name, he urged solidarity against “those who want to end immigration simply because they just don’t like migrants”.

But he used the speech to say that people had a right to talk about the issue, and to sympathise with the concerns of those who may be attracted to the BNP’s message.

He cited the worries of care workers, builders, cleaners, janitors and shop workers — the “hard-pressed, hard-working majority” — and sought to address them.

“I know people think it’s unfair when it feels as though some can take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities we offer in Britain without making a fair contribution or playing by the rules. So do I.”

He added: “To those migrants who think they can get away without making a contribution, without respecting our way of life, without honouring the values that make Britain what it is, I have only one message — you’re not welcome.”

He said that Labour’s points system, which allows immigrants from non-EU countries to fill highly skilled jobs, or semi-skilled jobs that have been advertised in job centres for four weeks, had helped to bring down net inward migration.

Despite his calls for “something of a consensus” among the main parties — “none of us agree with those who would bring down the shutters around Britain entirely” — Mr Brown sought to draw a dividing line with the Conservatives.

His warning against those who “scaremonger with unsubstantiated claims about rising net inward imgration today” appeared to be aimed at the Tories. Within minutes of his speech, Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that net migration had risen threefold since Labour came to power.

Mr Brown said that the Tory plan to cap non-EU migration at an as yet unspecified level was arbitrary and unworkable. It would be bad for business, he said, if employers wanted to hire someone urgently with a special skill, only to find that that year’s quota had already been filled.

“The debate isn’t about who will open all the floodgates and who will shut all doors. Neither of these are responsible options. It’s actually about the flexibility to access the skilled workers we need when we need them, and to exclude the rest,” he said.

“These are the concerns of the mainstream majority and people have a right to talk about what these issues mean for them.”

The Tories claimed credit for the intervention of Sir Michael after they lodged complaints about Mr Brown’s podcast.

In it, Mr Brown said that net inward migration had fallen from 237,000 in 2007 to 163,000 in 2008 and 147,000 last year.

Sir Michael said that the 237,000 figure was incorrect, and should have been 233,000. More seriously, he said Mr Brown had compared different sets of data.

Mr Brown responded in today’s speech by separating the two. By one measure, long-term international migration, the net figure fell from 233,000 to 163,000 between 2007-08.

According to provisional figures from the international passenger survey, the number fell from 170,000 to 147,000 in the two years to June 2009. The survey does not include incoming asylum seekers and migrants who arrive on short-term visas but stay longer.

David Cameron said he was glad that Mr Brown was addressing the issue and promised a calm, rational and sensible campaign debate.

But he said addressing the issue should be linked to welfare reform.

He said: “We need proper control of immigration. I would like to see net migration come down to the level of the 1980s and 1990s.

“But we should be explaining to people that there is a link to our failure to reform welfare with the high levels of immigration into Britain.”

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

Netherlands: Immigration Comes at Hefty Price

Immigrants are expensive for Dutch society, but few people want to say it out loud for fear of the consequences, a study by a Dutch scientist has found.

By Dirk Vlasblom

The economic effects of immigration have become a hot-button issue in Dutch politics. The mere mention of the subject is often greeted with suspicion and loathing. But that didn’t stop scholar Jan van de Beek from writing his doctoral thesis on the issue. In his PhD research, which he defended at the University of Amsterdam on Tuesday, he answered two related questions: what kind of economic consequences did mass immigration to the Netherlands between 1960 and 2005 have, and why is it such a taboo to study the economic effects of these immigrants?

Van de Beek has come to conclusions the Netherlands may not like. Since the 1970s, little research has been done into the economic effects of immigration, for fear of playing into the hand of the xenophobic right. As recently as last year, populist politician Geert Wilders asked the Dutch cabinet to calculate the net costs or benefits imposed on society by immigrants. Cabinet refused to do so, which led to uproar amongst several opposition parties. The minister responsible called it “improper” to reduce citizens’ contribution to society “to a profit-loss analysis”.

The reluctance to study the matter has done well to conceal some unpleasant facts, Van de Beek claims. For one, the Dutch policy of recruiting workers from outside of Europe in the 1960s needlessly delayed the modernisation of Dutch industry. As the Dutch economy was modernised in the 1980s, many immigrants were laid off and became dependent on welfare. Even today, the Dutch welfare state mainly attracts immigrants that impose a net cost on the Dutch economy, Van de Beek found.

Van de Beek is a mathematician and a cultural anthropologist. He is interested in social problems and has a soft spot for numbers. “In 1999, I was writing my master’s thesis about Dutch asylum policy,” he said in an interview. “I wanted to devote a chapter to the economic aspects of the matter, because the asylum debate centres mostly on numbers. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any sources. Filling this gap became the subject of my doctoral research.”

43,000 euros per immigrant

Since then, some other researchers have ventured into the area. In the same year Van de Beek wrote his thesis, economist Pieter Lakeman estimated that immigrants cost the Dutch state 5.9 billion euros each year. An analysis by a Dutch government agency in 2003 found that an immigrant who arrives here at age 25 costs Dutch society 43,000 euros over the rest of his lifetime on average.

For his PhD, Van de Beek studied all research published on migratory economics since 1960. He interviewed scholars about their attempts to investigate the economic consequences of immigration and spoke to (former) politicians about the motives underlying immigration policy. He also tried to answer the question of why prominent Dutch government think tanks had so little to say about the matter.

The title of his dissertation became Knowledge, Power and Morality. “Morality stands for Dutch political correctness, but that is a term I chose not to use,” Van de Beek said. “I prefer the term ‘moral reading’: the phenomenon that knowledge is not judged according to its factual merit, but according to its social, political and moral consequences.

“In the 1980s and 1990s people in the Netherlands feared the rise of the radical-right,” he explained. In 1983 the Centrumpartij (CP) garnered nine percent of the votes in Almere’s municipal election. The party opposed immigration and was later banned for inciting racism and hatred. “This shocked the Netherlands,” Van de Beek said. “The Second World War was still the moral frame of reference. We were not allowed to know the true cost of immigration because this could play into the CP’s hands. This left a huge gap in our body of knowledge.”

An economic disaster

“The recruitment of labourers in the 1960s”, Van de Beek said, “was an economic disaster. The stated intent here was to keep wages down, but we would have been better served by letting them rise. The switch from an industrial economy to one dependent on capital was inevitable for us to be competitive internationally. It would have been best to make that change in the 1960s, when the economy was booming. Finally, we had to restructure the economy anyway and many of the immigrants who came here in the 1960s were laid off in the 1970s and 1980s and ended up on benefits.”

Immigration remained an expensive issue long thereafter. In the Netherlands, the state redistributes a lot of money. “The government loses money on its less well-educated citizens. They contribute less in taxes and other payments over the course of their lives than they receive in the form of subsidised healthcare, education, benefits and pensions. This means there is little point for the Netherlands to try to attract uneducated labour from abroad.”

Van de Beek recalled a report about immigration published in 2001 by a Dutch government think tank. Harry van Dalen, a Dutch economist who was asked to contribute a chapter regarding its economic effects, met with resistance when he tried to discuss the tension between immigration and the welfare state. “A fundamental problem,” Van de Beek said. “But the project group wouldn’t hear of it. Other members feared such an analysis would lead to immigrants being blamed for reform of the welfare state.”

Van de Beek shares Van Dalen’s analysis. “A welfare state leads to a levelling of income. This makes it relatively unattractive for an Indian IT specialist to come to the Netherlands, because the educated earn relatively little here. He would prefer to move to the United States. The Netherlands attracts fewer educated immigrants, unlike Canada or Australia. Those countries recruit much more actively and have a selective admission policy. They put national interests first. That serves both the host nation and immigrants better, because it means they are welcome and will thrive.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: Immigration is Not Out of Control, Says Gordon Brown

Prime minister says net immigration is falling, but UK Statistics Authority criticises him for misusing figures

Gordon Brown insisted today that immigration is not out of control by quoting new figures demonstrating that net migration to Britain has fallen since 2007 and promising further substantial cuts.

He claimed that new overseas student rules and a clampdown on “bogus” colleges will mean 40,000 fewer students coming to Britain in 2010-11 and promised to close the door on non-European skilled care workers and chefs being recruited by 2014.

But hours after he spoke, he was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for misusing immigration figures during a Downing Street podcast last week.

The prime minister was attempting to define the debate on immigration in the coming election by saying it was time for mainstream politicians to present a “united front” against those who did not value a diverse Britain and wanted to end immigration just because they did not like immigrants.

“No mainstream party wants to bring an end to immigration altogether — the debate is over how to control it, about what level it should be and how we achieve that,” said Brown, who went out of his way to empathise with the anxieties raised by the rapid pace of change in some communities because of immigration.

“I know how people worry that immigration might be changing their neighbourhoods. They would worry if immigration was putting pressure on schools, hospitals and housing; and they question whether immigration might undermine their wages or might harm the job prospects of their children.”

He said it was important that mainstream politicians talked about these issues — “because if we don’t, people will listen to whoever does”. But he warned against politicians engaging in “dog-whistle politics” on immigration by not matching what they say in national speeches with what is said on the doorstep.

He also dispelled speculation that Labour might embrace Tory policy by backing a limit on immigration; instead he said David Cameron’s plan for an annual quota would be arbitrary, unworkable and bad for Britain.

Brown told his audience in Shoreditch, east London, that Britain had fallen to 13th in the European league table for asylum claims and that total inward migration had also fallen.

He quoted National Statistics figures showing that long-term net inward migration — the numbers coming each year to live in the UK minus the numbers leaving to live abroad — had fallen from 233,000 in 2007 to 163,000 in 2008.

He said the comparable 2009 figures had not yet been published but “provisional figures” from the international passenger survey show that the downward trend continued in the 12 months to June 2009 with a further fall to 147,000.

“There is only one conclusion from all the published data that’s available and it is this: over this period net inward migration has fallen,” said Brown.

“This doesn’t mean immigration isn’t an issue. It is. That’s why I am talking about it today. But we should not allow people to scaremonger with unsubstantiated claims about rising net inward migration today.”

It is, however, a conclusion that the Conservatives already dispute. They wrote to the UK statistics watchdog to complain after Brown first used these figures last Friday in a Downing Street podcast.

Sir Michael Scholar, who chairs the UK Statistics Authority, published his reply yesterday. He said Brown had used incomparable data when he claimed that the trend of long-term immigration was downwards. Brown claimed net inward migration had fallen from 237,000 in 2007 to 163,000 in 2008 and 147,000 last year.

But Sir Michael said the correct figure for 2007 was 233,000. More seriously, he said the 147,000 figure used by Brown was wrong because it was taken from a different data set which has not yet been adjusted.

Sir Michael wrote: “The Statistics Authority hopes that, in the political debate over the coming weeks, all parties will be careful in their use of statistics, to protect the integrity of official statistics.”

In his speech, Brown went on to detail how he would further reduce immigration to Britain. He announced there was no question of lifting the ban on unskilled immigrants coming to work from outside Europe, which has been in place since Poland joined the European Union.

But he announced that the two largest shortage occupations under which skilled workers could come in under the points-based system — care workers and skilled chefs — would be taken off the shortage list in 2012 and 2014 respectively. He said that by then sufficient local people would be trained to do the jobs.

However, Labour’s long-promised introduction of a points-based system for citizenship is to be further delayed. Brown said that the reform, which will mean that gaining a British passport will be linked to behaviour and not just time spent in the country, will not come in before July 2011.

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


Magnetic Zaps to the Brain Can Alter People’s Moral Judgments

Beauty may lie in the eyes of the beholder, but morality, apparently, lies just behind your right ear—in an area scientists call the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ).

In a study that helps explain the mechanics of morality, neuroscientist Liane Young and her colleagues found that activity in the RTPJ is linked to the types of moral judgments we make—and those judgments can easily be tinkered with using a mere magnet. The researchers found that by delivering magnetic pulses to the RTPJ they were able to impact moral judgments; the magnetic pulses made people less likely to condemn others for attempting but failing to inflict harm [Nature]. The findings were published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Says Young: “You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior. To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing” [BBC].

Most of us make moral judgments based on not just what the consequences of an action were, but also on what the person’s intentions were. So little children and people with mental illness aren’t judged as harshly for their actions, because their intentions usually aren’t bad. It’s not just a matter of what they did, but how much they understood what they were doing [Nature].

The process of figuring out how much blame to attribute to a person involves the RTPJ. So for this study, scientists used a non-invasive technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver small magnetic pulses to the RTPJ; the pulses temporarily stop brain cells from working normally. Then the researchers asked their subjects questions based on different scenarios while monitoring brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

In one test, participants were asked how acceptable it was for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knew as unsafe. After receiving a 500 millisecond magnetic pulse to the scalp, the volunteers delivered verdicts based on outcome rather than moral principle [BBC]. If she safely made it across the bridge, the subjects said, the boyfriend didn’t do anything wrong.

In the second test, researchers delivered shorter magnetic pulses and found that the subjects continued to make moral judgments based on outcome and not intention. This type of thinking is reminiscent of how little children often make moral judgments—thinking, for example, that a kid who broke 5 teacups accidentally is naughtier than the kid who broke one teacup on purpose. Researchers say that children under the age of 5 haven’t yet developed a full understanding of intentions.

Some experts say the study helps dispel the notion that morality is a lofty, intangible thing, and argue that it has been hardwired into our brains by evolution. Joshua Greene, psychologist at Harvard University explained: “Moral judgment is just a brain process…. That’s precisely why it’s possible for these researchers to influence it using electromagnetic pulses on the surface of the brain.” If something as complex as morality has a mechanical explanation, Green says, it will be hard to argue that people have, or need, a soul [NPR].

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]