Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100623

Financial Crisis
»Greece: Left Preparing for Early Elections
»Greece: Strikes Against Austerity Plan Resumed
»New Sharia Standards Are Adopted
»Another Crisis Not Wasted
»Book on ‘Most Dangerous President in History’
»Bork Hits Kagan Over Israeli Judge
»Col. Jack Jacobs: Most in Military Will Say McChrystal ‘Was Right’
»Do We Need “Alternative Energy” Because of the Oil Spill?
»Extreme DIY: Building a Homemade Nuclear Reactor in NYC
»He’s Obama! He’s Black! So, Shut Up!
»Incoming D-Day Memorial Chief Stands by Stalin Bust
»Mexican Gangs Maintain Permanent Lookout Bases in Hills of Arizona
»Mexican Drug Cartel Warns Police Officers in Arizona Border Town to ‘Look the Other Way’
»Murfreesboro Mosque Uses the Muslim Brotherhood Reading List
»New Drilling Moratorium in Works, Salazar Says
»Obama’s ‘Party List’ For McChrystal
»Obama Vows to End Homelessness in 10 Years
»Obama Democrats Have Declared War on the States
»Obama Scholar Linked to ‘Ground Zero’ Imam
»5.0 Val-Des-Bois Quake Rattles Ottawa, Eastern North America
»Canada ‘Furious’ Over U.S.-Backed Women’s Rights Super Agency
Europe and the EU
»Council of Europe Urges End to Swiss Minaret Ban
»EU Democracy Instrument Continues to Cause Headaches
»Female Pope Film Sparks Vatican Row
»Germany: Armed Forces Personnel Could be Cut by 100,000
»How European Tolerance Islamized Turkey
»Italy: Watchdog Sounds Alarm Over Corruption
»Italy: Rome to Get Second Baby Hatch
»Italy: Oldest Paintings of Apostles Found
»Italy: No More Nets in Bagnara, Fishermen Hand Them Back
»Italy: Police ‘Uncover’ €22 Bln in Unpaid Taxes
»Sweden: Moderates Are Largest Party: Poll
»Swedish Dockers Launch Israeli Goods Blockade
»The Future of Islam in Europe
»UK: ‘Greedy, Manipulative and Cunning’: Judge’s Verdict on NHS Manager Who Fraudulently Claimed £15,000 in Benefits
»UK: Girls of Nine Lured by Gang Culture of Drugs, Sex and Violence Sweeping Britain
»What the Butler Heard — L’Oreal Heiress Tax Scandal Hits Minister
North Africa
»Spain-Morocco: Ceuta, ‘Occupied City’ Signs Removed
Israel and the Palestinians
»Essay Contest With $100 Prize: Why the Kurds Don’t Deserve an Independent State
»Gilad Shalit is Not the Only Hostage
»Israel and the Surrender of the West
»Jerusalem: Solution Found for Silwan, Netanyahu
»Sentence of Some Ultra-Orthodox Mothers Revoked
»UNRWA Questions Worth of Vow to Ease Gaza Grip
»US Praises New Gaza Measures, Netanyahu Visit Soon
Middle East
»Arab Women Urge Support for Al-Jazeera Reporters
»Russia Promises Not to Deliver Air Defense System to Iran
»Union Warns Al-Jazeera “Not to Discriminate”
»United States — Iran: US Military Pressure Increasing in the Persian Gulf
»5 Year-Old Ukranian Boy Slaughtered Like a Goat by Radical Islamist
»Russia, Italy to Begin Building Joint Helicopter Assembly Facility
South Asia
»Afghanistan: Top US Commander Recalled Over News Article
»Afghanistan: Taliban ‘Plotted to Kill US Envoy’
»India: Islamist ‘Militant Leader’ Killed in Gunbattle
»Indonesia: Police Charge Rock Star Over ‘Porn Video’
»Indonesia: Bekasi: Islamic Extremists Destroy an “Immoral and Blasphemous” Sculpture
»Pakistan: Islamabad “Uses Terrorism Against Minorities”.
»Pakistani PM Warns He’ll Defy US Sanctions
»Pakistani Province Funds Terrorism-Linked Charity
»Verdicts on Five Americans Arrested in Pakistan Could Come Thursday
Far East
»China: Another Suicide at Foxconn, After Boss’s Visit and Publicity
»China: Work-Related Suicides Due to Indifference, Hong Kong Trade Union Leader Says
Australia — Pacific
»Game Over for Kevin Rudd
»Mexico Asks Court to Reject Arizona Immigration Law
»Senators Warn Obama: ‘No Amnesty by Presidential Fiat’
»Video: Obama Urges Illegals: Rat Out Your Bosses!
Culture Wars
»UK: ‘What’s God Got to Do With it?’ Atheist Mayor Bans Traditional Christian Prayers Before Council Meetings
»UK: Grieving Families Left Distraught After Council Rules That Wooden Crosses Are ‘Too Dangerous’ For Cemeteries
»UK: Man Who Had Sex Change Wins Right to Receive Pension Five Years Early at Women’s Retirement
»Video: America, 2010: Christians Hauled to Jail for Preaching Jesus
»Botox Limits Ability to Feel Emotions
»Personality Predicted by Size of Different Brain Regions

Financial Crisis

Greece: Left Preparing for Early Elections

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS — Greek’s political left is “ready” for early elections, which it considers “likely”, facing the strong social opposition against the austerity plan of the socialist government of Giorgio Papandreou. The leader of the far-left coalition (Syriza), Alexis Tsipras, today told Radio Skai that “the government will not go far” and that “we are ready for an (early) return to the ballot box to change the politics” of this country. Also in the eyes of the leader of the communist party (Kke), Aleka Papariga, early elections are “likely” and the political and social forces should get ready. The idea of early elections in November, at the same time as the local elections, has been expressed by the opposition for some time, but the government denied the idea once again yesterday. Meanwhile the government has decided, under pressure of the opposition and union, according to the press, to change the decree on a change of the labour market into a parliamentary bill. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: Strikes Against Austerity Plan Resumed

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, JUNE 21 — Local and general strikes have been resumed in Greece against the austerity plans and against the pension reform which will be discussed this week in Parliament. The communist union Pame has called a 24-hour national strike for this Wednesday and union leader Aleka Papariga has even turned to the President of Greece, Karolos Papoulias, to try and stop the pension reform and the presidential decrees on a labour reform. The strike will partially paralyse transport. On June 29 there will be a general strike of the two large unions, Adedy of the public sector and GSEE of the private sector. There will be demonstrations in the main cities of Greece and Pame may join in. These protests are likely to paralyse the entire country. As of tomorrow employees of the Railways (OSE) will interrupt their work until Thursday, with serious consequences for the national lines. Employees of the underground who today interrupted their fourth day of strike, waiting for tomorrow’s talks with the government on the dismissal of 285 workers, may resume their protest if no agreement is reached in the coming days. Workers in the port of Piraeus will hold a 24-hour strike on Wednesday to protest against the coastal trade reform. Cargo and passenger transport will be totally blocked, in the middle of the tourist season. Lawyers will take turns in several days of 24-hour strikes against the tax raise and the reform of the welfare system. The pension reform that has been agreed with experts of the EU and the IMF includes freezes, cuts and a raise of the retirement age to 65 years with 40 years of contribution payments for all, starting in 2015. According to the rightwing press, the socialist government party, Pasok, is divided on the issue, and the Premier has issued a warning that if the bill is not passed, early elections will be organised. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

New Sharia Standards Are Adopted

MANAMA: The Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) has adopted three new Sharia standards.

This includes a ruling on standards for the disposal of rights, bankruptcy and the management of liquidity, collection and use.

“The adoption of these three standards, together with those adopted in previous years, are an important addition to our standards, both in terms of kind and number,” said AAOIFI secretary general Mohamad Nedal Alchaar.

“The number of new standards adopted since the beginning of last year is 14 so far, bringing the total number of existing standards to more than 84. This is a significant achievement for AAOIFI,” he said.

“There is a need for formulating such standards because of the increased complexity seen by the Islamic financial services industry in its different products and transactions, as well as the steadily increasing growth of the Islamic finance industry.

“The aftermath of the global financial crisis affirmed the need for AAOIFI to keep pace with the changes arising from such crisis.”


Global real estate exchange aims to bring market security

Dubai The founders of a global real estate security exchange, Saudi Arabian IREX Group and Canadian egX World, believe they would bring liquidity and transparency to the market.

“Willing buyers and sellers will be able to trade in one harmonised environment, which will mitigate the misuse of investment in real estate. At the moment, real estate is the right place for money laundering, it’s the truth,” said Safar Al Harthi, Executive Chairman of IREX Group.

Whilst an investor in shares of a project listed on the exchange can rest assured that it will have passed the exchange’s test, there’s no guarantee that all developments will bring money.

“We can’t guarantee a project won’t fail, but there’s the security of a regulated environment and legal rights. Shares will go up and down but at least the real estate market won’t be dependent on the stock exchange fluctuations any more,” said Leo Chamberland, President and CEO of IREX Group.

Projects listed on the exchange will be extensively vetted before listing and constantly monitored to maximise transparency. A project would have to disclose annual reports and provide reports by three legally independent consultants on a quarterly basis.

For projects under construction a live feed of activity on the site with a barometer measuring progress by year, month and day would be available on the exchange’s site.

“If a project slows down the developer has to disclose and explain why. This looks picky maybe but it’s what investors need and will enhance transparency,” Al Harthi added.

Developers or owners could list land, real estate projects of all sizes and in all sectors in the planning, ready assets and mortgage pools, traded as securities ranging from common shares, debt securities to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Sharia compliant products.

“The mortgage pool is particularly interesting. A lack of transparency and disclosure in the US and then across the world, as loans were traded over value, resulted in the global crisis. If we can open that door to transparency, investor confidence will come back to the open market and liquidity comes from that participation,” said Chamberland.

Land banking is another huge business, up to now reserved for the wealthy. Owning shares in real estate allows those who want to but can’t afford a whole asset to participate,” he added.

“Via shares, anyone can buy a piece of promising land and there are many out there who want a piece of the real estate market but don’t want the headache of owning property.”

With banks still reticent to lend, once would expect developers to be only too eager to list and raise finance via the exchange, but will they be willing to disclose all details of their project?

Chamberland believes they would, comparing a developer with a project to an owner of a fast car offered a new road he can’t drive as fast on as he would like to.”

If a project is to be listed, an application must be made. Following an initial security check, the project will then undergo an IPO (initial public offering) and, once listed, trading will begin. The development of the project then commences. All details are disclosed throughout the process and once the project is settled, shares tend to go up and investors get paid.

Just like the regular stock exchange, investors can buy shares of a real estate project or ready assets and dispose of them when necessary.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Another Crisis Not Wasted

Following the Rahm Emanuel playbook, President Barack Obama is losing no time in taking full advantage of the Gulf oil spill crisis to further his far left agenda. When he was addressing the nation from the oval office last week, his tone and demeanor were combative, as his speech was filled with words and phrases that alluded to warfare.

“Make no mistake: We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes,” the President intoned. “Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward,” and then proceeded to use words and phrases like “mobilization,” “siege,” and a “determination to fight for the America we want for our children.” And as is standard operating procedure in exploiting any crisis, Mr. Obama reminded his audience that there was a “sense of urgency that this challenge requires.” Lies, Untruths, Half truths, Innuendo

Of course, he also added his usual share of half-truths, untruths and innuendo to give a strong emotional context to his words and he chose to begin at the beginning:

“First, the cleanup. From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history — an effort led by Admiral Thad Allen, who has almost 40 years of experience responding to disasters. We now have nearly 30,000 personnel who are working across four states to contain and clean up the oil. Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding in the Gulf. And I’ve authorized the deployment of over 17,000 National Guard members along the coast. These servicemen and women are ready to help stop the oil from coming ashore, they’re ready to help clean the beaches, train response workers, or even help with processing claims — and I urge the governors in the affected states to activate these troops as soon as possible.”

Truth of the matter is that Admiral Allen wasn’t appointed at “the very beginning,” but 10 days after the very beginning and the federal government at that time was clueless as to the actual extent of the disaster. It was the government of Sweden and the Netherlands that recognized the severity of the problem almost immediately, offering to send ships with oil-skimming booms three days after the initial explosion. According to Dutch Consul General for the Netherlands, Geert Visser, the US government refused to accept help in “a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.”


The Big Lie, The Money Shot

Then the money shot, better known as the big lie: “The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America.” Really? If that’s the case, then why is China in the process of building some 80 coal-fired electricity generation facilities over the next few years?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Book on ‘Most Dangerous President in History’

‘When Obama speaks, he expects the world to obey’

President Obama has taken over car companies, Wall Street interests, the nation’s health care, student loans and a long list of other pieces of America, telling people it’s the best for the country, so what’s with this new label as “The most dangerous president in history?”

It’s because he’s taken over car companies, Wall Street interests, the nations’ health care, student loans and a long list of other pieces of America, telling people it’s the best for the country. And now his agenda is fully revealed in “The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists” by Aaron Klein and Brenda Elliott, which is tops among best-sellers at the WND SuperStore this week.

Henry Lamb, the auther of “The Rise of Global Governance” and chairman of Sovereignty International, has penned a column on Obama.

“Obama believes in the rule of law — his law. No other law is relevant. No other law matters. When Obama speaks, he expects the world to obey,” he writes. Lamb cited Obama’s most recent exercise of authority, when he announced he would “inform” BP that the company would set aside “whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business” affected by the Gulf oil spill.

“Where does Barack Hussein Obama get the authority to issue orders to the CEO of a private corporation? There is no such authority in the Constitution,” Lamb writes. “There is no law that empowers the president to ‘inform’ the CEO of any corporation how he will spend the corporation’s money.”

The columnist said, “In 18 months, the man has demonstrated that he cares nothing about the system of government created by our founders and enshrined in the Constitution. He has demonstrated that he fully intends to ‘fundamentally transform’ the United States of America — as he promised in his campaign. Now we are beginning to get a picture of the nation he intends to build. The picture is frightening.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Bork Hits Kagan Over Israeli Judge

Former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork has joined Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, to oppose Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Court, pointing to Kagan’s admiration for Aharon Barak — the former chief justice of Israel’s supreme court, whom conservatives regard as an activist judge.

In a conference call with reporters, Bork said Kagan’s public praise for Barak is evidence that her judicial philosophy has not yet matured. He called Barak “the worst judge on the planet,” who has repeatedly demonstrated — and touted — his reputation as an activist judge in the Israeli legal system.

“I think it’s disqualifying in and of itself,” Bork said of Kagan’s opinion of Barak.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Col. Jack Jacobs: Most in Military Will Say McChrystal ‘Was Right’

Contessa Brewer got a lot more than she was likely looking for when she interviewed Col. Jack Jacobs [ret.] this afternoon about the McChrystal situation. The MSNBC host wanted to focus on the impropriety of McChrystal publicly airing his criticisms of Pres. Obama and others in the chain of command.

But while the Medal of Honor recipient readily agreed that McChrystal was out of line, and would probably pay with his job, Jacobs also went out of his way— twice—to add an inconvenient truth: that when it comes to the substance of the criticism, most in the military think McChrystal “was right.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Do We Need “Alternative Energy” Because of the Oil Spill?

As crude oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, the politicians are waving the “green energy” shirt again. The logical chain goes as such: (1) crude oil is messy and dirty, especially when it is spilled into water; (2) “green” fuels and energy methods are clean and don’t result in oil spills; (3) therefore, the government should force us to use “green energy.”


In reality, government intervention played an important role in the spill’s happening in the first place. As Judge Andrew Napolitano points out, BP originally sought to drill in 500 feet of water, a plan approved by the state of Louisiana but then nixed by the federal government, which demanded the company drill in 5,000 feet depths instead.


Furthermore, the federal government has stymied efforts by local and state governments, along with private individuals, to deal with the spill, and has turned away offers from well-trained and well-equipped outfits from foreign countries because of the Jones Act, which protects American maritime unions.

Is this merely incompetence and protection of special interests? Or is more going on: namely, an opportunity to grease the skids to the less-efficient and much more costly energy “alternatives,” such as windmills and corn-based ethanol, both of which are highly inefficient and kept alive only by massive government subsidies. In a free market consumers would reject these costly sources, but thanks to the magic of political “investing,” they continue to destroy wealth…

[Return to headlines]

Extreme DIY: Building a Homemade Nuclear Reactor in NYC

Many might be alarmed to learn of a homemade nuclear reactor being built next door. But what if this form of extreme DIY could help solve the world’s energy crisis?

By day, Mark Suppes is a web developer for fashion giant Gucci. By night, he cycles to a New York warehouse and tinkers with his own nuclear fusion reactor.

The warehouse is a non-descript building on a tree-lined Brooklyn street, across the road from blocks of apartments, with a grocery store on one corner. But in reality, it is a lab.

In a hired workshop on the third floor, a high-pitched buzz emanates from a corner dotted with metal scraps and ominous-looking machinery, as Mr Suppes fires up his device and searches for the answer to a question that has eluded some of the finest scientific minds on the planet.

In nuclear fusion, atoms are forcibly joined, releasing energy. It is, say scientists, the “holy grail” of energy production — completely clean and cheap.

The problem is, no-one has found a way of making fusion reactors produce more energy than they consume to run.

Mr Suppes, 32, is part of a growing community of “fusioneers” — amateur science junkies who are building homemade fusion reactors, for fun and with an eye to being part of the solution to that problem.

He is the 38th independent amateur physicist in the world to achieve nuclear fusion from a homemade reactor, according to community site Others on the list include a 15-year-old from Michigan and a doctoral student in Ohio.

Mr Suppes has spent the last two years perfecting his reactor “I was inspired because I believed I was looking at a technology that could actually work to solve our energy problems, and I believed it was something that I could at least begin to build,” Mr Suppes told the BBC.

While they might un-nerve the neighbours, fusion reactors of this kind are perfectly legal in the US…

           — Hat tip: M. Simon[Return to headlines]

He’s Obama! He’s Black! So, Shut Up!

I received this message on Twitter from a black female, “Lloyd Marcus “F — — you!”, in response to my opposition to Obama. This woman is obviously a non thinking racist who refuses to take an honest look at her black idol president. She has chosen to ignore Obama’s long list of offenses of shredding the Constitution, governing against the will of the American people and using Chicago thug tactics. All this black woman knows is Obama is the chosen one and he is black. So shut up! Whites who dare to criticize or question Obama are racist and blacks who “don’t get it” are Uncle Tom traitors to their race.

One would think such small minded racist thinking would be limited to the uneducated, non achievers and welfare entitlement junkies. Unfortunately, I personally know highly educated and successful fellow blacks who feel the same about Obama as the knucklehead who sent me the “F — — you!” note.

Frustrated, I keep fighting the urge to confront my usually rational, wise and intelligent black associates, “What is the matter with you? Have you become brain dead?”

Then, reality hits me. No amount of truth about Obama will change the minds of these poor racist souls who have become disciples of their Grand Holy One, His Obamaness. Next they will sell all they own, shave their heads, dress in black tunics and wait for the mother ship to arrive and fly them all to a utopia known as “The Black Planet.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Incoming D-Day Memorial Chief Stands by Stalin Bust

Robin Reed, slated to become the next president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation on Monday, is standing by his predecessor’s decision to install a bust of dictator Josef Stalin at the memorial in Bedford, Va.

“At this point in time I certainly am not going to re-evaluate that,” he said in an interview Tuesday with The Washington Times.

While Mr. Reed said he can “appreciate the concern” of locals who have voiced their opposition to the bust, he said the bust can serve as a teaching tool to make visitors recognize the importance of Stalin as one of the leaders in World War II.

To those who argue that Stalin’s force weren’t present on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and had nothing to do with the D-Day invasion, Mr. Reed said Stalin still deserves credit as someone who contributed to the success of the war.

Many groups and locals have voiced their opposition to a monument to the dictator responsible for the deaths of about 20 million in the town of Bedford, which lost more men per capita than any other U.S. city during World War II. Men from Bedford were in the front attacking lines on D-Day, and 21 of them lost their lives.

Mr. Reed said the foundation’s board of directors will seriously consider any petition that comes before them, such as the one in the works by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

As of Monday, the petition had more than 600 confirmed signatures from 45 states and 20 countries. Mr. Reed said William McIntosh, the outgoing president of the foundation, had been very responsible, and that he intended to pick up where Mr. McIntosh left off.

“It is our job now to take the memorial to the next level,” Mr. Reed said.

[Return to headlines]

Mexican Gangs Maintain Permanent Lookout Bases in Hills of Arizona

Mexican drug cartels have set up shop on American soil, maintaining lookout bases in strategic locations in the hills of southern Arizona from which their scouts can monitor every move made by law enforcement officials, federal agents tell Fox News.

The scouts are supplied by drivers who bring them food, water, batteries for radios — all the items they need to stay in the wilderness for a long time.

Click here for more on this story from Adam Housley.

“To say that this area is out of control is an understatement,” said an agent who patrols the area and asked not to be named. “We (federal border agents), as well as the Pima County Sheriff Office and the Bureau of Land Management, can attest to that.”

Much of the drug traffic originates in the Menagers Dam area, the Vekol Valley, Stanfield and around the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. It even follows a natural gas pipeline that runs from Mexico into Arizona.

In these areas, which are south and west of Tucson, sources said there are “cartel scouts galore” watching the movements of federal, state and local law enforcement, from the border all the way up to Interstate 8.

“Every night we’re getting beaten like a pinata at a birthday party by drug, alien smugglers,” a second federal agent told Fox News by e-mail. “The danger is out there, with all the weapons being found coming northbound…. someone needs to know about this!”

The agents blame part of their plight on new policies from Washington, claiming it has put a majority of the U.S. agents on the border itself. One agent compared it to a short-yardage defense in football, explaining that once the smugglers and drug-runners break through the front line, they’re home free.

“We are unable to work any traffic, because they have us forward deployed,” the agent said. “We are unable to work the traffic coming out of the mountains. That traffic usually carries weapons and dope, too, again always using stolen vehicles.”

The Department of Homeland Security denies it has ordered any major change in operations or any sort of change in forward deployment.

“The Department of Homeland Security has dedicated unprecedented manpower, technology and infrastructure resources to the Southwest border over the course of the past 16 months,” DHS spokesman Matt Chandler said. “Deployment of CBP/Border Patrol and ICE personnel to various locations throughout the Southwest border is based on actionable intelligence and operational need, not which elected official can yell the loudest.”

While agents in the area agree that southwest Arizona has been a trouble spot for more than a decade, many believe Washington and politicians “who come here for one-day visit” aren’t seeing the big picture.

They say the area has never been controlled and has suddenly gotten worse, with the cartels maintaining a strong presence on U.S. soil. More than ever, agents on the front lines are wearing tactical gear, including helmets, to protect themselves.

“More than 4,000 of these agents are deployed in Arizona,” Chandler says. “The strategy to secure our nation’s borders is based on a ‘defense in depth’ philosophy, including the use of interior checkpoints, like the one on FR 85 outside Ajo, to interdict threats attempting to move from the border into the interior of our nation.”

Without placing direct fault on anyone, multiple agents told Fox that the situation is more dangerous for them than ever now that the cartels have such a strong position on the American side of the border.

They say morale is down among many who patrol the desolate area, and they worry that the situation won’t change until an agent gets killed.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Mexican Drug Cartel Warns Police Officers in Arizona Border Town to ‘Look the Other Way’

Police officers in a small Arizona border city are on heightened alert following a tip that a Mexican drug cartel will put them in its crosshairs if they conduct off-duty busts.

The threat stems from a marijuana seizure made this month by two off-duty police officers riding on horseback in an unincorporated area east of Nogales, a city of roughly 20,000, Police Chief Jeffrey Kirkham told

“The word was that these particular officers would be targeted if they were ever in that area again and were not on duty and intercepted any drug trafficking,” Kirkham said. “It said they should look the other way.”

The unidentified officers were able to confiscate roughly 400 pounds of marijuana during the seizure in early June at a known smuggling corridor along the U.S.-Mexican border where there is “relatively no fencing,” Kirkham said. No arrests were made, and the smugglers were able to retreat into Mexico.

Kirkham said his department, which employs 62 officers, learned about the threat through informants and has been unable to determine which Mexican drug cartel is behind it. Kirkham noted that two drug trafficking organizations — the Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel — are currently trying to gain a foothold in the Nogales area.

“Which one, we can’t establish,” he said. “They’re not ones to advertise who’s behind this. It’s difficult to establish.”

In response to the threat, Kirkham said everyone in the department was advised to be armed while off-duty. Officials at the Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also were notified, he said.

“We let them know that if they are to go out there, they are to be armed,” Kirkham said.

George Grayson, a professor at The College of William & Mary who specializes in Mexican politics and international affairs, said the threat likely came from the Sinaloa Cartel, which is headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman-Loera, who is being sought by American and Mexican authorities. The U.S. State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

“This is quite credible that the cartels would threaten police officers, on-duty or off-duty,” Grayson told “They, in fact, are more likely to threaten local police than to go after the [Drug Enforcement Agency] or FBI, which really raises hackles in Washington when you have your federal law enforcement agents threatened.”

The Los Zetas criminal organization — a rival of the Sinaloa Cartel — had previously operated in the Nogales area, Grayson said, but the area is now probably controlled by “El Chapo,” which is Spanish for “shorty.” Grayson said Sinaloa is believed to be one of the biggest suppliers of cocaine to the United States, and its members are known to be well-trained and well-armed.

“These officers should get medals for bravery, either on- or off-duty, because I doubt they have the firepower these cartels have,” he said. “It’s logical that as there are episodes involving U.S. law enforcement [with Mexican cartels], that the threats against American police officers at various levels will also increase.”

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Murfreesboro Mosque Uses the Muslim Brotherhood Reading List

According to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report (GMBDR), “Reading List Ties Sponsor Of Proposed Large Tennessee Islamic Facility To Global Muslim Brotherhood.”[] That should make for very interesting conversations during a Q+A at an open house that the ICM is sponsoring this coming Saturday, June 26th at their existing worship center in Murfreesboro. Perhaps concerned citizens of Rutherford County should attend the ICM open house and pick up copies of the Muslim Brotherhood literature…

[Return to headlines]

New Drilling Moratorium in Works, Salazar Says

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The Obama administration plans to declare a new moratorium on deepwater drilling in the next few days, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday night, according to media reports. Salazar’s announcement came hours after U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman overturned the administration’s first six-month moratorium on exploration in deep waters. “We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP’s well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling,” Salazar said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. The new moratorium would contain more specific justification for the drilling ban, Salazar said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama’s ‘Party List’ For McChrystal

General awaits fate in front of massive group of administrtation officials

NEW YORK — Gen. Stanley McChrystal will await his fate in front of a massive group of Obama administration officials later today.

Twenty-two senior U.S. officials have been summoned to the White House situation room for a “private” meeting slated to begin in late morning and to run slightly pass 1:15 this afternoon.

The White House schedule does not show any “private” time between the president and McChrystal before the group meeting in the situation room.

A copy of the White House “invitation” list was obtained by WND.

Among the “expected attendees” are:…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Vows to End Homelessness in 10 Years

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan that aspires to end homelessness among some of society’s most vulnerable groups within the next decade.

“Opening Doors,” a “Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” calls for ending child and family homelessness in 10 years while wiping out chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans in five years.

According to the 74-page plan, “Stable housing is the foundation upon which people build their lives — absent a safe, decent, affordable place to live, it is next to impossible to achieve good health, positive educational outcomes or reach one’s economic potential.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Democrats Have Declared War on the States

Obama and all who stand with him today — have openly declared war on the states and the American people and Obama & Co. plan to win that ideological war before the average American figures out that they are indeed at war with their federal government for the future of freedom.

The Tenth Amendment under full frontal Assault

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The term “enumerated powers” is no longer part of the legislative lexicon in Washington DC. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the federal government openly attack Tenth Amendment rights on a daily basis. No “theories” are required as the daily assault on the states is now happening in broad daylight.

  • Arizona — is under federal assault for attempting to uphold existing immigration laws within their sovereign state. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put Arizona on notice during a TV interview in Ecuador, announcing on foreign soil that Obama Democrats intend to stop Arizona from exercising its Tenth Amendment right to pass laws which protect and serve the citizens of Arizona. In addition, Obama has now ceded US land to Mexican drug lords. The same story is playing out in California and other places across the nation.
  • New York — is under federal assault for attempting to avoid state bankruptcy by passing an emergency state budget that included the furlough of 100,000 state employees that New York can no longer afford. A federal judge stepped in to block the state passed and signed emergency budget effort. The reason stated by the judge was “the labor unions did not agree to the furloughs,” placing both the Fed and labor unions above the state’s right to balance its own budget and control its own financial condition.
  • Federal Health Care bill — is a direct violation of Tenth Amendment rights and numerous states (20 at present) have joined a federal suit challenging Obama’s “enumerated power” to force national health care upon the states and the people. Obama Democrats are trying to force the court to drop the health care overhaul suit.
  • Federal Agencies — tell the states that they have NO power against the Fed. According to Obama Democrats, federal laws trump state laws and even the US Constitution. Their criminal and civil “rules of procedure” trump everything. On this basis, federal agencies repeatedly notify states that they have no states rights and that the Fed is not in any way limited to “enumerated powers.”
  • The Gulf States — are dying from federal mishandling of the BP oil spill and they are being told that they are powerless and must rely solely upon Obama Democrats to save the gulf and protect their citizens. Arizona already knows how well that turns out…


Obama Democrats have not only declared war on the states — they have declared war on the vast majority of American citizens as well.

  • The right to peacefully assemble is being prosecuted as a “riot” today.
  • The right of peaceful redress is being denied on the basis of “no legal standing.”
  • Second Amendment rights are being denied by federal laws and the BATF.
  • A fundamental right to Life and Liberty is being denied on the basis of a single case precedent.
  • The judiciary is creating laws and the legislature is failing in its fundamental duties.
  • The White House is functioning like an absolute dictatorship at odds with more than 70% of the people.
  • Citizens are being accused of “domestic terrorism” for demanding a return to constitutional government.
  • Numerous judges have advised citizens that they have NO standing to question any of it.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Scholar Linked to ‘Ground Zero’ Imam

Book espouses Islamic goal of world dominion

JERUSALEM — A scholar and charity head appointed to President Obama’s White House Fellowships Commission is closely tied to the Muslim leaders behind a proposed controversial Islamic cultural center to be built near the site of the 9/11 attacks.

The White House fellow, Vartan Gregorian, is president of Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Gregorian also serves on the board of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The museum is reportedly working with the American Society for Muslim Advancement, or ASMA, whose leaders are behind the mosque, to ensure the future museum will represent the voices of American Muslims.

“[The 9/11 museum will represent the] voices of American Muslims in particular, and it will honor members of other communities who came together in support and collaboration with the Muslim community on September 11 and its aftermath,” stated Daisy Khan, executive director of the ASMA.

The future 9/11 museum’s oral historian, Jenny Pachucki, is collaborating with ASMA to ensure the perspective of American Muslims is woven into the overall experience of the museum, according to the museum’s blog.

Khan’s husband, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the founder of ASMA as well as chairman of Cordoba Initiative, which is behind the proposed mosque to be built about two blocks from the area referred to as Ground Zero.

With Gregorian at its helm, Carnegie Corp. is at the top of the list of ASMA supporters on the Islamic group’s website.

Carnegie is also listed as a funder of both of ASMA’s partner organizations, Search for Common Ground and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Gregorian was a participant in the U.N. body’s first forum, as was Rauf.

Rauf is vice-chairman on the board of the Interfaith Center of New York, which honored Gregorian at an awards dinner in 2008.

World domination

Gregorian, born in Tabriz, Iran, served for eight years as a president of the New York Public Library and was also president of Brown University. He is the author of “Islam: A Mosaic, Not A Monolith.”

According to a book review by the Middle East Forum, Gregorian’s book “establishes the Islamist goal of world domination.”

A chapter of the book, “Islamism: Liberation Politics,” quotes Ayatollah Khomenei: “Islam does not conquer. Islam wants all countries to become Muslim, of themselves.” Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is quoting stating it “is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”

Gregorian himself recommends for Muslims a system he calls “theo-democracy,” which he defines as “a divine democratic government” that, according to the book review, “would have a limited popular sovereignty under the suzerainty of Allah.”

Rauf, meanwhile, has caused a stir with his proposed $100 million, 13-story Islamic cultural center and mosque near the corner of Park Place and West Broadway — about two blocks from Ground Zero.

Just last week, WND reported Rauf refused during a live radio interview to condemn violent jihad groups as terrorists. Rauf repeatedly refused on-air to affirm the U.S. designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization or call the Muslim Brotherhood extremists.

The Brotherhood openly seeks to spread Islam around the world, while Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and is responsible for scores of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks aimed at Jewish civilian population centers.

During that interview, Rauf was also asked who he believes was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

“There’s no doubt,” stated Rauf. “The general perception all over the world was it was created by people who were sympathetic to Osama bin Laden. Whether they were part of the killer group or not, these are details that need to be left to the law-enforcement experts.”

Rauf has been on record several times as blaming U.S. policies for the Sept. 11 attacks. He has been quoted refusing to admit Muslims carried out the attacks.

Referring to the Sept. 11 attacks, Rauf told CNN, “U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. We (the U.S.) have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. Osama bin Laden was made in the USA.”

Madeline Brooks, a reporter who attended a sermon this year by Rauf, quoted the Islamic leader as stating “some people say it was Muslims who attacked on 9/11.”

Rauf’s 2004 book had two different titles — one in English and the second in Arabic. In the U.S., his book was called, ‘What’s right with America is what’s right with Islam.”

The same book, published in Arabic, bore the name, “The Call from the WTC Rubble: Islamic Da’wah from the Heart of America Post 9/11.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


5.0 Val-Des-Bois Quake Rattles Ottawa, Eastern North America

OTTAWA — A strong earthquake centred in Val-des-Bois, Que., shook Eastern North America on Wednesday afternoon.

The quake was initially listed as a magnitude of 5.7 before being downgraded to 5.0, according to the United States Geological Survey. The quake struck at 1:41 p.m. and lasted between 20 and 30 seconds. A quake of that magnitude is considered “moderate” according to the agency’s website.

Municipal employees in Val-des-Bois said they were experiencing aftershocks every five minutes for more than 50 minutes after the earthquake.

Marlene Nontell, a secretary at the municipality, said Hwy. 307 was closed north of the town of 900 people because of a partial bridge collapse near Bowman. Nontell said rocks had fallen onto the highway from a nearby cliff.

“The two first quakes were like an explosion — I flew out the door,” Nontell said. “We still have power and there is no damage, but the telephones are down. Almost all our employees are volunteer firefighters who are on the radio responding to questions.”

At Carleton University, earthquake expert Brian Cousens knew after a of couple of seconds that this was an earthquake. He ducked for cover.

“I lived in California for four years and this one made me go for the doorway. In an earthquake you want to be in a door frame because it’s framed and it’s the most rigid part,” he said. “You don’t want to be in my office with cases of rocks and books to fall on you.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here, since 1990, that anything has sent me to a door frame. This seemed to last 15 or 20 seconds. Half a minute maybe.”

He knew it went on too long to be an explosion or construction noise from the building next door.

Carleton’s David Lau, who teaches engineering and specializes in designing buildings and bridges to resist earthquakes, said this quake was not quite big enough to do major damage. Some buildings that look solid could still have “minor cracking” he said.

We can expect some aftershocks, but they should be much smaller than the first shock, he said, similar to the feel and noise of a heavy truck driving past. “It blends into the normal urban activities.”

How the main quake felt would vary a lot by where people were, he said.

A building on solid rock would be the least shaky spot, Lau said. But a building on soft soil or sand, far above the bedrock, would find the shaking magnified by the soil.

“It’s like shaking a bowl of Jell-O,” he said. “If you shake the bowl, the top of the Jell-O experiences more noticeable movement, right? And that would cause more damage to the structure.”

As well, he said top floors of tall buildings shake more than lower floors.

Lau thought at first that a crane had dropped construction equipment outside. “Then I realized it was an earthquake.”

He didn’t run for cover.

Reports flooded into the Citizen newsroom from people who’d felt the quake as far away as Boston, Cincinnatti, Flint, Michigan, Columbus, Ohio, Albany, New York, and Chicago.

In downtown Ottawa, just 50 km from the quake’s epicenter, many downtown offices and apartment buildings were evacuated and people flooded into the street. At Laurier Avenue and Bank Street the Jackson Building was ordered completely evacuated.

People who milled in the street talked about what the earthquake had just interrupted in their lives. One person said it felt like a big truck rumbling past.

A window was reported broken on the eighth floor at 180 Kent St. and the Parliamentary Precinct was evacuated, as was the city’s office on Constellation Crescent, where it was reported that the nine-storey building could be felt to be swaying.

Heather Bradley, spokeswoman for the Speaker’s office, said that to her knowledge there had been no damage to the buildings on Parliament Hill.

Public Works was conducting air-quality and other tests in Centre Block, East Block and West Block on Wednesday night, she said. Public Works said inspections were underway, but offered no further details.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Canada ‘Furious’ Over U.S.-Backed Women’s Rights Super Agency

Canada is “furious” at the United States over Washington’s role in creating a new $1-billion super agency at the United Nations for women’s rights, Canwest News Service has learned.

In a dispute that could spill over into the G20 and G8 summits in Canada this week, the U.S. has broken ranks with other western countries and proposed a board for the new agency that largely gives in to demands by Cuba, Egypt and other developing countries seeking maximum possible control of it.

Critics claim the makeup risks rendering the new agency as dysfunctional as the UN Human Rights Council, where states with poor human-rights records control much of the agenda and provide “cover” for one another.

Canada is “furious” at the United States over Washington’s role in creating a new $1-billion super agency at the United Nations for women’s rights, Canwest News Service has learned.

In a dispute that could spill over into the G20 and G8 summits in Canada this week, the U.S. has broken ranks with other western countries and proposed a board for the new agency that largely gives in to demands by Cuba, Egypt and other developing countries seeking maximum possible control of it.

Critics claim the makeup risks rendering the new agency as dysfunctional as the UN Human Rights Council, where states with poor human-rights records control much of the agenda and provide “cover” for one another…

           — Hat tip: Sheikh Yermami[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Council of Europe Urges End to Swiss Minaret Ban

Council of Europe parliamentarians have called for the Swiss ban on building minarets to be repealed on the basis that it discriminates against Muslims in Switzerland.

The recommendation was made by the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly on Wednesday during a debate on Islam and Islamophobia in Europe. It urges Switzerland to adopt a moratorium on the ban and reverse it as soon as possible.

“The construction of minarets should be possible, under the same status as is given to church towers, in accordance with public safety and town planning regulations,” said the recommendation.

Swiss voters approved a ban on future minaret construction in the country in November. The initiative was brought to a referendum by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

Subsequent complaints of discrimination were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights, which has yet to decide on the issue.

           — Hat tip: DL[Return to headlines]

EU Democracy Instrument Continues to Cause Headaches

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — It is meant to be the most clear democratising feature of the EU’s new rulebook, the Lisbon Treaty, but implementation of the “citizen’s initiative” is a political minefield and is prompting much discussion about the danger of the tool turning into a mockery of democracy.

EU politicians are keen to talk up the European citizens’ Initiative (ECI), a clause in the EU treaty obliging the European Commission to consider legislating on any idea supported by 1 million European citizens.

Institutional affairs commissioner Maros Sefcovic calls it a “real step forward in the democratic life of Europe.” Parliament vice-president Silvana Koch-Mehrin, a German liberal, invokes Confucius and Rousseau, the Chinese and French philosophers, to explain its importance.

But seven months after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, Brussels institutions are struggling to get the right tone and the balance for the direct democracy law — partly because it is not clear to what extent and how citizens will use it…

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Female Pope Film Sparks Vatican Row

Pope Joan, which depicts a female pontiff rumoured to have existed in the ninth century, has been criticised by the Roman Catholic Church for its ‘extremely limited vision’

Blockbuster Hollywood films such as The Da Vinci Code, and its prequel, Angels and Demons, have often fallen foul of the Vatican in recent years. Now a new movie looks set to spark anger in the Holy See due to its depiction of a female pontiff.

Pope Joan, based on American novelist Donna Woolfolk Cross’s book of the same name, stars German actor Johanna Wokalek as the titular character, with Lord of the Rings’ David Wenham as the lover who supposedly brought her to Rome, and US actor John Goodman as Pope Sergius. The film is based on persistent rumours — denied by the Roman Catholic Church and, to be fair, the majority of historians — that a female pope existed in the ninth century. She was said to have disguised herself as a man and risen to the favour of the previous pope due to her great learning and intellect. But after a reign of several years, she gave birth to a baby during a papal procession and was torn apart by an angry mob.

Pope Joan, directed by the German film-maker Sönke Wortmann, is currently riding high at the Italian box office, sitting in the top 10 behind Sex and the City 2 and Robin Hood. It has already premiered in Germany, and there are plans for a UK release later this year.

L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, last week dismissed Pope Joan as “a hoax” and a film of “extremely limited vision”. However, L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, which previously attacked The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, has not yet spoken out on the matter.

The legend of Pope Joan first appeared in the 13th century, and subsequently spread across Europe, though historians now believe the story became popular through later, anti-Catholic propaganda. There are, however, a number of factors that are advanced by proponents of the story to suggest that a female pope really did exist. Firstly, they point to the existence of a wooden chair with a hole in the base, the sella stercoraria, which it is claimed was used during papal investiture ceremonies to ensure potential pontiffs were male. The chair is now kept in the Vatican museum. Secondly, the route between the Basilica of St John Lateran and St Peter’s in Rome, where Joan was supposedly unmasked, was traditionally avoided by popes from the 13th century onwards, possibly in deference to the legend.

The story of the female pontiff was previously examined in the little-known 1972 film Pope Joan, featuring Ingmar Bergman muse Liv Ullmann. That film was revived and re-edited, using previously unseen footage, into a different feature, She … Who Would Be Pope, last year.

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

Germany: Armed Forces Personnel Could be Cut by 100,000

Germany’s military reportedly faces cuts that are even deeper than previously feared under provisional plans that could see defence personnel slashed by 100,000.

Bundeswehr Chief of Staff Volker Wieker has had plans drawn up that would reduce the armed forces’ personnel from 250,000 to 150,000 to meet the tough savings demands being made by the Finance Ministry, daily Die Welt reported on Tuesday.

However, Wieker is also having alternative plans drawn up that would mean lighter cuts, the paper reported.

All three branches of the military — the army, airforce and navy — as well as support and medical staff would be severely affected by the cutbacks.

The army would bear the brunt, being reduced to 47,000 soldiers from its present strength of 94,188. The airforce would drop to 19,000 staff compared with its present 42,212 personnel, while the navy would fall to 9,000 staff from its current strength of 17,476. The support staff would be cut by two thirds from its present 72,685 to about 26,000 while medical staff would be cut from 23,775 to 11,000.

There would also be reserve personnel, however.

Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has in recent weeks ordered the Bundeswehr’s top commanders to start doing their sums on how and where cuts could be made. Wieker has been asked to present his alternatives for making the cuts by the end of July.

The modelling is based on the expectation that the Finance Ministry needs to cut €4.3 billion from defence spending in the next four years.

Military affairs spokesman for the centre-left Social Democrats accused Guttenberg of conducting “security policy according to the budgetary position.”

The 150,000-staff model was a “radical surgery” that was “not politically justified,” he said.

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

How European Tolerance Islamized Turkey

But while Turkey modernized, the Muslim nations of the Middle East instead followed a completely different paradigm. And they succeeded for two reasons. Oil. And the willingness of First and Second World powers to pander to them. Where Turkey had to learn to do things the hard way, to separate mosque from state and try to build modern institutions, a bunch of backward desert sheiks were lucky enough to take control of barren regions where infidel geologists found oil. Those sheiks were also lucky enough to stumble into a perfect era of infidel infighting that allowed them to play Americans against the Europeans against the Russians. Not long after the sheiks had more money than they could count, which meant that they didn’t need to modernize, instead they could buy all the American and European technology they wanted, and even import actual Americans and Europeans to do the work for them.


European tolerance for Islam eliminated any real reason for Turkey not to become Islamist. As Erdogan has demonstrated, it is possible to run a country that continues to deny genocide, oppresses minorities and has jails filled with political prisoners. That openly supports terrorism and Islamism—and yet is on track for membership in the European Union. Erdogan does not need to dig up Ataturk and turn him upside down—the Great Tolerators of Europe were already doing it for him.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy: Watchdog Sounds Alarm Over Corruption

Honest businesses risk being forced out of public works market

(ANSA) — Rome, June 22 — Corruption and contempt for the law are commonplace among businesses awarded public works contracts, the sector’s watchdog warned on Tuesday. Unveiling the annual report of the Authority for Safeguarding Public Contracts, the body’s president Luigi Giampaolino told parliament the problem infected all stages of the process. “Serious incidents of corruption and illegality are occurring within the public administration,” he said. “A lack of respect for the rules combined with deep-rooted and widespread corruption is having a profound and unfair effect on market competitiveness.

“This is helping destroy honest businesses by forcing them out of the public works market”. One of the most widespread forms of rule dodging was the use of emergency measures, said the watchdog, describing the practice as “systematic and alarming”.

It said the special powers allowing a suspension of the strict rules governing public works were particularly common when organizing major events, such as the celebrations for 150 years of Italian unification or the world swimming championships.

The report also warned that some contractors were waiting up to 22 months after completing a project in order to get paid, which was further narrowing the field of those able to compete in the sector. “This is a particularly serious problem for small and medium-sized enterprises given the current economic crisis and greater difficulties in accessing credit”. According to the watchdog, the Italian administration currently owes around 37 billion euros — nearly 2.4% of the country’s GDP — for public works. The report comes as prosecutors continue a series of high-profile probes into public works corruption. News of the first investigation broke in February when prosecutors ordered the arrest of the head of the state public works office, Angelo Balducci, the Tuscany region’s public works contractor Fabio De Santis, and state official Mauro Della Giovampaola.

Prosecutors believe they masterminded a web of corruption and kickbacks among constructors, architects and civil servants who managed tens of millions of euros of public works contracts.

Meanwhile, Italy’s industry minister Claudio Scajola resigned last month after being linked to a probe into a shady real estate deal involving Rome businessman Diego Anemone. Anemone has also been connected to Civil Protection Chief Guido Bertolaso, whom prosecutors say may have taken bribes and struck sex-for-favours arrangements after the businessman won a tender for the restructuring of the original venue of the G8 in the Sardinian island of La Maddalena.

Scajola is not under investigation and has denied any wrongdoing, while Bertolaso, who has offered to step down, recently told a news conference he had “never lied to Italians” and had “a clear conscience”.

A top Italian cardinal, Naples Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe, and former infrastructures minister Pietro Lunardi are also being probed by prosecutors investigating alleged corruption involving public works contracts, including the construction of venues for last year’s G8 summit.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Rome to Get Second Baby Hatch

Modern version of medieval ‘foundling wheel’ due September

(ANSA) — Rome, June 22 — Rome is to get its second baby hatch, the modern equivalent of the medieval ‘foundling wheel’, which allows desperate mothers to abandon newborns safely and anonymously, it was announced on Tuesday. Rome Social Policies Councillor Sveva Belviso said the 15,000-euro hatch would start operating in October, connected to a pharmacy. Modern baby hatches are a far cry from the wooden wheels once built into the doors of convents to allow desperate young women to abandon newborn babies anonymously.

The new system is a heated crib that resembles an incubator inside a small structure attached to the pharmacy. Upon entering the structure, mothers can place their baby in the crib by passing it through a hatch and then leave without being seen. “There are no video cameras outside in order to ensure the woman’s privacy and the service will be operative 24 hours a day,” explained Belviso.

The weight in the crib will set off an alarm inside the pharmacy, alerting staff to the new arrival. Sensors will immediately calculate the weight and body temperature of the baby to assess whether or not the case is an emergency.

The member of staff on duty will then alert local emergency services and transport the baby to the nearest hospital where it can be cared for.

Like Rome’s first baby hatch, at the Policlinico Casilino hospital, the new ‘foundling wheel’ will be located in one of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods, home to many immigrants. The majority of the 400 or so babies abandoned each year in Rome have foreign mothers. This may be because they are poorer than Italian mothers or lack a family support network to help them cope. Some mothers may fear the stigma still attached to babies born out of wedlock among certain immigrant communities, while others are worried they will be reported to the police if they are living in Italy without papers. By law any woman has the right to give birth anonymously in all Italian hospitals but Rome health officials say many women are still unaware of this. On average, of the 400 babies abandoned in the Italian capital every year, nearly 15% are still left in churches, religious institutions, on the streets or in trash cans. According to Grazia Passeri, an Italian civil rights campaigner who has been battling rubbish bin abandonments the number of babies disposed of in this way is probably ten times the number of those that are found. More than 30 baby hatches have opened across Italy since 1995, when the first modern ‘foundling wheel’ started operating in the Piedmont town of Casale Monferrato. The station at Rome’s Policlinico Casilino Hospital opened in 2006 and has welcomed just one baby during this time, a three-month-old boy named Stefano after the doctor who first treated him. Belviso believes that part of the problem is that just as mothers are not aware they may give birth anonymously, many have no idea about the ‘foundling wheels’.

As a result, she has decided to launch an advertising drive to ensure the information reaches those most in need. “A publicity campaign will get under way in September, with adverts appearing both on the side of municipal skips and in the capital’s buses, to let people know about the baby hatches,” she said. She also voiced the hope that “all Rome hospitals will eventually have a baby hatch”, to guarantee the survival of as many newborns as possible. Until the early 20th century, it was common for a desperate mother to lay an unwanted child on the horizontal wooden wheels which were half inside convents and half outside.

A nun on the inside would turn the wheel, bringing the baby inside where it could be cared for while the mother could slip away unseen. Although the system was dropped in the early 20th century, it has enjoyed a major revival around the world in recent years.

Germany, Pakistan, Austria, Japan and the Czech Republic are among the many countries to adopt the system.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Oldest Paintings of Apostles Found

Icons of Saints Peter, Paul, Andrew, John in Rome catacombs

(ANSA) — Rome, June 22 — Archaeologists and restorers working at the Roman catacombs of Saint Tecla announced on Tuesday they had found the world’s oldest paintings of the apostles Peter, Paul, Andrew and John.

“They’re the oldest images of the apostles and are datable to the latter half of the fourth century AD,” said Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of archeology at the catacombs, which are owned and maintained by the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.

They were found on the ceiling of the burial chamber of an ancient Roman noblewoman who commissioned painters to decorate it with scenes from the Bible, probably after her conversion to Christianity.

The Vatican had anticipated news of the discovery last June, saying that archaeologists carrying out routine restoration work had uncovered the oldest known icon of the Apostle Paul.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, the Vatican team said Paul’s image was part of ceiling painting that also included the full-face icons of the other three apostles.

“The paintings of Andrew and John are undoubtedly the oldest ever. Some showing Peter have been found that date to the middle of the fourth century although this is the first time that the apostle is not shown in a group but singly, in an icon,” Bisconti told reporters.

“The discovery is evidence that the devotion to the apostles began in early Christianity,” said Barbara Mazzei, chief restorer at the site. The catacombs of Saint Tecla are some 500 meters away from the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, where the saint is buried.

They were discovered by chance in the 1950s during excavations for the construction of an office building. Mazzei said restorers had been able to uncover the images thanks to a new and sophisticated laser technology which peeled off the thick calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the colours underneath.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: No More Nets in Bagnara, Fishermen Hand Them Back

(ANSAmed) — BAGNARA CALABRA (REGGIO CALABRIA), JUNE 22 — Fishermen in Bagnara Calabra, near Reggio Calabria, have decided to stop using swordfish nets. Next Friday, the nets will be handed over by representatives of the fishermen cooperatives to the port’s harbour office during a press conference to be held in the town hall of Bagnara. “We want to respect the environment,” one of the fishermen said, “and so we have decided to accept the invitation extended mainly by environmental groups to stop using the nets”. After the press conference, the nets will be taken to a special centre where they will be destroyed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Police ‘Uncover’ €22 Bln in Unpaid Taxes

Rome, 22 June (AKI) — Italian finance police say they uncovered 22 billion euros in undeclared earnings in the first five months of 2010 as prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government pledged to crack down on tax evasion. Police also discovered 3.1 billion euros in unpaid value-added tax and other forms of tax evasion.

The finance police, known at the Guardia di Finanza, say they pinpointed 3,790 tax evaders in the first five months of the year, according to a statement released in Rome on Tuesday.

Berlusconi pledged to pursue Italians who evade tax and authorities have stepped up action to target offshore bank accounts in neighbouring Switzerland.

Critics like political opposition leader Pier Luigi Bersani have attacked Berlusconi for awarding tax evasion by declaring amnesties that allow Italians to pay past taxes at a rate significantly lower than official levels with no legal penalties.

The government has gone after Italians hiding funds in offshore bank accounts, primarily in neighbouring Switzerland. The initiative has resulted in diplomatic rows between Rome and Bern, as well as San Marino, an independent landlocked republic near Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast.

Finance police also said that they identified 12,927 cases of “irregular” workers of which 8,937 were paid without officially registered with the government.

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

Sweden: Moderates Are Largest Party: Poll

The Moderates are currently the largest parliamentary party with the support of 29.9 percent of the electorate, according to a new United Minds poll while the Sweden Democrats on 5.6 percent threaten the Alliance coalition’s hope of a majority.

Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderates claimed top spot for the first time in a United Minds/Aftonbladet poll ahead of the Social Democrats on 28.8 for the Social Democrats.

“The closer the election the more importance afforded to questions about the economy, growth and the ability to manage state finances. In these issues the ruling Alliance has the upper hand,” said Carl Melin, Survey Manager at United Minds.

But the four-party government coalition’s continued grip on power after the September 19th election is threatened by the far-right Sweden Democrats who polled 5.6 percent in the June voter survey, sufficient to claim seats in parliament.

If the poll was an indicator of the election result then the Sweden Democrats would hold the balance of power, although both the centre-right and centre-left blocs have categorically ruled out cooperating with the party.

The centre-right coalition polled a total of 46.4 percent, nudging ahead of the centre-left on 45.5.

United Minds poll results, June 2010 (changes since May 2010 in parentheses)


Moderate Party 29.9 (+0.1)

Centre Party 4.8 (-0.1)

Liberal Party 6.8 (+1.1)

Christian Democrats 4.9 (+0.2)

Total: 46.4 (Election 2006: 48.2)


Social Democrats 28.8 (-2.2)

Left Party 6.6 (+0.1)

Green Party 10.3 (+0.3)

Total: 45.5 (Election 2006: 46.1)

Sweden Democrats 5.6 (+0.1)

Others 2.5 (+0.5)

United Minds, in cooperation with Cint, interviewed 1238 people from May 24th-June 20th and asked the question: How would you vote if a general election were held today?

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

Swedish Dockers Launch Israeli Goods Blockade

The Swedish Dock Workers Union (Hamnarbetarförbundet) on Wednesday launched a blockade of Israeli cargo in protest against the deadly raid on the Gaza-bound freedom flotilla last month, union representatives have confirmed.

The blockade, which also applies to Israeli ships, was launched “because of

the assault on the Ship to Gaza (flotilla), that we supported before they took

off … and the blockade of the Gaza strip, which affects the civilian population,” union spokesman Rolf Axelsson said.

The dock workers’ protest is set to take place in all unionised Swedish ports, and is scheduled to and ends at midnight on June 29th.

Union chairman Björn A. Borg added the union called for an international investigation into the May 31st raid that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.

He told AFP the dock workers believed Israel’s easing of its Gaza blockade, announced on Sunday, was insufficient.

Eleven Swedes, including crime writer Henning Mankell, took part in the flotilla and were briefly taken into Israeli custody.

The Swedish Dock Workers Union original announced their intended blockade on June 2nd to take place from June 15th-24th but later announced an amendment to the dates in a statement dated June 11th.

representative told AFP.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

The Future of Islam in Europe

While Western Islamophobia is a reality to contend with, Muslims based in the West often don’t help matters, writes Khalil El-Anani*

The current Western obsession with the niqab, or full- face veil, often seems part of a subconscious plot to restrict anything Arab and Islamic, symbolic as that may be. The niqab is not really Islamic garb, this I am sure something that Western politicians know. And yet it is becoming a target of hate because it is seen as a cultural symbol that is extraneous, and indeed dangerous, to European societies.

Sometimes I wonder, what if it were Indian women, or Sikhs and Buddhists for that matter, who wore the niqab ? Would European parliaments still spend entire sessions discussing the niqab ?

Theological debate on niqab aside, Western outrage against the niqab seems to be a by-product of Islamophobia, a phenomenon that is raging like wildfire across Europe, asserting itself sometimes as mosque- phobia and at other times as minaret-phobia. Should this trend continue, the day may come when European parliaments ban men from wearing their beards long and shaving their moustaches. I wonder what kind of phobia we’ll name that one!

There is a real crisis of conscience in the West. When it comes to Islam, Europe seems to be negating its past of freedom and equality, the very essence of what it claims to be defending today. What damage is done to 65 million in France, 22 million in Australia, and 10 million in Belgium, and a similar number in the Netherlands from hundreds, or even thousands of niqab -clad women? Whether the niqab is an expression of faith or habit, I fail to see the damage it is being blamed for.

Meanwhile, the Western intelligentsia seem silent on the matter. For all their loud defence of homosexual rights and of gay and lesbian marriages, the European intelligentsia remain sympathetic to anyone who criticises Islam and Muslims. Criticism of Islam is seen as part and parcel of Europe’s freedom of expression.

The French parliament has voted to ban the niqab, calling it a threat to the secularism of the French state. But secularism is innocent from this kind of thinking. The ban on the niqab — and an earlier ban on the hijab — has nothing to do with secularism. As a doctrine, secularism was supposed to defend the rights of everyone, especially minorities. Secularism was supposed to protect the rights of all to religious freedom and identity. It was supposed to be a statement of pluralism and religious tolerance.

I have three words I wish to add to the famous motto of the French state, that of liberty, equality, and freedom. I wish to add the phrase, “for non-Muslims only”.

The ban on the niqab is a moral scandal as well as an insult to the Western tradition. For one thing, the anti- niqab crowd assume that any woman wearing the niqab (and perhaps any man wearing robes and a beard) is a time bomb that must be defused. The anti- niqab crowd make no distinction between extremists and moderates. It is bigotry such as theirs that inspired the murder of an innocent Egyptian woman, Marwa El-Sherbini, in Germany a year ago.

There is no real evidence of a connection between the niqab and terror. All the terrorist operations that took place in Europe — from London to Madrid — were mounted by men baring their faces. The attacks mounted by masked men and women across the Arab and Islamic world are rare compared to those mounted by individuals showing their faces. Terrorists like to be seen and recognised. That’s how they are.

I find it ironic that the admirable work of the great intellectual and philosophical brains of the European Enlightenment, of men like John Locke and Montesquieu and Kant, is being reversed by their grandchildren. I find it appalling that in a multi-ethnic country such a Britain, a country known for its religious pluralism and human tolerance, more than 30 Muslim tombs in Leeds have been desecrated. Shops owned by British citizens of Muslim origin were attacked in Birmingham a month ago.

Equally disturbing is the fact that religious fervour and identity-related obsession are spreading across Muslim communities in Europe. Muslim minorities in Europe seem to think that the future of Islam hinges on such outward matters as wearing the niqab, growing a beard, or attaching a minaret to a place of worship. Some members of the Islamic community, especially those of Asian origins, deal with Western societies as if they were still back in Peshawar or Islamabad. Their actions only fuel the Islamophobia of those at the other end of the spectrum.

Islam may be the fastest growing religion in Europe, but its true power is not in outward appearances, but in the spiritual appeal of its message, a message that attracts those wishing to break free from materialism.

The tendency of Muslim communities in Europe to place their “universal” connections above their local loyalties is perilous. There is a tendency for Europe’s Muslims to worry more about Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan than about the more immediate tasks of women’s rights, communal ties and political affiliation. They confuse one’s country with one’s citizenry. In their minds, their countries are not where they live, as in Britain or France, but where they came from. But this doesn’t make sense, for it is in Europe that they ask for their rights as citizens. It is in Europe that they demand equality and religious freedom.

The schizophrenia of European Muslims is triggered by a mistaken loyalty to Salafi, or fundamentalist trends. As many know, Salafi movements oppose integration and are loath to constructive coexistence. The Salafis both fuel the current Islamophobia and thrive on it.

Some of the Muslims who live in Europe have turned into an impediment to Islam. Some actively obstruct the spread of its message of tolerance. Some are distracting non-Muslims from the values of Islam, because of their ignorance and their obsession with appearances.

It is my opinion that mistaken religious concepts are being propagated among the Muslim minorities of Europe. These concepts are bound to hinder their integration into their new societies. A few days ago, I heard that some Muslim men in London branded as haram, or religiously banned, the participation of British Muslims in the general elections of last month. This is crazy. Even worse, the fanatical utterances were made by recent British converts to Islam.

New converts to Islam tend to subscribe to Salafi views as being pure and therefore perfect. In doing so, they turn their back on tolerant views and the progressive opinions that are required for coexistence. This narrow-minded view of Islam makes much of appearances, such as garments and minarets, and of the literary interpretation of religious texts. It also tends to confuse freedom of worship with respect for the public sphere. It is necessary for European Muslims to stop viewing the cultural legacy of European countries as a threat to their religious freedom.

Western countries defend and allow the practice of religious freedoms without hindrance. But they also want to maintain their cultural legacy and protect it from perceived threats, especially when these threats — like the niqab — are matters of contention within the Islamic world, not just in Europe.

The Salafi interpretation of Islam may not be dominant among European Muslims, but it is the most vocal in Europe’s public sphere. As such, it creates a wall between Europe’s Muslims and non-Muslims. It also inspires some of Europe’s most racist laws. The Salafi currents are giving Europe’s rightwing groups reason to claim that a Muslim takeover is imminent unless action is promptly taken.

A polarisation of identity is taking place inside two groups, each obsessed with the other, and each reassured of its own superiority. Should this continue, the next decade will just be as bad as the last.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Greedy, Manipulative and Cunning’: Judge’s Verdict on NHS Manager Who Fraudulently Claimed £15,000 in Benefits

An NHS management consultant who charges more than £300 per hour has been jailed for fraudulently claiming thousands of pounds in benefits.

Zahid Ali claimed a total of about £15,000 in housing benefit, council tax benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance — even though he owns properties in Dubai and lives in a £1milion Surrey mansion.

The 47-year-old father-of-three failed to declare earnings of £212,000 between 2004 and 2008, which he made through his management consultancy company Coulsdon Limited.

Meanwhile, he drew benefits from Sutton Council, Reigate & Banstead Borough Council and the Department for Work and Pensions.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Girls of Nine Lured by Gang Culture of Drugs, Sex and Violence Sweeping Britain

Girls as young as nine are being caught up in a burgeoning gang culture, even though they know they are risking their lives, the Government’s three most senior crime inspectors have warned.

Youngsters in many areas see membership of a gang as ‘inevitable’ just for protection, their report says.

Girls are treated as ‘trophies’ by male gang members and subjected to sexual attacks which are filmed on mobile phones and circulated among other members.

By the age of 13 some children have become ‘steeped in gang culture and ideology’, according to the inspectors.

Their report paints a picture of an ‘insidious’ gang culture gripping parts of England and Wales and criticises the police, probation service and young offender institutes for not doing enough to protect children.

One alarming paragraph says: ‘Young men generally described their “gang” associations in terms of friendships or family ties. For some young people there was a sense of inevitability in gang membership, linked to living in particular localities. Some saw this as necessary for their protection. There was an acceptance of the risk of having a short lifespan, especially among those who had been on the receiving end of gang violence.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

What the Butler Heard — L’Oreal Heiress Tax Scandal Hits Minister

France’s richest woman, tapes secretly recorded by a butler, lavish gifts to a society photographer totalling a billion euros, alleged tax evasion and the role of a government minister’s wife: all the ingredients for a scandal at the top.

A scandal involving allegations that France’s richest woman plotted to evade taxes has threatened to engulf French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

Woerth’s wife Florence managed the financial affairs of billionaire Liliane Bettencourt (pictured), who is head of the L’Oreal cosmetics empire, until her resignation was announced on Monday.

Her role has come under scrutiny after secretly taped recordings reportedly revealed that the 87-year-old Bettencourt had tried to evade paying taxes.

The conversations, recorded by Bettencourt’s butler, allegedly show that the billionaire hid money in Swiss bank accounts while making large donations to friends in the governing UMP party.

The tapes have brought a new twist to a legal saga between Bettencourt and her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, who believes her mother is no longer fit to manage the family fortune.

The makeup heiress ranks 17th on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with a fortune estimated at 16 billion euros.

Lavish gifts totalling a billion euros

The scandal over the butler’s tapes erupted just two weeks before a society photographer is to go on trial to answer charges from Bettencourt’s daughter that he took advantage of her elderly mother when he accepted lavish gifts from her.

The photographer, Francois-Marie Banier, received masterpiece paintings, cash and insurance policies worth nearly one billion euros from Bettencourt.

The scandal comes at a delicate time for the French government as it tries to push through an overhaul of the pensions system in the face of opposition from the unions who have called for nationwide strikes.

Socialist opposition member Arnaud Montebourg called on Woerth, formerly the budget minister, to step down to allow the “truth to be known” about Bettencourt’s financial dealings.

“It seems to me that it would be extremely difficult for Eric Woerth to stay at his post in a government that has made dismantling tax havens a priority,” Montebourg told AFP.

“We had a budget minister who was also a treasurer for the UMP and whose wife worked to help Mrs Bettencourt with her tax fraud,” he said.

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

North Africa

Spain-Morocco: Ceuta, ‘Occupied City’ Signs Removed

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 22 — Morocco’s authorities ordered the removal of signs saying ‘Occupied Ceuta’ that had been placed next to the border of the Spanish enclave in Morocco by the self-named Moroccan liberation committee. The signs, according to police sources reported by Efe agency, were removed after reports by Morocco’s police authorities. They had been attached to many traffic signs on the road that leads to the border with the independent Spanish city. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Essay Contest With $100 Prize: Why the Kurds Don’t Deserve an Independent State

David P. Goldman

Here’s an essay contest, for which I personally will offer a $100 prize. Write 1,000 words on the subject, “Why the Palestinians Deserve an Independent State and the Kurds Do Not.”

Explain why the Kurds should not have an independent state, despite these facts:

1) There are 35 million Kurds, as opposed to perhaps six million Palestinian Arabs by the broadest definition;

2) The Kurds are an ethnic group distinct from Turks, Arabs, or Persians;

3) Perhaps 40,000 Kurdish militants have died at the hands of Turkish security forces during the past twenty years battling against Turkey for an independent Kurdish state;

4) The Kurds speak a distinct language and have a distinct culture;

5) Saddam Hussein killed up to 300,000 Iraqi Kurds, including by poison gas attacks on civilians;

6) The Iraqi Kurds have governed themselves successfully in northern Iraq since Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the American-led coalition in 2003.

Few peoples have suffered more than the Kurds, fought harder to preserve their culture (written Kurdish was outlawed in Turkey for most of the 20th century), showed more tenacity in pursuit of national self-determination, or shown themselves more capable of managing a modern country.

For special credit, answer the following questions:

Why is the human rights establishment so upset about Gaza—whose Hamas-controlled government uses the strip as a terrorist base against Israel—that it is willing to accept Turkish patronage to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade?

And why has the human rights establishment accepted the patronage of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who vowed that Kurdish rebels will “drown in their own blood.” As noted, the Turkish army has killed up to 40,000 Kurdish rebels (and countless civilians) during the past two decades. Journalists in Turkey are jailed for filing reports on Kurdish militant organizations that would be considered run-of-the-mill reportage in any civilized country.

Satirical essays will not be considered: the case must be made in earnest that Kurds do not deserve an independent state while the Palestinians do. Residents of Circle 8, Bolgia 6 are encouraged to submit essays but will not be eligible for the $100 prize as Charon does not accept checks.

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

Gilad Shalit is Not the Only Hostage

Thursday night, members of Chicago’s Jewish community will stand in vigil, focused on the fate of Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli held hostage by Hamas. Our concern for him is just the tip of the iceberg.

Shalit is now entering his fifth year of captivity at the hands of Gaza’s terrorist rulers. A then-19-year-old soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, Shalit was abducted from inside Israel by a Hamas terror squad on June 25, 2006. Contrary to international law and all standards of decency, the kidnapped soldier has been held virtually incommunicado, with no right of visitation by any humanitarian body.

To those genuinely concerned about the fate of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, the emphasis on the fate of one Israeli might seem distorted. But the circumstances under which Shalit was abducted, and two of his fellow soldiers were killed, cut to the root cause of suffering of all Israelis and Palestinians.

Shalit was attacked while guarding a place called Kerem Shalom (Vineyard of Peace), one of half a dozen border crossings that enable commerce between Israel and Gaza. For years, facilities like Kerem Shalom have been attacked repeatedly by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terror groups precisely because they foster exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians.

Hamas and other radicals have perpetrated such attacks not because they desire peace or a better life for the people they rule. They do so because they violently oppose any activity that might lead to a peaceful end of conflict-something they consistently reject in word and deed on religious grounds. Earlier this month, a Hamas preacher said on the group’s Al-Aqsa TV that “[The Jews’] annihilation and the destruction of their state will only be achieved through Islam, by those who bow before Allah.”

Why have none of those involved in the recent, so-called humanitarian efforts to aid the residents of Gaza raised their voices — on behalf of Shalit or about the deep and vexing issues he symbolizes? Why did the organizers of the recent flotilla refuse to deliver a letter to Shalit from his family? Why, I wonder, were their voices of condemnation and outrage not heard when Hamas forced the closure of the border crossings by launching countless terror attacks and thousands of rockets at Israeli border towns like Sderot, where I experienced such a barrage in 2007?

Why were they not raised when Hamas began firing Iranian Grad missiles on major Israeli cities like Ashkelon and Beersheva? It was that development that triggered the intensification of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and its 2008 offensive, which finally restored some semblance of normal life to southern Israel.

Hamas, which has long used Palestinians as human shields to attack Israelis, persistently has aspired not to “free” Gaza — as Israel tried to do with its total withdrawal in 2005 before the Hamas takeover. Rather Hamas has always worked to force a blockade, in order to try to create a humanitarian crisis (or at least the image of one).

For example, after a dozen or so civilians and police died in terrorist attacks, in 2004 Israel closed the Erez industrial zone on the Gaza-Israel border, a facility that for 30 years had employed 5,000 Gazans. The zone had been hailed by both Israelis and Palestinians as an example of cooperation.

It is Hamas, not Israel, that has spared no effort to use Gazans as pawns in a global game of jihad and de-legitimization of Israel, a game orchestrated by Iran that also employs Hezbollah and now — ominously — elements within Turkey.

Gilad Shalit isn’t the only prisoner of Hamas. Captive with him are all Israelis and Palestinians who desire an end to the cynical, escalating assault being perpetrated in the name of human rights. All who are genuinely concerned about peace should raise their voices on behalf of all who are held hostage.

Steven B. Nasatir is president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Surrender of the West

by Shelby Steele

The most interesting voice in all the fallout surrounding the Gaza flotilla incident is that sanctimonious and meddling voice known as “world opinion.” At every turn “world opinion,” like a school marm, takes offense and condemns Israel for yet another infraction of the world’s moral sensibility. And this voice has achieved an international political legitimacy so that even the silliest condemnation of Israel is an opportunity for self-congratulation.


This is something new in the world, this almost complete segregation of Israel in the community of nations. And if Helen Thomas’s remarks were pathetic and ugly, didn’t they also point to the end game of this isolation effort: the nullification of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation? There is a chilling familiarity in all this. One of the world’s oldest stories is playing out before our eyes: The Jews are being scapegoated again.

…it projects onto Israel the same sin that made apartheid South Africa so untouchable: white supremacy. Somehow “world opinion” has moved away from the old 20th century view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a complicated territorial dispute between two long-suffering peoples. Today the world puts its thumb on the scale for the Palestinians by demonizing the stronger and whiter Israel as essentially a colonial power committed to the “occupation” of a beleaguered Third World people.

This is now—figuratively in some quarters and literally in others—the moral template through which Israel is seen. It doesn’t matter that much of the world may actually know better…

[Return to headlines]

Jerusalem: Solution Found for Silwan, Netanyahu

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 22 — Following yesterday’s go-ahead announced by a municipal committee in charge of city planning, a war of words has broken out over the controversial plans for an archaeological park, the so-called ‘King’s Garden’, whose construction would involve demolishing twenty-two illegally-built houses in the Palestinian area of Silwan, in East Jerusalem. Faced with an immediate barrage of protest from the Palestine National Authority, (with fears over the future of talks with Israel) and from the United States, Benyamin Netanyahu has stated that construction time-lines stretch way into the future. In the meantime, the Premier’s office has made it known that it will be necessary “to find a solution in agreement with the residents and in line with the law”. The city council’s plans include paying compensation to the owners of any demolished buildings as well as the formal registration of a further sixty buildings in Silwan which have been considered illegal to date. But local area leaders are opposing these plans. According to Israeli military radio, Netanyahu is now putting pressure on Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas Party) in order to “bogging down” the planned ‘King’s Garden’ project. Criticism has also come from Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who is currently on a visit to the United States. According to him, whoever authorised the demolitions in Silwan has demonstrated a lack of “good sense and timing”. For his part, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat launched an appeal to the international community to defuse “the dangerous steps” being taken by Israel in this affair. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sentence of Some Ultra-Orthodox Mothers Revoked

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 22 — Today, the Israeli High Court of Justice revoked the two-week prison term of some of the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi mothers, who together with their husbands, in abidance with a decision by their rabbis, refused to obey a ruling of the court, which forced parents to allow their daughters to study together with Sephardic Jews in the same non-state run schools in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel. Last week the court sentenced 68 parents to two weeks in jail, but only some of them turned themselves in to police to serve their time. Ultra-orthodox rabbis of the Ashkenazi community have stated that they are against mixed classrooms, saying that Sephardic girls’ customs are more liberal, also religiously, and therefore create a negative influence. In today’s decision — for which the explanations have not been published — the court ruled that 13 of the 22 mothers be excused from prison, while the other 9 will serve their sentence after their husbands. Last week, the prison sentence enraged the ultra-Orthodox community and tens of thousands protested in Jerusalem and other cities in disapproval of the court’s decision and to show solidarity with the parents. The events are part of a broader context of problematic relations in Israel between secular and religious people and between the state and the ultra-Orthodox community, which prefers to isolate itself and favours the decisions of its rabbis over those of the state courts. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UNRWA Questions Worth of Vow to Ease Gaza Grip

The head of the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) said on Wednesday the fine print of Israel’s pledge to ease its Gaza blockade raised questions about how effective it would prove to be, Reuters reported.

Under international pressure over an Israeli commando raid on a relief aid flotilla bound for Gaza that killed nine people, Israel last week announced it would relax its grip on Gaza.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 to try to weaken the Islamist Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel and which seized control of the Gaza Strip that year, and prevent it from acquiring more and heavier weapons.

Israel’s rules banned any import into Gaza that was not explicitly permitted. Israel now says it will let in all goods except those on a list that could be used for military purposes, including cement and steel rods.

Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of UNRWA, called the blockade “absurd, counterproductive and illegal” and cited elements in Israel’s easing plan that left unclear how it would be fully implemented.

“They’re talking about items that will be allowed for certain times and not other times, depending on who the consignee is. So it’s still very complicated,” he told reporters in Beirut.. “We have seen some broad statements of how they will do it but the devil is in the detail. We have to see how this will be done and we haven’t seen it yet.

“We’ve seen many times declarations and statements,” Grandi added. “But now we want to see facts… Believe me, it’s very urgent, because the conditions are very bad on the ground.”

Human rights groups and other critics see the blockade as collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians.

Israel denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as Palestinians, UNRWA officials and rights advocates maintain.

Critics have said Israel’s new rules could still make it hard to import building materials to rebuild the coastal enclave, whose tattered infrastructure suffered severe damage in a war between Israel and Hamas in early 2009.

Grandi called for Gaza’s land crossings to be opened.

UNRWA has said Israel must reopen the Karni cargo terminal on Gaza’s northeast boundary that is large enough to allow industrial-scale shipments of cement, building materials and aid. Instead, trucks are now routed to a narrower crossing.

War crimes

A group of Palestinians filed a war crimes complaint in a Belgian court Wednesday against 14 top Israeli officials including Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Agence France-Presse reported from Brussels citing the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

The complaint, presented to the Belgian federal prosecutor, seeks charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in January 2009, said attorney Georges-Henri Beauthier.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who headed the government at the time, and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, are also named in the document along with high-ranking military and intelligence officials.

The prosecutor should decide on the merit of the case by the end of August under Belgium’s law of universal jurisdiction, which allows Belgians to file such complaints, Beauthier said.

One of the 14 plaintiffs has Belgian citizenship.

Anouar El Okka, a Belgian doctor of Palestinian origin, claims that his olive grove in Gaza was bombarded and then set on fire with phosphorous by Israeli forces, the attorney said.

The complaint also cites the bombing of the Ibrahim Al Maqadna Mosque, near the refugee camp of Jabaliya, in which 16 civilians including children were killed.

The Belgian lawyers also represent 13 Palestinians who were wounded or lost a relative in the attack, which had been aimed at Hamas fighters.

The 70-page complaint also refers to the conclusions of a UN-commissioned report which accused Israel and Palestinian fighters of war crimes in Gaza.

It is not the first time such legal action has been taken in Belgium.

In 2001, a complaint was filed against former prime minister Ariel Sharon over massacres at refugee camps two decades earlier, but the case went nowhere.

That legal move caused a diplomatic spat between Israel and Belgium and led Brussels to change its universal jurisdiction law, allowing it to apply only in cases that involved Belgian nationals.

The Israeli assault on Gaza, which was launched in response to Palestinian rocket attacks, left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead over 22 days between December 2008 and January 2009.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

US Praises New Gaza Measures, Netanyahu Visit Soon

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON, JUNE 21 — The United States has welcomed Israel’s decision to lighten the embargo on Gaza and announced that the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will meet President Barack Obama on July 6 at the White House. The meeting between Obama and Netanyahu had been scheduled for June 1 but the bloody Israeli attack on the pro-Palestinian flotilla heading for Gaza, in which nine people were killed, forced the Prime Minister to rush home from a state visit to Canada. The White House yesterday expressed its satisfaction at Israel’s decision to allow all products of civilian use into the Gaza Strip, though the naval blockade remains in force. “We believe that the implementation of the measures announced today by the Israeli government will improve the lives of the people of Gaza, while blocking the entry of weapons,” a White House statement said. “But there is still a lot more to be done and President Obama will be happy to discuss these new measures and further steps forward during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington on July 6,” the statement said. In the meantime, the United States “will work with all sides” to “explore other ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and transport of commercial goods between Gaza and the West Bank”. The White House also announced a meeting on June 29 at the White House between Obama and the Saudi King Abdullah, for talks “that will focus on bilateral issues, but also security in the Gulf and peace in the Middle East”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Arab Women Urge Support for Al-Jazeera Reporters

Milan, 22 June (AKI) — Arab women living in Italy have expressed their support for five female journalists who resigned from the Arab TV network, Al-Jazeera, after the network criticised their clothing. Dounia Ettaib, president of the Arab Women’s Association in Italy, told Adnkronos International (AKI) she also wanted the Doha-based network to guarantee journalists’ rights in the Middle East.

“We express our solidarity for the five Al-Jazeera journalists forced to resign over their clothing and we ask the Qatari TV network not to discriminate against women who work there,” she told AKI on Tuesday.

Five female newscasters left their Al-Jazeera anchor positions after the company criticised them for their “clothes and decency”.

The fracas allegedly occurred after the women repeatedly appeared on television wearing make-up and without covering their hair. Al-Jazeera claims they have the right to enforce a dress code that reflects its principles.

The women also said that deputy editor-in-chief Ayman Jaballah made offensive remarks about them and their choice of dress.

The journalists are Joumana Nammour, Lina Zahr al-Din, Jullinar Mousa, Luna al-Shibl and Nawfar Afli and all are reportedly well-respected in the region.

Established in 1996, Al-Jazeera has attempted to stray from the government-dictated media of the region.

“We are expecting clarifications from the Qatari network regarding their work future and detailed explanations on the whole episide,” Ettaib said.

“We wish the journalists well, especially considering that since they resigned they have not released any public statement.”

Three of the women come from Lebanon, the other two from Syria and Tunisia respectively — decided to quit after a lengthy dispute.

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

Russia Promises Not to Deliver Air Defense System to Iran

Russian officials have assured their U.S. counterparts this month that they would not complete the sale of a powerful air defense system known as the S-300 to Iran.

Speaking Tuesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said the Russians had made assurances they would not complete the sale.

“Russia, for example, has confirmed to us that it will not deliver the S-300 system in accordance with the U.N. sanctions,” Mr. Burns said.

The new U.N. Security Council resolution 1923, which sanctions Iran for its nuclear program, includes a loophole that would allow the Russians to sell the air defense system…

[Return to headlines]

Union Warns Al-Jazeera “Not to Discriminate”

Rome, 22 June (AKI) — The International Federation of Journalists has appealed to the Arab television network, Al-Jazeera, to clarify the reasons that led to the resignation of five female presenters at the end of May. A spokesman for the Brussels-based union told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the resignations had provoked major concern.

“Al-Jazeera must explain the circumstances that led to the resignation of the five journalists,” a spokesman told AKI. “They should not suffer discrimination.”

The IFJ is the largest federation of journalists’ trade unions in the world and aims to protect and the rights and working conditions of journalists.

At the end of May the union also expressed concern about the “absence of freedom” in the organisation.

The five female newscasters left their Al-Jazeera anchor positions after the company criticised them for their “clothes and decency”.

The dispute allegedly occurred after the women repeatedly appeared on television wearing make-up and without covering their hair. Al-Jazeera has claimed it has the right to enforce a dress code that reflects its principles.

The women also said that deputy editor-in-chief Ayman Jaballah made offensive remarks about them and their choice of dress.

The journalists are Joumana Nammour, Lina Zahr al-Din, Jullinar Mousa, Luna al-Shibl and Nawfar Afli and all are reportedly well-respected in the region.

Established in 1996, Al-Jazeera has attempted to stray from the government-dictated media of the region.

Three of the women come from Lebanon, the other two from Syria and Tunisia respectively — decided to quit after a lengthy dispute.

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

United States — Iran: US Military Pressure Increasing in the Persian Gulf

Some 12 US warships transited through the Suez Canal a few days ago. Three naval squadrons are currently in the region. Forces appear to be in position for a possible attack against Iran’s nuclear sites. Late July and early August could provide a window of opportunity for action. Iran threatens chaos in Saudi Arabia if it is attacked. Economic factors are determining the timing of the crisis.

Milan (AsiaNews) — After 387 bunker buster bombs were shipped to the US base in Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, whose great potential AsiaNews had already revealed last April (see Maurizio d’Orlando, “Winds of war and economic crisis behind the attacks on the Pope,” in AsiaNews, 14 April 2010), 12 US warships, as well as one Israeli corvette, have crossed the Suez Canal, this according to Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds-al-Arabi, confirmed by the newspapers Jerusalem Post and Haaretz.

The Debka online news agency, usually well connected with Israel’s secret services Mossad, also confirmed increased activity in the Persian Gulf. According to Debka, three Israeli nuclear-armed subs are believed to be currently operating off the coast of Iran. The German-built submarines are considered technologically top of their class.

Coming from the Mediterranean, the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier also transited through the Suez Canal, this according to an article published in Zerohedge (Tyler Durden, “12 American Warships, Including One Aircraft Carrier, And One Israeli Corvette, Cross Suez Canal On Way To Red Sea And Beyond,” in Zerohedge, 19 June 2010).

Thus, three naval squadrons with fighter planes are in position in the region, plus planes deployed at the US airbase at Diego Garcia. Preparations thus are complete for a possible attack against sites where, according to the United States and Israel, Iran is building its first nuclear bomb. If war does break out, the best period would be the end of July and early August.

Iran has always claimed that its uranium enrichment installations are for the civilian production of energy. Over the years, Tehran has allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations to visit those installations to verify that they are not being used for military purposes.

Recently, on 16 May, Iran agreed to a plan put forward by Brazil and Turkey (see “Tehran accepts an agreement on enriched uranium with Turkey and Brazil,” in AsiaNews, 17 May 2010) for uranium to be enriched outside Iran, in Turkey, to guarantee that the material would not be used for military purpose, a move not welcomed by Israel.

Every threat leads to a counter threat

For its part, Iran’s PressTV news network published an article in English that quotes from a letter written by a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (see “Prince warns S. Arabia of apocalypse,” in PressTV, 9 June 2010), that was published by Cairo-based Arabic-language Wagze news agency.

The prince, who has lived in Egypt for years after falling out with Saudi Arabia’s reining family, warns the dynasty and its members that they are at risk because they are hated by the population. A coup could remove them from power, putting their lives in great danger. He urges them to leave and, in a somewhat dramatic tone, find refuge abroad before people “cut off our heads in streets.”

Most people living in the kingdom’s oil-rich regions are Shia, like in Iran. Shia Islam and the Wahhabi-oriented Sunni Islam backed by the Saudi dynasty are not exactly on friendly terms.

The publication of the story based on the prince’s letter shows what strategy Iran might adopt in case of an attack. It suggests that Tehran might try to cause havoc in its neighbour, Saudi Arabia, and thus put at risk the latter’s oil exports. In that case, the effects on oil prices would be huge since the desert kingdom is the world’s largest oil producer. Even so, it is still unclear how serious Iran’s threat to the Saudi royal family really is.

However, the letter also contains another element. “Do not fool yourself by relying on the United States or Britain or Israel,” the prince tells his family, “because they will not survive the loss”. What this actually means is unclear. Does he mean economic loss, military loss? Perhaps this obscure passage is a warning the Iranian network attributes to the prince in order to hint that Tehran might call for a ‘Jihad’, a holy war to urge the masses to rise up in Muslim countries and for Islamist cells to launch terrorist attacks.

Here too it is unclear how a hypothetical Iranian appeal to Islamic solidarity might unfold in the case of an attack and a terrorist counterattack.

Based on our evaluation of the threats and counter threats, the danger of a conflict is likely to be at its highest in late July and early August and this for various reasons.

First, the deployment of the US-Israeli military forces will be done by that time.

Second, leaders at the G8-G20 summits in late June in Toronto will have a venue where they conduct high-level consultations, a necessary preliminary step before any political-military action is taken.

For its part, Iran has to wait for the necessary provocation that can raise tensions, i.e. the arrival of a flotilla to break the naval blockade of Gaza to bring “humanitarian” aid.

The weight of US debt

The main factors behind the timing of this political-military crisis are economic in nature.

The first one is that US budget estimates for 2010 should be released in mid-September. Usually, rumours about them already abound by August. This year, this will not be necessary because it is already clear that Obama’s “economic stimulus”, as advised by Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman, has not only failed to increase employment, but that it has, through higher government spending, punched a huge hole in the US federal deficit, certainly more than 10 per cent of the GDP.

In order to hide the economic and social fiasco (with real unemployment at 22 per cent of the active workforce), a foreign threat and a military and political emergency are needed, but they must come before tax and employment data are released in order to achieve a minimum degree of credibility and be picked up by big information media.

A second factor that is often left out of the equation is that the United States (and others) not only has a huge public debt crisis but that it also has a huge private debt, affecting families and companies.

US private debt stands at US$ 50 trillion or 330 per cent the US GDP. On the long run, this cannot be sustained; it has to come down in real terms through deflation or hyperinflation.

Financial leverage must be cut and properties bought wholly or partially on debt must be liquidated. We might expect a repeat of the subprime crisis of September 2007. The difference this time will be that, instead of insolvent subprime debtors, the crisis is more likely to hit the more solvent private debt holders.

Mid-September will also see a mass of commercial mortgages and quality debts come due, but quite a few holders will have a hard time getting them renewed. A foreign threat will come in handy if it occurs right before the collapse in the real value of property, stocks and bonds, which would otherwise pose a threat to the traditional two-party system of the United States.

Iran’s governing regime also needs an external threat to hold onto power. Increasingly, a new generation of Iranians is putting pressure on the system, unable and unwilling to tolerate the regime’s corruption and technological backwardness. The inability to find a job and the isolation from the rest of the world are particularly heavy burdens to bear.

Unlike their parents, young Iranians did not participate in the Islamic revolution against the Shah, an event remembered also and perhaps especially as an uprising against US economic and cultural imperialism. They do not really know what anti-Americanism is and thus view the struggle against the “Great Satan” as tired old rhetoric used for domestic consumption. For the regime, it therefore becomes imperative not to lower its guard, but rather keep the threat level high through concrete steps.

Indeed, both sides appear to follow the rationale that led to the Falklands War when Argentinian generals were in charge of a country on the brink of economic bankruptcy and the British establishment was still facing tough domestic choices in order to restructure the country’s economy in the wake of Britain’s long movement away from empire.

A foreign threat or a war overseas are one of the oldest and most tested political tools to close ranks at home. However, today’s social, political and economic instability are global in scope. It is hard to imagine how an intervention could be surgically limited to a specific context, especially if that context is the Persian Gulf. Lighting a match and throwing it in to start a fire could quickly get out of hand and blow up the world’s powder keg.

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


5 Year-Old Ukranian Boy Slaughtered Like a Goat by Radical Islamist

The 5 year-old was playing in a sandbox with his little sister and a friend when the radical Islamist screaming “Allahu Akbar” slit his throat like a goat.

FOX News reported:

A 5-year-old Ukrainian boy was slaughtered by an alleged religious fanatic as he played in a sandpit with his friends, Pravda reported Tuesday.

The stranger strolled up to little Viktor Shemyakin before pointing to a tree and saying: “Look, there is a bird up there.” When the youngster glanced upward the maniac plunged a knife into his throat, Pravda said.

The June 18 killing has threatened to ignite tension in the town of Dneprovka, in Ukraine’s Crimea region, after it emerged that the 27-year-old knifeman was a suspected Muslim fanatic, the Russian online newspaper reported.

The victim’s three-year-old sister Lena Shemyakina and her five-year-old friend were among a group of young children who witnessed the horrifying attack.

Viktor’s mother, named only as Angelina, heard their screams and ran out of the house to find her child lying in a pool of blood.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Russia, Italy to Begin Building Joint Helicopter Assembly Facility

The construction of a Russian-Italian joint helicopter assembly facility will begin on Tuesday in the town of Tomilino outside Moscow, Russian Helicopters has said.

Russia’s Oboronprom Corporation and Italy’s AgustaWestland signed an agreement to set up a joint venture to assemble AW139 helicopters in Russia in July 2008. The first helicopters are expected to roll off the production line in 2012.

The Russian corporation earlier said the helicopters produced in Russia would be sold primarily in Russia and the CIS, although they would be marketed worldwide through AgustaWestland’s international network.

AgustaWestland previously said the joint venture would meet growing demand and consolidate the company’s foothold in the CIS market.

Oboronprom, a subsidiary of Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms exporter, has said Russian helicopter manufacturers would gain access to new production technology and maintenance standards.

The AW139 is a medium twin-engine helicopter with a takeoff weight of 6.4 metric tons. It can carry up to 15 passengers and be used as a corporate or VIP vehicle, as well as in offshore, emergency, rescue and firefighting operations.

AgustaWestland, part of Finmeccanica Group, is one of the world’s largest helicopter manufacturers with production centers in Italy, Britain and the United States.

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: Top US Commander Recalled Over News Article

Washington, 22 June (AKI) — America’s top commander in Afghanistan has been summoned to Washington after a magazine article in which he criticises diplomats and senior officials in the Obama administration. General Stanley McChrystal has already apologised for the article which appears in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

McChrystal is reportedly quoted saying he feels betrayed by US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry.

In the profile entitled, ‘The Runaway General’, McChrystal questions the judgement of administration officials in dealing with the Afghan war and an anonymous McChrystal aide is quoted calling national security adviser, James Jones, a “clown”.

The general’s aides also make fun of vice-president Joe Biden and say he is “disappointed” with Obama.

Referring to Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s senior envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, one McChrystal aide is quoted saying: “The boss says he’s like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumours that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

The magazine profile of McChrystal written by a journalist who was given access to the commander and his staff and is due to be released on Friday.

A spokesman for the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said the admiral had spoken by telephone to McChrystal to express his “deep disappointment”.

A White House official said McChrystal had “been directed to attend [Wednesday’s] monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person” rather than by teleconference, according to news reports.

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

Afghanistan: Taliban ‘Plotted to Kill US Envoy’

Kabul, 22 June (AKI) — The Taliban plotted to blow up US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke during his visit to southern Helmand province on Tuesday, a spokesman for the provincial governor, Daud Ahmadi, told Pajhwok Afghan news agency.

The Taliban sent three suicide bombers to a square in the lawless Marja district of Helmand, where Holbrooke was due to meet US troops on Tuesday, Ahmadi said.

One of the trio detonated his explosives as he apparently became frustrated when the envoy and other foreign and local officials changed plans and decided not to visit the square.

He killed himself and his two fellow bombers, the official said.

Holbrooke also escaped a rocket attack on his helicopter when he was leaving, the official said.

The Taliban did not immediate issue a comment.

They were driven out of the volatile district during a major military offensive of Afghan and NATO forces in February.

Holbrooke met US troops during his visit and discussed the security situation, Pajhwok said.

The envoy also held a meeting with tribal elders and listened to their concerns about the security in the district.

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

India: Islamist ‘Militant Leader’ Killed in Gunbattle

Srinigar, 22 June (AKI/DAWN) — Indian security forces on Tuesday said they had killed a senior local commander from the Islamist Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant group in Indian-administered Kashmir. The militant was killed during a gunbattle in which a police officer was also killed.

The gunbattle erupted on Monday in the northern town of Sopore, about 50 kilometres north of Srinagar, and ended early Tuesday with the killing of Abu Zubair, senior police officer Altaf Ahmed said.

“The fighting erupted when soldiers and police raided a hideout,” he said. One later died in hospital of his injuries.

Police said Zubair was a Pakistani commander of the militant group in Sopore and was responsible for masterminding attacks against security forces.

The Pakistan-based LeT has been blamed by India for the Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166 people in November 2008. It has denied any role in the attacks.

Kashmir has seen a wave of violence recently. At least one person was killed and scores of others were injured after clashes between Indian security forces and demonstrators in Indian-administered Kashmir at the weekend.

Paramilitary police fired on the demonstrators who tried to torch a paramilitary bunker on Sunday, police said.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Srinagar to protest against the death of a 25-year-old whom protesters alleged had died after being beaten by soldiers in a demonstration on 12 June.

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

Indonesia: Police Charge Rock Star Over ‘Porn Video’

Jakarta, 22 June (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Indonesian police on Tuesday charged popular rock star Nazriel Irham over a sex video scandal. Indonesian rock star turned himself into police on Tuesday after two videos emerged allegedly showing him having sex with one of the country’s most famous models and a television presenter.

Police questioned Nazriel Irham, known as Ariel, and the two women who were allegedly in the videos, Luna Maya and Cut Tari, in an investigation into the scandal.

The scandal has shocked Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation where many people have conservative views ab out sex.

Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Zainuri Lubis Zainuri said police had named Ariel a suspect and charged him under the 2008 Pornography Law that carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison.

Ariel arrived at the national police headquarters in South Jakarta late Monday.

The term “Ariel Peterporn” is a play on his name, band and the sex tapes. The term hovered at the top of Twitter’s topics, following the release of the videos on the Internet.

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

Indonesia: Bekasi: Islamic Extremists Destroy an “Immoral and Blasphemous” Sculpture

It was the “Three young women” sculpture, by a famous Bali artist to welcome those coming into the district. For the fundamentalists it was “immoral”, referring to the “Christian Trinity “ and aims to convert. Artist: act stupid and misleading”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Islamic fundamentalists in the district of Bekasi, 30 km east of Jakarta, have obtained the destruction of a statue of “Three young women,” because it was deemed blasphemous. The bare chest and symbols related to the number “three” — the Trinity of Christian nature — make the work of art “obscene” and “desecrate” the religion of Mohammed. The sculptor has expressed disappointment and disbelief at the destruction, ordered last June 19 by the local authorities, describing the act “stupid and misleading.” The Bekasi district thus registers as a new episode of religious extremism after attacks on churches and Christian buildings. Theatre of a rapid urbanization, the area not far from the Indonesian capital has not been able to harmonise economic development and peaceful coexistence, especially between Christians and Muslims.

Recently, the Islamic Defence Front (FPI) pointed the finger at the statue of the “Three young women” (Tiga Mojana in local language), a work by the sculptor Nyoman Nuart, a native of Bali who is famous worldwide. The extremists have branded the work as “obscene and blasphemous” and have had it destroyed. The artist notes that the sculpture has nothing offensive to the religion of Mohammed, adding that “while being topless,” the 17 meters high work of art has no sexual significance and does not intend to offend Islamic morality, also because the young women wear clothes typical of the region of West Java.

An even more “ridiculous” accusation is that the image seeks to convert people to Christianity: the three women, according to the extremists, recall the “trinity”, and therefore had to be demolished. In fact, there are three women because there are three directions leading to the roundabout where the statue was erected. And each woman, according to the intentions of the author, was to symbolise a “welcome” to those who entered the district.

Following the wave of protests, the district chief imposed the statute’s destruction. A decision, taken by the authorities, also opposed by the moderate fringe of Muslims, according to which “the work of one of the most respected artists in the area, has now gone with the wind.” A local witness, under conditions of anonymity, told AsiaNews that every work of the art should be appreciated, as long as “there is nothing blasphemous or contrary to any religion.”

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

Pakistan: Islamabad “Uses Terrorism Against Minorities”.

Peter Jacob, secretary general of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace Pakistan, visiting Europe tells AsiaNews, “Under the guise of Islamic identity and the war on terror, the government keeps in force the laws of religious discrimination.”

Rome (AsiaNews) — The war on terrorism and the identity of Pakistan “are two powerful excuses with which the government of the country opposes the repeal of blasphemy laws and other regulations that discriminate against non-Muslims. But the pronouncements of the European Union and those in Washington on the subject make us realize that we are not alone in our struggle”. Says Peter Jacob, secretary general of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace Pakistan, visiting Europe, in an interview with AsiaNews.

The laws mentioned are the blasphemy law, which punishes with death anyone who desecrates Muhammad and the Koran, and the Hudood Ordinances, a set of rules that require certain behaviour in line with religious teachings. The blasphemy law is actually the worst instrument of religious repression in Pakistan. According to the figures of Justice and Peace from 1986 to August 2009 at least 964 people were indicted for having defiled the Koran or defaming the Prophet Muhammad. Among these, 479 were Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindu and 10 other members of other religions. It also provides a pretext for attacks, personal vendettas or extra-judicial killings: 33 in all, made by individuals or angry crowds.

Dr. Jacob, what is the purpose of this visit in Europe?

We just returned from Geneva, where we attended the Pakistan Support Group: This is a network of international groups operating under the aegis of the United Nations. We meet once a year to discuss problems facing our country: this time, the main points were the laws of religious discrimination and the problem of education, increasingly interconnected extremism. The new School Act is essentially identical to the old, and discriminates against non-Muslims, putting wrong and dangerous messages in lessons and in textbooks.

With regard to religious laws, are there any changes from the government?

Ours is a parliamentary democracy, and Prime Minister Gilani attends these matters. Parliamentarians are very frightened by the religious question, and the extremist lobby is pushing working very hard to uphold these laws. I do not think much can change in a short time, these are laws that require time to be changed.

But Pakistan has, on paper, a secular Constitution. What can the international community do to help?

Recent resolutions expressed by the European Union and several statements by the U.S. administration make us realize that the world follows the issue of discriminatory laws very closely. But putting pressure on our government to do something concrete is not very easy, because Islamabad has a series of excuses to maintain its position. On the one hand, the fight against terrorism, which requires the country to maintain a state of emergency and, therefore, do nothing. On the other hand there is the question of identity in Pakistan: although we have a secular constitution and laws, the political parties are pushing to keep the situation as it stands in the name of Islam.

What is the Catholic Church doing in this battle?

We strive to make our voice heard in every way, especially in the international arena. Fortunately, this battle against discrimination is shared by many sectors of civil society in Pakistan. We hope that sooner or later the day will come when even the government understands the futility and cruelty of these laws, and do something to improve the situation.

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

Pakistani PM Warns He’ll Defy US Sanctions

Islambad, 22 June (AKI/DAWN) — Pakistan will go ahead with a plan to import natural gas from Iran even if the US levies additional sanctions on the country, prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said.

Gilani’s comments on Tuesday come two days after the US special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, cautioned Pakistan not to “over commit” itself to the deal because it could run afoul of new sanctions against Iran.

The deal has been a constant source of tension between the two countries, with Pakistan arguing that it is vital to its ability to cope with an energy crisis and the US stressing that it would undercut international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Gilani said Pakistan would reconsider the deal if it violated UN sanctions, but the country was “not bound to follow” unilateral US measures. He said media reports that quoted him as saying that Pakistan would heed Holbrooke’s warning were incorrect.

The UN has levied four sets of sanctions against Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon. The latest set of UN sanctions was approved earlier this month.

The US has also applied a number of unilateral sanctions against Iran, and Congress is currently finalising a new set largely aimed at the country’s petroleum industry. Both houses have passed versions of the sanctions and are working to reconcile their differences.

Pakistan and Iran finalised the gas deal earlier this month. Under the contract, Iran will export 760 million cubic feet of gas per day to Pakistan through a new pipeline beginning in 2014. The construction of the pipeline is estimated to cost some 7 billion dollars.

While US officials have expressed opposition to the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline deal, the issue is complicated by Washington’s reliance on Pakistan’s cooperation to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The US also acknowledges that Pakistan faces a severe energy crisis and has made aid to the energy sector one of its top development priorities. Electricity shortages in Pakistan cause rolling blackouts that affect businesses and intensify suffering during the hot summer months.

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

Pakistani Province Funds Terrorism-Linked Charity

Group cited in 2008 Mumbai attacks

By Ashish Kumar Sen

The government of Pakistan’s Punjab province has given more than $1 million to institutions run by an Islamic charity that is on a U.N. terrorism blacklist and affiliated with a group the U.S. considers a foreign terrorist organization.

Budget documents presented in the Punjab assembly last week revealed this financial assistance to a mosque, a hospital and schools (known as madrassas) operated by Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

The U.S. and India say LeT was behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed, and the State Department has designated LeT a foreign terrorist group.

Pakistani officials deny any money has been given to JuD.

A Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said his government has taken control of educational institutions run by JuD and integrated them into the mainstream.

“There is a misperception, that the government is giving money to Jamaat ud Dawa. The curriculum at these institutions is now in the hands of the government of Punjab,” the official said, adding that the decision had been made by the federal government in Islamabad.

However, Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani analyst at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said, “The reality is that Jamaat ud Dawa is still running their own show.”

While the government of Punjab claimed to have taken over some JuD madrassas after the Mumbai attacks, Ms. Siddiqa said the curriculum at those institutions essentially remained the same.

“The religious curriculum being taught at JuD-run madrassas represents the Wahhabi extremist ideology … that did not change. Adding English to the curriculum doesn’t make it secular,” she said. “This was nothing more than an eyewash.”

JuD’s headquarters at Muridke, located outside Punjab province’s capital of Lahore, continue to provide militant training to students, including women, according to Ms. Siddiqa, who said she has met students who were trained there.

JuD was put on the U.N. terrorism blacklist in December 2008 and is considered a front for LeT.

However, JuD, which is led by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, a founder of LeT, denies it has links to the terrorist group.

“It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous problem than the Punjab government, the Sharif brothers’ government, now providing direct assistance to Lashkar-e-Taiba to run its school system,” said Bruce Riedel, who headed President Obama’s review of U.S. policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It is very likely the Sharifs will be back at the national level in Pakistan’s next election: Shahbaz Sharif is currently chief minister of Punjab, and his brother, Nawaz Sharif, is a powerful former prime minister.

Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution said the Pakistani government has restricted its handling of radical madrassas to “sporadic and limited actions during crisis moments … when strong pressure on the government has prevented it from turning a blind eye.”

She added that, since the 1980s, Pakistani governments have relied on religious parties sponsoring and affiliated with the madrassas for political support.

“Many of the madrassas go unregistered and unmonitored; nor have promises to the madrassas to deliver aid for reform and beef up the curriculum been upheld,” she said.

Some madrassas in Pakistan continue to provide recruits for militant groups fighting and killing Pakistani troops and even U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Ms. Felbab-Brown said while particular madrassas are “feeders for specific militant groups, others simply produce radicalized individuals.”

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat and a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said at a panel discussion Wednesday that the public education system in Pakistan fuels support for militancy.

“Expanding access to education can help reduce the risk of all conflict,” she said. “The violence and extremism that embroils parts of Pakistan has far-reaching regional and international security implications.”

This week, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, admitted trying to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square. Shahzad said he received training and financial assistance from the Pakistani Taliban.

Madrassas are not the only institutions that produce potential terrorists, as many well-known terrorists have had a college education.

“There’s nothing peculiar about that to Islam. College students have often been the leading force in revolutionary, terrorist or communist groups and movements around the world,” Ms. Felbab-Brown said.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said insurgent activity would be taking place even if madrassas didn’t exist. “But if there’s a connection between the two, it would most likely be found in the tribal areas where the government doesn’t exercise much control,” the official said.

Rebecca Winthrop, who has co-written a new report on madrassas in Pakistan for the Brookings Institution, said at the discussion Wednesday that while some madrassas do contribute to increasing militancy in Pakistan, their numbers are small.

“There is no steep rise in madrassa enrollment … this is not a growth industry,” Ms. Winthrop said. “We do need to take the militant madrassas issue very seriously … in all likelihood they should probably be shut down.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Verdicts on Five Americans Arrested in Pakistan Could Come Thursday

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — A Pakistani court is expected to announce its verdict Thursday on five Americans who were arrested on terror charges, the public prosecutor told CNN.

Nadeem Akram Cheema, public prosecutor for the Anti Terrorism Court in Sargodha, said all the allegations against the five suspects, have been proved and Thursday they will be punished with maximum sentencing.

Cheema said strong evidence such as incriminating e-mails and the suspects’ own confessions should be enough for them to get the maximum punishment.

“We have all the evidence against the accused and I hope they will be sentenced with life imprisonment,” said Cheema.

The suspects, who have been dubbed the “D.C. Five,” have been charged with several terrorism-related counts, including criminal conspiracy to commit terrorism and waging war against Pakistan and its allies, including the United States.

The five Americans — Ahmed Abdullah Minni, Umar Farooq, Aman Hassan Yemer, Waqar Hussain Khan and Ramy Zamzam — used to worship together at a mosque in Alexandria, Virginia, until they went missing in November and turned up in Pakistan. They were arrested in December in Sargodha, about 120 miles south of Islamabad, after their parents in the United States reported them missing.

Pakistani authorities have described the men as college students, intent on waging holy war against “infidels for the atrocities committed by them against Muslims around the world.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

China: Another Suicide at Foxconn, After Boss’s Visit and Publicity

10 deaths in one year, all young people in their twenties. High stress levels in the company that makes iPhone and iPad. There are swimming pools and entertainment, but the workers have no time to attend. The responsibilities of local government and trade unions, who defend employers.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) — Another young worker committed suicide at Foxconn in Shenzhen, just hours after the owner of the company, Terry Guo, had brought 200 journalists to visit the companies workplace and recreational facilities. In one year there have been 10 suicides in the firm, three this week. Unconfirmed reports talk of a suicide attempt by a girl this morning. The factory — in a small town that also houses dormitories, canteens and sports facilities — employs more than 400 000 people and serves well-known brands like Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. It is here that the famous Apple iPhone and iPad are produced.

The families of the young suicide victims — all young people around 20 — hold working conditions in the factory responsible: long working hours, compulsory overtime, nearly obligatory silence among colleagues a military-like control of production.

To stem criticism — which is also having economic consequences — Guo, a Taiwanese billionaire, brought 200 journalists on a visit of the plant in Longhua (Shenzhen), demonstrating the working rooms, the Olympic swimming pools, recreation facilities. But the workers claim that the overly long working hours and intense pressure means nobody has time to go for a swim. Furthermore, young people who work there, try to earn as much as possible to send money to their families accepting a pay of 900 Yuan per month (around 90 Euros), the minimum rate set by the Shenzhen authorities.

Speaking to reporters, Guo pointed out that the root causes of suicide are social problems in China coupled with some personal problems. He has launched a “hotline”, an anti-stress centre , employed psychiatrists and Buddhist monks and set up a security nets around buildings to deter people from committing suicide. He also promised to withdraw a letter of agreement that employees must sign in which they accept to kill tyhemselves outside of factory grounds and allow the company to have those who shows signs of instability interned in residential (psychiatric) care.

Chang Ping, a journalist from Guangdong, noted that workers possible mental disorders are linked to the fact that “the civil rights of a class [migrant workers-ed] have been forgotten by our society and they do not know where go to express their problems when they arise”.

Indeed, the Foxconn situation does not seem any worse than other Chinese companies. The problem is the work system in factories in China, which exploits immigrants — without giving them residence in the city — and forces them to work long hours for a minimum wage. In addition, state unions often come to the employers defence in workers issues. The public authorities also prefer to turn a blind eye to the exploitation, eager to increase the wealth of the city. According to data published by local newspapers, Foxconn pays Shenzhen Treasury at least 10 billion Yuan (1.1 billion Euro) each year in.

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

China: Work-Related Suicides Due to Indifference, Hong Kong Trade Union Leader Says

According to Lee Cheuk Yan, a trade union leader and a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the wave of suicides at Foxconn is due to “the repression and oppression the Chinese government imposes on its workers”, but also to “the indifference of the world community that wants cheap products”.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) — Behind the recent spate of suicides at the Foxconn plant stands “the indifference and exploitation of the Chinese government and the international community, both of whom want cheap labour and social stability in Guangdong. However, sooner or later, Beijing will have to allow trade unions into its territory and improve conditions for workers, especially migrant workers. Otherwise, society could explode,” Lee Cheuk Yan told AsiaNews.

Mr Lee, 52, is the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. Like most people in the former British colony, he helped protesters in Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. Before the bloody crackdown on 4 June, he was able to bring money raised in Hong Kong to buy tents, fax machines and food.

Taken into custody when troops began their crackdown, he was released a few days later and expelled to Hong Kong. Since then, he has been one of the few people banned from travelling to mainland China, not only for his involvement in the Tiananmen Square movement, but especially for his work on behalf of workers in Hong Kong and China.

In his view, the 14 suicides at the Foxconn plant making i-Pads and i-Phones “are the outcome of a blind and oppressive company policy. Workers, especially migrant workers, are in a terrible situation. They are treated like animals even though they had to leave family and home in search of a job. Deprived of family support, they have to face incredible pressures without help from others. They choose the most extreme way out because they have no alternatives. Here in Hong Kong, we don’t come under mainland laws, and we can put pressure to make sure that companies treat their workers in a humane fashion. There is no other way to avoid suicides.”

The responsibility for the situation “certainly lies with the Chinese government. However, the international community is not blameless either because it is always looking for cheap labour unconcerned by the working conditions in which people labour. This is why we must raise awareness about the situation. We must fight, together, to guarantee workers’ rights. But this, as I said, is of little interest to the rest of the world. The crisis is pushing everyone to go after for the cheapest products.”

The Foxconn case and the media coverage around it raised the possibility of a ‘boycott’ against the company, which manufactures for consumer electronics giant Apple (but also Dell and Hewlett Packard). However, for Lee, “it has nothing to do with it. I think interest was raised when an employee published the terrible contract that required he not commit suicide. And this is even sadder. The problems workers face in China are seen as something quaint, good for a laugh.”

The future, at least on the short run, will have few surprises in store. “China must understand that, to improve itself and the population, it must allow free trade unions on its territory. Right now, this is quite unthinkable. All you have to do is look at how the government treats freedom of expression to realise that Beijing will not let it happen any time soon. Yet, strikes in big plants, like the one at Honda, are a sign of hope for the future. Sooner or later, Chinese politicians must realise that, without workers’ protection, they could be confronted with an unprecedented social crisis.”

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

Australia — Pacific

Game Over for Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd is finished as PM. Julia Gillard will surely take his place after tonight’s drama, breaking two records in the one coup.

She will be the nation’s first female prime minister. And Rudd will be the first Labor prime minister to be dumped by his party before he could complete a term in office.

Labor party polling showed that voters had lost faith in Rudd. His backflip on emission trading in mid April left the public wondering what he stood for.

In Rudd’s home state of Queensland, party polling showed the government risked losing a brace of seats.

Labor is gambling that the public doesn’t want to change governments.

The opposition are themselves on their third leader.

While Tony Abbott’s elevation last December has stablised the Coalition vote, the national polls still have Labor in front after preferences.

Whichever way the story goes from here, Australia has witnessed a special kind of madness in this term

Rudd, the most popular leader in Newspoll history, saw off four Liberal heavyweights: former prime minister John Howard, former treasurer Peter Costello, and opposition leaders Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull.

But he let Abbott get under skin. There is no other explanation for Rudd’s extended public panic attack this year.

He entered the election year with a number of policies still to deliver, on health, tax, and broadband.

He muddled through on health, with the seven Labor states signing up for his reform plan in April. This week he got Telstra on side to deliver a national broadband network. And Labor’s landmark paid parental leave scheme also passed through the parliament.

But his shrill fight with the miners over the resource rent tax, and his inability to stay on one topic for any more than day left the electorate bewildered. Voters judged him, in the end, to be all doorstop and no delivery.

Rudd wore out his government well before he wore out of his welcome with the Australian people. He had no one to cover his back when the rumblings started against his leadership.

When the dust settles, his legacy will show two substantial achievements: the apology to the stolen generations and the initial handling of the global financial crisis.

The big question now is the manner of his departure. Does he fall on his sword, or fight, risking even more pain for his government in the polls?

When he goes, as key party figures expect he will, how quickly will voters move on? Will they see Labor’s turmoil as a reason to change governments. Or is Gillard the one the public have been waiting for?

           — Hat tip: Anne-Kit[Return to headlines]


Mexico Asks Court to Reject Arizona Immigration Law

Lawyers for Mexico on Tuesday submitted a legal brief in support of one of five lawsuits challenging the law. The law will take effect June 29 unless implementation is blocked by a court.

The law generally requires police investigating another incident or crime to ask people about their immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally. It also makes being in Arizona illegally a misdemeanor, and it prohibits seeking day-labor work along the state’s streets.

Citing “grave concerns,” Mexico said its interest in having predictable, consistent relations with the United States shouldn’t be frustrated by one U.S. state.

Mexico also said it had a legitimate interest in defending its citizens’ rights and that the law would lead to racial profiling, hinder trade and tourism and strain the countries’ work on combating drug trafficking and related violence.

“Mexican citizens will be afraid to visit Arizona for work or pleasure out of concern that they will be subject to unlawful police scrutiny and detention,” the brief said.

It will be up to a U.S. District Court judge to decide whether to accept the brief, along with similar ones submitted by various U.S. organizations.

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer did not immediately return a call for comment on Mexico’s brief. Brewer, who signed the law on April 23 and changes to it on April 30, has lawyers defending it in court.

[Return to headlines]

Senators Warn Obama: ‘No Amnesty by Presidential Fiat’

White House rumored to be planning stay of deportation for millions of illegals

Amid buzz that President Obama may be seeking to parole or “defer action” on millions of illegal aliens in the U.S., eight Republican senators are warning the president not to advance any such plan.

“There’s a lot we can agree on when it comes to dealing with the immigration problems in the United States, but this appears to be amnesty in disguise, and is simply an attempt to circumvent Congress,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement.

Grassley and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; David Vitter, R-La.; Jim Bunning, R-Ky.; James Inhofe, R-Okla.; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., signed a letter to the president dated June 21.

“We understand that there’s a push for your administration to develop a plan to unilaterally extend either deferred action or parole to millions of illegal aliens in the United States,” they wrote in their letter. “We understand that the administration may include aliens who have willfully overstayed their visas or filed for benefits knowing that they will not be eligible for a status for years to come.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video: Obama Urges Illegals: Rat Out Your Bosses!

‘Every worker in America has a right to be paid fairly — documented or not’

The Obama administration is encouraging illegal aliens to call its new hotline and rat out U.S. employers because they “work hard and have the right to be paid fairly.”

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is personally asking illegals to snitch on bosses if their paychecks aren’t large enough.

The Department of Labor issued the following “We Can Help” public service announcement in Spanish and English that opens with photos of construction workers, manicurists, cooks, farm workers and workers in the service industry:

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: ‘What’s God Got to Do With it?’ Atheist Mayor Bans Traditional Christian Prayers Before Council Meetings

An atheist lord mayor has ended the tradition of Christian prayers before council meetings less than a month after he took up the chains of office.

Labour councillor Colin Hall was condemned by the local diocese as well as Christian groups after boasting of his ‘delight’ at being able to end the tradition as mayor of his home city.

Announcing the decision in a secularist group’s monthly newsletter, Mr Hall said prayers were ‘outdated, unnecessary and intrusive’ and added they would no longer be said before meetings at Leicester Town Hall.

The ban comes days after he refused to attend a service at Leicester Cathedral welcoming him to his role as the city’s new lord mayor.

He later told his 123 followers on the Twitter networking site that he was mayor for ‘all the people of Leicester and not just those from the Church of England’.

The East Midlands city is regarded as the most multi-faith and multi-ethnic outside London, with 36 per cent of residents from ethnic minorities, according to the 2001 census.

Writing in the Leicester Secularist Society’s publication, the mayor said: ‘I am delighted to confirm that I will be exercising my discretion as lord mayor to abolish this outdated, unnecessary and intrusive practice. Colin Hall

‘I consider that religion, in whatever shape or form, has no role to play at all in the conduct of council business.

‘This particularly applies in Leicester, where the majority of council members, myself included, do not regularly attend any particular faith service.’

Mr Hall was yesterday unavailable to discuss his decision to scrap the prayers, which have been said before meetings since 1997.

But Christian Voice director Stephen Green said he was appalled to hear of the ban.

He added: ‘This is just another example of Christian traditions and values being eroded.’

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Grieving Families Left Distraught After Council Rules That Wooden Crosses Are ‘Too Dangerous’ For Cemeteries

A council is under fire for banning crosses from one of its cemeteries — over health and safety fears.

Families have been left distraught after North Somerset Council started to remove wooden crosses from its graveyards.

One woman has told how her mother-in-law’s grave was targeted after she died of cancer in May.

Liz Maggs placed a 26-inch high wooden cross bearing a personal inscription on Rosemary Maggs’ burial plot at the Ebdon Road cemetery in Weston-super-Mare, while the family waited for a headstone to be made.

But when Mrs Maggs, 43, returned to visit the grave with her husband Charles and daughters Zoe, 16, and Danielle, 14, just a few days later she found the cross had disappeared.

She reported it stolen to cemetery staff but they told her it had been removed because it did not meet council regulations.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Man Who Had Sex Change Wins Right to Receive Pension Five Years Early at Women’s Retirement

A transsexual has won a legal fight to be officially treated as female despite still being married to a woman.

The ruling means that the former Christopher Timbrell — now Christine — can claim a pension from the age of 60 like other women.

The 68-year-old church-goer had been entitled to claim a pension only from 65 because the Government would not recognise that she was a woman while the couple continued to be married.

But yesterday judges at the Civil Appeal Court ruled the decision not to pay out from 60 breached European laws on equality.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video: America, 2010: Christians Hauled to Jail for Preaching Jesus

‘Apparently the Constitution carries little weight in Dearborn’

One of the nation’s top legal teams regarding civil and religious rights has stepped into a dispute stemming from last weekend’s Arab Festival in Dearborn, Mich., where police are accused of enforcing Islamic law.

“Officers arrested four Christian missionaries and illegally confiscated their video cameras which were recording the events surrounding their arrests,” said a statement today from the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Officials in the police department with the city of Dearborn declined to comment to WND.

But the law center announcement said the incident has been described as “police enforcement of Shariah law.” The organization said it would represent the Christians.

“These Christian missionaries were exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion, but apparently the Constitution carries little weight in Dearborn, where the Muslim population seems to dominate the political apparatus,” said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.


The Arab event was June 18 in Dearborn, where an estimated 30,000 of the city’s 98,000 residents are Muslim.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Botox Limits Ability to Feel Emotions

A well-known side effect of Botox is the inability to fully express emotions. Now research reveals another side effect: the inability to fully feel emotions.

Botox, a popular cosmetic injection used to fight facial wrinkles, is made of an extremely toxic protein called Botulinum toxin. Botox works by temporarily paralyzing muscles that cause wrinkles.

That means no unsightly wrinkles, but also no moving those muscles at all — which could have more significant consequences than simply looking frozen, the researchers found.

Scientists think that facial expressions themselves may influence emotional experiences, so a person with a limited ability to make facial expressions may also have a limited ability to feel

“With Botox, a person can respond otherwise normally to an emotional event, [such as] a sad movie scene, but will have less movement in the facial muscles that have been injected, and therefore less feedback to the brain about such facial expressivity,” said researcher Joshua Davis, a psychologist at Barnard College in New York. “It thus allows for a test of whether facial expressions and the sensory feedback from them to the brain can influence our emotions.”

Davis and his Barnard colleague Ann Senghas led a team of researchers who showed people emotionally charged videos both before and after they were injected with either Botox, or Restylane — a substance injected into lips or facial wrinkles that fills out sagging skin. Restylane was used as a control because it simply adds filler but doesn’t limit the movement of muscles.

Compared with the control group, the Botox participants “exhibited an overall significant decrease in the strength of emotional experience,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in the June issue of the journal Emotion. In particular, the Botox group responded less strongly to mildly positive clips after they had the injections than before the Botox.

The findings tie into an idea suggested more than a century ago that feedback from facial expressions to the brain can influence the experience of emotions, the researchers said. The simple act of smiling, for example, can help make you feel happy, while frowning can bring down your mood.

“In a bigger picture sense, the work fits with common beliefs, such as ‘fake it till you make it,’“ Davis said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Personality Predicted by Size of Different Brain Regions

In a social situation, it’s easy to tell the difference between a wallflower and the life of the party, but a new study suggests we can also spot differences in their brains.

The results show the size of certain brain regions is related to people’s personalities. For instance, highly altruistic people had a bigger posterior cingulated cortex, a brain region thought to be involved in the understanding of others’ beliefs. Bigger regions are assumed to be more powerful.

“One of the things that this shows is we can start to develop theories about how personality is produced by the brain,” said study researcher Colin DeYoung, of the University of Minnesota.

While people’s personalities are likely shaped by both genetic and environmental factors, the findings might help explain the differences in people’s actions and demeanors from moment to moment, he said, or “what produces the patterns of behavior and emotion and thought that we describe as personality.”

The big five

There are many ways to describe someone’s character — from talkative to anxious to hardworking and organized. Psychologists have found that many traits often go together and have grouped these traits into five overarching categories — extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness/intellect.

Psychologists can get a pretty good picture of someone’s personality by determining to what degree they express each of these traits.

Scientists have only recently begun to link up personality research with neuroscience to try to figure out the underlying brain mechanisms responsible for personality differences.

DeYoung and his colleagues imaged the brains of 116 participants who had previously completed a questionnaire designed to assess their personality in terms of the “big five.”

Next, they matched up all the brain images. Since everyone’s brain is different, the images won’t line up perfectly right off the bat. So the researchers picked one image — from a participant who scored about average for all five traits — to serve as a “reference brain.”

A computer program was then used to squish and stretch the images so that they all lined up with the reference brain. This allowed the researchers to compare all the subjects’ brains, and see how large or small certain brain regions were relative to one another.

Personality in the brain

A connection between brain region size and personality was found for four out of the five traits (all except openness/intellect).

Those who scored high on neuroticism — which indicates a tendency to experience negative emotions, including anxiety and self-consciousness — was associated with a larger mid-cingulate cortex, a region thought to be involved in the detection of errors and response to emotional and physical pain. Neurotics also had a smaller dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, a region implicated in the regulation of emotions.

Extroverts, those who are sociable, outgoing and assertive, had a larger medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region involved in processing rewards. This goes along with the idea that extroverts are sensitive to rewards, which in our society often involve social interactions and status.

Conscientious people, who tend to be orderly, industrious and self-disciplined, had a larger middle frontal gyrus, a region involved in memory and planning.

The researchers note however, that a bigger brain region does not necessarily mean the region has better functioning, although extensive evidence supports this assumption.

The results do not indicate, that people are doomed to embody one personality or another for their whole lives. Though it’s not necessarily easy, personalities can, and do change.

“Our experience can change the brain,” DeYoung said. “And as the brain changes, personality can change,” he said.

The results were published online April 30 in the journal Psychological Science.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]