Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100716

Financial Crisis
»EFH Offers to Exchange More Debt for Pennies on the Dollar
»Rabid Mass Austerity
»Scott Brown, Others Help Pass Obama’s Finance Bill
»Oil Spill: Lockerbie; Senate Committee Wants BP Hearing
»Ron Paul Helps Obama Slash National Defense
Europe and the EU
»Cyprus: Police Ban Use of Vuvuzelas in Stadiums
»Fr. Samir: French Ban on Burqa a Welcome Law!
»Germany: ‘Sharp’ Rocket Set to Revolutionise Space Travel
»Heat Wave in Italy, Red Alert for 18 Cities
»Historians Locate King Arthur’s Round Table
»Italy: Power Consumption Reaches 2010 Peak
»Malmö: A Decade With the Öresund Bridge
»Scotland: SNP Moves on Infiltration Fears
»Spain: Zapatero, Get Rid of Prostitution Ads in Newspapers
»UK: A Political Culture Gone Bad
»UK: Knightsbridge is London’s Pop-Up Oasis
»UK: Why Don’t Black People Camp?
North Africa
»Italy’s Undersecretary: Italian Girls Found in Tunisia
»Tunisia Aims to Develop Wine Sector
Israel and the Palestinians
»EU Economic/Military Commitment in Gaza, Lieberman
»Israel: Shin Bet Uproar After Right-Wing Arrest
Middle East
»Muslim Terror Magazine “Inspire” In English
»Turkey Takes the Fight to PKK, Enlists Help of Syria, Iran
»Turkey: Parliament Approves Construction of 1st Nuclear Plant
»What Really Happened on the Mavi Marmara and Some Revealing Events in the Middle East Today
»Diana West: Why Do We See Real Spies as Hollywood Fiction?
South Asia
»Pakistan: Christians Flee Violence by Islamic Extremists in Faisalabad
»Three Soldiers Wounded in Afghanistan
Far East
»Chinese Censorship Up, But Green Dam Software Fails
»Remittances by Filipino Migrant Workers Up by 6 Per Cent
»70 Egyptians Repatriated From Sicily
»Immigration Now a Top Concern Among Latinos, Poll Shows
Culture Wars
»Swedes Incur US Anger Over ‘Slacker’ Jesus Show

Financial Crisis

EFH Offers to Exchange More Debt for Pennies on the Dollar

Energy Future Holdings offered again to exchange old debt for new notes for pennies on the dollar in a bid to cut debt by up to $900 million.

The Dallas power company also said in the filing announcing the exchange that its net losses widened in the second quarter to $426 million compared with $155 million a year ago.

Operating revenue dropped to $2 billion from $2.3 billion for the quarter.

EFH said it offered to exchange $2.15 billion in debt that matures in 2017 for fresh notes due in 2020 plus $500 million in cash.

The last time EFH offered to exchange old debt of a lower amount of new debt, lenders weren’t very enthusiastic. Few accepted the deal.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Rabid Mass Austerity

What happens when suddenly most everyone stops buying stuff? The cream is gone off the top. There is no more discretionary income. Now comes the hard part. We only buy what we must have and the rest is simply forgotten. What can you do without? Credit card addicted USA consumers are desperately using plastic for groceries, utilities and emergencies. When those cards are tapped out, then what? Already, many of them are, and they’re card-defaulting while running for food stamps. Big banks reported today card collections are not good at all.

The fool’s paradise known as Washington, D.C. continues in a horrid vacuum of zero leadership. Various mammoth departments continue to operate as individual fiefdoms bouncing off the walls and careening toward the ultimate tragedy as our kid president whistles past the graveyard. Meanwhile, two wars are running full blast, the nation has no budget, the oil spill grows worse and USA borders are wide open for every terrorist in the world-all in the name of power and votes.

Someone wrote many years ago that the entire life of most countries-societies is 250 years. If this is true, the USA has about 16 years remaining before the big breakup. I seriously wonder if we can even make it through the next 16 years. The way things are going, will our nation resemble anything like just a few years ago? We are all broke and this is when things go violent. Hot summer ahead and it started right on time per our old forecast yesterday in Los Angeles, California.

Obama-Economics spends like our government money pit is bottomless. It is not. Our Northern Advisor has watched this stuff for years, much of it first hand. His key point: “Many times the stupid reaction of government to emergencies is not necessarily due to ignorance and disorganization. Often the budgets are not available in advance of major trouble to instantly react and they simply don’t have the money or authority to quickly spend. We saw this in Katrina and now with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

I never thought of this idea considering the way government tosses cash into the wind. Most would say go spend it now, solve the problem and sort it out later. Government budgeting is laid out in neat little boxes; quite compartmented to say the least. They can easily waste $2 Billion in a flash if the needs are budget covered. However, if a national catastrophe like Katrina or, the BP oil spill hits, pre-planning does not cover nor cope.

Further, all the marvelously stupid bureaurat red tape rules residing in 150 agencies have roadblocks in place to avoid emergency management like the Coast Guard recalling Louisiana spill control ships back to port for not having life jackets. We respect the rule but how about someone letting them continue to work and provide the jackets on an emergency basis keeping the spill contained. Nope. It won’t work that way. Our advisor says they simply are not prepared for these emergencies and never will be. Surprised?

We suggest the worst Achilles Heel is storms, and extended power outages from our creaky half-century old electric grid system. When your power is off, you are finished. I think about recent winter storms in Kentucky when thousands had no power for several weeks in very cold weather. This means no lights, communications, i-net, television, refrigeration and the inability to get fresh food. Most when hit with this dilemma just give-up and run for government help. Thankfully, the Red Cross does good work to help ease the pain, but they are not really the government but a charity designed to help those in need. They cannot, however, begin to do it all.

Thinking on this, I can see more reasons why the Sheeple had better get busy and learn to take care of themselves…

           — Hat tip: Derius[Return to headlines]

Scott Brown, Others Help Pass Obama’s Finance Bill

WASHINGTON — With help from three Republican senators who crossed the aisle, the Democrat-controlled Senate Thursday handed President Obama what could be regarded as his greatest victory to date — approving the 2,315-page financial regulatory bill two weeks after the House had passed the measure.

Titled the Frank-Dodd Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection act, after Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, the Democratic committee chairmen who authored the bill, it’s intended to usher in the stiffest regulatory restrictions on the American economy since the Great Depression.

Although the Democrats hold a clear majority in the Senate, they needed a super majority of 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Sen. Robert Byrd’s death two weeks ago left a seat vacant, causing Democrats to scramble about to make sure they had the votes needed for passage.

The problem was solved when Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts announced their support for the measure Monday.


Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government, slammed the Frank-Dodd bill as “one more piece of liberty lost.”

“The American people have lost one more piece of their liberty, as the Senate has voted to create a hidden, permanent bailout that will enable faceless bureaucrats to levy taxes, bail out politically-privileged institutions and to seize and liquidate politically-unconnected ones, redistributing their assets to favored constituencies, like unions,“ Wilson declared.

“There will be no votes in Congress like TARP ever again, as Congress has abdicated the power to tax and spend elsewhere,” Wilson explained, adding, “Which solves a political problem for members of Congress, but is really just a con game so that they don’t have to take responsibility for unpopular bailouts and government takeovers.” (emphasis added)

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Oil Spill: Lockerbie; Senate Committee Wants BP Hearing

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, JULY 16 — The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate would like to interrogate BP on the role played by the oil company in the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Bassett Ali al Megrahi.

Hearings on the release of the Lockerbie bomber by Scotland were requested by the Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Megrahi was transferred to Libya in August 2009.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Ron Paul Helps Obama Slash National Defense

In line with Obama chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel’s admonition that no crisis should go to waste, the Obama Administration is preparing to use the matter of massive debt and deficits to push for drastic cuts in our national U.S. military budget. The proposed cuts, which total $960 billion, could leave the U.S. as a second-rate military power.

Playing a critical role in the effort is Rep. Ron Paul, who is generally considered by his followers to be an opponent of Obama’s liberal agenda. His son Rand Paul is running for the Senate in Kentucky as a libertarian Republican who believes in a strong national defense.

Rep. Paul has called for a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and has joined with the far-left in Congress to urge reductions in funding for the war effort there. He calls the U.S. military effort to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban an “occupation” of the country and “an ill-advised quagmire with no end in sight.” He says the effort is too expensive and won’t be successful. “It is time to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans to sort out,” he says.


Under the “Sustainable Defense Task Force” plan advanced by the so-called “odd couple” of Reps. Ron Paul (R-Tx.) and Barney Frank (D-Ma.), the U.S. Navy would be cut to 230 combat ships (from a planned number of 313). Under President Reagan, the U.S. had come close to achieving a 600-ship Navy.

Other proposals include:

  • Reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
  • Slash spending on missile defense and space.
  • Retire two Navy aircraft carriers and two naval air wings.
  • Reduce F-35 fighter procurement by 220 aircraft.
  • Cancel or delay the Joint Strike Fighter.
  • End procurement of the MV-22 Osprey.

Rep. Frank, one of the most left-wing members of Congress, created the “Sustainable Defense Task Force” that came up with the cuts and worked in cooperation with Reps. Paul, Walter Jones (R-N.C.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Their plan is designed to serve as a model for Obama’s proposed cuts.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Cyprus: Police Ban Use of Vuvuzelas in Stadiums

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, JULY 16 — Police in Cyprus are banning the use of vuvuzelas in all athletic stadiums. The Police issued an announcement saying that vuvuzelas, the metre-long plastic trumpets, best made famous at South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup, are from now on banned in all stadiums in Cyprus. According to the announcement, vuvuzelas will be confiscated by the Police if transferred to the athletic stadiums. The Police note that vuvuzelas are considered as dangerous since “a dangerous object is any object that can be used in such a manner that could cause body harm or material damage”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Fr. Samir: French Ban on Burqa a Welcome Law!

For the expert on Islam, the law is an invitation for European Muslims to strive for integration and marginalize Salafi trends of opposition and conflict. Moreover, the burqa has no justification in the Koran or Islamic tradition, it is merely a custom of Saudi Arabia (and some other countries) which confirms chauvinism and the “the woman’s grave”.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — What happened? Two days ago the French parliament passed a law banning the complete covering the face in public places, making it illegal to wear a burqa. The amazing fact is the unanimous nature of the vote (355 out of 500, only 1 against). There has been talk of banning the burqa for over a year in France. Initially, a police survey stated that the phenomenon involved a few hundred. But today — in a similar manner to Islamic countries — there are at least 2 000 people who wear the full veil in France. Likewise, in Egypt, from a few hundred in 2001, that number has now reached up to 16% of women.

Now France is talking about 2000, but if nothing is done, the problem will mushroom. It will spread because it is born of an ideological position. Where does this desire to completely cover women come from?

The burqa is not Islamic

From the start, it needs to be said that there is not the slightest reference in the Koran or Islamic tradition (Sunnah) regarding this issue. Therefore it is not an Islamic norm. None of the Koranic scholars dare say so, but there are many who claim that it is a religious norm.

Its use however is widespread in some countries of Muslim tradition: Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan. The chador has nothing to do with the burqa or the niqab (Arabic word). The burqa is therefore an exception and not a rule at all. But unfortunately these countries — particularly Saudi Arabia — dominate ideology in the Muslim world, their customs, thanks to Saudi Arabia’s money, is becoming more widespread.

For example, millions of Egyptian workers, on returning from working in Saudi Arabia, start living according to Saudi tradition (not Islamic!) forcing their wives also to follow suit. Sometimes they even receive financial support .

The Egyptian man, seeing Saudi women completely covered, grows used to it and feels heartened in his manhood, which moreover is supported — in this case yes — by the Koran itself [1]. Thus, the traditional woman has always understood that to be religious she must be obedient to her husband. So much so that if her husband forbids her to go to pray in the mosque and she goes anyway, she is actually committing a greater sin than not going to the mosque!

There is therefore a predisposition in both sexes to keep wives fully covered, which stems from male jealousy and the subjugation of women. Some women, wearing the burqa, feel protected from inquisitive eyes of men.

It must be said that in many Muslim countries the burqa has been banned because (as in Tunisia) “it is not part of our tradition “, in Turkey it is forbidden in the name of secularism. In Egypt, in November 2009, the late Rector of the Islamic Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the highest religious authority in Egypt, banned it, saying to students: “The niqab is only a custom, it has no link with Islam, neither close or distant!”. In February 2010, Egyptian Prime Minister Nazif, called it “a denial of woman!

So who are those people who want to wear it at all costs in Europe? And why? Usually they belong to the “Salafi” trend, which preaches a return to the tradition the first century of Islam. This is common in many groups of Islamic activists, who attract many European women often through marriage. Years ago I was invited to lecture at Göttingen (Germany) on women in Islam. Those who attacked me were not the Muslim Turks in the room, but only three German women doctors, who had converted to Islam. Wearing the veil, they continued to claim that Islam is the best religion for women.

In fact in France the full veil is worn by women who have never worn it before and also by converts. For this we can conclude that the choice to wear the full veil is not born of tradition or religious values, but a ideological spirit that preaches a return to the cultural tradition of seventh century Arabia, often in opposition to the West.

Moreover, its overnight appearance and its spread is due to recent publicity regarding its use in the Islamic world. With the burqa, they claim to be the only truly authentic Muslims.

The European reaction to the full veil

Europe is reacting to the burqa in a firm and decided manner: since yesterday there is a law against it in France, in Belgium there has been a law banning the full veil for several months, the burqa is banned in Barcelona and it is discussed in other parts of continent.

Europeans are against the burqa because it goes against the European tradition: wearing it is in fact a way to reject integration into European culture.

The phenomenon is small — for now — and involves a few thousand women, but creates immediate revulsion. This dress in one piece of cloth, black, a sort of “ woman’s grave” it makes them seem like “walking ghosts”. It has become a symbol of the subjugation of women and goes against equality between men and women.

For some time now attempts have been made in the West to reject visible distinctions that create divisions between men and women. But in Arab world as well, since the 1920’s there has been a massive movement, with demonstrations and sit-ins against the veil. And there is a whole genre of feminist literature in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere, part of the 1930s campaign against the veil which was a great success. Some imams supported their position. At that time there was no talk of the full veil, even the simple veil was condemned.

Reading the text of the 2007 “Riyadh Declaration”[2], we note that invited Muslim countries start with a premise: We want to reach the world and move towards progress. But this wave of the return of the burqa goes in the opposite direction to progress and is motivated by ideological ends!

On the other hand, the West has its own ideology and sees its use as a humiliation of women. The text of the French law, proposed by Justice Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie said that full covering of the face is contrary to the values of the republic.

It only seems right that the French should defend their culture. The parliamentarians reaction was completely unanimous (only one vote against) . Even the French Socialists — who abstained — have always been against it. When the law was passed in Belgium there were only two against.

This consensus shows that we are touching something important in Western minds. If one considers the ease with which France gives citizenship to migrants, one concludes that the nation has a strong desire for integration. But if the persons in question react by rejecting French or European culture, while simultaneously wanting to live in France or in Europe, then this creates a contradiction and a problem.

The Muslim response

According to the reactions I’ve read and after participating in several forums on the French law, I can say that the majority of Muslim men and women are against the full veil. Only the fundamentalists (the Salafis) are in favour of it. Yet the majority of Muslims in Europe and France seem to be against this law. I can think that this is only for psychological reasons. “We — they say — are the community that is always pointed out as dangerous, we are victims of Islamophobia, it is an attack against Islam, we are always painted as the bad guys ….

Actually it is the other way round: there is a campaign against Western culture in the Islamic world — at least by a part of Muslims. So who is the aggressor and who the aggrieved? Each group can certainly make judgments about the goodness or otherwise of one or another culture. But if a Westerner is to live in Egypt and then spits on Egyptian culture, at best he should leave. If he does not like the culture if there is no shared feeling, why stay? My culture may have some flaws, but then let us work to change it together, do not despise it from the outset.

Well I have rarely seen Muslims that encourage other fellow Muslims to integrate and fit into the community where they live, the culture of the country where they are. Yet this should be their first natural attitude: gratitude to the country where they are and pride of belonging to this country.

And this raises a question: is being a Muslim or Christian or Jew antagonistic to “being Italian or Moroccan, or Russian? Can we equate religious identity and national identity? Still today, in the West, if people are introducing themselves to a group, they say: “I’m German, or Polish, or Egyptian”, but no one thinks of saying “I am a Christian.” For the Muslims, the answer is often “I am a Muslim”, as if it indicated belonging to a homeland. The result is a dual belonging, as if saying “I am French, but Muslim.” This evokes the attitude of the Jews in 1800, analyzed by Karl Marx in his book “The Jewish Question” (Zur Judenfrage, 1843) in response to the study of the theologian Bruno Bauer, published a few months before with the same title.

I would therefore like to say to the Muslims; it is up to you to educate your people, encouraging them towards integration and not confrontation. Why do your thousands of imams — often paid for by Muslim countries and not by communities in Europe — not teach integration with European culture? Maybe because they are in the front line of those who are anti-Western!

Instead of criticizing the French government or some other European government, why not undertake a little self-criticism, condemn terrorism and those who oppose integration!

In France the Muslim community is not for violence but no Muslim ever come out onto the streets to condemn fundamentalism and Salafism. Yet the struggle against fundamentalism is one of the most urgent priorities of the same Islamic countries. It is now clear that it is fundamentalism that is holding back the development of the Muslim world, right up to the point of becoming fanaticism, which can lead to terrorism.

The law, an invitation to the Muslims of Europe

The recently voted French law seems balanced. It provides for six months of time allow people become used to the new rules, to allow reflection and evolution. The wording is very cautious: it does not talk about the full veil, rather it refers to the complete covering of the face. It explains exactly how and when it is forbidden, it also outlines exceptions (illness, medical bandages, carnival, etc …). This law does not want to be anti-Muslim — even if the occasion was born of the full “Islamic” veil — but a more general rule that applies to everyone, a standard of living together. The penalties are also interesting: a fine of 150 Euros or citizenship education, a kind of educational training for coexistence.

The law presents a large difference between the penalty for those who wear the burqa (150 Euros) and for those who force others to wear the burqa: a fine of 30,000 Euros a year in prison (twice if it involves a minor). It also explains outlines the following types of cases: men or women (not just husbands or fathers) who by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, abuse of authority force someone to cover her face. This shows that the purpose of the Act is to achieve the values of equality and freedom.

Was this law really necessary?

Was it really necessary to do this? Building on the experience of Muslim countries, where the full veil is increasingly becoming the norm despite the desire of those in charge to stop it, I think that without a law, the ideological context of the current Muslim world, would drive more Muslim women to wear it.

Therefore this law is both important and beneficial, not because it’s about a piece of cloth, but because it addresses a ideological mentality of opposition and rejection, which ultimately brings more harm to the Muslim community and society overall. The full veil is a symbol that clearly says “No to your civilization.” This symbol is disputed in most Muslim countries in the world! But it is equally important that the French Muslim community, the largest in Europe, enters the playing field and cooperate with all possible means in a common reflection. Beyond the veil, it is about the global attitude to Western society, different from Muslim society [3], better in some aspects but worse in others, which is entitled to exist and to be law. Because they are French Muslims — like all citizens — have a double duty to defend this civilization and criticize it.

Islam is growing in Europe through migration and demography. Are Muslims ready to accept this society where they are a minority (although I always repeat “it is the second religion of Europe”)? It would be important to help the Muslim community to integrate into European culture, albeit with the necessary corrections. The Muslims of Arabia will be the ones to make this integration possible, rather the Muslims who already living in Europe. The Muslim world is especially facing modernity. Until the 1970’s it tried to assimilate modernity, by reflecting on its culture. The Salafis tendency is to reject modernity, with the sole exception of the advanced technology it produces, in short, harvest the fruit without learning how to produce it because it’s too dangerous! It’s time to expand our vision to be 100% European and 100% Muslim or Christian or Jew, or atheist, etc..

The law is thus more an invitation to the Muslim community rather than something against Islam. It is a way to reconcile being a part of French civilization with a Islamic faith deeply lived and rethought.

[1] The full veil is not a precept of the Koran, but the absolute authority of man over woman is part of Islamic tradition and Koranic law.

[2] Published in March 29, 2007, and sponsored by the Arab League, it aims to relaunch steps towards peace in the Middle East.

[3] It is worth remembering that this Western civilization, heir to the Christian civilization, is however very different: Christians must defend it and criticize it.

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

Germany: ‘Sharp’ Rocket Set to Revolutionise Space Travel

German scientists unveiled on Friday the key part of a flat-sided, re-usable space rocket they say would be much cheaper and easier to build than NASA’s space shuttles.

The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) is developing the cutting-edge rocket that can re-enter Earth’s atmosphere without breaking up or suffering much damage, making it an affordable and easy-to-build alternative to than NASA’s ageing space shuttles.

DLR scientists on Friday unveiled the 2.5-metre nose cone for the SHEFEX II program, short for “sharp-edged test flight,” at the DLR headquarters in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich.

It will take its first test flight next March from Australia’s Woomera rocket launch site. A smaller and slower prototype, SHEFEX I, had a successful test flight from Norway in 2005.

“Our goal is to create step-by-step a re-useable space glider,” said project leader Hendrik Weihs from the DLR’s Institute for Design and Construction Research in Stuttgart.

The new model will be more heat-resistant, cheaper and, most importantly, easier to control in landing than any other type of launchable space craft.

The distinct angular nose cone has eight flat faces, which provide better aerodynamics and cheaper construction than the traditional round cone.

“The rocket therefore has nearly the aerodynamic qualities of a space shuttle, but it’s smaller and doesn’t need wings,” said Weihs.

The €12.5 million-program, funded entirely by Germany, is the only one of its kind — a rocket that can automatically guide itself back to Earth.

“We’re a pretty long way ahead,” said Weihs, adding that he hoped the project would father “a new generation” of rocket science.

NASA has decided to discontinue its space shuttle fleet, sparking a search for a replacement.

“But that system is very elaborate and very expensive,” Weihs said.

Normally, with ballistic capsules such as rockets, which are also used by Russian cosmonauts and Chinese taikonauts, the catch is that they cannot be controlled when they re-enter the atmosphere.

The DLR model, on the other hand, can be guided to a very precise point on Earth’s surface. That will be tested in Australia. The tricky part is controlling the craft as it descends from about 100km to roughly 20km altitude, after which it can be brought down by parachute to land in the desert.

“When the space craft enters Earth’s atmosphere, the air is very strongly compressed and grinds against the body of the craft.”

That can raise the temperature to as high as 10,000 degrees Celsius. The flat planes of the nose cone are specially prepared to deal with this, Weihs explained.

“With the new model, the heat on the planes is reduced. Only the apex will get extremely hot.”

To counter that heat, gas will be pushed through the porous material of the apex, acting as a buffer against the hot, compressed air.

Next year’s test flight will be unmanned, but with further funding, a manned flight is possible. Such progress could be made with co-operation from other members of the European Union or with the United States, Weihs said.

“First, the will has to be there,” he said.

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

Heat Wave in Italy, Red Alert for 18 Cities

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 16 — The heat wave is expected to reach its peak soon in Italy, with the highest temperatures expected by the Civil Protection to be seen between today and tomorrow. Today 18 cities are at the maximum level, 3: Bolzano, Brescia, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Perugia, Rome, Turin, Trieste, Venice, Campobasso, Civitavecchia, Frosinone, Latina, Messina, Rieti, Verona and Viterbo. Tomorrow, on the other hand, Civil Protection forecasts say that 21 cities will be suffering from extreme heat, with mountains no exception: the Alto Adige is at the highest temperature it has seen in 90 years.

In light of these extreme meteorological conditions, Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio has sent a letter to the councillor’s office for Health and Social Services of the regions, as well as to General Practitioners (MMG) and prefects to urge them to take “all useful, planned initiatives to foster better coordination in dealing with the effects of the heat wave.” Starting today the ministry has also set up a hotline for information and advice from personnel trained to deal with such situations. As concerns prevention, the Foggia town council, where temperatures are around 40 degrees, meals will be delivered to the homes of the elderly over age 65. In Rome, on the other hand, about 200,000 bottles of water have been handed out over the past three days, equal to 100,000 litres.


           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Historians Locate King Arthur’s Round Table

Historians claim to have finally located the site of King Arthur’s Round Table…

… And believe it could have seated 1,000 people.

Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s most famous Knight believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester.

Legend has it that his Knights would gather before battle at a round table where they would receive instructions from their King.

But rather than it being a piece of furniture, historians believe it would have been a vast wood and stone structure which would have allowed more than 1,000 of his followers to gather.

Historians believe regional noblemen would have sat in the front row of a circular meeting place, with lower ranked subjects on stone benches grouped around the outside.

They claim rather than Camelot being a purpose built castle, it would have been housed in a structure already built and left over by the Romans.

Camelot historian Chris Gidlow said: “The first accounts of the Round Table show that it was nothing like a dining table but was a venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time.

“We know that one of Arthur’s two main battles was fought at a town referred to as the City of Legions. There were only two places with this title. One was St Albans but the location of the other has remained a mystery.”

The recent discovery of an amphitheatre with an execution stone and wooden memorial to Christian martyrs, has led researchers to conclude that the other location is Chester.

Mr Gidlow said: “In the 6th Century, a monk named Gildas, who wrote the earliest account of Arthur’s life, referred to both the City of Legions and to a martyr’s shrine within it. That is the clincher. The discovery of the shrine within the amphitheatre means that Chester was the site of Arthur’s court and his legendary Round Table.”

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Italy: Power Consumption Reaches 2010 Peak

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 16 — The record heat that has hit Italy has boosted power consumption. In these hours in fact the highest consumption level of the year is reached, reaching a 2-year record. According to data issued by Terna, today power demand at 11.30 am reached 56.400 MegaWatt, against an expected 55.500 MW, approaching the all-time record for the summer period of 56.589 Mw, reached on July 20 2007.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Malmö: A Decade With the Öresund Bridge

The Öresund bridge celebrates its 10th birthday this week. The Local’s Peter Vinthagen Simpson takes a look at how the link has changed Sweden’s third city and its relations to its neighbours.

When Malmö launched its Malmö Festival around 20 years ago, local daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet printed up t-shirts that said: “If you have seen Malmö, you have seen the world.”

Soon after, neighbouring Lund launched its riposte: “If you have seen Lund, you don’t need to see Malmö.”

This little anecdote tells you something of the challenges facing Malmö at the end of the last millennium as the raw port city struggled to find its feet at the dawn of its post-industrial era, blighted by high rates of unemployment and industrial decline.

The opening of the Öresund road-rail link on July 2nd, 2000 tied the Scandinavian peninsula to the continent in perpetuity and helped to kickstart a dramatic change in the fortunes and image of the city, home to almost 300,000 people.

“The bridge manifested primarily a mental change. Physically, it is like an isthmus that connects us to the continent. We had always felt close to Denmark, but the bridge was like a pointer — symbolically, it showed the way forward,” Malmö resident Björn Hofvander tells The Local.

The Öresund Bridge, officially known as the Øresund bridge to reflect a combination of the Swedish and Danish spellings (Öresundsbron and Øresundsbroen), cost 30.1 billion Danish kronor ($4 billion in 2000 figures) to build and consists of a 7.85-kilometre bridge and 4.05-kilometre tunnel via the artificial island of Peberholmen.

The project was forecast to recoup its costs by 2035 and would be entirely user-financed, but perhaps due to initially prohibitively high costs, the bridge got off to a relatively slow start. However, since 2005, traffic has steadily increased and there are now few who question its success.

The completion of the bridge was followed closely by the start of the development of Västra Hamnen — an area long associated with perhaps the most prominent symbol of the city’s industrial past, the Kockums shipyard crane.

Much like the festival slogan revisited above, the city’s attachment to the long-redundant dockyard crane was shaped by a tangible self-deprecating humour that visitors to the city can soon testify to. Its removal was not without controversy and the crane’s silhouette can still occasionally be spotted on t-shirts worn by Malmö’s more fashionable and heritage-savvy parents.

“To the older generation, the crane symbolised a safe old employer. They could remember when the dockworkers moved around the area. For the young, it was a landmark — a visual symbol,” Hofvander says.

While Malmö is a city that looks proudly on its industrial past, the development of Västra Hamnen, and the Turning Torso skyscraper at its heart, served to send a message that Malmö’s focus had shifted and it was looking forward to the future with optimism and self-belief.

“You could say that the Turning Torso has replaced the Kockums crane as a symbol of the city. It has made an impression and everyone has a relation to it one way or the other,” Hofvander says.

Västra Hamnen, with its penthouse-style apartments and sea views accompanied by hitherto unheard of prices, signified that Malmö was a city to be lived in again after decades of middle-class suburban flight. Hofvander, who moved back into the city with his family in 2008 after an eight-year hiatus, points out that the new area of the city has become a popular meeting place.

“I think people feel that it is an exciting area. It has expanded the city and they have succeeded in creating accessibility, things happen there that are open for all.”

Many of the newcomers to the city during the 2000s were Danes who found that their money went considerably further in Sweden, with the completion of the bridge rendering a cross-Öresund commute a viable alternative.

According to Öresund Bridge Consortium statistics, 16,000 people commute to work across the bridge-tunnel link. One of them is Martin Palmer, who works at Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport and remembers commuting across the sound when the sea route was the only option.

“I save almost two hours by commuting across the bridge,” he says. “It is very convenient, just about the only thing I miss is the banter with your colleagues on the boat back on Friday afternoon. That was nice.”

Starting in 2001, the number of Danes moving to Malmö gradually increased, with the influx peaking at 1,329 in 2007. There are currently 9,174 Danish-born residents of Malmö, according to Statistics Sweden figures for 2010, up from 3,393 in 2000.

“Most of the commuter traffic goes from Sweden to Denmark. But it has benefitted Sweden too in the number of Danes coming over to shop and some of whom stay to live,” Palmer says, adding that access to the much larger labour market of Denmark’s capital has been of particular benefit to new Swedes and young people.

“The Swedish labour market is notoriously hard for young people and immigrants. In Denmark, it is easier to find entry-level work,” he says.

Malmö is a popular destination for immigrants to Sweden and integration remains one of the key challenges facing the city, where over a third of the population is foreign-born. The issue remains sensitive, as was illustrated recently when comments made by Mayor Ilmar Reepalu were taken to indicate an ambivalence to the problems experienced by the city’s Jewish community.

Loose talk aside, Social Democrat Reepalu’s role in helping to transform the city from one of high unemployment and past industrial glory into a thriving multi-cultural and enterprising knowledge-based city is widely recognised by the Malmö electorate, who have stayed loyal to the party throughout the decade.

One of the key developments under Reepalu’s tenure is the establishment of Malmö University in 1998. Malmö had identified education, alongside arts and culture, as one of its key growth areas and the university was an audacious attempt to challenge the regional educational hegemony of nearby Lund.

“Malmö University realizes that it can not compete with Lund’s tradition and history. We have to attract the students that don’t go to Lund for whatever reason and offer something different,” says Malin McGlinn, a course coordinator at the university, to The Local.

The university’s main campus is located in another area of the former docklands and those arriving at the central station can’t help but notice the audacious confluence of buildings across the lock to the south.

In its 12 years of operation, the university has grown from an initial student body of 5,000 with a predominant focus on teacher training to Sweden’s ninth-largest seat of learning and overall biggest university college, offering a full range of study and research alternatives to its 23,000-strong student body.

While 62 percent of the students come from Skåne, the university works hard to profile its international perspective and Öresund identity.

“We have close cooperation with Copenhagen and Roskilde universities and many of our students attend exchange programmes there,” McGlinn says. “The university also works hard to attract students with non-Swedish backgrounds who need to acquire the qualifications required to enter the Swedish labour market.”

The 650 kilometres to Sweden’s capital Stockholm means that ambitious Malmö residents are as likely to look to Copenhagen, Brussels, London or Frankfurt when seeking career advancement. The completion of the bridge has served only to further reinforce the oft-quoted feeling that Malmö is “closer to the continent.”

Malmö was founded around 1275 and originally known as Malmhaug or “Gravel pile”, it was long Denmark’s second city. While some would argue that it remains so, one thing is for certain — the city no longer resembles a pile of crushed rock, and while the bridge has made it significantly easier to get away, it has also helped to make Malmö well worth a stopover, even for those who have seen Lund first.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Scotland: SNP Moves on Infiltration Fears

The SNP has denied allegations of vote-rigging after its executive committee was forced to take action to prevent new members standing for election in the west of Scotland, following a sudden upsurge in membership in the region.

It emerged yesterday that the SNP’s national executive committee had become suspicious after hundreds of new members — most of whom are understood to have Asian surnames — suddenly joined the party in the west of Scotland just in time to vote for their preferred candidate in this summer’s selection process for the Holyrood race.

The Labour-dominated region will be a key battleground in the SNP’s bid to retain power in the Scottish Parliament elections.

However, last week the NEC voted to bar anyone who joined the party after June 6 this year from taking part in the vote for Holyrood candidates, amid fears that some of the newest members could be part of an orchestrated attempt to skew the ballot.

Scottish Labour called on the SNP to identify which candidate was behind the attempt to rig the list vote and exclude them from standing for the party.

Labour MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden David Whitton said: “This type of behaviour is deeply undemocratic and needs to be weeded out. If the SNP do not take action then the whole process is tainted and voters will be asked to potentially support a candidate that had tried to rig a ballot. The SNP need to take action and get to the bottom of this murky affair.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “This demonstrate’s that the SNP’s procedures are totally robust. Our priority is electing all our candidates over the summer and getting out there to win next year’s election for Scotland.”

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

Spain: Zapatero, Get Rid of Prostitution Ads in Newspapers

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JULY 16 — “The ads for prostitution must be removed”. Yesterday Spain’s Prime Minister Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero spoke out against the advertisements for paid sex and for contact with prostitutes, which are published every day on the Spanish newspapers. The Premier made his remarks during a debate in Congress on the State of the nation. The Premier, quoted today by the media, has explained that the government is looking into several laws to keep the ads out of the media. Minister for Equality Bibiana Aido also condemned the advertisements on various occasions, calling them “a source of shame” and an attack on women’s dignity.

According to government estimates, around four million women and girls are bought and sold each year worldwide to be sexually exploited. The international mafias which control this business earn more than USD 7 billion from it, and over 60% of advertisements printed daily by Spanish newspapers, including El Pais, El Mundo, La Vanguardia, ABC and El Periodico, are advertisements for prostitution, contributing more than 40 million euros per year to the earnings of the Spanish media. It is estimated that more than 300,000 women are exploited by prostitution networks in Spain. They work in 4,000 clubs, which are controlled by organisations or by individuals, who earn more than 18 billion euros per year from these activities. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: A Political Culture Gone Bad

Douglas Murray says it’s five minutes to midnight in Britain’s battle against radical Islam.

Listening to Douglas Murray, one gets a picture of a world turned on its head, one where relativism has trumped common sense, where the state pays its enemies more than its soldiers and where turning in the inciters becomes an act of incitement. Murray is the 31-year-old director of the Center for Social Cohesion, a London-based think tank that studies radicalization and extremism in the UK, and he is an outspoken critic of the British government’s response to the challenge of radical Islam.

Our meeting takes place shortly after the fifth anniversary of the 7/7 attacks, four suicide bombings committed by British Muslim men that killed 52 people and wounded hundreds of others. Murray believes that while the security services have learned the lesson of that event, government and politicians have so far failed to do so.

Britain’s thinking and its political culture, Murray says, have “gone bad” and it has become afraid to state its own values. Britain has become a society that no longer knows how to draw the line. He is particularly critical of the government’s “Prevent” strategy, set up after the 7/7 bombings to tackle Muslim radicalization by providing a counternarrative. “Prevent,” says Murray, is an example of the government attempting to “do theology. When the British government comes out after 7/7 and says, ‘Islam is a religion of peace,’ you can understand the reasons it is saying this — it is trying to reach out — but obviously there is something terribly counterproductive about this,” says Murray. “The problem is that the government seems to believe it can do theology. I’m a small government guy and I like government to do as little as possible. The way I see it is that government can’t do many things very well — it doesn’t even do taxes very well, it doesn’t do policing very well, but the thing it definitely can’t do very well is theology, in particular a theology it knows very little about, or is only starting to learn about.”

For Murray the answer lies not in outreach, but in affirming the values of the state and in laying down the law. “Instead of getting embroiled in endless wars and debates about a religion which is not our national religion, which after all is a minority religion and has no particular history of any significance in Britain — instead of getting involved in that conflict, which may or not be won by the progressives, you say what you are as a state,” he declares.

“A lot of young Muslims have said to me in recent years, ‘You ask me to integrate, but what are we integrating into? What is Britain, what are British values?’ It’s very hard to tell people to integrate if you don’t tell them what they are integrating into. It’s very hard to tell them to be British if they don’t know and you don’t know what Britishness is. The fact is that we have been very poor in saying what we are and we have also been very poor is saying what we expect people to be. We’ve been very good in stressing what rights people get when they come to Britain and very bad at explaining what responsibilities come with them.”

Britain, says Murray, has made a terrible mistake in the direction it has taken with its Muslim minority since the Salman Rushdie Satanic Verses affair. “The problem is,” he explains, “that the British government has pushed young Muslims into becoming young Muslims when it should have pushed them into becoming young Brits. In other words, the direction of travel it sent them in has been deeply backward.”

MURRAY DESCRIBES himself as a long-standing critic of multiculturalism. “Pluralism or multiracial societies seem to me to be good and desirable things,” he says. “Multicultural societies, where you encourage group differences, seem to me to be a very bad thing.” For Murray, multiculturalism is a moral vacuum, and “into a moral vacuum always bad things creep.”

The Eton and Oxford educated Murray quotes Saul Bellow in his introduction to The Closing of the American Mind: “When public morality becomes a ghost town, it’s a place into which anyone can ride and declare himself sheriff. Once so-called multicultural societies decided that they didn’t have a locus, that they didn’t have a center of gravity, anyone could ride in and teach the most pernicious things,” Murray expounds. “It didn’t matter. It was just another point of view. It’s an extraordinary situation. We allow absolutely anything. This is the reason the British police used not to investigate certain types of killing, like honor killings. This is a community matter, they’d say. Police have admitted that now. This is why tens of thousands of women from certain communities have been genitally mutilated. We have made ourselves entirely relative and it’s time to change that.”

Another instance of multiculturalism gone mad that Murray cites is a 2007 case where a Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque, uncovered in the West Midlands clerics who they recorded preaching murder of minorities. The police were sent the tapes by Channel 4 and infamously decided to try to prosecute Channel 4 for incitement in broadcasting this material. Murray says that a few months after the case, while lecturing senior police officers, he mentioned it and was told by one officer that he “had to understand we live in a very multicultural area.”

Murray replied to the officer that he was basically stating that to pursue the multicultural dream, he would allow certain minorities to have their lives threatened by other minorities because it would cause too much trouble. “He wouldn’t comment,” says Murray, “but this was clearly the decision they had made.” Murray charges that because of its multicultural approach, the government has allowed certain groups to be approached through self-appointed leaders such as the Muslim Council of Britain.

“In Islam in Britain we have a bizarre situation where people are spoken of, or spoken to, through clergy,” he explains. “If I’m a young man born to Anglican parents, the idea that I can only be accessed via my local vicar is mad, but you now have this weird situation where, as it were, the more religious you are, the more devoted you are to the mosque and to the political organization of certain mosques in Britain, the more likely you are to have a voice.”

Murray paraphrases Henry Kissinger’s famous comment: “What number do I dial to reach Europe?” by saying that the British government has basically decided what number to dial to reach its Muslim minority, handing over the community’s voice to the clergy. “It’s a pathetic, ridiculous idea,” he charges. “My belief is that you should encourage people to believe that they are represented in the same way everybody else is represented, by their MP, by their local councilor and so on. An Irish immigrant friend of mine put it to me rather beautifully when he said that the moment when you become most integrated into a society is not when you get special bribes, special rights, special laws etc., but when you have to put up with the same sh*t as the rest of us.”

Murray gives what he calls the tragic example of a “very unpleasant sinister figure” from the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawala.

Bunglawala is quoted in Kenan Malik’s book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy as saying that Rushdie affair is what radicalized him, what got him politicized. He says he didn’t really go to the mosque that much, hadn’t really read the Koran, but that he heard about the novel and he thought, “Why are we being singled out? Why are they only attacking us. This is a tragedy,” says Murray, “because this was the moment when somebody in a position of power could have said: ‘You know what? You’re not being singled out; you are being subjected to exactly the same treatment that free societies exact on everyone.’ Nobody said that. It was repeatedly given out that there was a justifiable grievance and that’s what’s still understood today. We should have at that point said at that point in 1989 said that a society where even your deepest feelings can be trodden on is the only society worth living in. We should have said a long time ago and it’s still not too late to say it now.”

Murray calls Britain a “soft touch” on immigration and welfare, citing the case of Anjem Choudary, a co-founder of the now proscribed Al- Muhajiroun movement, whom he describes as “one of the most notorious loud-mouthed idiots in Britain. Choudary has a few children and a wife — he’s a qualified solicitor but as far as we know has never sought employment. He receives £25,000 a year in benefits, untaxed, and among other things he and his welfare jihadi friends go and abuse British soldiers coming home from Afghanistan when there are homecoming parades.”

“Now this has caused a lot of bitter and understandable resentment in Britain. The thing that people haven’t quite realized is the most perverse about this is that a soldier in Afghanistan, starting out, fighting for Britain, receives something like £15,000 a year on which he is taxed to fight the Taliban, whom Choudary and his supporters support. So the British state will currently give you £15,000 if you’re willing to fight her majesty’s enemies and £10,000 more if you are willing to support her majesty’s enemies.

It’s probably not the first time in history where one side has paid its enemies and its own men, but it’s probably the first war in history where somebody has paid its enemies better than its own men.” MURRAY SAYS that the Mike’s Place bombing in April 2003, when two British Muslim suicide bombers attacked a bar in Tel Aviv, killing three people, was a transformative moment for him.

“If you have a problem you export, it does come home,” he says. “When those two young men, one of them from Kings College in London, came out to Tel Aviv, that should have been a moment when not just the British police and the British security services, but the British government and the British people woke up, to what they have made.”

Asked why is it that many of those Muslims who have committed terrorist attacks in the West have been very much a product of the West, affluent and privileged rather than poor, marginalized and alienated, Murray points to Britain’s universities as hotbeds of radicalism. “The Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a rich Nigerian boy, lived in his father’s flat in the most expensive part of London and got radicalized while at University College London,” says Murray as an example. “I’ve said a lot in recent years on the university issue; I’ve kept on trying to get the universities to wake up to this. My center published a report called ‘Islam on Campus’ in 2008 which got huge attention because of very worrying findings, like a third of Muslim students saying that killing in the name of their religion could be justified, things like that.

“I have kept trying, the center has kept on trying to explain to the universities that this is their problem. Omar Sheik [a former student at the London School of Economics best known for his role in the kidnapping and execution of Daniel Pearl], Assaf Hani [one of the Mike’s Place bombers] and another LSE graduate, Abdulmutallab. The list is now pretty long.”

“The only explanation I have for why it hasn’t been dealt with is that it goes so much against the narrative that privileged white Western liberals have got, that they can’t think their way out of it even when the evidence is to the contrary. If you believe Islamist terrorism is caused by poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of education, Israel, then you need things to fit that. Now you can put up with one thing bucking that trend, but when it happens repeatedly some people just dig themselves in and ignore it even more. In Britain, at any rate, you are more likely to become a terrorist if you go to university.”

Again Murray blames a failure to stand up for liberal values. “You are more likely to become a major terrorist if you’ve gone to university because, among other things, these places have two factors: one you come across the very softest, most apologist form of education you could find; you come across soft liberal Western opinion that cannot decide where to draw lines, cannot decide how to defend itself, cannot explain the superiority of some liberal values and won’t argue its case. Then you come across the thing that has taken advantage of this — Muslim groups who week in, week out bring in radical speakers from the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah.

“Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, is sitting in his penthouse in a country that he doesn’t know very much and he will probably notice the following. He would notice that you aren’t allowed to recruit for the British army at University College London, but he would also notice that pretty well known jihadis can speak on campus. In other words this young man can get in touch with the top jihadis via his Islamic studies society.”

Referring to an earlier he comment on how when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will always back the strong horse, and how if people see that the state is weak, unbothered even by its assassins, then they will not back the state, they will not back the country they are in and they will not integrate further, Murray says: “You would get a very warped idea about which was strong horse and which was the weak horse if you were Abdulmutallab. After Christmas Day I assumed it would stop, I have to say I’m still waiting for it to happen. I don’t know what it takes, in other words. I thought after Mike’s place they’ll wake up, they must wake up now. I thought that after 9/11, I thought that after 7/7.

After every incident you say, surely they are gong to wake up now. The only good thing is that some people do and everyone that breaks the silence encourages other people to do the same.”…

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Knightsbridge is London’s Pop-Up Oasis

It is 7.15pm outside Ladurée, the chichi designer macaroon café attached to the normally quieter back end of Harrods at the corner of Hans Road and Basil Street. It’s a coolish July evening but the narrow, doglegging streets around the famous Knightsbridge brownstone are rapidly hotting up. Forget Geneva and the fuddy-duddy old Festival of Speed at Goodwood. If it’s sheer automotive flash and bestial muscle you like in your motor show, check out this central London location on any given evening from July through early August and you won’t believe your eyes.

Here comes a low-riding Lamborghini Murciélago with a matt black, Batmobile-spec paint job and a garish yellow leather interior. Two boys, no older than 20, both wearing gold sunglasses, sit inside pumping the stereo and the gas pedal. The engine makes a noise like a scalded rottweiler as it is jockeyed up to its parking position, two wheels on, two wheels off the pavement. I can’t help noticing that it has no number plate on the front.

As if to upstage the Italian super-car, an even more super one rocks up — a £1 million Bugatti Veyron. Every inch of its bodywork has been gold-plated. Three vehicles behind is another Veyron. This one is white with chromium wings. The driver gets out — he is about 25 and dressed like an off-duty Lewis Hamilton. I compliment him on his car and ask him how he got it over to London. “In my plane!” he says with a huge grin and hands the keys to a flunkey.

The live action game of Top Gear Top Trumps continues with a pearl-white, four-door Porsche Panamera. The Porsche parks in a “pay and display” bay, but its driver does neither. With a pip of his locking zapper he disappears into a Harrods side door. Around the corner is a Rolls-Royce Phantom customised with a stainless steel bonnet. The number plate on this car is “1”. Later on, I will Google-search this vehicle and discover something quite extraordinary; a couple of years back the Dubai resident owner of this car paid out the sum of, wait for it, $14 million for the registration number alone … just to be top dog, number one in Dubai.

Now an arrogantly long Maybach limousine painted in distinct orange and matt black arrives. The letters “RRR” are picked out on the vehicle’s boot in a diamond-studded font. A handsome young man and his friend (or PA? or bodyguard?) apparently dressed for a night out at Movida — faded jeans, Hermès belt, Ralph Lauren polo shirt, pastel suede Hermès driving shoes and bronze tint aviators — roll out and head off into the dark green and brass of Harrods for some late-night shopping.

This is Crown Prince Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, flamboyant petrolhead son of the multibillionaire HRH Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi of Ajman. Ajman, in case you didn’t know (I certainly didn’t), is the smallest emirate in the United Arab Emirates but has grand plans to become a mini Dubai. RRR is the banner for the Crown Prince’s vast portfolio of orange and black super-cars — it stands for Rich in Real Estate Resources.

I talk to a parking warden in Basil Street who takes off his hat to reveal a sweaty forehead. How do you go about writing tickets to these guys? I ask. “It’s impossible,” he says, showing me the computerised ticket machine he wears around his neck. “This thing only has numbers and letters on it. Their number plates just …” He tails off, struggling for the right word. “Look like squiggles?” I suggest. “Yeah. There are no keys on my machine for those.”

Meanwhile, a man and his young wife walk up to the café’s reception. Laden with shopping bags he is dressed, as all these rich young Arab men seem to be, like an aspirant R&B superstar in acid wash jeans, gold-rimmed shades and one of those rococo rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts by Ed Hardy. She has a mobile phone clamped to her face and huge Dior sunglasses picked out with diamante around the rims. I notice that there is a small Gucci logo on the arm of her floor-length burka — Prada and Chanel burkas are also available.

They join the polite café society scene underneath the eau-de-nil awnings outside and order diet Cokes, £15 club sandwiches and plates of pink macaroons. Every single table here at Ladurée, at the Café Rouge opposite and the Patisserie Valerie around the corner, is taken by people from the Gulf states and the Middle East — Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Dubai.

The groups are either well-behaved families with Mum still in her abaya headscarf and big shades, groups of giggly young girls or groups of posturing young boys all in Arab-preppy finery, two or three mobile phones each, keys to Ferraris and Lamborghinis chucked down next to their napkins. The young women from the more liberated countries of Bahrain and Dubai are dolled up like J-Lo (they must watch an awful lot of MTV back home).The girls who choose to keep wearing their burkas — mostly Saudi Arabians, I am told — are extravagantly made up with kohl-lined eyes and red lipstick. A subtle courtship ritual may be at play here but if it is, it is too subtle for me to detect. Indeed, there seems to be little or no interaction between the sexes. Everyone pays with cash produced in wads from croc wallets. No wonder locals call the area “Little Kuwait” during August.

For the mega-wealthy oil billionaire families of the Gulf states, summertime means central London…

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Why Don’t Black People Camp?

Holidays under canvas just don’t seem to appeal to Brits from ethnic minorities. But why?

“Do I look like a camper to you?” splutters my friend Kiren. And I have to admit, her blow-dried hair and impeccable nails don’t scream “tent-lover”. What about Anna who grew up in Macclesfield, a stone’s throw from the Peak District? “Why would I?” she demands, puzzled. Amal, meanwhile, has never even considered slumming it in a tent.

Camping may have thrown off its Peruvian socks image and become as fashionable as vintage clothes and cupcakes, but not everyone is enchanted. The few times I have been to a campsite, I’ve always been one of the only non-white faces around. And while my white friends will camp anywhere — campsites, festivals, literary events — my non-white friends are not convinced.

Matthew Eastlake, marketing director of the Camping and Caravanning Club, agrees that ethnic minorities are “not hugely represented” in the club, despite a membership of nearly half a million. This tallies with evidence that few ethnic minority families go to the countryside for holidays — for instance, only 1% of visitors to our national parks are from a minority background, compared to 10% of the population.

Shalini, a lawyer who loves camping, admits she has been only with white friends. “You do stick out more on a campsite,” she says. “I brace myself for comments like ‘That’s a funny name’ or ‘Where do you come from?’. I think that would be uncomfortable for families or groups of young people.”

Then there’s the fact that Asian family holidays tend to be sprawling, all-encompassing affairs. I remember the intakes of breath and faces squashed against the window as we tried to jam four adults and six kids in each car on family days out. While this might seem to fit with camping, Shalini reckons it makes ethnic minorities more careful about where they go. “Asian families tend to go on holiday with a whole load of people and a whole load of stuff; so they can be worried about putting people’s noses out of joint.”

For Amal, who grew up in Somalia, it’s the fear of the countryside. “I feel London is my comfort zone,” she tells me. Like many people, she is nervous about what Trevor Phillips once called the “passive apartheid” of the countryside — the fact that rural areas have such a low ethnic-minority population. “I worry that people will be mean or unfriendly with me,” Amal says. “Basically, I’m worried they will be racist.”…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Italy’s Undersecretary: Italian Girls Found in Tunisia

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 16 — “Saida and Amira Zakraoui have been found. The two young girls from Livorno, aged 4 and 6 years, were abducted in April of 2009 by their father in Tunisia”. The announcement comes from the Foreign Undersecretary, Stefania Craxi, who specified that the Tunisian Police found Saida and Amira after months of searching.

Objective reached thanks to the “incessant appeals “ of the undersecretary and the “personal attention dedicated to the case by the Italian Ambassador in Tunis, Piero Benassi”.

The girls’ mother, Laura Dini, was able to hug her daughters, who are in good physical condition, this morning. Saida e Amira, respectively three and five years old at the time, had been missing for over a year, after their father took them with him to Tunisia following his wife’s request for separation. After the finding, Craxi thanked the Tunisian authorities for the great collaboration they provided. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia Aims to Develop Wine Sector

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JULY 16 — Above all due to their high quality, Tunisian wines are gradually drawing more attention after the obscurity into which it had fallen after the beginning of the third millennium. In part this is due to a state programme (with ISO 9000 certification) held in partnership with Italy and France and adopted in particular by “Le Vignerons de Carthage — Union Centrale des Coope’rative Vinicoles” (UCCV). The union gathers together wine-growers who supply, bottle and commercialise two thirds of the national production, which in 2009 reached seven million bottles, 40% of which exported with revenue of 22 million euros. The latter was a result of cultivation of 38,000 hectares, which made it possible to produce only 350,000 hectolitres per year, a yield which is not entirely satisfactory for the eight companies with mixed ownership (including two Italian-Tunisians companies and two French-Tunisian ones) which manage the vineyards.

Old vine species have been replaced by Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Alicante Bouschet, Carignano, Cinsault, Caladoc and others. Local consumption is limited, with 2.2 litres per inhabitant, while beer consumption is rising. The main cause is seen as being the relatively high price per bottle (+25% in one year), which however has not affected the choices of ‘fashion-conscious’ Tunisians and tourists. The latter — in ever greater numbers and in part due to targeted invitations — are paying ever more visit s to the famous Cape Bon wine cellars, in which Carthaginians kept and worked the fruits of Marsala grapes, which were then exported to Sucily. And it is to the Carthaginian Magon (third century B.C.), who has now been honoured by his name put on a high-quality wine, that we owe the first treatise on wine-growing agronomy ever. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

EU Economic/Military Commitment in Gaza, Lieberman

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JULY 16 — With EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton soon to visit Israel and Gaza, the daily paper Yediot Ahronot reports that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has drawn up a plan calling for strong involvement in the Gaza Strip by the European Union in the attempt to achieve Israel’s definitive “detachment” from the destiny of Gaza five years after the unilateral withdrawal under Premier Ariel Sharon.

According to the newspaper, Israel will encourage the European Union to carry out large-scale projects in Gaza such as the construction of power stations and desalination units for sea water as well as waste water treatment plants and construction projects for residential use. Yediot Ahronot continued by saying that Lieberman would also like to see European forces (including the French Foreign Legion and commando units) get involved in the struggle against weapons smuggling to Gaza.

Israel would reportedly not be against ships going to Gaza so long as the latter were to undergo inspection in Cyprus or Greece. The paper noted that the new stance taken by Lieberman implicitly means that Israel has become resigned to accepting that even in the future the Gaza Strip will remain under Hamas control and therefore out of the influence of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Yediot Ahronot believes that Lieberman will bring up these ideas with Ashton and at the end of the month also with Foreign Ministers from a number of European countries (Italy, France, Great Britain, Germany and Spain) that he has invited with the aim of looking into the situation in Gaza in a more in-depth manner.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel: Shin Bet Uproar After Right-Wing Arrest

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JULY 16 — Shin Bet (domestic security) is at the centre of an uproar in Israel following the arrest of a right-wing extremist, Haim Perlman (30), suspected of having stabbed to death four Palestinians in Jerusalem between 1998 and 2004. Despite the fact that he has been held for days in jail in an isolation unit, he managed to launch a counterattack in which he claims to be innocent and has informed mass media outlets that he had been used by Shin Bet. A right-wing extremist group has today published the photo of a Shin Bet informer, ‘Dede’, who at the beginning of June tried to convince Perlman to assassinate Sheik Raed Sallah, leader of the Islamic movement in Israel. The website and a number of daily papers offer the recording of the conversation, secretly taped by Perlman who even at that time felt that he would soon be arrested. Shin Bet has not denied the authenticity of the document but explained that ‘Dede’ had been put in charge of inducing Perlman to make compromising admissions about his past as a violent anti-Arab extremist.

According to press sources, over the past few days Shin Bet has had to ensure Sheik Sallah that it had not been planning on killing him, though it is not known whether the latter has accepted the domestic security agency’s explanation. On May 31, when the Israeli navy attacked the passenger ship Marmara, in several Arab locations of Israel speculation was heard that Sheik Sallah — who was onboard — had been killed by soldiers.

Afterwards it was learned that one of the Turkish passengers who was seriously injured looked a great deal like him. The Israeli settlers’ radio station Channel 7 added that over the night Shin Bet policemen had broken into the house of Perlman’s parents in the Tekoa settlement (near Bethlehem, the West Bank). At the end of the search they took with them documents and books in Russian, added the broadcaster. Perlman’s parents told the radio that “Shin Bet is panicking” over the release of the recording containing the conversation between their son and the informer ‘Dede’. They fear that Shin bet will increase pressure on their son “to force him to confess to crimes he did not commit.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Muslim Terror Magazine “Inspire” In English

What do detailed bomb making instructions, global climate change, Arizona’s immigration law and the American dollar as a reserve currency have in common? They are all mentioned in the first edition of the Yemen-based English language version of Inspire, a magazine published by the Muslim terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) that was released last Sunday. It is a 67-page glossy publication that is the product of Anwar al-Awlaki (a/k/a Anwar Nasser Abdulla Aulaqi), a U.S. born al Qaeda terrorist and the facilitator for at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. He is also the inspiration behind Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik Hassan, the guidance counselor to the attempted Christmas Day airline bomber, the thwarted Times Square bomber, and at least two other Islamic terrorists in the U.S. It has been touted as the first magazine to be issued by al Qaeda in English.


According to U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, the magazine “is proof positive that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have launched a direct appeal for Americans to launch small-scale attacks here at home.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkey Takes the Fight to PKK, Enlists Help of Syria, Iran

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 16 — Turkey — which has developed a new approach in its fight against terrorism — has decided to focus on northern Iraq, where the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) finds the most logistical support and opportunities to train its militants and has decided to move its fight against the PKK beyond the Iraqi border to continue the fight in the field. The most important leg of this plan relies on the support of Iran and Syria against the terrorist group.

A senior government official who spoke to daily Today’s Zaman on condition of anonymity said Turkey will be working closely with these two countries to block any escape routes in the region once the terrorist group is cornered in northern Iraq.

Preliminary signs of this cooperation have already emerged with Iran capturing and executing 29 PKK members in the past six months. Seventeen PKK militants were extradited to Turkey. Syria launched a military campaign against the group, killing 185 terrorists and arresting 400 others. Some 160 of these will be extradited to Turkey. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Parliament Approves Construction of 1st Nuclear Plant

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 15 — Turkish parliament has approved a bill on agreement between Turkey and Russia on construction of Akkuyu nuclear power plant. The parliament, as Anatolia news agency reports, enacted the bill approving the cooperation agreement signed by Turkey and Russia in the Turkish capital of Ankara on May 12, 2010. According to the agreement, the two countries will cooperate in construction and operation of nuclear power plant in Akkuyu in southern province of Mersin.

Russian party will launch procedure for establishment of project’s company. The power plant will have the total capacity of 4,800 MW. Akkuyu will be the first nuclear power plant in Turkey. The nuclear energy power plant is expected to meet 14% of the energy Turkey currently generates. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

What Really Happened on the Mavi Marmara and Some Revealing Events in the Middle East Today

by Barry Rubin

I. Saudi and Arab Leaders Want Obama to Rescue Them, Not Flatter Them

A UPI dispatch reports:

“A former Arab leader, in close touch with current leaders, speaking privately not for attribution, told this reporter July 6, ‘All the Middle Eastern and Gulf leaders now want Iran taken out of the nuclear arms business and they all know sanctions won’t work.’“

Now there are few former Arab leaders—they usually stay leader until health or a bullet makes them no longer available for interviews—but this sounds precisely like Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, former Saudi ambassador to the United States.

This is an accurate reading of what’s going on in most Arabic-speaking states (obviously not Syria and another de facto country called the Gaza Strip). It runs quite contrary to the dominant Western view that the Arabs-will-love-us-if-we-bash-Israel-and-show-we-think-Muslims-invented-mathematics-and-don’t-want-to-be-aggressive-or-use-force-against-anyone school.

Well, the Prince who used to be known as ambassador was basically expressing this sentiment (note 1):…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]


Diana West: Why Do We See Real Spies as Hollywood Fiction?

Just how entertaining was that Russian spy ring story that came in with a flurry of late-June arrests and went out with a Russo-American agent swap last weekend?

Two thumbs up, judging by the reviews, or was that news coverage? Sometimes it was hard to tell. In fact, something about the way the startling fact that allegedly post-Cold War Russia was running a ring of deep-cover agents in this “reset” era was put over made it seem as though there was little distinction between spy fact and spy fiction. Or, rather, that the main significance to spy fact was its place in our pop-culture attic of spy fiction.

“Details of the Russian spy network, outlined in two FBI complaints and a government press release, tell a spy story that is part John le Carre and part Austin Powers,” reported Newsweek. “Russian spy case ‘right out of a John le Carre novel’“ headlined the Christian Science Monitor. “A sensational summer spy tale that already seemed ripped from the pages of Le Carre or Ludlum,” explained the New York Daily News. The real-life events had their reference points not in historical experience but in genre fiction.

Little wonder that the news story found its own storybook femme fatale in Anna Chapman (nee Kushchenko), the comely “flame-haired” agent whose intercepted distress call to ex-KGB papa triggered the string of FBI arrests. Chapman’s web-handy glamour portraits only enhanced a story already seen as more celluloid than microfilm, more Hollywood script than criminal complaint. “Do we have any spies that hot?” Jay Leno, 60, asked the vice president, holding up a sultry Chapman pic. “Let me be clear,” replied 68-year-old Joe Biden. “It was not my idea to send her back. I thought they’d take Rush Limbaugh.”

It was all one big laugh riot. Or maybe it was all one big Hollywood publicity stunt given the spate of spy-related Hollywood products now flooding the market. Indeed, New York Times’ television critic Alessandra Stanley decided, in a spy show round-up, that the country is now in a “giddy Spy vs. Spy mood.” Giddy? “They may live among us, posing as lawn-mowing, hydrangea-growing suburbanites,” Stanley wrote. “They may be reporting intimate secrets back to Moscow, although it’s hard to know what those 11 would-be spies infiltrated besides Facebook. Ex-K.G.B. agents do die mysteriously of polonium poisoning from time to time, but Kremlin-sent assassins are not likely to blow up New York office towers or unleash chemical weapons in our subways.”

Don’t be so sure. That is, the not-so-mysteriously poisoned Russian ex-agent Alexander Litvinenko, whose slow, excruciating 2006 death by polonium poisoning is attributed to orders from Russia’s Vladimir Putin, made numerous claims that terrorism attributed to al Qaida and other jihadist groups is, in fact, backed by Russian security services, the original hell-font of global terrorism. In 2005, for example, Litvinenko told a Polish newspaper that top al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was trained by the FSB (successor to the KGB) for six months in 1997, after which he was sent to Afghanistan where he penetrated the top ranks around Osama bin Laden.

Some plot…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Pakistan: Christians Flee Violence by Islamic Extremists in Faisalabad

Local mosque launches protest action against Christians in Waris Pura. Police and government prevent more incidents. Yesterday, flyers calling for mass action against Christians were handed out. A Catholic church was attacked with rocks and stones. An alleged case of blasphemy involving two Christian brothers is the cause of the latest episode of anti-Christian violence, which brings back memories of last year’s destruction in Korian and Gojra.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) — A large number of Christians has fled Waris Pura, on the outskirts of Faisalabad, fearing violence, after Muslims launched a protest action that started at a local mosque after Friday prayers. The risk of attacks against Christians and their property is very high, a source in Faisalabad told AsiaNews, choosing anonymity for security reasons. Yesterday, hundreds of Islamic militants joined a protest march, calling for the death of two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy. During the procession, the mob stoned a Catholic church. An alleged booklet with offensive words about Prophet Muhammad is the reason for the rising tensions.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Fr Pascal Paulus, parish priest at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, said that “today’s demonstration was peaceful” and “went off without any incident.” This was made possible by “the government’s intervention” which “helped the dialogue with Muslim leaders”. The “massive presence of police” was also key in preventing acts of violence.

Fr Pascal noted that both Christians and Muslims want “Pakistan to prosper”. He insisted that all men of faith must “work for peace and dialogue;” nevertheless, he did confirm that “a climate of fear” prevails among Christians. Still, there is hope in lasting and peaceful coexistence.

Earlier, local Muslim leaders had called on Muslims to join en masse in today’s demonstration. Local sources told AsiaNews that “flyers were handed out at the mosque and door to door” with threats against Christians.

In Waris Pura, a suburb of Faisalabad (Punjab) and a former Christian ghetto with some 100,000 residents, tensions are in fact still running high. For this reason, “a large number of Christians fled”.

Tensions went further up yesterday when a similar protest march of hundreds of Islamic militants demanded the death of the two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy. As they went by Holy Rosary Catholic Church, they threw rocks and stones at the building. In previous days, additional attacks were recorded in the predominantly Christian neighbourhood.

At the root of the crisis is a blasphemy accusation levelled at Rev Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid. The two were arrested on 2 July for allegedly writing insulting words against the prophet Muhammad. They have rejected the accusation but are now facing the death penalty.

Christians living in the area have fled because of past experiences. Mobs of Muslims, whipped up by their religious and tribal leaders, invoking the so-called blasphemy law, attacked and torched Korian and Gojra, two Christian villages in Punjab.

The brutal attack, which occurred between the end of July and 1 August 2009, left seven Christian dead, including women and children, as well as hundreds of homes and a few churches destroyed.

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

Three Soldiers Wounded in Afghanistan

One ‘very serious’ after firefight with Taleban

(ANSA) — Rome, July 16 — Three Italian soldiers were wounded in a firefight in western Afghanistan Friday, one very seriously, the Italian defence ministry said.

The most seriously wounded soldier, an officer, was hit in the back and a lung while a second soldier was shot in the groin and is in serious condition and the third’s wound is not serious, it said.

The three have not been named because their families have not yet been informed.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said the officer was “not in imminent danger of losing his life,” But he is “in very serious condition,” the minister told a press conference at the Italian parliament.

The firefight took place near the northwestern town of Bala Murghab where the Italians had been engaged in an operation supporting Afghan troops.

La Russa said the area had “become very dangerous, perhaps because we weren’t there before”.

The Italian contingent has recently extended its operations further from its base at the city of Herat in western Afghanistan up towards the northern Afghan border.

La Russa said Taleban insurgents had been “pushed up there” by intense fighting with British and American troops in the south.

He said the area was an “escape route” where Italian troops now had a “major presence” and where “the danger of firefights is more frequent and evident”.

After the firefight, the Taleban also fired on and damaged the helicopter taking the most seriously wounded man to hospital.

In a separate incident in the Herat Friday, a carbomber blew himself up outside the regional command, which is under Italian control.

Three Afghan policemen were hurt.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far East

Chinese Censorship Up, But Green Dam Software Fails

The Green Dam software was supposed to be installed on every computer sold in the country, but the government pulled the plug on it for the criticism it generated and its limitations. Censorship is still going up. Google accepts restrictions imposed by the government. Undesirable microblogs and websites continue to be shut down.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China’s Green Dam Youth Escort software plan is on the verge of collapse. Imposed last year on each computer sold in the mainland in order to filter internet content, it is paying the price of public criticism and its own limitations. As a result, the government has cut funding. Censorship has not ended however.

The project team developing the software for the Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy has shut down for lack of funds, the Beijing Times reported. The same thing is going to happen soon to Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System Engineering in Henan.

A year ago, on 1 July, a government rule had come into effect whereby all computers sold in China had to include this pre-installed software that would filter sites with pornographic or violent content. Critics however noted that “politically sensitive” sites were also included in the government’s blacklist, like those speaking about the Tiananmen Square massacre, Taiwan and the Dalai Lama.

However, the software was also criticised for its own failures, namely its inability to recognise porno sites and the ease with which it allowed hackers to steal data and send unwanted messages.

The controversy over the software forced Industry and Information Technology Minister Li Yizhong to back down in August last year, saying computer makers and retailers were no longer obliged to ship the software with new computers for home or business use. However, 20 million computers used in schools, cybercafe’s and other public places had already been sold with the software incorporated.

Despite the Green Dam fiasco, Beijing has not given up on censoring “politically sensitive” websites and microblogs.

Google has recently had its licence renewed by Chinese authorities, accepting all of their censorship measures.

Meanwhile, social networks like Twitter, Facebook or Youtube are still blocked in the mainland. This week Netease, QQ, Sina, Tencent and the Chinese version of Twitter were blocked for “maintenance”.

For Ye Du, one of China’s foremost blogger, the authorities are having a hard time managing the huge volume of internet traffic generated by 420 million Chinese users. Hence, they shut down sites temporarily to increase controls and slow down the flow of information.

For example, they removed dozens of articles posted to a blog by rights lawyer Li Tiantian, because he published a photo of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

They also moved in on the blogs of two other prominent rights lawyers. Liu Xiaoyuan’s blog was closed, with hundreds of articles removed overnight, whilst Teng Biao’s blogs were also closed down because of two or three posts on the subject of citizens’ rights and social transformation.

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

Remittances by Filipino Migrant Workers Up by 6 Per Cent

More than US$ 1.58 billion are sent home in May of this year, 6 per cent higher compared to last year, and this despite the global economic crisis. “Higher remittances can be seen as a sign of hope and support for the new government by migrants who feel better about sending money home,” says PIME missionary Fr Mariani.

Manila (AsiaNews) — Despite the global economic crisis, remittances from Filipinos working abroad are up. In May, Filipinos sent home US$ 1.58 billion, 6 per cent higher than May 2009 (US$ 1.48 billion). This brings the total amount of money sent home by overseas Filipinos to US$ 7.44 billion in the first five months of the year or 6.6 per cent higher than in the January-May period last year.

“The steady stream of remittances continued to emanate from the stable demand for professional and skilled Filipino workers worldwide as well as the wider access of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries to a broader array of products and services offered by banks to cater to the various needs of their clients,” said Amando Tetangco, governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or BSP).

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) indicated that more than 70 per cent of the remittances were sent from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Italy, the remainder from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Taiwan.

In recent years, Arab countries have become magnets for Filipino workers. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of Filipino workers in the Middle East has grown by 30 per cent despite the risk of exploitation and abuse.

Fr Giulio Mariani, a PIME missionary in Zamboanga (Mindanao), said that higher remittances in May reflects the greater confidence created by the election of the new president, Beniño Aquino.

“After Aquino’s election, there is more optimism in the Philippines,” the clergyman said. “Higher remittances can be seen as a sign of hope and support for the new government by migrants who feel better about sending money home.”

The Philippines is the Asian country with the highest number of emigrants, with more than 10 million or about 9 per cent of the population, spread out in about 190 countries (70 per cent women).

Unemployment is the main cause, aggravated more recently by the global economic crisis. In 2009, about 2.72 million Filipinos lost their job.

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


70 Egyptians Repatriated From Sicily

(ANSAmed) — PALMA DI MONTECHIARO (SICILY), JULY 16 — Of the 106 Egyptians who were surprised yesterday in Palma di Montechiaro, in the province of Agrigento, 70 will be sent back with a flight that will leave this afternoon for the Fontana Rossa airport in Catania.

Meanwhile, the harbour office of Licata has found and impounded the small boat which the illegal immigrants apparently have used to reach the coast, after disembarking from a “mother ship”.

The boat had been left behind on the shore of Marina di Palma, and seems to have drifted off by itself. It was found by a patrol boat of the coastguard. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Immigration Now a Top Concern Among Latinos, Poll Shows

A nationwide survey of Latinos indicates that the issue now ranks with the economy as the most important. The tough new Arizona law is believed to have triggered the shift.

Latinos now view immigration as their leading concern along with the economy in what activists say is a major shift most likely driven by controversy over Arizona’s tough law against illegal immigrants.

Nearly a third of Latinos also believe that racism and prejudice are the central issue in the immigration debate, over national security, job competition and costs of public services for illegal immigrants, according to a national survey released Wednesday.

The poll of 504 Latinos, stratified by region, gender, age, foreign-born status and other factors, was conducted by LatinoMetrics from May 26 to June 8 for the Hispanic Federation and the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

The poll found that the vast majority of those surveyed strongly opposed the new Arizona law and strongly supported an immigration policy overhaul providing for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and deportation of felons. Republican Latinos showed similar views on these issues as Democrats and independents.

The Arizona law, which is scheduled to take effect July 29, requires police to determine the status of people they lawfully stop who they suspect are in the country illegally and makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration documents. The Justice Department recently joined several other organizations in suing Arizona to block enforcement of the law…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Swedes Incur US Anger Over ‘Slacker’ Jesus Show

Comedy Central, the US television channel which broadcasts South Park, has shown that it is not afraid of courting further controversy after buying in a Swedish idea for a show about Jesus living a regular life in New York, angering US Christian groups.

“After we reveal the vile and offensive nature of Comedy Central’s previous characterizations of Jesus Christ and God the Father, we expect these advertisers to agree wholeheartedly to end their advertising on Comedy Central and discontinue their support for unabashed, anti-Christian discrimination,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, according to entertainment website

Swedish creators Jonathan Sjöberg and Andreas Öhman, are the men behind “JC” which is an animated series about the Christian prophet escaping the shadow of his domineering father and living the life of a regular mortal in New York City.

The series is reported to be a religious and social satire but US Christian religious groups have failed to appreciate the joke.

“It’s not certain what is more despicable: the nonstop Christian bashing featured on the network, or Comedy Central’s decision to censor all depictions of Muhammad,” said William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, according to entertainment blog TV Squad, referring to a decision to censor a South Park episode in April in the face of death threats.

The heated reactions have come as something of a surprise to the producers of the show as nothing has yet been broadcast and the pilot show is not due for completion before the end of the summer.

“We are not poking fun at Christianity at all. It is more of a heart-warming story about Jesus and his complex relationship to his father,” executive producer Henrik Bastin said, according to the Aftonbladet daily.

Bozell, one of a number of conservative media personalities who have united against the show which at best has months from being aired, argues that the plans illustrate entrenched hypocrisy at Comedy Central.

“Why should they be supporting a business that makes a habit of attacking Christianity and yet has a formal policy to censor anything considered offensive to followers of Islam? This double standard is pure bigotry, one from which advertisers should quickly shy away,” he said.

With 5,500 emails from religious groups reported to have found their way to Comedy Central telling the show’s creators that they deserve eternal damnation, Jonathan Sjöberg has admitted to feeling some concern for his safety.

“I don’t know what the Christian right is capable of. Our names stood in one of the articles so, yes, I became a little scared,” he told Aftonbladet.

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