Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110320

Financial Crisis
»It’s About the Power Struggle
»State Banks
»The World’s Next Great Bust: China and Commodities
»AT&T to Buy T-Mobile USA in $39 Billion Deal
»Disturbing Similarities Between the Fall of Rome and Today’s America
»Liberal Democrats in Uproar Over Libya Action
»Obama, As Red as it Gets
»Police Say [Rifqa Barry’s] Helpers Broke Laws
»Radical Islam on the Move in U.S. But Multicultural Elites Say It’s No One’s Business
»Suit Over Burlington ‘Damage’ To GZ Mosque Site
»US Eyes Anti-Semitism Claims at University
»Video: Farrakhan Blasts Obama for Calling for Qaddafi to Step Down
»Why Did He Even Bother Running? Obama Leadership Vacuum Menaces Globe
»Tweeting Jihad at McGill University
Europe and the EU
»Berlusconi Tells Protesters “I’m Staying” — Bossi Comments “Worse Luck for Him”
»British Conservative Melanie Phillips Being Investigated for Her Blogpost on Fogel Family Massacre
»EU: Court Finds Ban on Red Tuna Fishing Partially Invalid
»Italy: Anti-Mafia Police Arrest Southern Mayor From Berlusconi’s Party
»Italy: Berlusconi’s Lawyers Request Sex Trial Postponement
»Libya Conflict: War on Gaddafi is Personal — and He is Unlikely to Retreat
»The Fries Revolution: Belgium’s Political Crisis Foretells EU’s Future
»Turkey ‘Not Convincing’ In EU Process, Says Commissioner Fule
»UK: My Husband Died From a Routine Knee Operation Because the Surgeon Used Him as a Guinea Pig
»UK: Now MEPs Can Use UK Taxpayers’ Cash for Propaganda to Keep Britain in the EU
»Albania: EU: Tirana Must Investigate Violence, Protect Rom
»Kosovo: Former UCK Arrested, Arrest Warrant for Ex Minister
North Africa
»Airstrike Destroys Gaddafi’s Command and Control Building
»China, Russia and India Voice Regret Over Libya Strikes
»Egypt: Christians Vote No on Constitutional Amendments: “These Amendments Serve the Brotherhood’s Ideology”
»EU-Led Coalition Strikes First Gaddafi Target
»Italy Willing to Take Part in Libyan Raids
»Libya: We Risk Finding Al-Qaeda on Home Soil, Says Bossi
»Libya: Gadhafi Defiant After Allied Attacks
»Libya: Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Seeks Takeover in Libya
»Northern League Agrees With Germany on Libya Policies
»Nuclear Energy: From Morocco to Egypt, Rush for New Plants
»Russia Expresses Regret at ‘Rushed’ Attacks on Libya
»Taking on Gadhafi: Obama Finally Has His Own War
»The Club Med War
»Tunisia: Revolution Council Already in Crisis
»U.S. Defense Chief Warns Against Expanding Military Strike Goals in Libya
Israel and the Palestinians
»UK: Pro-Israel Protester Attacked at SOAS
Middle East
»Jordan’s Opposition Protest in Demand for Reform
»Saudi Arabia: King Abdallah: Minimum Wage Raised and Bonus
»Syria: Thousands Protest in Daraa, Regime Frees 15 Youth
»Syrian Demonstrators Set Fire to Justice Building in Daraa
»Turkey: Erdogan Turns on the West
»Turkey: Ergenekon’s ‘Overseas Friends’
»U.S. Intercepted Final Words of Doomed Russian Cosmonaut Komarov as He ‘Screamed in Rage at People Who Put Him in Defective Craft’
Far East
»Japan: How a Legacy From the 1800s is Making Tokyo Dark Today
»Japan: Cancer Fear as Radiation Gets in Tokyo’s Tap Water
»Japan: Here Are the Downstream Effects From the Fukushima Catastrophe
»Japan: The Amount of Radioactive Fuel at Fukushima Dwarfs Chernobyl
»Japan Fights to Stop Meltdown
»Japan Raises Nuclear Threat Level as Radiation Cloud Heads for Britain
»TEPCO Continues Efforts to Restore Power to Final 2 Nuke Reactors at Troubled Fukushima Plant
»The Other Global Toxic Cloud: China’s Pollution
»Bossi: Left Wing’s ‘Yes’ To Libya Intervention is for Votes
»Spain: Caritas Reports Inspections in Centres
»Will the Crisis Create a New Japan?
Culture Wars
»Italy Hails Crucifix Ruling
»Franklin Graham: World’s Christians in Grave Danger

Financial Crisis

It’s About the Power Struggle

The left intends to seize power, Money is at the heart of politics and economics is at the heart of most civil wars.

Bad ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s when political systems are based around bad ideas that the problem begins. You can argue with a bad idea, but you can’t argue with an institution. All you can do is argue around the institution. Wisconsin gave us a showdown between a state facing a cash crunch and a public sector union. It was not a battle of ideas — but of power.

The modern American union gives the left a cut of every unionized business. It forces the employees and indirectly the owners, to put money into the party coffers, vote for their causes and donate to their candidates. The union is sacrosanct to the left because it shifts power from the owners to them. If unions actually shifted power over to the workers, the left wouldn’t bother with them. Unions that did that would be their worst nightmare. The Democratic party values unions as organizing machines, not out of any romantic notion of workers’ rights.

In the showdown between bankrupt states and public sector unions, the left will choose the unions even if state economies implode and jobs are lost. They will choose unions, even if by doing that 90 percent of the union jobs are lost. Because it’s not the 90 percent or even the 10 percent that they care about. What matters is that the unions maintain as much of their power as possible. That same thinking drove millions of American jobs to China. The private sector unions declined, but they survived. And the center of union power began to shift into state jobs that couldn’t be outsourced with contracts that could be negotiated in-house with their own politicians. If private sector unions gave the left a cut of every unionized business, public sector unions gave the left a cut of every level of government and every taxpayer. A socialist convergence of power under the guise of democracy.

Wisconsin was ugly, but the larger battle will be even uglier. The nation’s left of center is not addicted to spending money (they actually become quite enthusiastic about cutting military spending for example), it is addicted to power. Their entire power structure is built around government. A many tentacled octopus with money flowing from the treasury and into a million organizations doing their work for them. They won’t let go voluntarily. They would rather see the country go down instead.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

State Banks

One of the hottest topics in the world of banking is State Banks. Oregon, Washington and Maryland have recently joined Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, California, Florida and Hawaii in evaluating the wisdom of implementing a “State Bank.” Governors of these States need to be careful because there is a great deal of disinformation on the subject suddenly appearing in a variety of places… it almost looks like a George Soros stealth attack.

States that have passed legislation involving sovereignty and the right for their State to coin its own currency, or are making trade in gold and silver lawful (as Utah just did), will have problems implementing such legislative promises until a system like the one that has been in existence for 92 years in North Dakota is created. North Dakota owns its own State Bank. Maybe that’s why, according to a recent Gallup poll, unemployment there is 3.8 percent and the job market is the best in the country (and the state’s population growth is up 5 percent). The jobless rate around the rest of the country has sky-rocketed and high-taxes in union-dominated States like New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio cause lost population.

“State Banks” is a tricky topic for even experienced bankers because the response often is: “We’ve had state-chartered banks in our state for a hundred years.” And, they have.

A State Bank and a state-chartered bank are quite different. The only State in this country that has a State-owned bank is North Dakota — and it has 92 years of successful experience. In the middle of one of the worst economic downturns in American history, the Bank of North Dakota in 2009 helped the State of North Dakota generate the largest budget surplus in that State’s history.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The World’s Next Great Bust: China and Commodities

China accounts for almost half the global market for metals like steel and copper, whose mining drives the world economy. What happens when China slows down?

In July 2007, one year after the housing bubble peaked and five months before the beginning of the Great Recession, Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince talked to the Financial Times about the health of the housing market. “When the music stops,” he said, “things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”

The music stopped. And things got, well, complicated.

Today, the world is dancing to a new song with a potentially devastating ending, says Vikram Mansharamani, an equity investor, Yale lecturer, and author of the book Boombustology. That song is called “Commodities.”

Many metal futures, like copper, are at record highs, up more than 40% since 2010. The stocks of global mining companies like Rio Tinto have doubled in the last year. The economies of metal-rich nations in South America are booming. And why shouldn’t they? Supply for commodities is still tight, and demand for metals is still high, thanks to fast-charging developing countries, such as India and China. There’s absolutely, 100%, no way the market for commodities dries up any time in the near future, right?



“I’m a China bear,” Mansharamani says. “China is exhibiting all the signs you would expect from an unsustainable boom.” He first points to the housing market, where investment hit the inauspicious market of 6% of GDP — the same mark the U.S. hit in 2006 as the bubble was bursting. What’s more, outstanding loans for developers and residential mortgages in China have increased by a factor of FIVE in the last decade. Loan balances have nearly doubled in the last three years alone.

Even worse, Mansharamani says, the Chinese government has spent lavishly to create demand that never materialized. He points to ghost towns like Qungbashi, in Inner Mongolia, a city designed for 1.5 million residents, but drew only 20,000 — hardly one percent. He points to the New South China Mall, not far from Guangzhou, which was built to handle 1,500 tenants. Instead, it houses a few dozen — hardly one percent. This sort of one-percent success rate creates ludicrous overcapacity that is eerily reminiscent of the empty homes and strip malls lining recession ghost exurbs in Arizona and Nevada. Mansharamani sees it as the prelude to a dramatic slowdown in government spending on buildings and infrastructure.


Well, so what? you ask. What do small towns and empty malls in Nowhere, China, matter to the world economy? The answer is that one engine of the global economy in the last few years has been commodities — metals like steel and copper and aluminium used to build cities, malls and infrastructure. Countries with commodities, like Brazil and Australia, have thrived. So have US companies that specialize in unearthing commodities, like Bucyrus and Caterpillar.

But as China goes, commodities go. China’s share of world demand for leading metals like aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, and crude steel is about 40 percent, according to research obtained from Goldman Sachs. For steel, China commands nearly half the global market. (In 2000, its share of global demand for those metals was between 6 and 16%.)

Even these numbers understate the breadth of China’s impact. “Think how much steel is sold to Caterpillar or John Deere for capital goods that are sent to China,” Mansharamani says. “Or how much is sent to Brazil to mine iron for China. Think of the countries that get dragged down with a commodities slow-down — South Africa, Brazil, Peru. The world shipping sector.”

If China slows down even to 5% growth a year, that will take a booming commodities market down with it.


In the short term, Mansharamani told me in a follow-up interview, the commodities story could hold together longer thanks to new demand out of Japan to rebuild after the quake and tsunami. If a spending binge in Japan increases real demand for metals, it could justify ongoing speculation in metals prices.

But like a balloon batted in the air one last time, this might serve to only make the fall more dramatic, Mansharamani says. “This will temporarily hide the unsustainability of the Chinese investment boom,” he wrote to me in an email. “It will embolden mining companies to expand more rapidly. This will likely make the eventual correction more extreme than if the excesses were revealed today.”

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]


AT&T to Buy T-Mobile USA in $39 Billion Deal

AT&T announced on Sunday that it has agreed to buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom for $39 billion in cash and stock, in one of the biggest mergers since the onset of the financial crisis.

The deal will dramatically bolster AT&T’s footprint in the country, adding an additional 46.5 million customers.

Under the terms of the deal, AT&T will pay $25 billion in cash and the rest in stock. Deutsche Telekom will in turn gain an 8 percent stake in AT&T and a seat on the American telecom giant’s board.

[Return to headlines]

Disturbing Similarities Between the Fall of Rome and Today’s America

The parallels aren’t perfect, but there is much to contemplate about America when reading about the fall of the Roman empire.

Some of my recent background reading includes Christopher S. Mackay’s The Breakdown of the Roman Republic: From Oligarchy to Empire (2009). The introduction includes a description of what the Roman historian Sallust, writing The Catilinarian Conspiracy in the 30s BC, saw as the cause of the fall. The Roman republic had successfully defeated its only real serious mortal threat, Carthage, in the Punic Wars, but now:

“Peace and wealth — things that are otherwise desirable — were an oppressive cause of misery for those who had easily endured hard work and danger and events both doubtful and dire. For this reason, there grew a greed first for money and then for rule, and these were like the raw material for all evils. For avarice overthrew good faith, honesty and all the other virtues, and in place of them it taught arrogance, cruelty, neglect of the gods, and the notion that everything is for sale. Self-serving ambition forced many men to become false, … to consider their friendships and enmities not on the basis of fact but of advantage, and to keep their countenance good rather than their character.”

I suspect that when you read it, you will find yourself having the same reaction that my students did when I read it to them. Does this sound familiar? It seems like an awful lot went wrong when the last existential threat to our existence, the Soviet Union, quietly went out of business in 1991.

There are other disturbing parallels. Roman law provided for divorce, by some accounts, from the very beginning of the Roman republic in 509 BC. But it appears to have been extremely rare until the last several decades before the republic’s collapse. Yet by the end, it had become depressingly common, with even a respected statesman such as Cicero divorcing his wife of thirty years so that he could marry a rich heiress.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Liberal Democrats in Uproar Over Libya Action

A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.

Kucinich, who wanted to bring impeachment articles against both former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq — only to be blocked by his own leadership — asked why the U.S. missile strikes aren’t impeachable offenses.

Kucinich also questioned why Democratic leaders didn’t object when President Barack Obama told them of his plan for American participation in enforcing the Libyan no-fly zone during a White House Situation Room meeting on Friday, sources told POLITICO.

And liberals fumed that Congress hadn’t been formally consulted before the attack and expressed concern that it would lead to a third U.S. war in the Muslim world.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama, As Red as it Gets

Isn’t it about time that the mainstream media and all others begin to examine the record and conclude that a Communist holds the reins of power in the White House?

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it is often believed that Communism died with it. Not so; Communism is alive and well in China, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.

From the days of Harry Truman who discovered that Franklin Roosevelt had given the Soviets Eastern Europe at the WWII Yalta Conference, American presidents have steadfastly done what they believed was required to keep Communism “contained.”; some more successfully than others.

The Communist Manifesto is well worth reading. Among its planks is the abolition of private property and a government that owns or controls much of the U.S. landmass is antithetical to this keystone of capitalism.

The Manifesto calls for “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax. It calls for the centralization of credit in the hands of the state. We have a “Federal Reserve” that is a national bank.

It calls for “centralization of the means of communications and transportation.” We have a Federal Communications Commission. There’s more and you can read about it here.

America has never had a Communist President until now.

While others have written how obvious it is that Obama is a “Socialist”, I think this is a matter of caution in a society that has not seriously used the word “Communist” since the 1950s, when entities like the House Un-American Activities Committee actively investigated and exposed how many existed in the government, the unions, and Hollywood.


For those still in denial, consider an article by Stanislav Mishin that appeared in Pravda, the Russian newspaper that was formerly one of the main organs of the Soviet Union. “It must be said that like the breaking of a great dam, the American descent into Marxism is happening with breathtaking speed, against the backdrop of a passive, hapless sheep”, much of which he attributed to “the election of Barack Obama.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Police Say [Rifqa Barry’s] Helpers Broke Laws

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Police recommended charges against six of the people who helped a teenage Christian convert run away from her Muslim parents in Ohio in 2009, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.

But prosecutors in Ohio and Florida have declined to file charges against anyone who helped 16-year-old Rifqa Bary leave Columbus on a Greyhound bus and shelter her for two weeks in Orlando without notifying authorities went too far, according to police reports obtained by the AP through freedom of information requests.

The six include a Kansas City minister, a Columbus family friend, an Orlando pastor and his wife and two members of the pastor’s church.

A lawyer for Rifqa, now an adult, says prosecutors made the right choice.

“They’d have a very difficult time with any of those charges, given that Rifqa would say she was in fear for her life, and so they acted in what they thought were in her best interests,” said Kort Gatterdam, a Columbus attorney who has represented her in juvenile custody hearings.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Radical Islam on the Move in U.S. But Multicultural Elites Say It’s No One’s Business

For decades, Europe has been in the grip of an Islamist assault. Largely ghettoized Muslim populations have become dangerously alienated from the European mainstream. From Paris to Hamburg, Germany, radicalized imams preach the virtues of global jihad. Subway systems in London and Madrid have been bombed; hundreds of civilians have been slaughtered. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered.

These atrocities were committed largely by homegrown terrorists ï¿1/2 people who were either born or raised in European countries. They felt no loyalty to their homelands. Instead, they considered themselves part of the Muslim ummah, the international Islamic political community. Their religious identity supersedes their national one.

America faces the same kind of threat. Yet when anyone tries to put a spotlight on the growth of domestic Muslim extremism, liberals, Islamic lobby groups and their fellow travelers cry “Islamophobia” and “racism.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Suit Over Burlington ‘Damage’ To GZ Mosque Site

The Burlington Coat Factory was in such a hurry to distance itself from a former storefront that’s now a highly controversial proposed mosque near Ground Zero that it severely damaged the building when it ripped its old signs off, the property owners charge.

In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, 45 Park Place Partners and 51 Park Place LH LLC say the chain’s “animus and hostility to the inclusion of the mosque in the development plans of the building” resulted in the company “illegally and forcefully” removing its massive signs, destroying the owners’ property and causing them “economic injury.”

The suit seeks a total of $4.1 million in damages.

A rep for Burlington Coat Factory declined comment.

The store had been located inside 45 Park Place until its lease was terminated in 2008.

“Throughout Burlington’s tenancy, and . . . for years before, affixed to the building were two large signs,” one that was 129 square feet, and another that was 32 square feet, the suit says. The signs were bolted and permanently attached to the building, and provided “plaintiffs a valuable asset which increased the value of the premises and provided rental income from advertising on the sign.”

In late 2009, the new owners announced plans to build a community center on the site which would include a mosque, and by last May, the site had become “the focus of intense media attention” and the “subject of controversial protests” because of its “perceived proximity” to Ground Zero, the suit said.

That’s when Burlington apparently decided to distance itself from the project by tearing the signs down, even though it was “without any authority to do so,” and “did not have valid municipal permits to undertake any activities at the building.”

The suit seeks restitution for the physical damage to the building, as well as punitive damages for the company’s “wanton and willful trespass.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

US Eyes Anti-Semitism Claims at University

The US Department of Education is investigating a faculty member’s complaint that a series of pro-Palestinian events at a California university crossed the line into anti-Semitism and created a hostile environment for Jewish students.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights notified the University of California, Santa Cruz, last week that it planned to look into allegations made by Hebrew lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin dating back to 2001.

The probe “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merits,” Arthur Zeidman, director of the San Francisco office, said in a letter to the instructor and campus officials.

In her June 2009 complaint, Rossman-Benjamin said administrators repeatedly failed to address concerns voiced by her and several students about academic departments and residential colleges at Santa Cruz sponsoring “viciously anti-Israel” speakers and film screenings with campus funds.

She also alleged that some professors have used their classes to promote an anti-Israel political agenda and failed to intervene or joined in when students were verbally attacked for defending the Jewish state.

“The impact of the academic and university-sponsored Israel-bashing on students has been enormous,” she said. “There are students who have felt emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated, to the point they are reluctant or afraid to express a view that is not anti-Israel.”


Meanwhile, tensions between Jewish and Muslim students have run high at the university system’s Irvine campus for several years, and the campus chapter of Muslim Student Union was suspended for four months last year after a group of students interrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Video: Farrakhan Blasts Obama for Calling for Qaddafi to Step Down

FARRAKHAN: “I warn my brother do you let these wicked demons move you in a direction that will absolutely ruin your future with your people in Africa and throughout the world…Why don’t you organize a group of respected Americans and ask for a meeting with Qaddafi, you can’t order him to step down and get out, who the hell do you think you are?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Why Did He Even Bother Running? Obama Leadership Vacuum Menaces Globe

Barack is helping promote the biggest con job in socialist history. He sells the belief leftists access a body of wisdom unparalleled in human history, allowing stunningly correct decisions, light-years ahead of anyone else. We can call this the “One Right Solution” approach to leadership; an antidote to any problem. This idea derives from the notion good government is based upon humanistic roots that then cast up a Great Socialist to lead the people towards enlightenment. Consider these human super-dynamos who appeared to lead a nation helpless of dolts: Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Castro, Pol Pot, etc. But the real track-record of socialism is almost as convincing as that of alchemy.

From where does such an outlandish idea come, that leftism has answers to life’s problems? By virtue of the sudden triumph of radical humanism against slowly developed traditions — often with roots in revealed religion. We can briefly note socialism represents a qualitative simplification of every important institution in the Western constitutional canon. Republicanism becomes vulgar democracy before its pushed into tyranny. Capitalism is crushed into socialism. Military strength is downsized into appeasement. The Rule of Law is reduced to the notion government can do no wrong. Related, religion is outlawed or belittled into subservience, and State itself then becomes a god. Rights of Free Speech, and other civil liberties and criminal rights therefore become enfolded into the state.

Consider the arrogance when Vladimir Lenin claimed, “Any cook should be able to run the country.” Here is exactly Barack’s own leftist attitude that dismisses democratic leadership as a task that could be done by a catatonic rodent. This is ultimately because Obama has no reverence for America’s style of leadership and government theory, which revolutionized the world over the last 200 years. In other words, Barack has no taste for liberty, or love for America.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Tweeting Jihad at McGill University

No, these tweets are not from Gaza or Beirut or Tehran or any other hotbed of anti-Americanism or Jew-hatred — well, that’s not true. The universities are hotbeds of anti-American Islamic fundamentalism. Check this out from our neighbors to the north:

Threatening tweets shake McGill campus — Andrew Chung Quebec Bureau

MONTREAL — A McGill University student is under investigation by police after he allegedly made death threats using his Twitter account.

The student, Haaris Khan, was watching a documentary screened by the Conservative Party’s campus arm, Conservative McGill, when he appeared to become increasingly agitated and expressed himself on Twitter using his BlackBerry.

“I’ve infiltrated a Zionist meeting. I feel like I’m at a Satanist ritual,” he allegedly wrote at the March 8th screening. “I want to shoot everyone in this room,” another tweet said. “Never been this angry.”

The tweets call the documentary a “Zionist/Conservative propaganda film” and the gathering, which attracted about 20 students, “a secret Zionist convention.” Then: “I should have brought an M16.”

A spokesperson for the Montreal Police Service said the force is still investigating. It’s not clear what charges could be laid, if any. “We take the case very seriously,” the spokesperson said. “We don’t go with half-measures on this.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlusconi Tells Protesters “I’m Staying” — Bossi Comments “Worse Luck for Him”

PM’s quip (“I’m not leaving the nation to the communists”) followed by catcalls at celebrations for Unity of Italy

ROME — Catcalls and chants accompanied the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, as he left the Museum of the Roman Republic on the Janiculum hill. Protesters in the crowd shouted anti-Berlusconi chants of “resign, resign”, answered by a single Silvio supporter who urged the PM to “resist, resist”. Earlier, the crowd greeted the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, with prolonged applause.

ITALY AND THE COMMUNISTS — Mr Berlusconi had been welcomed by applause from the small crowd at the Altar of the Fatherland, just before President Napolitano arrived for the wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “I’m carrying on. I’m staying to defend myself”, said the prime minister before smiling to his supporters and saying: “I’m carrying on, of course. I’m not leaving the nation to the communists”.

“RESIGN” — There were further protests in late morning at the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where the holders of the highest offices of state attended a mass officiated by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. On his arrival in Piazza della Repubblica with the leader of the Senate, Renato Schifani, the prime minister was greeted by catcalls and insults — there were references to “bunga bunga” — and calls for his resignation from a group of people behind the barriers, although another section of the crowd applauded.

SECONDARY EXIT — Evidently, the premier was less than pleased at the catcalls on the Janiculum and in Piazza Repubblica, which could be why he was the only dignitary to leave at the end of the mass by a secondary exit to the rear of the church, reached through the sacristy, instead of by the main door. All the other institutional figures, including President Napolitano, the leader of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, and several ministers, left the church by the main door. The head of state, who was greeted by an ovation and cries of “Long live the president!”, waved to the crowd before getting into the presidential limousine that took him to the Quirinale Palace. There was applause for the defence minister, Ignazio La Russa, the minister of the economy, Giulio Tremonti, and the Democratic Party (PD) president, Rosy Bindi, but the minister of education, Mariastella Gelmini, was booed…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

British Conservative Melanie Phillips Being Investigated for Her Blogpost on Fogel Family Massacre

A Palestinian terrorist stabbed five family members to death in the settlement of Itamar early Saturday morning; three children, including a baby girl, were among the victims. Later that day Palestinians handed out candy to celebrate the mass murder.

British conservative Melanie Phillips wrote about the attack. She called the killers “savages” and referred to the “moral depravity” of a culture that would celebrate such a gruesome act. Now she’s being investigated.

The Guardian reported, via Zip:

A Melanie Phillips blogpost on the Spectator website which referred to the “moral depravity” of Arab “savages” is being investigated by the Press Complaints Commission.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

EU: Court Finds Ban on Red Tuna Fishing Partially Invalid

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 — The regulation prohibiting tuna boats from fishing red tuna since mid-June 2008 is “partially invalid”, according to the ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which said that the regulation violates the “non-discrimination” principle. The ban, noted the Court, came into force on June 23 for Spanish tuna boat, whereas for Maltese, Greek, French, Italian and Cypriot took effect on June 16. “The regulation,” according to the ruling, “is invalid since Spanish tuna ships are treated differently without this treatment being justified from an objective standpoint, considering the objective of the protection of red tuna stocks.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Anti-Mafia Police Arrest Southern Mayor From Berlusconi’s Party

Caserta, 11 March (AKI) -Anti-mafia police early on Friday arrested the mayor of the southern town of Pignataro Maggiore on suspicion of mafia association. Giorgio Maiocca is a member of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling conservative People of Freedom party (PdL) and is a consultant to Rome’s conservative mayor Gianni Alemmano.

Maiocca is suspected of association with the Naples mafia or Camorra’s Ligato-Lubrano clan which operates in the area around the Campania city of Caserta, lying around 25 kilometres north of Naples.

His arrest came amid an operation in the Caserta area in which police raided the homes of around a dozen properties belonging to Camorra members and convicted criminals. Maiocca is also a former consultant to telecommunications minister Mario Landolfi.

On Thursday, a Naples court said the PdL’s coordinator in the Campania region and ex-minister in Berlusconi’s government, Nicola Cosentino, will stand trial on 18 April for association with the Camorra’s powerful Casalesi clan.

A Naples businessman with interests in the waste disposal sector and a former junior economy minister, Cosentino resigned from the government in July just days before he was set to face a no-confidence vote in parliament called by the opposition.

The Italian parliament in November 2009 barred a request by Naples prosecutors to arrest Cosentino for alleged links with local organised crime figures. He denies all charges against him.

Anti-mafia investigators last September opened a probe into a member of Sicily’s regional parliament for the PdL, Michele Cimino, after a mafia informant alleged he helped the crime syndicate win public works contracts in Sicily’s southern Agrigento province.

Another PdL politician, former senator Nicola di Girolamo, resigned in March 2010 ahead of his arrest for mafia association in an alleged mafia-linked multi-billion euro fraud scam involving Italian internet company Fastweb Telecom Italia’s Sparkle unit.

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

Italy: Berlusconi’s Lawyers Request Sex Trial Postponement

Time needed to examine fresh evidence, says defence team

(ANSA) — Rome, March 17 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s lawyers have requested the first hearing of a trial into allegations he used an underage prostitute be postponed from April 6 to give them time to examine fresh evidence from prosecutors.

“We have requested the April 6 hearing be postponed because they have recently presented 20,000 pages of new documents that we must read,” said Piero Longo, who is part of the premier’s defence team.

Berlusconi denies paying to have sex with a Moroccan runaway and belly dancer called Ruby before she was 18 and also rejects charges he allegedly abused his position to get her out of jail after an unrelated accusation of theft last May.

On Wednesday prosecutors said the new evidence showed the premier paid for intercourse with 33 alleged prostitutes after so-called ‘bunga bunga’ sex parties, including Ruby, who they say he slept with 13 times after she was allegedly recruited at a beauty contest at the age of 16. The premier has said the allegations are absurd, not least because of his age.

“I can’t fathom such a barbarous use of justice, so far from reality,” Berlusconi told Rome-based daily La Repubblica.

“I’m (almost) 75 years old and although I’m naughty, 33 girls in two months seems a bit much even for a 30-year-old.

It’s too much for anyone.

“And then there’s an extra hurdle… I have always had next to me a girlfriend who I have luckily been able to keep out of all this sleaze. If I had done everything they say, she would have clawed my eyes out. And I assure you, she has very long nails”.

Ruby, who is now 18 and whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, has backed Berlusconi’s assertion they never had sex and said thousands of euros the premier gave her were gifts. As well as the so-called Ruby case, Berlusconi is involved in three corruption trials, two for alleged tax fraud on film rights and one for allegedly bribing British tax lawyer David Mills to hush up incriminating evidence.

In the Ruby case, he risks maximum prison terms of three years for the sex charge and 12 years for the abuse of office charge.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya Conflict: War on Gaddafi is Personal — and He is Unlikely to Retreat

Capturing or killing the Libyan leader has now become an end in itself for the western allies

It’s unlikely Muammar Gaddafi has watched the 1971 British film Get Carter, in which Michael Caine plays a vengeful London gangster, Jack Carter, who embarks on a violent rampage before being killed himself. But as the west’s military might bears down on Libya, the Libyan leader might find the story line instructive.

This war is personal now. Its primary, stated aim is to halt the regime’s attacks on Libyan civilians. But David Cameron and other leaders have made very plain they also want the Libyan dictator removed from power. The US and its allies will not relent until they “get Gaddafi” and their nemesis is captured, jailed or dead.

This is a familiar scenario. When international disagreements deteriorate to the point when Washington feels it has no choice but to use massive military force, the person held most responsible is ruthlessly hunted down.

Manuel Noriega, Panama’s mafia boss in the 1980s, was toppled in a US invasion in 1989 and ended up in a maximum security jail in Illinois. Slobodan Milosevic was put on trial in The Hague, where he died in custody. Saddam Hussein was dug out of a hole and sent to the gallows.

Gaddafi has no reason to expect that he will be treated any differently — a consideration that will certainly influence what he does next.

Cameron has offered high-minded justifications for the American-led “Operation Odyssey Dawn” air and missile strikes that Tripoli claims have killed more than 50 people. But his language also conveys a developing personal animus. Gaddafi had “lied to the international community” and broken his word on the ceasefire, the prime minister said. This was behaviour akin to that of a pupil caught cheating during prep. It just couldn’t go on.

“He must stop what he is doing, brutalising his people … We’ll judge him by what he does,” Cameron told the Commons on Friday. But in other remarks, he was more forthright. “Gaddafi needs to go,” he said, and Britain would help him on his way.

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, was similarly blunt. “It is our belief that if Mr Gaddafi loses the capacity to enforce his will through vastly superior armed forces, he simply will not be able to sustain his grip on the country,” he said.

Nicolas Sarkozy, Cameron’s co-hawk, has been busy swapping insults with Gaddafi, with all the appearance of a personal vendetta. After the Libyan leader said the French president had “gone mad”, Sarkozy responded in kind, condemning Gaddafi’s “murderous madness”.

Sarkozy has also spoken of “targeted” actions — meaning assassination — should Gaddafi authorise the use of his stores of mustard gas or other WMD. Even normally measured Barack Obama has been getting hot under the collar about the man Ronald Reagan branded a “mad dog”.

Taken by itself, such name-calling might not matter so much. But the larger, unavoidable conclusion is that capturing or killing Gaddafi has now become an end in itself for the western allies (though perhaps not their Arab coalition partners), and that the war will not be deemed “won” until this objective is attained.

The implications are serious. Now the missiles and B52s have begun their dreadful work, Gaddafi knows, if he didn’t already, that he’s in a fight to the finish — and for him, there may be no escape. His course of action in the coming days will be influenced by this realisation, and may be consequently more extreme and more aggressive than otherwise.

His defiant overnight statement, when he condemned the “crusader colonialism” afflicting his country, was clearly aimed at Arab and Muslim world opinion in particular, and the non-western world in general (major countries such as China, India, Brazil and Germany have not supported the intervention). Regime claims about mounting civilian deaths will play big there, Iraq-style. Gaddafi will press his propaganda advantage for all its worth.

The demonisation of Gaddafi has made it impossible for western leaders to countenance his continuation in power. But without the ground invasion they have pledged not to undertake, he could well survive as the overlord of western and southern Libya following a de facto partition, hostile, vengeful and highly dangerous.

This seems to be his plan. Far from giving up or drawing back, Gaddafi escalated the fighting around Benghazi at the weekend. Rather than abandon cities such as Zawiya, as Obama demanded, he is reportedly moving his troops into urban areas where they can less easily be targeted from the air. Meanwhile, his apparent willingness to use “human shields”, his threats of retaliation across the Mediterranean area, and his designation of the whole of north Africa as a “war zone” raises the spectre of possible terrorist attacks and an alarming regression to his old ways.

Gaddafi has personalised this war, too. And he is not going to go quietly. Military superiority in the air will count for nothing if pro-regime army and air force units, militia and security forces, and civilian and tribal supporters who have remained loyal refuse to turn on him or kick him out of Tripoli. By its determination to “get Gaddafi”, the west has made this a fight to the death — and death may be a long time in coming.

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

The Fries Revolution: Belgium’s Political Crisis Foretells EU’s Future

Belgium has just broken the world record for taking the longest time to build a government. The tension between the country’s French- and Dutch-speaking halves holds a lesson for the rest of Europe. As the European Union gets stronger, and national governments get weaker, ethnic groups are demanding more self-determination within a Europe of regions.

Brussels is home to two political arenas, a small one and a large one, which are located just a short walk apart. In the dark, winding corridors of the Belgian parliament, Dutch-speaking representatives from Flanders in northern Belgium are locked in a stalemate with their French-speaking counterparts from the southern region of Wallonia that could tear their kingdom apart. From here, it’s just a few steps down the Rue de la Loi to number 175, the square glass-and-stone building that houses the Council of the European Union, the EU’s main decision-making body.

It is here that the brave new world envisioned by the EU’s leaders is being shaped. It is here that politicians are planning the continent’s future, a system symbolized by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

For many years, Van Rompuy was employed on the other side of the trench that divides the national and international politicians working in Brussels. Before Van Rompuy was catapulted into the EU’s top job in December 2009, and placed at the pinnacle of a political bloc comprising 500 million people, the slightly built Flanders native was the speaker of the Belgian parliament before becoming Belgian prime minister. That was over at the other end of the Rue de la Loi — precisely where Belgium’s latest political crisis has been playing out.

It is more than 270 days since parliamentary elections were held in Belgium, and a new government still hasn’t been found. The exasperated Belgian people have employed all manner of tactics to try to cajole their elected representatives into reaching agreement. They’ve tried large-scale demonstrations, public stripteases, and even declared a French fry revolution in a tongue-in-cheek reference to their supposed favorite food.

To no avail. Instead of a new political leadership, Belgium now holds a new record: In no other country anywhere in the world — not even Iraq — have negotiations to form a government taken so long.

‘It Can’t Go on Like This’

The rivalry between Belgium’s linguistic communities has long deteriorated into mutual recrimination. The Dutch-speaking Flemings blame the French-speaking Walloons in the south for the deadlock, claiming the Walloons simply want to live off the more prosperous north. The Walloons counter that Flemish nationalists stalled the talks with their demands for ever greater autonomy.

“Strength through unity” is the country’s national motto. The phrase is engraved at the front of the parliament’s plenary session room, where the Chamber of Representatives meets. Flemish members of parliament can look at the motto from their seats in the right half of the room, while the Walloon representatives sit on the left. Between them sits Kattrin Jadin. As the representative of her country’s 74,000-strong German-speaking minority, she has been observing the stalemate between the two ethnic groups with growing concern. “It’s a poker game in which nobody wants to lose face with their voters,” she says. “But it can’t go on like this.”

The situation in Belgium does indeed look like the outcome of a brilliantly diabolical plan by militant anti-EU forces. Ironically, the EU’s central goal of preserving cultural diversity under a common political roof now appears to be failing in one of its founding member states, the very country whose capital has for decades hosted the headquarters of the highly-paid champions of European ideals.

Sixty percent of Belgium’s 11 million people are Flemish, the remaining 40 percent are mostly Walloon. For centuries the two ethnic groups have been neatly divided along an ancient cultural border: the former military road that separated the Roman Empire in the south from the barbarian hordes in the north.

Geopolitical Dynamite

After Belgium split off from the kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830, the inherited balance of power was later set in stone in the country’s constitution. The new state’s official language became French, and it was ruled by the francophone bourgeoisie.

It wasn’t until 1966 that Flanders caught up economically with its southern neighbor. Shortly before, the political division of Belgium had been sealed through the establishment of the linguistic border between the “Germanic” Flemish peoples and the “Latin” Walloons. Since that time, five state reforms have underpinned the autonomy of the different regions and heightened tensions between the main ethnic groups. The election victory by Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever in June 2010 turned the wrangling over language laws and constituencies into geopolitical dynamite.

De Wever, whose N-VA party now has the most seats in parliament, has announced his intention to sit back and watch Belgium “evaporate.” Walloon socialist Paul Magnette, who is still the incumbent energy minister, has already drawn up a list of possible scenarios. Were Belgium to break up, he cautions the Walloon south against merging with France. “If we had to join another country one day, then Germany must be our best hope,” he says.

That question is unlikely to arise, says philosophy professor Philippe Van Parijs, one of the leading figures in the fight to prevent Belgium’s disintegration. “But if it weren’t for the question of Brussels, we’d have long gone the way of Czechoslovakia, which broke up peacefully,” he admits. “Neither ethnic group could, or wants, to live without the capital.” Van Parijs, a gaunt intellectual, regularly invites academics and politicians from both sides for talks in the library of his villa in Brussels.

‘There Are No Belgians’

So how could this Gordian knot be cut? The solution is a far-reaching reform of the state, Van Parijs says. “Brussels, which is home to so many foreigners, must officially become trilingual: Flemish, Walloon and English,” Van Parijs says. “In addition, Brussels, Flanders, Wallonia and the German-speaking area must become independent entities within Belgium, each with its own regional identity.” After all, the Belgian capital — which also happens to be the capital of Flanders — has become a bone of contention between the Flemings and Walloons precisely because it is populated nowadays mainly by French speakers.

The political debate in Belgium completely ignores the fact that one in every six of Brussels’ inhabitants are of Moroccan descent, and that some areas of the city, such as Molenbeek, are overwhelmingly inhabited by people of North African descent. But, in contrast to the rest of Europe, there is no debate about immigration in the country, since the Flemings and Walloons are already kept occupied by their mutual animosity.

At the heart of the problem lies the question of whether the existence of the Belgian state is merely the consequence of a little white lie from the heady days of the country’s secessionist youth: the illusion that there can ever be such a thing as a Belgian nation. “Sire, il n’y a pas de Belges” (“Your Majesty, there are no Belgians”), Walloon socialist Jules Destrée famously told his king, Albert I, almost a hundred years ago.

In 2007, when a reporter asked Yves Leterme to sing his country’s national anthem, the man who is technically still Belgium’s prime minister broke into the Marseillaise — the French anthem. After the last election, the men who were supposed to lead the coalition talks on behalf of the strongest parties in parliament, Flemish politician De Wever and his Walloon counterpart Elio Di Rupo, first had to ask for each other’s cell phone numbers because they had previously had so little contact with one another.

Typical reactions by non-Belgians to such oddities range from a helpless shrug of the shoulder, to comments that a country that spawned the painter René Magritte must have a surrealist gene pool. A more likely explanation is that Belgium is experiencing a phenomenon that can be seen across an increasingly united Europe. The stronger the Brussels-based EU becomes, and the weaker its member states, the louder are the calls by small, long-disadvantaged ethnic groups for self-determination within a Europe of regions.

Scots, Catalans, Basques and Corsicans are eagerly following events in Belgium, partly out of curiosity over how the situation will unfold, and partly because the Flemings have managed to force their desire for a separate state onto the political agenda, even though their language was long derided as one spoken only by farmers and maids…

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

Turkey ‘Not Convincing’ In EU Process, Says Commissioner Fule

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 18 — European Union (EU) Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said on Friday that being “not convincing” was the problem of Turkey in its accession process to the EU. Fule, as Anatolia news agency reports from the Spanish capital, responded to the questions of reporters at a working breakfast organized by an NGO “Nueva Economia Forum” in Madrid. Fule said no alternatives like a new model or privileged partnership could be presented to Turkey apart from EU full membership, which was pledged to Turkey. Commenting on opening of only 13 chapter headings in full membership negotiations so far, Fule said “being not convincing” was the problem of Turkey. Fule said Ankara’s meeting Ankara Protocol and solution in Cyprus would add momentum to negotiation process and would ensure opening of 8 chapter headings which were suspended. Fule said he did not fully share the views of those who thought Turkey could be a model in the new process after turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia, noting EU model mostly became an example for south Mediterranean countries. He said Turkey could assume a very important role in this process, yet noted that it has to have a responsibility. Fule said Turkey has to show full respect to the values which demonstrators wanted. He said Turkey has to record progress on many issues including freedom of press.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: My Husband Died From a Routine Knee Operation Because the Surgeon Used Him as a Guinea Pig

When her husband went into hospital for a knee operation, Penny Belcuore hoped it might end the chronic pain that prevented him carrying their young daughters on his shoulders.

But Luigi Belcuore died on the operating table after surgeon Professor James Richardson failed to follow guidance for using equipment.

As a result, the orthopaedic specialist injected Mr Belcuore, 43, with an air bubble that stopped his heart, an inquest has heard.

Mrs Belcuore has accused Prof Richardson of ‘playing God’ with her husband’s life.

The grief-stricken widow discovered she was pregnant just four weeks after the death and was left to give birth to the baby boy his father would never see.

Speaking for the first time since the inquest at Shrewsbury Magistrates’ Court earlier this month, Mrs Belcuore, 34, said of Prof Richardson: ‘I will never fully understand how someone so experienced in medicine and surgery would not think that injecting air under pressure for several minutes would not lead to certain death.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Now MEPs Can Use UK Taxpayers’ Cash for Propaganda to Keep Britain in the EU

The European Parliament has announced that taxpayers’ money will be used to fund pro-Brussels propaganda in any referendum on Britain’s future membership of the EU.

The move by the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee comes less than a week after the cross-party ‘People’s Pledge’ campaign was launched to secure a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU or quit Brussels.

The committee overwhelmingly voted last week to change party financing rules to allow European political groups to take part in domestic referenda campaigns in member states.

The groups are made up of MEPs of different nationalities but similar political affiliation, such as Socialists or Greens.

Until now, MEPs could use their group’s funds — 85 per cent of which come from EU taxpayers — only to campaign in elections for the Strasbourg Parliament.

But the new rules will allow MEPs to use the funds to campaign when a referendum has a ‘direct link’ to an EU issue.

This is despite an admission by the committee that the existing ban was in place because of ‘a concern that European parties and foundations could interfere in the domestic affairs of member states’.

Now, however, MEPs say they must have ‘the right to participate in such campaigns as long as the subject of the referendum has a direct link with issues concerning the European Union’.

Last night, the move was denounced as ‘outrageous’ by Roger Helmer, the Conservative MEP for the East Midlands.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Albania: EU: Tirana Must Investigate Violence, Protect Rom

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 17 — The European Commission expects that the “Albanian authorities will open an investigation and sentence the culprits, according to the principles of the State of Law, following the forced expulsion of a number of Rom families whose homes were burnt down by groups of civilians in Tirana”. The explanation was offered Natasha Butler, spokesperson of EU Enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule, today in Brussels while answering to the press on episodes of violence that occurred in February in Albania’s capital city, over which Brussels expressed “major concern”.

The spokesperson added that “Albania must offer protection to the victims and adopt measures so that similar events do not happen again. This violence by organised bands of civilians are not compatible with the values of democracy and the standards of the State of Law”.

For the EU Commission “the fight against discrimination and the protection of rom people” is one of the priorities that have been set out in reference to Albania’s bid to join Europe.

Butler concluded that “We expect that Tirana will act swiftly for the rights of the minorities”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kosovo: Former UCK Arrested, Arrest Warrant for Ex Minister

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA, MARCH 18 — The European EULEX mission has announced the arrest of nine former members of the Albanese Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), accused of war crimes committed during the armed conflict against Serbia in the late ‘90s. Yesterday EULEX also issued an arrest warrant for Fatmir Limaj, member of the Kosovar Parliament, former Transport Minister and Vice President of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), setting aside parliamentary immunity. Limaj was an UCK commander during the conflict with Serbia.

He was arrested years ago on orders issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, but was later released due to a lack of evidence.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Airstrike Destroys Gaddafi’s Command and Control Building

Coalition forces hit compound which includes Libyan leader’s residence; attack comes after US rejects ceasefire ordered by Libyan army.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s “command and control capability” was destroyed late Sunday in an airstrike on an administrative building in Tripoli, an official of the international coalition intervening in Libya told AFP.

According to the report, the strike hit the compound housing Gaddafi’s residence in Tripoli.

It was unclear where Gaddafi was at the time of the blast.

“The coalition is actively enforcing UNSCR (UN Security Council Resolution) 1973, and that in keeping with that mission, we continue to strike those targets which pose a direct threat to the Libyan people and to our ability to implement the no-fly zone,” the official was quoted as saying by AFP.

The administrative building, which was located about 50 meters from Gaddafi’s tent, was flattened, AFP reported.

Earlier Sunday, the Libyan armed forces issued a command to all units to observe an immediate ceasefire, a Libyan army spokesman said at a news conference.

The announcement came after some 24 hours of air bombardment from American, French and British forces aiming to implement a UN resolution authorising the use of force to protect Libyan civilians from government troops.

“The Libyan armed forces … have issued a command to all military units to safeguard an immediate ceasefire from 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) this evening,” a Libyan army spokesman said.

In response, the United States said late Sunday it would not recognize a ceasefire declared by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

“Our view at this point…is that it isn’t true, or has been immediately violated,” White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told reporters. Donilon also said that the United States and its allies had a “good first day” in their intervention in Libya

Sunday evening, heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was heard in central Tripoli, a Reuters reporter said.

The sustained bursts were accompanied by tracer rounds. Machinegun fire was also heard.

Earlier, Western forces pounded Libya’s air defenses and patrolled its skies, but their day-old intervention hit a serious diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief condemned the “bombardment of civilians”.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed to defeat the Western powers’ “terrorism” and sent his troops and tanks into the rebel-held coastal city of Misrata, residents said.

European and US forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Gaddafi on Saturday in a United Nations-backed intervention to prevent the veteran leader from killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his 41-year rule.

But Arab League chief Amr Moussa said what was happening was not what Arabs had envisaged when they called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” he said.

In comments carried by Egypt’s official state news agency, Moussa also said he was calling for an emergency Arab League meeting.

Arab backing for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of the UN Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for the Western intervention, the biggest against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

[Return to headlines]

China, Russia and India Voice Regret Over Libya Strikes

China, Russia and India expressed regret Sunday over the air strikes on Libya after multinational forces led by France and Britain began bombarding the North African country Saturday with missiles from air and sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it opposed the use of force in international relations and added: “China has noted the latest developments in Libya and expresses regret over the military attacks on Libya.”

Russia issued a similarly worded statement in which it called for a cease-fire as soon as possible. China’s statement made no mention of a cease-fire and stressed that China respected the North African country’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.”

“We hope Libya can restore stability as soon as possible and avoid further civilian casualties due to an escalation of armed conflict,” it added.

Also on Sunday, India expressed regret over the multinational air strikes on Libya, appealing in a foreign ministry statement for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“India views with grave concern the continuing violence, strife and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya,” the statement said. “It regrets the air strikes that are taking place. The measures adopted should mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya.”

UN resolution

China and Russia were the most prominent voices in opposition to military action in Libya within the 15-member United Nations Security Council.

However, neither blocked the U.N. resolution authorizing an operation against Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, abstaining in the Security Council vote on the issue rather than using their veto power.

France and Britain had led the demands for a no-fly zone, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to the heads of state or government of all the other council members seeking urgent backing for the measure.

China said earlier it abstained after having taken into account “the concerns and positions of Arab countries and the African Union, as well as the current special circumstances in Libya,” without elaborating further.

China, which faces frequent foreign criticism over its own human-rights record and treatment of restive minority groups, consistently opposes moves deemed as interfering in the affairs of other countries.

“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” Sunday’s statement said, adding that Beijing supported the spirit and principles of the U.N. Charter, without elaborating.

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

Egypt: Christians Vote No on Constitutional Amendments: “These Amendments Serve the Brotherhood’s Ideology”

It is widely assumed that quick elections would give an advantage to the well-established Muslim Brotherhood, a group founded in the 1920s which has emerged as the best organised political force since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

“I fear the Islamists because they speak in civil slogans that have a religious context, like when one said he believed in a civil Egypt but at the same time no woman or Copt should run for president,” said Samuel Wahba, a Coptic doctor…

Coptic Christians also want the new constitution to do away with Article 2, which says Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence the main source of legislation — a point of tension with Islamists…

“I see we should say ‘no’, because such amendments are not valid to build a modern civil state. That isn’t our opinion alone but also that of any moderate Egyptian who wants a civil state,” said Father Metyas, a priest in a Coptic Orthodox Church.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

EU-Led Coalition Strikes First Gaddafi Target

A French jet opened fire on one of Colonel Gaddafi’s tanks at 18.45 Libyan time on Saturday (19 March) in the first strike of Operation Odyssey Dawn, a military campaign by a new EU-US-Arab coalition created to protect Libyan civilians. Reports indicate the French mission destroyed four tanks in total at a position near Benghazi after Gaddafi forces attacked the rebel stronghold earlier in the day. British and US submarines and warships also fired dozens of cruise missiles at radars and anti-aircraft defences around Tripoli and along Libya’s Mediterranean Sea coast. The armed forces of Canada, Denmark, Italy and Norway are shortly to join in.

Speaking before the strikes at an emergency summit of Arabic and Western countries in Paris on Saturday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “If we intervene in Arab countries, it is not in the name of an objective that we want to impose on the Libyan people. It is in the name of a universal conscience that cannot tolerate these kinds of crimes.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy Willing to Take Part in Libyan Raids

Embassy in Tripoli closed ahead of possible military action

(ANSA) — Rome, March 18 — Italy is willing to launch raids to support a United Nations-sanctioned mission to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to stop strongman Maummar Gaddafi from bombing remaining rebel strongholds, the Italian government said Friday.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told a Senate hearing that the government will ask parliament to authorize Italy’s involvement in a “coalition of the willing” for military action.

He said that Italy was poised to make seven air bases available, while stressing that there would be “no limit” on Italian interventions to enforce Thursday’s UN resolution authorising a no-fly zone.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also said Italy was ready to participate “actively” in the mission and announced that the country’s embassy was to be closed in view of a possible operation.

“The whole international community is absolutely in harmony over the principle that Gaddafi must go,” Frattini said.

Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the country’s biggest opposition group was ready to “support an active role” within the remit of the UN resolution.

The Italian government’s unconditional backing for a no-fly zone comes after it initially pursued a prudent line over the uprising in Libya. Italy has major business relations with its former colony and Premier Silvio Berlusconi had close ties with Gaddafi before the crisis.

Last week Frattini said a 2008 friendship treaty with the North African country ruling out military action from Italy had been effectively suspended because of the uprising. Gaddafi on Friday promised “hell” for any country that moved against him. But his government announced it had ceased its offensive against rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi in an apparent bid to halt an international military operation. The rebels who are seeking to end Gaddafi’s 40-year rule said the ceasefire announcement was a “bluff” and Frattini said he did not expect it to last.

The foreign minister also said NATO should help put up a shield to protect Italy from possible reprisals launched from nearby Libya.

Former Italian air force chief of staff Leonardo Tricarico has said Italy might provide Tornado fighter-bombers to help knock out Libyan air defence and missile positions, as they did in Kosovo.

F-16 fighters and Eurofighters might be offered for patrol missions from Italian bases as well as AV8 planes off the Cavour aircraft carrier, he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: We Risk Finding Al-Qaeda on Home Soil, Says Bossi

(AGI) Como- Italy risks terrorist infiltrations on home soil as a consequence of the situation in Libya, says Umberto Bossi. “I hope that in the end a balance can be found to have peace in North Africa, also because we’re the only ones who pay like in Afghanistan: we’re fighting the war there with many men,” stated the leader of right-wing party Lega Nord (Northern League). “Then we’ll find Al-Qaeda in our own homes,” added Bossi during a conference on federalism held in Erba, near Como.

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

Libya: Gadhafi Defiant After Allied Attacks

As western forces pounded Libya’s air defenses and patrolled its skies on Sunday, their day-old intervention hit a serious diplomatic setback as Arab League chief Amr Moussa condemned the “bombardment of civilians”. Video courtesy of Reuters.

In Tripoli, a defiant Col. Gadhafi said he would arm all Libyans and called on citizens, especially those in the eastern rebel bastion of Benghazi, to rise up against what he called a foreign aggression to occupy the country and steal its oil wealth.

“We will exterminate every traitor and collaborator with America, Britain, France and the crusader coalition,” he said in an audio broadcast on state TV. “They shall be exterminated in Benghazi or any other place.”

Allied airstrikes on Sunday stopped the assault on Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, after the colonel’s troops penetrated deep into the rebel capital on Saturday and heavily shelled its residential neighborhoods, threatening to snuff out the month-old Libyan revolution.

Despite Sunday’s strikes, the Libyan government continued pushing ahead on another front, shelling the western city of Misrata, witnesses said. A spokesman for the revolutionaries in Misrata, the only western Libyan city not yet under Col. Gadhafi’s control, said in a call to al-Jazeera television that government tanks have entered deep into that city’s center, hunting down besieged rebels.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Libya: Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Seeks Takeover in Libya

There they are, the ghouls are at the ready. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world’s most influential and evil cabal.

Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ihsanoglu for Libyan Transition Council EID AL-HARITHY

JEDDAH: The Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has called upon the body’s member countries to back the National Transition Council in Libya.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Northern League Agrees With Germany on Libya Policies

(AGI) Rome — Northern League leader and Reform Minister Umberto Bossi has said the Northern League agrees with Germany as far as issues concerning Libya are concerned .

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

Nuclear Energy: From Morocco to Egypt, Rush for New Plants

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 17 — The countries in the south of the Mediterranean area, and more in general in Africa, started their rush for nuclear energy several years ago: while Europe — frightened by the events in Japan — is having second thoughts about the safety of its plants, new sites for the production of nuclear energy could soon become operational in countries like Algeria or Egypt. A report that will soon be published by the magazine “Mondo e Missione” (World and Mission) of the Pontifical institute for foreign missions discusses the risks of the new energy policy that seems to have spread across the entire African continent. A dozen African countries are interested in starting up or expanding nuclear programmes: from South Africa to the Congo (which already own old installations for nuclear processing), from Nigeria to Niger (a country with substantial uranium reserves which are currently mainly used by France). First in line are the countries on or close to the Mediterranean Sea, from Morocco to Sudan. Also countries with important oil and gas reserves seem determined to diversify their energy sources. Algeria is very active in this field. Ahead of a drop in its own oil sources — expected around 2030 -, it already owns an experimental nuclear reactor in Ain Oussera, supplied by China.

Another reactor stands in Draria, 20km from Algiers. Western intelligence services though in the ‘90s that this -expanded and modernised — installation could produce material that can be used for military purposes. Algeria, where 17 nuclear tests were carried out by the French between 1960 and 1966, has always said that its nuclear installations are only for scientific research and for the production of electricity for the desalination of seawater. Egypt has already selected a site, on the Mediterranean coast, near the city of Al-Dabaa. Its nuclear programme was initiated in 2007 by Mubarak, who was concerned about rising demand for electricity. At the moment Mubarak’s projects seem to be continued by the new government. ‘Mondo e missione’ continues that the same determination can be found in Sudan (a politically very unstable country with a southern part that is on the brink of breaking away). Sudan wants to get a nuclear reactor and wants its first nuclear power plant within a decade. According to the director of the Sudanese atomic energy agency, Ahmed Hassan al Tayeh, “the Ministry of Electricity and Dams has already started to make preparations for the nuclear power production project, in cooperation with the IAEA, and expects to build the first plant in 2020”. Sudan currently produces up to 470 thousand barrels of oil per day, but faces rising energy demand.

Other candidates for nuclear power plants in North Africa are Morocco and Tunisia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russia Expresses Regret at ‘Rushed’ Attacks on Libya

(AGI) Moscow — The Kremlin has expressed regret at the day’s air strikes on Libyan targets. Foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich, submits “armed intervention, though carried out under the UN resolution, appear untimely as far as we are concerned. We believe that the bloodshed in Libya needs to be stopped via an immediate ceasefire, so as to allow competing factions to establish dialogue. There is no other way of ending the confrontation.” .

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

Taking on Gadhafi: Obama Finally Has His Own War

Barack Obama has taken a firm stance against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in one of the toughest speeches of his presidency. For Obama, threatening air strikes against Libya is a decisive turning point. Now the formerly peace-minded US president finally has a war of his own making.

US President Barack Obama has struck a new tone. It’s one that would have been unthinkable back when he was still a presidential candidate — the candidate of peace, who rejected his predecessor’s wars and wanted to have as little to do with them as possible. But now he is president and commander-in-chief. And now he has the first war of his own making.

On Friday afternoon, Obama entered the East Room of the White House, to make one of the shortest but toughest speeches of his presidency. It was not an open declaration of war — the word was not mentioned once. But the speech was the culmination of a week in which the pacifist turned into a warrior. At the end of that week, Obama himself committed American troops to a new, distant front for the first time. He did so reluctantly, but it was clear to him that the decision was inevitable.

It was one of the most decisive moments in Obama’s still young presidency.

From Peace to War

Following the UN resolution on Thursday night that paved the way for military strikes against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Obama had been silent for 20 hours. While the French and British were making preparations for military action, and the Germans pondered the wisdom of their abstention, the White House preferred to wait.

That was partly because no one in Washington really knows what to make of Gadhafi’s recent maneuvering. But mainly it is because Obama finds himself trapped in a dilemma: He must explain to his people why he gone from being a staunch opponent of US military action to its advocate. It would be the third current American military operation in a Muslim country, after Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some American commentators have already begun referring to the Korean War. That war, which traumatized generations of Americans, began in a similar fashion in 1950, with a UN resolution and an offer of help from the West.

From peace to war in seven days: It is enough to give people “whiplash,” complained Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson on the TV channel MSNBC.

‘We Will Not Respond to Words’

The discrepancy could also be seen during Obama’s appearance in the East Room. He was addressing two different audiences. On the one hand, he threatened Gadhafi in tougher terms than ever before. On the other, Obama, with an eye to the domestic TV audience, played down the consequences from an American perspective. Supporting the UN was fine, he said, but ruled out unilateral military action or the use of US ground forces.

In terms of the message to Gadhafi, Obama could hardly have expressed himself any more clearly. “These terms are not negotiable,” he said, referring to the conditions laid down by UN Resolution 1973, namely a ceasefire, an end to attacks on civilians and halting the advance on Benghazi. Obama has never seemed so determined before.

At the same time, he had his foot firmly on the brake when it came to military action. He announced that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would first meet with America’s European allies and Arab partners on Saturday in Paris to discuss how the resolution should be enforced — meaning that the bombing would not start immediately.

Washington also appeared unimpressed by Gadhafi’s announcement of a ceasefire on Friday. “We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words,” Clinton said. “We would have to see actions on the ground.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who discussed the situation with Obama in a telephone conversation, made similar comments. “We will judge (Gadhafi) by his actions, not his words,” he told the BBC.

Events on Saturday proved the leaders’ skepticism to be well founded. Gadhafi’s ground troops attacked the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and a fighter jet was shot down over the city.

Selling War to the American People

During his speech, Obama summarized how the situation had escalated, partially for the benefit of those in his domestic audience who had previously paid little attention to the situation in Libya. He described how Gadhafi had responded to pro-democracy protests with an “iron fist”: “Instead of respecting the rights of his own people, Gadhafi chose the path of brutal suppression.” Obama also described the long series of international responses to Gadhafi — the sanctions, the arms embargo and the repeated warnings.

Then came the most important part of the speech: why the US should get involved. “Now, here is why this matters to us,” said Obama, sounding a bit like a math teacher explaining a problem to his students. “The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.” In other words, America is prepared to go to war over such concerns.

Obama may well have used similar words when, earlier in the White House, he had briefed the most important representatives and senators in detail about the possible UN deployment for the first time. The audience included both supporters of a US involvement, such as John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and John McCain, as well as opponents such as Dick Lugar.

Congress does not need to approve the US action, because it is not an official declaration of war. But it can still hold a symbolic vote. By then at the latest, the divisions in Washington will probably start showing.

The first cracks were already appearing on Friday. “None of this makes any sense,” the columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote in his blog for The Atlantic. Gaddafi is not a threat to the US, he argued, adding “not even the most righteous neocons” have pushed for military action on such slim grounds. Sullivan also condemned “the imperial presidency that Obama has now taken to a greater height than even Bush.”

‘Our Cause Is Just’

It is now clear that Obama’s attitude changed on Tuesday evening at a crisis meeting at the White House which apparently became extremely heated. Both sides presented their arguments for and against an intervention in the conflict. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was taking part via telephone, advocated military action. They were opposed by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and his deputy, Denis McDonough.

In contrast to his stance on the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, Obama ended up joining the side of the interventionists, arguing that Libya was central to the whole wave of change in the Middle East. “This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values,” a senior administration official said at the meeting, according to the magazine Foreign Policy. The official apparently said that the sentence came from Obama himself. The president included the same sentiment in his speech on Friday.

In his address, Obama stipulated one condition, however: no invasion. “Our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong,” he said — sounding exactly like George W. Bush. By an irony of history, his speech came just before the eighth anniversary of the bombing of Iraq on the night of March 19-20, 2003, which began the Iraq war.

“In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook,” Steve Clemons from the New America Foundation told Foreign Policy. “The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy.”

It also shows that the old divide between the State Department and the Pentagon has reappeared. Hillary Clinton has won this round, at the expense of Gates, who did not want to impose an additional front on his already overburdened forces — especially as all the strategic scenarios in Libya are unappealing.

Nevertheless, the troops are ready. The US has brought six warships and a submarine into position in the Mediterranean. “We have been deploying in the region for a few weeks,” says one government source. “We are ready to fight.” The “full range” is enabled, he says: combat jets and bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and marines…

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

The Club Med War

By Pepe Escobar

It would be really uplifting to imagine United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 [1] on Thursday was voted just to support the beleaguered anti-Muammar Gaddafi movement with a no-fly zone, logistics, food, humanitarian aid and weapons. That would be the proof that the “international community” really “stands with the Libyan people in their quest for their universal human rights”, in the words of United States ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

Yet maybe there’s more to doing the right (moral) thing. History may register that the real tipping point was this past Tuesday when, in an interview to German TV, the African king of kings made sure that Western corporations — unless they are German (because the country was against a no-fly zone) — can kiss goodbye to Libya’s energy bonanza. Gaddafi explicitly said, “We do not trust their firms, they have conspired against us … Our oil contracts are going to Russian, Chinese and Indian firms.” In other words: BRICS member countries.

It’s quite interesting that UN resolution 1973 had 10 votes in favor, zero against it, and five abstentions. These came exactly from the four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), plus Germany. Brazil and Germany had voiced their deep skepticism over military action for days, preferring a diplomatic solution; but in the case of Russia, India and China, other (energy) motivations may have been at play. The top four BRICS members (the other is South Africa, which voted for resolution and formally joins the expanded group in April) tend to coordinate their voting in every major decision.

Fly me to the oil

So cynics have every right to invoke the time-tested mantra: it’s the oil, stupid.

Libya is the largest oil economy in Africa, ahead of Nigeria and Algeria. It holds at least 46.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (10 times those of Egypt). That’s 3.5% of the global total. Libya produces between 1.4 and 1.7 million barrels of oil a day, but wants to reach 3 million barrels. Its oil is extremely prized, especially with an ultra-low cost of production of roughly $1.00 a barrel.

When Gaddafi threatened Western oil majors, he meant the show would soon be over for France’s Total, Italy’s ENI, British Petroleum (BP), Spanish Repsol, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Hess and Conoco Phillips — though not for the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC). China ranks Libya as essential for its energy security. China gets 11% of Libya’s oil exports. CNPC has quietly repatriated no less than 30,000 Chinese workers (compared to 40 working for BP).

For its part Italian energy giant ENI produces over 240,000 barrels of oil a day — almost 25% of Libya’s total exports. No less than 85% of Libya’s oil is sold to European Union (EU) countries.

So a who’s who of profiteers of the — in theory — UN-sanctioned US/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)/Arab League military operation in Libya has got to include European Union and Anglo-American Big Oil. Not to mention Wall Street — think about those billions of dollars of Libyan financial assets deposited in Western banks, and now confiscated; and of course US/EU weapons producers.

Depending on how it is implemented, and for how long Gaddafi resists, UN resolution 1973 is intimately linked to severe disruption of oil supply to the EU, especially Italy, France and Germany; and that implies all sorts of geopolitical implications, starting with the US-EU relationship. Everyone wants to be well positioned for the post-Gaddafi energy environment.

The key point of UN resolution 1973 is point four — as in “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.

It’s essential to stress that “take all necessary measures” goes way beyond a no-fly zone, stopping short of a land invasion. Crucially, it covers air strikes, or cruise missiles unleashed on Gaddafi tanks on the road to Benghazi, for instance. But it may also cover bombing of Gaddafi regime installations in Tripoli — even his headquarters. With Gaddafi willing to fight to the death it’s fair to assume the mandate only ends with regime change.

But what about Bahrain?

Time for Hypocrisy Alert number 1. It was delightful to watch Alain Juppe back as French minister of foreign affairs — and preaching about humanitarian values — in place of Chanel icon Michele Alliot-Marie, who spent a holiday in Tunisia in the middle of the popular battle to get rid of tyrant Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The Barack Obama administration — at least in public — was split between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (in favor of no-fly), and Pentagon supremo Robert Gates (against it). President Obama never revealed his cards up to the last minute (apart from stating that Gaddafi must go). Acting in such a way he pushed the UN to lead, with the Anglo-French duo working alongside an Arab country, Lebanon, to polish a draft.

What harsh critics had seen as the president recklessly laying his credibility on the line, and his “failure to act decisively in support of freedom” perhaps should be seen as a canny shadowplay, leaving the impression of the UN legitimizing another — the nasty term is inevitable — international “coalition of the willing”, and not a Western intervention. Humanitarian non-imperialism, anyone?

Now it all depends on how NATO will operate out of French military bases along the Mediterranean and Italian air force and naval bases in Sicily, at a cost of $300 million a week. The Pentagon’s Gates has already redeployed US naval assets close to the Libyan coast. And he assured Obama that the Pentagon was capable — how could it not? — of opening a third war front.

Time for Hypocrisy Alert number 2. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan may all be collaborators of the US/NATO anti-Gaddafi force. Three of these are Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. As part of the Arab League they all voted last week in favor of a no-fly zone. What a cosmic irony to see these four autocracies supporting a military operation for the benefit of the same kind of protesters who want justice, dignity and democracy in their own backyards.

The provisional, military Egyptian government, more sensibly, has already said it won’t take part in military operations. Instead, the Egyptian military are shipping assault rifles and ammunition across the border to eastern Libya — with Washington’s approval.

So the question is inevitable. Would the UN vote with the same zeal to impose a no drive zone on Saudi Arabia — to prevent it from sending tanks and troops across the causeway to repress people in Bahrain, a country it has already invaded?

Time for Hypocrisy Alert number 3. Washington, according to the brand new Obama administration doctrine, applies “US outreach” to rebels when dealing with “evil” dictators” such as Gaddafi. The rebels eventually get full UN support. Then Washington preaches “regime alteration” when dealing with “our” bastards, such as Bahrain’s al-Khalifas and the House of Saud. The dictators get away with murder.

The ball (of fire) in the Med is now in Gaddafi’s court. His minister of defense has already warned that all aerial and naval traffic in the Mediterranean is at risk — and every civilian and military target is fair game. Gaddafi for his part told Portuguese TV channel RTP, “if the world gets crazy with us we will get crazy too. We will respond. We will make their lives hell because they are making our lives hell. They will never have peace.”

So watch out. The great 2011 Arab revolt is about to get crazy. This Club Med war may be a blast — or a raging, bloody mess…

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

Tunisia: Revolution Council Already in Crisis

(ANSAmed) — TUNISI, MARCH 18 — The new Tunisia’s transition towards a real democracy is proving to be more complicated and lengthier than expected. Clear proof is given by the differences that came out during the first meeting of the Council for the achievement of the objectives of the Revolution, of the Political reform and the Transition to democracy.

A long name that represents the body that must lay out the path towards the form of democracy achieved by the revolution, which today is however hard to implement. A path that must include a constituent stage (rewriting of Tunisia’s ‘charta’) and therefore the stage of real participation, with a new electoral law.

The Council meeting unleashed harsh controversy, especially concerning the Council’s membership criteria. Called to join the Council were representatives of many political parties (not all, however), of civil society (but not all society), professional rolls and a number of citizens’ rights associations. But the presence of women’s associations is weak. The controversy focused on mentioned selection criteria, which were decided by the current leaders of the most important institutional positions, all chosen (and not by the will of the people) and all temporary, a condition that makes them weaker. Choices which, in the end, it was noted, turned the Council into a body that does not truly represent the Tunisian people. For example, the representatives of the young people that gave life to the revolution, many of which even died for it, have not been included.

Nor is there any of the young people who for weeks set up a sit-in in the Kasbah proving, once again, that the revolution need not be violent. The same young people, according to a member of the Ugtt union (presently Tunisia’s strongest), who are the driving force behind the revolution and reforms”. And no bloggers either, those bloggers who spread revolutionary ideas on the internet and made them acceptable, or the artists that suffered so much under Ben Ali’s dictatorship. But, like a raging river, comments on the selection criteria also affected the same dynamics within the varied political landscape. So much so that the representative of the Ennahdha movement, who clearly spoke about the attempts by certain parties to arrogate the right to define the outline of the Country’s future. And then there are the parties who, allegedly, are willingly, with their aggressive behaviour, heightening the tension that, for some days now, is being felt in Tunisia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U.S. Defense Chief Warns Against Expanding Military Strike Goals in Libya

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Xinhua) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned on Sunday that it will complicate the consensus around the UN Security Council resolution on no-fly zone over Libya if there is an attempt to expand the goals of military strikes against the North African nation.

Speaking onboard a plane enroute to Russia, the Pentagon chief made his first public comment about the air mission against Libya, saying he thinks “it’s important that we operate within the mandate of the UN Security Council resolution.”

Gates said the mission is backed by a diverse coalition, and adding additional objectives to the mission “create a problem in that respect.” He also said “it’s unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Gates said most nations in the region want to see Libya remain a unified state, and “having states in the region begin to break up because of internal differences, I think, is a formula for real instability in the future.”

The Pentagon chief also cautioned against getting too involved in the internal conflict of that country, saying the internal conflict should be left to be resolved by Libyans themselves.

The United States is now providing command and control to the air mission. Gates said the U.S. side expects to turn over control of the military mission against Libya to a coalition “in a matter of days.”

The possible sides to take over command are a British-French unified command, or the NATO. He said the U.S. military will continue to be part of the coalition, “but will not have the preeminent role.”

Gates departed Washington Sunday afternoon to visit Russia, probably his last visit to that country as head of the Pentagon.

[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

UK: Pro-Israel Protester Attacked at SOAS

A pro-Israel protester has been taken to hospital after being bitten on the cheek outside SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, today. Police arrested two men on suspicion of affray and they were being held in custody at a north London police station.

Four supporters of Stand With Us had decided to go to SOAS after learning that a Celebrate Palestine event was taking place as part of Israel Apartheid Week. Two of them, Tony Coren and Gili Brenner, went inside the university and had a number of conversations with the student participants. Mr Coren said: “We had placards and some information packs, and we had some very interesting and civilised discussions.”

But suddenly, Mr Coren said, the atmosphere turned hostile. “About four or five people were standing around Gili, Ro’i Goldman, and the fourth member of our group, Dean Gold. One man began to say some extremely unpleasant things about Jews. He said that the best thing the Jews had ever done was to go into the gas chambers. Dean asked if he could film him. The man said yes, adding that ‘these things should be heard.’“

Another man then came forward and told the abusive man that he did not have to be filmed or interviewed. Despite the abusive man agreeing to be filmed, Mr Coren said, the second man, who was “big and burly and of Middle East appearance,” allegedly launched himself at Dean, grabbing at his camera, punching him and then biting him on the cheek.”

“There was a struggle and the university security guards came out. A number of other people then began to say we shouldn’t be there. The president of the union came out and said we had made our point. A policeman strongly advised us to leave.”

Ro’i Goldman, who plans to study in the UK next year, said he was very shocked by the experience. But Tony Coren said he was not shocked, but was angry that the university authorities had indicated that by their very presence, the Stand With Us protesters had possibly provoked the attack.

Dean Gold, the alleged victim, was taken to University College Hospital.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jordan’s Opposition Protest in Demand for Reform

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MARCH 18 — Opposition groups demonstrated in downtown Amman today, calling for constitutional reform to allow creation of an elected government.

Nearly 4000 protesters marched after Friday prayer at al Hussein mosque the centre of old Amman, carrying banners that call for dissolving the parliament. The crowd was chanting pro-Islamist movement slogans and hailed Arab revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. They chanted: “The people want to reform the regime.” Peace treaty with Israel is a fiasco,” and “We do not want government of (Prime minister Maruf) Bakhit. Leaders of the Islamist movement said the protest are the answer to a recent formation of a government appointed national dialogue committee to discuss political and economic reform.

“We did not want to take part in the dialogue committee. The protests are the real dialogue with authorities, who are clearly not interested in implementing reform. This is a waste of time,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, Senior leader of the Islamist movement.

Some of the opposition camp members are demanding more say, starting with a modern election law that broadens representation in parliament for inhabitants of the capital and the major cities of Zarqa and Irbid, where most of the country’s seven million population live.

The Islamist and leftist opposition are pushing the monarch to move Jordan towards a true constitutional monarchy.

But conservative Jordanian voices are resisting demands of opposition on grounds that the majority, represented by the Palestinians could take over the pro-west kingdom.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: King Abdallah: Minimum Wage Raised and Bonus

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 18 — King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia today announced a series of ‘royal orders’, which were read by two different presenters on State televisions. The measures regard a raise of minimum wages for all civil servants, who will also receive a bonus of two monthly salaries. All unemployed, elderly and sick people were promised unemployment benefits by the king, and students will receive monthly fellowships.

Substantial investments in council housing were also announced.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Thousands Protest in Daraa, Regime Frees 15 Youth

(AGI) Damascus — Thousands of people have demonstrated again in the streets of Daraa, in the south of Syria, for the third day in a row while a government delegation was in the city to express condolences on behalf of the regime over the death of four protesters, killed last Friday. To ease tensions, Damascus decided to free 15 young people whose arrests had deepened protests. The youth, all of them below 16 years old, had been arrested for writing slogans for freedom on the walls of the city.

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

Syrian Demonstrators Set Fire to Justice Building in Daraa

(AGI) Daraa — Hundreds of demonstrators have set the Daraa palace of justice as well as other buildings and cars on fire in southern town of Daraa.

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

Turkey: Erdogan Turns on the West

Supporting Turkey’s European Union perspective — or its ties with the West in general — has never been a vote winner for Turkish politicians, and is certainly not so now after the negative attitude of some countries in Europe to Ankara’s EU membership bid.

To the contrary, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has started relying on strong and at times virulent language about the EU in particular, and the West in general, in the lead-up to the general elections in June. He is probably not off the mark either, given the antipathy Turks increasingly feel toward Europe and the United States.

The bottom line is that neither secular and nationalist conservatives, nor religious conservatives in Turkey, have ever had any real liking for the West, which in turn has not always made itself likeable to Turks. The position of secular and nationalist conservatives is particularly contradictory since everything they aspire to, from their secularism to their nationalism, as well as the way they dress and live, is essentially inspired by the West.

The general and sublimated belief, which has not just fed the nationalist Kemalist ideology, but also the ideology of political Islam over the decades since the Republic was founded, is that if Turkey exists at all today, it is not “because of the West” but “in spite of it.”

This belief which is embedded in the Turkish collective psyche has roots which go back to Gladstone who wanted Turks to be thrown out “bag and baggage… from the province that they have desolated and profaned.” The same attitude by Lloyd George in later years — and his support of the invasion of Anatolia by Greece in 1919 — united the Turks in a manner and with a determination no one expected at the time, and enabled them in the end to send their enemies “bag and baggage” from Anatolia.

Ever since then being too supportive of the West has not been something to be proud of in this country, even for those whose appearance and lifestyles are Western. It is also becoming clearer now that the basic reason for the secular Kemalist regime remaining firmly within the Western fold after World War II was the elemental fear of Communism from Russia.

Turning Turkey into a genuinely Western country, with all its modern and secular trappings, however, was never a prime consideration. To the contrary, Western notions of liberal education, press freedoms and democratic freedoms were often considered to be the source of “subversive thought designed to destroy the Republic” and treated accordingly.

Had the opposite been true, Turkey would be in a very different category of nations today. For example, few Turkish governments in the past acted in the spirit of the 1963 Ankara Agreement, which was supposed to pave the way for Turkey’s membership in the EEC, as it was known at the time.

If they had, Turkey would have joined what eventually became the EU before all of Eastern Europe, as well as Greece, Portugal and Spain, since its democracy — for all its shortcomings then — was still better than those countries at that time.

But this was not to be, and once the Cold War ended an important “raison d’etre” for remaining embedded in the Western fold so firmly began to diminish, and continues to do so today. The support of European anti-Communists for Turkey during the Cold War also diminished rapidly of course. The xenophobic and Islamophobic attitudes that have emerged in Europe today, on the other hand, are only fuelling this trend.

Given this general picture, Erdogan is now playing on what has become a classic nationalist theme against Europe. The latest report on Turkey by the European Parliament, which has especially harsh words on the topic of press freedoms, and justifiably so, has enraged him to the point of unleashing a torrent of abuse against Europe.

Ratcheting up his anti-EU rhetoric, he repeated a verse earlier this week from Turkey’s national anthem, written by the nationalist poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy after the war of liberation, and thus openly demonstrated his innate animosity toward the West.

The verse he repeated talks about “Western civilization” as “a monster that has only one tooth left.”

Ersoy’s reference was to a West that had no virtues or values left, but only its steel and military might (its only tooth), which in the end proved to be worthless against determined Turks driven by the faith in their hearts. It is telling that Erdogan should have said, after reciting Ersoy’s lines, that “there is no other verse that describes the West better than this.”

Given his increasingly anti-NATO and anti-Western rhetoric in connection with the events in Libya, it is clear that this is a theme he is determined to repeat until the elections, and even after, depending on the outcome of the voting.

While this is no doubt music to the ears of the anti-Turkish European ultra-right, it must be of some concern to leaders in the West who are trying to make sense of what is happening in the post 9/11 world, and in the Middle East today, in an attempt to try and understand what is best for Europe.

The German Marshall Fund’s latest “Transatlantic Trends” survey shows that the 51 percent of European leaders still see Turkey’s membership in the EU as positive thing, which indicates that “losing Turkey” is not something they would favor in terms of Europe’s long-term interests.

But these leaders are faced with a serous dilemma. Previously, factors such as the fear of communism, or Turkey’s economic or military dependence on Europe, would keep Ankara in line with, and in tune with, the West. Turkey’s standing, however, is changing rapidly and Ankara is acting much more independently now.

In the meantime, Turks are increasingly aware that there is no support for their country on the streets of Europe. The GMF’s “Transatlantic Trends” survey shows that only 22 percent of Europeans view Turkey’s EU membership as a favorable thing.

This is also fuelling anti-Western sentiments in Turkey, and is the reason why more and more Turks consider Ankara’s continuing to knock on Europe’s door, “which refuses to open,” to be demeaning for the country. Erdogan is clearly trying to play to this gallery now.

The question however is whether a Turkey that acts, not with the West, but more and more with the “Rest,” to use Fareed Zakaria’s designation, is good for the same Europe and U.S. Some will no doubt say it is. Others will disagree. In other words, opinion is split on this topic.

But given the currently hastened pace of history, it should not take more than a few years to see which side turns out to be correct. Looking at the picture as it is today, the only thing that seems tangible is that Turkey is rapidly drifting away from the West, and seeking new alliances and partnerships elsewhere, as demonstrated by Erdogan’s high-profile visit to Moscow this week.

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

Turkey: Ergenekon’s ‘Overseas Friends’

Reading The Washington Post the other day, I came across a piece in the Letter to the Editor section that I assume had been mistakenly put there instead of the humor section.

“The chief prosecutor in [the Ergenekon] case has stated that the journalists were taken into custody based on solid evidence unrelated to their work as journalists. As in any free, democratic society, Turkey’s legal system enshrines the cardinal principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ and due process is unequivocally and unsparingly accorded to all those accused in this case. The rule of law is a fundamental tenet of Turkish democracy. Turkey’s judicial system is fully integrated into the European legal structures, and individuals tried under our system enjoy the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights,” read the letter from Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan (“In journalists’ detentions, Turkey is committed to rule of law,” The Washington Post, March 14, 2011).

But the sender’s name proved that my impression was wrong, and that serious Turkish diplomats can often have a sense of humor, too.

Mr. Tan is right. With the current pace of court proceedings, the average length of the appeals process and the average length of potential European Court of Human Rights proceedings, the suspects will remain innocent behind bars probably until early next century.

But according to Michael Rubin from the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, “When Ambassador Tan hosts jazz concerts and depicts Turkey as a modern, democratic model for the Middle East, he is increasingly at odds with reality,” (“For What Exactly Is Turkey a Model?” Commentary, March 10, 2011). Mr. Rubin’s words did not escape the attention of “Turkish liberals.”

For instance, prominent columnist Cengiz Çandar from daily Radikal quoted Mr. Rubin as writing: “While former U.S. ambassadors continue to shill for Turkey as some sort of enlightened democracy, the country is backsliding into dictatorship. Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Brownshirts staged middle-of-the-night raids on the homes of independent and critical journalists, taking several into custody. Turkey now ranks 138 out of 178 on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index. That puts it beyond Venezuela, Egypt and Zimbabwe. When President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton speak of Turkey as a model, someone might want to ask, for what is Turkey a model? How to transform a democracy into a police state?”

Apparently, Mr. Rubin’s lines angered the “oooo-very-liberal” Mr. Çandar, who is now worried about an “anti-Turkish tsunami.” According to Mr. Çandar, Mr. Rubin is a psycho-minded man and is well acquainted with some of the high-ranking officers who are now Ergenekon/Sledgehammer suspects. Only psychiatrists can judge the “psycho-minded” part, but the “acquaintance” part is probably accurate.

Mr. Çandar thinks, however, that: “It won’t be impossible to reveal the organic ties between those like Rubin and our ‘Ergenekoncus’ [the supporters of Ergenekon]… Those who bash Turkey with the pretext of violation of press freedoms are friends of Israel… Apart from those like Rubin, many faces of the press with fame will also be unmasked…”

Some of “those Ergenekoncus,” according to Mr. Çandar, were seen in the front line of the Taksim-Galatasaray marching crowd who protested the arrest of journalists. “This is a coalition we cannot underestimate,” Mr. Çandar wrote. “Those who fear that a new wave of Ergenekon arrests may hit them have launched a counter attack.” In his thinking, the protestors were the “comrades of the Ergenekoncus.” (Luckily, I am neither a press face with fame, nor did I march with the protestors.)

Finally, in Mr. Çandar’s fantastic theory, prestigious and influential Western publications like the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and the Economist took part in this “counter-attack” by publishing articles criticizing the Turkish government for the systematic violation of press freedoms. “And of course, the European Parliament’s report on Turkey gave legitimacy to this platform [of the Ergenekoncus],” Mr. Çandar wrote (“The Source of the ‘Police State’ Rhetoric or Tsunami Against Turkey,” Radikal, March 15, 2011).

Mr. Çandar’s article is important in understanding the true ethos of the “liberal support” behind Mr. Erdogan’s government. I once coined the term “Lackeys Without Frontiers” in describing the influential “liberal” crowd that ethos brought together. Others called it opportunism disguised as liberalism. But let’s not waste time with tags. What Mr. Çandar basically tells us in his powerful article is:

Mr. Rubin is a psycho-minded overseas Ergenekoncu (so he should be arrested if he ever lands in Turkey), The Westerners who criticize Turkey’s poor press freedom index do so because they are friends of Israel (the Reporters Without Borders, too, should be an overseas Ergenekon operative), Some of the Turkish journalists who marched to protest the arrest of their colleagues will also be arrested because they, too, are Ergenekoncus (and they protested to prevent their own arrest in the future), The Western world’s top newspapers are also instruments/assets in the overseas operations run by the Ergenekoncus (so their correspondents, too, can be arrested), The European Parliament is the overseas legislative branch of Ergenekon since the MEPs did not hesitate to give legitimacy to the Ergenekon coalition.

I am truly sorry, Mr. Çandar, that it may be practically impossible to arrest all those foreign operatives of the Ergenekon terror organization. But would it help Turkey’s “great march toward mature democracy” if we surrendered to you only 50 MEPs, together with 100 foreign journalists, including Mr. Rubin?

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


U.S. Intercepted Final Words of Doomed Russian Cosmonaut Komarov as He ‘Screamed in Rage at People Who Put Him in Defective Craft’

The final words of doomed Russian cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, were picked up by U.S. intelligence, according to a new book.

As Komarov hurtled towards earth and certain death in the stricken Soyuz 1 craft, he could be heard screaming and cursing the ‘people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.’

U.S. National Security Analyst, identified in the book as Perry Fellwock, described intercepting Komarov’s conversation with ground control officers in which he told them he knew he was about to die during the space mission in 1967.

Fellwock was also privy to a conversation between Komarov and former premier Alexei Kosygin from the U.S. listening post in Turkey.

Kosygin can be heard crying and telling Komarov he is a hero, Fellwock reported.

The extraordinary revelations appear in new book Starman, The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin, by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, to be published next month.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Far East

Japan: How a Legacy From the 1800s is Making Tokyo Dark Today

A strange legacy of the Japanese power system’s infancy in the late 1800s is complicating efforts to keep Tokyo supplied with electricity.

The problem, as explained by IDG News Service’s Martyn Williams, is that half of the country uses power whose current alternates at 60 Hz, while the other half gets its power at 50 Hz.

The discrepancy has to do with the founding of electric power in the country. Tokyo Electric Light Co. used German generators, which operated at 50 Hz, while in the west part of Japan, Osaka Electric Lamp Co. used generators from General Electric, an American company, operating at the same 60 Hz standard that is used in the United States to this day.

Unlike the U.S. grid, the Japanese power grid was never unified on a single standard. While it’s possible to connect the two grids, the frequency-changing stations required can only handle up to 1 gigawatt.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Japan: Cancer Fear as Radiation Gets in Tokyo’s Tap Water

Radiation from Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant has contaminated food, milk and tap water, sparking cancer fears among an already anxious people.

The government was forced yesterday to ban the sale of spinach from areas near Fukushima after tests revealed that it contained radioactive iodine from the nuclear plant 27 times above safety limits.

The contamination has also spread to tap water in Tokyo and to beans, milk and edible chrysanthemums produced near the plant.

But there were signs that Japan was finally getting to grips with its nuclear crisis when workers restored electrical power to one of the stricken reactors and brought two atomic waste storage tanks ‘under control’.

The world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 was triggered when the tsunami disabled diesel generators needed to keep the nuclear reactors cool at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The site has been hit by four explosions and two fires while radiation has spewed from the crippled buildings for days.

Two workers are still missing, while around 300 emergency staff are risking their lives to stop a meltdown and explosion that would scatter dangerous radioactive fallout for miles. They were originally known as the Fukushima Fifty, but it has since emerged that there are many more of them.

Radioactive milk was found in towns 20 miles from the plant, while canola cooking oil and edible chrysanthemums also tested positive.

Tap water in Tokyo was found to contain traces of radiation, but chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said it was safe to drink.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Japan: Here Are the Downstream Effects From the Fukushima Catastrophe

As the world awakes, Japan discloses another round of good news/bad news about the Fukushima crisis. The good news: Reactors 5 and 6 went into stable condition on Sunday, after a successful cold shutdown, authorities said. The reactors at the power plant went into cold shutdown following restoration of cooling functions late Saturday.

Alas, 5 and 6 were never the issue to begin with. The same came not be said about reactors 1 through 4, where the bad news comes from this morning. According to the Japan Times, a risky venting of Reactor 3, which saw its pressure rising yet again, was being considered, which would see another release of radioactive gas into the environment. “Pressure within the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was rising at one point and Tepco considered releasing more radioactive gas into the environment to avert serious damage to the containment vessel, the nuclear safety agency said Sunday afternoon.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. had considered releasing the contaminated steam directly into the environment, not through a “suppression pool” as it did earlier in the crisis. The pressure needs to be lowered to protect the structural integrity of the reactor, and the first step is to open the valve on a pipe connected to the suppression pool. By going through the suppression pool, the reactor’s gas would liquefy and thus lower the pressure.” And here is where the recent Operation Irrigation is now backfiring:

“But if the pool is already filled with water, a valve on the reactor itself would need to be opened and the radiation level of the released gas would be higher than with the first method, explained Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. “Without water, there would be more radioactive substances in the gas released into the environment.”“ In other words, the attempt (which some say is futile) to fill the containment pool with water is about to lead to another round of irradiation of the environment.

And while all that is going on, here is what the already certain chain of downstream events is going to look like for the region, for Japan, and for the world.

From Reuters, the following is a roundup of the effect on the energy and commodities sector of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Japan: The Amount of Radioactive Fuel at Fukushima Dwarfs Chernobyl

Science Insider noted yesterday:

“The Daiichi complex in Fukushima, Japan … had a total of 1760 metric tons of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site last year, according to a presentation by its owners, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). The most damaged Daiichi reactor, number 3, contains about 90 tons of fuel, and the storage pool above reactor 4, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) Gregory Jaczko reported yesterday had lost its cooling water, contains 135 tons of spent fuel. The amount of fuel lost in the core melt at Three Mile Island in 1979 was about 30 tons; the Chernobyl reactors had about 180 tons when the accident occurred in 1986.”

That means that Fukushima has nearly 10 times more nuclear fuel than Chernobyl.

It also means that a single spent fuel pool — at reactor 4, which has lost all of its water and thus faces a release of its radioactive material — has 75% as much nuclear fuel as at all of Chernobyl.

However, the real numbers are even worse.

Specifically, Tepco very recently transferred many more radioactive spent fuel rods into the storage pools. According to Associated Press, there were — at the time of the earthquake and tsunami — 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools plus 877 tons of active fuel in the cores of the reactors.

That totals 4,277 tons of nuclear fuel at Fukushima.

Which means that there is almost 24 times more nuclear fuel at Fukushima than Chernobyl.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Japan Fights to Stop Meltdown

Japanese engineers battled to avert a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant yesterday as unusually high radiation levels were recorded in food products and water for the first time.

Rescue teams, including a 46-member team from SA, continued their desperate search for survivors after the earthquake and tsunami left over 7000 dead, 10000 missing and 450 000 homeless.

Crews working in highly toxic conditions at the nuclear plant yesterday connected a cable which they hope will power electric pumps to cool fuel rods at risk of a catastrophic radioactive fire.

Authorities raised the nuclear alert level from four to five on Friday. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster ranked at seven . Officials said a worst-case plan to bury the plant in concrete and sand was being considered.

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority said the situation had stabilised, but was still “precarious” as regulators admitted the power plant’s safety plans were inadequate and did not envisage tsunami waves above 5m. Another big aftershock of 6.1 on the Richter scale hit Japan yesterday.


Rob Verchick, a disaster expert at Loyola University in New Orleans, told Associated Press that because Japan was the world’s third-largest economy, “this event has the potential to be the most globally disruptive natural hazard in modern times”.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Japan Raises Nuclear Threat Level as Radiation Cloud Heads for Britain

JAPAN increased the nuclear threat level yesterday as experts predicted an airborne radioactive plume could reach Britain within two weeks.

Dangerous levels of radiation continued to spew into the atmosphere from the stricken Fukushima power station and the country’s nuclear safety agency raised the alert rating from four to five — on par with the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in the USA.

Only the devastating explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 has topped the scale at seven.

Particles from the Fukushima plant have already been traced on planes arriving in the US from the disaster-torn country.

And a plume of radiation reportedly hit California yesterday before being swept across America towards Europe.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

TEPCO Continues Efforts to Restore Power to Final 2 Nuke Reactors at Troubled Fukushima Plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on Monday continued with work to lay cables in an effort to restore power to two reactors that still remain without electricity at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan, Xinhua reported.

The TEPCO was successful in connecting external power sources to power- receiving facilities at the No. 2 and No. 5 reactors on Sunday.

But Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said it may take a few more days before the vital cooling system is restored at the No. 2 reactor, whose containment vessel suffered damage in its pressure-suppression chamber, as multiple component systems must be restored before the reactor becomes fully operation.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said even when the plant is online later in the week and cooling functions restored, the plant will be decommissioned in the coming weeks and months.

Earlier Monday Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) and firefighting personnel resumed shooting water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in an effort to cool down reactors and overheating spent fuel pools.

External cooling efforts began at the plant’s No. 4 reactor on Sunday, and the SDF and firefighting personnel have dumped and sprayed some 3,700 tons of water on the stricken No. 3 reactor since Thursday.

[Return to headlines]

The Other Global Toxic Cloud: China’s Pollution

As San Franciscans load up on potassium iodide pills against drifting fallout from the Japanese nuclear reactor catastrophe — unnecessarily, health authorities insist — the April issue of Discover calls attention to a more serious menace: mercury and other pollutants from Chinese manufacturing and power generation:

Prevailing winds across the Pacific are pushing thousands of tons of other contaminants—including mercury, sulfates, ozone, black carbon, and desert dust—over the ocean each year. Some of this atmospheric junk settles into the cold waters of the North Pacific, but much of it eventually merges with the global air pollution pool that circumnavigates the planet.

These contaminants are implicated in a long list of health problems, including neurodegenerative disease, cancer, emphysema, and perhaps even pandemics like avian flu. And when wind and weather conditions are right, they reach North America within days. Dust, ozone, and carbon can accumulate in valleys and basins, and mercury can be pulled to earth through atmospheric sinks that deposit it across large swaths of land.

Citing the University of Washington atmospheric scientist Dan Jaffe and the Woodrow Wilson Center program director Jennifer Turner, the author, David Kirby, points to two worrying trends. First, while China is taking positive environmental steps, the momentum of its growth threatens to swamp them:

350 million people, equivalent to the entire U.S. population, will be moving to its cities over the next 10 years. China now emits more mercury than the United States, India, and Europe combined. “What’s different about China is the scale and speed of pollution and environmental degradation,” Turner says. “It’s like nothing the world has ever seen.”

Second, America contributes to and receives a global pool of mercury and other pollutants:

The EPA has estimated that just one-quarter of U.S. mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants are deposited within the contiguous U.S. The remainder enters the global cycle. Conversely, current estimates are that less than half of all mercury deposition within the United States comes from American sources.

We naturally focus on catastrophic risks like nuclear meltdowns. But we should also be aware that chronic ones, not the fault of a single nation but the consequences of the global economy, may in the long run be even more serious.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]


Bossi: Left Wing’s ‘Yes’ To Libya Intervention is for Votes

(AGI) Como- Left wing parties agree with military action in Libya because they want to gain immigrants’ votes, says Umberto Bossi. “For the left to be happy it’s sufficient that a bunch of immigrants are brought here and that they’re given the power to vote: it’s their only way to win the elections,” stated the leader of right wing Lega Nord (Northern League).

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

Spain: Caritas Reports Inspections in Centres

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 17 — The Spanish Caritas will report the continuous checks carried out by the police on foreign citizens in the organisation’s soup kitchens and assistance centres to the Ombudsman, sources in the association told the media. Caritas helps around 400,000 immigrants per year. The association denounces that “at least one inspection is carried out every month” in the diocesan centres in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Segorbe-Castellon, on the Mediterranean coast and Mondoñedo-Ferrol, on the Atlantic coast. According to Caritas, this practice “is not justified by a situation of real danger or a need to repress crime”. It risks evoking “feelings of racism” towards the migrants. The organisation that assists people in need has drafted a kind of white paper with information on these ‘raids’, which will be presented in the coming hours to the Ombudsman. The Interior Ministry on the other hand has denied having ordered indiscriminate identification operations among foreigners, adding that the police has in some cases visited the centres managed by Caritas to ask the immigrants for their papers. To confirm this, a police spokesperson, quoted today by El Pais, underlined that identification operations among illegal foreign citizens decreased by 20% in the past year and that there were 13% fewer expulsions in 2010, compared with the previous year. These figures, the spokesperson added, are “incompatible with these alleged indiscriminate checks”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Will the Crisis Create a New Japan?

Economists have long argued that Japan needs to welcome more workers to remain economically competitive. The imperative to rebuild housing and infrastructure on a massive scale could force this immigration challenge into the open.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Italy Hails Crucifix Ruling

‘Historic’, Vatican says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 18 — Italy on Friday celebrated a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which overturned an earlier ban the court imposed on crucifixes in Italian classrooms.

“I welcome with great satisfaction the decision taken by the ECHR’s Grand Chamber to acquit Italy of the charge of violating freedom of thought and religion,” said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who campaigned strongly during Italy’s two-year appeal. “Today the popular sentiment of Europe won, because the decision interprets the voice of citizens in defence of their values and identity”.

Frattini’s sentiments were echoed by Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini, who called the ruling “a great victory for the defence of an essential symbol of our country’s history and cultural identity.

“The crucifix encapsulates the values of Christianity, the principles underlying European culture and Western civilisation.

“It is a symbol that does not divide but unites and its presence…does not represent a threat to the secular nature of the State or religious freedom”.

Gelmini joined Frattini in calling on Europe to enshrine Christian values in its framework, saying “finally, thanks to this sentence, Europe and its institutions have grown closer to the ideas and deepest sensibility of its citizens”. In its 15-to-two ruling, the ECHR concluded that the presence of crucifixes in classrooms “cannot be regarded as indoctrination on the part of the state”.

The cross “is an essentially passive symbol” and its influence on schoolchildren cannot be compared to that of teachers, the ECHR said in overturning its 2009 verdict in favour of a Finnish-born mother-of-two living near Padua, Sonia Lautsi.

“The effects of the great visibility that the presence of the crucifix attributes to Christianity in schools,” the court ruled, is counterbalanced by the fact that religious education is not compulsory in Italian schools.


The Vatican hailed the ruling as “historic”.

Voicing “satisfaction” at the verdict, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement the decision was “strongly binding”.

“It makes history,” he said.

“It recognises that the culture of human rights must not be placed in contradiction with the religious foundations of European civilisation”.

The Vatican is also happy that the principle of subsidiarity, whereby European decisions are made at the lowest possible level, had been upheld, according to Father Lombardi.

“It is right to ensure every country has a ‘margin of appreciation’ both regarding the religious symbols in its cultural history and national identity and regarding their display, as has also been recognised by recent sentences of supreme courts in other European countries”.

Msgr Aldo Giordano, the Vatican’s representative at the Council of Europe, the human rights body which set up the ECHR, said the ruling was “a page of hope for the whole of Europe”. “I believe the Court showed great courage and wisdom…in interpreting the feelings of people in Europe who are worried about their traditions, values and identity”.

Italian bishops news agency SIR said the verdict “brings order to an area, that of rights and identities, fundamental for the development of Europe, in which a nihilist drift appeared to have become dominant”.

The Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches (FCEI), on the other hand, voiced disappointment at “a decision that does not fully realise a secular state” as enshrined in article 3 of the Italian Constitution.

FCEI argued that crosses are not an expression of Italy’s common heritage but “baggage from a society dominated by Catholic culture”.

“Crucifixes will continue to be present in schoolrooms and courtrooms, but for the minorities who won religious and civil rights 150 years ago, such as the Evangelical Churches, these crosses do not convey a common sense of belonging”.


Sonia Lauti’s husband, Massimo Albertin, said he was “very disappointed, because the first sentence in this case was outstandingly clear”.

But he said he wanted to read the Grand Chambre’s ruling to understand it fully.

“It appears to be linked to the ‘margin of appreciation’ whereby the Court may decide to leave more discretion to individual states in some areas”. “But here there are rights to be respected. I don’t understand why (rights) in Italy can be different from those in France or other European Union countries”.

Luigi Tosti, a Jewish ex-judge recently sacked for refusing to hear trials with crosses in the room, called the verdict “grotesque”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Franklin Graham: World’s Christians in Grave Danger

The Muslim Brotherhood, with the complicity of the Obama administration, has infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels and is influencing American policy that leaves the world’s Christians in grave danger, warns internationally known evangelist Franklin Graham

“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country,” Graham tells Newsmax. “We have these people advising our military and State Department. We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries.

“It’s like a farmer asking a fox, ‘How do I protect my hen house?’“

That same Muslim Brotherhood is fomenting much of the rebellion and the deteriorating social order roiling the Middle East, forcing millions of Christians to flee for their lives, says Graham, son of beloved evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, and founder of The Samaritan’s Purse international charity.

“Under [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarek and [Jordan’s] King Hussein and other moderate leaders, Christians had been protected,” Graham says. 11 million Christians live in Egypt and I ear for them, because if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power, you’re going to see a great exodus of Christians. Same thing in Tunisia and Lebanon. I fear for the church because the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be a very terrible thing.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]