Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110124

Financial Crisis
»Plan Would Place Burden for Euro Rescue on Creditors
»Serbia: 21 Out of 34 Banks Are Foreign
»Spain: 26-Bln Hole in Savings Banks, New Alarm From Fitch
»Spain: Government Prepares Savings Banks Rescue Decree
»States Set to Go on Bankruptcy Bonanza
»A Deep Surge of Magma Shakes Yellowstone, Lifts Ground 10 Inches
»Birthright Citizenship — A Fundamental Misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment
»Decapitation Murder Trial Underway in Buffalo, NY Courtroom
»Frank Gaffney: Forgetting About the ‘Saviors of Our Country’
»Ground Zero Imam: ‘Apostates Against Islam Must be Jailed’
»Obama Orders Study on Socialism
»Peace Corps Gang Rape: Volunteer Says U.S. Agency Ignored Warnings
»Schumer Vows to Gut Health Repeal Bill
»The Myth of Homegrown Islamic Terrorism in the U.S.
»Why States Must Nullify Unconstitutional Acts of Congress
»Husband, Two Others, Charged in B.C. Woman’s Death
Europe and the EU
»A British Muslim Who Would Rather Talk
»Barroso Condemned Over Meeting With Uzbek ‘Dictator’
»Germany: Young Israelis Go Crazy for Berlin
»Italy: ‘One in Five Young People Don’t Work or Study’
»Italy: Vatican ‘Concerned’ By Ruby Case
»Spain: Rajoy Ready for Moncloa, Country Thirsty for Vote
»UK: 7 Anglican Vicars and 300 Parishioners From 6 Churches Convert to Catholicism
»UK: Now You Must Email Your GP: Patients Are Told Not to Come to Surgery, Instead Describe Symptoms Online
»UK: Paedophile Snatched Girl, 10, Off Street Before Abusing Her in ‘Appalling Act of Sexual Depravity’
»UK: RAF Typhoon Jets Escort Middle East Airbus Into Stansted After Passenger ‘Makes Threats’
North Africa
»A Tunisian Islamist Heads Home
»Egypt Demands Return of Nefertiti Bust From Germany
»Egypt Makes Official Demand for Return of Nefertiti Bust
»Tunisia: Sarkozy to EU, Give Confidence to New Tunis
»Tunisian Assets in Switzerland, Denials and Reports
Israel and the Palestinians
»FM on Leaked Papers: Radical Islam is the True Threat
»Hamas Cultural Ministry in Gaza Bans Sale of 2 Books, Says They ‘Contradict’ Islamic Values
»Secret Files: PLO: Check Authenticity of Documents
»The Pro-Zionist-Populist Settler Alliance
Middle East
»Here Comes the Revolt of Islam
»Jordanian Nightclubs on Mecca Street Upset Muslims
»Two Green Wave Leaders Hanged in Iran
»Deaths Are Reported in Explosion at a Moscow Airport
»Moscow Airport Attack: Russian Authorities Were Warned About a Terrorist Attack
»Photos: Terrorist Massacre at Moscow Airport: Two Britons Among 35 Killed in Suicide Bombing Attack
South Asia
»Bangladesh: Gupta Era Relic Damaged for ‘Development Work’
Far East
»Chinese Web Users Praise Lang Lang for Playing Anti-American Commie Song at Obama White House State Dinner
»Egyptian Tycoon Sawiris Meets Kim Jong-Il in N. Korea
Australia — Pacific
»Limo Driver Teen Sex Attack
»Pledge to ‘Brothers’ Inspired VC Bravery of Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith
»When Oprah Gives, Someone Else Pays
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Stakelbeck on Iran’s Growing Influence in Sudan
»EU-Libya: EP: No Blank Cheque, Guarantees Needed
»UK: White Children in Birmingham ‘A Minority’ This Year Because of Immigration
Culture Wars
»Genetically Selecting ‘Gay’ Embryos?
»The Rape of the Mona Lisa — Abigail R. Esman
»Did Coal Fires Contribute to Biggest Extinction Ever?
»Smoking Puts DNA at Risk in 15 Minutes
»The Challenge of the Great Cosmic Unknowns
»Wine Family Tree Revealed

Financial Crisis

Plan Would Place Burden for Euro Rescue on Creditors

Despite public denials, euro zone governments are currently working on a proposal to relieve Greek bond debt. The proposal has a number of advantages for all countries involved, but it also entails risks that may be insurmountable. Some believe regulatory pressure will be required to force banks to take voluntary losses on their loans to Athens.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s economic advisors — Jens Weidmann and Finance Ministry State Secretary Jörg Asmussen — spent a good part of their working time placating and reassuring their colleagues in Europe.

No, Germany was not striving to restructure Greece’s debts, they told nervous officials calling in from other European capitals. Of course the German government was confident that the reform measures taken by the beleaguered country were working, they said. The cause of the concern had been media reports that Greece wants to buy back part of its debts — at a discount, of course. The action would represent a marked change in the way the crisis has been handled until now. And it would lead to precisely the result that the governments of the 17-member euro zone, the European Commission and the European Central Bank have desperately sought to avoid since the outbreak of the debt crisis.

For the first time, the euro rescue would actually cost real money. Greece’s creditors would be called on to forgive part of the country’s loans; and banks and other investors who have loaned money to the highly indebted nation through government bonds might have to seek government aid again themselves.

A Fund Built on a Major Illusion

So far, the euro rescue fund has only involved pledges and loan guarantees, albeit on a gigantic scale. And it has also been built on a major illusion: The governments, Germany above all, underwrite loans that are provided to troubled euro zone member states. In the meantime, those countries would balance their budgets, and in the end they would pay back their bond debts in full. Thanks to the interest premiums placed on those loans, the euro rescue fund actually makes money for the lenders. At least that was the way German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and other European leaders have envisaged the rescue measures.

Euro member countries and the European Commission stitched together an aid package for Greece overnight in early May last year. A short time later, they prepared a bailout fund for other stricken euro-zone member countries, the so-called European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

Nine months and two bailouts later, doubts are growing over whether these measures will actually suffice to prop up the ailing euro. The distrust that these efforts were supposed to remove is instead growing and indeed spreading. After Greece and Ireland, Portugal and Spain are now looking shaky — they have become the possible next candidates for bailouts. It almost looks as if the rescue mechanism is intensifying the crisis rather than eliminating it. This is because just as soon as a country has been rescued, investors’ attention is then steered towards the next weakest country in line. Compounding these issues is a fundamental credibility problem. No one truly believes that, after the aid measures expire in 2013, a country like Greece will ever be able to pay back its debts entirely on its own.

No wonder, then, that the calls for alternatives are growing. Britain’s Economist magazine ran a cover story last week titled, “The Euro Crisis: Time for Plan B,” and recommended that Europeans should no longer stand back, aghast, at the idea of restructuring debts for ailing states. Even the countries that received aid from the euro rescue fund have in recent days begun to doubt the effectiveness of those measures. Last Monday, Greece’s deputy prime minister aired the possibility of an extension on the payback deadline for the loans — a proposal he quickly denied having made.

Voluntary Debt Forgiveness

Defenders of the current arrangement of the rescue fund have been sticking to the status quo, at least in their public comments. “I don’t know where this news is coming from,” EFSF chief Klaus Regling innocently claimed last week. But Regling knows exactly who is behind the plan. A few weeks ago, he proposed a voluntary debt forgiveness on Greek bonds to officials in the euro zone capitals and to the European Commission. The response to his proposal was by no means as negative as the public statements by officials in the member states had suggested. “That’s a good idea,” said a senior official in the German Finance Ministry, confidentially, in response to the proposal.

Regling’s proposal does indeed have advantages. It offers two simultaneous benefits. It would ease the burden on the Greek budget and, more importantly, it wouldn’t frighten off investors.

The reason is simple: The measure would be voluntary. Creditors would not be forced to forgive debts. Instead, they would be given an offer that they could either accept or reject.

And here’s how Regling’s plan would work: At the moment, Greek state securities are being traded at a sizeable discount to their face value. A five-year bond, for example, is being traded at around 70 percent of its face value — sometimes a little more, sometimes a tad less. Under the plan, in order to improve its debt position, the Greek government would offer to buy back securities from its creditors at a premium over the current market price. The transaction would be backed by the EFSF.

Investors would now face a choice: If they were to accept the bonds, then they would have to book a considerable loss. At the same time, they would have certainty that the losses would not be even greater.

But they could also reject the offer in the hope that, when the bond matures, they will get more money back, maybe even the full face value. But they would risk losing money if Greece did end up becoming insolvent…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Serbia: 21 Out of 34 Banks Are Foreign

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, DECEMBER 9 — There are 34 banks in total in the Serbian banking sector, 21 of them are in foreign ownership, and 13 in domestic, reports Tanjug news gency. In nine of thirteen domestic banks the State is the majority shareholders, while four are privately owned. Top foreign banks, according the share in the total assets of the banking sector, are Italian 21%, Austrian 20%, Greek 15% and French 7%. Foreign banks are members of banking groups originating from 11 countries. The biggest bank in Serbia, measured by assets, is Banka Intesa with RSD332 billion (around EUR3.1 billion)in assets and holding 14.2% of the market share.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: 26-Bln Hole in Savings Banks, New Alarm From Fitch

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 21 — The “black hole” of irrecoverable assets of Spanish savings banks totalled 26 billion euros on December 31, 2010, and was due primarily to the deterioration of mortgages, according to sources from the sector who were quoted today by the daily newspaper, El Mundo.

The recapitalisation process of the savings banks is in the sights of all international analysts, including the Fitch agency, which today have raised the alarm of a possible downgrading of Spain’s rating, from its current AA+, if rescue costs rise. In this case, the agency would see a refinancing plan whose cost does not exceed 50 or 60 million euros as relatively positive.

According to reports in the daily newspaper Expansion, the government is finalising a radical reform of savings banks, to improve their access to private capital and accelerate the transformation of the institutes into banks. For this reason, nationalisations are not excluded and neither is the entrance of private investors into their capital.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Government Prepares Savings Banks Rescue Decree

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 20 — The Spanish government and the Bank of Spain are reportedly close to completing the final plan for the restructuring of the Savings banks, and tomorrow the government may present the decree that clears up the conditions for the recapitalisation of the financial institutions and transforms them into banks. This was announced by financial sources quoted today by ‘Periodico de Catalunya’, who say that one of the possibilities for the sector’s reorganisation is the temporary nationalisation of the savings banks. The Wall Street Journal also dedicates a long article in its on-line edition today on the new rescue plan. The decree could be presented tomorrow or next week in cabinet. But El Periodico writes that the measure was already announced by the ordinary bank restructuring fund in a presentation to international investors, in which the goal was indicated to enter in the capital of the savings banks to strengthen their solvency. All financial institutions that fail to pay the State funds they received through the Fund in time will fall in the hands of the Bank of Spain. Despite the mergers, which have reduced the number of savings banks from 43 to 17, their management structure hasn’t changed. Therefore the administrative boards remain represented by regional politicians, trade union representatives, clients and in some cases even priests, as the Wall Street Journal underlines. In Spain 42% of bank assets are deposited in savings banks, which also accumulate most of the irrecoverable property assets.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

States Set to Go on Bankruptcy Bonanza

News reports indicate state policy makers, congressional leaders and officials in the Obama administration are already involved in behind-the-scenes discussions regarding whether declaring bankruptcy may be the only solution available to states with budget crises that cannot be resolved any other way.

“Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care,” Mary Williams Walsh wrote in the New York Times. “Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by congressional aides.”

Corsi noted, “It is doubtful the federal government will bail out near-bankrupt states, despite the severe cutbacks in public welfare services the state budgetary crises are causing. Federal bailouts of the states would amount to nationalizing the states and could produce a constitutional crisis, especially if the federal government assumes as it usually assumes that the federal government has a right to control whatever the federal government pays for.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


A Deep Surge of Magma Shakes Yellowstone, Lifts Ground 10 Inches

One of the world’s great supervolcanoes sits and waits beneath Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. It has erupted before and it will erupt again, someday. Recent quaking of the ground in Yellowstone, combined with ground surges as high as 10 inches, have caused some geologists to wonder if the clock may be ticking down to another big blow.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Birthright Citizenship — A Fundamental Misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment

What’s the citizenship status of the children of illegal aliens? That question has spurred quite a debate over the 14th Amendment lately, with the news that several states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona, Oklahoma, Georgia and South Carolina, may launch efforts to deny automatic citizenship to such children.

Critics claim that anyone born in the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen, even if their parents are here illegally. But that ignores the text and legislative history of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 to extend citizenship to freed slaves and their children.

The 14th Amendment doesn’t say that all persons born in the U.S. are citizens. It says that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” are citizens. That second, critical, conditional phrase is conveniently ignored or misinterpreted by advocates of “birthright” citizenship.

Critics erroneously believe that anyone present in the United States has “subjected” himself “to the jurisdiction” of the United States, which would extend citizenship to the children of tourists, diplomats, and illegal aliens alike.

But that is not what that qualifying phrase means. Its original meaning refers to the political allegiance of an individual and the jurisdiction that a foreign government has over that individual. The fact that a tourist or illegal alien is subject to our laws and our courts if they violate our laws does not place them within the political “jurisdiction” of the United States as that phrase was defined by the framers of the 14th Amendment. This amendment’s language was derived from the 1866 Civil Rights Act, which provided that “[a]ll persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power” would be considered citizens. Sen. Lyman Trumbull, a key figure in the adoption of the 14th Amendment, said that “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. included not owing allegiance to any other country.

As John Eastman, former Dean of the Chapman School of Law, has said, many do not seem to understand “the distinction between partial, territorial jurisdiction, which subjects all who are present within the territory of a sovereign to the jurisdiction of that sovereign’s laws, and complete political jurisdiction, which requires allegiance to the sovereign as well.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Decapitation Murder Trial Underway in Buffalo, NY Courtroom

[WARNING: Graphic content.]

The murder trial of Muzzammil “Mo” HASSAN, Muslim TV executive accused of stabbing and decapitating his wife, is underway in a Buffalo, NY courtroom. It began with jury selection on January 10th, with opening testimony starting last week. The trial resumes today.

The following contains information compiled from witness testimony provided last week and an exclusive analysis of the historical impact these proceedings will have as American jurisprudence intersects with Islamic doctrine.

The grisly process of stabbing his wife some 40 times, then cutting his wife’s head off, most likely while she was still conscious[0], while their three children waited inside the family’s minivan took a total of 47 seconds. The decapitation was so vicious and brutal that floor tiles under his wife’s body were damaged by the blade of the knife.


About an hour before the killing, at about 5:10 p.m. that evening, security cameras at the Wal Mart store in Hamburg, NY depict a calm Muzzammil HASSAN buying two large hunting knives, carefully and deliberately testing their sharpness on a piece of cardboard at the counter. Apparently satisfied, he bought the knives and exited the store.


Aasiya HASSAN had filed for divorce just six days before she was brutally decapitated. On that Friday before her murder, Muzzammil HASSAN was served with divorce papers and an order of protection from abuse, the result of a marriage and family life rife with reports of domestic violence and abuse against the now deceased Aasiya HASSAN and the couple’s three children. The proud HASSAN was now the recipient of Western legal implements of true Islamic dishonor. They were humiliating legal instruments to dissolve the outwardly happy Muslim marriage while keeping him away from his wife and their children. They were served upon him when Aasiya apparently decided she could take no more.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Forgetting About the ‘Saviors of Our Country’

In 1892, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about the paradigmatic British soldier, Tommy Atkins, and his paradigmatic treatment at the hands of an indolent democratic society that takes him for granted — until he is needed. It read in part:

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’ But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country,’ when the guns begin to shoot.”

Unfortunately, for the first time in a generation, Americans are behaving as though they can safely disdain Tommy’s U.S. counterparts — “the troops” — even as the guns are shooting. All other things being equal, that appears likely to be one of the points on which President Obama will be seeking common ground with Republicans in the president’s State of the Union address.

Oh, to be sure, there will be lip service paid to the troops on both sides of the aisle. Standing ovations will greet the President’s obligatory declarations of support for them, appreciation for their sacrifice and commitment to their mission. If past bipartisan practice is any guide, one or more extraordinary individual in uniform will grace the First Lady’s box in the House gallery, perhaps bearing the scars of terrible wounds suffered in the line of duty.

There may even be some fleeting, if basically hortatory, expressions about the dangers we face around the world. This treatment will be, at best, highly selective so as not to offend several sources of a significant part of that danger. That would include Communist China, whose increasingly — and ominously — contemptuous attitude towards the United States was perfectly captured during its president’s state dinner at the White House: It featured the singing of a popular Chinese song set during the PRC’s last war with us, Korea, in which Americans are depicted as “jackals.”

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Ground Zero Imam: ‘Apostates Against Islam Must be Jailed’

‘You do not have the right to spread this conviction, lest you pollute others’

Those who leave Islam and preach against the Muslim religion must be jailed, declared the imam who has become the new face of the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City.

“If someone leaves the din, leaves the path privately, they cannot be touched. If someone preaches about apostasy, or preaches their views, they’re jailed,” stated Imam Abdallah Adhami in a November lecture obtained and reviewed by WND.

Adhami was discussing the Quranic view of apostasy, or Muslims who decide to leave the Islamic religion.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Orders Study on Socialism

Under the radar last week was President Obama’s executive order for a wide review of government regulations, in hope of showing that bigger government isn’t bad news for economic growth and business.

Of course, the president didn’t word it that way. In his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Obama wrote that he just wanted to “make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation.”

That sounds like such a great idea, doesn’t it?

First problem, don’t be bamboozled by wording. As cotton candy terminology can do, phrases like “avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation” are candy-coated sales pitches.

You know how that works. Say one thing — mean other? We did it often as kids. Remember, when your parents asked if you were going to Johnny’s house, where they’ve restricted you to go, and you replied, “No, I’m going to Dave’s house,” knowing full well that Johnny was going to be there, too?

Despite that Obama’s intentions sound so admirable, what the president really means is: “I’m putting together a study in hope you will believe that I’m tough on government regulations, when in fact I’ve expanded government regulations so much that I’m not sure it’s hurting the U.S. economy and job market.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Peace Corps Gang Rape: Volunteer Says U.S. Agency Ignored Warnings

ABC News Investigation Finds More Than 1,000 Rapes, Sexual Assaults Since 2000

[WARNING: Graphic content.]

More than 1,000 young American women have been raped or sexually assaulted in the last decade while serving as Peace Corps volunteers in foreign countries, an ABC News 20/20 investigation has found.

In some cases, victims say, the Peace Corps has ignored safety concerns and later tried to blame the women who were raped for bringing on the attacks.

“I have two daughters now and I would never ever let them join the Peace Corps,” said Adrianna Ault Nolan of New York, who was raped while serving in Haiti.

She is one of six rape and sexual assault victims who agreed to tell their stories, in hopes the Peace Corps will do a better job of volunteer training and victim counseling. The report will be broadcast Friday night on 20/20.

In the most brutal attack, Jess Smochek, 29, of Pennsylvania was gang raped in Bangladesh in 2004 by a group of young men after she says Peace Corps officials in the country ignored her pleas to re-locate her.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Schumer Vows to Gut Health Repeal Bill

WASHINGTON — Sen. Charles Schumer yesterday issued a staunch rebuke to the GOP’s plan to roll back President Obama’s health-care overhaul.

The New York Democrat threatened to turn the GOP’s health-care repeal bill into “Swiss cheese” if Republicans force a vote in the Senate.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Myth of Homegrown Islamic Terrorism in the U.S.

There is a specter haunting the U.S. It is “one of the things that keeps me up at night,” Attorney General Eric Holder said last month. North Carolina Representative Sue Myrick, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has warned President Obama that “there is no doubt” the problem has become “a global threat.” The incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, plans to convene hearings next month on the danger “that threatens the security of us all.” In the wake of the Tucson, Ariz., tragedy, you might think that such high-profile alarm would center on the shortcomings of America’s mental-health system or the inadequacy of the country’s gun laws. You would be mistaken. Instead, some members of the political class remain fixated on what they regard as a greater national emergency: the purported rise of “homegrown” Islamic terrorists. They point to a string of examples of jihadist activity by U.S. citizens of Muslim faith: the Somali-born Portland, Ore., man who tried to detonate a dud car bomb planted by the FBI at a December tree-lighting ceremony; last summer’s failed Times Square bombing by a naturalized Pakistani; the 14 men charged last August with providing support to Islamist militants in Somalia. (See more about Portland’s Christmas-tree-bombing plot.) And then there’s Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based Internet imam late of Falls Church, Va., who intelligence officials say now acts as a regional commander for al-Qaeda, with the charge of recruiting impressionable American Muslims to take up arms against their country. In the eyes of some, al-Awlaki and his ilk represent the vanguard of an even more sinister trend: the growing “radicalization” of the estimated 5 million Muslims living in the U.S. “Radicalization is taking place inside America,” Myrick wrote in her letter to Obama. “The strikingly accelerated rate of American Muslims arrested for involvement in terrorist activities since May 2009 makes this fact self-evident.” Actually, it doesn’t. Though acts of violent extremism by U.S. Muslims appear to have grown, their potency has not. American Muslims remain more moderate, diverse and integrated than the Muslim populations in any other Western society. Despite the efforts of al-Qaeda propagandists like al-Awlaki, the evidence of even modest sympathy for the enemy existing inside the U.S. is minuscule. The paranoia about homegrown terrorism thus vastly overstates al-Qaeda’s strength and reflects our leaders’ inability to make honest assessments about the true threats to America’s security.

Those who beat the drums about the homegrown terrorism threat often gloss over one salient fact: for all the publicity that surrounds cases of domestic jihad, not a single civilian has been killed by an Islamic terrorist on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. (The killing spree by Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 doesn’t fit the standard definition of terrorism: his motives were not wholly ideological, nor did he deliberately target civilians.) That’s due to a number of factors, including the military’s assault on al-Qaeda’s leadership, tougher homeland-security measures, smart policing and some degree of luck. But the fact that every homegrown terrorism plot has been foiled before it could be carried out also demonstrates the fecklessness of the terrorists themselves. In nearly every case — including that of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, who came closest to succeeding — homegrown terrorists have been found to have acted almost entirely alone. There has been no vast conspiracy. Terrorist attacks may not require much money or ingenuity, but a lone wolf has little chance of pulling off the kind of mass-casualty strike that counterterrorism experts worry about most. (See more about the Broadway Bomber, Faisal Shahzad.)…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Why States Must Nullify Unconstitutional Acts of Congress

Instructions from Hamilton, Madison, & Jefferson.

During August 2010, the People of The State of Missouri approved Proposition C and nullified key parts of “obamacare”. As a matter of constitutional principle, may the People of the States lawfully do this? Or must they submit to every law made by Congress whether it is constitutional or not? Are federal judges the final authority?

I will prove that the States have the Right and the Duty to nullify unconstitutional acts of Congress. The only real question is whether Americans have the Will to reclaim our Constitutional Republic & the Rule of Law, or whether they will submit to the rulership of men who “don’t care” what the Constitution says, and who see obamacare as a way “to control the people”.

Congress’ Powers are Enumerated

1. The U.S. Constitution, which created the federal government, permits Congress to make laws only on those few objects which are listed in the Constitution. The objects on which Congress has authority to make laws applicable throughout our Country are itemized at Art. I, Sec. 8, clauses 1-16 (and in a few of the Amendments).

Since the Federalist Papers are the most authoritative commentary on the true meaning of the Constitution, 1 let us see what those Papers say about the extent of Congress’ legislative powers. In Federalist No. 83 (7th para), Alexander Hamilton says:

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Husband, Two Others, Charged in B.C. Woman’s Death

Three people, including the victim’s husband, have been charged with first degree murder in connection with the 2007 death of a Surrey, B.C. mother.

The RCMP announced Monday that the three accused were arrested on Friday in Surrey.

Amanpreet Kaur Bahia, 33, was found on Feb. 7, 2007 in a pool of blood in the Cloverdale, B.C. home she shared with her husband and three young daughters.

Two of the three children were home at the time Bahia’s in-laws discovered her body, including her one-year-old daughter, who was found beside her mother.

In announcing the charges Monday, RCMP Cpl. Annie Linteau called the crime scene “gruesome” and “horrific.”

According to the RCMP, the probe into Bahia’s death eventually led investigators to consider her husband, Baljinder Singh Bahia, a person of interest in the case. For years, the force’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team worked the case alongside the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit. But last December, it was the Saskatchewan RCMP Major Crime Historical Case Unit that provided investigators with new information that led to the three suspects’ arrest.

Charged are Baljinder Singh Bahia, 41, and Tanpreet Kaur Athwal, 42, both of Surrey, and Eduard Viktorovitch Baranec, 33, of Burnaby.

All three accused are to appear in Surrey Provincial Court later Monday.

           — Hat tip: Cyrus[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A British Muslim Who Would Rather Talk

In ‘Wandering Lonely in a Crowd’, S M Atif Imtiaz’s desire for genuine discussion about Islam in Britain is striking and compelling, writes Charles Moore.

Last week, I reviewed a book by John Gross about growing up Jewish in London 70 years ago.

Much of the book’s interest lies in the encounter between Jewishness and Britishness. The young Gross was well educated — much better than most Gentiles — in the history and culture of the country his parents had adopted. Jewishness and Britishness intertwined, each benefiting the other.

Since there are now something like two million Muslims in Britain — a far larger grouping than the Jews — one longs for some comparable process with them. I am sure this is happening in many individual cases, but one of the dismaying things about debate since September 11, 2001 has been that most Muslim spokesmen have shown so little sympathy with British culture. They complain of being stigmatised as “the other”, yet that is exactly how they present themselves, proudly so.

These leaders also bristle at any criticism of any aspect of Islam made by any member of the kufr (the unbelievers, more than 95 per cent of the British population). The endless complaints about “Islamophobia” (a word which was invented in the 1990s to serve this end) are a way of shutting down a dialogue that needs to take place just as surely as are attacks by bigoted anti-Muslims.

So I find it most interesting to hear the different tone of voice in which Atif Imtiaz speaks. He is a youngish community activist from Bradford, and now works as academic director at the Cambridge Muslim College. This book is a collection of his essays and short stories ordered round the question of what the author calls “the Muslim condition in the West”.

It is not Imtiaz’s political views that are striking. He takes conventional, if moderately expressed, positions against the Iraq war, George Bush, Tony Blair and so on. What is different is his desire for genuine discussion — I first heard of him, indeed, when he emailed me, wanting to talk. British Muslims are bad at this, he says, partly because the most able ones tend to be trained in the sciences rather than the humanities. They become doctors or accountants, and do good service to British society in the process but “we [he includes himself in this] remain culturally delinquent and are unable to recognise the subtleties required for the art of persuasion”.

“We jump to condemnations,” writes Imtiaz, but “the English…like to be understated, and in many cases it is worse to be inappropriate than wrong”. That is well put. He also observes — which sounds contradictory, but isn’t — that there is “a tradition within the English culture of argumentation that seeks to offend — to see how the opposing person will respond. They may not mean what they say, they may simply be testing the robustness of our positions.”

Muslims, he goes on, should learn these codes: “… those who are familiar… with poetry or literature such as Wordsworth or Dickens seem to me better able to understand the nuances and subtleties of polite conversation that lies at the heart of the British character”. Instead of speaking the “language of rights” all the time, it is better to find “a language of human sympathy”.

That language, says Imtiaz, is best found by Muslims thinking in a more religious way. Even more fanatical, then, more fundamentalist? Not at all. What he means is that Islam is constantly enlisted by its most vocal spokesmen here as part of furious political argument. Yet the people who do this are often mouthing their religion, without knowing it or living it.

“I have seen young men transformed from rude boys [the Muslim equivalents of football hooligans] into the newly-practising, and I have felt that the religion which they practise has become a mask…The Islam that these young men are being offered is the Islam of outer semblances that replicates so well the cultural commodification that they exhibited as rude boys.” It is little more than yobbish assertion of their “team” against its rivals.

Muslim “scholars of the heart” condemn the attitudes stirred up by identity politics — “righteousness, victimhood, anger, pride, the advocacy of self, the blaming of others, the looking out for self and the looking down on others”.

“It may seem,” Imtiaz argues, “that we are championing Muslim causes,” but “it may be through means which are unMuslim”. He advocates a humility that has many parallels, though he does not say this, in Christian teaching: “Ibn Ata’illah said, ‘The tear of the sinner is more beloved to Allah than the arrogance of the righteous man.’?”

This book starts with an essay which the author wrote shortly after 9/11. I am glad that he included it because it shows how his attitude has developed since then. There, he indulges some of the paranoia about the media that often afflicts Islamic conversation, and seems to find it impossible to understand why non-Muslim reaction to a massive terrorist attack committed by Muslims in the name of their religion should be alarmed and hostile.

In the rest of the book, though, Atif Imtiaz is trying hard to get his fellow Muslims to move outside their half-comforting, half-terrifying world of conspiracy theories and play their part in the life of the nation which they inhabit. And he wants to persuade the rest of us that there is no absolute contradiction between Islam and freedom. One wants to hear more.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Barroso Condemned Over Meeting With Uzbek ‘Dictator’

European commission president José Manuel Barroso has been condemned for agreeing to meet Uzbek president Islam Karimov in Brussels on Monday.

Karimov, on his first official visit to Brussels since the EU lifted sanctions against his government, was also due to meet the head of Nato and the king of Belgium.

Human rights groups staged a demonstration outside the commission’s Brussels headquarters shortly before the meeting with Barroso on Monday.

The banner-waving group included two human rights defenders, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, who claims he was tortured in Uzbek jails before being freed in 2008, and Nadejda Atayeva.

The protests were organised by Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty’s EU office, said, “We are protesting to register our alarm at today’s meeting.

“Every day in Uzbekistan, people are harassed, tortured, beaten up or imprisoned simply for speaking out. No matter how important trade relations might seem, the EU cannot turn a blind eye to gross human rights abuses.”

His comments were echoed by Grégoire Théry, of FIDH, who said, “The secrecy surrounding this visit and its focus on energy negotiations reinforce our belief that human rights are kept far from the centre of EU-Uzbekistan relations.”

“We denounce the invitation sent by Barroso to a dictator directly responsible for massive human rights violations.

“After lifting the EU sanctions against the regime, the EU is sending an extremely worrying signal to Uzbek human rights defenders and to the international human rights community.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Germany: Young Israelis Go Crazy for Berlin

Growing numbers of young Israelis are moving to Berlin, eager to put the shadow of the past behind them. Ruth Michaelson reports on why so many are “meshugge” for the German capital and how they are shaping its culture.

It’s 2 am on Saturday in a basement in Berlin’s central Mitte district. Israeli and German flags hang from a low ceiling above a packed, sweaty dance floor throbbing to Israeli pop music.

Behind the decks, young Israeli Aviv Netter, half his face covered in gold glitter, balances astride a chair and the mixing desk, arms outstretched above the crowd. This is “Berlin Meshugge,” a club night that mixes the Tel Aviv party spirit with Berlin’s celebrated gay scene.

“Berlin is the capital of pluralism and liberalism in the world today,” Netter tells The Local later.

The DJ and promoter started “Berlin Meshugge” three years ago, spotting a gap in the wide range of themed parties in the capital city. “Meschugge” is a popular Yiddish word for crazy.

“At Meschugge we are performing a great service — bringing some of the Tel Aviv spirit to Berlin,” he says. “It’s better for the image of Israel than anything the embassy might be putting out.”

Now 26, Netter came to Berlin almost five years ago and has witnessed a wave of young Israelis relocating to the city. Like expats from many other countries, they come to fulfill their creative and hedonistic dreams in the famously debauched capital.

According to census data, around 3,000 Israelis are officially living in Berlin. But because German law grants the right of nationality to the children of Holocaust victims, some estimate the true figure could be as high as 15,000.

“Oi Vey, you’re gay”

“I think the Israelis that are coming to Berlin are very Berlin Israelis,” says Netter while sitting at a trendy cafe in the Prenzlauer Berg district, a popular area among his countrymen.

His friend Ady, a DJ who splits his time between Berlin and Israel, speaks up on why the city’s legendary gay scene appeals even to Israelis from relatively liberal places such as Tel Aviv.

“When you come here no one can comment on your sexuality, you are free to explore new things. When you’re at home, even if you live away from your family in your own place, people talk,” he says.

Still Netter calls Tel Aviv the “little sister of Berlin,” and says he hopes to share Israel’s rich culture with with his receptive Berlin following.

“Maybe 20 percent of the people that come to Berlin Meshugge are Israeli. Eighty percent are Germans, completely German,” he explains.

Past meets present

Although the most recent wave of Israeli immigration to Berlin is mainly young people, they are not the first generation to settle in the city after the Second World War. Ilan Weiss, 60, the self-proclaimed “best teller of Jewish jokes of all the German insurance brokers,” has been a Berlin resident since 1990.

“Many ask me how come I live in the Germany of the Nazis, and I say that there are two nations, who can forgive each other or not, like Israel and Germany,” he says. “But people, they do forgive each other very easily. An individual can find a connection and forgive easier than a nation can.”

Weiss has been running a popular newsletter for Israelis living in Berlin for more than 10 years. With a circulation of over 2,000, many of his readers meet once a month to hear speakers and chat in Hebrew.

He also considers himself a bridge between German and Israeli culture, recently publishing a German-language book of Jewish humour entitled Sex am Sabbat? Moderne jüdische Witze, or “Sex on Shabbat? Modern Jewish Jokes.”

Yet unlike many of the younger Israelis flooding to Berlin, Weiss has not sought German nationality.

“I’m a guest in Germany — even though I’ve been living here for 20 years, and I’m comfortable with that,” he says. “I could get a German passport but I’d have to give up my Israeli one, and that’s part of my identity.”

Leaving the ‘promised land’

While many younger Israelis travel to Berlin in search of a good time outside of their homeland, Weiss says that the heavy nationalist streak in Israeli society can make leaving Israel “an act of cowardice…leaving friends behind to continue their war.”

He also avoids mentioning the difficult past between Germany and the Jews.

“I’m tired of being a representative of the Holocaust survivors or of those that were murdered. I don’t bring up the subject unless there’s a very good reason,” he says.

But many of the fresh young Israeli implants in Berlin insist that they don’t consider the political implications of their decision to move, despite remaining hyper-aware of precisely what these are.

Jonathan Naman, a freelance photographer and Berlin resident of four years, says that young Israelis view Germany as friendly thanks to its unwavering support for their homeland on the international stage.

“When I told people I had a German passport, they’d respond with, ‘What the

are you still doing in Israel?!’,” says Naman.

His German passport was considered such an asset that in the months before his departure he received four marriage proposals from Israeli women eager to leave the country themselves.

One reason for Berlin’s growing popularity seems to be increased exposure through a growing tourism industry between the two countries. In August 2010 daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that “Berlin is booming in the Holy Land,” citing a threefold increase in flights between the city and Israel.

“As generations progress, people are more open, even to Germany,” Naman says. “Some people in Israel still don’t ever want to set foot on German soil, even people my age, but this is just ignorance.”

The contrast between affordable, peaceful Berlin and what Naman calls “ugly Israel” — a country with a “market mentality” where people are “loud, crass and always willing to cut corners” — is also appealing to people like him, he says.

While Israelis argue that the daily grind of security checks and a palpable sense of living in a conflict zone becomes normal, it is unsurprising that this kind of stress would motivate so many of Israel’s youth to seek a more uncomplicated life elsewhere.

“One of the great things about Berlin is that it’s filled with foreigners, which is why it’s so easy to settle here — other foreigners are welcoming and the Germans are used to them,” he says.

Creative cooperation continues

Meanwhile new projects mixing the culture of Israel and Berlin are blooming throughout the city.

“I never thought that I would do radio in Hebrew and German in Berlin,” says Aviv Russ, who runs the bilingual language show Kol Berlin, or “voice of Berlin,” which he began in 2006.

He is enthusiastic about what the future holds, predicting that the Israeli-Berlin culture “will continue to grow, but as a different and alternative community.”

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

Italy: ‘One in Five Young People Don’t Work or Study’

Worst figure in European Union

(ANSA) — Rome, January 19 — More than one in five young Italians neither work nor study, the worst figure in the European Union, national statistic agency Istat said Wednesday.

Istat, on the basis of 2009 data, said 21.2% of Italians between the ages of 15 and 29, or some two million people, “are neither part of a school or training system or engaged in work”.

Sociologists have spoken of a “lost generation” of Italian young people, for whom Italian President Giorgio Napolitano made an appeal in his end-of-year TV speech to the nation. Last year Italy was roiled by protests by young people, mostly against education cuts, and Rome saw its worst street violence in decades on a day of mayhem in mid-December.

Some saw the violence as an expression of malaise created by the scarcity of opportunities for young people.

In response to Napolitano’s call, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said helping the young people of the country would be one of the top priorities for his government.

Asked if Italy could “become a country for the young again,” the premier replied: “Absolutely, yes”.

But analysts say the government is effectively stalled as the premier struggles to firm up a working majority and respond to the latest in a string of sex scandals, this time involving an underage Moroccan belly dancer and several young women Berlusconi allegedly housed for free and paid to attend alleged sex parties.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Vatican ‘Concerned’ By Ruby Case

Public figures should set example, Cardinal Bertone says

(ANSA) — Rome, January 20 — The Vatican is “concerned” by the case of Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged involvement with young women including a teenage Moroccan belly dancer called Ruby, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Thursday.

Bertone said the Holy See was following the case carefully and stressed public figures had a responsibility in setting an example for families and young people. “The Holy See is following with attention and concern these Italian affairs that fuel an awareness of a great responsibility towards families and the new generations,” he told reporters who asked him about the Milan case.

The premier denies wrongdoing in the probe into alleged prostitution and abuse of power and says he is the victim of biased prosecutors he has vowed to rein in.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Rajoy Ready for Moncloa, Country Thirsty for Vote

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 24 — “Spain is thirsty for elections”. This is the euphoric message sent out by the leader of the People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy, in closing the party’s national conference in Seville. The words feature on the front page of today’s Spanish newspapers. Emboldened by a consolidated lead of more than 13 points over the PSOE — a figure confirmed in a new poll today — the PP “is beginning to show its cards”, says El Pais, and is proclaiming “a new political era”, according to the conservative paper ABC. Rajoy’s hand has been strengthened by the failure of the PSOE, a result of the unpopular measures aimed at containing Spain’s public deficit. Having so far waited in the wings, the PP leader is now positioning himself at the head of the “project for national recovery”.

As a result, says the liberal press, he has abandoned the image of a defensively-minded opposition, assuming a moderate counter-attack, with the demand for early elections (instead of the scheduled 2012 vote) and a horizon fixed at the local elections to be held on May 22. Rajoy has replaced the pessimistic rhetoric on the catastrophic effects of the economic downturn with more optimistic tones, though he has so far failed to explain with what measures he aims to tackle the crisis once he gains power. The worry, say many observers, is that votes of fear will be cast, with the potential need for cuts even more drastic than those made so far to welfare, a phenomenon that would penalise the People’s Party.

“Rajoy already seeing himself at Moncloa” is the banner headline in Publico. The PP’s 13.1% advantage over the government PSOE party in the Publico poll heralds a point of no return, some four months ahead of the next date in the electoral diary. A year ago, the lead was only 2.6% and the previous elections in March 2008 were won by the PSOE with a margin of only 3.2% over the PP. With regional and national power within touching distance, and in a situation of Socialist regression that is considered irreversible, Rajoy said that the only thing he was expecting from Prime Minister Zapatero, without naming him, “is the announcement of the election date”. The Prime Minister’s entourage, however, says that early elections will not be called, mainly as a result of a “sense of responsibility” towards the electorate. Despite being at an all-time low in opinion polls, the government is determined to see out its mandate and honour its commitments, to help drag the country out of the depths of crisis. Much is still left to do, with this week expected to be decisive on many fronts. Firstly, the government wants to launch the social contract with trade unions and industrialists, which will begin with the reform of pensions, at Friday’s Council of Ministers, with or without an agreement being reached.

In any case, the government is justifying its refusal to call early elections with the need to contain spending at a time of serious crisis. A vote would mean a few months worth of heavy expenditure for the state’s coffers.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: 7 Anglican Vicars and 300 Parishioners From 6 Churches Convert to Catholicism

The faithful, from six congregations, are to be welcomed into the Ordinariate — a grouping set up by the Pope for disaffected Anglicans.

Seven Anglican priests and up to 300 members of several parishes are to join a new part of the Roman Catholic Church, a diocese said today.

The faithful, from six congregations, are to be welcomed into the Ordinariate — a grouping set up by the Pope for disaffected Anglicans.

The switch to Rome, reported to be the largest of its nature, involves three parishes in Essex and three in east London.

Between 250 and 300 churchgoers are expected to complete the move with them, said a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Brentwood.

The transition follows the historic ordination of three former Anglican bishops as Catholic priests earlier this month.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Now You Must Email Your GP: Patients Are Told Not to Come to Surgery, Instead Describe Symptoms Online

Patients are to be told to examine themselves at home and email their GP with the results rather than meeting face to face.

They would send in a short message describing symptoms which would be answered by a doctor between appointments or at the end of the working day.

Those with long-term conditions such as heart failure, diabetes or lung disease could even be asked to measure their own blood pressure, glucose levels and temperature, sending the results to the surgery.

Ministers want to cut ‘unnecessary’ appointments in the hope of saving up to £1billion a year while at the same time allowing GPs to devote their attention to the most seriously ill.

Thousands of patients in England have already been issued with handheld devices and asked to send in their own measurements to their surgeries. But leading doctors are worried about the ‘remote’ diagnosis plans and fear life-threatening illnesses will be missed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Paedophile Snatched Girl, 10, Off Street Before Abusing Her in ‘Appalling Act of Sexual Depravity’

[WARNING: Disturbing content.]

A man snatched a 10-year-old girl off the street and abused her shortly before taking his three-year-old son on holiday.

Kevin Holmes, 28, bundled his victim into the boot of his car, assaulted her and then abandoned her on wasteland.

He drove straight from the scene in Fleetwood, Lancashire, and picked up his three-year-old son for a week’s break in Yorkshire.


Jailing him indefinitely, Judge Christopher Cornwall said it was an ‘utterly appalling case of sexual depravity’.

Holmes was sentenced to serve a minimum of five years for public protection and will not be considered for parole until then.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: RAF Typhoon Jets Escort Middle East Airbus Into Stansted After Passenger ‘Makes Threats’

Fighter jets escorted an Airbus into Stansted airport today after a passenger made threats on board.

The Etihad flight heading from Abu Dhabi to London’s Heathrow Airport was redirected after the pilot contacted air traffic control to say a man had begun making threats.

Two RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled to accompany the 300-seater airliner belonging to the national airline of the United Arab Emirates before it landed shortly before midday.

Waiting police immediately moved in on the man, a British national, and led him away for questioning.

An Essex Police spokeswoman said: ‘A 37-year-old man, a British national, has been arrested following an incident onboard an Etihad Airways plane travelling from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow.

‘The pilot reported a passenger causing disruption and making threats. The plane was diverted to Stansted Airport were it landed just before midday.

‘No-one has been injured and the airport has been operating normally.’


Essex Police said it had taken a decision not to reveal where the arrested man lives or what he is alleged to have said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

North Africa

A Tunisian Islamist Heads Home

‘The Rest of the Old Guard Must Go’

With the new Tunisian government in flux, exiled Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi is returning home. He spoke with SPIEGEL about why the new government isn’t much better than the toppled regime and how Europe’s silence prolonged the dictatorship.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ghannouchi, are you expect-ing a triumphant welcome upon your re-turn home?

Ghannouchi: I am no Khomeini, and Tunisia is no Iran. Before anything else, I’m a Tunisian citizen, preparing to re-turn home. For 22 years, I have been forced to live in exile in London be-cause of politically-motivated charges against me.

SPIEGEL: As leader of what was once the biggest Islamist party, al-Nahda, will you be playing a decisive role in the new Tunisia?

Ghannouchi: I will not be standing for office. I’m nearing 70; there are younger people within our movement. I just wish to contribute intellectually to the historic process of taking Tunisia from the era of repression to one of democracy.

SPIEGEL: When do you board the plane?

Ghannouchi: Very soon, I hope.

SPIEGEL: But the new leadership of Tunisia has not lifted your prison term of three life sentences.

Ghannouchi: We completely reject this government, as does the entire Tunisian people. Its majority is composed of figures of the old regime implicated in decades of corruption and repression and it excludes the real opposition and credible representatives of civil society. All parties agreed that we first need a general amnesty, but this government has offered only words and no actions.

SPIEGEL: Do you accept the argument that some experienced members of the old guard must remain in place for some time to ensure a safe transition?…

Interview conducted by Marco Evers

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

Egypt Demands Return of Nefertiti Bust From Germany

Egypt has officially asked Germany to return a 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti from Berlin’s Neues Museum as part of the North African country’s continuing efforts to retrieve stolen artifacts.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, sent a letter to Herman Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin requesting the return of the statue, the Culture Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Along with the Rosetta Stone, which is housed in the British Museum, the Nefertiti bust is one of several high-profile antiquities Egypt is trying to recover in order to raise the profile of its tourist industry. Tourism accounts for 13 percent of jobs and is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency, bringing in $10.8 billion in 2009, according to the Tourism Ministry.

Egypt maintains that the diary of the archaeologist who discovered the bust shows he misled authorities when it was transferred abroad. The council says Ludwig Borchardt, who found the sculpture in 1912, knew the limestone bust was of Nefertiti but instead listed it as a painted plaster bust of a princess.

German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann has said his country’s procurement of the bust was lawful and that Egypt had no grounds to demand its return. Germany refused to lend the statue to Egypt in 2007, citing its fragility.

Egypt first requested the return of the Nefertiti bust in 1925, which Germany agreed to in 1935 before former Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler decided it should stay in the Central European country, where it has remained ever since.

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

Egypt Makes Official Demand for Return of Nefertiti Bust

Egypt made an official request on Monday for Germany to return the bust of fabled Queen Nefertiti, exhibited in Berlin, alleging it was taken illegally.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities head, Zahi Hawass, announced an “official request” for the bust’s return, backed by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Culture Minister Faruq Hosni.

The request was sent in a letter to Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the governing body of all state museums in Germany including the Neues Museum in Berlin where the piece is on display.

In 1912, German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt unearthed the bust of the queen, legendary for her beauty, on the banks of the Nile.

According to Egypt, the archaeologist immediately realised “the unique nature and artistic quality of this piece, as well as its historical importance,” and transported the bust to Germany illegally.

Cairo began to demand the restitution of the Pharaonic-era statue back in the 1930s, but successive German governments, starting with Adolf Hitler, have refused, insisting the piece was legally bought in 1913.

The bust, about 3,400 years old, is at the top of a “wish list” of five major artefacts exhibited abroad that Egypt wants returned as part of its cultural heritage.

“Egypt recognises and appreciates the care and effort undertaken by the government of Germany to preserve and display the painted limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti,” Hawass said in a statement.

But he asked that “this unique treasure be returned to the possession of its rightful owners, the Egyptian people.”

In December 2009, Friederike Seyfried, a German Egyptologist at the Neues Museum, said Cairo had often aired its demand through the media but never made an official request for Nefertiti’s return.

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

Tunisia: Sarkozy to EU, Give Confidence to New Tunis

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 24 — The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, intends to put forward to European partners an acceleration of procedures granting Tunisia a privileged “advanced status” in its relations with the EU.

“It would be the best sign of confidence”, the French President said during a press conference at the Elysée Palace. Commenting on the recent Tunisian revolution, Sarkozy also recognised that “we have not been able to understand the extent” of the discomfort of Tunisians. “This revolution could only come from the people,” he added. There is now, he announced, “a new era in relations between France and Tunisia”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisian Assets in Switzerland, Denials and Reports

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 24 — The publication by the Swiss Federal Council of a list of Tunisians with assets in Switzerland set to be frozen continues to cause anger among those in the North African country whose names feature in the statistics. Those involved say that they are completely unrelated to the Ben Ali-Trabelsi family.

Some voices say that the man responsible for compiling the list is Ridha Ajmi, a lawyer with dual nationality residing in Switzerland. He is accused of libel and of causing serious damage to the businesses of those who maintain that they should not feature on the list, with some of the companies listed on the Tunis Stock Exchange.

As a result, some complaints have already been made to police (some of them against the Swiss Federal Council) while other charges are about to be brought.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

FM on Leaked Papers: Radical Islam is the True Threat

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to “The Palestine Papers” in a meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday, saying that radical Islam, not Israel, is the biggest threat to the Palestinians.

“The central problem of the Middle East is not settlements, but rather the extreme Muslim radicals that threaten regional stability,” Lieberman said. “The recent events in Tunisia, Algier, Lebanon and Iraq are not connected to the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The true threat to the Palestinian Authority’s leadership is not Israel, but Hamas and Jihad.”

At the same meeting, Hague welcomed his counterpart to London at the start of his three-day visit to the UK.

During the hour-long meeting at the Foreign Office in central London, Foreign Secretary Hague stressed the British government’s commitment to a strong bilateral relationship with Israel.

Lieberman heard during the meeting that the UK, and the Foreign Secretary personally, sees Israel as “a close friend of longstanding,” with Hague also underlining the UK’s opposition to efforts to delegitimize Israel.

The foreign ministers welcomed efforts to deepen economic and scientific co-operation between the two countries, and confirmed that the next meeting of the UK/Israel Strategic Dialogue would take place in Jerusalem on March 17.

Central to the discussions also was the Middle East Peace Process.

The Foreign Secretary made clear that while Britain understands Israel’s security concerns, the current freeze in the Peace Process is not in the interests of Israelis, Palestinians or the wider region.

Hague also stressed Britain’s stance that the window for peace in the Middle East is closing, and that continued occupation is “eroding Israeli security and international support for Israel, and hampering the region’s economic potential.”

He made clear again the British Government’s view that the construction of settlements is “illegal, an obstacle to peace, and should stop.”

Hague also underlined the need for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to find a way back to negotiations as soon as possible in order to reach a lasting two-state solution.

The ministers discussed regional issues, including their shared determination to see a resolution to Iran’s nuclear program to avoid an arms race in the Middle East.

Following the meeting, the Foreign Secretary gave Lieberman a tour of the Cabinet War Rooms.

During Lieberman’s visit to the rooms used by Winston Churchill during World War II, he said: “All of today’s leaders need to ask themselves how Churchill would take care of the Iranian threat, and use him as an example.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Hamas Cultural Ministry in Gaza Bans Sale of 2 Books, Says They ‘Contradict’ Islamic Values

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has banned the sale of two books by Arab writers that it said “contradict” Islam. It was the latest step by the militant group to impose its strict version of Islam in Gaza. Since seizing power in 2007, Hamas has also banned women from smoking water pipes or riding motorbikes. Culture Ministry spokesman Ehab Senwar said Monday that the books were banned after residents complained about their contents. He said the books won’t be sold until a committee checks their contents. One of the books, Egyptian Alaa al-Aswany’s “Chicago,” describes the lives of Egyptian immigrants in the U.S. It wasn’t known exactly what was deemed offensive about the book, but it has been criticized by others for portraying a romantically involved unmarried couple. The other, an 18-year-old book by Syrian writer Haidar Haidar called “A Banquet for Seaweed,” has been deemed blasphemous in several parts of the Muslim world because it contains phrases describing God as a “failed artist” and the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer. The book looks at the failure of Arab revolutionary movements in Iraq and Algeria in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Secret Files: PLO: Check Authenticity of Documents

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, JANUARY 24 — Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian negotiator currently in the role of Secretary of the PLO executive committee, has insisted on the need to check the authenticity of documents released yesterday by Al Jazeera and The Guardian.

In a press conference in Ramallah, Abed Rabbo said that the checks needed to be carried out by “independent Palestinian institutions”. It will also need to be verified whether Al Jazeera has presented the documents in the correct form.

Around 1,600 secret documents across several thousand pages charting a decade of Middle East peace talks were obtained by the pan-Arab broadcaster and shared with the British newspaper, which corroborated them independently and with material drawn from Wikileaks cables. The files paint a highly detailed picture of the “slow death” of the peace process, according to The Guardian, which like Al Jazeera will continue to publish extracts in the coming days.

Presenting the files, the two media defined the concessions made under the table by the Palestinians as “huge”, some of them regarding the right of return of Palestinian refugees, others focussing on private requests by senior Israeli officials for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state.

Al Jazeera and The Guardian have also promised important information on the close cooperation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian National Authority over the role of British intelligence in drawing up a secret plan to remove Hamas from the Palestinian Territories.

Yesterday’s most controversial revelation concerns concessions that PNA negotiators said that they were ready to make in the wake of the Annapolis conference on Jerusalem in 2008. The Palestinian documents show PLO leaders ready to accept the annexation of all Jewish settlements in Jerusalem with the exception of Har Homa, but including Gilo, and the suggestion to swap part of the eastern Arab area of Sheikh Jarrah with other territories.

Al Jazeera and The Guardian have said that further revelations will cause controversy, but yesterday’s leaks have already earned the PNA a scolding from Hamas. The revelation of the Authority’s readiness to male significant concessions to Israel, in the context of definitive peace agreements “is further proof that the PNA is made up of traitors, who are ready to renounce the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including those concerning Jerusalem and the return of refugees,” said Mahmud a-Zahar, a Hamas official in Gaza. “They should be ashamed, and they should go and hide”.

Another Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, put particular blame on the security cooperation between Israel and the PNA, which appears to be confirmed in the leaks. Abu Zuhri said that senior PNA officials should ask for “the forgiveness” of the Palestinian people and should be “tried in court”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Pro-Zionist-Populist Settler Alliance

Europe has a new bogeyman: Zionist settlers. The heavy-handed hate of Jews is being handed over by the respectable antisemite of today to the Muslims (PI reported) whose actions are “tolerated” and any criticism against them is labeled as “discrimination” and “racism”. For the somewhat more refined Jew hate, today’s respectable Antisemite, when conversing with his peers, favors such terms as criticism of Zionism, criticism of Israel and “settlers” on the West Bank, so that they don’t have to call those in Judea Jews.

Nobody seemed to notice the charade as long as it worked so nicely as the “defense against all evil” in the Battle Against the Right(tm). However, now the respectable Antisemite stands before a serious conundrum: His whole game of hide and seek threatens to fly away because, of all people, the “rightwing populists” subscribed to scapegoats team up with the Zionist settlers in Judea and Samaria. To stand with credibility against this alliance hardly succeeds without revealing one’s own anti-Jewish resentments. 20 Minuten reports:

Genuine backing looks different. Israel has newly received such backing from an unexpected corner: European legal politicians are vociferously defending Israel’s claim to the occupied territories. …

Geert Wilders, whose rightwing populist and Islam hostile party the Dutch minority government tolerates said on the occasion of his visit in Tel Aviv the beginning of December, “A land that is only 15 kilometers wide cannot be defended. That is the strategic reason why the Jews must settle in West Jordan Land.” That matches the official Israeli position. …

“Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism, and the Israelis are fighting our battle. If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York are next.” In other words: Israel’s battle against the Palestinians is Europe’s battle against Islam. …

The episode didn’t remain an isolated incident. One day after Wilders’ appearance in Tel Aviv, European legal politicians completed a sightseeing tour in West Jordan Land, among whom were Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of the rightwing populist FPÖ (Austrian Free Party) from Austria, as well as Filip Dewinter of the rightwing-nationalist Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) party. They also affirmed the Israeli claim on the occupied West Jordan Land.

The constantly forced spin of the left and the mainstream media in this situation is to accuse the Right by saying they have exchanged the demonization of the Jews with that of the Muslims, an assertion that most obviously consistent in foregoing any basis, since the most open Antisemites these days are themselves Muslims, and the leftwing tolerance in the face of their Jew-hating activity reveals their own resentments in this direction.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Here Comes the Revolt of Islam

As debates rage in the halls of Congress over President Obama’s domestic policies, developments in the Middle East may soon dominate the political agenda once again. As 2011 unfolds, a dangerous two-part equation will emerge that could alter the landscape, as Iran and its Islamist allies recognize an historic opportunity:

1 — A vacuum in the balance of power in the Middle East triggered by America’s removal of its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan

2 — President Obama presidency perceived as a lame duck, to be followed by a Republican with a vastly different strategic agenda.

An Urgent and Irresistible Opportunity

President Obama has repeated many times, and in many places, that “America is not, and will never be at war with Islam.” Reconciling America and Islam was one of Obama’s first goals upon taking office. It takes little imagination to conclude that following US withdrawal from the region, President Obama is highly unlikely to re-engage US forces in any Middle East conflict, even if US allies and interests are at risk. As Obama continues to look like a one-term president, the window of opportunity for region-wide uprisings may prove irresistible to Islamists. Meanwhile, the unstable and illegitimate Western backed regimes in the Middle East are becoming easier targets every day:


Islamism is an indigenous, grass-roots movement championed by both poor and educated Muslims throughout the Muslim world. Islamists do not consider themselves to be revolutionaries, in the sense of revolution changing society in a new way. Rather, Islamists strive to apply traditional principles to reestablish the past strength and glory of Islam. Today, Islamism is the only serious alternative form of government in the Islamic world and meets the aspirations of the vast majority of all Muslims over Western secular government.

Here Comes The Revolt of Islam

The next phases of Obama’s presidency will present Islamist movements with an urgent and irresistible opportunity to seize power from non-representative secular rulers, in order to change the reality on the ground before a less sympathetic Republican administration takes office. The “Revolt of Islam” is likely to disrupt oil supplies with the ensuing global ripple effects for Western economies already in crisis.

After two years of policy making in White House, President Obama’s world view is indistinguishable from Reverend Jeremiah’s Wright’s radical left philosophy that mirrors Islamist thought: the world’s problems are due to American dominance, and justice will only be achieved with America’s decline — both economically and militarily. Can anyone argue that a weakened America is not the end result of the administration’s policies, domestic and foreign? For the entire world, this concept is fatally flawed — a strong America has helped maintain world peace for decades. A weak America will invite regional conflict as players like Iran and its Islamist allies with expansionist agendas fill the vacuum in the balance of power voided by American self-doubt.

Get ready, here comes The Revolt of Islam!

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Jordanian Nightclubs on Mecca Street Upset Muslims

AMMAN, Jordan — A nightclub on Mecca Street?

A Muslim radio station in Jordan is pressing the government to shut down clubs located on two streets in the capital that are named after Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The radio station says their locations are offensive.

Hayat FM said its programming on Sunday was devoted to religious and legal commentary to build public support for closing the nightclubs in west Amman.

The station says lawyers are also lobbying the government to shut what they call “dens of vice,” citing residents’ complaints of noise and inappropriate behavior on streets named after sacred places.

It adds that Jordan’s prominent engineers union will stage protests on Tuesday.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Two Green Wave Leaders Hanged in Iran

Two political activists involved in the 2009 post-presidential election protest movement are hanged this morning. Iranian authorities have hanged 99 people in the past month, but the number of extrajudicial executions could be even higher.

Tehran (AsiaNews) — The Iranian regime continues to eliminate leading figures from the 2009 social protest movement, known as the “green wave”, causing few ripples across the world. The authorities confirmed that this morning two political activists, Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Hajaghaei, were hanged, the Tehran prosecutor’s office announced. They had been arrested during the demonstrations against President Ahmadinejad’s re-election. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had urged Iranian authorities to show clemency but to no avail.

And so the crackdown against demonstrators continues. Ayatollah Vaez Tabasi, the custodian of Imam Reza shrine, renewed his attacks green wave leaders, calling them “seditious leaders who fight against Islam to promote ignorance and oppose Iran’s supreme leader”.

Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the shrine’s foundation, the ayatollah said “severe measures” should be taken against demonstrators.

With the latest hangings, the total number of executions has reached 99 in the past month.

Official sources show that Iranian courts sentenced to death alleged terrorists, drug traffickers and “seditious leaders” between 19 December and 24 January. On 22 December 2010 alone, 22 executions were carried—the single bloodiest day in the country’s modern history.

At the same time, fears are growing that extra-judicial executions are being carried out on an almost daily basis, unreported in official data.

Iranian judges “find it very difficult to sentence to death student protest leaders not involved in acts of violence,” a source tell AsiaNews. “For this reason, they rely on unscrupulous prison guards who kill defendants inside detention facilities.

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


Deaths Are Reported in Explosion at a Moscow Airport

An explosion rocked an international terminal of Moscow’s busiest airport on Monday afternoon. There were conflicting reports on the number of dead and injured. The authorities were seeking to determine the cause.

Moscow police were put on terror alert, the RT television station reported.

Russia’s Interfax Agency reported that the blast in the airport, Domodedovo, killed as many as 10 and left many more injured. Russia’s Investigative Committee said there were at least 20 casualties, without differentiating between injured and dead. News reports citing anonymous officials said at least 10 people had died. The Health Ministry reported that 130 had been injured.

[Return to headlines]

Moscow Airport Attack: Russian Authorities Were Warned About a Terrorist Attack

According to reports, the warning even gave details of precisely where the bomb would be planted and yet the authorities failed to stop the attack at the country’s busiest airport.

“The special services had received information that an act of terror would be carried out at one of the Moscow airports,” a security source told the RIA Novosti news agency.

“Agents were seeking three suspects but they managed to access the territory of the airport, witness the explosion which their accomplice carried out and then leave the airport,” the source said. Another airport security source said: “A tip-off with a warning that something was being prepared appeared one week before the explosion. Even the place, by the customs, was named,” according to the website, which has close links with FSB, Russia’s security service. The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, admitted that security regulations were not being properly followed even though Domodedovo airport boasts some of the most hi-tech scanning equipment in the world. “What happened indicates that far from all the laws that need to be working are being used correctly,” he said. The blast took place in the “meet and greet” area of the international arrivals hall where passengers are met after they pass through customs control.

A spokesman for the airport confirmed it was a “free access zone” that does not require a boarding pass to enter.

However, the airport does have a series of metal detectors on the entrance to the arrivals hall to scan people who are there to meet relatives. These are not always operational.

The blast will damage Russia’s international image as it gears up to hold two major sporting events, the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the 2018 Football World Cup…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Photos: Terrorist Massacre at Moscow Airport: Two Britons Among 35 Killed in Suicide Bombing Attack


‘It was a terror attack,’ confirms President Medvedev Two foreigners among the injured according to Russian agency Interfax Suspected suicide bomber was an ‘Arab-looking man, aged 30-35’ — Interfax Italian and French nationals among casualities British Airways flight destined for Moscow turned around Officials searching for three male suspects

Two Britons are among 35 people believed to have been killed along with 130 injured in an explosion caused by a dual suicide attack at Moscow’s main commercial airport.

The Foreign Office was this evening frantically trying to confirm the news on the British deaths, as reported by Russian agency Interfax, who earlier said the explosion was caused by a bomb with 7kg of TNT and police searching for three male suspects.

‘We are investigating the situation, have people on the ground there,’ a spokesman told the Daily Mail online. ‘We are speaking to our Russian colleagues in an attempt to confirm the reports.’

Russia’s top investigative agency said the blast happened at 4.30pm local time in the arrivals hall of Domodedovo Airport, the busiest of capital’s three airports, which is 26 miles outside Moscow.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Gupta Era Relic Damaged for ‘Development Work’

Bogra Sadar Upazila Parisad recently implemented a rural road project in Sarkarpara area destroying brick built structures of ancient Gupta period.

Implemented under ‘Karmo Srijoni programme’, the road project started on October 16 and completed on December 18 last year, said Project Implementation Officer (PIO) in Bogra Sadar, Shamsunnahar Sheuly.

The whole process was done without the knowledge of the Department of Archaeology although it is a protected site under the department.

After being informed, Naheed Sultana, custodian of Mahasthan Archaeological Museum, on 19 January lodged a general diary with Bogra Sadar police station enclosing a copy of the Archaeology Act for necessary action. She also sent a letter to Bogra Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Sultana Pervin in this regard.

Asked about the matter, the UNO said that local people made a rural road using ancient bricks and soil of the protected archaeological site but it was unknown to the project authority.

Regional Director of the Department of Archaeology Md Badrul Alam told this correspondent that the authority has taken initiative to protect the site according to the Antiquity Act.

Taleb Ali, 85, and a few other local people said that at least 700 metre newlt built road cut through the site.

A few months earlier, Bogra Sadar upazila parishad started a similar project destroying another ancient archaeological site ‘Boro Tagra’ that also included structures of Gupta period. However, the project was suspended following protests from different quarters.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Far East

Chinese Web Users Praise Lang Lang for Playing Anti-American Commie Song at Obama White House State Dinner

Unbelievable. Obama’s been in office for only 2 years and already they’re playing Red Chinese commie songs at State Dinners in the White House. How’s that for hope and change?

The US was humiliated in eyes of Chinese by a song used to inspire anti-Americanism at the Obama State Dinner for Hu Jintao.

Internet users in China are praising the pianist after this great embarrassment at the Obama White House. Asia One reported:

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Tycoon Sawiris Meets Kim Jong-Il in N. Korea

(ANSAmed) — SEOUL, JANUARY 24 — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has met with Egyptian telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the top-ranked member of Orascom Telecom Holding, who since Friday has been in the communist country, where he launched the 3G network at the end of 2008 through the Koryolink joint venture.

Sawiris’s visit, reports the official press agency KCNA, has come “at a time in which Orascom’s investments are seeing success in a number of areas in North Korea, including in telecommunications”. Kim “was very much in favour of his visit” and had a “cordial talk” with the Egyptian entrepreneur, taking part in which was also Jang Song-thaek, the brother-in-law of the leader and the vice president of the powerful National Defence Committee, cited for the first time in 2010 in media reports from North Korea.

Mobile telephony is doing extremely well in North Korea, with users going from 69,261 in 2009 to 301,199 as of September 2010, thanks to the exponential growth driven by younger and more technologically advanced clientele, attracted — as Orascom noted in a press release — by the success of video calls services. Among Sawiris’ investments in North Korea is the signing of a 115-million-dollar 2007 agreement for the development of a cement factory, to which another was added for the completion of an enormous 105-floor structure in Pyongyang which was originally built to be used as a hotel but which may end up being put to other uses.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Limo Driver Teen Sex Attack

A 14-YEAR-OLD girl has been sexually assaulted by a limousine driver hired to ferry a group of teenage friends around Sydney after a late-night party at Bondi.

A Sydney court has heard the driver promised the girl she could ride to his next appointment to pick up rap star Kanye West and then plied her with alcohol.

After falling asleep on a back seat, the girl awoke to find the man, Mohamed Sabra, 34, of Bexley, fondling her breasts and performing oral sex on her, court documents allege.

Sabra, who owns Rockdale based Sabra Limousines, faced Sydney District Court on Friday after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting the girl in December 2008.

His victim, now 16, is the daughter of a prominent Sydney businessman, but neither can be named to protect her identity.

Agreed facts tendered at Sabra’s sentencing submission hearing said the teen first met Sabra in November 2008 when a “family friend” arranged for him to drive her and a friend to the Rihanna-Chris Brown concert in Homebush.

On that occasion, the girl told Sabra she was 14-years-old, court documents said.

One month later she called his limo service and asked him to collect her and a group of friends from a party at Bondi where she had two alcoholic drinks.

In the limo, Sabra told the girl he “had an appointment to pick up singer Kanye West” who was touring Australia. The teen said she was a fan and the driver replied that she could “could go with him but there would not be enough room for her friends”, court documents said.

She agreed and Sabra drove her to the Sydney CBD where she drank a Red Bull and vodka drink that he had poured in a champagne glass for her.

Sabra said he had a sore neck and asked the girl for a massage. She gave him a short massage and he started massaging her shoulders, court documents said. After waking during the alleged assault, the girl pushed Sabra away and said: “Why would you take advantage of me?”, court documents said.

Sabra allegedly replied: “Why are you crying? If you didn’t like it why didn’t you stop me?”

The matter will return to court on January 28.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Pledge to ‘Brothers’ Inspired VC Bravery of Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith

SAS corporal Ben Roberts-Smith has tattooed across his chest the simple message: “I will not fail my brothers.”

Early on June 11 last year, in the rugged north of Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, the special forces soldier lived up to his own promise.

In an early morning raid on a Taliban stronghold, Corporal Roberts-Smith and two other special forces soldiers were lying in a horribly exposed position just 20m in front of an insurgent machine-gun post.

From the sparse cover of a small pile of rubble, Corporal Roberts-Smith saw gunfire tearing up the ground around his friends and realised they’d soon be killed. He leapt to his feet and charged the machine-gun, killing the gunners at point-black range.

Yesterday, he was awarded the highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross of Australia.

The medal was presented in front of Corporal Roberts-Smith’s family and previous VC winners Mark Donaldson and Keith Payne.

Corporal Roberts-Smith’s father, West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission chief Len Roberts-Smith, told The Australian last night he was not surprised by his son’s courage.

He said his son lived by the message he wore on his chest.

“To have a son that you know did that is just extraordinary. We are incredibly proud of him,” said Mr Roberts-Smith, himself a former army major-general.

“As a parent, of course I worry enormously. We know the circumstances he goes into and we know our son, so we know he’s going to be at the forefront. But we’re very proud of him.”

Corporal Roberts-Smith comes from a high-achieving family. His brother Sam, 24, is an opera singer critically acclaimed for his role in Carmen, which is playing in Sydney at the moment

Yesterday, Corporal Roberts-Smith, the second member of Australia Special Air Service regiment to win the VC in Afghanistan, spoke of the fear felt by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and said they all showed great courage under fire.

“I saw a lot of brave men do a lot of brave things that day,” the 32-year-old SAS soldier said yesterday after being honoured for his extreme gallantry.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce said she felt honoured just pinning the medal on his chest.

“In these times of hardship for so many Australians, you bring our hearts to soar,” she said.

“Corporal, you are not invincible, you are human, extraordinarily and exceptionally so.”

Julia Gillard said Corporal Roberts-Smith was reluctant to be at the centre of “so much fuss” but he was a true hero.

She said the Victoria Cross was “an honour so high that even the chief of the Defence Force salutes those that hold it”.

Defence Force chief Angus Houston, himself a decorated pilot, followed convention and, despite his vastly superior rank, saluted the corporal.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said Corporal Roberts-Smith had brought great credit to himself, the Australian Army, the Special Air Service Regiment and the Australian Defence Force. “Today, we in the military feel great admiration and respect for the extreme valour shown by Corporal Roberts-Smith and we are honoured to call him one of our own,” Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

The SAS soldiers were pinned down in a battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Shah Wali Kot region when Corporal Roberts-Smith made his life-saving dash through a storm of gunfire.

“Every single bloke in that troop was at some stage fighting for their lives, every person there showed gallantry,” Corporal Roberts-Smith said. “The decisions that I saw made were heroic, just watching some of my mates who were wounded by frag just keep firing, just ignoring the fact that they were drawing fire to themselves.”

Corporal Roberts-Smith said he was aware of bullets flying around him as he tackled the machine-gun posts, and anyone who said they didn’t feel fear was “either crazy or not telling the truth”.

But he said his actions were instinctive. “I saw my mates getting ripped up so I just decided to move forward. I wasn’t going to just sit there and do nothing. I thought I’d have a crack, I was not going to let my mates down,” he said.

The father of twin five-month-old girls said Australia was achieving results in Afghanistan.

“I believe that we are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism into Australia, and I want my children to be able to live as everyone does now without the fear of getting on to a bus and having it blow up,” he said.

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

When Oprah Gives, Someone Else Pays

The TV host takes the glory for gifts that often don’t cost her a cent.

OPRAH Winfrey is the female Santa. She is such a bountiful and renowned giver of gifts that, as with any kid on the day after Christmas, the first question anyone who has attended one of her shows will be asked is, “What did you get?”

Sometimes the baubles are insubstantial — a book, say, or a $10 McDonald’s voucher — but sometimes they are massive. The trip to Australia for 302 fans is the most famous giveaway, but it’s not the most exorbitant. In 2004, she gave a new car to each and every member of her audience, a gesture that was valued at the time at $US7.8 million. On one fabulous day each year, she gives everyone in her studio audience the 10 things that have made it on to the list of her “ultimate favourite things” for the previous 12 months. Last year’s swag included an iPad, a $400 handbag and a pair of sparkly Ugg boots. No wonder tickets for the taping of her shows are so hotly sought after.


Those cars in 2004, for instance, were donated by General Motors, and the people who received them had been selected by Harpo as worthy (on the grounds of poverty or need or good works done for others). In scenes that foreshadowed the great Aussie giveaway, Oprah told everyone “You get a car. And you get a car. Everyone gets a car.”

Everyone was a winner: Oprah looked generous, General Motors looked generous, the audience members looked ecstatic. Only after the credits rolled did it emerge that some of the recipients would have to forgo the gift because they couldn’t afford the $7000 taxes payable on the gift (and which Harpo was unwilling to cover). Bummer, but no harm done to Brand Oprah.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Stakelbeck on Iran’s Growing Influence in Sudan

South Sudan is posed to become Africa’s newest country following this month’s independence vote.

But Sudan’s Islamist government and its Iranian ally may not let the south break away without a fight.

Just as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza and Yemen, the Iranian regime is now expanding its influence into Sudan. It’s goal: secure a base on the Red Sea to menace its Arab rivals and of course, Israel.

You can watch my new report by clicking the link above.

           — Hat tip: Erick Stakelbeck[Return to headlines]


EU-Libya: EP: No Blank Cheque, Guarantees Needed

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, JANUARY 20 — Protection of migrants and recognition of the status of refugee are the two key conditions set today by the European Parliament for its future authorisation of a potential cooperation agreement between the EU and Tripoli. The Euro MPs also asked the EU States to return illegal aliens to Libya, where human rights are constantly violated, only if certain guarantees are complied with.

The EU and Libya are currently negotiating a framework agreement meant to cover political relations, immigration and energy in the long term context of the opening of a free market.

In a recommendation addressed to the Council and approved today, the Euro MPs supported the idea of advancing relations with Libya and asked for the opening of a EU delegation office in Tripoli. But they also asked for guaranteed on fundamental freedoms and recommended that Tripoli allow the legal presence in the Country of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (Unhcr), and ratify and apply the Geneva Convention. Every possible readmission agreement will have to automatically exclude asylum seekers, avoiding collective expulsions. The Strasbourg Assembly also asked Libya to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

The approved recommendation specifically referenced the “friendship” agreement signed between the Italian and the Libyan government, and also pointed out the request made in November by the Italian Parliament to review the terms of the same.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: White Children in Birmingham ‘A Minority’ This Year Because of Immigration

White children are set to become a ‘minority group’ in Birmingham, a census is expected to show.

A study by the University of Manchester has predicted that more than half of children in Birmingham will be from black and Asian communities when the census is carried out at the end of March.

In 2006, 53 per cent of children under 16 were from white families and this figure is expected to drop substantially to 47 per cent when the census is carried out in two months’ time.

Various public bodies have attempted to predict when the ‘tipping point’ will be reached which will push Birmingham’s ethnic minorities into a clear majority.

Although children from white families will still make up the largest single group, youngsters from ethnic backgrounds will be in the majority which means the white children will be classed as a ‘minority’.

Unshaven but calm, Jo Yeates’s 6ft4in next-door neighbour towers over interpreter as he appears in court charged with murder

Researchers from the university calculated four years ago that the proportion of children aged under 16 who are from black and ethnic minorities will rise to about 64 per cent by 2026.

The study suggests one reason for the reduction of white families is movement out of Birmingham to other areas of the West Midlands and the UK.

Another reason is the continued immigration of people from Pakistan, African countries and China.

Ten years ago, the 2001 census showed that 70.4 per cent of the Birmingham population was white and 29.6 per cent were a mixture of various ethnic backgrounds, with British Asians and African-Caribbean dominating.

The impact of these changes in the population is already being felt in the city’s education system.

The council’s education department has warned that language difficulties among non-English speaking pupils is contributing to poor performances by some schools.

Last year Asian children were reported to outnumber white pupils in Birmingham primary schools for the first time, according to city authorities.

The figures are likely to re-ignite a debate about whether and when Birmingham will beat Leicester and Bradford to become the first majority ethnic UK city.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Genetically Selecting ‘Gay’ Embryos?

America’s top ethicist argues couples have ‘right’ to ‘family they choose’

If two homosexual men want to use in vitro fertilization to conceive a baby and then use genetics technology to ensure the baby is also “gay,” while disposing of any “straight” embryos, would the law have any ethical problems with that?

America’s leading ethicist in the field of human reproduction has written a paper that argues future homosexual couples should have “the right” to do exactly that.


While Robertson admits no such “gay gene” has yet been identified, he argues that genomic knowledge is “mushrooming.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Rape of the Mona Lisa — Abigail R. Esman

Mona Lisa, a Muslim?

This Thursday, January 27, before your very eyes — and the very eyes of Smartphone owners around the world, wherever they may be — the beloved La Jaconde will replace her exquisite gossamer veil for an Islamic headscarf, or hijab. Simply train your Junaio-loaded Smartphone camera at any image of the painting ( a poster or postcard or reproduction in a travel guide will do), and watch as Leonardo’s lovely sitter places a scarf made from a French flag around her head.

The work of New York-based Iranian-Canadian artist Amir Baradaran, “Frenchising Mona Lisa” explores questions of curatorial control, national identity, the effectiveness of guerilla tactical maneuvers, and the tensions between art and politics in an age when distinguishing between the two has become increasingly difficult. (Al Franken started out on “Saturday Night Live” and ended up a senator; Sarah Palin started out a governor and landed a skit on “Saturday Night Live.” And when Keith Haring painted murals proclaiming “Silence=Death,” was that politics, or art?)

But poor bella Gioconda. In this case, it would seem she has been hijacked altogether, neither — as purported — for art’s sake nor for politics, but rather, for an artist’s efforts at self-promotion, a means of communicating his politics while insinuating himself into the Louvre — a trick he has used before when confronting artist Marina Abramovic at MoMA and calling it “his” MoMA exhibition.

Not that it would be by any means the first time: as Baradaran himself points out, the brilliant Italian portrait painted by an Italian Renaissance master of a young Italian woman has been largely co-opted by the French. Then there was Marcel Duchamp, who stuck a beard and moustache across her lip (using a postcard of the original) and titled the result “L.H.O.O.Q.” — which, pronounced in French, becomes “Elle a chaud au cul,” or “She’s got a hot ass.” And of course, there was the bestselling Da Vinci Code, a book which could never have succeeded quite so well had its author selected a different painting for the story.

More recently — just this month, in fact — the girl with the mysterious smile was in the news again, with two alleged “discoveries”: one from a Carla Giori, who claims to have found the number “72” hidden in the landscape — a reference, she says, to the devastation of a bridge in the village of Bobbio. Her findings were based on similar ones by art historian Silvano Vinceti, who maintains as well that the letter “S” appears in Mona Lisa’s left eye, and the letter “L” in her right. According to AP reports, however, Vinceti maintains that the letters are undetectable to the naked eye (making one wonder how Leonardo might have produced them so legibly); moreover, Vinceti hasn’t actually even studied the painting itself — only photographs.

Good thing he did that before the photographs became obscured by Baradaran’s hijab trick.

And about that hijab: in a statement replete with the kind of pedantic gibberish that frequently passes for art criticism, the artist explains on his web site:

“Pursuant to the demands of demographic changes, politicians from the right and the left have been engaging in a one-sided argument, castigating (their interpretation of) Islamic practice while religious underpinnings of Western secularism go unacknowledged and undisputed. By ignoring both the sartorial re-significations of the hijab and the convulsions of 20th century history, such rhetoric presupposes that the culture of hijab and that of France are static, unchanging and unchangeable. In this context, my work is intended as pointed commentary on this evasion and a call for new (post)national iconography.”

Parse this, and what emerges is simply this: Baradaran aims to see the hijab become as much a symbol of La France as is the Mona Lisa (if, indeed, she is a symbol of France at all, which I would anyway dispute. Then again, I’m having enough trouble getting through the notion of “religious underpinnings” to secularism. But I digress.) He wants a France defined as much by Islam as by pain chocolat.

Yet when I asked him whether he was suggesting that France should embrace Islam, Baradaran replied in similarly convoluted terms: Islam, he answered, “is the fastest growing and second-biggest religion in France. That is a fact. A fact which will change — is changing — the notion of “Frenchness.” Consequently, he describes the work as a call “to look at the complicated history of things, look at how the meanings of objects shift and change with the flow of time. This is as true of an item of clothing as it is for a definition of national identity.” (This last, I might point out, is news to me. Last I checked, a table was still a table, a skirt was still a skirt, and a rose most very definitely remained a rose.) But indeed, national identity is fluid, changing not via mere migration, but rather, under conquest — when a given nation relinquishes its sovereignty to another. So yes, the notion of “Frenchness” can change — but — at least in this case — only if France embraces Islam.

And that, it seems, is — despite his evasiveness — exactly what Baradaran desires: that France (and most likely, all of Europe) redefine itself based on the mores and culture of its Muslim immigrants. Not for him the notion, as others might prefer, that French Muslims redefine themselves — and Islam — to conform, instead, to France and the mores and culture of the West. His project is not, after all, an enactment of the French flag surrounding Mecca a la Christo and Jeanne-Claude. It is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad succumbing to Chanel. No: untie the knots of Baradaran’s speech, and the true implications of his art seem clear enough, indeed: a call for the Islamization of the West — of its nations and the magnificent achievements of Western culture.

That’s not art: that’s politics — the pen, again, as mighty as any sword might be.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Did Coal Fires Contribute to Biggest Extinction Ever?

Ash from burning coalfields, sparked by massive volcanic eruptions, may have added to the volley of crises that led to the biggest extinction event in Earth’s history.

Many factors combined to cause the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago, during which about 96 per cent of marine species and 70 per cent of those on land went extinct. Several researchers have speculated that volcanism might have set off extensive coal fires that contributed to the extinction, but no clear evidence had been found — until now.

In Permian sediments from the Sverdrup basin in the Canadian Arctic, a team led by Stephen Grasby at the Geological Survey of Canada in Calgary found tiny spherical particles that are evidence of open coal combustion — very different from the ash that comes from burning vegetation.

“It’s the first literal smoking gun to show that coal combustion was occurring,” says Grasby.

Fire starters

He speculates that major volcanic eruptions some 1000 kilometres east of the Sverdrup basin — in what is now Siberia — may have ignited overlying coal deposits and released huge quantities of ash into the atmosphere.

Modern-day coal-fired power plants scrub this so-called “fly ash” from their emissions because it contains a lot of toxic metals such as chromium. When Grasby looked more closely at his sediments dating to the very end of the Permian, he found that they, too, contained high levels of chromium. This suggests that fly ash may have poisoned ancient oceans and lakes and contributed to the extinction.

Further studies of other end-Permian sediments around the world should show how widely the fly ash spread as the coalfields burned, and therefore how important it is likely to have been in causing the global extinction, says Andrew Knoll, a palaeobiologist at Harvard University.

If it turns out to be one of the main drivers of the extinction, he notes, it would probably have killed off species relatively indiscriminately. Another factor must explain why some groups — such as corals — suffered massive extinctions, while others — such as sea anemones — did not, he says.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Smoking Puts DNA at Risk in 15 Minutes

HERE’S another reason to kick the habit: within minutes of inhaling, regular smokers produce chemicals that cause genetic damage linked with cancer.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) present in tobacco smoke are one of the main culprits behind lung cancer. In the body they form metabolites that react readily with DNA to produce mutations that in turn can cause tumours.

Stephen Hecht and colleagues at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis asked 12 volunteers with a history of smoking to smoke a cigarette laced with phenanthrene, a type of PAH that binds with DNA but is non-carcinogenic.

By collecting blood samples before, during and after smoking, the team were able to track the concentrations of phenanthrene metabolites and determine the speed at which they formed in the body.

The concentration of metabolites reached a peak around 15 to 30 minutes after smoke inhalation before tailing off, suggesting that cigarette smoke could potentially begin to affect genes within minutes of smoking beginning.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Challenge of the Great Cosmic Unknowns

In The 4% Universe: Dark matter, dark energy, and the race to discover the rest of reality, Richard Panek explains how we came to know so little. It is an embarrassment, to say the least. Scientists have no idea what most of the universe is made of. In fact, a whopping 96 per cent of it is made of something whose very nature we are at a loss to describe — something utterly unlike the ordinary matter that makes up stars and galaxies, planets and moons, birds and bees.

In this impeccably researched and highly readable book, journalist Richard Panek gives what is perhaps the most detailed layman’s account of how we got ourselves into this predicament.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Wine Family Tree Revealed

FROM Riesling to Merlot, wine grapes from around the world are more closely related than expected, says the largest study so far to produce a family tree of grapes. The tree, above, also reveals that in 6000 years of domestication, breeders have left a vast swathe of possible varieties unexplored.

Sean Myles of Stanford University in California and colleagues looked at 9000 genetic markers in each of the world’s 583 cultivated grape varieties, or cultivars, to draw up the tree.

They found that unlike other domesticated crops, most of the main cultivars are close cousins of one another. This was true regardless of where they are grown (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009363108).

Moreover, breeders have been unimaginative in the crosses they have made, reusing the same cultivars over and over. The Traminer cultivar, for example, has been bred for millennia and has 20 first-degree relatives. This is good news for breeders seeking to develop cultivars that are resistant to disease, says Myles, as so few of the potential crosses have actually been made.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]