Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100706

Financial Crisis
»Asia: Chinese Banks Recapitalise as China Follows in the Footsteps of Greece
»Greece: Crisis Even Hits Private Schools
»Greece: 6-Month Deficit Better Than Predicted at 4.9%
»Turkey: Share of Foreigners in Stock Exchange Down to 66.03%
»UK: Stand Up to These Bullies… Like Maggie
»Alienation and the Cult of the Left
»Black Liberation Theology’s Unsung Whistleblower
»Ex-Official Accuses Justice Department of Racial Bias in Black Panther Case
»Frank Gaffney: Farewell to Space
»Imam Booted Out of U.S.: ‘God Bless America’
»TSA to Block “Controversial Opinion” On the Web
Europe and the EU
»Attacks Against Peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon Raise Fears and Questions
»Douglas Murray: We Have Not Learnt the Lesson of the July 7 Suicide Bombing
»Italy: Minister Resigns in Court
»Italy: No Merger Plans for Alitalia, CEO Says
»Italy: Security: EU Mediterranean Border, Italy Front-Line
»Italy in Gays’ Summer Holiday Top Five
»Italy: ‘Firewalk’ Organisers Could be in Hot Water
»Paul the ‘Psychic’ Octopus Tips Spain to Beat Germany
»Spain: Civil Weddings Beat Religious Weddings for First Time
»Sweden: Liberals Slam Left Party for Dictatorship Aid
»Switzerland: Keeping Gypsies and Locals on a Straight Road
»UK: Cards Yes, Identity No
»UK: How East German Communists Helped Fund 1984 Miners’ Strike
»UK: School Forced to Buy Computer Translator Because Half of Pupils Don’t Speak English
»UK: Two Children Killed and Mother Seriously Hurt in House Fire ‘Arson Attack’
»UK: Thin Grey Line: Pensioners Armed With Spy Cameras Take on Gang of Drug Dealers… And Win
»Balkans-EU: Van Rompuy Supports Serbian European Outlook
»Serbia: Pharmaceutical Companies Gave Eur50 Mln Bribes, Press
North Africa
»Egypt: Textile Exports to US Increased by 4.5%
»Egypt: No Shiite Archeologists in Salaheddin Citadel, Hawass
»Libya: Oil Proceeds, 230,000 Families Benefit
»Tunisia To Rent Agricultural Land to Foreigners
Israel and the Palestinians
»Israel-PNA: Barak Meets Fayyad, Hamas Protests
»Obama Meets Netanyahu: No Love Fest But as Good as It’s Gonna Get
»Shalit’s Parents March in Tel Aviv: ‘Barak, Wake Up’
»Trust the Palestinian Authority?
Middle East
»CNN Reporter on Terrorist: ‘I Respect Him a Lot’
»Construction: Turkey Considers Iraq a Target Market
»Iraq: Another Christian Killed in Mosul
»Lebanon: New Saudi Investments in the Country
»Mike Tyson Goes on Mecca Pilgrimage
»Turkey: Assyrians Are Back as Businesspeople
South Asia
»Bangladesh: Mixed Marriages Often Do Not Work, But Some Mixed Couples Are Happy, Bangladeshi Priest Says
»Corruption in Afghanistan
»Germany: Fewer Migrant Children Finish High School
»Hezbollah Honcho Busted at His Tijiuana Mx Home
»Illegal Immigration Costs U.S. $113 Billion a Year, Study Finds
»Italy: Maroni, After Lampedusa There’s Malpensa
»Obama’s Immigration Speech
»Switzerland: Deportation Flights to Resume to Africa
Culture Wars
»A Socialist on the High Court?
»Spain: New Abortion Law in Force But Court May Suspend it

Financial Crisis

Asia: Chinese Banks Recapitalise as China Follows in the Footsteps of Greece

The recapitalisation of Chinese banks is a sign that a new, worldwide wave of insolvency is just around the corner. This time, Asia is on its path. If war should break out in the Persian Gulf or if BP goes bust, we could be in for a financial upheaval.

Milan (AsiaNews) — Trading in Bank of China (BOC) shares was interrupted last Friday. According to news agency reports, China’s third largest bank is set to increase its capital by 60 billion yuan, or 115 per cent of the value of its nominal capital issued so far. In practice, the bank is being recapitalised. News agencies have also reported that BOC’s largest shareholder, China Central Huijin, an investment arm of China’s sovereign wealth fund, with 67.53 per cent equities in the bank, will guarantee the rights issue.

China set up sovereign funds to manage the national assets it was accumulating through foreign exchange surpluses. Initially, the goal was to set up a nest egg for future generations through foreign investments. Eventually, funds thus set aside could be invested in China itself.

In reality, recapitalisation is an acknowledgement that the heavy losses engendered by bad BOC loans had to be repaid, and that ordinary Chinese would foot the bill for mistakes made by the bank’s top officials as well as the central bank and the Treasury Ministry.

Something similar has happened elsewhere since September 2007, first in the United States (with the failure of AIG and Lehman Brothers and the implementation of the Paulson rescue plan and those that followed), then in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium Netherlands, etc. Eventually, it became so much the rage that it was applied in other places, under other climes, beginning in Dubai.

In any event, recapitalising banks like the BOC is what Chinese leaders have always done (AsiaNews wrote about it six years ago[1]); first, by accumulating convertible currency reserves thanks to a favourable exchange rate that undervalued the yuan, and then by re-financing the banking system drained on a regular basis by politically-motivated loans in order to allow the Chinese Communist Party to maintain its stranglehold on the country. This suggests that the situation is structural, systemic, and that nothing has changed. As information, the BOC recapitalisation is just a technical event, financial news for pundits.

Bank debt and public debt

There is however something new in all this. A month ago, the BOC raised 40 billion yuan by selling bonds convertible into traded shares, thus diluting its capital by less than 1 to 3. Similarly, other Chinese banks have announced recapitalisation plans worth billions of yuan, banks like the China Construction Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. The Agricultural Bank of China has also announced a recapitalisation of 30 billion yuan.

Just like the wider public, we know how propping up banks and firms deemed too big to fail (in the “national interest” they used to say in Fascist Italy) tends to end.

When many banks become insolvent, rescue packages by governments simply shift the burden from the banks to the sovereign, or public, debt. Although we do not know how fast this is happening, the Greek contagion appears to be spreading to China. Yet, given the steep and speedy hike in the markets of Credit Default Swaps in Chinese public debt (which transfers insolvency risks to third parties), the shock wave in this case could travel faster than before.

It would almost appear as if the United States and China are moving in sync on the rim of a structural cleavage in the system. Following the failure of Obama’s and Hu Jintao’s stimulus packages, both countries seem to be moving towards public insolvency, hopefully one with soft landing, spread out over many years.

The alternative would be a traumatic event or better a series of consequential rare events whose probability is statistically non-computable, akin to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s so-called ‘Black Swan Events’, that is events that cannot be integrated, predicted or forecast by the mathematical algorithms used in the statistical and economic theories that underlie “derivatives”.

In addition to a possible war in the Persian Gulf, bankruptcy by BP could be another possible ‘Black Swan’ because of the cost in damages and compensation the oil giant might have to pay for the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster. If it did happen, it would be a repeat of the Lehman Brothers collapse (preceded by the rescue of Bear Stearns), but on a far greater scale.

Like other oil companies, BP plays a huge role in the derivative market, more than any big bank. When issuing derivatives, it can offer as counter security, real assets, gas and oil in its wells across the world.

The ‘derivative’ market is highly interconnected. If BP should go under or lose its AAA credit rating, which is quite likely, the mountain of atypical, non-traded bonds in the US$ 615 trillion market would be caught up in a windstorm and collapse. It would thus be the trigger of an unprecedented financial upheaval, comparable to what led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

[1] See “Two state banks “saved” with 45 billon dollar loan,” in AsiaNews, 7 January 2004.

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

Greece: Crisis Even Hits Private Schools

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, JULY 5 — The economic crisis has not spared Greece’s private education system, forcing thousands of parents to choose state schools for their children in order to save. The delicate period being experienced and the continuous rise in school spending are among the main reasons for the crisis that is threatening the sector. It has been calculated that over the last four years, prices for private schools in the Attica area have increased by 14.25% for playschools, by 9.47% for primary schools and by 7.67% for high schools. The first figures for the new school year show a drop in sign-ups of over 25%, according to the Athenian newspaper Ethnos. The situation looks to be very bleak for public playschools, with town councils unable to satisfy rising demand, due to staff shortages, which in some cases are as high as 30%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: 6-Month Deficit Better Than Predicted at 4.9%

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 5 — Greece’s balance deficit is coming along better than scheduled in the projected 8.1% of GDP, recording a figure of 4.9% in the first six months of the year, an improvement on the target of 5.8% previously set. This is according to the Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou, Bloomberg says. Papaconstantinou said that he expects GDP to drop by around 3% in the second half of the year. However, a prediction of -4% for the entire year could prove to be “excessively pessimistic”. The Minister added that Greece expects the last part of the EU and IMF loan, worth 9 billion euros, to be paid out between the end of August and the beginning of September. Meanwhile, the government is continuing with the agreed programme and with divestments, which will include Hellenic Rail, the national state railway. Papaconstantinou hopes that the Treasury can resume financing itself on the financial markets (through the issuing of state bonds) in 2011, with the deadline fixed for 2012. The communist union PAME, meanwhile, today announced its involvement in the general strike of July 8 against pension reform, called by the public sector union Adedy, and its private counterpart GSEE, which is set to paralyse Greece for the sixth time since the crisis began. The 24-hour strike will coincide with the parliamentary debate on the bill for social security reforms that unions have called “a barbaric attack” on workers’ victories. Ill feeling and disagreements over the reform have also surfaced within the governing PASOK party and the Prime Minister Giorgios Papandreou has asked the party not to split on a fundamental issue for the country’s future. He said that Greece “is on the right road” towards a difficult but necessary recovery. Greeks are divided over pension reform, according to surveys, between those who reject it outright, and those who consider it unfair and unnecessary. Austerity, however, is beginning to erode the approval of the governing socialist party, though it still remains the country’s dominant political force by some distance. The Communist party (KKE) is experiencing a strong rise, and with its slogan “let’s take the situation into our own hands”, is leading the political and popular struggle against the Papandreou line. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Share of Foreigners in Stock Exchange Down to 66.03%

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 5 — Share of foreign investors in the Istanbul Stock Exchange (ISE) went down to 66.03%, Anatolia news agency reports. Central Registry Institution figures revealed Monday that as of July 2, foreign investors owned 52.23% of the shares transacted at the Istanbul Stock Exchange with the total market value reaching 66.03%. The number of shares owned by foreign investors is 15,424,384,977 with a total value of 88.2 billion TL (44.1 billion euro). The foreigners’ share in the ISE was 66.16% on June 25. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Stand Up to These Bullies… Like Maggie

This is the moment that the brothers have been waiting for. After years of sullen acquiescence under the rule of Labour, their natural political allies, the trade unions are now eagerly gearing up for a full-blooded confrontation with the new Tory-led Coalition Government.

Protests and strikes seem inevitable.

The anger of the trade union leaders has been fuelled by the programme of massive public sector cuts announced by the Coalition to tackle the crippling deficit. Predictably the unions, whose membership is now dominated by state employees, have reacted with howling outrage.

Typical was the claim by Bob Crow, hardline leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, that the Government’s measures amount to ‘a declaration of war’.

Much of the trade union protest is dressed up as a determination to protect essential public services. They say any cuts are bound to cause severe damage.

But this is a spectacular deceit. In reality, huge amounts of public expenditure are swallowed up on the generous rewards for the state workforce.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Alienation and the Cult of the Left

When religious cults recruit individuals, the first thing they do is make the novitiate sever all ties to their former lives. This involves cutting off family, friends, all of the emotional support structure, thus making the individual vulnerable to “reprogramming” by the collectivist entity that seeks to recreate them. What cults engage in is the work of remaking the individual in the image of the collective, of alienating them to their intimates for the purposes of bonding them to their new social peers.

Cults feed on the emotionally vulnerable by breaking their traditional ties. The modern Liberal culture works much the same; individuality is largely discouraged in favor of the group, and alienation is the key to the growth of the Left.

Which is what makes some current trends in education so disturbing. There is a new campaign, this one designed to destroy the bonds of friendship among children.

According to an article in the New York Times:

“Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

Anyone who has read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World knows exactly what these administrators and therapists are trying to do, even if they themselves are ignorant of what that is; in Huxley’s world, efforts were taken to redirect passions and normal impulses to numerous safety outlets, much like the BP people are trying to drill “relief wells” to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Clearly, these moonbat educrats believe that people should have all of mankind as their best friends, and have developed a scheme whereby the child is forced to stretch his friendships and familial relations away from the “tribe” and to mankind as a whole. In the process, he learns to love the abstract rather than the concrete, learns to make many casual, inconsequential bonds rather than few strong, long lasting ones. This is the Brave New World run amok in America.

And the end result is unbearable loneliness for the child; never does he or she have anyone who really matters, who really cares about him or her. The reality is that he has shallow, friendly relations with many but no real connections. He truly belongs to no-one.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Black Liberation Theology’s Unsung Whistleblower

Now that Rev. Jeremiah Wright has resurfaced, it won’t be long before Rev. Lainie Dowell is back knocking on his hate-spewing door.

A five-fold Baptist minister whose crusade against Black Liberation Theology goes back decades, the reverend had Jeremiah Wright in her sights long before the behind-the-times mainstream media came screeching up to the plate.

As far as is known, the self-identified “half African Black, half Cherokee” who came up the hard way through Black Baptist politics, was the first to blow the whistle on Oprah and Obama using the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for “personal gain”. “Winfrey had the sense to get out early, leaving Wright furious,” she says.

The practitioners of BLT, including the President of the United States, only talk about their audacity, the firebrand minister from Maryland actually uses hers.

“As I recall, it was during the 1990s when I wrote to Oprah Winfrey about the problem in the Black Baptist Church in America and the NAACP and I asked her to investigate. I never received a response from Winfrey’s show which is produced in Chicago, Illinois,” Rev. Dowell wrote. (RFFM.Org, May 7, 2008).

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Ex-Official Accuses Justice Department of Racial Bias in Black Panther Case

In emotional and personal testimony, an ex-Justice official who quit over the handling of a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party accused his former employer of instructing attorneys in the civil rights division to ignore cases that involve black defendants and white victims.

J. Christian Adams, testifying Tuesday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that “over and over and over again,” the department showed “hostility” toward those cases. He described the Black Panther case as one example of that — he defended the legitimacy of the suit and said his “blood boiled” when he heard a Justice official claim the case wasn’t solid.

“It is false,” Adams said of the claim.

“We abetted wrongdoing and abandoned law-abiding citizens,” he later testified.

The department abandoned the New Black Panther case last year. It stemmed from an incident on Election Day in 2008 in Philadelphia, where members of the party were videotaped in front of a polling place, dressed in military-style uniforms and allegedly hurling racial slurs while one brandished a night stick.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Farewell to Space

Just when you thought Barack Obama’s toadying to Islam could not get any worse, now comes this: The President directed the new administrator of NASA, retired Marine Major General Charles Bolden, as “perhaps [his] foremost” charge to “find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage more dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science…and math and engineering.”

This comment came in an interview the NASA chief conducted with al-Jazeera while touring the Middle East to mark the first anniversary of Mr. Obama’s much-ballyhooed Cairo paean to Muslims. Bolden elaborated, “It is a matter of trying to reach out and get the best of all worlds, if you will, and there is much to be gained by drawing in the contributions that are possible from the Muslim (nations).”

In an address to the American University in Cairo, Bolden added that Mr. Obama has “asked NASA to change…by reaching out to ‘nontraditional’ partners and strengthening our cooperation in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and in particular in Muslim-majority nations.” He declared that “NASA is not only a space exploration agency, but also an Earth improvement agency.”

Now, when one thinks of the “contributions” to our space program that are possible from Muslim nations, the one that comes to mind is the literal kind — recycled petrodollars — since their “contributions to science, math and engineering” for several hundreds of years have been, to put it charitably, underwhelming.

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Imam Booted Out of U.S.: ‘God Bless America’

NEW YORK — The imam entangled in the investigation into a suicide bomb plot against New York City subway stations left the U.S. Monday on court orders after admitting he lied to the FBI. Among his final words on U.S. soil, his lawyer says, were “God bless America.”

Ahmad Wais Afzali and his wife Fatima took off on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight to Jeddah and then will go on to Mecca, where Fatima got a job teaching English, said the lawyer, Ron Kuby. Afzali, who was born in Afghanistan but spent most of his life in Queens, isn’t sure what he’s going to do there, Kuby said. Most of his family lives in Virginia, including two children from a previous marriage.

Afzali, under the terms of his plea April 15, was sentenced to time served — four days— but ordered to leave the country in 90 days.

Authorities sought help last fall from the imam, a previously reliable police source, as they scrambled to thwart the plot by Najibullah Zazi, an airport van driver who pleaded guilty in the case.

The 38-year-old imam said he had wanted to help authorities in the investigation of the threat but lied under grilling by the FBI about his phone conversations with Zazi. Afzali lied when he said he never told Zazi that he was under surveillance in New York.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

TSA to Block “Controversial Opinion” On the Web

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is blocking certain websites from the federal agency’s computers, including halting access by staffers to any Internet pages that contain a “controversial opinion,” according to an internal email obtained by CBS News.

The email was sent to all TSA employees from the Office of Information Technology on Friday afternoon.

It states that as of July 1, TSA employees will no longer be allowed to access five categories of websites that have been deemed “inappropriate for government access.”

The categories include:

  • Chat/Messaging
  • Controversial opinion
  • Criminal activity
  • Extreme violence (including cartoon violence) and gruesome content
  • Gaming

The email does not specify how the TSA will determine if a website expresses a “controversial opinion.”

There is also no explanation as to why controversial opinions are being blocked, although the email stated that some of the restricted websites violate the Employee Responsibilities and Conduct policy.

The TSA did not return calls seeking comment by publication time.

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Attacks Against Peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon Raise Fears and Questions

Repeated incidents involving UNIFIL patrols a month from the renewal of Resolution 1701 are causing concern both locally in Lebanon and internationally. Many people point the finger at Hizbollah, which denies responsibility.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — Tensions and incidents are rising both locally and internationally between residents of south Lebanon and the United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) deployed in the area. The attack against a French UNIFIL patrol in the village of Qabrikha last Saturday (pictured) came only two days after Michael Williams, the UN special co-ordinator for Lebanon, said he was “very concerned” by a recent spate of incidents in which residents attacked UN soldiers.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri talked about the situation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, both of whom are in Paris, gaining the latter’s support. Hariri later said, he “hoped there would be no provocations, which are in no one’s interest.”

The An-Nahar newspaper reported that the ambassadors of France, Italy and Spain, countries that provide the bulk of the UNIFIL contingent, visited south Lebanon in order to coordinate better their action a month before Resolution 1701 comes up for review. The UN Security Council adopted it in 2006 in order to deploy peacekeepers in the area south of the Litani River, to stop arms smuggling among other things.

Many believe and fear that Hizbollah is behind the attacks. The self-styled Party of God controls southern Lebanon and could easily push civilians to protest and attack peacekeepers.

Some lawmakers from Lebanon’s parliamentary majority want to see a debate on the issue, but in the country public opinion tends to be more cautious. A recent survey by the Magazine weekly indicated that 69 per cent of respondents believed the incidents were not unintentional.

Israeli defence officers, cited by the Jerusalem Post, said that the escalation in violence is the result of greater UNIFUL activity. “Hizbollah is not happy with this and is trying to deter the peacekeepers from entering the villages, which is home to most of their arms caches these days,” one official said.

The village of Hirbeit Sleim, where residents held a massive protest calling for an end to UNIFIL patrols, is the same where a Hizbollah arms cache hidden inside a home blew up last year.

Hizbollah denied being behind the unrest, but in an interview with the As-Safir newspaper on Friday, Naim Qassem, the group’s deputy leader, described UNIFIL’s recent exercises as “suspicious”, adding that peacekeepers ought to “pay attention to what they do”.

For UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh, it is essential to secure UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and that its mission has not changed since Resolution 1701 has not changed.

“The situation in 2006 forced Hizbollah to accept UNIFIL, but UNIFIL is helping to achieve what the Israelis want,” Elias Hanna, a retired general in the Lebanese army, told al Jazeera.

“If you implement 1701 word for word, it means you are denying Hizbollah the ability to act. It means you are choking Hizbollah. They will not allow it.”

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

Douglas Murray: We Have Not Learnt the Lesson of the July 7 Suicide Bombing

In the five years since suicide bombers killed 52 people in London, placatory government policy on Islamist terrorism has achieved little but store up trouble for the future, argues Douglas Murray.

Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the day suicide bombing came to Britain. On July 7, 2005 three young British-born men exploded their devices simultaneously on the London Underground. A fourth man detonated his an hour later on a bus in Tavistock Square. Together they left 52 people dead, many more injured, and a country only starting to realise that a problem it had long exported had found its way home.

While July 7 was the first time that jihadi terrorism had come to British streets, these were not the first streets to which British-born Islamists had brought terror. Two years earlier, two young British men had gone to Mike’s Place, a bar in Tel Aviv, and carried out a suicide bombing. Almost a decade before July 7 — in 1996 — the man said to have been Britain’s first suicide bomber died in Afghanistan, self-detonating to kill opponents of the Taliban forces he was fighting alongside.

By 2005 British-raised jihadis had fought around the world, spurred on by radical clerics at home, backed by British networks and allowed to operate by a government and security service who believed that this was a problem for other people. It took 10 years for Britain to extradite to France the Algerian man accused of blowing up the Paris Metro in 1995. Britain had become a soft touch: a magnet for foreign jihadis and a hub of home-grown radicalisation.

To coincide with the fifth anniversary of July 7 this week, the Centre for Social Cohesion is releasing Islamist Terrorism: the British Connections. It is a 500-page, telephone directory-sized work that aims to present an overview of every traceable Islamist convicted of Islamism-inspired terrorist offences and attacks over the last decade. It also examines the scope of British-linked Islamism-inspired terrorism threats worldwide since 1993, listing many foreign combatants and extradition cases and British citizens convicted abroad.

It presents a timeline of the jihad, a list of the major networks and analysis of the data, presenting the most accurate picture possible of what makes up a violent British Islamist. Terrorism expert Marc Sageman has already said it “will become the indispensable reference for any future inquiry into British neo-jihadi terrorism”. Yet it is a work that neither the Home Office nor the Crown Prosecution Service, nor any other department of government, has got around to compiling.

Contrary to government claims, there are very clear pointers as to what makes up the average individual convicted of an Islamist-inspired offence. As the profiles of 127 convictions and attacks show, the overwhelming majority of those involved (96 per cent) are men; 68 per cent are under 30; 32 per cent of those convicted have links to proscribed organisations — 14.5 per cent had links with al-Qaeda, while the largest number (15 per cent) were linked to the now banned al-Muhajiroun; and 31 per cent attended terrorist training camps abroad.

The idea that lack of opportunities, poverty or lack of education are more than an aggravating factor is not supported by the findings. A minimum of 31 per cent of those convicted of Islamist-related offences had at some point attended university or a higher education institute. Among these, as the University College London Christmas Day bomber reminded us, are people who have attended some of our finest institutions.

And the idea that a terrorist cannot to some extent be racially profiled is also wrong…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Italy: Minister Resigns in Court

Aldo Brancher steps down, averting confidence vote

(ANSA) — Milan, July 5 — A minister appointed to Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government last month resigned during an embezzlement trial Monday, removing the possibility that he would fall in an opposition confidence vote later this week.

Aldo Brancher, 67, had faced criticism inside and outside government that he was only appointed as ‘federalism minister’ to take advantage of a new law allowing ministers to claim a ‘legitimate impediment’ from attending trials.

Berlusconi, who is using the measure in two graft trials himself, praised Brancher, a former executive in the premier’s Mediaset media empire and a member of his People of Freedom (PdL) party.

“I know the passion and ability with which he could have carried out the role assigned to him,” the premier said in a statement, adding that Brancher might have a possible future role in government.

During his 17 days in the job, Brancher also spurred renewed tension with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano who chided the government for not spelling out what his exact task was. Brancher is the second minister to resign in less than two months after Claudio Scajola stepped down in May over a shady Rome real estate deal.

Brancher, who denies charges of embezzling funds in a failed bank takeover in 2005, said his resignation would “permit a rapid closure of the affair concerning me”.

The minister’s sudden appointment on June 18 widened fissures in the Berlusconi coalition, with supporters of House Speaker Gianfranco Fini siding with the opposition in arguing the minister didn’t have a clear-cut role.

Even Berlusconi’s staunchest ally, Northern League leader and Reform Minister Umberto Bossi, insisted that the new minister’s brief was already his own.

On Friday Brancher was faced with a barrage of 14 questions in parliament aimed at forcing him to explain what his job was.

The opposition Democratic Party (PD) and Italy of Values (IdV) party had slated a no-confidence vote in the minister for Thursday.

They both welcomed his decision to throw in the towel.

“It was a mistaken appointment which should never have happened,” said the PD’s deputy Senate whip, Luigi Zanda.

“From a government standpoint, after all, it doesn’t really change anything because Brancher was actually, for two weeks, Minister for Nothing”.

IdV’s Senate whip, Felice Belisario, said: “Everyone knows the reason for that useless appointment. He was an old employee (of Berlusconi’s) and had to be helped out for reasons that have nothing to do with government”.

The leader of the centrist opposition UDC, Lorenzo Cesa, party said the resignation marked the end of “a Kafkaesque affair”.

There were also signs of relief from loyalists of Fini, the House Speaker who has been at odds with Berlusconi over a series of issues including, most recently, the government’s plans to ram through parliament a controversial bill restricting wiretapping and the publication of transcripts.

“Hats off to Brancher. By resigning and giving up his right to the ‘legitimate impediment’ he has cleared up possible misunderstandings and helped solve one of the thorniest problems inside the PdL,” said unofficial Fini spokesman Italo Bocchino, an ex-member of the now-defunct rightwing National Alliance which merged with Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia to form the PdL.

Another top ex-National Alliance member of the PdL, Transport Minister Altero Matteoli, said “now both the friendly and unfriendly fire will end”.

He said Brancher’s decision “strengthened” the government and would help it move past the splits, also over a 25-billion-euro austerity package, which had sparked speculation it was on the verge of toppling.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: No Merger Plans for Alitalia, CEO Says

Air France-KLM remains leading shareholder wth 25%

(ANSA) — Rome, July 5 — Alitalia has no immediate nor plans in the near future to merge with Air France-KLM, the Italian airlines’s CEO said on Monday.

“Air France, with a 25% stake, is already Alitalia’s leading shareholder. There are no merger plans,” Rocco Sabelli said at the presentation of a joint venture between Alitalia and Air France-KLM, which are already partners in the Sky Team alliance.

“Our policy is in line with what we have done today. Joint ventures produce the same benefits as mergers while keeping the airlines separate, for as long as it makes sense,” Sabelli said.

In denying any plans for a future merger, the Alitalia CEO reiterated that the airline did not intend to increase its capital with a rights issue any time soon.

“There is no rights issue in the business plan we approved in May and there is none on the agenda of the board of directors,” Sabelli explained.

A rights issue could open the way for Air France to increase its stake in Alitalia, which was reborn at the start of 2009 as a private airline with the same name as Italy’s national carrier, which was declared bankrupt in 2008.

It was created by a group of private Italian investors, Compagnia Aerea Italiana (CAI), which set up the new airline by acquiring the national carrier’s flight division, as well as its name, and merging it with Air One, until then Italy’s biggest private airline whose owner was part of CAI.

Any capital increase or rights issue for Alitalia would nullify a four-year lock-up clause in CAI’s founding charter and thus allow Air France-KLM to increase its stake and even buy out CAI members.

Air France-KLM failed to buy all of the Italian national carrier in 2008 due to political opposition from center-right politicians and pressure from trade unions. Speaking last May at the presentation of his airline’s 2009 balance sheet, Air France-KLM’s Chief Financial Officer Philippe Calavia said “we know that one day the question will arise about increasing our stake in Alitalia and to merge the airline into our group. At present there are no plans to do but it is a logical scenario”.

“We are now simple shareholders with a 25% stake and when you have a 25% stake, which is an important quota, at a certain point you either decide to sell it or increase it to 60%. Logic dictates that you can’t have 25% forever,” he explained.

Alitalia Chairman Roberto Colaninno replied at the time that Air France’s ambition to one day take over Alitalia is “flattering… but it will never happen”.

According to Colaninno, Air France’s desire to increase its stake “will whet the appetite of others and this will increase Alitalia’s value. The fact that Air France wants to buy us without our asking, despite its own difficult financial situation, is very positive considering how a year or so ago no one wanted Alitalia”.

Air France-KLM closed the 2009/2010 fiscal year with a record net loss of 1.55 billion euros, its worst performance since the French and Dutch carriers merged in 2004.

Speaking on Monday, Sabelli said Alitalia “had a very good second quarter which will allow us to have a midyear result much better than for the first half of 2009 and one which is in line with the targets in our business plan”.

Alitalia would have done even better in the second quarter, he added, had European air space not been restricted in April due to an ash cloud from an erupting volcano in Iceland.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Security: EU Mediterranean Border, Italy Front-Line

(ANSAmed) — ROME, 5 JULY — A European surveillance instrument, based on satellite technolgy and capable of shining a spotlight onto the Mediterranean and check the traffic crossing its basin, whether legal or illegal, strengthening surveillance of migratory flows and to give an alert ahead of environmental threats. Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Malta have been discussing the matter since December and, according the the head of the project, Admiral Jean Marie Van Huffel of the French General Secretariat for Maritime Affairs, the project’s architecture shoulb be in place withing eighteen months. “A complex plan which still needs to have its milestone put in place,” involving thirty-seven public sector bodies from the countries involved and financed by Brussels with 6.5 million euros. Given the name “BlueMassMed” (Blue Maritime Surveillance System Med), the initiative was presented today at Rome’s Villa Spada, the logisitics centre for Italy’s customs police, the Guardia di Finanza, which is acting alongside Italy’s Interior Ministry, the Ministries for Foreign Affairs and of Defence, of Transport and the Environment and the General Chiefs of Staff, the Navy, Harbourmasters and Customs Agencies. On a technical level, however, the lion’s part will go to ASI, Italy’s space agency, thanks to the deployment of Cosmo-Skymed, a unique satellite earth-observation system developed by ASI and the Defence Ministry. Four X-ray radar-equipped satellites can observe the earth night and day in any weather conditions with a very high degree of resolution and very high response times and with surgical accuracy. “This is our asset and the stake we bring along with us” summarised the Deputy President of ASI; Marco Airaghi, who is also the Defence department’s advisor for space defence. The data and the images supplied by Cosmo-Skymed are used for both military and civil applications. And the Mediterranean surveillance plan has been born with this double-edge, as Airaghi explained: “it stands as a prototype for a common European defence system and over the coming months it will undergo testing in this direction”. Why start with the Mediterranean? Because the sea frontier is more vulnerable than the land one. Each year the Mediterranean sees 15% of world sea traffic by volume pass through its waters, making the Sea a key area from the economic point of view. Drugs traffic, arms traffic, contraband goos and even, unfortunately, human cargoes are the other side of this coin. Further, the Mediterranean is a “closed” sea: a catastrophe such as the one affecting the Gulf of Mexico would have untold consequences given these geographical constraints. On all fronts, a platform for a European joint response would be crucial.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy in Gays’ Summer Holiday Top Five

Popularity a ‘paradox’ says LGBT site

(ANSA) — Rome, July 6 — Italy is among Europe’s top five favourite summer holiday destinations for homosexuals, Italian gay website said Tuesday.

The site, however, said this popularity with lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) was not thanks to the nation’s record on gay rights, but in spite of it.

“Gays and lesbians prefer to travel to countries that guarantee their rights,” said in a survey. “In this regard, Italy is a paradox because it is in the top five, despite the lack of rights”.

Gay groups say a series of attacks on homosexuals over the last year reflect a growing climate of intolerance towards LGBTs and have called for the introduction of an anti-homophobia law.

On the other hand, many Italian cities such as Rome and Bologna have thriving gay scenes and the country’s natural and artistic treasures are also a major pull.

The site said Italy’s presence in its survey’s top five was driven in no small part by the Tuscan lakeside resort of Torre del Lago and its famous ‘gay kilometre’.

Torre del Lago also hosts its famous Puccini Festival every summer, featuring the operas of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, who used to live in the town.

Gays’ renewed love of the island of Mykonos enabled Greece to regain the top spot in the site’s annual standings from Spain, it said.

It added that Brazil and Argentina were among the best-liked destinations outside Europe, in part because “they are increasingly on the cutting edge when it comes to recognising LGBT rights”.

The survey also highlighted how passionate many LGBTs are about travelling.

It said they spend twice as much on holidays as heterosexuals on average, taking double the amount of train journeys and travelling three times as often by air.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Firewalk’ Organisers Could be in Hot Water

Police quiz nine who burned feet in motivational challenge

(ANSA) — Rome, July 6 — An Italian real-estate company could be in hot water after nine staff ended up with burnt feet from a motivational ‘firewalk’ at the weekend.

Prosecutors have opened a probe into the incident and are quizzing the nine Tecnocasa employees who suffered minor burns after walking barefoot over hot coals at a convention in Frascati near Rome on Sunday.

Investigators would like to know whether the participants were put under any psychological pressure to strut their stuff, judicial sources said.

The nine salespeople had to be treated in hospital after the hot-coal challenge — billed as a way of “developing your energy” and “reaching new, ambitious goals” — went awry.

Motivational trainer Alessandro Di Priamo, a former athlete who has been working in his new field for 12 years, will be questioned along with Tecnocasa executives, police said.

Di Priamo has reportedly blamed the hotel where the convention took place for using “the wrong kind of wood”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Paul the ‘Psychic’ Octopus Tips Spain to Beat Germany

Cries of despair were likely heard across Germany on Tuesday after a “psychic” octopus called Paul tipped Spain to beat Germany in the football World Cup semi-final.

The eight-legged oracle, who has successfully predicted the outcomes of all five of Germany’s games in South Africa, carefully weighed up the two teams before plumping for Spain, prompting anguished groans from the assembled media scrum.

Carried live on national television, two plastic boxes, one with a German flag and one with a Spanish, were lowered into Paul’s tank at an aquarium in western Germany, each with a tasty morsel of food inside. The box which Paul opens first is adjudged to be his predicted winner.

If Paul’s performance is replicated on the pitch, it promises to be an end-to-end thriller. He teased the crowd by initially lingering at the German flag before heading for the Spanish box.

The mollusc medium has shot to fame by defying the odds with a perfect record of picking winners.

Proving he is not just attracted to the colours in the German flag, he rightly foretold Die Mannschaft’s shock defeat to Serbia in the group stages.

He then predicted Germany’s triumphant drubbing of England in the last-16, provoking accusations of treachery. Paul should by rights be an England fan, having been born in Weymouth on the south English coast.

Confirming his reputation as a prognosticator par-excellence, he kept up his astonishing run of form by tipping Germany to beat highly fancied Argentina in the quarter-finals.

But all is not lost for coach Joachim Löw and his boys as Paul has been wrong before.

In the European Championships in 2008, he had an 80 percent record, getting only one match wrong.

Which one? The final that Germany lost. Against Spain.

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

Spain: Civil Weddings Beat Religious Weddings for First Time

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 22 — For the first time since Spain legalised civil unions in the 1970s, civil wedding ceremonies are now more popular than their religious equivalents, according to figures for 2009 released by the national institute of statistics, which confirm the slow but inexorable secularisation process that Spain is undergoing. Last year, there were 94,993 civil weddings and 80,959 religious weddings although, generally, fewer people are marrying, with the number of weddings 11% below the 2008 figure. The birth rate also fell for the first time, by 5%, after a decade of growth and an average of 10.73 births for every thousand citizens. The number of foreign mothers also fell by 6%, according to the annual report on natural movement of the population and basic demographic indicators. The statistics suggest, therefore, that the “baby cheque”, the 2,500 euro bonus for every new-born or adopted child launched by the Zapatero government, has not led to an increase in the birth rate. The scheme will be scrapped in 2011. The death rate also fell, with 383,486 deaths in 2009, a 0.7% fall on 2008, with an average of 8.35 deaths for every thousand citizens. The number of deaths of foreign citizens was 2.7% of the total figure, despite the fact that they represent 12% of the resident population. (ANSAmed).

2010-06-22 15:25

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Liberals Slam Left Party for Dictatorship Aid

Liberal Party MP and foreign affairs spokesperson Fredrik Malm has accused the Left Party of funneling millions of kronor in development aid to leftist authoritarian and totalitarian regimes around the world from 2005 to 2009.

In an editorial in the Dagens Nyheter daily on Monday, Malm cited the Partido Comunista Colombiano, a non-reformed Marxist-Leninist party in Colombia, as well as Laban ng Masa, an alliance of revolutionary groups on the far left in the Philippines, as recipients of financing through the Left’s international forum (Vänsterns internationella forum — VIF) and called on Lars Ohly to explain why the party supports dictatorships.

“Voters have the right to be informed about what happens to Swedish aid if the Left Party sits in a red-green government after the election,” wrote Malm. “What a party does in opposition is of course what it is also prepared to do in a majority with much greater resources and political influence.”

Each party has a parliamentary aid organisation that receives annual support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Styrelsen för Internationellt Utvecklingssamarbete, SIDA) for development cooperation. The total annual budget is 75 million kronor.

According to Malm, the Left Party is sponsoring a new political party formed by Laban ng Masa that supports an armed communist rebellion, PLM, with 640,000 kronor in 2009-2010.

Furthermore, at a conference in Manila in 2007 funded by VIF with Swedish tax revenue, seven leading Left Party members were on the guest list, as well as Cuba’s ambassador to the Philippines and representatives from Hugo Chávez’s regime in Venezuela.

Malm also accused the Left Party of “plowing” 150,000 kronor of Swedish tax money into the current dictatorship in Vietnam for nine months in 2007. In addition, the Left Party’s international collaborations have a common thread: the Chávez regime in Venezuela.

VIF has planned Venezuelan lecture tours, sponsored think tank that have published writings on Chávez’s revolution and paid for trips for Chavez supporters. In 2005, the party organised a conference in Caracas in which Ohly participated.

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

Switzerland: Keeping Gypsies and Locals on a Straight Road

Swiss projects give hope to Roma children

Gypsy caravans are a familiar sight each summer in Switzerland, but their arrival often leads to upset among the local population.

Cultural mediator Nadia Bizzini, who works in the Italian-speaking border canton of Ticino, tells that relations between the two communities are still beset by prejudice and misunderstandings.

In medieval times, travellers were said to be the descendants of Cain. Nowadays they make up the largest minority in Europe, at around 15 million people, and are divided into different ethnic groups, such as the Jenisch, Roma, Sinti and Manush.

In late June, the Federal Commission against Racism condemned an attack on travellers near Bellinzona in which shots were fired. It said in a statement that the incident was only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Nadia Bizzini: I make contact with the travellers to understand their needs and to raise awareness of their duties. I also try to set up a dialogue with the local population, to dispel prejudices.

Over the past four years, two main aspects have emerged: the locals’ fear of crime and the travellers’ sometimes disrespectful behaviour when on sites, especially over hygiene.

N.B.: What we normally call gypsies are the peoples originating from northern India and divided into Roma, Sinti, Manush and Jenisch.

The majority of Swiss travellers are Jenisch, whereas the foreigners are mostly first-generation Roma. These are peoples who emigrated within Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and who have French, Italian or Spanish nationality, mostly now in the fourth generation. They have never stopped travelling and have kept their traditions.

On the other hand, the second-generation Roma fled their countries during or after the Balkan war and have often settled on illegal sites near large cities, such as Milan and Turin. They have lost all links to their culture and — despite having the same ethnic origins — no longer have anything in common with first-generation Roma. They don’t come to Switzerland; sometimes they come over the border to beg with their children or to steal. They are desperate, jobless or employed in the lowest-wage manual labour.

N.B.: Traveller groups are easily recognisable: they come in caravans with big satellite dishes but without the bicycles that tourists might have. As soon as they arrive at the border, their presence is signalled to the cantonal authorities. The travellers often warn me directly or call the police. The site is then opened and they settle in. I go over to welcome them and to explain the basic rules for a good neighbourly atmosphere. Police carry out routine controls, taking licence plate numbers, checking passports and registering them.

There are around 100 travellers that come to Ticino every season. They belong to two big family clans who know each other but don’t always get along. Most of them have a house in their country of residency, but they seldom stay there because they find it hard to be enclosed within four walls. They find it suffocating.

N.B.: There are no official gypsy sites in Ticino, only emergency sites, which means flat zones which can be used for a limited time. The only equipped site is at Galbisio, near Bellinzona. I say equipped, but it doesn’t have any electricity or adequate hygiene facilities and running water is provided by a fountain.

It’s not easy for the travellers to live in these conditions. This lack of facilities makes my work and that of the authorities more difficult as well. Sometimes there are more than 30 caravans on these sites, from different clans, and living together is not always easy.

N.B.: Undoubtedly to have better-equipped official transit sites. The issue is not whether we should accept them, but how to manage their presence. The travellers themselves would like “protected zones” fitted with barriers and with regular checks of those going in and out, rather like at camping sites. A deposit system, to punish any abuses, could also be envisaged. The number of caravans should also be limited to a maximum of 15-20, from the same clan, to allow for a form of social control within the group.

From what I’ve been told, travellers still suffer from racism in Ticino and Italy. They feel under pressure, judged, stigmatised. These conditions make my work impossible — it’s an emergency intervention, at the last minute. Until there are proper sites, we can’t really draw up a gypsy management strategy. And I continue to work with emotions rather than using more efficient instruments.

N.B.: These nomadic peoples have a very strong temperament and a way of communicating which we are not used to. Even when asking for directions, they do it very directly: “Oy you, tell me where this place is”. This is cultural behaviour which has been transmitted down through the generations, but to which I have not yet become fully accustomed.

When I try to tell them that they shouldn’t have thrown their rubbish out into the streets, I have to use an unfamiliar communication register. It’s no use speaking in a normal and calm tone. I have to raise my voice, turn my back and refuse to argue.

I’ve never felt in danger during these four years in the job. I’ve had good times with them. They make me feel part of the family, even if I am always a “gadjé”, not a traveller. The other day, a woman invited me to eat with them and I refused and she said: “don’t behave towards me as if you were a foreigner”. They have a strong sense of solidarity, cohesion, respect and honour. For them it’s easier to deal with discrimination that an affront from a member of what they consider a big family.

Stefania Summermatter, (Translated from Italian by Isobel Leybold-Johnson)

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

UK: Cards Yes, Identity No

by Mark Steyn

We’re approaching the fifth anniversary of the London Tube bombings. It prompted a rare bout of self-examination by the British establishment — which, needless to say, passed quickly:

It has been sobering this past week watching some of my “woollier” colleagues (in Vicki Woods’s self-designation) gradually awake to the realisation that the real suicide bomb is “multiculturalism”. Its remorseless tick-tock, suddenly louder than the ethnic drumming at an anti-globalisation demo, drove poor old Boris Johnson into rampaging around this page last Thursday like some demented late-night karaoke one-man Fiddler on the Roof, stamping his feet and bellowing, “Tradition! Tradition!” Boris’s plea for more Britishness was heartfelt and valiant, but I’m not sure I’d bet on it. The London bombers were, to the naked eye, assimilated — they ate fish ‘n’ chips, played cricket, sported appalling leisurewear. They’d adopted so many trees we couldn’t see they lacked the big overarching forest — the essence of identity, of allegiance. As I’ve said before, you can’t assimilate with a nullity — which is what multiculturalism is.


One of the striking features of the post-9/11 world is the minimal degree of separation between the so-called “extremists” and the establishment: Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, gives $130,000 to accomplices of the 9/11 terrorists; the head of the group that certifies Muslim chaplains for the US military turns out to be a bagman for terrorists; one of the London bombers gets given a tour of the House of Commons by a Labour MP. The Guardian hires as a “trainee journalist” a member of Hizb ut Tahir, “Britain’s most radical Islamic group” (as his own newspaper described them) and in his first column post-7/7 he mocks the idea that anyone could be “shocked” at a group of Yorkshiremen blowing up London: “Second- and third-generation Muslims are without the don’t-rock-the-boat attitude that restricted our forefathers. We’re much sassier with our opinions, not caring if the boat rocks” — or the bus blows, or the Tube vaporises. Fellow Guardian employee David Foulkes, who was killed in the Edgware Road blast, would no doubt be heartened to know he’d died for the cause of Muslim “sassiness”.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: How East German Communists Helped Fund 1984 Miners’ Strike

Miners’ strike of 1980s funded by East German communists, historian’s say

Substantial sums of money in hard currency were secretly transferred to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the major industrial action.

East Germany’s communist leaders provided secret funds to striking miners in their bitter battle with the Thatcher government during the 1980s, newly uncovered documents reveal.

In an attempt to undermine the British government and its hardline stance against the strike, substantial cash sums are said to have been transferred to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) from East Berlin.

The documents also stated that the former German Democratic Republic offered free holidays to the country for striking miners and their families in 1984 and 1985.

Food parcels and clothing were also shipped to those taking part in the strike, which ended in a historic defeat for the miners.

Professor Stefan Berger, from the University of Manchester, and Dr Norman LaPorte, from the University of Glamorgan, detail the documents in their new book, Friendly Enemies: Britain And The GDR 1949 to 1990.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: School Forced to Buy Computer Translator Because Half of Pupils Don’t Speak English

Pupils type in questions into the computer using their native language which is then translated verbally into English for the teacher.

A primary school where more than half of pupils are non-English speaking has become the first in Britain to give every child a computerised translator.

Around 60 per cent of the 384 pupils at Manor Park Primary School in Aston, Birmingham, now communicate with teachers using the software.

Pupils type in questions into the computer using their native language which is then translated verbally into English for the teacher.

In reverse, teachers’ words can be translated back into 25 different languages.

The primary school is the first in Britain to give the ‘Talking Tutor’ computer software to every pupil.

English-speaking students also use the translator in order to communicate with their foreign classmates. Headteacher Jason Smith said the technology was ‘invaluable’.

He said: ‘This is a tool. It is not a replacement. It is the sort of tool that we can use to engage with children who have recently arrived in the country and have very little spoken English.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Two Children Killed and Mother Seriously Hurt in House Fire ‘Arson Attack’

A mother leapt from a window engulfed in flames and was forced to watch as her two young children died in a suspected arson attack on their home, neighbours said last night.

The woman, named locally as Iram Shah, 30, had to be stopped from running back into her blazing home in Bradford in the early hours yesterday, despite life-threatening injuries.

Her children, named by residents as Aleena, ten, and Aman, eight, died in the inferno.

A 21-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the fire, while police appealed for witnesses who may have seen anyone buying small amounts of petrol on Monday night.

The cause of the blaze is unknown, but police will investigate the possibility of an honour killing motive, a West Yorkshire Police spokesman said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Thin Grey Line: Pensioners Armed With Spy Cameras Take on Gang of Drug Dealers… And Win

When gangs of drug dealers and yobs descended on the streets of a small community, most residents decided it was best to keep out of their way.

But a group of fearless pensioners refused to bow to intimidation and have started a fightback against the crime ruining their area.

Armed with £15,000 of the latest surveillance and night vision equipment, they covertly film criminals going about their business and then pass the images to police — in an echo of the popular TV crime series The Wire.

The group of 11, aged 67 to 92, claim to have helped catch more than 100 criminals on the Highfields estate in Leicester using CCTV and long-range cameras.

The team draw up hit-lists of drug dealers during clandestine tea meetings and name and shame criminals on social networking websites.

Spokesman Albert Berer said the pensioners, known as the St Peter’s Neighbourhood Monitoring Group, were determined not to let yobs and criminals take over their estate.

‘We are not your typical “twitching net curtain” neighbourhood watch — we mean business,’ he said.

‘All the group, apart from myself, is made up of retired elderly people who are scared out of their wits about what is happening.

‘We literally cannot go out at night because of hooded louts causing mayhem outside our front doors, along our walkways and on our streets.’

He said the group planned highly detailed missions to pinpoint and catch the criminals.

Four of the team do most of the filming. Mr Berer added: ‘We are skilled in social media and technology and we have specialists in surveillance and state-of-the-art equipment which even the police are amazed by.’

The group came together after becoming frustrated by the failure of police to tackle the yobs.

‘They have a tough job to do, but when these drug dealers are caught another one replaces them.

‘It has been happening for years.’

The group has set up a website and YouTube channel which show alleged crooks drug dealing, wielding weapons and carrying out assaults.

Leicestershire Police confirmed they had liaised with the group but were careful not to promote ‘vigilante’ actions. A spokesman said those with concerns should contact police directly

           — Hat tip: Takuan Seiyo[Return to headlines]


Balkans-EU: Van Rompuy Supports Serbian European Outlook

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JULY 5 — Serbia’s clear European prospects with its desired integration in the EU was reasserted today by the president of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy in a meeting which took place in Belgrade with the Serbian president Boris Tadic. As was communicated by the Serbian President’s Office, Tadic expressed discontent for the delays in the European integration process, which is fundamental for the future of Serbia and the whole region of the Western Balkans. Decisions different than those hoped for will go against both the Western Balkans and the European Union, observed the Serbian president. In their meeting, Tadic and Van Rompuy also discussed the Kosovo crisis, where in recent days the tension has risen due to two serious accidents which caused Serbian casualties in Kosovska Mitrovica, in the north of Kosovo. Before Belgrade, Van Rompuy was in Slovenia to meet with Prime Minister Borut Pahor. Tomorrow he has a visit in Pristina planned.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Pharmaceutical Companies Gave Eur50 Mln Bribes, Press

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JULY 6 — In order to have consumption of their medicaments increased, pharmaceutical companies spent in recent three years about EUR50 millions in bribing about 2,000 doctors in Serbia, reports daily Blic. Bribing included not only giving of money but organizing of various seminars and congresses’, daily learns from judicial bodies. For example, at one moment more than 150 doctors employed at the Clinical Center of Serbia were absent on business. They all were at some of the congresses abroad. Pressures on pharmaceutical companies on health institutions are huge. Lobbying is mainly in the field of oncology, gynaecology, cardiology and medicaments against diabetes. In certain countries there is a law forbidding any contact between doctors and pharmaceutical industry. Others have regulations strictly stipulating the number of congresses doctors can attend. In Serbia there are no regulations in this field. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Textile Exports to US Increased by 4.5%

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JULY 5 — Egyptian exports of textiles and garments to the United States increased by 4.5 percent during the first quarter of 2010, according to a recent report, submitted to Minister of Trade and Industry Rasheed Mohamed Rasheed by the Egyptian Commercial Representation Office in Washington. The report said Egyptian exports of textiles and garments to the US markets during Q1 2010 hit 327.8 million dollars compared to 313.8 million dollars during the same period in 2009.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: No Shiite Archeologists in Salaheddin Citadel, Hawass

(ANSAmed) — Zahi Hawwas, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has dismissed as sheer lies reports that a group of Shiite archaeologists is conducting a search inside the Salaheddin Citadel in Cairo for the remains of Shiite scholars believed to have been buried beneath the walls of the citadel after being killed by Salaheddin al-Ayyoubi in the Fatimid era. The SCA’s Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Monuments is the only body in charge of issuing licenses for Egyptian and foreign teams to inspect Muslim and Coptic sites, Hawwas made it clear. Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni has denied news that excavation works are being carried out in the vicinity of the Salaheddin Citadel in Cairo. There is no such thing as cracks in the wall fence surrounding the citadel, Hosni said, stressing that all archaeological sites in this area are renovated periodically. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Oil Proceeds, 230,000 Families Benefit

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, JULY 5 — Three years on from the implementation of a programme for the redistribution of oil proceeds aiming to help the lowest earning Libyan families, the Libyan newspaper Al Jamouhirija has published figures and statistics illustrating what it calls “a positive balance”. 230,815 Libyan families have benefited from the “Programme of redistribution of oil proceeds” since its launch in 2006, as part of the special Fund for Economic and Social Development that has provided financial assistance based on investment packages that have reached 10 billion 280 million and 24 thousand Libyan dinars (around 6.3 billion euros). The figures were expressed by the secretary of the Fund, Hamed Hdiri, in an interview given yesterday to the Libyan newspaper. Hdiri said that, among these families, “around 45,912 three-person households received an investment of 30,000 dinars each (almost 18,300 euros), while 34,362 four-person households received 40,000 (24,000 euros, anmd 150,588 households of five or more people received 50,000 dinars (30,500 euros)”. The Fund secretary underlined that the programme “aimed at tackling poverty in the country and equally distributing wealth among Libyan citizens” has allowed pre-selected families to receive monthly payments, since July 1 2007, the result of interest generated by their investment portfolios that, at the end of June 2010, had reached a total of around 2 billion 616 million dinars. Hdiri says that the programme has improved the lives of those families that now have another source of income. The Fund, the newspaper reports, was created in 2006 after an initiative by the Libyan leader aiming to “make capital for needy families to give them a share of the country’s wealth”. With financial resources of 9,377 million Libyan dinars, according to figures published yesterday, the secretary said that the fund had fully implemented “the programme of wealth distribution that has served to improve living conditions”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia To Rent Agricultural Land to Foreigners

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JULY 5 — To increase agricultural production and therefore increase exports: this is the main aim of the Tunisian government’s decision to rent 9,641 hectares of agricultural land to foreign investors. The areas involved are Beni Khalled, Jelma, Tebourba and Korba, sites in the north, the south and the east of Tunisia. The source of the news, reports African Manager, is Tunisia’s Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel-PNA: Barak Meets Fayyad, Hamas Protests

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 5 — The Premier of the Palestine National Authority, Salam Fayyad, and Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, met in Jerusalem today for the first time since the re-start of peace talks between the two parties with US mediation two months ago. During the meeting it is reported that matters concerning the peace process were discussed, but mainly in practical terms, such as Palestinian preparations for the entry into the Gaza Strip, via Israeli passes, of a wide range of goods, following the revocation of Israeli import bans on a huge variety of civilian products. According to sources, the two parties went on to discuss matters of economy, security and cooperation in some joint projects. At the end of the meeting, Barak and Fayyad left without making comments to the press. According to insider sources, they have arranged for further direct meetings with each other. News of the meeting was met with condemnation in Gaza from both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hamas spokesperson, Fawzi Barhum, said the meeting “is part of a surrender to US pressure and to the orders of the Zionists (Israel) and is aimed at increasing cooperation with the enemy in the area of security in an attempt to destroy resistance and strengthen the enemy’s security”. Barhum continued: “Fayyad represents himself alone and the Authority of Fatah in the West Bank does not represent the Palestinian people. We do not accept the outcomes of their meetings and they bind neither us nor the Palestinian people”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Meets Netanyahu: No Love Fest But as Good as It’s Gonna Get

by Barry Rubin

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Why was the meeting this time between President Barack H. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a success? The answer is simple though not all the reasons are publicly known. So I’ll tell you about them.

The president couldn’t have been more effusive. They had an “excellent” discussion, Netanyahu’s sttement was “wonderful” and the U.S.-Israel relationship is “extraordinary.” Hard to believe this is the Obama we’ve seen before.

Obama wants to improve relations with Israel for several reasons. Obviously, he doesn’t want to be bashing Israel in the period leading up to the November elections is an important incentive. Polls show that for Americans his administration’s relative hostility toward Israel is its least popular policy. But there is more to this trend than just that point.

What Obama wants is to be able to claim a diplomatic success in advancing the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,” perhaps the only one he can so spin. Keeping indirect talks going and even better, moving them up to direct talks is his goal. So he wants Netanyahu’s cooperation for that.

The same point holds regarding the Gaza Strip, where Obama wants to claim he has defused a crisis he has called “unsustainable.”

(I hate that word. When you hear something is “unsustainable” immediately become suspicious. This has everything to do with perceptions and little to do with realities where quite a lot of things are quite sustainable. Pretty much every single Middle East problem has been sustained for decades.)

And he also wants to keep the Israel-Arab front calm while he deals with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, seeking above all to avoid crises and confrontations and to keep up his (bogus) bargain of trading flattery for popularity.

So here’s the deal. Give Israel some U.S. support in exchange for modest steps that the administration hopes accomplishes its goals. Israel will give some things that don’t appreciably hurt its interests in order to maintain good relations with the United States.

First, Israel has revised the list of goods it permits to go into the Gaza Strip. The details were all agreed beforehand with the United States. The Obama Administration will support Israel over Gaza generally, including endorsing its independent investigation of the flotilla issue.

As the Israeli government explained it, the new list “is limited to weapons, war materiel, and dual-use items.” Such military items include—aside from the obvious—a long list of chemicals, fertilizers, knives, optical equipment, light control equipment, missile-related computer technologies, and so on.

Israel is defining dual-use items by an international agreement, the “Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies,” and thus this should be acceptable to Western governments.

Construction material will be carefully monitored and allowed in only for specified projects. Israel will keep out dual-use goods including construction materials (concrete and pipes, for example) that can be used by Hamas to build bunkers and rockets.

At present, there are 45 such projects approved by Israel. The Palestinian Authority must also approve each one (thus, in theory, the buildings created would strengthen its popularity and influence though this is probably wishful thinking). These include school and medical buildings, water and sewage systems, and housing. If Israel determines through its multiple intelligence-collecting sources, that the material is being misused to benefit Hamas or its military strength, the supplies would be stopped.

The United States will proclaim that the alleged humanitarian crisis is over and the people of Gaza are doing just fine, ignoring their being subject to a terribly repressive dictatorship. Hamas will denounce the concessions as insufficient and continue efforts to smuggle in weapons, consolidate its rule, and turn Gaza’s little children into terrorists. This is the contemporary Western idea of a diplomatic success…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Shalit’s Parents March in Tel Aviv: ‘Barak, Wake Up’

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JULY 5 — The protest march held by the parents and supporters of Ghilad Shalit (the young soldier held hostage by Hamas for four years) made a stop in Tel Aviv on its way to Jerusalem in a bid to press the Israeli government for a rapid exchange of prisoners with the radical Islamic Palestinian faction in power in Gaza. The participants marched near to the Defence Ministry, located in the centre of Tel Aviv, and in front of the private residence of Minister Ehud Barak, repeatedly inviting him to “wake up”, the message written on their placards and banners. Aviva Shalit, the mother of the soldier held captive by Hamas, addressing a 15-20,0000-strong crowd in Rabib Square, said: “Ghilad must be brought home now while he is still alive”. The march intends to reach the official residence of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, in the next few days and the protesters plan to camp there, taking turns, together with Ghilad’s parents, until they obtain the release of the soldier. The Shalit Family, supported by a large section of public opinion, accuses the government of not having done enough. They say Netanyahu’s willingness, reasserted days ago, to liberate a thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, is insufficient, as it does not yield on several named “arch-terrorists” indicated on the list presented in the last months. Hamas told mediators from Germany and Egypt that the list was definitive. Alongside the parents’ battle, other movements have been launched by, among others, figures from the worlds of art, culture and politics, as well as by relatives of soldiers killed in battle. During the stop in Tel Aviv Meir Lau, a Holocaust-survivor and authoritative former Chief Rabbi of Israel and President of the Yad Vashem intervened as well. “It is incomprehensible”, he said, “that the weight of Israel’s national security (invoked by the government to justify its caution) should for the past four years have been placed on the shoulders of a young man”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Trust the Palestinian Authority?

Under Yasir Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization notoriously said one thing to Arab/Muslim audiences and the opposite to Israeli/Western ones, speaking venomously to the former and in dulcet tones to the latter. What about Arafat’s mild-mannered successor, Mahmoud Abbas? Did he break from this pattern of duplicity or continue it?

This question has renewed relevance because reports suggest Abbas is ready to offer Israel various territorial compromises, plus, he took unprecedented steps in granting an interview to Israeli journalists and meeting with American Jewish leaders at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

With unprecedented specificity, the Arabic daily Al-Hayat indicates, Abbas informed the Obama administration about his willingness to reach a deal on the West Bank and even Jerusalem (although the PA immediately denied these terms).


In fact, PA media churned out statements intended for the Palestinian “street” that, to put it mildly, contradicted the sweet words directed at Israelis and Americans. As news of Abbas reaching out to the other side came out, so too did reports from Palestinian Media Watch of precisely the opposite messages being conveyed to Palestinians.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Middle East

CNN Reporter on Terrorist: ‘I Respect Him a Lot’

Mideast editor mourns death of accused mastermind behind 241 American deaths

TEL AVIV — CNN’s senior Middle East affairs editor yesterday professed her “respect” for an anti-American Islamic extremist who was an ideological guide to the Hezbollah terror group and who was accused of masterminding a 1983 attack on U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.

“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot,” wrote CNN senior editor for Middle East affairs Octavia Nasr on her personal Twitter page.

Fadlallah, Lebanon’s top Shiite Muslim cleric who was once regarded as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, has a long history of supporting terrorism against the U.S. and Israel. He was accused, for example, of masterminding the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing. Although he had strenuously denied any connection to the attack, he continued to publicly support anti-American and anti-Israeli attacks.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Construction: Turkey Considers Iraq a Target Market

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 5 — Rise in maintenance and construction projects in Iraq are considered as indicators that Turkey’s construction sector would be dynamic in the coming years, Anatolia news agency reports today. “Iraq” report of the Undersecretariat of Foreign Trade Export Development Research Center said construction and contracting sector entered into a rapid growth period in Iraq. The report said destroyed buildings in Iraq were reconstructed and market for the construction materials developed. The report said, “the main infrastructure investments carried out in Iraq intensify on water supply projects, waste water purification plant, electricity power plant, hospitals, schools and housing construction, highway, airlines, bridges and port construction.” “Considering the rise in reconstruction, maintenance and construction projects, amount of the required investment is estimated to be around 100 billion USD. The market on construction materials, mainly the cement, is envisaged to be dynamic in the coming years,” the report said. The report said positive image towards Turkey, historical and cultural ties, geographical closeness, logistical advantages, influence of Turkish businessmen in Iraq, preference of Turkish projects reinforce influence of Turkey in Iraq. Turkish products are considered as symbol of quality in Iraq. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Another Christian Killed in Mosul

Behnam Sabti, a Syrian Orthodox, was killed yesterday by a bomb placed under his car. The man worked as a nurse at the state Jumhuriya hospital in Mosul. According to anonymous sources the motive of the murder is his religious identity.

Mosul (AsiaNews) — The agony continues for the Christian community of Mosul, the most dangerous city in Iraq. Yesterday July 5, in a targeted attack yet another Christian was killed. 54 year old Syrian Orthodox, Behnam Sabti worked as a nurse at the Jumhuriya state hospital of Mosul. A bomb fixed under his car exploded while the man was driving, killing him instantly. Local sources, anonymous for security reasons, tell AsiaNews, they are convinced that the motive of the murder was the man’s “religious identity”. Married with three children, he will be buried in Bashiqa Kemal, his native village in the north.

According to the latest data, released in late June by the Iraqi ministries for Defence, Health and the Interior, violence has declined on a national scale. Nevertheless, people are still despondent and living in fear. The number of Iraqis killed violently, in June, fell to 284 compared with 437 the same month in 2009.

If Iraq is experiencing a political stalemate due to protracted negotiations on forming a new government after March 7 elections, Mosul faces “a real security vacuum”, sources tell AsiaNews. In what is now the “Al Qaeda stronghold in Mesopotamia “, two types of violence take place, terrorism directed against the locals — mostly Shia — and minorities, and jihadist violence targeting American troops and their allies of the Iraqi security forces.

The streets of Mosul are patrolled by the U.S. military, about 18 Iraqi army battalions are deployed throughout the city, along with hundreds of police and checkpoints. Nevertheless, the situation remains highly uncertain, as revealed by the same American officials. And the problems “will increase when the U.S. completes the withdrawal,” says Didar Abdulla al-Zibari, a member of the local provincial council.

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

Lebanon: New Saudi Investments in the Country

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JULY 5 — Saudi Prince Al Walid Bin Talal intends to invest 1.5 billion dollars in Lebanon. The announcement was made during the official opening of the new Four Seasons in Beirut. The Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Beirut reports that the investment will be made in the hotel, tourism, IT and banking sectors. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mike Tyson Goes on Mecca Pilgrimage

FORMER boxing champion Mike Tyson, who converted to Islam while in jail in the 1990s, is visiting the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina on pilgrimage.

Tyson, who was world heavyweight champion from 1986 to 1990, arrived on Friday in Medina with the Canadian Dawa Association for the umrah, or minor pilgrimage, the newspaper Okaz said.

From Medina he will travel on to Mecca and plans to visit other Saudi cities, it reported.

Tyson, 44, converted to Islam while serving a 10-year prison sentence, later commuted to three years, for raping a US beauty queen in 1991.

After prison he attempted a comeback, but he was never able to regain his title and finally gave up professional boxing in 2005.

Last January, he took part in a WWE Raw pro wrestling event in the United States.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Assyrians Are Back as Businesspeople

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 30 — Assyrian businesspeople that migrated to Europe from Southeast Anatolia are now returning to Turkish city of Mardin to invest, the daily Milliyet reported Tuesday. Members of the community are planning investments in Mardin, which has a mixed population of Kurds, Turks, Assyrians, Arabs, as well as a small community of Armenians, the paper said, adding that the businesspeople are heeding a call from the Tigris Development Agency, or DIKA. Abdullah Erin, chief of DIKA, which works to facilitate investments in Mardin, Batman, Sirnak and Siirt, said an Assyrian business delegation of 25 people had come to Mardin from Switzerland in the search for investment opportunities. “A while ago, we met with Assyrian businesspeople with origins in (the Mardin district of) Midyat,” Erin told the daily. “They told us they would visit Mardin together with investors from Switzerland. A short while ago, the visit took place.” The business delegation showed a keen interest in viniculture, filigree silver embroidery and tourism, according to Erin. “They could also invest in wind energy,” he said. DIKA is working to attract domestic and foreign investment to the region, Erin also said. “We are talking with big companies with investment potential. We are telling them about government incentives and the advantages DIKA would provide. Currently, there is serious tourism activity in Mardin.” International hotel chains are also showing interest in Mardin, a city whose history dates back to 4,500 B.C. The city currently has a bed capacity of 1,300, but Hilton is building a new hotel, Milliyet said and Turkish hotel chain Dedeman is looking at the possibility of investing. Three investors originally from Mardin may also invest in the sector, Milliyet said without naming the investors. If all these investments take place, the bed capacity of the city would triple. Other cities in the region are also attracting investments. The annulment of visa rules with Syria has had a positive effect on tourism investments especially, Milliyet reported. Sanliurfa Governor Nuri Okutan said the construction of the Sheraton and Hilton hotels in the city was ongoing, while representatives from other hotel chains such as Hyatt, Eresin, Gural and Ibis were also planning to invest in the area. Akif Gur, chairman of Turkish company Golden Park, said there were firm plans to build a five-star hotel in Batman, a first for the impoverished province. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Mixed Marriages Often Do Not Work, But Some Mixed Couples Are Happy, Bangladeshi Priest Says

In the predominantly Muslim country, mixed marriages often fail over financial problems and religious differences. Fr Shorot Francis Gomes, a member of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, has been helping couples since 2005 to understand the sacrament and mystery of the calling of Jesus within their union.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — In Bangladesh, “most mixed marriages do not work; they end up creating confusion in the children who do not know what religion to follow. But there are also some mixed couples who are also happy families,” said Fr Shorot Francis Gomes, deputy rector of the Holy Spirit Major Seminar in Dhaka and a member of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WME), a Catholic outreach organisation that enriches and supports families through the teachings of the Gospel.

In Bangladesh, 85 per cent of the country’s 140 million people are Muslim. Christians represent only 0.7 per cent. According to Fr Gomes, marriage between people from different religious backgrounds is a problem that compounds existing challenges associated with poverty and the lack of education among young people.

“We see married couples suffering, having many problems; the first one is when one of the two does not heed the emotional, physical and economic needs of the other. However, these are not the real difficulties. Couples need to understand the sacrament and mystery of the calling of Jesus within their union.”

For Fr Gomes, educating the young to understand marriage and the responsibilities that come with that sacrament is something important. Internet and social networks provide an opportunity to educate young couples.

“Many families are often led astray by these networks, but I think they can also be a gift if used appropriately,” the clergyman said.

“When Christ becomes the centre of the family, everything changes and life becomes full of joy and hope,” he added.

WME was created in 1953 in Spain. It currently operates in 87 countries, including Bangladesh since 2005.

Its purpose is to help couples live their intimacy in a responsible way based on the sacramental value of the union between a man and a woman through the assistance of priests and the Christian community.

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

Corruption in Afghanistan

US Cuts Aid After Millions Siphoned Off to Dubai

By Susanne Koelbl

Billions of dollars are being secreted out of Kabul to help well-connected Afghans buy luxury villas in Dubai. Amid concerns that the money could be the result of corruption, American politicians have temporarily cut off aid to the Afghan government.

Brigadier General Mohammed Asif Jabarkhel sits with folded arms in his office, just a few steps away from the security checkpoint at Kabul International Airport. “Of course I know what’s going on here,” the 59-year-old head of the airport’s customs police grumbles from beneath his thick moustache as a fan whirs in the background. “But, in this country, who’s allowed to speak the truth?”

Jabarkhel is referring to the huge amounts of money regularly being secreted out of Afghanistan by plane in boxes and suitcases. According to some estimates, since 2007, at least $3 billion (€2.4 billion) in cash has left the country in this way. The preferred destination for these funds is Dubai, the tax haven in the Persian Gulf. And, given the fact that Afghanistan’s total GDP amounts to the equivalent of $13.5 billion, there is no way that the funds involved in this exodus are merely the proceeds of legal business transactions.

Jabarkhel complains that all of his many attempts to stop this hemorrhaging have failed. “The central bank has reached an agreement with the government that makes these kinds of transfers supposedly legal,” he says. “And whenever we try to look into where the money is coming from, pressure comes from the very top.”

Since invading Afghanistan in 2001, the United States alone has invested almost $300 billion in military and reconstruction efforts there. But far less progress has been made than what was either hoped for or expected. One major reason for this could be the fact that a significant portion of the millions meant for reconstructive efforts continue to be siphoned off. The people benefiting are often those who enjoy extremely close business ties with the donor countries.

It is clear that much more money is making its way out of Afghanistan through Kabul’s airport than is being officially declared and logged. For example, important politicians and businesspeople can often board planes from the airport’s special VIP area without being searched. And if customs officials do conduct a search and find a suitcase stuffed with millions of dollars in cash, people with powerful connections often step in to make sure that the luggage makes it out of the country with its owner — no questions asked. “A couple phone calls are made,” General Jabarkhel says with frustration in his voice, “and the person can carry on.”

From Golf to Graft

Over the past nine years, Afghanistan has been a goldmine for quite a few adventurous businesspeople. The most successful of them are often related to members of the government, who give them unsurpassed access to the top decision-makers. And their financial transactions are, of course, far from transparent.

A number of Afghan businesspeople have purchased expensive villas in Dubai, once only attractive as a golfer’s paradise. These include a brother and a cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, one of Karzai’s former vice presidents and the brother of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one of the country’s two current vice presidents. Asking prices for the stylish, Roman-style houses built along the beaches of the man-made island Palm Jumeirah, for example, start at $2 million. Until just a few years ago, many of their current inhabitants were far from wealthy.

As the Washington Post has discovered, these properties are often only registered under the names of the individuals issuing the loans, such as Sherkhan Farnood, the founder and chairman of Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s largest private bank, who was also a key supporter of President Karzai during his 2009 re-election campaign. Like many of his clients, Farnood now spends the majority of his time in Dubai. And among the 16 shareholders in his bank are Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s business-minded older brother, and Haseen Fahim, the brother of Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

Most financial transactions in Afghanistan continue to be conducted through so-called “hawalas,” traditional Islamic money-transferring outfits based more on honor and good faith than receipts, a fact that makes it more or less impossible for Western corruption investigators to trace the flow of money.

According to the Washington Post, Farnood also operates a Dubai-registered hawala in Kabul. Its chief audit officer says that it helped transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from Afghanistan to Dubai in 2009 . In any case, that would be significantly more than the $150 million that people borrowing [jw5] from Farnood’s bank have officially invested in properties in Dubai.

Cutting Off the Money

In the summer of 2009, the amount of money leaving Afghanistan became a bit clearer when the international security company Global Strategies Group took over responsibility for providing security at Kabul’s airport and began filing reports on the money transfers. For a while, the company reported frequently to Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence service. But, according to the newspaper, the company quit filing these reports in September because it was apparently no longer desired by higher-ups.

Reports on cases of persistent corruption like this have enraged American politicians and led a key panel to approve a freeze on the $3.9 billion in aid for Afghanistan’s government already earmarked for the 2011 budget year. Nita Lowey, the chairwoman of the foreign aid appropriations subcommittee [jw9] of the US House of Representatives, told her colleagues last Wednesday: “I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists.”

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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


Germany: Fewer Migrant Children Finish High School

Efforts to boost the numbers of immigrant children finishing school have fallen flat, according to a government report to be released Wednesday, which shows the problem has actually become worse.

The integration report, to be presented in Berlin on Wednesday, found that 13.3 percent of children with immigrant backgrounds are leaving school without a certificate — one third more than in previous years — daily Die Welt reported on Tuesday.

The report found that while there is a small group of elite, immigrant youngsters who are gaining high qualifications, there is a growing number who have virtually no prospect of gaining an apprenticeship or training place after school — and therefore little chance of entering the job market.

The 13.3 percent of immigrant children aged 15 to 19 who are leaving without a certificate is a sharp rise on the 10.8 percent in 2005 and 10 percent in 2007.

It is also a problem among the broader German population, the report says, with the number of students leaving without any qualification climbing across the board from 5.4 percent in 2005 to 7 percent.

The report follows the recent release of a damning report that found that just one-tenth of students from immigrant backgrounds graduated from elite, university-track high schools under Germany’s tripartite school system.

That compared poorly with the one third of German students graduating from a Gymnasium, according to the study by Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband, an organisation dedicated to social justice.

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

Hezbollah Honcho Busted at His Tijiuana Mx Home

I’ve been stating for a while that securing the border with Mexico is a matter of national security. Long-term readers of this blog also know that Hezbollah is carrying out operations in Latin America, frequently associated with drugs. Now this,

Hezbollah leader living across US border in Tijuana

My my… more evidence bubbles to the surface that the US-Mexican border war is about more than the civil rights of illegal immigrants… or the anticipated built in voter bloc for desperate Dems. Today brings good news that the Mexican police are actively working to thwart Hezbollah’s attempt to gain a foothold there. A surveillance operation focused on Hezbollah leader, Jameel Nasr, resulted in his arrest at his Tijuana home. Nasr employed Mexican nationals with family ties to Lebanon for his Hezbollah/Mexico network.

Haaretz reports,

Mexico thwarts Hezbollah bid to set up South American network

Militant group employed Mexican nationals with ties to Lebanon to target Israel and the West, Kuwaiti newspaper reports…

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]

Illegal Immigration Costs U.S. $113 Billion a Year, Study Finds

The cost of harboring illegal immigrants in the United States is a staggering $113 billion a year — an average of $1,117 for every “native-headed” household in America — according to a study conducted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

The study, a copy of which was provided to, “is the first and most detailed look at the costs of illegal immigration ever done,” says Bob Dane, director of communications at FAIR, a conservative organization that seeks to end almost all immigration to the U.S.

FAIR’s opponents in the bitter immigration debate describe the organization as “extremist,” though it is regularly called upon to testify before Congress.

Groups that support immigration reform immediately attacked FAIR’s report and pointed out that it is the polar opposite of the Perryman Report, a 2008 study that found illegal immigration was actually a boon to the American economy. It estimated that illegal immigrants add $245 billion in Gross Domestic Product to the economy and account for 2.8 million jobs.

The FAIR report comes as President Obama moves immigration reform to the top of his agenda, and it is likely to be a rallying point for those who oppose the president. At a speech Thursday at American University in Washington, D.C., Obama argued that the entire immigration system is broken and needs sweeping reforms. Among the changes he said are needed is “a path for [farm] workers to earn legal status,” which the president’s critics called an opening for a new amnesty program.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy: Maroni, After Lampedusa There’s Malpensa

(ANSAmed) — MALPENSA (VARESE), JULY 5 — Having solved the crisis of landings at Lampedusa, “Malpensa airport is now the front line for entry of illegal immigrants, because Lampedusa has now been out of the flows of illegal immigrants from Libya for a year now”. This is the statement made by Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, as he presented research into actions taken to combat illegal immigration at Milan’s Malpensa airport. According to Maroni, “patrols of the Libyan coast closed this route and hardly anyone arrived in Lampedusa during the first months of this year”. For which reason Italy’s authorities have now turned their attention to arrivals by air, and Malpensa airport is the first to come under close scrutiny. “The air frontier is the most deceptive one, which is why I am going to bring the research study to the attention of the European Commission at its upcoming Cabinet at the beginning of October. This is because, as the Schengen area is being extended, it makes sense to include other points of access such as the continent’s airports under protection”. Sponsored by SEA, the company managing Milan’s airports, the study argues that the closure of the sea routes into Italy — a country “of destination but also of transit towards central and western Europe — is pushing ‘irregular’ migratory flows towards new access points. And Europe’s airports are among these: not just Malpensa, but also Paris Charles de Gaulle, London Heathrow, Frankfort and Amsterdam, “constitute the main points of airborne immigration” to the continent. This trend represents a lucrative business, the report says, for organised criminal gangs: the price of an ‘airborne escape’ from a war-stricken country has been calculated at around 15,000 euros. So, the study summarises, “the role of Europe’s airports and their security and surveillance systems have become increasingly crucial”, for checking documents and gathering information. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Immigration Speech

On July 1st, 2010, President Obama delivered a speech on immigration at the American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C.

If you desire, you can read the whole thing right here. In the meantime, let’s analyze some excerpts and see what he had to say on the subject.

President Obama said that,

“Of course, the tensions around immigration are not new. On the one hand, we’ve always defined ourselves as a nation of immigrants — a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s precepts.”

This hackneyed expression, “nation of immigrants,” used by both political parties, is used to shut people up who don’t want open borders. Semantically, it’s meaningless. Look at the history of any country in the world, and it was formed by some sort of immigration. In this, the U.S. is not unique.

The U.S. is not “a nation of immigrants.” It’s a nation of American citizens. And if immigrants don’t become Americans, then, the country will cease to exist.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Deportation Flights to Resume to Africa

Forced deportation flights of rejected asylum seekers will start again this month, having been suspended following the death of a Nigerian in March.

However, the presence of extra medical supervision on board has generated a controversy.

“Transported like packages,” is how human rights organisations describe deportations of people who have had applications for asylum turned down and who do not want to return home voluntarily.

On these flights, men — women are never involved — are bound in such a way that they can neither stand up nor stretch out their arms in front of them.

“There have been deaths in Britain, France and all countries that deport people in this way,” said Lilo König, co-founder of Zurich’s Augenauf human rights organisation.

On March 17, Switzerland witnessed its third death under these conditions. Alex K., a 29-year-old convicted drug dealer, suffered a heart attack and died at Zurich airport.

The heart attack was probably brought on by the fact that the man had been on a hunger strike and was in a stressed state at the time, according to the Zurich cantonal justice authorities’ report published on June 28.

He was suffering from a serious heart condition that had not been diagnosed. The report noted that the condition is “almost impossible” to detect while a patient is alive.

The Federal Migration Office paid SFr50,000 ($43,500) to his family as a “humanitarian gesture” towards the family and to help to pay for the funeral costs.

The death resulted in all deportation flights being temporarily suspended until the cause of death of the Nigerian asylum seeker was known.

“Inhumane and unworthy”

But the justice authorities’ report is confidential and several questions remain unanswered.

“What is described as a ‘stressed state’ is very vague,” said Thomas Schnyder, a member of the association for independent doctors, which pushes for “a fair and social health system”.

“We know that extreme external stress situations can put a person’s life in danger, even with young athletes.”

He added that it’s not necessary to have a pre-existing heart problem to be at risk.

“Forced immobilisation for more than ten hours, including having to wear a helmet, the inability to urinate or eat without assistance — these are not only inhumane and unworthy practices, but also significant stress factors,” he said.

The association for independent doctors and Augenauf have called for forced deportations to be halted, with the former saying doctors should refuse to take part.

Psychological pressure

Medical supervision on flights is the plan of the Federal Migration Office, which coordinates the deportations along with the 26 cantonal justice and police authorities.

From July, when such flights will resume to Africa, a doctor and a first-aid worker will be on board and will monitor the medical situation of those being sent back.

“We’re in the process of gathering a group of doctors,” said Urs von Arb, head of the deportation section. “Obviously some are refusing. That could also be for logistical reasons.”

The issue of having doctors on the flights also concerns Jacques de Haller, president of the Swiss doctors’ association.

He believes each doctor should decide depending on their conscience. “But people are kidding themselves if they think rejected asylum seekers are going to go peacefully just because there’s a doctor on board,” he said.

Do the doctors not risk being exploited? “Ethical directives for doctors are important,” says de Haller. “A medical opinion must not be a factor in whether to deport someone or not — but furthermore the doctor must be able to withdraw at any moment.”

De Haller also argues that “only doctors that have been trained for this — such as prison doctors — should be solicited. These situations exert a serious psychological pressure on the doctor”.

Independent observers

Amnesty International is calling for a revision of the entire forced deportation policy.

“The problem is that the rejected asylum seekers are sometimes put on such flights without knowing it,” said Manon Schick from the human rights organisation’s Swiss section.

“Some try to get back money from postal accounts, which is enough to get them branded stubborn by the authorities. With the rare exception, prison directors don’t tell them that several police officers are going to take them from their cell at the crack of dawn, restrain them and take them by force onto an airplane,” she said.

“And we don’t understand why the government still hasn’t looked into the use of independent observers, something it must do by 2011. The presence of doctors is a step in the right direction, but it’s not their role to judge the situation in its entirety and any possible insults or reactions.”

The Federal Migration Office did not reply to’s questions concerning independent observers.

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

Culture Wars

A Socialist on the High Court?

Elena Kagan’s controversial “Final Conflict” thesis on socialism was written in 1981 when she was 21 years old. Professor Harvey Klehr, an expert on the socialist and communist movements, told me that while he sensed “a lurking sympathy” in the document for the left-wing of the Socialist Party, he didn’t find a “red flag” that would derail her nomination. Kagan’s thesis covered the rise and fall of the socialist movement in New York City from 1900-1933.

Clearly, however, the socialist movement has risen again, under the cover of the “progressive” tradition that includes not only the President who appointed Kagan but her backers at the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP).

The embrace of Kagan by this movement is the real “red flag.” But Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) has noted in an editorial the “free ride” that Kagan has received in her confirmation hearings, as Republican senators have mostly “played dead” and the major media have acted as “compliant shills” for the nomination. Yet, as noted by IBD, Kagan has a radical record that includes:

* Twisting scientific findings in order to protect the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion. * Banning military recruiters at Harvard Law School to please radical homosexual activists. * Arguing as solicitor general that books, and maybe pamphlets, too, might not be worthy of First Amendment protection. * Seeming to agree that it would be constitutional for the federal government to tell people what to eat.

As we have seen with Van Jones, who has been rehired by CAP, it is today fashionable in left-wing or “progressive” circles to be a socialist and even communist revolutionary. This wasn’t always the case.


In analyzing the more recent history of socialism, a good place to start is Henry Wallace’s Third Party movement in 1948, the Progressive Party. Wallace was not an insignificant figure, having been vice president in Franklin Roosevelt’s third term.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Spain: New Abortion Law in Force But Court May Suspend it

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JULY 5 — Spain’s new law on sexual and reproductive health has come into force, which for the first time legalises the voluntary interruption of pregnancies before the 14th week of gestation, although this regulation has still to be approved by the Constitutional Court — says a report in El Pais. The law overhauls the previous legislation of 1985 which had de-penalised abortion only in cases of rape (up until the 12th week), of foetal malformation (22nd week) or in the case of risks to the mental or physical health of the mother (without a time limit). This latter reason was the one utilised by the overwhelming majority of women (96.7% in 2008) in cases of voluntary interruption. As with the previous law, Spain’s Constitutional Court will now have to rule on its constitutionality, having accepted an appeal from the Popular Party and the government of the Navarre region calling for it to be suspended in lieu of high-court ruling on whether the law contravenes the right to life. The Court is expected to decide on the question of a possible suspension over the coming days. The most hotly-debated part of the new law is that relating to 16 and 17-year-old girls, who will be able to decide alone whether or not to continue with a pregnancy or to interrupt it, although they will have to inform at least one parent who will then accompany them to the centre for the abortion to be performed. In 2009, 115,000 abortions were carried out in Spain, 3.2% more than in 2009.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]