Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110107

Financial Crisis
»ADP Stands for A Dubious Prediction
»Book: Daring Official’s Blueprint for ‘Restoring the Republic’
»Charm Offensive: China Promises Support for Euro Zone
»DOT’s Mexican Trucking Proposal Draws Ire of US Truckers
»Final Tab for Pelosi’s Speakership: $5.34 Trillion in New Debt—or $3.66 Billion Per Day
»Italy: 1 in 3 Families at Risk in Unexpected Spending
»Quitting the Euro is Not So Easy
»Unemployment Rate Drop Misleading
»Administration’s Attempt to Resolve Trucking Dispute With Mexico Upsets Labor Union
»Conservative Groups Warn House GOP to ‘Fulfill This Mandate’
»Detroit’s 3,000 Demolished Home Goal Within Reach:
»MMA Fighter Calls Out Obama, Gets Secret Service Visit
»Muslim ‘Batman’ Infuriates Right-Wing US Bloggers
»Nevada Girls Accused of Online Threats in ‘Attack a Teacher’ Facebook Event
»Poll: 31% of Americans Say They’re Democrats
»Rep. Allen West: ‘The American People Are Not ‘Up’ for the Bureaucratic State’
»Republicans Introduce Bill to Eliminate Obama’s 39 Czars
»What’s Really to Blame for California’s Whooping Cough Epidemic?
»White Flight: President Obama’s Path to a Second Term May Rely on States Shaped by the Same Social Forces He Embodies.
Europe and the EU
»‘Befana’ Witch Delights Italian Kids on the Epiphany
»Elderly Swedes Bloodied in Snow Shovel Brawl
»Europe and Islam in the Wake of Attacks Against Copts in Alexandria
»Fears of Mumbai-Style Attack in London
»France: Armed Robbers Accused of Raising Cash for Terrorists
»‘Honour’ Killing Inquiry Into Irish Stabbing (2)
»‘Honour’ Killing Inquiry Into Irish Stabbing (1)
»In Times of Crisis, Belgium Goes With the Show
»Ireland: Trolley Numbers Drop Below 500 as Beds Are Reopened
»Italian Banks Wage ‘War on Cash’ As Consumers Pass on Plastic
»Italy: Trash-Hit Naples Returning to Normality
»Italy: Berlusconi Steps Out in ‘New Look’ Motor-Cycle Style Belstaff Jacket
»Italy: Protection Urged for Journalist After Suspected Radical Muslim Gunman Targets His Car
»Lakes Emit Greenhouse Gases: Swedish Scientist
»Mystery of Mass Animal Death Epidemic Deepens After 8,000 Turtle Doves Fall Dead in Italy With Strange Blue Stain on Their Beaks
»Stockholm Bomber Trained in Iraq: Official
»Sweden: Palme Prize Awarded to Palestinian Psychiatrist
»Sweden: “Abdulwahab Was Trained in Iraq”
»Tension Between E. U. And Italy Over Battisti Case
»UK: Asbo Laws Will Keep Tabs on Terror Suspects: Extremists to be Given Curfews and Banned From Meeting Other Fanatics
»UK: Food Safety Alert as Health Chiefs Warn Contaminated Eggs From Germany Are in British Food
»UK: In Denial About Campus Extremism
»UK: Jail for ‘Sexual Predators’ Who Led Asian Gang That Abused Girls as Young as 12 in ‘Reign of Terror’
»UK: Met Office ‘Kept Winter Forecast Secret From Public’
»UK: MPs’ Expenses: David Chaytor Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for False Accounting
»UK: Man Jailed for Posting Racist Video Clips on YouTube
»UK: Nick Clegg Pledges to End the Scourge of Libel Tourism as Part of Campaign to ‘Restore Our Great British Freedoms’
»UK: The [Times Higher Education Magazine] Publishes Study of Islamic Extremism on Campuses
»UK: YWCA Drops the Word Christian From Its Historic Name to Call Itself Platform 51
»UK: Youth Worker ‘Stabbed Rival in the Eye With Machete While Leading Double Life as Gang Boss’
North Africa
»Algeria Tries to Crack Down on Riots
»Egypt Cancels Danish Camp Amid Security Fears
»Guantanamo Prisoners Sent Home Against Their Will
»Libya: Berbers Arrested, Protests in Rabat
Israel and the Palestinians
»Behind the Katsav Scandal, Racism and Crisis in Israel
»Caroline Glick: Agents of Influence
»West Bank: Israeli Companies Boycott Settlements
Middle East
»Egypt: Intolerance Exploited by Syria and Iran, Expert
»Iran Arrests Dozens of Evangelical Christians
»Iraq: Civilian Casualties Drop by 15 Per Cent in 2010
»Iraq: Religious Leaders Battle to Stem Christian Exodus
»Israel-Turkey: Erdogan Like Ahmadinejad, Lieberman
»Jordan: Syria, Lebanon, Turkey in Economy Pact, Minister
»Old Turkish Comic Heroes Make Return to Bookshelves
»Turkey’s ‘Secular Survey’ Stirs Doubts About Its Faith
South Asia
»Malaysian Man Abandons ‘Demon’ Wife
»Pakistan: Audio: Analyst: Pakistani Marked for Death for Support of Christian
»Pakistan: Extremist Group Announces Suicide Attack to Kill Asia Bibi
Far East
»China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter: ‘Design is 25 Years Old’
Australia — Pacific
»Terror Threat on Australian Churches
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Mali: Explosion French Embassy, Man Arrested is Al Qaedist
»Greece: Immigration is a National Emergency, President
»Judge Orders U.S. To Supply Mentally Deficient Illegal Immigrants With Lawyers to Fight Deportation
Culture Wars
»Australia: Couple Aborts Twin Boys for Girl
»Court Asked to Give Up Control of Student’s Religion
»Diana West: The Death of the Grown-Up Goes to Sea
»More Leftist Violence Exposes Dangers of Gun Free Zones
»Globalisation Sows Biological Invasion Seeds

Financial Crisis

ADP Stands for A Dubious Prediction

By: Michael Pento

This morning’s ADP report showed that employers increased payrolls by 297,000, which was the biggest gain in the history of the report. Although this is a very strong number it is important to point out that of the total 297k jobs created 270,000 were in the service sector. This means that over 90% of all jobs created were of the borrowing to consume variety, while less than 10% were of the saving and producing genre. The obvious conclusion from this data is that the trade deficit will surge in coming months.

Contradicting the ADP report was data released from the ISM non-manufacturing report. The employment component during December shrank to a 3 month low and registered 50.5, down from 52.7 in the prior month.

How can we reconcile the fact that the employment component ticked down to a 3 month low, yet at the same time, ADP says 270k service sector jobs were created? We’ll hopefully get some clarity on this when the BLS released the employment report for December on Friday. My guess is that if you accrue over a trillion dollars of debt per year, you will eventually hire some people to help consumers spend their borrowed money. But the bill is quickly coming due and there will be no bailout forthcoming. One can only bask in the eye of a hurricane for so long.

           — Hat tip: DS[Return to headlines]

Book: Daring Official’s Blueprint for ‘Restoring the Republic’

Rep. Devin Nunes spells out specific plan for solving unsolvable problems

With rage at government at an all-time high, imagine this: A U.S. congressman reveals his deepest personal convictions on what’s wrong with the nation and how we can actually fix seemingly unsolvable problems like entitlements, Social Security and Medicare — and people are cheering him on and demanding more!

“This guy has written the best congressional book in ages. I couldn’t put it down. At a time when the federal government is bigger than it has ever been, someone has finally stood up and said, ‘Enough,’“ wrote John Dickinson in a review at “Nunes names names and tells stories of what really goes on in Washington,” he continued. “All to lead the reader in the direction of real solutions that can be enacted into law tomorrow.”

According to a publisher’s statement, Nunes’ book “lays out a detailed agenda for solving the menacing problems that threaten our nation’s future”:

At a time of unprecedented government spending, historic deficits, and gathering foreign threats, America stands at a crossroads. We can either reassert fiscal discipline and reduce the government to the size envisioned by our Founders, or we can continue on the current path of spending ourselves into oblivion.

Nunes is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House representing the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley, and is a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Charm Offensive: China Promises Support for Euro Zone

China’s leadership has launched a charm offensive aimed at Europe. The country’s vice premier, who is visiting Spain and Germany this week, has promised that Beijing will continue buying up government debt to support the troubled euro zone. He has also called for more bilateral trade.

There may be no end in sight for Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, but at least one country still believes in the euro. The Chinese leadership has promised its support for the euro zone in its hour of need as part of a charm offensive aimed at strengthening ties with the European Union.

In a guest editorial published in Wednesday’s edition of the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang promised that China would support the EU in the fight against the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis. “China’s support of the EU’s financial stabilization measures and its help to certain countries in coping with the sovereign debt crisis are all conducive to promoting full economic recovery and steady growth,” he wrote.

On Monday, he published another guest editorial in the Spanish newspaper El Pais ahead of a visit to Spain, in which he said China would continue to buy Spanish bonds. “We have confidence in the European financial market, and, in particular, the Spanish financial market,” he wrote. The promise of help is likely to be welcome in Spain, which some observers fear may have to ask for help from the EU’s rescue fund, as Ireland and Greece have already done.

In recent months, China, which has foreign-exchange reserves worth an estimated $2.5 trillion, has been buying up bonds from troubled euro-zone members such as Greece and Portugal. Beijing is seen as wanting to diversify its investments out of fears of a devaluation of the US dollar. Currently around 70 percent of its foreign-exchange reserves are believed to be in the US currency.

‘Favorable Opportunities’

Li is currently in Spain on the first leg of a European visit. He will arrive in Germany on Thursday for a three-day visit before heading to Britain on Sunday.

Speaking in Madrid on Wednesday, where he met Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Li said that China and the EU should deepen their cooperation and strengthen their strategic partnership. “I am confident that as long as we have full confidence, treat each other with honesty and make efforts in concert, we will surely be able to grasp favorable opportunities, overcome various challenges and achieve common prosperity of China, Spain and Europe,” Li said, according to the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

During Li’s visit to Germany, he will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle. Li is considered to be a possible successor to the current Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, when the top jobs are redistributed in a planned generational change in the Communist leadership in 2012.

Untapped Potential

In the guest editorial for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Li also called for increased bilateral trade between Germany and China. He wrote that, although the two economies are “highly complementary,” German investment in China makes up only 2 percent of its total overseas investment, while Chinese investment in Germany is just over $1 billion. The two countries “should continue to tap our potential,” he wrote.

There should be more investment in the areas of modern agriculture, high technology, energy and environmental protection, Li argued in the piece. He promised that China would “protect intellectual property rights in order to provide a level playing field and a stable, orderly, transparent and predictable market environment for all market players.” In the past, German firms have complained that Chinese companies have exploited joint ventures to get their hands on German companies’ technical know-how.

In its cover story on China’s rise this week, SPIEGEL reports that, in a meeting with Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao, Jürgen Hambrecht, the CEO of German industrial giant BASF, complained of the “forced disclosure of know-how in exchange for investment decisions.” He added: “That doesn’t conform entirely to our expectations for our partnerships.”

Indeed, many German firms fear that, through massive Chinese subsidies as well as the know-how obtained through joint ventures with Western partners, China could soon surpass the West in the high-tech sector.

In his Süddeutsche essay, Li also said that Germany should make it easier for Chinese firms to invest and set up subsidiaries in the country. Germany’s bilateral trade with China was worth an estimated $140 billion in 2010, comprising almost 30 percent of China’s trade with the EU. Germany’s current economic upswing is largely due to Chinese demand for German exports.

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

DOT’s Mexican Trucking Proposal Draws Ire of US Truckers

When the U.S. Department of Transportation’s revealed its plans for opening American roads to Mexican trucking companies, the proposal met with the ire of U.S. truck drivers.

“With so much focus in Washington on creating jobs, it’s a bit shocking that the administration would pursue a program that can only rob U.S. drivers of their jobs,” said Todd Spencer, Executive Vice President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, in a statement released on Thursday.

“While we appreciate that the administration is proposing to allow Congress and the public to weigh in on a future trucking program with Mexico, they seem to be missing the main issue at hand,” continued Spencer. “The onus is upon Mexico to raise their regulatory standards, not on the U.S. to lower ours to accommodate their trucking industry.”

The federal government promises a 37-point inspection for the Mexican trucks, and personal interviews with drivers, but only for the pilot program. After that, it’s back to random checks. But after the pilot program is terminated experts are sure questionable trucks and sketchy wheelmen will slip through the cracks.

American truckers believe that to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens, Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and truck drivers must be required to comply with the same level of safety, security and environmental standards that apply to their U.S.-based companies and drivers, not only while they are operating in the U.S., but also in their home country. To date, Mexico has failed to institute regulations and enforcement programs that are even slightly similar to those in the United States, according to the OOIDA.

“Mexico has been bullying our government into allowing their trucking companies to have full access to highways across the U.S. while refusing to raise regulatory standards in its own trucking industry,” Spencer pointed out in a press statement. “Mexico’s regulatory standards aren’t even remotely equivalent to what we have in the U.S.”

“Every year, U.S. truckers are burdened with new safety, security and environmental regulations. Those regulations come with considerable compliance costs,” said Spencer. “Mexico-domiciled trucking companies do not contend with a similar regime nor must they contend with the corresponding costs.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Final Tab for Pelosi’s Speakership: $5.34 Trillion in New Debt—or $3.66 Billion Per Day

In the 1,461 days that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) served as speaker of the House, the national debt increased by a total of $5.343 trillion ($5,343,452,800,321.37) or $3.66 billion per day ($3.657,394,113.84), according to official debt numbers published by the U.S. Treasury.

Pelosi was the 52nd speaker of the House. During her tenure, she amassed more debt than the first 49 speakers combined.


Pelosi not only outstripped her predecessors in the total volume of debt added to the national debt during her tenure as speaker, but also in the rate at which new debt was added. In fact, Pelosi added debt at a rate more than three times faster than her nearest competitor.


When Pelosi became speaker in January 2007 she was emphatic that there would be no new deficit spending.

“After years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: Pay as you go, no new deficit spending,” she said in her inaugural address from the speaker’s podium. “Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt.”…

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Italy: 1 in 3 Families at Risk in Unexpected Spending

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 29 — Difficulties for Italian families in tackling unexpected costs grew in 2009, as did the level of debt. This is according to the national institute of statistics (ISTAT), whose report entitled “Distribution of income and living conditions in Italy for the 2008-2009 period” shows that families that would not be able to face unexpected spending of 750 euros have gone up from 32% to 33.3%.

Compared to 2008, the number of families in arrears with debts other than mortgages has also risen (from 10.5% to 14% among those with debts), as has the number of those who find themselves I debt (from 14.8% to 16.5%).

Families with children, ISTAT says, are “relatively more exposed to disruption”, while couples without children least frequently experience economic difficulties. On average, 11.7% of couples with children say that they have been behind with the payment of bills (against 5.4% of those without children), with the number rising to 22% for families with three or more children.

The “greater vulnerability” of couples with at least three children is backed up by the fact that 31.5% of them say that they struggle to finish months, 7.3% say that they do not have enough money to spend on food, 29.2% for spending on clothes, while 22% of families living in rented accommodation or have a mortgage contract fell behind with their repayments.

As well as families with three or more children, those with only one parent and elderly people living alone are those who most frequently find themselves facing economic difficulties.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Quitting the Euro is Not So Easy

Until a short while ago, most Europeans got angry when the future of the euro became a hot debate among non-Europeans. After all, they had abandoned their national currencies to accept the euro and get rich. Now, they themselves have begun to talk about the future of the euro, even discussing possible problems created if they quit the common currency.

Their past reaction against the discussions on the future of the euro was not rational. Those non-Europeans were uneasy, as they thought that if eurozone troubles became more serious, this would also harm the economies of surrounding countries, even those that are quite far away.

Some eurozone countries with enormous deficits and debt problems might think that after abandoning the euro and returning to their old national currencies, or introducing a new one, with the help of a sharp devaluation they might find a solution to those problems. Some other countries with comparatively smaller problems, like Germany, are fed up with dealing with the problems of weak eurozone economies and might think that it would be better now to quit the euro and restore the old national currency.

However, this would not so easy. First of all, the serious social and political difficulties and the enormous financial cost of introducing the euro years ago should be remembered. Second, if a comparatively rich country, again like Germany, reintroduced its old currency it would be almost impossible to stop an overvaluation, which would make exporters unhappy and deteriorate not only the trade and current account balances but also the balances in the financial markets.

On the other hand, mostly due to the same problems, if a country with a weak economy were to quit the euro and return to its old currency, or introduce a new one, it would be forced to implement controls on capital movements, banks and financial markets in order to stop the inevitable rapid capital outflows. This would shut down domestic and international markets and create additional difficulties to get foreign financial support to solve the debt and deficit problems.

As a matter of fact, the main problem that obstructs the expected functions of a common currency accepted by a group of countries is the discrepancy in national economic policy among the countries. Even if the harmonization of national economic policies was realized in the beginning, the emergence of different economic problems after a time would make the implementation of the common package in every country impossible. Establishing a supranational authority that imposes the rules that force individual countries to implement the package is not realistic. The leaders of eurozone countries cannot even agree on much simpler issues.

It is not rational to blame them. Not only economic but also the political and social problems of individual countries are so different from each other that it would not be fair to expect them to put international problems ahead of domestic ones. And it is impossible to convince them and their people that without solving common problems it is impossible to bring solutions to individual domestic ones.

In short, although the euro has been creating a lot of problems and losing ground in the eurozone, wise people know it is not the main reason behind the recent economic catastrophe seen in some countries.

Moreover, it is not so easy to quit the euro without calculating the cost of this act. This cost might be bigger than the cost of living in the eurozone. However some economists, academics and analysts have a different idea. They maintain that the only way to save the weak economies of the eurozone is to quit the euro. Easy for them to say, difficult for politicians to implement.

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

Unemployment Rate Drop Misleading

By Rick Manning

Obama, Democrats and The Washington Post will be highlighting the headline that the unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent in December, and it is certainly good news that the economy created 297,000 new jobs for the month.

However, what isn’t being reported as widely is that a majority of the .4 percent unemployment rate drop can be credited to the 434,000 people who left the workforce in December. If the number of people in the workforce had remained unchanged, the rate would have dropped, but by a much more modest .2 percent.

Additionally, the 6.4 million people who have been unemployed for more than 27 months remained essentially unchanged — meaning the job growth did not help those who have been looking for an extended period of time.

It is also disturbing that the 8.9 million people who are in part-time jobs for economic reasons — meaning they want full-time employment — likewise remained unchanged.

So while it is great news that our economy created new jobs in December, the underlying unemployment situation remains extremely dire — as even with the good news, December marks the 19th month in a row that the unemployment rate has been at 9.4 percent or higher, the longest sustained time period where it has been this high since the Great Depression.


[Return to headlines]


Administration’s Attempt to Resolve Trucking Dispute With Mexico Upsets Labor Union

The Department of Transportation proposal lays out in general terms conditions that Mexican long-haul truck carriers would have to meet, including a safety audit, U.S. emissions standards and driver background checks.

The proposal leaves a timetable and specifics on how many trucks would be allowed to enter the U.S. from Mexico to be resolved by negotiations, which are expected to begin very soon, transportation officials said.

U.S. truck drivers oppose giving Mexican carriers access to the U.S. They say Mexican trucks don’t have to meet as stringent safety and environmental standards as their U.S. counterparts, which gives them an economic advantage.


[Return to headlines]

Conservative Groups Warn House GOP to ‘Fulfill This Mandate’

One day after House Republicans began backing away from their pledge to cut $100 billion from the federal budget, a group of stalwart conservatives circulated a “communiqué” on Capitol Hill and K Street warning Republicans to stay true to their principles and campaign promises.

The group of 47 longtime activists on the right, who dubbed themselves the “Conservative Action Project,” issued an eight-point plan for the 112th Congress in an attempt to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire on a host of conservative principles from lowering taxes and cutting spending to overturning federal funding of abortions overseas.

Members of the project include the attorney general under former President Reagan, Edwin Meese III; the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins; Let Freedom Ring’s Colin Hanna; The Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly; Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist; Citizens United’s David Bossie; Concerned Women for America’s Penny Young Nance; The Leadership Institute’s Morton Blackwell; The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney and Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglein.

The group also strongly warned Republicans only to work with Democrats when they “agree to conservative goals.”

“As new leaders your mission is to fulfill this mandate,” they wrote, referring to their eight-point plan, which specifically includes a plank on reducing government spending to pre-Obama levels. “Work with the President and his allies when they agree to conservative goals. But do not compromise on fundamental principles of freedom and limited constitutional government.”

The activists said they were standing with nearly 100 conservative leaders and Tea Party activists to reaffirm the principles of constitutional limited government, economic freedom and “our belief in a strong national security and traditional family values.”


[Return to headlines]

Detroit’s 3,000 Demolished Home Goal Within Reach:

City officials tell The Associated Press that they’re about 1,150 demolitions shy of the goal, but should reach it over the next few months. About 1,850 houses have been leveled since last April.

Bing wants 10,000 vacant and abandoned houses torn down by the time his four-year term ends in December 2013. He tells the AP that the city is “committed to removing these dangerous eyesores from our neighborhoods.”…

[Return to headlines]

MMA Fighter Calls Out Obama, Gets Secret Service Visit

‘He’s not too bright. Someone needs to knock some sense into that idiot’

UFC lightweight Jacob Volkmann, following his UFC 125 win over Antonio McKee, declared that he wanted to fight President Barack Obama for his next fight.

His words got him a visit from the Secret Service on Tuesday.

Volkmann, who is based out of Minnesota, told after his win over McKee that he wanted to face Obama because he disagreed with many of his policies.

After defeating McKee, Volkmann was asked who he would like to fight next. Volkmann first requested Clay Guida, then said “Actually, Obama. He’s not too bright … Someone needs to knock some sense into that idiot. I just don’t like what Barack is doing.”

That comment got the government’s attention, as just days later, the Secret Service came to chat with the fighter.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Muslim ‘Batman’ Infuriates Right-Wing US Bloggers

Right-wing US bloggers have reacted angrily to DC Comics’s decision to cast a Muslim character, Bilah Asselah, as the superhero in charge of Batman’s crime-fighting franchise in France.

AFP — Batman has battled many enemies but now has to face the anger of rightwing US bloggers furious that the comic book caped crusader has recruited a Muslim to run his crime-fighting franchise in Paris.

“The character’s name is Bilal Asselah and he is an Algerian Sunni Muslim and an immigrant that is physically fit and adept at the gymnastic sport parkour,” wrote Warner Todd Huston on his site Publius Forum.

“Apparently Batman couldn’t find any actual Frenchman to be the ‘French saviour’,” wrote the rightwinger, apparently discounting the millions of French citizens of North African descent from his definition of “actual” French.

In the December issues of DC Comics Detective Comics Annual and Batman Annual, the caped crusader has set up Batman Incorporated and wants to install a superhero in cities around the world to fight crime.

The hero he picks in France is called Nightrunner, the alter ego of a 22-year-old from Clichy-sous-Bois, a tough Paris suburb where urban unrest sparked riots in immigrant districts across France in 2005.

Bilal Asselah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, was caught up in that unrest and at one point he and his friend got beaten up by police who mistook them for rioters.

Bilal’s friend reacted by later burning down a police station and ended up being killed by police.

But Bilal, thanks largely to the influence of his pious Muslim mother, rejects hate and fear.

He concentrates on learning parkour, the form of acrobatics where practitioners jump from buildings and leap over walls and street furniture, as spectacularly seen at the start of the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale.”

When riots again threaten to engulf his neighbourhood, Bilal puts on a mask and, using his parkour skills, becomes Nightrunner and sets out to set things right again.

Nightrunner’s integrity, athletic prowess, and triumph over personal adversity made him Bruce Wayne’s obvious choice to represent Batman in Paris.

But rightwing bloggers in the United States, who are also upset over plans for a black actor to play the Norse God Thor in an upcoming blockbuster movie, are incensed that DC Comics chose to make their new superhero a Muslim.

They see it as pandering to political correctness.

“Unfortunately, readers of Batman will not be helped to understand what troubles are really besetting France,” wrote Huston on Publius Forum.

“In this age when Muslim youths are terrorizing the entire country, heck in this age of international Muslim terrorism assaulting the whole world, Batman’s readers will be confused by what is really going on in the world.

“Through it all DC makes a Muslim in France a hero when French Muslims are at the center of some of the worst violence in the country’s recent memory,” he wrote.

The Angry White Dude blog, which described Islam as the “religion of murder,” mocked that “Nightrunner the Muslim sidekick will have strange new powers to bury women to their waists and bash their heads in with large rocks.”

US comic book creator Bosch Fawstin, who wrote on his blog that “DC Comics has submitted to Islam,” is coming up with his own antidote.

“If you’re as sick and tired of this IslamiCrap as I am, be on the lookout for my upcoming graphic novel, The Infidel, which features Pigman, an ex-Muslim superhero who is the jihadist’s worst nightmare,” he blogged.

DC comics did not respond to an AFP request for an interview with David Hine, the writer of the album featuring Nightrunner, and declined to comment on the controversy.

But the British-born author told a US website that he had tried to “come up with the kind of hero I would want to see in a comic book if I were French.”

“The urban unrest and problems of the ethnic minorities under (President Nicolas) Sarkozy’s government dominate the news from France and it became inevitable that the hero should come from a French Algerian background,” he told the Death and Taxes site.

The mini-storm on the English-language blogosphere — where left-leaning or pro-Islam sites are attacking the rightwingers for their hostility to a Muslim superhero — has so far only sparked a tiny number of reactions on French-language websites.

The albums went on sale here last month but the small numbers stocked were quickly sold out, books.

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

Nevada Girls Accused of Online Threats in ‘Attack a Teacher’ Facebook Event

Six middle school honors students from Nevada were arrested for allegedly creating or contributing to an “Attack a Teacher” Facebook event scheduled to take place Friday morning at two separate Carson City middle schools.

The six girls — one age 13, the others 12 — all are charged with conveying a threat for allegedly posting comments on the “Attack a Teacher” Facebook page. One of the girls was also responsible for creating the online event, Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong told They have since been released to their parents.

About 100 people were invited to the “Attack a Teacher Day” event, Furlong said. Jessica Rivera, the school district’s resource officer, said it was scheduled to take place Friday morning between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. at both of the school district’s middle schools.

Fourteen students accepted the invitation, but the six girls in particular were responsible for the posts that appeared to threaten specific teachers, Rivera said.


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Poll: 31% of Americans Say They’re Democrats


[This] ties the lowest level of Democratic affiliation since the polling firm began compiling annual data in 1988. It also shows a substantial drop from just two years ago, when President Barack Obama was in the midst of his bid for the White House and 36 percent of Americans said they were Democrats.

The analysis revealed that 38 percent of Americans identify themselves as independents, tying the high from 1994, when Bill Clinton was at the halfway point of his first term and Republicans regained a majority in the House of Representatives.

Twenty-nine percent of Americans identified themselves as Republicans in 2010, a figure that has risen only slightly.

“Even as Republicans were enjoying great electoral success, the percentage of Americans identifying with the GOP, the core base of the party, barely increased,” Gallup pollster Jeff Jones wrote.


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Rep. Allen West: ‘The American People Are Not ‘Up’ for the Bureaucratic State’

In his first interview after being sworn in as a U.S. congressman, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) told on Wednesday he would support defunding Obamacare in the manner proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), by specifically prohibiting any of the money contained within appropriations bills from being used to fund Obamacare.


West, a retired military officer and Tea Party-backed candidate, said, “The thing is that this [Obamacare] is not helping us as far as the job situation, as far as our overall health-care situation — doctors are against it, small business owners are against it So if we can’t get it through the right way with the repeal vote, then we have to look at how we can just not allow this to continue on, and I think that — at a time when we need to cut our spending — I think that, looking at the creation of 159 more government agencies and bureaucracies, the American people are not ‘up’ for the bureaucratic state. I think its a good idea, absolutely.


In a Jan. 3, 2011, interview with’s Editor-in-Chief Terry Jeffrey, King said that House Republicans should include language that prohibits any funding for implementation of Obamacare in every appropriations bill that passes this year, and thus force a showdown on the issue with the Democratic-majority Senate and the president.

“Somebody’s going to blink,” King said in the interview. “It’ll be President Obama or it’ll be House Republicans.”

“If House Republicans refuse to blink, we will succeed,” he said. “Obamacare will never become the effective law of the land and we’ll be able to leave a legacy of liberty for the future generations.”


[Return to headlines]

Republicans Introduce Bill to Eliminate Obama’s 39 Czars

A group of House Republicans introduced a bill on Wednesday to rein in the various “czars” in the Obama administration.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and 28 other House Republicans introduced legislation to do away with the informal, paid advisers President Obama has employed over the past two years.

The legislation, which was introduced in the last Congress but was not allowed to advance under Democratic control, would do away with the 39 czars Obama has employed during his administration.

The bill defines a czar as “a head of any task force, council, policy office within the Executive Office of the President, or similar office established by or at the direction of the President” who is appointed to a position that would otherwise require Senate confirmation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

What’s Really to Blame for California’s Whooping Cough Epidemic?

Media headlines have been reporting on California’s whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak — the “worst in six decades” — that has sickened nearly 1,000 adults and children and reportedly killed 10 newborns.

Typically along with news of the outbreak is a finger pointed at unvaccinated people for causing the rise in whooping cough cases, which actually has nothing to do with it. But now, thanks to an investigation by California news agencies and the Watchdog Institute, at least a couple of media outlets are reporting the truth: that the pertussis vaccine is probably not that effective.


And according to a data analysis by the Watchdog Institute, up to 83 percent of those diagnosed with whooping cough in California this year had been immunized. Dr. Frits Mooi and other government scientists from Amsterdam believe this high failure rate is due to the pertussis bacteria having mutated almost two decades ago, and the vaccine being useless against this new strain.

Further, even under the best circumstances, the whooping cough vaccine is only 85 percent effective according to the drug companies, which means anyone who is vaccinated can still get the disease.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

White Flight: President Obama’s Path to a Second Term May Rely on States Shaped by the Same Social Forces He Embodies.

By Ronald Brownstein

Fully 60 percent of whites nationwide backed Republican candidates for the House of Representatives; only 37 percent supported Democrats, according to the National Election Poll exit poll conducted by Edison Research. Not even in Republicans’ 1994 congressional landslide did they win that high a percentage of the white vote.

Moreover, those results may understate the extent of the white flight from the Democratic Party, according to a National Journal analysis of previously unpublished exit-poll data provided by Edison Research.

The new data show that white voters not only strongly preferred Republican House and Senate candidates but also registered deep disappointment with President Obama’s performance, hostility toward the cornerstones of the current Democratic agenda, and widespread skepticism about the expansive role for Washington embedded in the party’s priorities. On each of those questions, minority voters expressed almost exactly the opposite view from whites.

Much can change in two years—as Obama’s own post-2008 odyssey demonstrates. These results, however, could carry profound implications for 2012. They suggest that economic recovery alone may not solve the president’s problems with many of the white voters who stampeded toward the Republican Party last year. “It comes down to that those voters are very skeptical of the expansion of government,” says Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams, a veteran strategist. “The voters who went with Obama in 2008 did not know what they were going to get with that vote. Now that they’ve seen the health care bill, the stimulus bill, the bailout, the cap-and-trade proposal—issue after issue, they don’t like what they see.”


[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

‘Befana’ Witch Delights Italian Kids on the Epiphany

Sweets for good children, ‘coal’ for bad ones

(ANSA) — Rome, January 6 — The gift-bearing ‘Befana’ witch delighted children all over Italy on Thursday with her annual appearance on the Catholic church’s feast of the Epiphany. The Befana is the mythic old witch who is said to fly into children’s homes on her broom during the night between January 5 and 6, filling stockings with sweets and small presents for good kids, and lumps of coal for naughty ones.

Many children love the coal as much as the other goodies though, as she does not bring fuel for fires but specially sweetened edible black stuff that does not look too appealing but actually tastes nice.

She was also busy showing up at the traditional processions and parades that take place all over the country on the Epiphany, a national holiday in Italy.

One of the biggest parades was on Rome’s Via della Conciliazione, the main street running from the bank of the Tiber to St Peter’s Square. Here the Befana was accompanied by mounted police, people dressed as ancient Roman soldiers, Medieval knights, ladies, crusaders, drummers and standard-bearers doing synchronised flag-throwing displays.

Special Christmas markets in many Italian towns have stalls brandishing colored stockings and candy and are decorated with old witches on brooms.

The Tuscan town of Carrara, meanwhile, broke the Guinness record for the world’s longest Befana stocking by unfurling one that was 72.98 metres long.

The Catholic Church celebrates the Epiphany as the day the Three Wise Men from the East arrived in Bethlehem to venerate the baby Jesus and present him with gifts. Although a longer-standing part of Italy’s Christmas festivities than Santa Claus, Father Christmas has started to overshadow the Befana with children here, in part because she is conceived as stingier and her gifts much smaller. The name ‘Befana’ is a corruption of “Epiphany”, which comes from the Greek ‘epifaneia’, meaning illumination, apparition, manifestation The origins of the generous old hag are said to be rooted in a mix of pagan, folk and Christian traditions.

The Befana has spawned many legends of her own, like that of the Three Wise Men asking directions to Bethlehem from an old woman they encountered along the road.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Elderly Swedes Bloodied in Snow Shovel Brawl

The two neighbours, one man in his seventies and the other in his eighties, disagreed on how to properly deal with removing the snow from the area around their homes.

As the two elderly men were unable to reach resolve their dispute amicably, the disagreement turned ever more heated, soon escalating to a full-out fight, with the men using their snow shovels as weapons.

“Something happened that upset one of the neighbours, who then attacked, while the other one defended himself. It started out with a little shove, then some chaos ensued,” Nils-Erik Eriksson, media relations officer at the Jönköping police force, told the local newspaper J-Nytt.

No one was seriously injured in the snowy brawl, although one of the men went to the hospital with a bump on his head and some scratches. The two neighbours have now reported each other to the police for assault, reported the radio station Sveriges Radio Jönköping.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and Islam in the Wake of Attacks Against Copts in Alexandria

Absurd accusations against the Coptic community of keeping two women who converted to Islam captive. The psychosis of a country that prohibits changing of religion. Islamic attacks against Shenouda, the criticism of the imam of Al-Azhar against Benedict XVI. Europe must open up channels for cultural dialogue with Islamic countries, rejecting secularism and fundamentalism. Just like the pope said.

Rome (AsiaNews) — The attack against the Church of Saints in Alexandria, Egypt, on December 31 last, shows in an increasing harsh light the growth of Christianophobia in the Islamic world (and beyond). It is important to denounce this violence, but also to find practical steps to counter it.

First, the facts: Muslims accuse the Egyptian Coptic Church and Patriarch Shenouda III, of holding two women who converted to Islam captive against their will in convents in Egypt. This accusation, which is completely false, was repeated on the very same day of the attack, on December 31. In the mosque 200 meters from the church attacked at midnight, following his imam’s sermon, there was a demonstration of Muslims calling for the release of these two women and all others.

This story has been dragging on for four years. It claims that the two women, Wafa ‘Constantine and Camelia Shehata, who are married to two priests, had marital problems, that they then converted to Islam and were kidnapped and hidden by the Church. It is true that women had marital problems, but it is not true that they converted. In fact the late leader of Al-Azhar, Tantawi, decreed that there is no evidence of their conversion. The two women were then brought to the Church, who for fear of their possible kidnapping by Islamist movements, gave them refuge in convents. But the story keeps coming back to the surface. Even after the attack on the Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad on October 31 last year, the group that claimed responsibility for the terrorist act, cited the case of these two women, to justify attacks against Christians in Egypt.

All of this is absurd. Yesterday, I participated in an online forum of an Islamic newspaper, al-Mesreyya, discussing the attack on the church in Alexandria. Instead of expressing their condolences for the Christian victims, their horror at the attack, etc.. Everyone — at least 60 comments- said that “it is the Copts fault,” and cited the story of the two women; that the attack on the church was organized by Copts themselves “to make us look bad in front of the rest of the world”; or something that was organized by the U.S. and Mossad. I posted a short comment, but it was not published. In the few lines I wrote, I asked what right is there to force a conversion? Conversions are in stifled in Egypt, that is, conversion to Islam is facilitated but those from Islam to another religion are strongly hindered.

The imam of Al-Azhar

In this situation the reaction of Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the current Imam of Al-Azhar, is understandable. He paid a visit to the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III to express his condolences. In Egypt, these visits are a formality every time there is an attack, they imply “we always understand each other”, and “we should not destroy national unity.” Thousands of Christians were demonstrating in front of the patriarchate to ask for more security and protection for Christians. The faithful reacted by shouting slogans and throwing stones at the car of the Muslim representative. But we must also take into consideration what Muslims do. Over the past three months several times a picture Shenouda was trampled upon and destroyed, and the names of 200 Copts are on a death list, with the patriarch in first place. Among them are 100 names of Canadian, German, Austrian and European Copts, and “shedding their blood — reads the list — is lawful.” In this case too, the obsession with conversions is at the root of the violence.

The Egyptian government says that the attack on the church of Alexandria was carried out by foreigners. And in a way it’s true: the Iraqi group linked to Al Qaeda that claimed responsibility for the Church attack in Baghdad on Oct. 31, threatened further violence if the two Egyptian women were not handed over to the Islamic community. Al Qaeda, whose leader is al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian, is in fact a widespread terrorist mafia with international branches.

The imam of Al-Azhar has criticized the pope for asking world governments to defend Christians and claims he does not care about Muslims killed in Iraq. That a figurehead such as he, considered a very learned and moderate man — he knows several languages and studied in Paris — should say such things against the pope is unacceptable: he has criticized the pope without really knowing anything, by simply repeating what he has read in the headlines[1].

In fact there is nothing to criticise in the Pope’s address. Benedict XVI only recalled that violence against man is against the will of God. Of course he asked for help for Christians, seeing that he was referring to recent events. But even if he asked for increased security for Christians, is that really a scandal? If the governments of the Middle East are not able to defend them, because they do not want to or because they are not capable of doing so, then the world must do something, otherwise what’s the UN or other international bodies for?

It is also ridiculous to say — as the imam of Ahzar did — that the pope has never defended the Muslims of Iraq. Neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI ever approved of the American intervention of Iraq, nor believe that it was lawful. It must be said then that Muslims are often targeted and killed by other Muslims. The pope can condemn violence and say that we must defeat intolerance, and stop justifying violence in the name of God, but the pope has done this countless times.

The destiny of Europe and the Middle East

Some analysts warn against attempts by the West to exploit all this violence against Christians. In fact, however, in many European countries, Muslims continue to increase their demands, presenting them as their “rights”; they do unusual things and nobody says anything. For example, in France and Italy, Friday Muslim prayer takes place in public spaces, on the streets, blocking traffic.

Islam in Europe is becoming increasing more demanding and governments do not know how to react to it; some impede integration; the relationship between governments and Muslim immigrants is among the most difficult.

Of course, the vast majority of Muslims want peace, want to integrate, but among them there are people who have another project: we in Europe have the right to have our law, Shariah, and you prevent us from having this. A few years ago in Milan, the head of the Viale Jenner mosque, responding to a questions about conversions to Christianity in Egypt said “you simply have to apply the law”, which means the death of those who have converted. And if you condemn the application of the law then you are holding back our freedom of religion. This position is creating problems in France, Italy, Sweden, etc. …

It is possible that European governments use violence against Christians to block Islamic emigration. Just as is it possible that Israel uses this violence to justify an ever more apparent racism in Israeli society. But violence against Christians is something that happens every day and has as its aim to rid the Middle East of the Christian presence. Bombings and killings are a constant reality in Egypt.

Dialogue to defeat fundamentalism and secularism

For this reason, some European countries are beginning to say “enough”. There is the growing realization that something must be done. It is true that other attacks on the religious freedom of Christians in China or Vietnam or in Laos, are condemned, if only, sporadically. The fact is that the Middle East is closely tied to Europe and the problem of coexistence with Islam is a European problem. I am pleased with the unanimous response of the international community on the attack on the Copts in Egypt. What is striking in this case is the absolute innocence of the Copts: What have they done to deserve such a murderous attack? In other parts — Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon … — there are acts of war, but there is none of this here in Egypt, it is a violent, gratuitous attack motivated only by “conversions” and just as we all ask for freedom religion, as in the pope’s message for World Day of Peace.

The episode in Alexandria in Egypt is an act against religious freedom. But Muslims in the name of Shariah, are not able to understand the value of human rights. Human rights must come before all tradition and all laws, even sharia.

It must be said that this violence also involves the West. The pope, in his speech on 1 January, said that it concrete actions are needed and not just words. I think we need pay particular attention to the Middle Eastern or Islamic countries, or wherever violence against religious freedom occurs. It is no good putting pressure on these nations, because they see it as too much interference. The American proposal for collaboration with Islam, made by Barack Obama, does not arouse enthusiasm because the U.S. proposals then lapse into a form of colonialism.

The point is that the relationship with these countries must become not exclusively economic but also cultural. One of the main points of this dialogue is the need to take the fundamentalists criticism of Western civilization, which they see as atheist, seriously. The fundamentalists are full of critical errors, but they are based in reality. They see that the West promotes an irreligious culture. In fact, the West is either neutral or indifferent, or even contrary to religion. While fundamentalists promote Islamic religious culture.

We have to take the middle road between two extremes: the secularist West, in which there is no room for religion, or Islamic fundamentalist way in which religion penetrates, through force, all areas of life : prayer, work, sex, family, etc. …

In the Angelus of January 1, the pope said: “Today we are witnessing two opposite trends, both negative, both extremes: on one hand, secularism, which often in a very deceitful way, marginalizes religion to confine it to the private sphere and on the other fundamentalism, which instead wants to impose it by force. “ I really think the pope is right. We must reject both secularism and fundamentalism.

[1] Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the imam of Al Azhar, criticized the pope for — in his opinion — having only appealed for greater protection for Christians in his homily on 1 January. “I do not agree — he said — with the position of the pope and wonder why the pope did not ask for protection when they were killing Muslims in Iraq.” In fact, the pope’s words were: “Faced with the threatening tensions of the moment, especially in the face of religious discrimination, abuses and intolerance, which today affect Christians in particular (cf. ibid., 1), once again I address this urgent appeal to not give in to despair and resignation. I urge everyone to pray that the efforts undertaken by several parties to promote and build peace in the world come to fruition”. It is true however, that many media have published headlines like “Pope calls on governments to protect Christians,” with a clear reduction of the message.

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

Fears of Mumbai-Style Attack in London


Sky News reported that transport police were told to cancel days off Friday, and that there would be a heavy police presence across the capital — including near Luton and Heathrow airports.

The report quoted unnamed sources as saying that members of the emergency services had recently been briefed about how to respond to a Mumbai-style attack on London.

Scotland Yard declined comment on the report, saying they never discuss the specifics of terrorism-related operations. The Home Office said the country faced a real and serious threat from terrorism, but declined to go into details.

The government said the threat level from international terrorism remains at “severe” — the second-highest level, meaning an attack is highly likely. The level has not changed since Jan. 2010.


[Return to headlines]

France: Armed Robbers Accused of Raising Cash for Terrorists

Eight men appear in a Paris court Monday accused of carrying out violent armed robberies and of stealing cash to support terrorists, an allegation they all deny.

A French criminal gang carried out armed robberies to finance the al Qaeda terrorist network, Paris prosecutors have alleged in a trial that begins Monday.

Led by French-Algerian Ouassini Cherifi — AKA “The Turk” — the eight men are accused of taking part in a botched raid on a cash delivery company in 2005.

They are also accused of an armed robbery in which documents from the “Imprimerie Nationale” — France’s official printing works — were stolen.

The gang operated out of the back room of a restaurant owned by Cherifi called “Le Rendez-vous Gourmand” in the Clichy-Sous-Bois suburb of Paris, which prosecutors say served as a logistics centre for the gang’s operations.

Assault rifles

On information from one of the arrested suspects, police discovered an arsenal of weapons in a nearby lock-up garage.

The haul included stocks of dynamite, TNT, an AK-47 assault rifle, a French military-issue FAMAS rifle, a number of handguns, spare magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Police also found a radio transmitter, a blue flashing light of the type that is fixed to the roof of a car, police uniforms and bullet-proof vests.

The court accuses 36-year-old Cherifi of travelling to Turkey in September 2005, where he is alleged to have met with jihadist groups and to have committed to funding their operations through his criminal activities.

Fake passports

Cherifi was previously convicted in 2002 for trafficking fake passports to radical Islamist groups. He was jailed for five years and released on parole before the 2005 robberies.

Other defendants include 39-year-old Tunisian Mourad Feridhi, who has been convicted three times for offenses including armed robbery, 34-year-old Manoubi Ben Hadj Brahim and 31-year-old Hichem Ezzikouri, all of whom have been remanded in custody since their arrest.

Four others have been on bail pending the trial.

Some of the gang members have admitted being part of a criminal group — but all deny they were acting to raise cash for terrorists.

The trial in Paris is taking place before a special criminal court for serious crimes affecting national security and is composed entirely of judges.

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

‘Honour’ Killing Inquiry Into Irish Stabbing (2)

Irish detectives are investigating the murder of a Pakistani man in what may have been the Republic’s first so-called honour killing, according to Garda sources.

The 32-year-old Pakistani national died in a Dublin hospital today after being stabbed in an apartment in Drogheda, Co Louth, yesterday.

A 30-year-old woman who was also stabbed is being treated in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Her injuries are not life-threatening.

A 30-year-old man was arrested in Drogheda late last night. A Garda source said detectives were working on the theory that the murder may have been an “honour” killing.

Man (32) dies after Louth stabbing

A man hospitalised following a stabbing incident in Co Louth yesterday has died.

The Pakistan native (32) was seriously injured in an attack at an apartment at Fitzwilliam Court, Dyer Street, Drogheda yesterday afternoon.

His partner (30) was also stabbed during the incident, but her injuries are not life threatening.

The couple were taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, where the man passed away last night.

Gardaí believe a man known to the female victim called to the apartment and attacked the couple because he was unhappy about the nature of their relationship.

Both victims were stabbed in the stomach. The attacker then fled the scene.

A man (30) was arrested in Drogheda late last night in relation to the incident and is being detained at Drogheda Garda station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

‘Honour’ Killing Inquiry Into Irish Stabbing (1)

Irish detectives are investigating the murder of a Pakistani man in what may have been the Republic’s first so-called honour killing, according to Garda sources.

The 32-year-old Pakistani national died in a Dublin hospital on Friday after being stabbed in an apartment in Drogheda, Co Louth, on Thursday.

A 30-year-old woman who was also stabbed is being treated in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Her injuries are not life-threatening.

A 30-year-old man was arrested in Drogheda late on Thursday night. A Garda source said detectives were working on the theory that the murder may have been an “honour” killing.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

In Times of Crisis, Belgium Goes With the Show

BRUSSELS — By the end of it all, Belgium’s most popular politician pronounced himself satisfied. “Mission accomplished,” he said.

Bart De Wever had not solved the dispute between Belgium’s Dutch and French speakers, which has stalled the formation of a permanent government for almost seven months — the longest such crisis in the country’s history.

No, he had just survived his first round in the late-evening quiz show “The Very Smartest Human in the World,” where he had excelled, among other things, in identifying a slew of actresses shown with their breasts accidentally exposed.

Like much of the population, De Wever seems to be taking the political crisis in stride.

Hours before the show aired late Wednesday De Wever’s Flemish nationalist N-VA shot down the latest proposal to reform the constitution and set up a coalition government. There would for now be no end to the crisis that has prevented political progress ever since De Wever — a rotund historian with a penchant for Latin quotations — won elections on June 13.

So a solution to the bickering between Belgium’s 6 million Dutch-speaking Flemings and 4.5 million Francophone Wallonians will have to wait a bit longer. And international investors seeking a government in full control to reassurance that the country can control its finances will have to do without for now.

But De Wever remained nonchalant. Asked how he’d found the time for a TV show, he quipped, “I had nothing better to do.”

Even though the program had been taped a week in advance, critics were scathing — saying he was a bit like Nero, the emperor who played his fiddle while Rome burned. ad_icon

The Francophone paper Le Soir complained Thursday that, while his party limited itself to a terse statement rejecting the latest reform proposal, “De Wever could only be seen on the set of the ‘Very Smartest Human.’“

He confidently advanced through another round in the quiz late Thursday, and with equal aplomb criticized those who had attacked his participation.

He called it “a heap of rubbish” to charge he had been less than diligent because of the show.

“I challenge you to find one meeting that was moved one minute because I played that game,” he said on VRT network. He said the criticism felt “like a blow below the belt.”

Beyond the general knowledge questions, the show is known for risque jokes and bawdy comedians. De Wever, not to be outdone, gave graphic descriptions of singer Beyonce’s curves on Wednesday.

When asked how he recognized Jessica Simpson in the exposed-breast category, he replied, “I didn’t directly look at her face, but the rest was recognizable.”

His performance had both fans and detractors.

“When it comes to perception, it wasn’t good to see he is playing the funny man while the country is grounded in crisis,” said Prof. Dave Sinardet, a political scientist at Brussels University.

That crisis seems likely to endure. For decades. Belgian politicians have turned compromises between Flanders and Wallonia into high political art. But positions in northern Flanders have hardened, bringing De Wever to the fore.

The socialist PS party has long dominated the southern region of Wallonia, Belgium’s rustbelt region, which is dependent on state funding as it tries to turn its economy around. Now, however, De Wever’s N-VA has gained the support of the wealthier electorate in Flanders by arguing that only increasing autonomy can keep the region from having to fund its southern neighbors.

“You get two different realities that are increasingly hard to reconcile,” said Sinardet.

On Thursday, the country’s crisis mediator offered to resign after his latest proposals failed to get sufficient backing from some of the four Flemish and three Francophone parties that have been trying for months to set up a government. “We have fundamental questions” about the proposals, said De Wever, dashing hopes of immediate success.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” said mediator Johan vande Lanotte of the refusal of some parties, like De Wever’s, to endorse the proposals.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Ireland: Trolley Numbers Drop Below 500 as Beds Are Reopened

THE NUMBERS of patients on trolleys (gurneys) in hospital emergency departments dropped to just under 500 yesterday morning from a high of 569 on Wednesday as a number of hospitals confirmed reopening closed beds to alleviate overcrowding.

Naas General Hospital, where the trolley crisis was particularly severe, confirmed it opened 20 beds this week.

At Mullingar General Hospital, a further 16 beds were opened.

Cork University Hospital, where overcrowding was the worst in the State on Wednesday, confirmed it had reopened eight beds. It has also cancelled some elective surgery scheduled for today.

Galway University Hospital said elective admissions were deferred for the remainder of the week.

At Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, where the numbers on trolleys waiting for beds reached 45 on Wednesday, a number of elective surgeries have also been cancelled. The hospital has opened an extra 12 beds in a day ward to help ease the overcrowding.

Limerick Regional Hospital said 10 elective operations were cancelled yesterday and another 10 will be cancelled today. Day case lists have also been suspended. Eleven extra beds are being used in a surgical day ward.

Cavan General Hospital said planned surgical activity in the hospital has been curtailed for the remainder of this week. Some elective surgery has also been postponed at Letterkenny hospital.

Overall, the numbers of patients on trolleys fell to 492 early yesterday.

While some hospitals were able to cancel elective surgery to deal with the trolley crisis, it has emerged overcrowding was a problem in a number of hospitals which hadn’t even scheduled elective operations for this week.

Mayo General Hospital did not have any elective surgery scheduled for this week, yet it still had 18 patients on trolleys early yesterday. Similarly, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda had no elective surgery scheduled for this week as part of its winter planning initiative but had 24 patients on trolleys early yesterday.

The overall numbers of patients on trolleys waiting for beds by yesterday afternoon had dropped to 200, the Health Service Executive (HSE) said last night. It has urged the public to keep hospital emergency departments for emergencies only and says those with concerns about flu should contact their GP.

There was still no comment from Minister for Health Mary Harney on the trolley crisis yesterday. She is on holidays.

The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine said the overcrowding was putting patient safety throughout the health system at grave risk.

“It is now well-established that boarding hospital inpatients in emergency departments results in increased numbers of deaths among this group of ill patients, compared to similar patients who are admitted to a hospital ward in a timely fashion,” it said.

“Emergency department overcrowding is therefore potentially a matter of life and death for patients over and above their experience of being treated in surroundings which are inappropriate and compromise their dignity,” it added.

It also said the failure to provide adequate hospital bed capacity to deal with the health service’s acute workload “is the primary problem to be addressed and cannot and should not be blamed on seasonal flu”.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection with the HSE, said he agreed with the emergency medicine consultants. He didn’t believe flu had made a big impact on emergency departments. This is despite claims earlier this week from the HSE that much of the pressure on emergency departments could be attributed to the increase in the number of people suffering with swine flu and other seasonal illnesses common at this time of year.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which compiles the daily trolley figures, said a nationwide survey by it identified 1,672 closed beds. More than 400 beds of these are in elderly care facilities such as local district and community hospitals.

Liam Doran, general secretary of the INMO, said the closed beds must be reopened to ease the current crisis and to give patients back their dignity.

Shelf Life: Drug Expiry Date

SOME PATIENTS with swine flu are being prescribed Tamiflu in boxes which suggest the antiviral is out of date.

A Castlebar woman who was prescribed the drug yesterday found an expiry date of June 2010 on the box. However the HSE, in a letter to pharmacists, has said the European Medicines Agency has extended the shelf life of the medicine by two years.

Therefore it can be used until June 2012 as long as it has been stored at below 25 degrees.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, head of health protection with the HSE, said there are sufficient antivirals in stock to treat one million people.

           — Hat tip: McR[Return to headlines]

Italian Banks Wage ‘War on Cash’ As Consumers Pass on Plastic

The Italian Banking Association has declared ‘war on cash’ as the country loses about 100 billion euros of revenue a year from untaxed transactions in the so-called underground economy, which amounts to about 22 percent of gross domestic product, according to government statistics. Credit-card usage in Italy is less than half the European Union average

Cash is king in Italy, a lesson Massimiliano Romano learned when he tried to pay for a cab with a credit card at Rome’s main train station.

“I thought my cards would be enough,” said Romano, head of research at brokerage Concentric Italy in Milan. “But I had to let 10 people go in front of me in the line before I found a driver who would accept a credit card.”

The Italian Banking Association has declared “war on cash” in a country where credit-card usage is less than half the European Union average, according to the Bank of Italy. The association, known by its Italian acronym ABI, says it costs banks and companies as much as 10 billion euros ($13.3 billion) a year to process cash payments, mainly in increased security and labor. Rome-based ABI aims to cut those expenses by promoting electronic payments with credit and debit cards and wire transfers in both the public and private sectors.

“Italy urgently needs these changes to catch up with other countries like France, which has allowed non-cash payments for public services for more than two decades,” said Rita Camporeale, head of payment systems and services at ABI.

Italy’s culture of cash is deeply rooted. Italians are the euro-region’s least-indebted consumers and among its biggest savers, according to 2009 Eurostat data. Companies often pay salaries in cash to evade taxes, particularly in Italy’s southern region, where organized crime is prevalent.

Lost revenue

Italy loses about 100 billion euros of revenue a year from untaxed transactions in the so-called underground economy, which amounts to about 22 percent of gross domestic product, according to government statistics. The Finance Ministry agrees with ABI proposals to make public offices accept electronic payments and install point-of-sale terminals, Camporeale said in a Dec. 21 interview. Banks also want a ban on cash salaries, she said.

Consumers and merchants are skeptical. “The banks only want to multiply the transactions they handle to increase their profits,” said Carlo Rienzi, head of consumer-rights group Codacons in Rome. “Replacing cash with electronic money is correct from a security standpoint, but should be done for free, which won’t happen.”

ABI hasn’t said how much banks stand to profit from commissions tied to an increase in electronic payments. The average Italian makes 26 credit-card transactions a year, according to the latest Bank of Italy annual report in May. That’s five times less than in the U.K., which leads the ranking with 125 annual transactions, the report shows.

Taxi drivers

Charges on card payments discourage retailers and small businesses from accepting them. “We have to pay fees from 3 percent to 4 percent for every card transaction,” said Efrem Abramo Goi, a Milan taxi driver.

It’s the customer though who often gets stuck with the bill. “When I finally got to my destination, as a final surprise the taxi driver rounded up the fare to cover the card commission,” said analyst Romano, who arrived 30 minutes late to his meeting in Rome.

Visa Europe Ltd., operator of the largest payment-card network in the 27-nation EU, will reduce debit-card transaction fees paid by retailers as part of a deal announced on Dec. 8 to end EU antitrust action. Visa Europe agreed to cut fees to 0.2 percent per debit-card purchase. MasterCard settled a similar case with the commission last year, agreeing to trim fees to 0.3 percent for transactions with credit cards and 0.2 percent for debit cards.

The 0.2 percent rate is “the level where merchants have no preference whether consumers pay with a Visa debit card or with cash,” Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner, said Dec. 8 in Brussels.

Tax burden

With surcharges decreasing in Italy, the price of using plastic is almost in line with the hidden costs of managing cash, said Davide Steffanini, general manager of the Italian unit of Visa Europe. “Merchants only notice the costs of cards because they have to pay a fixed fee,” he said. “But cash also has costs related to handling, transport and security.”

Many companies accept those costs in the face of some of Europe’s highest payroll taxes. An employee at a nougat plant near Naples, who declined to be identified because of concern she might lose her job, said the company pays staff in cash to evade taxes and sells about 20 percent of its products without issuing any receipts.

Increased use of cards and wire transfers would allow authorities to track payments now outside their control, said Steffanini. ABI says it also would help Italy, Europe’s most indebted nation in nominal terms, recoup billions of euros in lost tax revenue.

Winning over cash-loving Italians won’t be easy, said Carlo Alberto Carnevale-Maffe, a professor of business strategy at Milan’s Bocconi University. “Italians have a strong family tradition that leads them to avoid debt and save a lot to ensure their kids a future,” he said by phone. “They like solid investments such as houses. And for renovations or purchases made under the table, what better way than cash?”

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

Italy: Trash-Hit Naples Returning to Normality

Lasting solutions sought, problem persists in surrounding area

(ANSA) — Naples, January 4 — Naples is returning to normality after months of toiling with a huge trash crisis, but the Italian government was holding a meeting with local officials Tuesday to find lasting solutions to a problem that persists in the surrounding area.

The southern city has largely been cleared of rubbish piles after the military were sent in to lend a hand during the Christmas holidays and other regions agreed to take some of it to ease the emergency. But thousands of tonnes of refuse still lie uncollected on streets in the province of Naples and the situation is especially bad in the towns of Melito, Casalnuovo, Giugliano, Pozzuoli and Quarto.

Cabinet Undersecretary Gianni Letta was due to meet Naples Mayor Rosa Russo Iervolino and other local representatives to establish the way forward.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who won kudos inside and outside Italy for resolving a similar crisis shortly after coming to power in 2008, has blamed local authorities for the crisis running on for so long.

He has said the local councils have not kept commitments to open new landfill sites and construct new incinerators.

The authorities are facing stronger hostility to dumps many believe are toxic than they did two years ago in the Naples area, which has had waste-disposal problems for many years.

Plans to open some new dumps in the area have been shelved after violent clashes with local residents.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, however, said he was optimistic after meeting Iervolino and Campania governor Stefano Caldoro and speaking on the telephone to Province of Naples President Luigi Cesaro on Monday.

“These three institutions have reached common positions on managing the refuse emergency and strategies to put the rubbish processing system up to speed,” Napolitano said Tuesday.

“It seems to me that there’s a highly constructive climate that gives us grounds to be hopeful”. A European Commission delegation scolded Italy after a visit to Naples in November, saying the situation did not appear to have improved compared to two years ago and that plans for rubbish processing and recycling were inadequate.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Steps Out in ‘New Look’ Motor-Cycle Style Belstaff Jacket

Milan, 4 Jan. (AKI) — Italy’s flamboyant prime minister Silvio Berlusconi sported a jaunty ‘new look’ black Belstaff jacket with a police badge stitched onto its shoulder during a public appearance in Milan on Tuesday.

Berlusconi wore the jacket as he posed for photographers the northern city, where he met relatives of victims of convicted far-left Italian terrorist Cesare Battisti, whom Brasil last week refused to extradite to Italy. Sit-ins were held in piazzas in Rome and other Italian cities on Tuesday to protest Brasil’s decision, which the Italian government is seeking to reverse.

The belted motorcyle-style garment with four symmetrical pockets was made specially for the Italian premier by Belstaff, the famous jacket maker whose fans include film stars including George Clooney, Harrison Ford and Leonardo Di Caprio.

The garment draws its inspiration from a new series of Belstaff jackets designed for the Italian police. Prices for the jackets start at 600 euros.

Berlusconi was spotted wearing the Belstaff jacket during a recent visit to the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. The waterproof jacket has a quilted lining, is made from high-tech fabric and is designed to withstand low temperatures. It was designed by Michele Malenotti.

The 74-year-old media tycoon sets great store on his appearance and likes to ring the changes. He was previously often seen wearing a distinctive bomber jacket given to him by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi had a light-weight waterproof jacket specially made to give all heads of state and government attending the G8 summit in the quake-hit central Italian city of L’Aquila in April, 2009 and was snapped wearing one of the jackets himself.

During a press-conference on the government’s planned higher education reforms in Rome on 4 February last year, the flamboyant Berlusconi wore a grey pinstriped waistcoat beneath his jacket.

During a holiday at his villa in Sardinia in 2004 with then British prime minister Tony Blair and Blair’s wife Cherie, Berlusconi famously appeared in a pirate-style white bandana following a hair transplant.

He has also been known to wear a panama hat in the summer.

At a party on Sardinia’s exclusive Emerald Coast in 2007 he was photographed in a blue shirt and trousers and white shirt with the collar up. His appearnce was likened to US actor John Travolta’s character Tony Manero in the hit 1970s movie Saturday Night Fever.

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

Italy: Protection Urged for Journalist After Suspected Radical Muslim Gunman Targets His Car

A director of Italian public broadcaster RAI has urged the government to protect to one of its journalists after a suspected radical Muslim opened fire on his car in southern Italy. Nello Rega was uninjured in the attack as he drove home late on Thursday. Rega wrote a book on Islam’s uneasy relationship Christianity and has received several threats from alleged Muslim extremists over the past two years. “Last night’s attack should leave people in no doubt. Rega could have been killed. Why is he not adequately protected?” said Antonio Bagnardi, director of RAI Televideo, where Bagnardi works. “Isn’t it enough that he has beeen intimidated for months on end and now is a victim of attempted murder,” Bagnardi added, calling on Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni to intervene. A single shot was fired at Rega’s car from a vehicle that drew up alongside as he drove along a state highway near the city of Potenza in Italy’s Basilicata region, damaging Rega’s rear window. He reported the attack to police, who were examining his car as part of their investigation.

Since his book ‘Different and Divided — a Diary of Coexistence with Islam’ Rega has received threats in the Italian capital, Rome, and in Potenza including an envelope mailed to him with bullets inside. Bagnardi urged media not to under-report or ignore such incidents…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Lakes Emit Greenhouse Gases: Swedish Scientist


Data from 474 freshwater ecosystems and the most recent global water area estimates indicate that methane emissions from freshwaters correspond to 25 percent of all carbon dioxide, the study found.

Forests act as sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide emitted into the air and improving the greenhouse balance. The study concluded that freshwaters must be recognised as an important part of the global carbon cycle.

Bastviken worked with a team that included members from Uppsala University, Stockholm University and institutions in the US and Brazil. They measured how much methane gas was emitted from lakes, ponds and streams.

The researchers found that nature not only binds greenhouse gases, it also emits gases in the form of bubbles with methane from the water. As such, the measurements show that nature cannot absorb the same amount of gases that were previously estimated.

According to Bastviken, the volume of emissions is probably even greater than the estimates the researchers collected because methane bubbles are difficult to capture.

“Water environments are no environmental threat. We just have not taken account of them before…


(From comment thread, by “Tadchem”:

All life emits ‘greenhouse gases.’ CO2 is a necessary nutrient for plants, and methane is a natural product of plant decomposition. The characterization of biomass as ‘sinks’ for GHGs is misleading. All biomass is mortal, and the death of any plant or anima necessarily leads to the recycling of CO2 and methane via the atmosphere. Efforts to permanently trap these carbon compounds underground can only lead to the carbon starvation of all life on earth.

The physics of GHGs used by the IPCC is flawed. these substances are not heat sources. The sunlight trapped by GHGs heats the air directly, while the sunlight which is not trapped by them heats the ground below, which in turn heats the air INdirectly. Either way, it’s the sun that heats the air.)

[Return to headlines]

Mystery of Mass Animal Death Epidemic Deepens After 8,000 Turtle Doves Fall Dead in Italy With Strange Blue Stain on Their Beaks

Thousands of dead turtle doves rained down on roofs and cars in an Italian town in the latest in a growing spate of mass animal deaths across the globe.

Residents in Faenza described the birds falling to the ground like ‘little Christmas balls’ with strange blue stains on their beaks.

Initial tests on up to 8,000 of the doves indicated that the blue stain could have been caused by poisoning or hypoxia.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stockholm Bomber Trained in Iraq: Official

Three months before the bomb blasts in Stockholm last month, the suicide bomber trained in Mosul in Iraq and learned how to make bombs, the director of the fight against terrorism in Iraq said on Friday.

“He trained in Mosul for three months…He entered Iraq from Turkey,” General Dhai Kanani, the head of Iraq’s anti-terrorism unit, said of Taimour Abdulwahab in excerpts from an interview with Arabic-language television channel Al Arabiya.

Kanani said the information was obtained from a detained Islamist and that Baghdad had warned US intelligence of a possible attack by Al-Qaeda.

“The attack was going to be in the United States, Europe or Britain,” he said.

Kanani did not say when Abdulwahab spent his time in Mosul, the northern city that is a hive of Al-Qaeda activity. He added that Iraqi authorities were investigating information about an Egyptian militant who was training in Iraq at the same time.

In Abdulwahab’s purported will, posted on an Islamist website shortly after his December attack, he said the Al-Qaeda front group in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, “has fulfilled what it promised you.”

The late chief of the self-proclaimed ISI, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, had called in an audio message in September 2007 for reprisals in Sweden for the cartoons of Islam’s prophet Mohammed by Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.

Baghdadi also offered cash for killing the cartoonist and named Swedish companies like Ericsson, Ikea and Volvo as potential targets to harm Sweden’s economy.

Abdulwahab became a Swedish citizen in 1992 after his family fled Iraq. He staged the attack on the eve of his 29th birthday.

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

Sweden: Palme Prize Awarded to Palestinian Psychiatrist

Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad El-Sarraj on Tuesday won the 2010 Olof Palme Prize for his “self-sacrificing and indefatigable struggle for common sense, reconciliation, and peace” in the Middle East, the Swedish jury said.

El-Sarraj, who in 1977 became the first psychiatrist to practice in Gaza, is the founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), a non-governmental organisation focused on improving the mental well-being in the Palestinan community.

The 66-year-old psychiatrist has “in his professional and political work … stood on the side of the individual human being, regardless of nationality, gender or social position,” the Olof Palme Memorial Fund said in a statement.

“He has brought into the light the destructive influence of repression on mental health. He has shown the connections arising between confinement, hopelessness, desperation and violence, and how this is neglected by both Palestinian and Israeli authorities,” it added.

El-Sarraj said he was surprised at the award but happy.

“I am proud and happy to receive this prize but I consider that the real heroes are the victims of violence, torture and war, not me,” he told AFP in the Gaza Strip.

“This prize gives me hope and encourages me to continue to fight to defend those whose rights have been abused in Palestine, by the Israelis or the Palestinian Authority, and to work for justice and peace.”

The Palestinian physician, who completed his medical studies in Alexandria and London, witnessed before the United Nations-mandated Goldstone Commission on the war crimes committed by both sides during Israel’s war in Gaza two years ago.

El-Sarraj will receive his award and the $75,000 prize money at an official ceremony at the Swedish parliament on January 28.

The Olof Palme award for outstanding achievement, aimed at promoting peace and disarmament and combatting racism and xenophobia, was created in memory of a popular Swedish prime minister who was gunned down by a lone attacker in February 1986, shortly after leaving a Stockholm cinema.

Danish writer and debater Carsten Jensen won the 2009 prize, while other former laureates include Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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

Sweden: “Abdulwahab Was Trained in Iraq”

The Arabic Tv-channel al-Arabyia claims that the Iraqi security service got information about Taimour Abdulwahab two month before he blow up himself in Stockholm. Abdulwahab had then already been trained in Mosul, north Iraq.

Abdulwahab was in Mosul for three month, were he learnt how to make explosives. This is said to al-Arabya by the Iraqi counter terrorism authority.

The Iraqis informed USA about Abdulwahab states the tv-channel. Captured Al-quaida fighters had said that targets in USA or Europe were to be attacked by the end of December. The Swedish security service, Säpo, does not want to comment on whether or not the information reached them…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tension Between E. U. And Italy Over Battisti Case

(AGI) Rome — The Battisti case is causing tension between Rome and Brussels, but the Foreign office does not exclude joint action. The Foreign Minister issued a statement today just after a European Commission spokesman had excluded this possibility saying that the case was a bilateral one and the competence of Brazil. The Italian statement said instead, “We do not exclude that in the coming hours there may be a European initiative promoted by Italy” on the Battisti case.”

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

UK: Asbo Laws Will Keep Tabs on Terror Suspects: Extremists to be Given Curfews and Banned From Meeting Other Fanatics

Anti-social behaviour laws will be used to keep tabs on terrorist suspects under plans to change controversial control orders.

Extremists considered a threat to national security will be hit with curfews and banned from meeting other fanatics using the legislation drawn up to combat teenage thugs.

The plans are at the heart of a regime to replace control orders, which Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has vowed to scrap.

Eight terrorist suspects are currently subject to the orders — which critics compare to house arrest — with a combination of electronic tags, curfew of up to 16 hours a day and bans on internet or telephone use.

David Cameron has revealed that the orders will be axed to placate the Lib Dems and the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled that they are illegal.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Food Safety Alert as Health Chiefs Warn Contaminated Eggs From Germany Are in British Food

Contaminated liquid egg from German farms is already in British food products, it was revealed today.

The diluted product, used in quiches and cakes, was found to contain toxic dioxins, which are thought to raise the risk of cancer.

The dioxins, formed by industrial processes and waste burning, are believed to have been accidentally mixed with animal feed and distributed to thousands of German farms.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: In Denial About Campus Extremism

There is an interesting article on campus extremism at the Times Higher Education website that is well worth reading.

One person who has read the article and felt compelled to respond is the ‘Rev Stan Brown’, who identifies himself as ‘a chaplain at a London University’. There is a Revd Stan Brown in the Kingston University Chaplaincy, so I’m guessing this is the commenter in question.

Revd Brown is all too typical of the kind of wooly-minded individuals who can be found on campuses up and down the country. He begins his response by questioning the veracity of Quilliam Foundation and Centre for Social Cohesion reports cited in the article (‘Radicalisation on British University Campuses: A Case Study’ [PDF] and ‘Radical Islam on UK Campuses: A Comprehensive List of Extremist Speakers at UK Universities’ [PDF]):

As a chaplain at a London University I would have to add a word of caution about the Quilliam and CSC documents cited in this article. Their research seems to be largely based on internet searches. I attend Islamic society meetings and have heard some of the “radical” speakers cited in these reports. I don’t know what they said elsewhere but I do know what they said in my own institution.

Ah, so that’s OK then, as long as they didn’t say in front of nice people like the Revd Brown. By that logic it would seem that neo-Nazis are fine too, as long as they only talk about cutting immigration when they’re on campus and make their racist comments ‘elsewhere’. I have no doubt the Revd Brown would certainly not agree with such a notion, but why should religious extremism be seen as any different to political extremism?

It is important to understand the nature of the discourse which takes place on line — intra-Islamic student debates (and sadly many inter-faith student debates) are conducted in loud voices with accusations of extremism and lack of faithfulness to the tradition freely handed out on all sides. If you research these debates through following the internet postings and blogs you will find the vigour of this language everywhere and if you are looking for radicals in your research this will appear as strong supporting evidence. We ned to learn to distinguish between “jaw, jaw” and “war, war” and be a lot more nuanced in ou understanding of the relationship between them.

So, when people get a bit hot under the collar in online debates, it’s perfectly understandable if extremist statements pop out. Just like it’s perfectly understandable that BNP members might use racial slurs when engaging in heated ‘intra-nationalist’ debates online?

Unsurprisingly given this culture of debate we have few takers amongst the students for the alternative models of dialogue and engagement which HE chaplaincies seek to promote — but this is true for students of all faith groups. Yes, the liberal establishment can tend to back away from this issue, but that it because it is embarrassed and confused by the continuing strength of orthodox religious voices in its midst. The truth is that this liberal establishment (which largely includes the chaplaincies) has little leverage on the situation so long as the price of entering the public space is accepting the secular concensus. Islamic extremism must be answered by an Islamic discourse not a liberal secular one. Is it reasonable to make HEIs responsible for this? I think not.

The ‘liberal establishment’ is ‘embarrassed’ by ‘orthodox religious voices’? Yes, that’s right — campus extremism isn’t the problem at all, it’s those pesky ‘liberals’ with their ‘secular consensus’ — you know, that narrow-minded view that the rule of law should not be predicated on belief in some supposed divine revelation and that a culture based on the notion of universal human rights is a good thing all round.

I have no doubt that the Revd Stan Brown has no truck with any kind of extremism, be it religious or political, but were the ‘argument’ he puts forward to be applied to neo-Nazism, who in their right mind would take it seriously?


Revd Brown’s colleagues at the Kingston Chaplaincy include ‘faith adviser’ Rashid Laher, a man who was overjoyed at the knighthood of Iqbal Sacranie, stating:

Well deserved and truly an honour for all that MCB stands for. God bless and sustain you all.

habibi adds:

Kingston University is of course the place where Islamist preacher Shakeel Begg said this:

Shakeel Begg, another radical cleric, recently urged students at Kingston University, southwest London, to wage jihad in Palestine. In a tape-recorded speech obtained by The Sunday Times, Begg, who is a Muslim chaplain at Goldsmiths College, part of London University, said: “You want to make jihad? Very good . . . Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists.”

He’s hardly the only extremist the university’s Islamic society (ISOC) has welcomed.

The ISOC also raises money for the Ummah Welfare Trust, a charity that promotes horrible preachers such as Murtaza Khan (another guest of the ISOC) and funds Hamas.

Reverend Brown is an idiot and a fool.

Lucy Lips adds:

Let us not forget that in 2003, Kingston University was exposed by Panorama as a centre of Hizb ut Tahrir activity.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Jail for ‘Sexual Predators’ Who Led Asian Gang That Abused Girls as Young as 12 in ‘Reign of Terror’

Two ‘sexual predators’ who subjected a series of vulnerable girls to rapes and sexual assaults described by a judge as a ‘reign of terror’ were given indefinite prison sentences today.

Abid Mohammed Saddique, 27, was jailed for a minimum of 11 years at Nottingham Crown Court.

Mohammed Romaan Liaqat, 28, was told he must serve at least eight years before he is considered for release.

The men were sentenced as dozens of police lined the street outside the court in front of a protest by the right-wing EDL.

More officers were stationed in the court building.

It comes after a senior detective accused police and social services of allowing hundreds of young white girls to be exploited by Asian men over fears of being branded racist if they spoke out.

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Edwards, of West Mercia Poice, said: ‘These girls are being passed around and used as meat.’

Agencies have identified a long-term pattern of offending by gangs of men, predominantly from the British Pakistani community, who have befriended and abused hundreds of vulnerable girls aged 11 to 16.

Experts claim the statistics represent a mere fraction of a ‘tidal wave’ of offending in counties across the Midlands and the north of England which has been going on for more than a decade.

In the past three years, 14 court prosecutions have taken place involving the on-street grooming of girls aged 11 to 16 by groups of men.

The figure is a startling rise from the total of three such prosecutions since 1997.

Since 1996 a similar pattern of collective abuse has emerged involving hundreds of girls aged 11 to 16 in Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Rotherham, Derby, Keighley, Skipton, Blackpool, Oldham, Blackburn, Rochdale, Preston and Burnley.

In this latest case, the men were the prime movers in a group of men who befriended girls aged from 12 to 18 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.

Saddique and Liaqat — both married with children — were said to be the leaders of the Derby gang.

Today Judge Philip Head told Saddique: ‘Your crimes can only be described as evil,’ adding he was an ‘evil, manipulative and controlling’ character who was a continuing danger to young girls.

The judge said: ‘You are in the truest sense a sexual predator with a voracious sexual appetite that you gratified as frequently as possible in a variety of ways.’

He said the pair’s attitude was ‘sex at any price’ as they and others embarked on a ‘reign of terror on girls in Derby’.

At the opening of the first trial, held at Nottingham Crown Court, prosecutor Yvonne Coen QC said: ‘They preyed on young girls who were vulnerable, either because of their age and because of their own personal circumstances.

‘They exploited these girls either for their own sexual satisfaction or for their friends’.’

Saddique, of Northumberland Street, Normanton, Derby, was convicted of four counts of rape as well as two counts of false imprisonment, two of sexual assault, three charges of sexual activity with a child, perverting the course of justice and aiding and abetting rape.

Liaqat, of Briar Lea Close, Sinfin, Derby, was found guilty of one count of rape, two of sexual assault, aiding and abetting rape, affray, and four counts of sexual activity with a child.

Both pleaded guilty to causing a person under 18 to be involved in pornography and they are due to be sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court today.

Thirteen men were charged in relation to Operation Retriever and 11 stood trial for a string of charges — not all sexual — relating to the case, which involved 26 victims, one as young as 12.

Out of the original 13, a total of nine stand convicted.

Police were shocked by the extent of the abuse the gang of ‘predatory sex offenders’ carried out as they systematically raped and abused young girls.

By befriending the youngsters, giving them alcohol and inviting them to parties where they were often used for sex, the gang used a ‘classical grooming process’ to entice and bewitch the youngsters, a senior police officer said.

The gang managed to particularly seek out a majority of youngsters who had troubled personal and family backgrounds, meaning they were vulnerable and in no position to stand up to the men who wanted them simply for sexual gratification.

Of the 26 victims, the youngest of which was 12 and the eldest 18, a serious case review was carried out into two who were in local authority care at the time of the abuse.

Multi-agency reviews were also carried out into more than 20 of the other victims involved.

But Derbyshire Police said the girls were from a variety of backgrounds and urged all parents to be aware of the risks of sexual exploitation.

During the trial, the court heard a harrowing account from one of the girls about a time she was raped in June 2008, aged just 16.

She knew one of the men who rang her and asked her to meet up, and after being taken to a petrol station to buy alcohol, she was driven to an isolated spot where she was raped.

Describing the ordeal, she said: ‘It felt like it lasted for hours but it didn’t, I know that it didn’t. While I was lying there, he said ‘Do you like it, do you like it?’. And I said ‘Yes’.

‘I tried to do everything I could to stop it so at that stage I just said ‘Yes’.

‘I just thought if I tell him what he wants to hear, it will be done quicker.’

Prosecutor Yvonne Coen QC told the court the ‘young and impressionable’ girls were used as sex objects either for members of the gang or for a variety of their friends.

She said: ‘The reason for the main defendants’ relentless pursuit of the girls in this way was quite simple. They wanted sex, whether the girls wanted sex or not.’

After finding themselves in situations where they felt very uneasy, it seemed many of the victims finally came to a point where they wanted to change their circumstances, Detective Superintendent Debbie Platt, of Derbyshire Police, said.

‘The reason for the main defendants’ relentless pursuit of the girls in this way was quite simple. They wanted sex, whether the girls wanted sex or not’Prosecutor Yvonne Coen QC.

She worked closely on the investigation, and said: ‘My personal belief is that the girls had had enough; they wanted to be listened to, they wanted to be believed and they wanted the abuse to stop.

‘I think that’s a critical part, they knew the offenders were under arrest and that’s when they’ve decided to speak to the agencies and particularly the police.’

As one victim came forward, officers were led to another, then another, followed by many more, she said.

She praised the courage of the girls, who had to sit through the court case and reveal personal details of their lives to strangers in a courtroom, and added: ‘The girls have been incredibly brave.

‘Not just by putting their trust in the police officers who took that initial statement from them, but they’ve seen this through.

‘It’s been an 18-month process for most of these victims and they’ve been incredibly brave sticking with the prosecution. They’ve given evidence in a court — some of that’s been quite traumatic, as you can imagine. We’re talking about serious sexual offences and rape — and we are incredibly proud of these girls.’

A report published after the gang was convicted said there were ‘missed opportunities’ by agencies to help the girls.

The review’s executive summary said that although it was difficult to know whether the sexual exploitation could have been predicted for the two girls in care, their background meant it was predictable they would become vulnerable adolescents at risk of abuse.

‘Had there been earlier, concerted intervention in their lives to address their unmet needs, it is likely that they would have been less vulnerable as adolescents and therefore less likely to be abused,’ it said.

‘These conclusions are mirrored in the findings from the multi-agency reviews.

‘There were missed opportunities to assess significant concerns in relation to the other young women and comprehensive assessments were not completed.

‘When they were completed, the quality of assessments was frequently poor, with little involvement of the young person and their family, and all the relevant agencies.’

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

UK: Met Office ‘Kept Winter Forecast Secret From Public’

The Met Office knew that Britain was facing an early and exceptionally cold winter but failed to warn the public, hampering preparations for some of the coldest weather on record.

In October the forecaster privately warned the Government — with whom it has a contract — that Britain was likely to face an extremely cold winter.

It kept the prediction secret, however, after facing severe criticism over the accuracy of its long-term forecasts.

The Met Office eventually issued a public warning about the early onset of winter a month later, just days before snow and ice covered much of Britain and temperatures plummeted to the lowest on record.

Motoring organisations and passenger groups said yesterday that the delay hampered preparations for winter.

It has also been disclosed that the BBC has decided to publish independent assessments of the Met Office’s performance on its website.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: MPs’ Expenses: David Chaytor Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for False Accounting

Chaytor, 61, became the first politician to be convicted and sentenced over the MPs’ expenses scandal revealed by the Daily Telegraph. The judge said the scandal had angered the public and “shaken public confidence in the legislature”.

Chaytor submitted bogus invoices to support claims totalling £22,650 for IT services and renting homes in London and his Bury North constituency.

He was convicted last month at the Old Bailey of three counts of theft by false accounting under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968. Looking gaunt and wearing a charcoal suit with a grey shirt and a black tie with white polka dots, Chaytor stood calmly in the dock and made no reaction as he was sentenced.

Court sources said the former MP would be taken to Wandsworth Prison in south-west London to spend his first night in custody…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Man Jailed for Posting Racist Video Clips on YouTube

A man has been jailed for 15 months for uploading racist video clips on to YouTube.

Gareth Hemingway, 29, of Bognor Regis, earlier pleaded guilty to five offences under the Public Order Act at Leeds Crown Court.

The clips called for a “racial holy war” and were designed to provoke violence against ethnic minorities, particularly in Dewsbury.

When he was arrested, police found Nazi and racist memorabilia at his home.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the material came to the attention of police when a journalist researching Dewsbury on the internet came across videos Hemingway, of Longford Road, had posted and reported them.

Racist imagery

The CPS said they included titles such as ‘red, white and blue through and through’ and ‘Dewsbury needs help’.

They also featured racist references and imagery including an assault on a black man by a white man.

Stuart Laidlaw, reviewing lawyer for the CPS, said: “Gareth Hemingway decided to use the very public forum of YouTube to distribute videos of racist and inflammatory nature which he had edited, and which were designed to provoke violence against ethnic minorities, particularly those living in Dewsbury.

“They called for a ‘racial holy war’, described acts of violence and made supportive references to far right groups such as Combat 18 and Patriots of White European Resistance.”

Mr Laidlaw added: “Freedom of speech carries with it responsibilities.

“Publishing something that is abusive and insulting and that is likely to stir racial hatred is against the law and the CPS will work with the police to prosecute robustly anyone who does so.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

UK: Nick Clegg Pledges to End the Scourge of Libel Tourism as Part of Campaign to ‘Restore Our Great British Freedoms’

Libel laws are to be torn up to protect free speech as part of a campaign to ‘restore our great British freedoms’, Nick Clegg will reveal today.

The Deputy Prime Minister will declare that the English system has become an ‘international embarrassment’ that sees rich and powerful foreigners flocking to our courts in so-called libel tourism cases.

His reform pledge will be made in a major speech on civil liberties, in which Mr Clegg will savage Labour for introducing ID cards, building the biggest DNA database in the world and attempting to allow detention without charge for 90 days.

‘We are going to turn a page on that chapter, resurrecting the liberties that have been lost, embarking on a mission to restore our great British freedoms,’ he will add.

One key move will be legislation overhauling the libel laws, which the Deputy Prime Minister believes are having a ‘chilling effect’ on scientific debate and investigative journalism.

Increasingly, academics are being ‘bullied into silence’ when they dare to raise concerns about products or services offered by wealthy individuals or businesses, he will say.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: The [Times Higher Education Magazine] Publishes Study of Islamic Extremism on Campuses

The current issue of the Times Higher Education magazine carries an article by one Matthew Reisz which asks whether college authorities should police the activities of Muslim students, given that “Islamic extremism and even terrorism have emanated from some of our campuses”.

The main sources cited are Douglas Murray and Hannah Stuart from the Centre for Social Cohesion, Lucy James from the Quilliam Foundation, Raheem Kassam of Student Rights, Anthony Glees and Nick Cohen. The only voices allowed to counter this Islamophobic chorus are those of Ruth Siddall, UCL’s dean of students (welfare), and FOSIS president Nabil Ahmed who is represented by one short quote. Some objective study!

In the comments, the Rev Stan Brown writes: “As a chaplain at a London University I would have to add a word of caution about the Quilliam and CSC documents cited in this article. Their research seems to be largely based on internet searches. I attend Islamic society meetings and have heard some of the ‘radical’ speakers cited in these reports. I don’t know what they said elsewhere but I do know what they said in my own institution.”

This has provoked a furious response at Harry’s Place from the appalling Edmund Standing, who claims that the Rev Brown is “all too typical of the kind of wooly-minded individuals who can be found on campuses up and down the country”. The speakers Brown heard at ISoc meetings were no different from neo-Nazis, according to Standing. And, as a clincher, Standing reveals that one of Brown’s colleagues actually sent a message of congratulation to the MCB when Iqbal Sacranie was awarded a knighthood. This is what passes for proof of extremism in the demented world of Harry’s Place.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: YWCA Drops the Word Christian From Its Historic Name to Call Itself Platform 51

One of the country’s best-known charities has changed its name, losing the clearest link to its Christian roots.

The Young Women’s Christian Association has dropped its historic title after 156 years because ‘it no longer stands for who we are’.

Instead the organisation — which is mainly funded by legacies left by Christian supporters over 15 decades — will be known as ‘Platform 51’.

Bosses say the name was chosen to reflect the fact that 51 per cent of people are female and that they can use the charity as a platform ‘to have their say’ and ‘to move to the next stage of their lives’.

The decision to drop all mention of Christianity from the charity’s name and purposes drew criticism from religious groups yesterday.

It also appeared to open a rift between the renamed grouping in England and Wales and the worldwide YWCA that grew after the charity was founded by two Englishwomen in 1855.

Officials at the World YWCA headquarters in Geneva said none of the 124 branches in other countries are changing their names.


Its chairman is gay rights activist and former equality quango manager Helen Wollaston.

The organisation also has a new chief executive, Penny Newman, a former Body Shop manager who until recently ran the Jamie Oliver Foundation.

The YWCA received £1.3million in state grants from 2008-2009.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Youth Worker ‘Stabbed Rival in the Eye With Machete While Leading Double Life as Gang Boss’

Double life: Youth worker Saifour Rahman, 23, appeared to be a pillar of the community, but he was also a ruthless gang leader

A youth worker who lived a double life as a ruthless gang leader was jailed indefinitely today for blinding a man by hacking a machete through his eyeball.

Saifour Rahman, 23, appeared to be a pillar of the community, giving up his free time to volunteer at an outreach project for youngsters.

But beneath this veneer of respectability, Rahman headed an east London gang known as the Timber Wharf Boys and went by the street name of ‘Jackal’.

As the head of a mob of 20 armed with baseball bats and sticks, machete-wielding Rahman meted out a wicked attack on Razaull Ahmed, 22, on the Isle of Dogs.

Mr Ahmed, who had been smoking a cigarette after a fast food meal, lost his left eye and was permanently disfigured after the act of ‘shocking savagery’.

Horrified witnesses had earlier watched the gang as they ‘tooled up’ in preparation for the unprovoked assault.

Rahman denied the attack but he was convicted by a jury after a three week trial in November at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Today Judge Murray Shanks gave Rahman an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) with a minimum of seven and a half years.

‘This was an extremely unpleasant assault,’ he said. ‘You pose a significant risk to the public of serious injury.’

The trial heard Mr Ahmed had been smoking a cigarette with two men outside Millennium Perfect Fried Chicken when Rahman struck on April 27 last year.

‘A large group of Asian males with scarves wrapped around their faces and with weapons came running towards them down Westferry Road,’ said prosecutor Jonathan Foy.

‘Estimates to how many there were in the group vary but it is somewhere between seven and 20.’

Foy told the court that Saifour Rahman was at the front of the pack with a large machete in his hand, and the gang ran towards Mr Ahmed and his two companions.

They then set upon him with their weapons: baseball bats, poles and pieces of wood.

‘In an act of shocking savagery, Mr Saifour Rahman slashed Mr Ahmed’s face,’ said Foy.

‘It was a wicked and deliberate blow. The blow of the machete bit deep into his nose and cut straight through his left eye.

Razaull underwent surgery at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, but doctors were unable to save his eye.

The court heard Rahman regularly volunteered with the Docklands Outreach charity — a support service for young people in Tower Hamlets.

Rahman had also worked with youngsters at the Island House Community Centre on the Isle of Dogs.

Co-accused Emad Ahmed, 22, Sofiul Bosor, also 22, and Sahab Ali, 27, were all said to have been members of the armed mob but were all cleared.

Emad Ahmed was acquitted by the jury while Bosor and Ali had earlier been cleared on the direction of Judge Shanks due to a lack of evidence.

Rahman claimed he had an alibi, saying that he was at a cinema with his girlfriend at the time of the attack but the jury rejected this.

Rahman, of Ipswich, was convicted of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm and violent disorder.

           — Hat tip: Bewick[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria Tries to Crack Down on Riots

Police faced off against rioting youths, Muslim prayer leaders called for calm and authorities canceled football matches Friday as Algeria tried to quell unrest over rising food prices.

New clashes between youths and police were reported Friday in the cities of Annaba, Oran, Bouira and Bejaia. El Watan newspaper’s Web site showed a photo of a barricade in flames on a main avenue of the city of Tizi Ouzou.

Youths in the North African nation have been rioting for days following sudden price hikes for staples including sugar, flour and oil. There is also generalized frustration that Algeria’s abundant gas and oil resources have not translated into broader prosperity.

Many officers patrolled outside mosques in the tense working-class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, which was calm Friday after days of violence.

An imam who said Friday prayers on Algeria’s national radio called for calm, saying serenity is one of Allah’s graces and must be preserved — especially in a country like Algeria, which is still recovering from an Islamic insurgency.

After keeping silent at first, Algeria’s government spoke out about the unrest on Friday — with Sports and Youth Minister Hachemi Djiar calling on angry youths to avoid vandalism and to “dialogue in a peaceful, civilized way.”

Violence “has never brought results, either in Algeria or elsewhere, and our young people know that,” Djiar said.

The opposition party RCD issued a statement Friday insisting it had “incessantly put out warnings, throughout its structures, about the gravity of the social and political crisis that is dragging on for ages in Algeria.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt Cancels Danish Camp Amid Security Fears

Denmark’s football association says Egypt has withdrawn an invitation to the Danish Under-21 team to train in Cairo, citing security concerns. Danish association spokesman Lars Behrendt says the Egyptian federation “could not guarantee” the Danes’ security in the midst of persistent anger among some Muslim groups over Danish newspapers’ publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad.

Behrendt said Friday there were “absolutely no concrete threat” against Denmark’s under-21 team…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Guantanamo Prisoners Sent Home Against Their Will

[translated by Freedom Fighter]

An Algerian who had been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for almost nine years, is being sent against his will back to Algeria by U.S. authorities.

The man who fears that he will be prosecuted, sentenced and executed in their home country has unsuccessfully appealed the decision to send him home.

In November 2009, a federal court ruled that the man be released from the detention center.

Human rights groups now fear for the Algerian’s security and want to know where he is.

           — Hat tip: Freedom Fighter[Return to headlines]

Libya: Berbers Arrested, Protests in Rabat

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 5 — A rally will be held tomorrow in Rabat, in front of Tripoli’s diplomatic headquarters, to protest against the arrest of two Moroccan Berbers who were stopped last month in Libya. Furthermore, since December 16 there have been no new reports on the fate of two Berbers of Libyan nationality. So said Vermondo Brugnatelli, a teacher in Milan’s Bicocca university and president of the Berber Cultural Association, who raised the issue in Italy and also appealed to the Italian Government and Parliament to act on the matter.

Brugnatelli also broadcast a message by the Amazigh World Congress (an organisation set up in Paris in 1995 to protect the Berber culture) that reported the arrest of the Libyan brothers Mazigh and Madghis Bouzakhar, “because of their freedom of thought and their political beliefs and cultural activities”, as well as the “unexplained kidnapping of Asmehri El Mahfoud and Ramou El Hassan Ramou, two researchers with the Centre of historic and environmental studies of the Royal institute of the Amazigh culture (Ircam) shortly after their arrival in Libya by the secret services of — as the statement emphasises — this usurped Berber Country”. The two researchers were on a scientific mission in Tunisia before heading to Libya, where “they were kidnapped in unknown circumstances and taken to an unknown location”. The disappearance of the two Moroccans had already been reported by Brugnatelli, who pointed out that they were meant to return to their Country on December 21. As for the Libyans, they are two young students of the Berber language and culture who were arrested in their home and charged with espionage. A few weeks earlier, Madghis Bouzakhar, an engineer specialised in telecommunications who works for the Italian company Sirti, visited Italy where he also met with Brugnatelli. The message by the Amazigh World Congress also asks for the secret services of Libyan leader Gaddafi to be prosecuted “in international courts of law” and invites the State of Morocco “to assume its responsibilities” in a matter that also concerns its sovereignty. There is also an appeal to the Amazigh movement of “all the Country of Tamazgha (North Africa) and of the diaspora” to “close ranks” to “force Gaddafi’s dictatorship to stop its discriminatory apartheid policy on all things Amazigh”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Behind the Katsav Scandal, Racism and Crisis in Israel

Peace with Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria stalled, growing threats of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. But in Israel there is also growing racism towards Israeli Arabs and Africans. The newspapers denounce a reverse form of anti-Semitism. The voice of a Hebrew language Church is lacking.

(AsiaNews) — Israelis received with mixed feelings the news of the criminal conviction of their former President, Moshe Katsav, of two cases of rape and other sexual crimes. There was, of course, a profession of shame at having had a Head of State who, the court has now said, had committed such serious crimes. But there is also a sense of national pride at having an independent justice system, which could not be intimidated or corrupted, which metes out justice equally, to the powerful and the powerless alike. No matter how high-ranking and influential a defendant may be, Israelis now say, if he has broken the law, if he has harmed his neighbour, justice is assured.

The satisfaction felt at this demonstration of the equality of all before the law is understandable and, as far as it goes, justified. It can be tempered though, by remembering that Mr. Katsav has never been a particularly powerful or influential figure. He has no wealth or significant connections of his own, and was essentially a failing fifth-rate politician, who had held some of the less important ministerial posts, when his party, then leading the Government, chose him as its candidate for Israel’s purely symbolic headship of State.

The sensational verdict served — if only for a moment — to take Israelis’ minds off the grave problems they are facing in other areas — first of all, the hopelessly stalled efforts for peace, either with the Palestinians or with Syria-Lebanon, and the not-unrelated constant threat of renewed attacks on Israel’s population from Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And, of course, there is always the nightmare scenario of a nuclearised Iran, capable of carrying out its threat to “wipe Israel off the map”. Israel’s anxiety on this account is growing in proportion to the seeming passivity of the West.

Just days before the conclusion of the trial of former President Katsav, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liebermann, had distressed the nation, and disappointed everyone else, by telling an assembly of Israel’s ambassadors throughout the world that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s stated policy goal of peace with a Palestinian State was unrealistic. The Foreign Minister, who had already made similar statements to the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the autumn, declared that the present Government would be completely incapable of following the peace policy proclaimed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, not only because the policy was objectively wrong, according to him, but also because the internal tensions and contradictions within the Government were such that Mr. Netanyahu could never get sufficient approval for his policies. Mr. Liebermann told his ministry’s senior staff and ambassadors that the only possible policy would be one of an “interim solution,” and that he was about to present his own plan in this sense. The “interim solution” he thinks of — the media have reported — would essentially be the continuation of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, with some discretionary “improvements” to the residents’ daily lives and economic opportunities, as long as they “behaved themselves,” of course.

The national and international embarrassment to Prime Minister Netanyahu has been intense. Commentators have been quick to point out the impossibility, and indignity, of a situation where the Foreign Minister publicly ridicules the fundamental policy positions of the Prime Minister (“two State solution) and actively opposes them. Mr. Netanyahu only responded feebly and unpersuasively that his Foreign Minister’s speech to the assembled ambassadors reflected mere “personal opinions” and that the Government’s official policy was that expressed by the Prime Minister. However, the Foreign Minister had been speaking to Israel’s ambassadors throughout the world, and giving them instructions on the positions they must represent to their host countries and international organizations. Perhaps, some in Israel think, the Prime Minister is waiting for the country’s fearless prosecutors to do his job for him: Israel’s Attorney General is expected to announce before too long his decision as to whether to bring a prosecution against Mr. Liebermann (whose record includes a criminal conviction for violence against children) on a variety of charges, related to the business dealings of the Foreign Minister (who immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union) with the former Eastern block, including money laundering and tax evasion. Under Israeli law, once a criminal prosecution is announced, Mr. Liebermann will have to leave his Government post.

In his speech, the Foreign Minister also threatened the Palestinians over their successful international drive to gain recognition, as of now, for a Palestinian State n the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Once upon a time, a public international declaration by the P.L.O. that it was satisfied with those territories, about 22% of the whole of “historic Palestine,” would have been met in Israel with jubilation, since it would definitively signify, as it now does, full recognition of the State of Israel within its own borders (the other 78%). Now it is seen as a threat. Particularly because, in the absence of any concrete prospects for a peace treaty, more and more countries are taking it seriously, including increasingly-influential Brazil, which has already declared such recognition — with other Latin American countries following its example. Israel’s Foreign Minister has now threatened the Palestinians with heavy retaliation (“with sticks”) if they do not give up on this nonviolent effort to advance, diplomatically, the cause of their freedom. Meanwhile, on the ground, the colonization drive has picked up speed, following the ending of the partial “freeze” and Prime Minister’s Netanyahu’s effective rejection of insistent pleas from the United States to renew it, if only for 90 days, to allow peace negotiations to take place. Israel’s newspapers report daily on new settlement works, as well as on violence by settlers against Palestinian civilians; the latest “fashion” appears to be closing off Palestinian villagers’ access to their water sources, springs and wells, according to press reports in Israel.

Racism is another crisis convulsing Israeli society. So much that Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak — the contested leader of Israel’s once dominant, but now diminished, Labour Party — has warned of it in a strongly-worded public speech. Dozens of official State rabbis, rabbis of cities and towns (something like diocesan bishops in State Churches) have published a decree prohibiting the selling or renting of homes to members of Israel’s Arab minority, and some thirty wives of rabbis have published a document emotionally warning Jewish women not to enter into relationships with men who are members of that minority. Mobs in some town have attacked refugees from Africa and other “coloured” persons, in the streets, and broken into their homes and meeting places. Ultra-Orthodox Jews of European origin obstinately exclude other Jews, of Middle Eastern or African origin, from their schools. A new law has given certain townships the power to refuse to admit members of Israel’s Arab minority to live in them. Israel’s once-dominant liberal secular élite is horrified at these developments, which contradict their own conception of the Jewish State, and indeed the State of Israel’s own founding documents, especially the 1948 Declaration of Independence, with its solemn promise of full political and social equality, regardless of race, nationality or religion. One writer in the leading liberal daily, “Ha’Aretz”, has even spoken, of an atmosphere reminiscent of Germany in 1932. Others, while deprecating such rhetorical excesses, have however pointed to the analogy of warnings against the supposed designs of non-Jews on Jewish women, with some of the worst forms of incitement by anti-semites in that and other periods of history.

The Prime Minister and certain influential rabbis have indeed deplored the worst manifestations of racism, but the liberal circles complains that those statements have been too weak, and are not being backed by appropriate action. For example, the State rabbis who have signed the racist decree forbidding selling or renting homes to Arabs, are still occupying their official positions, are still being paid by the State, and have not been subjected to prosecution, even though racist incitement is forbidden by Israeli law.

But as 2010 ends and 2011 begins, the picture is not entirely bleak for Israeli society. Over-all the country’s cultural and intellectual élites, and very many other citizens, are thoroughly in favour of an end to the occupation and to the colonization, and in favour of a liberal, democratic State, with truly equal rights for all. And there is no reason to fear that, in the aggregate, they are necessarily doomed to be something like an uninfluential minority. If they are not sufficiently influential now, to change profoundly the course of events, it is because they find themselves without a credible political vehicle, or two, to channel their beliefs and sentiments into policy. The sad state of the rapidly disintegrating Labour Party has largely robbed it of the ability to play such a role, while the still new centre-right Kadimah party is as yet without a sufficiently clarified identity, and without sufficient day-to-day “reality” to make it a true engine of national renewal.

Amidst all these happenings, the absence of the Church from the public square is as evident as it is regrettable. When the late great John Paul II made the historic decision to appoint for Israel an “Auxiliary Bishop with Special Faculties”, great hopes were raised for a Hebrew-speaking Church willing to engage publicly in open dialogue (serene and respectful, “from within”) with the rest of the Hebrew-speaking majority society in Israel. Not very long after, the Bishop, the holy monk Jean-Baptiste Gourion, an Olivetan Benedictine, died of a painful illness, and then John Paul II too died. Since the Pope had not gone all the way, and had not in fact formally established a full-fledged Diocese, there is no canonically vacant office to fill. But there is a “vacant space” in the heart of Israel’s public conversation on all these issues, where the voice of the Church is not being heard.

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

Caroline Glick: Agents of Influence

On Sunday December 19, the self-proclaimed “Israeli human rights” group B’Tselem disseminated a shocking story to the local and international media. B’Tselem claimed that the previous day Palestinian shepherd Samir Bani Fadel was peacefully herding his sheep when he was set upon by a mob of Israeli settlers. He alleged that these kippah-clad Israelis drove up in a car and chased him away. Then they torched the pasture and burned 12 pregnant ewes alive and badly burned five others. B’Tselem furnished reporters with graphic photos of the dead sheep.

While the media published the account without a shred of suspicion, the police found Fadel’s account hard to believe. Observant Jews neither drive nor light fires on Saturdays.

And indeed, when questioned by police investigators, Fadel admitted he made the whole attack up. He accidentally killed his herd himself when he set fire to a pile of bramble. Too embarrassed to admit his mistake, he decided to blame the Jews and become a local hero. B’Tselem was only too happy to spread his lies…

           — Hat tip: Caroline Glick[Return to headlines]

West Bank: Israeli Companies Boycott Settlements

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JANUARY 6 — A dozen Israeli companies agreed to sign service and supply contracts with the new city of Rawabi that the Palestinians are building in the West Bank, not far from Ramallah, and also signed a clause that commits them to avoid business relations with Jewish settlements in the occupied territories (West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights).

The report, broadcast today by Israel’s public radio, was later confirmed to the radio station by Bashar El Masri, the director of the consortium that is building Rawabi. He stated that, in addition to the 12 companies that signed the contract, “we have been contacted by approximately 80 to 100 Israeli companies that want to sell us their products and that are ready to sign the contract”, which includes the clause on the settlements. Last year the Palestinian Authority launched a determined campaign aimed at persuading the Palestinian people to not buy products made by the settlements that have been banned from shops.

According to the radio station, at the same time in Israel a few dozen MPs from various parties are organising themselves to launch a campaign to boycott Israeli companies that refuse to hold commercial relations with the settlements.

Most of the international community deems illegal the Israeli settlements located in the occupied territories and the EU is making great efforts to prevent that products made in the settlements and sold in Europe benefit from the same customs exemptions granted to those made in Israel.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Egypt: Intolerance Exploited by Syria and Iran, Expert

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 6 — An internal cause, a growing intolerance in Egyptian society and an external one, the manipulation of such intolerance by Syrian and Iranian groups who are using al Qaeda to destabilise their only real enemy in the region, Hosni Mubarak. These are behind the massacre at the Coptic Church in Alexandria, according to Antoine Basbous, the founder and director of the Observation Group for Arab Countries.

“The primary cause for the attack is the growing intolerance of Egyptian society against the Coptic population, which is incited in families, in schools, in mosques and in universities,” Basbous tells ANSAmed. “I wonder if there is not someone behind all this who is used to manipulating hatred,” he adds, remembering that “everything begun in Baghdad two months previously, on October 31, with threats against Egypt’s Copts”.

The threats were made by the Iraqi al Qaeda cell, which has claimed responsibility for the attack on the eastern Catholic Church in Baghdad and gave a 48 hour ultimatum to the Coptic Church in Egypt to free Muslims “imprisoned inside monasteries”.

Basbous believes that hatred towards Christians could have been fuelled by al Qaeda and “oriented by Iranian and Syrian services,” because Iran and Syria want to harm Hosni Mubarak, “their only real adversary in the region, the one who stands up to them the most”. “It is well known that the Syrians have entertained links with Al Qaeda for years, jihadists from all over the world pass through Syria and even Iran, which says that it is against Al Qaeda, actually uses them,” the expert continues.

Basbous asks himself if Lebanon will not also find itself submerged in hatred of Christians, and what will become of the patriotic nationalistic front opposed to Hezbollah and Iran. He says that there are signs of serious tension emerging from Egypt, not least because the reaction of Copts (who had already suffered a previous attack outside Christmas Mass on January 6 2010, in which many people were killed) “has taken the shape of a real intifada”. If there is one certainty, however, “it is that the government will no longer be able to make the Copts swallow so many bitter pills”. Could Copts in Europe be at risk, after the threats received by some churches in France and Germany? Basbous thinks not. “Al Qaeda does not waste its energy and if it wants to attack in these countries or in Europe, it chooses strategic objectives, or targets that are 100% European”.

Is there danger for foreigners in Egypt? Basbous says that they are not to be ruled out, as attacking foreigners in Egypt means attacking the heart of the country’s economy, which depends on tourism. “Attacks on foreigners also have a lot of resonance abroad”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran Arrests Dozens of Evangelical Christians

Iran has reportedly arrested dozens of Christians, many of them converts from Islam, in a crackdown that began around Christmas. An Iranian official is accusing Protestant evangelical groups of causing a cultural invasion.

Iranian opposition groups are reporting the arrests of dozens of evangelical Christians, many of whom are converts from Islam. Christian groups inside Iran say that the country’s Ministry of Islamic Guidance has also grilled dozens of Christians it accuses of proselytizing.

Armed security officers forcibly entered the homes of Christians, verbally and physically abused them, before handcuffing them and taking them for interrogation,” reports the Cyprus-based group Middle East Concern. It adds that some were released after intense questioning and forcibly coerced statements that they would no longer participate in Christian activities.

Seeking to convert Muslims to Christianity or other religions is considered a crime in Iran and many other Islamic countries. Christian missionaries are routinely expelled and sometimes jailed for distributing Bibles and other religious material.

The governor of Tehran province, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed the arrests several days ago, complaining that Protestant evangelicals were conducting an “enemy cultural invasion.” He likened Protestants to the Taliban, whom he referred to as “parasites.”

Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says that the names and photos of a number of those arrested have been published, and most appear to be young evangelical Christians who have converted from Islam.

Ghaemi says that the evangelical Christian movement has gained popularity in recent years, along with other non-Islamic religions, due to disaffection with Iran’s state-sponsored Shi’ism:…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Civilian Casualties Drop by 15 Per Cent in 2010

For the Iraq Body Count, war- and attacks-related deaths stood just under 4,000, the lowest figure since 2003. However, security remains a problem with 66 per cent of deaths due to terror attacks.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — The number of civilians killed by political violence in Iraq in the past year was the lowest since 2003, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) reported, 15 per cent less than in 2009. In its annual report, the IBC said that 3,976 people died violently in Iraq over the past year, compared to 4,680 in 2009.

The group warned though that the number may have reached an “impassable minimum”, and that civilians were likely to die at a similar rate for years to come.

“After nearly eight years, the security crisis in Iraq remains notable for its sheer relentlessness: 2010 averaged nearly two explosions a day by non-state forces that caused civilian deaths,” IBC said.

“As well as occurring almost daily, these lethal explosions can happen almost anywhere, with 2010’s attacks occurring in 13 of Iraq’s 18 administrative regions,” the report added. The capital Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul were the worst affected areas.

Overall, the group says 108,398 Iraqis died in violence since 2003, about one in every 1,000 people in the country. The figures are much higher than those reported by the Iraqi government.

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

Iraq: Religious Leaders Battle to Stem Christian Exodus

Hundreds of Christian families from Baghdad are seeking refuge from a new al-Qaeda campaign against their community.

The killing of 60 people in a church bombing in Baghdad last October and a subsequent wave of blasts near Christian homes in the city have triggered a “slow but steady exodus”, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The plight of Iraq’s Christians has raised alarm across the Middle East, where religious leaders fear the Christian minority is on its way to irrelevance in the lands where Christianity was born.

That Christians now appear to be direct targets for al-Qaeda was reinforced by the New Year’s eve attack on a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, which left 21 worshippers dead.

The suspected suicide bombing came after the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaeda-affiliated group which claimed responsibility for the Baghdad attacks, accused the Egyptian Coptic Church of detaining the wives of two priests who tried to convert to Islam.

Youssef Sidhoum, editor of Watani, a Coptic weekly newspaper, says the violence would “definitely” lead more Christians to contemplate emigration. “The younger they are, the more they feel they have no opportunities here, and they feel insecure and prefer to leave the country,” he says.

Long before the blasts, religious leaders in the Middle East were struggling to stem the tide of migration of Christians, who made up about 20 per cent of the population at the turn of the 20th century, but are now estimated to be less than 10 per cent…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Israel-Turkey: Erdogan Like Ahmadinejad, Lieberman

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JANUARY 6 — Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the far-right party Israel Beitenu, has said that the severity of the attacks on Israel by the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan over the last two months is no different to the ‘vitriol’ of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has openly said that he hopes for the destruction of the Jewish state.

In a strongly worded comment peace in the English-language newspaper, Jerusalem Post, Lieberman even drew comparisons between “recent events” in Turkey and the situation in Iran on the eve of the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. The anti-Israel direction of Turkish foreign policy, Lieberman says, is not a consequence of Israeli actions, but rather of internal political changes in Turkey.

Israel, he says, “will not be a punching ball and will react, like any sovereign state, to insults and offence”. At the same time, Lieberman said that Israel “wants a return to frank and honest dialogue with Turkey” and has invited his Turkish counterpart to a meeting in Jerusalem or elsewhere “to discuss all issues of importance both to the two countries but also to the wider region”.

Relations between Israel and Turkey, which had been marked by very close military and economic cooperation since the beginning of the 1990s, began to deteriorate rapidly after the Israeli attack on Hamas in Gaza in the last few days of 2008. Ankara then recalled its ambassador in Tel Aviv after the Israeli marine’s attack on a Turkish ship containing pro-Palestinian activists who were attempting to force the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the attack.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Syria, Lebanon, Turkey in Economy Pact, Minister

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 6 — A Jordanian official said Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey have moved closer to economic integration, Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reports quoting the official Jordan Petra agency as saying on Thursday. Petra wrote that the countries signed an agreement establishing a committee to unify their legislation to enhance economic integration. It quoted Transport Minister Alaa Batayneh as saying Jordan has been tasked to draw up joint plans to develop the transport sector. Syria is to work on energy, Lebanon on tourism and Turkey on industry. Batayneh also says the ministers want to draw up a regional transport plan, involving road and railway links.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Old Turkish Comic Heroes Make Return to Bookshelves

An infallible and timeless Turkish comic book hero meets new generations in a new publication. The Hunnic warrior Tarkan, under the service of Attila the Hun, fights Vikings, Romans and giant dragons

Sezgin Burak’s fascination is most evident in the depiction of the origin of his hero when he is cared for by a she-wolf, a crucial mythical figure in many ancient Turkic legends.

With Turkish nationalism on the rise among young people in the last decade we have seen TV and cinema unabashedly cashing in on the sensitivities of a significant portion of the country. It was inevitable that the plethora of Turkish historic comic books of the ‘60s and ‘70s with larger-than-life heroes would hit the shelves again nearly a half-century later.

The popular comic book heroes of the period, referred to as Heroes with Swords, were inspired by motifs from the histories of Turks as well as by Islam. Although the heroes and the worlds they lived in were rarely accurate in their depiction, three of the 50 or so popular comics of the day proved to be more careful about their historic backgrounds. Karaoglan (Kebir, in its French editions) took place in 12th- and 13th-century Central Asia during the reign of Genghis Khan. Malkoçoglu took place during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II.

The third of these proved to be more timeless, with its historical background going back to the 4th-century Hunnic Empire. The classic adventures of cartoonist Sezgin Burak’s Tarkan is now being published once again, more than four decades.

The hero Tarkan is a Hunnic warrior, serving for Attila the Hun. The origin of the story goes like this: Born as the son of a Hunnic warlord in the Caucasus Mountains, Tarkan’s parents are slaughtered when he is an infant. He is then raised by gray wolves. He grows up to be a solitary warrior, his only companion a wolf, called simply Kurt, the Turkish word for wolf.

What makes the Tarkan comics more timeless is their unique blend of historical accuracy and their mythic and fantastic nature. Burak conceived the idea for the character when he was working for the art agency Studio D’Ami in Italy in the mid-60s. He had earlier created the comic character El Cougar and had drawn for the comic Colosso.

Historic accuracy vs fantastic worlds

Burak’s research of Italian history made him realize the crucial role of the Hunnic Empire and Attila the Hun in their history. His research into the Huns, coupled with the fact that official Turkish history considers Huns to be the ancestors of modern Turks, helped in the conception of Tarkan. Burak’s fascination is most evident in the depiction of the origin of his hero when he is suckled and cared for by a she-wolf, quite similar to what happened to Romulus and Remus, the mythical twin founders of Rome. But the wolf is a crucial mythical figure in many ancient Turkic legends, some going as far as saying that the Turks have descended from wolves; in many others the gray wolf is seen as a savior and a guide to Turks.

Burak did thorough research in Italy, which would later be reflected in the background details of the Tarkan comics, in the cities, dwellings, clothes and accessories of the period. That said, most of the adventures of Tarkan would be over-the-top, where he would fight giant man-eating dragons, sorcerers and Cyclops and look after the sword in the stone with magical powers. The occasional sado-erotic imagery where Tarkan would be tied and tortured by half-naked sexy women with whips was a sight for sore eyes for many of the male readers.

Most of the adventures of Tarkan were set in northern, northwestern and middle Europe, with Vikings and Romans being some of the enemies. While Tarkan called himself a “Hunnic Turk,” the word “Turk” was not to be used for another two centuries after the period he lived in.

The first Tarkan strip was published in the daily Hürriyet in 1967. It ran for nine years. In 1970, the adventures of Tarkan were published separately as a weekly comic book. The comic’s popularity led to a string of films from 1969 to 1973 starring Kartal Tibet as Tarkan in all but two. The first of these films was directed by veteran director Tunç Basaran and was a faithful adaptation of the very first Tarkan adventure, “Mars’in Kilici” (The Sword of Mars). Now, a whole new generation of Turks will delight in a new hero who will defeat anyone from Vikings to dragons.

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

Turkey’s ‘Secular Survey’ Stirs Doubts About Its Faith

A planned government survey on the public’s attitude toward religious issues is prompting concern that secularism in Turkey could be eroded as experts debate the appropriateness of conducting such a poll.

“The state doesn’t carry out surveys. They are done by research institutions. It has not been a common instrument in Turkey,” former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday.

“The definition of secularism, for instance, is already clear. There is no need to conduct a survey about already-known concepts. It seems the government expects a result that is in line with their views and will make it a base for drafting the new Constitution,” he said.

The country’s Religious Affairs Directorate, which has been undergoing internal restructuring, has given the go-ahead for the survey, which is slated to begin in March. Tens of thousands of citizens will be asked their opinion on public institutions, the headscarf issue, religious classes in schools, Alevi demands, the relationship between the government and religion and the directorate’s areas of service.

The results of the survey will be examined after the general elections set to be held in June and are expected to shape the new constitution if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is re-elected.

Speaking to daily Radikal, State Minister Faruk Çelik, who is in charge of religious affairs, said it was the government’s job to address society’s problems, listing Turkey’s “chronic problems” as its southeastern region, the Kurdish issue and its disadvantaged groups, including women, people with disabilities and young adults.

The survey, which will consist of hundreds of questions, is also expected to define the concept of a “public institution” so as to help bring some resolution to the headscarf issue. Women are not permitted to wear headscarves while working or studying at state-run institutions, including public schools.

The Daily News was unable to reach Çelik for further comment.

Secular concerns

The debate on removing the ban on headscarves in state-run schools and government offices as well as on the definition of public institutions were renewed in October ahead of the Republic Day reception held by President Abdullah Gül at the Çankaya Palace — which is considered a public institution — when the main opposition party and military boycotted the event because of the president’s wife’s headscarf.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç likewise said during his tenure as speaker of Parliament that it was possible to redefine secularism.

Secularism, while an unalterable article of the Constitution, will always remain in the Turkish charter, yet it can be redefined in line with the changing conditions and requirements of society, Arinç said.

For many in conservative circles, “secularism” remains loosely defined. As practiced in Turkey, secularism has often mirrored the French understanding of laicism, a largely anti-clerical discourse that subordinates religion to the state, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon notion of secularism as the separation of religion and state.

Secular quarters in the country have long expressed concern that the government plans to change the secular nature of the Turkish Republic and that headscarves could soon become a fixture of primary and high schools, as well as government offices, if secularism is redefined. As such, many secularists are concerned the survey could become part of the larger plan articulated by Türk.

“What types of questions will be asked? I can’t understand its purpose. Will the meaning and scope of secularism be determined in line with the survey results?” Türk asked in questioning the aim of the survey.

“The Constitutional Court annulled the wearing of headscarves in state-run universities. Maybe they will use the survey results to bring it back onto the agenda while drafting the new Constitution,” he said.

Survey acceptable instrument

For Ekrem Ali Akartürk, a professor of constitutional law at Yeditepe University, surveys are an appropriate instrument to measure the public’s sentiment on various topics, but it is important to harmonize the public sentiment with legal principles and adhere to the limits when conducting such polls.

“The state may take the pulse of the public via surveys on the mentioned issues if it seeks an answer to the question of how people can live together. It is important to understand their inclination,” Akartürk said.

“But it is even more important to formulate this public sentiment within the legal rules. How will it be formulated within the laws if the public leans toward headscarves in universities? The legal limits and formulation of the results should be drawn clearly.”

There are some concerns about the government’s move, but it is wrong to approach every step of the government with prejudice, Akartürk said, advocating compromise.

“However, the survey should be accompanied by consultation with opposition and legal experts who specialize in this field. And all these processes should be transparent. Surveys can prove successful only if an integrated approach is embraced,” he said.

Professor Özer Sencar, head of the Ankara-based MetroPOLL survey company, which is affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said surveys were an instrument to obtain information about the public sentiment and that there was nothing wrong in political parties applying the method to learn about the public’s view on their potential actions.

“Political parties can survey the public to see whether they will receive sufficient support from the public … on their future projects. Only human rights issues cannot and should not be the subject of surveys,” Sencar said.

“Otherwise, political parties can ask the public questions on every project they plan to carry out … to strengthen their future actions before media and public,” Sencar said.

Instead of reacting to the survey method, the opposition parties should likewise use similar surveys against the ruling party by asking the public questions on relevant topics, he said.

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

South Asia

Malaysian Man Abandons ‘Demon’ Wife

A Malaysian man abandoned his wife after a temple medium convinced him that she was a demon who wanted to kill him.

The Star newspaper on Thursday quoted the wife, who gave her name as Loh, as saying that her factory manager husband now wants a divorce and also refuses to meet their two teenage children for fear his wife will use them to kill him.

“The medium told my husband I had been casting spells on him for the past 15 years,” Ms Loh told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.

“He refused to eat or drink at home because he thought I poisoned the food.”

Ms Loh said the medium was heavily in debt and likely taking advantage of her husband, who had withdrawn their children’s savings before deserting the family.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Audio: Analyst: Pakistani Marked for Death for Support of Christian

‘When he spoke, he knew already he would be a marked man ‘

Center for Security Policy Senior Fellow Clare Lopez calls the governor courageous and says as soon as he spoke out for Bibi’s pardon, Islamic law marked him for death.

“The fact that the governor very courageously took a public stand against the death penalty in the case of the Christian woman accused of blasphemy, made him a marked man the moment he spoke,” Lopez explained.

“In Islamic law, blasphemy and slander carry the death penalty automatically. Those crimes are not analogous to anything under Western law. When they talk about blasphemy or slander which is found in Islamic books of law, what they’re talking about is anything that is deemed by Muslims to be insulting the Quran, the Islamic law itself, to the prophet Muhammad and certainly to Allah,” Lopez explained further.

She said slander or blasphemy largely are a matter of perception to the Muslim involved in the individual case.


Furthermore, Lopez said the assailant acted in coordination with the rest of the security detail.

“The bodyguard had prearranged with the rest of the bodyguard team that they would not shoot to kill him in the act of murdering the governor so that he could be taken alive,” Lopez stated.

“The reason for doing that is that he believes that under Islamic law, he has done a good thing,” Lopez said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Extremist Group Announces Suicide Attack to Kill Asia Bibi

Pakistani intelligence says Moaviya group is planning a suicide attack against Sheikhupura Prison, where the woman has been held since 2009. In Lahore, the first hearing for the murder of Punjab Governor of Salman Taseer opens amid hugging and showering of flowers for his assassin.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — An extremist Islamist group calling itself ‘Moaviya’ might be planning a suicide attack against Sheikhupura Prison in order to kill Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, this according to a report by Pakistani intelligence. Ms Bibi has been held in the prison since 2009. Punjab police and prison authorities have tightened security, especially in the wake of the assassination of the provincial governor, Salman Taseer, last Tuesday.

A few days ago, Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, president of the catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said, “it is clear that anyone that opposes the blasphemy law is at risk.”

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, told AsiaNews that religious fundamentalism and intolerance are spreading in the country.

Increasingly, Muslim religious leaders are actually offering rewards to anyone willing to carry out attacks and violence against those who criticises the blasphemy law.

Between 1990 and 2011, as many as 35 people accused of blasphemy or opposed to the law were murdered in extrajudicial killings or found dead in dubious circumstances.

Such deaths tend to cause rejoicing among some Muslims, as evinced by the demonstrations in favour of Taseer’s murderer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri.

When he was arraigned in court last Tuesday, dozens of his fans hugged and kissed him, showering him with rose petals.

More than 2,000 people have also joined a Facebook group that backs the murder. Only 70 people have expressed an opinion against him.

According to US-based LifeSiteNews, more than 500 Muslim scholars have praised Qadri’s deed.

“It is shocking that the murderer of a governor is being honoured,” said Fr Daniel Habib, a Lahore priest. “Hundreds of lawyers are proudly presenting themselves to save Qadri; this is barbarianism. Instead of condemning such an act, he is being made a hero.”

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

Far East

China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter: ‘Design is 25 Years Old’

Photographs released on the internet have provoked speculation that China is making rapid progress towards producing a state-of-the-art fighter jet, to compete with the United States, India and Russia.

The photographs appear to show the aircraft, variously known as the J20 and JXX, taxiing along a runway.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, recently said China would be able to produce a combat jet by 2020, but if the photographs are genuine, it would suggest that it may be able to do so a decade or more sooner.

The photographs come amid growing fears over China’s rapidly-expanding military capabilities. Naval experts have expressed concern over the Dong Feng-21D ballistic missile, which is designed to target aircraft carriers in mid-sea — thus denying the United States its traditional military dominance of the Pacific.

Fifth generation fighter jets are so designated because of their ability to evade radar even when carrying armaments, and computer systems which can network with other elements in a battle theatre. The US-manufactured F-22 is the only combat-ready fifth generation fighter.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Terror Threat on Australian Churches

THREATS of terror attacks on at least four Australian churches prompted police to protect thousands of Coptic Christians during their Christmas Eve services.

Police yesterday surrounded the Coptic Orthodox churches in Sydney after a bomb blast killed 21 people during a New Year’s Eve Coptic church service in Alexandria, Egypt.

Coptic Churches around the world are also on high alert as their Christmas Eve services are scheduled for tomorrow.

On Thursday night in Sydney, bomb searches and police helicopters were part of the security measures that soured Christmas Eve celebrations.

Some church officials are worried that an attack may eventuate when least expected on any on of their churches, monasteries or schools in Australia.

A police detail searched St Antonious and St Paul parish in Guildford, in Sydney’s west, yesterday afternoon prior to its 7pm Christmas Eve services, a church official told AAP.

Up to 700 parishioners were estimated to be in attendance.

During the service, teams of officers surrounded the area while helicopters with spotlights searched the local suburb.

“There were threats to our church — three or four churches in the (Sydney) Coptic church,” said the man who asked not to be identified.

He said NSW Police contacted the church this week to say the Guildford site and three others in Sydney had been the target of a terrorist threat.

Archangel and St Bishoy at Mt Druitt, in Sydney’s west, St Demiana and St Athanasius at Punchbowl, in Sydney’s southwest and St Mary and St Merkorious, at Rhodes, were understood to be on the threat list.

A woman witnessed a police operation in her neighbourhood at Arncliffe, where St Mark Coptic Church is located in Sydney’s south.

“The police helicopter is sweeping the suburb with this massive spotlight,” the woman told AAP.

All of the churches cancelled their traditional dinners that would normally happen after Christmas Eve services.

The spokesman said yesterday’s threat, which resulted in no reported incidents, could have been a diversion.

“They want you to focus on the area that they’re not going to be touching,” he said.

“And even though the threat was for Christmas Eve, they might do it on a normal Sunday. That’s how they work.”

Police issued a statement to AAP following yesterday’s operations.

“The NSW Police Force is closely monitoring international developments in the wake of the attack on the Coptic community in Egypt,” the statement read.

“Police have met with local Coptic leaders and are currently working with them to allay any fears within that community.”

Peter Mikhail attended the Guildford service and said the threats soured the service and have put fear into the congregation.

“It was not a nice way to be celebrating Christmas here in a country where you’re supposed to be safe,” Mr Mikhail told AAP.

He said the traditionally long mass but had to be cut short at police request and people were dispersed immediately.

“We went to church today feeling quite apprehensive thinking ‘oh my God’ what if something does take place,” Mr Mikhail said.

“I’m worried about my wife, I’m worried about my kids.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mali: Explosion French Embassy, Man Arrested is Al Qaedist

(AGI) Bamako — The man arrested for the explosion in front of the French Embassy in Bamako, in Mali is a Tunisian-born Al Qaedist. The news was reported by the police, specifying that the man arrested did not blast off a bomb but a gas cylinder.

The Tunisian claims he is a member of Al-Qaeda for the Maghreb, a group that is active in Algeria, Mauritania and Mali. He arrived on the scene of the explosion armed with a gun which, according to the police, he did not use. A source of the security forces instead reported that several gunshots were fired towards the windows of the embassy.

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


Greece: Immigration is a National Emergency, President

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, JANUARY 6 — The Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, has said today that the wave of illegal immigration affecting the country is “a national problem”. He added that it is “a European issue” and invited the EU “to bring about an integral policy on the matter”.

Visiting the region of the Ebro river, near the border with Turkey, Papoulias, who was quoted by the ANA agency, said that “80% of illegal immigrants heading for Europe arrive in Greece” and that this is “a national problem” for the country, which has to be resolved with the help of the EU. “Every day, 200-300 illegal immigrants arrive here,” said the head of state. “In other words, it is as if a small new village were born on the Ebro every day”.

Papoulias also asked Turkey to “collaborate in a constructive way with the EU” in order to slow the wave of migration, “checking its borders and immediately applying the bilateral repatriation protocol with Greece”.

A few days ago, the Athens government announced that a 12.5 kilometre “wall” would soon be built along the Turkish border with the aim of slowing the trend. The President rejected as “hypocritical” the claims of those who have expressed reservations over the project while at the same time inviting Athens to clamp down on the phenomenon.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Judge Orders U.S. To Supply Mentally Deficient Illegal Immigrants With Lawyers to Fight Deportation

A federal judge’s ruling could pave the way for taxpayer-funded legal representation for immigrants facing deportation in cases of mental incapacity — a move praised by civil libertarians but opposed by advocates of stricter immigration enforcement.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee recently ordered the U.S. government to give two mentally incapacitated illegal immigrants legal representation to fight their deportations. The decision was triggered by the case of Jose Franco-Gonzalez, 30, who spent nearly five years in immigration custody after pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon because authorities determined he was too mentally incompetent to represent himself in his own deportation hearings. Traditionally public counsel is not supplied in U.S. deportation cases

Gee ruled that Franco and another plaintiff be released and that additional plaintiffs in the case be given representation for their hearings, pleasing supporters who say the decision is a first step in ensuring that the rights of the mentally ill are not ignored.

But critics say the decision inappropriately places a new financial burden on American taxpayers and ignores the risk of keeping sometimes dangerous immigrants in the U.S.

Franco, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, comes from a family of U.S. citizens and legal residents and was on his way to obtaining legal resident status when he pleaded guilty in April 2005 to assault with a deadly weapon, according to the complaint.

The government moved to deport him, but an immigration judge ordered the proceedings be closed based on Franco’s diagnosed moderate mental retardation and inability to represent himself.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Australia: Couple Aborts Twin Boys for Girl

A COUPLE so desperate for a baby girl that they terminated twin boys are fighting to choose the sex of their next child.

The couple, who have three sons and still grieve for a daughter they lost soon after birth, are going to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to win the right to select sex by IVF treatment.

They say they want the opportunity to have the baby daughter they were tragically denied.

An independent panel, known as the Patient Review Panel, recently rejected the couple’s bid to choose the sex of their next child using IVF.

They have gone to VCAT in a bid to have that decision overturned.

Should this couple be allowed to choose the sex of their next child? Have your say below

VCAT recently ruled that it has the power to review the Patient Review Panel decision. It will hear the couple’s case in March.

So determined are the couple to have a girl that they recently terminated twin boys conceived through IVF.

The couple said it had been a traumatic decision to make but they could not continue to have unlimited numbers of children.

If their test case fails, they say they will go to the US to conceive a girl.

The couple, who cannot be identified, conceived their three boys naturally.

The woman — in her thirties — says she loves her sons but would do anything to have a daughter.

The man said: “After what we have been through we are due for a bit of luck. We want to be given the opportunity to have a girl.”

The woman, who is consumed by grief over the daughter who died soon after birth, admits she has become obsessed with having a daughter and it has become vital to her psychological health.

Victoria’s Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 bans sex selection unless it is necessary to avoid the risk of transmission of a genetic abnormality or genetic disease to a child.

All IVF clinics in Australia must stay within National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines that say sex selection should not be done except to reduce the transmission of a serious genetic condition.

Australian IVF pioneer Gab Kovacs — not involved in the case — said he could not understand why the couple should be banned from having a girl.

“I can’t see how it could harm anyone,” he said.

“Who is this going to harm if this couple have their desire fulfilled?”

But Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps did not believe the couple should be allowed to choose. He feared it could open floodgates.

“I’m sorry they lost their daughter but, in the interests of society as a whole, they should seek some counselling for their grief and look for another way of getting a daughter into their family,” he said.

“They sound like good parents and could offer a home to a child who needs one.”

He suggested they could adopt from overseas.

           — Hat tip: Salome[Return to headlines]

Court Asked to Give Up Control of Student’s Religion

Arguments presented over orders to ‘challenge’ child’s ‘vigorous’ faith

The Supreme Court in New Hampshire today was asked to reverse a lower court decision that ordered a homeschooled student who was “well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising and intellectually at or superior to grade level” into a public school because she was too “vigorous” in defense of her Christian faith.

“Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children,” said John Anthony Simmons, an attorney allied with the Alliance Defense Fund.

“Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views. That’s precisely what the lower court admitted it is doing in this case, and that’s where our concern lies,” Simmons said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Diana West: The Death of the Grown-Up Goes to Sea

That was fast. Sunday, the Virginian-Pilot posted a montage of lewd, “morale-boosting” videos that Capt. Owen P. Honors starred in, directed and broadcast to the crew of the USS Enterprise dating back to 2006-2007 when he was the ship’s executive (number two) officer. Tuesday, the Navy fired Honors, now captain of the ship, citing a “profound lack of good judgment and professionalism.”

Not, take note, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

So, now what? With the Navy, the Washington Post reports, set on a “broader investigation into whether senior Navy officials knew about the 4-year-old videos, and why they failed to take disciplinary action against Honors,” we once again seem to be embarking, rudderless, into the dangerous waters of the hydra-headed purge, gathering, sharpening, steeling, lusting for suspects. But of what crime? Not the one I would charge the unfortunately named Capt. Honors with.

The post-Tailhook Navy fetish, of course, remains sexually oriented — or, more accurate, sexual-orientationally oriented. (In the guise of an aviator persona, Honors lets fly some homosexual putdowns in the video, and later encounters same-sex couples in the shower.) As one retired vice admiral put it to the Post, “What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior set a standard that allowed for sexual innuendo.”

Funny. What bothers me is that Capt. Honors’ behavior didn’t set any standard at all.

This should come as little surprise. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the Left in the last 25 years has been the junking of military standards regarding the sexes, a set of traditional attitudes that was slow to dismantle itself in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. Indeed, the military could be, and was, seen as a bulwark against the social changes wrought by a metastasizing feminism in the civilian world that would go on to kill, among other things, such concepts as “mixed company” and its prohibitions on “bad language” and other social shields. These had allowed for the existence of now-lost refuges such as reticence and discretion, which, in turn, provided shelter for a kind of privacy and intimacy that is all but unimaginable in our over-exposed world of TMI (too much information).

Which is more than sad. I think it has driven people a little berserk…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

More Leftist Violence Exposes Dangers of Gun Free Zones

Left-wing atheist Clay Duke (check out his Facebook page) reminds us once again how desperately we need to get rid of zero tolerance policies and gun free school laws.

Duke was a loser who blamed rich people for having made him poor. His class warfare rhetoric sounds just like President Obama’s.

Consider the irony surrounding Duke, who almost certainly included support for gun free school zones in his panoply of lefty opinions. These disarmament regions became very convenient for him as he decided to carry out his crime in a gun free school zone. Is this why other liberals support gun free zones? I jest.

What was not funny was what it took to take Duke out of the gene pool. Mike Jones is an ex-detective and is the head of the security program for Bay County, Florida’s school system. The Panama City School Board was conducting a meeting in the same school where Jones has his office. Alerted by one of the hostages freed by Duke, Jones was in his office at the opposite end of that very large building.

Since Jones was no longer a sworn officer (ditto for most of the security officers he supervises), Jones’ gun was in his car (a violation of law). Jones appears to be in his mid-sixties, but managed to run the long distance to his car and then to the auditorium where the crime was occurring.

Jones got back to the auditorium just as Duke began to providentially miss his victims from about eight feet away. Breathing heavily, Jones leaned against a door jamb and fired repeatedly. Duke apparently was wearing body armor because the shots to the torso had no effect. Jones then managed to wound Duke in the leg, stopping the attack. That is when Duke saved the taxpayers millions of dollars by killing himself.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Globalisation Sows Biological Invasion Seeds

Globalisation carries a hidden price tag that may not appear until decades after a trip was made or goods were exchanged.

It comes in the form of invasive species — non-native plants, insects and animals — that wreak havoc on the local flora and fauna while forcing the host country to fork out eradication funds.

Results of a European study show that socio-economic factors have a direct influence on the number of biological invaders in a given country.

“The richer a country is, the more it can participate in globalisation, so rich countries have a lot of alien species,” explained Wolfgang Nentwig, a professor at Bern University’s Institute for Ecology and Evolution.

He was one of the 16 researchers involved in the study, which appeared this week in the US journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” under the title “Socioeconomic legacy yields an invasion debt”.

“We analysed the wealth of countries decades ago, and our study showed that now we have to pay for what happened 50-100 years ago,” Nentwig told

International travel and importing goods from abroad are two ways that humans bring home non-native invasive species — intentionally or not.

What this costs initially is just a fraction of what it can cost future generations — both from economic and ecological standpoints.

He’s cute, but …

The North American raccoon is a good example of an invader that got into Europe via human hands. In the 1930s and 40s, fur farms in France, Belgium and Germany imported the colourful critter, which was also released for hunting purposes.

“At the time, people thought it would be an enrichment for our natural diversity,” Nentwig noted, adding that US soldiers even brought them over as pets during the Second World War.

After the war, many of the fur farms went bust or were destroyed, sending large numbers of raccoons into the wild. Their European populations are still expanding; they live mainly in forests but also in urban areas.

This is a problem because raccoons can carry parasites and rabies, possibly spreading them to humans.

But that’s not all. “They prey upon all kinds of amphibians and ground-dwelling birds, so they put an additional pressure on the population dynamics of those species,” Nentwig said.

Another troublemaker is the Colorado potato beetle, which first arrived in France a century ago as a stowaway along with shipments of spuds. It has since conquered the rest of Europe and is on its way to China.

Prevention needed

Across Switzerland there are a number of awareness campaigns on the issue of biological invasions.

“Invasive, non-native animal and plant species are a problem everywhere, and their sneaky development reduces perception of the problem,” said Flavio Turolla, chairman of canton Bern’s pest control department, which is part of the cantonal environmental office.

“What we know for sure is that the fight gets more expensive the longer you wait,” he told

While there are no hard figures available, one can imagine the expense of staffing campaign efforts and creating educational materials.

Canton Zurich has also invested a lot of time and money in preparing information sheets alerting residents to problem plants while offering tips on how to prevent their propagation.

Meanwhile, a pilot project involving several cantons is zeroing in on Japanese knotweed, which originally entered Switzerland as an ornamental shrub.

Financed by the Federal Environment Office in combination with canton Zurich, the project will show which methods best eradicate the plant — at what expense and with which side-effects. The project runs until the end of 2012.

Other places

Though Europe was the focus of this study, biological invaders are also a fact of life on other continents. In fact, many countries have been quicker to notice and address the issue than their European counterparts.

“A lot of European species have been transported to the rest of the world. For example, the ‘Canadian’ thistle is actually our common field thistle. It costs huge amounts of money because it needs additional management,” Nentwig said.

The scientists involved in the study have called on governments to tighten restrictions on international trade involving potentially invasive species.

Still, Nentwig remains pragmatic. “There’s no stopping globalisation; we are still exchanging all kinds of goods and travelling — which is fine — but this should be made safer. What we don’t do now will cost in another 50-100 years.”

Susan Vogel-Misicka,

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


Fritigen said...

The British Met Office excelled themselves today. Forecast maximum temperature in Inverness 52F, actual 32F!!!

Anonymous said...

No wonder the Brits are "confused" about global warming....

And, this is who we will take our global warming policy from?!