Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110519

Financial Crisis
»Dominique Strauss-Kahn Resigns. Asian Candidates for Succession
»Greece Must Accept Forced Privatisation, Says Minister
»How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis
»Illusion of Obama and Congress Employing 15 Million Unemployed
»Monetary Reform 101
»Netherlands: ‘Too Many Italians on European Bank Board’
»Slovakia: Has the Euro Been Worth it?
»Spain: 30% Managers Justify Corruption, Survey
»Unemployment: Italy’s Youth Population in Total Slump
»Frank Gaffney: Obama’s Muslim Outreach 2.0
»Judge Denies Bail for Accused Taliban Backer
»Nevada Secures Partial Waiver From Federal Health Care Law
»Obama to Announce Aid Plan Worth Billions of USD
»Pulpit Pals: Christians, Jews, Muslims Plan Shared Worship
»Virginia Inmate Wins Legal Jihad, Submits Prison to All Kinds of Sharia
Europe and the EU
»Bunga-Bunga in Budapest
»EU Hails UK Decision to Cut Emissions by 50 Percent
»Europe May Ban Plastic Bags
»Finance Minister Says South Remains a Problem for Italy
»Germany: Insurance Firm Held Sex Party for Sales Reps
»Greek Officials Urge Calm After Racist Attacks
»Italy: Survey Shows Rise in Divorces and Separations
»Italy: Parmalat Board Spurns Terms of French Rival’s Takover Bid
»Italy: Mayoral Candidate Pisapia is Mad to Want Gypsy City: Bossi
»Plans Unveiled for Einstein Observatory to Study Gravity Ripples From Black Holes
»Sardinia’s Ferry Price Crisis
»Sarkozy Favored Slightly in Next Year’s Presidential Bid
»Sarkozy Calls for Courage & Dignity Regarding Strauss-Kahn
»Spain’s Icelandic Revolt
»Strauss-Kahn Affair: Chronicle of a Disgrace Foretold
»Strauss-Kahn: Asked to Have in Exchange of Interview
»Sweden: More Malmö Explosions
»Sweden: Friend Sought Gangster’s Help to Hush Up King’s Affairs: Report
»Sweden: Suspended Student Stripper Reports School for Discrimination
»Switzerland: Court Rejects Asylum for Ex-Guantanamo Prisoner
»Tahrir Square in Madrid: Spain’s Lost Generation Finds Its Voice
»Teen Trend Setters: German State Lowers Voting Age to Sixteen
»UK: Boy Unable to Wear Blazer Due to Broken Arm Kicked Out of Class During Ofsted Inspection ‘For Not Wearing Correct Uniform’
»UK: Sexual Grooming of Children Far Worse Than Thought, Says Minister
»Vlaams Belang MP Questions Belgian Government on Palestinian Reconciliation in Light of Hamas Statements on Jews and Bin Laden
»Von Trier ‘Persona Non Grata’ At Cannes After Nazi Comments
»Serbia: Partition of Kosovo Realistic Solution, Vice-Premier Says
North Africa
»Algeria: City Halts to Protest Against Kidnapping
»Algeria: Amnesty for Islamic Fundamentalists Soon
»Algeria: Sitev Opens: Country Presents Attractions
»Al-Qaeda-Army Shootout in Tunisia Causes 7 Dead & 2 Injured
»EU Gears Up for Post-Gaddafi Role in Libya
»EU Warns Against Bluefin Tuna Fishing in Libya Waters
»Libya: Tunisia Denies Presence of Gaddafi Relatives
»Tunisia: Violence: Security Forces, Situation Improving
Israel and the Palestinians
»92-Year-Old Arab Gloats Over 1929 Rape-Massacre, Wants Encore
»Israel Expects Obama to Take Back ‘1967 Lines’ Demand
Middle East
»Homs Police Chief Ambushed and Killed
»Jewish Woman Executed in Iran
»Purported Bin Laden Tape Urges Cooperation With ‘Arab Spring’
»Russia Will Not Support U. N. Condemnation of Syria
»Syrian Christians Under Threat
»Turkey Refuses to Expel Russia, China From Defense Competition
South Asia
»A New Test for Taliban and Al-Qaeda Ties
»India’s Most Wanted Terrorist Found Living in Home City… With His Mother
»Indonesia: Terror Fight ‘Shifting to University Campuses’
»Indonesia: Cirebon: Muslim Extremists Disrupt Christian Services as Police Looks on
»Inquest: Rogue Afghan Policeman Who Gunned Down Five British Soldiers Could ‘Barely Walk Straight’ After Smoking Cannabis’
»More Than 1,700 Taliban Give Up Their Arms
»Pakistani Christians “Number One Target “ After the Death of Bin Laden
»Satellite Images Reveal Alarming Speed Pakistan is Rushing to Finish Weapons-Grade Nuclear Reactor
»Taliban Storm Building Firm Kill 35 Workers in East Afghanistan
Far East
»Japan: Ashton Was Wrong to Suggest Lifting China Arms Ban
»Watermelons Explode in China as Farmers Apply Too Many Growth Chemicals to Their Crops
Latin America
»Iran Building Rocket Bases in Venezuela
»Boat Carrying 300 Immigrant Sighted Off Lampedusa
»Boat Overloaded With Migrants Rescued at Lampedusa
»Frattini: EU’s Effort Weak and Ineffective
»Migrants: 208 Landed at Lampedusa, 23 Women & 3 Children
»UK Ethnic Population Has Risen 40 Per Cent in the Last Eight Years
»A Water Ocean on Titan?
»Dark Energy is Real, New Evidence Indicates
»Lousy With Success: Genetics Reveal Fossil Lice as Evolutionary Champions
»Regret That Tattoo? You’re in Good Company
»The Myth of Evil Aliens: Why Stephen Hawking is Wrong About the Danger of Extraterrestrial Intelligences
»Where Should NASA Land Its Next Mars Rover?
»World’s Smallest 3-D Printer is a Factory in the Home

Financial Crisis

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Resigns. Asian Candidates for Succession

While waiting for new candidates, the Fund is run by John Lipsky, who previously had many ties with JP Morgan. Strauss-Kahn will remain in prison, under suicide watch. Among the candidates for the presidency of the IMF there are people from Turkey, Singapore, India, China.

New York (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) has resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), several days after being convicted of attempted rape and violence against a maid in a hotel in New York .

In a letter to the international organization he says he wanted to leave the post, that “I have served with honour and devotion” to devote “all my energy to proving my innocence”. 62 year old DSK is in prison, under 24 hour watch to prevent an attempt at suicide, and has been denied bail. But today his lawyers will present another bail plea. Meanwhile, the 32 year-old woman who accused him has gone into hiding and speaks only through her lawyer, being “scared and incredulous,” after discovering the identity of his assailant.

The troubled sex life of DSK was well known and in the past he has had other similar problems. Many, especially in France, wonder however, if this latest scandal is not also an attempt to prevent Strauss-Kahn running as a candidate for the French presidency or continue his work in the IMF, which has become a very powerful body under his leadership. Yesterday Tim Geithner, U.S. Treasury Secretary said that DSK could not continue to lead the IMF.

While waiting for new candidates, DSK’s deputy, John Lipsky, will take its place at the head of the IMF. U.S born Lipski was previously vice president of JP Morgan Investment Bank and JP Morgan chief economist.

Traditionally, the head of IMF should be a European, but many people are asking that new candidates not be chosen on the basis of nationality, rather on the basis of personal qualities. Last month, representatives of the Group of 24, which includes Brazil, China and Mexico, called for “an open, transparent and merit-based” choice for the heads of the IMF (and World Bank, usually attributed to an American) .

DSK’s resignation opens the possibility of choosing a Brazilian, or Chinese, or Indian candidate. The names currently being rumoured include Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Finance Minister, Kemal Dervis, a former Turkish economy minister, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Indian, who has worked for the IMF, Min Zhu, special adviser to the IMF and former deputy governor of the Bank of China. Under the guidance of DSK China has become the third most important partner in the organization, which includes 187 members.

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

Greece Must Accept Forced Privatisation, Says Minister

Greece must give up control of its privatisation programme and allow an independent organisation to take over the sale of state assets, finance minister Jan Kees de Jager told a meeting of his European colleagues in Brussels on Monday evening.

Greek prime minister George Papandreou promised in March to sell €50bn in state assets in return for loan guarantees from the IMF and the EU to prop up its ailing economy. However, Internal dissension in the Greek government and resistance from the trade unions have stopped any progress.

De Jager says he is fed up with the lack of action and that Greek assets should be seized as collatoral for the loan and sold by an independent EU organisation, reports news agency ANP.

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

How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis

Food is becoming more expensive around the world. In fact, world food prices rose to near a record high this April as grain costs continued to increase. The cost of living in the U.S. has been rising at its fastest pace since December 2009, and Chinese consumer prices have been going up at their fastest rate since 2008.

One reason for the rise in food prices is Wall Street greed. In 1991, bankers at Goldman Sachs came up with a new kind of investment product, a derivative that tracked 24 raw materials, including food products, as part of a single mathematical formula they called the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI).

The problem came in 1999, when the Commodities Futures Trading Commission deregulated futures markets, and bankers could take as large a position in grains as they liked — something which had been forbidden to all but those actually involved in food production since the Great Depression.

According to Foreign Policy:

“The structure of the GSCI paid no heed to the centuries-old buy-sell/sell-buy patterns … This imbalance undermined the innate structure of the commodities markets, requiring bankers to buy and keep buying — no matter what the price …

Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures. The result: Imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat, as speculators (traditionally one-fifth of the market) now outnumber bona-fide hedgers four-to-one.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Illusion of Obama and Congress Employing 15 Million Unemployed

Who creates the bigger illusion, David Copperfield in Las Vegas or Barack Obama and his cronies in Congress? Answer: Obama and Congress—hands down take the trophy as the biggest illusionists in America.

Each day, you hear the pundits talk about the economic recovery as if it’s happening all across America. “Another 100,000 Americans found jobs in April,” said Diane Sawyer. Reality check: we are not enjoying an economic recovery. It isn’t and it mostly likely will not manifest during Obama’s first and, if the American people show utmost stupidity, his second term.

We’re talking 15 million unemployed and another seven million underemployed according to Roy Beck. All the while, Congress pumps a whopping 225,000 green card holders into our country every 30 days. If you only add 100,000 jobs per month, but you pump another 225,000 workers into the country every 30 days, tell me how we will ever reach full employment of Americans. Answer: we won’t!

Additionally, Congress and Obama continue to allow China to ship us $700 billion worth of products annually instead of engaging our manufacturing sector. Result: we buy from them but they buy little from us. Ugly result: we owe China $1.3 trillion as debt.

Our Congress and president: dumb and dumber!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Monetary Reform 101

One of the major hurdles to true monetary reform—that is, making United States silver and gold coinage readily available for WE THE PEOPLE’S use as actual currency in day-to-day transactions—is the presence at every level of the federal system of various taxes imposed on exchanges of gold and silver coinage for Federal Reserve Notes, and vice versa. In principle, the States should not be able to do this because of Article I, Section 8, Clause 5, Article I, Section 10, Clause 1, and Article VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution. See, e.g., McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheaton) 316 (1819). The General Government should not impose such taxes, either, because all forms of United States coin and currency should be on a constitutional par (assuming for purposes of argument that Federal Reserve Notes are valid United States currency at all), especially inasmuch as all forms of United States coin and currency have been declared by statute to be equally “legal tender”. See 31 U.S.C. § 5103 and 5112(h). So the model statute set out below should be “noncontroversial”.

Under present conditions, it is also absolutely necessary.

I am posting this material as a public service in the hope that hundreds and even thousands of Americans will propose this model—immediately, if not sooner —to their Representatives and Senators in Congress as a first step in returning this country to a semblance of sound money before the collapse of the Federal Reserve System throws the economy into possibly irremediable chaos.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: ‘Too Many Italians on European Bank Board’

Italian Lorenzo Bini Smaghi should step down from the European central bank board if fellow countryman Mario Draghi is named new president, finance minister Jan Kees de Jager is quoted as saying in the Financieele Dagblad.

His place should be taken by a French national and the board should eventually be strengthened by a Dutchman, Finn of Austrian otherwise too many representatives from weaker economies countries will be on the board, the paper quotes De Jager as saying.

‘An Italian will have to go because there is already an Italian on the board and he should be replaced by at least a French national,’ De Jager said.

Draghi was unanimously nominated for the job by finance ministers.

The paper says De Jager said last week he is concerned about the imbalance between northern and southern European countries on the board.

Just six EU countries have a triple A rating — Germany, France, Netherlands, Austria, Luxemburg and Finland. But at the moment, only two of the six-man board come from triple A countries.

Current president Jean-Claude Trichet will stand down in October.

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

Slovakia: Has the Euro Been Worth it?

Týžden Bratislava

Adopted just before the financial crisis hit, the single currency is still seen as the recipe for prosperity by most Slovaks. But many economists are beginning to wonder if Bratislava made the right choice.

Martin Hanus — Lukáš Krivošík

Over the past few months Slovak politicians have been confronted by problems that not even the worst-case scenario had envisaged in the lead-in to Slovakia’s entry into the eurozone. The government of Iveta Radicová, although refusing to take part in the loan to Greece, afterwards did have to contribute to the loans to Ireland and Portugal, since Slovakia is a member of the euro bulwark — the eurozone’s various financial stabilisation mechanisms. Slovakia is now helping Ireland out with almost 320 million euros, while our share of the aid to Portugal is not yet clear. We do already know, though, that we will pay 659 million euros in cash into the new euro bulwark, which will take effect from 2013.

Even Finance Minister Ivan Miklos, the man who brought the euro to Slovakia, recently admitted indirectly that, based on what we know today, he would no longer be in any hurry to enter the eurozone. In an interview he stated that he “fully understands the position of the Czech government, which announced that under these circumstances they will not be setting a deadline to adopt the euro.”

Despite everything, Slovaks still believe in the euro as few others in Europe do. According to the February Eurobarometer survey, nearly 70 percent of Slovak citizens think that the euro has dampened down the impact of the economic crisis in our country. In other countries the ratios are reversed, and only about 40 percent of EU citizens believe that the euro was a good currency to have in tough times. Has the euro, which we in Slovakia adopted just as a major crisis was breaking out, really helped us till now?

There is no simple answer to that. An analysis by the National Bank of Slovakia, which looked at the impact of the euro on the competitiveness of our businesses, determined that the effects of the single currency cannot be measured even after a longer period since it is impossible to know how our economy would have developed had we stuck with the crown.

Would Slovakia be better off staying out?

Martin Šuster, head of the research department at the central bank, says that given the fact that we have been using the euro for only two years, it is almost impossible to determine its impact from such a small amount of data. In the economic community, which a few years ago mostly supported the quick adoption of the euro, an argument is already underway on whether the euro has truly been of any help — and if joining the eurozone, in view of the euro bulwark and the states slowly sliding into bankruptcy, will not harm us in the long run.

According to the head analyst at Volksbank, Vladimír Vano, “at the time of the most serious global recession since the Second World War, for us the euro was a gift from heaven. It came literally at five minutes to midnight. Our legislature approved the euro just a few weeks before all hell broke loose on the world’s financial markets in September 2008. Slovaks bought more at Christmas in 2008 than they had at Christmas in 2007, while the Czechs bought less. And that was also thanks to the fact that we had already fixed the exchange rate, while the currencies in surrounding states weakened dramatically…. The euro makes Slovakia a unique combination: a country that lies right in the middle of the eastern European market of more than 90 middle people, and yet one that also offers the stability of a full member of the eurozone, with all the benefits related to that.”

The euro, adds the economist, was the sole logical outcome of Slovakia’s economic integration. “About 85 percent of our exports go to the EU and more than half to countries in the eurozone.”

Perhaps Slovakia would be better off staying out of the euro financial stability mechanisms? To the contrary, says Vano, who thinks today’s situation is good for Slovakia. “A country like Slovakia benefits from the euro bulwark, because its obligations are backed up by bigger and stronger members of the eurozone with the highest investment ratings.”

The timing of our entry was rather bad

Martin Šuster, the NBS economist mentioned above, also supported the rapid adoption of the euro, which in the long run he sees as a tool to boost Slovakia’s international trade and economic growth. However, what astonished the country was the problems that some other states got themselves into and, in particular, how the notion of solidarity was interpreted. “The principle that each country is responsible for itself was abandoned. This goes completely against the spirit of the treaties that the EU was grounded in.”

Šuster, however, has faith in the euro over the long term. “It shows that our economic cycle is better aligned with the cycle of the eurozone than the countries of southern Europe are. Our commercial trade and links with industrial production in Germany have grown. Moreover, available studies suggest that foreign trade within the eurozone should increase by about 60 percent, and it should do so within 15 years.”

Ján Tóth, director of the Institute for Financial Policy, which falls under the Ministry of Finance, does not at all agree that the euro at this time was a gift from heaven for Slovakia.

“The timing of our entry was rather bad. However, nobody could have predicted it. It was an unfortunate accident… If you look back at the forecasts for economic development for each country made by the European Commission some years ago, the cumulative decline in production was higher in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Similarly, growth in unemployment was highest in Slovakia.”

“Give me 200 years first and then I’ll tell you”

For the moment, Tóth thinks that the cons outweigh the pros. “It has hurt us more than it would have had we not had the euro, in that the crisis hit our business model — namely, an export-oriented economy based for example on automobile production — across the board, and the exchange rate wasn’t able to react to that, i.e. flexibly.”

Nor does the example of Greece, which may blame its current problems on irresponsible policy, bother Ján Tóth. “Ireland, however, did only good things and grew a lot faster than Germany and France. But the monetary policy was steered more by the needs of France and Germany. The eurozone thus implies that economic reforms may also be risky, according to the risk model, when I’m carrying out good reforms, which sets me apart from other countries — but the monetary policy is not to my advantage.”

Tóth doesn’t like the thinking behind the euro bulwark. According to him, it should not be there to bail out countries like Greece, but rather to rescue banks following possible bankruptcies.

Having the euro became worse for us

If he were in the Czechs’ position, Tóth would be in no hurry. “When the governor of the central bank of the UK (the Bank of England) was asked whether it would be good for the British to adopt the euro, he said, in effect: ‘Give me 200 years first and then I’ll tell you.’“

INESS analyst Juraj Karpiš was among those warning against the euro. His introduction, therefore, catches us by surprise. “When the crisis blew up, I was glad that we had the euro, because I honestly believe that during such turmoil it’s good to have a currency that is being used over a large economic area.”

At the same time, Karpiš adds that had we remained outside the eurozone during the crisis, nothing too awful would have happened. “Just look at the Czech Republic. They suffered no negative consequences from staying outside.” For Karpiša, therefore, assessing the impact of the euro on our economy is not a very exciting topic.

Apparently, it is something else that is significant. “After the leaders of the eurozone decided to set up the euro bulwark, in May 2010, having the euro became worse for us than had we remained with the crown. The nature of the European monetary union had changed. If the Lisbon Treaty had been complied with and the debt of one country had remained the debt of that one country, things would have been all right. Unfortunately, the existence of the euro stabilisation and stability mechanisms has teamed up with fiscal centralisation, which is bad. With this step, our competitiveness and ability to catch up with richer economies was reduced. Because if we are going to contribute to pensions getting paid in Greece and German banks paying off their creditors, it means we’ll have to raise our own taxes. Even now it’s creating serious outlays for us. Whether it will be, in the end, a total disaster or merely just bad depends on what happens next.

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

Spain: 30% Managers Justify Corruption, Survey

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 18 — 30% of Spanish managers justify corruption, like personal gifts or cash payments, against a European average of 19%. This emerged from the report ‘European Fraus Survey’ drafted by Ernst & Young. Only 4 out of 10 Spanish entrepreneurs oppose corruption, against 51% of their European colleagues. The same percentage, 4 out of 10, of employees working for Spanish firms say that corruption and kickbacks are spreading in business. According to 42%, this is the consequence of the difficult economic situation in Spain. 81% of interviewed people expect to see difficulties in the activities of many companies in the coming 12 months, though the situation has improved somewhat compared with the 2009 report, when 85% expected problems. According to the survey, a “surprising” 90% of Spanish managers believe that they would use “the shortest road” to reach the company’s targets, 40 points higher than the European average.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Unemployment: Italy’s Youth Population in Total Slump

Young Italians are “threatened with extinction”, writes Corriere della Sera, quoting the alarm sounded by Giuseppe Roma — director of Censis, the Italian institute for socio-economic research — during a hearing before the lower house of parliament. Compared to a decade ago, the 15 to 34 age group is 2 million fewer, the result of falling birth rates and growing emigration due to lack of professional opportunities. “A rent in the fabric of the labour market, where they are becoming a rarity”, comments the Milanese daily, noting that this does not translate into an increased demand for young workers.

On the contrary, underlines La Stampa, young Italian “Neets” (i.e. Not in Education, Employment or Training) have reached a disturbing 11.2 per cent, compared to an European average of 3.4. But a barren occupational landscape is not a sufficient explanation: in Spain, where youth unemployment is over 40 per cent, only 0.5 per cent gave up looking for work. In Italy, however, “[m]any young people have accepted inactivity as a possible way of life, and the social security net provided by families does not help them overcome their apathy”. Holding a degree makes finding a job even harder, so it’s not surprising that only 20.7 per cent of Italians complete university studies (EU average is 33). In this context, the dwindling of Italy’s young population could eventually be positive thing for employment: “By 2020, 8 million elders will exit labour market, and there are hardly enough youngsters to substitute them”.

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


Frank Gaffney: Obama’s Muslim Outreach 2.0

Doing Business with the Muslim Brotherhood

President Obama’s latest paean to what he calls “the Muslim world,” delivered at the State Department today, was an exercise in whistling past the graveyard of real and growing dangers and a litany of misleading statements that borders on official malpractice. Its most important upshot is this: The United States is now prepared to do business with the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Mr. Obama did not use those exact words in his Muslim Outreach 2.0 speech, that was surely the practical effect of his effusively depicting the so-called “Arab Spring” as a welcome expression of democratic sentiment throughout the region. By so doing, he studiously ignored the reality on the ground in virtually every country in the Middle East and North Africa now undergoing political turmoil: Islamists associated with or akin to the totalitarian, salafist Muslim Brotherhood are poised to be the principal beneficiaries of any balloting that ultimately occurs in Egypt and Tunisia — and, perhaps in due course in, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and beyond.

Mr. Obama seeks to provide the putative, newly minted “democracies” with tangible evidence of his commitment to their future success. He declared that the United States would give up to a billion dollars in debt relief to Egypt and economic, trade and technical aid to the Egyptians and Tunisians. Other nations stand to get similar treatment if only they replace their present autocrats with new ones — provided the latter are prepared to come to power via elections…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Judge Denies Bail for Accused Taliban Backer

(Reuters) — An accused financier of the Pakistani Taliban was denied bond on Thursday at a Los Angeles court hearing, where a judge determined he was a flight risk.

Irfan Khan, 37, was arrested in California on May 14, the same day authorities in Florida detained his brother Izhar Khan, and the men’s father, Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, who is the Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Miami Mosque.

The three men were indicted in Florida on charges they conspired to provide money and support for the Pakistani Taliban, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

On Thursday at a federal court in Los Angeles, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Abrams ruled Irfan Khan must remain in custody to be returned by the U.S. Marshals Service to Miami to face the indictment.

Prosecutors allege Irfan Khan funneled nearly $3,500 to Pakistan Taliban supporters in 2008 and 2009.

A daughter and a grandson of Hafiz Khan have also been charged along with another individual, but they remain in Pakistan and have not yet been arrested, officials said.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Nevada Secures Partial Waiver From Federal Health Care Law


The Health and Human Services Department announced late Friday that Nevada had secured a statewide waiver from certain implementation requirements of the Obama administration’s health care law, because forcing them through, the department found, “may lead to the destabilization of the individual market.”

The announcement makes Nevada one of only three states to have compliance requirements under the health care bill waived.

Nevada’s Insurance Division had appealed to the feds to reduce the federal requirement that health plans serving people who buy insurance on their own must spend at least 80 percent of the money they collect on medical expenses. Under the national rule, companies that don’t spend that percentage of revenue on medical costs have to cut policyholders rebate checks starting this year.

Nevada asked that requirement be reduced to 72 percent for one year, arguing that top insurance providers would be so strapped to make the payments that they’d exit the state market.


NOTE: How’s the universal part of that Obamacare going, hmm?

[Return to headlines]

Obama to Announce Aid Plan Worth Billions of USD

(ANSAmed) — NEW YORK, MAY 19 — During today’s speech on the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama will announce an aid plan to the tune of billions of dollars for the region, according to government sources. The plan aims to encourage the democratisation of the Arab world, and is based on the blueprint used in Eastern Europe after the Cold War.

The New York Times has announced that an aid package amounting to 2 billion dollars has been earmarked for Egypt.

However, according to government sources, the financial aid plan also includes Tunisia and, more generally, aims to support democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa. Aside from direct aid, further billions of dollars in funding will be provided by Banks in support of multilateral development plans.

Government sources stated, “One of the objectives of this economic plan is to strengthen not only the positive changes underway in Egypt and Tunisia, but also to put forward a positive model which can foster and promote democratic and economic change in other parts of the region”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pulpit Pals: Christians, Jews, Muslims Plan Shared Worship

Religious and human rights activists are asking U.S. churches to invite Jewish and Muslim clergy to their sanctuaries to read from sacred texts next month in an initiative designed to counter anti-Muslim bigotry.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Virginia Inmate Wins Legal Jihad, Submits Prison to All Kinds of Sharia

Rashid Qawi Al-Amin succeeded where thousands of Virginia prison inmates before him have failed: He prevailed in a lawsuit against the government.

Al-Amin won a settlement with the state that forces the prison system to supply him, and the Greensville Correctional Center library, with Muslim reading materials, CDs and DVDs. He’ll also receive $2,000.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office decided to settle the seven-year legal battle after a series of court rulings in Al-Amin’s favor. The state admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement but did agree to perform eight different acts to satisfy Al-Amin’s claims.

The case highlights a trend among state and federal prisoners, many of them converted Muslims, fighting for their rights to practice their faith.

In 1989, Al-Amin, then known as Donald Tracey Jones, was convicted in Norfolk Circuit Court of murder and use of a firearm, and sentenced to 52 years in prison. Police said the shooting was drug-related. Jones, a New York native, was in his early 20s at the time. He’s scheduled to be released in 2016.

Not long after entering prison, he changed his name to Rashid Qawi Al-Amin, which in Arabic means “wise, strong and trustworthy.” He says the prison system refused to acknowledge his new name.

Al-Amin became part of a swell of converts to Islam within America’s prisons. Some joined the Nation of Islam while others chose the Sunni or Shia sects. Al-Amin became a Sunni. Corrections officials sometimes refer to the religion as Prislam.

Through the years, Al-Amin has filed no fewer than 10 state and federal lawsuits challenging his conviction and sentence and fighting for his religious rights; he lost them all except this one. He was part of a lawsuit filed by Muslim inmates challenging the Department of Corrections’ grooming policy that prohibits beards. The inmates lost.

Thousands of state and federal prisoners file lawsuits each year, and most are thrown out as frivolous.

Al-Amin filed this religious rights suit in 2004. U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson in Norfolk dismissed it in 2005 on procedural grounds, but the federal appeals court reinstated it. That process alone took three years.

In 2008, Jackson threw the case out again, citing a lack of merit, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent it back to Jackson to hear arguments. The judge offered to appoint a lawyer for Al-Amin, but Al-Amin refused counsel.

Over the next two years, motions were filed back and forth, and another appeal ensued on a minor issue over who exactly should be sued. Late last year, Jackson finally set the case for trial. It was supposed to have begun May 10, but Jackson ordered both sides to try to settle the matter.

The day before trial, he dismissed the suit after receiving the settlement notice.

The settlement calls for the Department of Corrections to spend up to $2,500 on Islamic library materials for the Greensville Correctional Center, where Al-Amin is housed. The department will also hire a Muslim inmate to work in the library. And inmates at Greensville will be allowed to donate religious materials to the library, subject to security review.

Al-Amin was even allowed to submit his own list of Islamic reading materials, movies and CDs.

The department also agreed to allow Al-Amin to use his religious name and to allow inmates to assist in the preparation of religious meals. Finally, the department agreed to pay Al-Amin $2,000 to cover the costs he expended fighting the suit, mostly for filing fees and postage.

Rebecca Kim Glenberg, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia who has represented state prisoners in other legal actions, said it is rare for a prisoner to win a lawsuit or even receive a settlement from the state. She represented Al-Amin and other inmates in the failed suit over the department’s grooming policy…

           — Hat tip: Egghead[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Bunga-Bunga in Budapest

German Insurer Treated Top Agents to Bathhouse Sex Party

A German insurance company has admitted hosting a decadent sex party at a Budapest bathhouse to reward its best agents for their work. Details of the secretive event include color-coded prostitutes and a ban on photos.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Hails UK Decision to Cut Emissions by 50 Percent

The British government has announced plans to halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, winning strong praise from EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Europe May Ban Plastic Bags

With each European using 500 plastic bags per year, and tonnes of plastic littering the Mediterranean, the European Commission may ban them from stores or tax them to combat pollution.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Finance Minister Says South Remains a Problem for Italy

(AGI) Borgo La Bagnaia — Tremonti said the South remains one of Italy’s main problems. Speaking at a meeting organised by the permanent observatory of young publishers, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said the South remains “too far away”. “We are the only dual economy in Europe, but we don’t want to become a divided country” the minister explained.

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

Germany: Insurance Firm Held Sex Party for Sales Reps

A Hamburg insurance company has admitted organising a sex party for its 100 best representatives, where around 20 prostitutes were on hand, complete with colour-coded wrist bands to indicate who could use them.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greek Officials Urge Calm After Racist Attacks

Government officials appealed for calm Friday after three days of attacks by ultranationalist mobs on dark-skinned foreigners in Athens, sparked by the fatal mugging of a Greek man in the capital’s crime-infested center. The public order minister, Christos Papoutsis, said there was a “very high risk of hate crimes” amid rising social tension, and promised future action to address inner-city crime.

Greece is in the throes of a major financial crisis. It is also the main gateway to the European Union for tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Asia and Africa that have transformed the capital’s ethnic makeup by moving into depressed central neighborhoods. The influx has helped fuel a nationalist backlash that reached a climax this week.

Greece’s Pakistani community says more than 100 Asian and African immigrants were attacked Thursday by rampaging youths protesting the mugging, in a march organised by residents of the center that was quickly taken over by ultranationalists. Nobody has been arrested for Tuesday’s killing near the National Archaeological Museum — the biggest showcase of Greece’s rich ancient history. Many nationalists have blamed the killing on immigrants.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Survey Shows Rise in Divorces and Separations

(AGI) Rome — Separations and divorces are rising exponentially in Italy according to an Eurispes survey on families, that indicates that between 1995 and 2008 the numbers rose by 61% and 101%. In 2008, 84,165 couples separated while 54,351 divorced (respectively +3.4% and +7.3% compared to 2007). This trend, added to a fall in marriages and increased numbers of people living together and single-parent families, according to Eurispes indicates a weakening of the traditional family. “One can speak of a change in relations between genders and in lifestyles, but above all there has been a change in customs and the idea o what a family is,” concluded the report .

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

Italy: Parmalat Board Spurns Terms of French Rival’s Takover Bid

Milan, 17 May (AKI) — Parmalat’s board on Tuesday rejected as too low the 2.60 euros per share that its rival, French dairy firm Lactalis, is offering for each share in the Italian dairy giant it doesn’t already own.

The share price offered by Lactalis “does not reflect the value of Parmalat in the context of a change-of-control transaction,” said the board, adding that its members’ vote was unanimous.

Parmalat’s board said it had reached its decision after considering a fairness opinion on the bid provided by US bank Goldman Sachs.

Lactalis’ offer price of 2.6 euros is also lower than the 2.80 euros per share it paid in March to acquire a 15.3 stake jointly owned by three funds in Parmalat taking its share to 29 percent.

Lactalis is aiming to acquire at least 55 percent of Parmalat. After getting approval from Italy’s market regulator for its offer last Friday, it said it plans for this to run from 23 May until 8 July.

Shareholders are expected to ignore the board’s decision and sell because an alternative has failed to materialise despite a protectionist backlash in Italy sparked by the French’s company’s stakebuilding in Parmalat.

Italian government-backed efforts to block the Lactalis bid unravelled after a group of bankers and industrialists failed to recruit enough investors to build a big enough stake to prevent Lactalis from taking control.

Anti-trust regulators in Italy and Europe must also approve Lactalis’ offer, which is being probed by Italian magistrates.

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

Italy: Mayoral Candidate Pisapia is Mad to Want Gypsy City: Bossi

(AGI) Rome — Lega Leader Umberto Bossi says “the Milanese will not hand their city over to Leftist extremists.” Mr Bossi went on to say that “the Lega will do everything in its power. We will not leave the city in the hands of a madman, Pisapia, who wants to fill it with illegal immigrants and mosques and turn it into a gypsy city. We will not abandon Milan to this sort of fate. There needs to be a project for change as well as reforms.” .

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

Plans Unveiled for Einstein Observatory to Study Gravity Ripples From Black Holes

Scientists in Europe will unveil plans today for an ambitious new observatory to seek out gravitational waves — tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time — and potentially uncover secrets of the earliest moments of the universe.

After three years of study, designs for the proposed Einstein Telescope (ET) will be presented at the European Gravitational Observatory site in Pisa, Italy during their May 19 meeting. The multi-year design study involved more than 200 scientists in Europe and around the world, and the advanced observatory is pegged as a next-generation gravitational wave detector that will be 100 times more sensitive than existing instruments.

During today’s unveiling, project scientists will outline the Einstein Telescope’s scientific goals, as well as the detector’s layout and technology, timescale and estimated costs. The current estimated price tag of the observatory is $1.42 billion (slightly less than 1 billion Euros).

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sardinia’s Ferry Price Crisis

Fare hikes range from 90% to 110%. Moby, SNAV, Grandi Navi Veloci and Sardinia Ferries under observation. Ferry companies blame oil prices

MILAN — The antitrust authority is putting ferry fares to and from Sardinia under the microscope. Since last summer, prices have soared by 90% to 100%, and in some cases by as much as 150%. Following a flood of complaints by travellers, consumer associations and the Sardinian and Ligurian regional authorities, Italy’s market watchdog has launched an investigation into the possible existence of a competition-muzzling cartel. The authority’s attention has focused on Moby, SNAV, Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV) and Forship, which trades as Sardinia Ferries, and their parent companies, including Onorato for Moby and Marinvest for GNV and SNAV, the “principal operators active on the routes affected by rises representing at least 75% of ferries by sailings and 60% by passengers”.

MEASURES TAKEN — The chair of Sardinia’s regional authority, Ugo Cappellacci, expressed satisfaction over the investigation, saying that if the companies involved are held responsible by the authority, he will be seeking damages “for bookings lost and for the impact on productive sectors of the economy”. Meanwhile, the regional authority is set to launch its own fleet through its Saremar company, linking northern Sardinia to the mainland at attractive fares during the summer. The measure signed by the antitrust authority chair Antonio Catricalà was notified today in the course of inspections by the financial police’s special market protection unit.

NOT IN SICILY — Although the companies involves operate services on other routes, such as to and from Sicily, the eye-watering price hikes affect only Sardinia, “one of the main holiday destinations in the Mediterranean”, notes the authority’s report. The authority also mentions price rises on services to and from Civitavecchia, Livorno and Genoa to and from Olbia-Golfo Aranci and Porto Torres where, unlike in previous summer seasons, there are no promotional offers. The report points out that also operating on these routes is the Tirrenia company, currently being privatised and which Onorato, Marinvest and Grimaldi are looking to acquire through the Compagnia italiana di navigazione (CIN). It is not just supply and demand at the time of booking that have brought about the rises.

COMPANIES — The ferry companies justify the price spikes by blaming the cost of oil, even though similar rises have not been applied to other routes. However the authority notes that there is no actual price list available to make a comparison. Consumer associations adhering to CASPER, the committee against speculation and for savings (ADOC, CODACONS, citizens’ defence movement and the national consumers’ union), claim that the rises bear no relation to fuel prices and invite travellers to hold onto their ferry tickets for possible legal action to secure compensation.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Sarkozy Favored Slightly in Next Year’s Presidential Bid

(AGI) Paris — The sex scandal surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s is a “plot” according to 57% of people polled in France. The International Monetary Fund director’s troubles have produced an interesting political result as Nicolas Sarkozy’s approval rating has only risen two percentage points.

If next year’s presidential election were held today, Sarkozy would qualify for a second round.

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

Sarkozy Calls for Courage & Dignity Regarding Strauss-Kahn

(AGI) Paris — Referring to the Strauss-Kahn case, Sarkozy told supporters to continue to work with courage, unity and dignity.

French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, advised government MPs to maintain a “superior” attitude in relation to the scandal involving the French director of the International Monetary Fund.

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

Spain’s Icelandic Revolt

El País Madrid

After passively submitting to the crisis, young Spaniards have finally taken to the street. Breaking out on the eve of municipal elections, the protests of recent days have been inspired by those in Iceland that led to the fall of the government in Reykjavik

Oscar Gutiérrez.

One morning in October 2008, Torfason Hördur turned up at what Icelanders call the “Althing”, the Icelandic parliament in the capital city, Reykjavik. By then, the country’s biggest bank, the Kaupthing, had already gone into receivership and the Icelandic financial system itself was in danger of going under. Torfason, with his guitar, grabbed a microphone and invited people to talk about their dissatisfaction with the freefall of their country and to speak their minds.

The following Saturday Torfason’s initiative brought dozens of people back to the same spot. Those Saturdays in the autumn of 2008, rallying to the People’s Voices movement, led to the proclamation to dissolve Parliament on January 23, 2009, and to hold elections. Now the murmur of the Icelanders has reached the throats of the thousands of demonstrators that gathered in several cities around Spain on 15 May: “Spain arise, another Iceland”, “Our model — Iceland” were some of the yells from the crowds.

The Icelanders didn’t leave it at this. They shook the foundations of the government, went after the bankers who led them into bankruptcy and said ‘No’ in a referendum on repaying debts of some four billion euros to the UK and the Netherlands. Better still: they formed an assembly of 25 citizens elected to carry out constitutional reform. It was an entirely silent revolution that, while the media was focused overwhelmingly on the Arab uprisings, a web of social networks beyond the control of a state rescued from oblivion.

A movement spawned by the internet

But those voices calling for real democracy are not just being raised in Iceland, a country of about 320,000 inhabitants. Here in Spain, the umbrella organisation for various Spanish movements — Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) — already lists among its proposals some 40 points ranging from controlling parliamentary absenteeism to reducing military spending through to abolishing the so-called Sinde law (a law restricting on-line infringements of copyright).

To this federation some 500 organisations from all sectors have rallied. But not one single political party. Not one union, either. The demonstrations have broadened spontaneously, as was the case for those who rallied under the umbrellas of the anti-globalisation or “alter- globalisation” movements, and have evolved, one decade after the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on a more modest stage than the one demonstrators faced in the past at the World Economic Forum of the global elite in Davos, Switzerland.

All this is happening at astonishing speed via the Internet, which has amplified the echo of discontent and opened the lanes of cyberactivism to groups such as Anonymous, notable for intervening against companies like PayPal and Visa during the advocacy campaign for Wikileaks chief Julian Assange. Yet it was also there at the beginning of the revolts in the Arab world, to help people get round the censorship of the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships.

When we grow up, we want to be Icelanders

Revolts that have grown and matured while French, Italian, English and Greek youth have been surging into the streets to oppose plans for the social welfare cuts that have been Europe’s response to the sharp economic downturn. Spain was waiting for its moment.

The first to get off to a start was Nolesvotes (Don’t vote them in), an initiative calling on the electorate not to vote for Spain’s mainstream parties, accusing them of taking advantage of electoral law to perpetuate, in Parliament, “alarming levels of corruption in Spain.” There followed calls to parties from web movements such as Avaaz and Actuable to strike from their electoral lists all politicians indicted or convicted of corruption. And the nearly 2,000 young people who supported the Juventud sin Futuro (Youth Without a Future) marches of April 7 have carried on from that first modest attempt, which by May 15 had grown into the popular outcry that exploded in several Spanish cities.

“When we grow up, we want to be Icelanders!” cried one of the leaders of the organisation during the march on Sunday May 15 before a column of young — and not so young — parents and children, students and workers, the jobless and pensioners. Many Saturdays in Iceland were needed before citizens won the changes they had demanded. Spain’s first Sunday has taken place, and was followed by a Tuesday [May 17]- but there’s still a long way to go.

Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer

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

Strauss-Kahn Affair: Chronicle of a Disgrace Foretold

Mediapart Paris

The sudden fall from grace of Dominique Strauss-Kahn has raised two big questions in France. What now for the left that had pinned all its hope on the IMF chief to beat Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential elections? And why have the media been silent for years as to his troubled relations with women? Excerpts.

François Bonnet

The DSK affair concerns only the private individual Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This could be no more than a seedy news item: a prominent person accused of sexual assault, attempted rape and kidnapping; a 62-year-old man accused of assaulting a young woman, 32 years old, in a luxury hotel suite and hauled before a criminal court in New York today for his actions.

The paralysis that seems to have gripped a France confronted with images of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in court in New York, lined up between petty criminals and drug traffickers, must also serve as a harsh reminder of reality.

Yes, one of the most influential, most powerful, most popular men in the world must answer for his conduct as an ordinary citizen. This is a good news story, even if our weary country has become accustomed to considering impunity — sometimes falsely — to be a privilege due to the mighty.

Yes, it can be interpreted as “a nightmare” (Pierre Moscovici), “a cruelty” (Elisabeth Guigou), “a Greek tragedy degraded into an American television series” (François Bayrou). But the symbolic violence of these images of a handcuffed and stripped DSK echoes the all too real physical violence that is attempted rape. And the complaint brought by the prosecutor suggests, in its brutal phrasing, what that violence might have been. Yes, there is a defendant who is presumed innocent, and no one doubts the right to that presumption. But yes, there is also a woman who is presumed to be a victim, and no one can overlook her, either.

The Socialist Party, whose leaders are meeting this Tuesday for a special session, has already committed two serious errors of judgement regarding the scope and consequences of this case.

1 . The first error comes from the entourage closest to Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It consists of a blind defence of the accused, without any distancing, which only risks amplifying the malaise. Relativising the indictment, feeding the conspiracy scenarios, denying outright or abruptly declaring “numerous inconsistencies in the record” in implying that the case is already falling apart is certainly not the best strategy for showing support for the person of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

For this brutal denial, fuelled too by a peculiar picture being drawn for us once again of a Dominique Strauss-Kahn who is “seductive”, “a free-thinker”, “a lover of women” risks provoking some awful doubts about the years before today. The head of the IMF now stands accused of being a “sexual predator”, in the vocabulary of crime. Till now those close to him were saying “seducer.” Was that a euphemism to mask a wholly different reality? The question is devastating, but unfortunately it will not stop being asked.

It already is being asked. On Sunday night, Tristane Banon’s mother revealed that she had discouraged her daughter, a journalist turned author, from filing charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn for an attempted rape in 2002. The mother, Anne Mansouret, a regional socialist official and councillor, and friend of the Strauss-Kahn family, said today that she regrets her attitude. Regarding DSK, she adds: “He has a real problem — an addiction to sex, like others have to alcohol, drugs or gambling.”

Some resent the sudden resurgence of this story, (here, Bernard-Henri Levy, for example). But that is to forget that the statute of limitations has been set at ten years for such deeds precisely because of the difficulties victims have in demanding redress in such cases.

There are also questions the press will have to answer about possible breaches of its duty to inform, about its silences or — again — about the euphemisms it used to portray a man in the public eye. That respect for privacy must be fiercely defended is obvious, for it protects the freedom of us all. But this respect ends where the violation of the law begins: the legitimate taboo against invasion of privacy does not cover crimes or misdemeanors. For years, however, many journalists have described the life of Dominique Strauss-Kahn with prudent gaps. Have they failed in what is one of their obligations, the duty to warn?

Journalist Christophe Deloire, author of Sexus Politicus, thinks so and explains why, here in a forum entitled “The Strange Omerta (code of silence) in the DSK Affair.” In 2008, passing on the warning made by Jean Quatremer in Libération, Mediapart posed the political question that lies squarely at the crossroads of private passions and public virtue: was it not taking an unheard-of political risk to promote, in a world of Anglo-Saxon culture, an official known for this “sex addiction” as described by the mother of Tristane Banon?

2 . The second error is the directly political one that comes down from the leadership of the Socialist Party. “The party is neither weakened nor decapitated,” is how the party’s No. 2, Harlem Désir, sums it up against all the evidence.

One can without much difficulty grasp that a lock-jawed leftwing party will cling on to some automation of thought when a huge chasm opens up beneath its feet. But again, the strategy to deny the onrush of a new reality guarantees defeat.

This line could be tenable if the first political impact of the Strauss-Kahn affair was not the demolishing of the Potemkin villages carefully erected by the leadership of the PS following its congress in Reims in 2008. Three years later, it all appears to have been a bubble inflated by pollsters and enthusiastic editorialists rallying around the IMF chief and presenting the candidacy of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as key to the party’s success in 2012. Martine Aubry can praise the work done over the last three years: a party in order, at peace, and a programme and procedure for choosing the candidate. But we are actually inside a skilfully constructed optical illusion, as quite another movie was planned — one that would take DSK to the Elysée.

The Strauss-Kahn affair is the final warning for a PS that has failed till now to meet the challenge of Sarkozyism. If they fail to grasp it, the leaders will bear a heavy responsibility for the failure of the left and the decline of France.

Translated from the French by Anton Baer

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

Strauss-Kahn: Asked to Have in Exchange of Interview

(AGI) London — More embarassing information on Dominique Strauss-Kahn. A European journalist revealed to the Times that the director of the International Monetary Fund made an indecent proposal to her, offering to be interviewed in exchange of sexual intercourse. The woman said she was stalked for at least two years.

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

Sweden: More Malmö Explosions

Police in Malmö are trying to connect the dots between a series of late-night explosions Early Monday morning the latest in a series of bombs targeting Malmö nightclubs was set off in front of the Prince Bernhard, a floating nightclub docked near the city’s ferry terminal. The explosion started a fire, but no one was injured and only minor property damage was sustained, reports Swedish news site The Local.

It was the sixth explosion in the Malmö area in less than five months. Exactly one week earlier, also in the middle of the night, a bomb exploded on Lilla Torg Square, a popular shopping and restaurant district in central Malmö. One person, a night porter, suffered minor injuries. Malmö police are now investigating whether the explosions are related. Meanwhile, the hunt continues for a lone gunman who shot and killed a man outside a popular Malmö swimming pool last Wednesday afternoon, in what was described as an execution-style killing.

The 36-year-old male victim had criminal connections, according to police. They are investigating the victim’s background for clues as to why he was killed and by whom. Although more than 70 people have contacted police with information about the killing, and police dogs and helicopters scoured the area near the crime scene, the trail went dead on Sibbarpsvägen Road, where Police believe the gunman may have gotten into a getaway car. The gunman was described by witnesses as a tall, thin, “dark” young man in his early-to-mid twenties. He was dressed completely in black and wore a black cap.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Friend Sought Gangster’s Help to Hush Up King’s Affairs: Report

Anders Lettström, a close friend of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, has been caught on tape asking a reputed gangster to broker a deal to hush up reports of the King’s philandering in a recent tell-all book, according to Sveriges Radio (SR).

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Suspended Student Stripper Reports School for Discrimination

A Swedish student who was trying to boost her finances by stripping and selling sexual favours has reported her adult education college for discrimination after being suspended for her “sick” behaviour. After being forced to find a way of paying her bills, the student started working at a Stockholm strip club and also worked part-time as a prostitute to make ends meet.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Court Rejects Asylum for Ex-Guantanamo Prisoner

A former detainee at the Guantanamo prison has been denied asylum in Switzerland by the Federal Court.

The supreme court announced the ethnic Uighur could not sufficiently justify his request since he has been living in the Pacific island of Palau since his release from the United States detention camp on Cuba.

The man had made an application for asylum in Switzerland in 2008, which was rejected by the Federal Migration Office, and then handed in an appeal.

He argued the health service on Palau could not provide the necessary care to treat his prison trauma.

A member of an ethnic minority in China, the man was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and sent to Guantanamo for five years.

At the request of Washington, Switzerland last year granted asylum to two other Uighurs from Guantanamo.

In a separate development, the Swiss government has asked parliament to extend a ban on the Islamist al-Qaeda terror organisation for a further three years. The ban was imposed after the 9/11 attacks ten years ago.

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

Tahrir Square in Madrid: Spain’s Lost Generation Finds Its Voice

Young people in Madrid have occupied the city’s Puerta del Sol square in protest against high unemployment and the political establishment. They are calling for a boycott of the main parties in weekend elections — and some have begun comparing them to protesters in Egypt earlier this year.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Teen Trend Setters: German State Lowers Voting Age to Sixteen

For the first time in German history, 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to cast ballots in a state election on Sunday. The city-state of Bremen has lowered its voting age — and several other states are preparing to follow suit.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Boy Unable to Wear Blazer Due to Broken Arm Kicked Out of Class During Ofsted Inspection ‘For Not Wearing Correct Uniform’

A school boy who broke his arm was forced to sit on his own all day because he wasn’t wearing his school blazer during an Ofsted inspection.

Robin Button, 12, was told by teachers at Dagenham Park School, Essex, that he would not be allowed to sit in classes for not wearing the full uniform.

His mother, who is considering taking him out of the school, was left flabbergasted by the school’s decision saying he couldn’t wear his jacket because it would not fit over the cast.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Sexual Grooming of Children Far Worse Than Thought, Says Minister

Barnardo’s warns government plan to tackle abuse and trafficking ‘needs to be enforced’

A town centre bus station guarded as security officials search for evidence of child sexual exploitation. The government says the problem is more widespread than previously recognised. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The sexual grooming of children in the UK is a much bigger problem than has previously been recognised, the government has said.

The children’s minister, Tim Loughton, announced that an action plan will be launched to tackle child sexual exploitation, which experts say involves British children as young as 10 being trafficked for sex around the UK.

“This isn’t something that has just appeared, but the extent of it hasn’t been recognised and we are underestimating the problem,” Loughton said on Tuesday. “The cleverer we are about it, the more horrified we are likely to be by what we discover.”

People sometimes struggled to believe that such cruelty could exist in the UK, he said. But he added: “Exploitation is happening here and it is happening now.”

The government has launched an investigation into the extent of the problem and would use its findings to devise a plan to tackle it, which is due for publication in the autumn, he said.

Loughton said he could not give precise details of what it would include, but gathering data and evidence would be a “first major step” to tackling child sexual exploitation and putting it at the heart of policing.

He added: “Sexual exploitation has not been fully understood by the judiciary and justice system.”

The UK’s biggest children’s charity, Barnardo’s, welcomed the move but said the government had to “pick up the pace” as it examines better ways to protect children.

The profile of domestic child grooming and trafficking was raised in January after the jailing of a gang of Asian men in Derby who had been grooming girls as young as 12 for sex. The same month nine men in Rochdale were arrested under suspicion of rape, inciting child prostitution, allowing a premises to be used for prostitution and sexual activity with a child.

The action plan is likely to look at how police rely on evidence from children, who are often threatened with physical or sexual violence if they talk to authorities, to bring the abusers to justice. It is also likely to look at the intimidating and aggressive nature of court cases which can see children who have been abused by a number of men questioned by several barristers.

“What makes this crime doubly difficult to prosecute is that even if children do get over the huge hurdle and want to bring their abuser to justice, they then have to face a judicial process which sometimes treats them as though they were somehow complicit in their abuse,” said Loughton.

The government would not shy away from looking at whether certain ethnic groups in specific areas were more likely to be involved in sexual exploitation, he said. “If there has been a reluctance to [look at the problem] because of a fear of opening a can of worms, then we have to expose that. I don’t care who the perpetrators are, they have to be exposed and brought to justice.”…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Vlaams Belang MP Questions Belgian Government on Palestinian Reconciliation in Light of Hamas Statements on Jews and Bin Laden

Special thanks to Mr.Veys for sending the minutes of a period in the Belgian parliament where he, as a VB representative in parliament questioned the government over its understanding of Hamas, in light of what it’s representatives have stated in public about Jews in general and of Osama Bin-Laden. The dialogue coming from the Socialists is telling, they are more than willing to look between their fingers and give the Hamas, not matter what they say, while juxtaposing the two sides. KGS

NOTE: Google translation, so there will be some grammatical errors.


           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Von Trier ‘Persona Non Grata’ At Cannes After Nazi Comments

(AGI) Cannes — The organisers of the Cannes festival declare Lars Von Trier “persona non grata” for his comments on Nazism.

On Wednesday at the press conference to present his film, Melancholia, the Danish director said: “For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew. But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German.” .

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


Serbia: Partition of Kosovo Realistic Solution, Vice-Premier Says

Belgrade, 18 May (AKI) — The partition of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia three years ago, is the only logical solution, Serbian deputy prime minister Ivica Dacic said on Wednesday.

“That’s a reality which even the authorities in Pristina (Kosovo capital) will have to recognize,” Dacic told Belgrade television B92.

Dacic’s Socialist Party of Serbia is a member of the governing pro-European coalition headed by president Boris Tadic, but he stirred a controversy as the first high government official to advocate partition of Kosovo.

Kosovo majority Albanians declared independence in February 2008, but Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo and is blocking its access to international institutions. The international community and Kosovo officials oppose the partitioning, saying Kosovo independence and territorial integrity were irrevocable.

Minority Serbs, who mostly inhabit northern parts of Kosovo, leaning on Serbia, don’t recognize Kosovo authorities and Belgrade is running parallel government structures in the area.

Dacic suggested the northern part should be ceded to Serbia in return for recognition of Kosovo as a state. He said the international balance of power was such that Kosovo as a whole was unlikely to return under Serbian rule.

Kosovo independence has been recognized by 75 countries, including the United States and 22 out of 27 members of the European Union. EU sponsored talks between Belgrade and Pristina have been going on in Brussels, but with little tangible results so far.

Serbia’s ally Russia blocked the resolution on Kosovo independence in the United Nations Security Council, but leading western powers continued to support it.

“It is hard to expect that some Serbian politician would recognize Kosovo because the state’s goal is to preserve it,” Dacic said. “But citizens of Serbia know that partitioning of Kosovo is a realistic solution which will have to be recognized by Pristina authorities as well,” Dacic concluded.

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

North Africa

Algeria: City Halts to Protest Against Kidnapping

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MAY 17 — The city of Tizi-Ouzou, in Kabylie, has come to a halt to protest against the kidnapping of an 18-year-old boy. The boy, Mourad Bilek, was seized on Wednesday by fake police agents. AFP reports that all shops and public offices have closed their doors and that hundreds of people have taken to the streets to ask for the boy’s release. Kidnapping is becoming a problem that is hard to solve in Algeria due to the number of cases (almost a hundred in a few years time) and their background, nearly always ransom and no political motives. The ultimatum for the release of Bilek, for whom a ransom has been demanded, expired yesterday. Most hostages were released after payment of a ransom, often thanks to contributions made by fellow townsmen of the victims. But last year in two cases the kidnappers released their hostages under pressure of demands made by friends of the victims.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: Amnesty for Islamic Fundamentalists Soon

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 17 — In an attempt to put an end to a long fight that has taken over 200,000 victims, Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika is about to empty the prisons, allowing several thousand Islamic fundamentalists to walk free, reports Middle East Online, citing a source that is very close to Muslim leaders in Algeria. The number of people who will soon be liberated is around 7000, according to the source. Based on an act of presidential clemency which, however, excluded several leaders, Algerian authorities have already liberated most of the Islamic fundamentalists who were arrested during the long conflict — which lasted for about 40 years — including both fundamentalists and government forces. In an attempt to avoid an uprising from spreading from other Arab nations to their country, the Algerian president made a pre-emptive move, explained the website, securing support from Muslims, which are a very influential force in the country.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: Sitev Opens: Country Presents Attractions

An area covering 8,000 square metres, and 250 exhibitors in 367 stands. And more, a pavilion exclusively dedicated to children and another for non-stop communications. All with a single purpose in mind: publicise Algeria and its touristic potential that is not simply limited to the open space of the Sahara, but includes beaches, thermal resorts and nature.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Al-Qaeda-Army Shootout in Tunisia Causes 7 Dead & 2 Injured

(AGI) Tunis — An alleged Al Qaeda armed group shot on a post jointly held by the Tunisian army and the National Guard. The shootout occurred in Rouhia, 200 kilometers north of Tunis, causing the death of at least 7 servicemen, including a Colonel. The news was released by an officer of the security forces who explained that 3 out of the 9 assailants died in the shooting. According to the report of the source, 9 men riding in a vehicle with a Tunisian license plate and armed with Kalashnikov guns and grenades, shot against the army servicemen and police agents, who shot back, killing 3 members of the commando: an Algerian, a Libyan and a Tunisian.

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

EU Gears Up for Post-Gaddafi Role in Libya

One month after France, Britain and Italy sent military trainers to help the Libyan opposition in its fight against the Gaddafi regime, the EU is about to open its own liaison office in Benghazi to give a more long-term, institutional support to the Transitional National Council.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Warns Against Bluefin Tuna Fishing in Libya Waters

The European Commission has warned against fishing bluefin tuna in Libyan waters or buying it from Libyan-flagged ships, which are likely to be catching the endangered fish illegally.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Libya: Tunisia Denies Presence of Gaddafi Relatives

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 19 — Tunisia’s Interior Minister has denied the presence of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s relatives in the country, according to Al Jazeera’s web site.

The television network cites a Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesperson. Yesterday an Arab newspaper which is published in London, Al Quds al Arabi, as well as Tunisian radio Mosaique, claimed that the wife, daughter and youngest son of the former leader were in Djerba, a holiday resort island which has been the destination of many a Libyan leader seeking refuge.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Violence: Security Forces, Situation Improving

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MAY 13 — The security situation in Tunisia is showing “significant improvement” after the increase in violence and unrest of the last few weeks. This is according to the country’s superior council for internal security, which has held a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, Béji Caid Essebsi, and attended by the Interior Minister, Habib Essid.

In a statement circulated by the TAP agency, Essebsi thanked all senior officials and security forces around the country, who he said were committed “to the fight against acts of violence and destruction and against attempts to spread instability over security”. The Prime Minister also said that there is a fundamental need “to continue the effort” in order to adopt “civil behaviour in respect of the law”. Essebsi also said that numbers in the security forces needed to be increased “with a new intake to ensure the effectiveness of the fight against crime, the protection of citizens, their assets and public and private buildings”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

92-Year-Old Arab Gloats Over 1929 Rape-Massacre, Wants Encore

As the world is subjected to a hail of propaganda from Arabs regarding the 1948 “disaster” inflicted upon them by the creation of the state of Israel, Arab press watchdog MEMRI has released a video that places the Arab claims in perspective. In the video, a 92-year-old Arab woman, originally from Hevron, glowingly recalls on Hamas-Gaza TV how the Arabs of Hevron, including her father, without provocation, massacred the peaceful Jewish neighbors they had lived beside for years in 1929 — almost 20 years before the 1948 War of Independence. Needless to say, there was no State of Israel then, no IDF, no “occupation” etc.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Israel Expects Obama to Take Back ‘1967 Lines’ Demand

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was quick on the draw Thursday in voicing clear displeasure with President Barack Obama’s mideast policy speech.

“Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace,” the response began, curtly. “Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state.”

“That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress.”

“Among other things,” Netanyahu reminded Obama, “those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines.”

“Those commitments also ensure Israel’s well-being as a Jewish state by making clear that Palestinian refugees will settle in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel.”

“Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace.”

“Equally, the Palestinians, and not just the United States, must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and any peace agreement with them must end all claims against Israel.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu will also express his disappointment over the Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace Hamas, a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction, as well as over Mahmoud Abbas’s recently expressed views which grossly distort history and make clear that Abbas seeks a Palestinian state in order to continue the conflict with Israel rather than end it.”

           — Hat tip: Brutally Honest[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Homs Police Chief Ambushed and Killed

(AGI) Damascus — The Lebanese As-Safir newspaper says the chief of police in Homs has been killed in an ambush by four armed men. Homs is the third largest city in Syria, 160 kilometres north of Damascus. The newspaper cites a military source, and says that the assailants managed to escape into Lebanon.

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

Jewish Woman Executed in Iran

Iran has executed an Israeli-born Jewish woman along with her Armenian Christian husband, according to reports.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported that Adiva Mirza Soleyman Kalimia and her husband Varjan Petrosian were hung back on March 14 at Evin Prison. According to the report, three other people, including one woman and two men, were also executed at the same time.

The report noted that the executions were done secretly.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Purported Bin Laden Tape Urges Cooperation With ‘Arab Spring’

Rome, 19 May (AKI) — A purported posthumous audio tape from slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden praises Muslims for the revolutions sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, and urges popular protest movements to work alongside the terror network.

The 12-minute tape was posted by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab to radical Islamic websites on Wednesday, US terrorism tracking group SITE Monitoring reports. Experts have yet to confirm the tape’s authenticity.

The tape on the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ opens with a prayer and claims the speaker is Bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on 2 May in an operation by US military forces in the garrison town of Abbottabad, north of Islamabad.

The tape urges Muslims rising up against autocratic rulers in countries across North Africa and the Middle East to work “in parallel” with Al-Qaeda to fight “Western hegemony”, establish Islamic states and “save populations which are fighting to bring down their tyrants”.

“Islamic nation, I have witnessed many revolutions over the past decades and the way to keep today’s revolutions on the right track and avoid any deviation and tyranny is to push on with genuine Islamic revolutions,” the speaker says.

A date on the tape indicates it was recorded between 3 and 4 April and it is emblazoned with an old picture of Bin Laden.

The message praises the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that in recent months have ousted those countries’ longtime rulers.

“We are monitoring with you this great historic event and we join you with your joy and delight so congratulations on your victories and may God have mercy on your martyrs,” says the message.

“The Jews got terrified because of the coming of the promised day. They fear now that promises will be kept and they see tyrants falling.”

The speaker voices surprise that the ‘Arab Spring’ had come from the west, i.e. the countries of North Africa and warned Muslims not to lose momentum.

“My sons of the Islamic nation: before you lies a rocky road but also a unique and historic opportunity to ensure the rebirth of the Islamic nation from a state of servitude under its rulers, their laws and Western hegemony.”

“It would be a great pity to lose this opportunity that we were awaiting for decades. Destroy idols and bring justice and faith,” the message adds.

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

Russia Will Not Support U. N. Condemnation of Syria

(AGI) Skolkovo — Moscow will not support a United Nations resolution against Syria for its brutal crackdown on protesters, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told journalists at a press conference at Skolkovo, near Moscow.

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

Syrian Christians Under Threat

Syria’s minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar Assad’s autocratic but secular rule is overthrown.

Sunni Muslims form a majority in Syria, but under four decades of rule by Assad’s minority Alawites the country’s varied religious groups have enjoyed the right to practice their faith.

Calls for Muslim prayers ring out alongside church bells in Damascus, where the apostle Paul started his ministry and Christians have worshipped for two millennia.

But for many Syrian Christians, the flight of their brethren from sectarian conflict in neighboring Iraq and recent attacks on Christians in Egypt have highlighted the dangers they fear they will face if Assad succumbs to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkey Refuses to Expel Russia, China From Defense Competition

Turkey’s bid to acquire long-range missile and air defense is triggering hot debates as the NATO member country includes Chinese and Russian options on the list of probable buyers. Western experts insist the Russian and the Chinese systems are not compatible with NATO systems

A US partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin is competing for Turkey’s long-range missile program with its Patriot-related systems. Hürriyet photo.

Chinese and Russian companies eyeing Turkey’s multibillion-dollar program to acquire long-range missile and air defense will not be excluded from the contest despite Western criticism, Turkey’s procurement chief has said.

Western critics have claimed that the selection of either the Chinese or the Russian firm could compromise NATO’s intelligence and security procedures.

“The two systems [Russian and Chinese ones] will stay among our options; there’s no need to exclude them,” Murad Bayar, the head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, Turkey’s procurement agency, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkey’s choice on this large program is expected to be announced late this year or early next year. Bayar said Turkey would probably not issue a short list before its final decision is made.

One of the competing companies in the ongoing contest for Turkey’s national contract is the U.S. partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, with their Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, systems. Russia’s Rosoboronexport is marketing the S300 and S400 while China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp., or CPMIEC, is offering its HQ-9. The Italian-French Eurosam, maker of the SAMP/T Aster 30, is also trying to market its product.

Some Western experts say that since the Russian and the Chinese systems are not compatible with NATO systems, their victory could provide them with access to classified NATO information, and as a result may endanger the alliance’s procedures.

“If, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous,” one Western expert said.

“There are technical ways to prevent the Chinese and the Russians from getting access to NATO information, but this would drastically raise the price,” the expert said. “One explanation is that Turkey itself doesn’t plan to select the Chinese or Russian alternatives, but is still retaining them among the options to put pressure on the Americans and the Europeans to curb their prices.”

Turkish and NATO systems

Turkey’s long-range air and missile defense systems program, T-Loramids, has been designed to counter both enemy aircraft and missiles.

Separately, under a NATO plan approved during a summit meeting in Lisbon in November, the Western alliance will create a collective defense system against potential incoming ballistic missiles from rogue countries. Ankara agreed to the decision only after NATO accepted a Turkish request that Iran or other countries would not be specifically mentioned as potential sources of threat.

NATO now seeks to deploy special X-band radars in Turkish territory for early detection of missiles launched from the region.

Ideally, in the event of such a launch, U.S.-made SM-3 interceptors — based on U.S. Aegis destroyers to be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean and possibly in Romania — would then be fired to hit the incoming missile mid-flight.

Turkey’s national air defense system will be independent and separate from the NATO missile shield. But since both systems are, by nature, anti-ballistic missile schemes and both are supposed to protect Turkish soil, they will have to be integrated in some way.

The United States and some of its Western partners are opposed to the integration of any Russian or Chinese system into the NATO missile shield. “American officials already have said that non-NATO elements would cause serious interoperability problems,” said one Turkish diplomat.

The governments of the competing companies are also involved in a diplomatic campaign to woo Turkey.

According to a release of highly classified U.S. diplomatic correspondences by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has lobbied Turkish counterparts to select the U.S.-built PAC-3.

In a Feb. 16, 2010, cable sent to Washington by then-U.S. Ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey, Gates was quoted as saying “nothing can compete with the PAC-3 when it comes to capabilities.”

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

South Asia

A New Test for Taliban and Al-Qaeda Ties

KABUL — In their missives to the world, the Taliban greeted Osama bin Laden’s death as a call to arms — a killing that would incite “waves of jihad.” Privately, many Taliban commanders are probably breathing a sigh of relief.

The ties that bound al-Qaeda and the Taliban were anchored by their two leaders — bin Laden and Mohammad Omar — but the relationship was never seamless. The two groups co-existed despite rivalries and divergent agendas: the Taliban, a largely Pashtun movement focused on grievances within Afghanistan; al-Qaeda, the cosmopolitan Arab visionaries of terrorism with eyes always to the West.

Bin Laden’s death could free up the Taliban to distance itself from al-Qaeda, as U.S. military officials have argued, and allow the group to pursue negotiations with the United States. At the same time, the Taliban could take inspiration from bin Laden’s killing and double down on a fight that appears closer to a conclusion as U.S. officials argue for a speedier American withdrawal after the al-Qaeda chief’s death.

In public statements since bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by Navy SEALs, the Taliban has showed no sign of a willingness to abandon its al-Qaeda partners. “The Afghans will not forget the sacrifices and struggle of Sheik Osama, this great patron of Islam,” one statement said.

But many have cast doubt on what actual benefit al-Qaeda brought to the Taliban, particularly in recent years. The number of al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan has consistently been estimated at 100 or fewer. There is a larger al-Qaeda presence in Pakistan, but still far fewer than the tens of thousands of Taliban fighters who operate on both sides of the border.

While al-Qaeda and the Taliban have a common enemy in the United States, their differences remain stark. U.S. military officials say the vast majority of Taliban fighters operate a short distance from their homes — and are focused primarily on local grievances, rather than international terrorism.

“The Taliban have a whole different agenda. They’re concerned about what’s going on in their valley or their district or their province,” said Col. Joseph Felter, who was the head of Gen. David H. Petraeus’s counterinsurgency advisory team in Kabul and is now with Stanford University. “With bin Laden, there was a sense of connection to the broader jihadi movement. With him gone, the equilibrium will kind of default back.”

The current generation of young Taliban fighters, many of them boys when the Taliban government fell in late 2001, do not have “a memory of this close relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda that some of the older generation saw,” Felter said. “The current 19-year-old Taliban doesn’t have any real connection to al-Qaeda.”

The scope of al-Qaeda’s support for the Taliban or other local insurgent groups in Afghanistan is difficult to assess. Al-Qaeda has run training camps, provided technical expertise and has had the ability to attract fighters from across the broader Muslim world. But the amount of money al-Qaeda could have funneled to the Taliban — a CIA estimate in 2009 put the annual figure at $106 million — is probably outmatched by other sources such as extortion, kidnapping, opium trafficking, and the timber and gem trades.

“I’m hard-pressed to think that [al-Qaeda] carries much credibility with the Taliban now unless they are able to give the Taliban something that they don’t have, which probably is money, weapons, material or perhaps expertise,” said one U.S. official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “If they’re not doing that, then it’s not clear what they bring.”

Within the Taliban’s leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, there has been an ongoing debate about whether to renounce al-Qaeda, causing significant divides. Detainees in Afghanistan have told interrogators that they resent al-Qaeda for provoking the U.S. invasion that helped to overthrow the Taliban.

“I’m of the opinion that [al-Qaeda] has become more of a burden on [the Taliban] and the other networks,” Matt Sherman, a former adviser to Petraeus, said in an e-mail. “I question how much [al-Qaeda] really brings / brought to the fight, in terms of quality fighters, resources and money.”

A former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Gen. Ziahuddin Butt, told a Pakistani newspaper last week that Omar had once told him that bin Laden had “become a bone in the throat that can neither be swallowed nor thrown out.” Omar claimed that he was unable to break ties with bin Laden, Butt said, because “he is considered a heroic figure by some people within Taliban.”

In the past decade, the relationship between bin Laden and Omar — and al-Qaeda and the Taliban — has been the subject of much speculation but little known fact. During the Taliban’s reign between 1996 and 2001 , the Saudi millionaire funded terrorist training camps, and Omar refused to give him up despite intense international pressure. The two men escaped U.S. bombardments by fleeing to Pakistan.

Both U.S. and Afghan officials said they thought bin Laden and Omar communicated during their years in hiding, most likely through messages passed by intermediaries.

“Our intelligence indicates the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda was between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, not the organizations,” said one U.S. military official in Kabul. “It’s too early to tell whether the groups will disassociate in the wake of bin Laden’s death.”

Afghan critics of the Taliban assert that they are just as ideologically rigid and supportive of international terrorism as al-Qaeda. One former senior Afghan official involved for years in the fight against the Taliban likened bin Laden’s relationship with Omar to that of President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “Breaking Taliban ties with al-Qaeda is really like breaking the British and American ties. Is that possible?” he said.

Near the end of the Taliban’s reign, Abdul Salam Rocketi, a burly Taliban commander, went to lunch at a friend’s house outside of Jalalabad, where he sat down to dine with bin Laden. As Rocketi recalls, their hour-long conversation went poorly, and he left in anger before the others gathered around a small television to watch propaganda videos of Palestinian fighters.

“I told him, ‘The whole world is against you and looking for you; one day you will become a headache for the Afghan people,’ “ Rocketi said. “He told me, ‘I am just here for jihad.’ “

Rocketi, who has renounced his former Taliban connections, held out little hope that his former comrades would give up the fight after bin Laden’s death.

“His killing will not stop fighting in this country,” Rocketi said. “It will go on.”

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

India’s Most Wanted Terrorist Found Living in Home City… With His Mother

Indian officials have been left red-faced after a wanted terrorist they thought was hiding in Pakistan was found living near the Indian city of Mumbai with his mother.

Wazhul Kamar Khan is accused of helping to mastermind the 2003 Mumbai train bombing that killed 11 and injured more than 80 and India put his name on a list of 50 fugitives it believed had found sanctuary in Pakistan.

This list was formally handed to the Pakistan government, but it turns out that 44-year-old Khan was living openly with his family in the Mumbai suburb of Thane — and the local police knew all about it. It’s an error described by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as a ‘monumental lapse’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Terror Fight ‘Shifting to University Campuses’

Jakarta, 19 May (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Indonesia may face different terrorist foes future as universities are increasingly turning into a fertile ground for breeding sympathizers of violence and intolerance, according to the country’s counter-terrorism chief.

“Radicalism on campus has entered an alarming stage,” Indonesia’s national Anti-Terrorism Agency chief Ansyaad Mbai said.

“We can only wait and see. We don’t have any legal umbrella to stop radical movements on campus,” he states.

Hard-line organizations, including the outlawed Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) movement, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), Jihadi and Ikhwanul Muslimin (IM) have expanded their clout and are now cajoling support from university students, according to counter-terrorism experts.

The trend is more alarming given officials’ powerlessness to prevent the proliferation of radical teachings at the nation’s institutes of higher learning.

The recent despatch of book bombs to several noted figures in Jakarta and the attempted bombing of a church in Serpong, Banten, were the alleged handiwork of five university graduates.

The cases follow the conviction of two college students and one college graduate in August 2010 on terror-related charges.

The trio were sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for harbouring the men who organized the bombings of the J.W. Mariott and Ritz- Carlton hotels in Jakarta in 2009 that killed seven people and injured 50.

In early May, police arrested two students from 11 Maret University (UNS) in Surakarta, Central Java, for their alleged role as master recruiters for the NII.

“Terrorism is seemingly attracting an increasing number of creative and intellectual university graduates who differ from its stereotypical adherents of Islamic boarding school [pesantren] students and preachers,” said Ansyaad.

Islamic studies expert Yon Machmudi of the University of Indonesa said that students might be easily lured into radical movements for several reasons, including a lack of critical thinking that should be nurtured at school and by families.

“A student gets information mostly from the Internet. And they don’t try to critically review the content,” Yon said.

Terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail, who is also the executive director of the Prasasti Perdamaian Foundation that facilitates rehabilitation efforts for terrorist-linked inmates, called on the government to immediately keep close watch over the nation’s youth from being lured into radical movements.

“The emergence of young radicals has in part been inspired by books from the Middle East promoting radicalism and widely circulated on radical websites and through hard-line publishing companies,” he said.

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

Indonesia: Cirebon: Muslim Extremists Disrupt Christian Services as Police Looks on

Christians celebrate traditional post-Easter services. Human rights activist slams police inaction against “hostile” acts. He criticises the government for protecting religious freedom in words only. The city of Cirebon loses its “peaceful” image, as it becomes a centre of fundamentalism.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Islamic extremist groups disrupted two post-Easter services in Cirebon, a city on the border of West and Central Java, as police failed to stop the violence, this according to Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute, an NGO fighting for human rights and religious freedom in Indonesia. The activist slammed police for its “powerlessness” vis-à-vis “hostile” acts perpetrated by radical movements, which interrupted religious services.

In Indonesia, Catholics and Protestants traditionally organise celebrations in connection with Easter, including activities weeks after the main feast day. The goal is to boost the faith and strengthen friendship within the community. This is done by reciting the rosary, organising games for children (including the Easter egg), and performing other social activities.

A group of 20 extremists, led by Andy Mulya, stormed on Tuesday the Gratia Palace and Apita Hotel, in Cirebon, where two groups, one Catholic and another Protestant, were holding services, the Setara chairman said.

Participants resisted the invasion, saying they had the right permits from the authorities. However, police inaction allowed members of the Anti-Proselytising and Unlawful Teachings group (GAPAS) to stop the services. Under Indonesian law, police must authorise and be present at such “public” events.

Setara archives show that GAPAS has been a major threat to inter-confessional harmony. It has attacked Christians in the past as well as members of the Ahmadi sect.

Often, complaints filed with public officials and the police fall on deaf years. Claims by the central government and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that they are fighting extremism appear empty promises.

In Indonesia, police collusion and inaction by political leaders undermine religious freedom. For Hendardi, the authorities should “stop making good promises” and, in a direct reference to the president, “take action” instead.

In addition to the latest episodes of abuse, extremists have also organised street demonstration in recent months against freedom of worship for Christians as well as the construction of Christian places of worship.

Cirebon, which lies along the border of West and Central Java, 350 km east of Jakarta, is known as the “city of Islamic students”. However, despite its largely Muslim population, it has a reputation as a “peaceful” city because it is home to many members of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest moderate Muslim organisation.

Sadly, it has recently become a centre for attacks and violence, including an attack against police headquarters in April, which have undermined its positive image.

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

Inquest: Rogue Afghan Policeman Who Gunned Down Five British Soldiers Could ‘Barely Walk Straight’ After Smoking Cannabis’

[WARNING: Graphic content.]

A rogue Afghan policeman who shot dead five British soldiers had smoked so much cannabis he could ‘barely walk straight’ on a previous patrol, an inquest heard.

The gunman, known only as Gulbuddin, was ‘quite sleepy’ when British troops took him out on an armed patrol in Sangin after smoking the drug, the hearing was told.

A culture of drug taking and corruption was ‘commonplace’ throughout the Afghan Police, it was claimed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

More Than 1,700 Taliban Give Up Their Arms

WASHINGTON — More than 1,700 former Taliban combatants have turned in their weapons to join a reintegration program started by the Afghan government nearly a year ago, the NATO general in charge of the program said Thursday.

“So far we’ve got about 1,740 former fighters who have formally joined the reintegration process,” said British Major General Phil Johns, the director of the Force Reintegration Cell of the International Security Assistance Force.

“On top of this, the High Peace Council has at least another 40 to 45 groups in negotiations across the country,” said Johns, referring to the Afghan agency in charge of political reconciliation.

“That may be as much as 2,000 fighters,” added Johns, who was talking to reporters in Washington via teleconference from Kabul.

The peace process provides amnesty to former Taliban members who agree to renounce violence, sever ties with terrorist groups, and live under the Afghan constitution, said Johns.

The Afghan insurrection is composed mostly of Taliban fighters and members of the Haqqani network, which total around 25,000 men, he said.

Most of the time, a Taliban chief, accompanied by several men or sometimes several dozen men, decide to give up fighting, he said.

“These are life-changing decisions that people are making, and it is all built on trust and confidence,” said Johns.

The program is financed with $141 million from the international community, of which $58 million comes from the US. Washington expects to spend some $12.8 billion in 2012 to help build the Afghan army.

Besides formal reintegration through the government-sanctioned process, Johns estimated that a number of other Taliban had put down their arms and returned to live in their villages without going through official channels.

In southwest Helmand province, in particular, the idea of surrender is associated with the formal reintegration process, which has led many former combatants to avoid the government-sponsored process.

“In Helmand, there’s still a sense among some of the fighters that this smacks too much of surrender,” said Johns. “There’s still this psychology playing out there.

“The predatory reach of Taliban based in Pakistan is still a concern for people in central Helmand. The security conditions are such that they’re saying, ‘I’m not sure I want to get public, I want to stop fighting but silently rather than formally,’“ Johns added.

Asked whether the killing of Osama bin Laden had made any difference in the number of Taliban wishing to reintegrate, Johns said it was too early to know.

“The dust is settling on the death of OBL,” he said. “There is a sense of opportunity that is arising, but whether people are going to capitalize on these opportunities is yet to be seen.”

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Pakistani Christians “Number One Target “ After the Death of Bin Laden

Fr. Javed Gill, parish priest in Abbotabad, confirms that the situation in the town is still “critical” for religious minorities. The killing of the Al Qaeda leader has increased fears and alert levels. Prayer and fasting for peace in the region.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — The situation in Abbotabad is “critical” for religious minorities, who are “fasting and praying for peace in the region”, Fr Javed Akram Gill, a parish priest in the town where he was killed Osama Bin Laden tells AsiaNews. The priest confirms that the death of the Al Qaeda “has raised fears within the Christian community” because “every time the Americans say or do something, Christians [in Pakistan] become the number one target.” Together with the Catholics, the faithful of other Christian denominations “prefer to stay inside” and their leaders refrain from making pastoral visits.

Bin Laden, founder of Al Qaeda was killed on May 2 in a U.S special forces raid in Abbotabad, about 60 km from Islamabad. His death sparked panic and fear in the town. Yesterday, the website of U.S. intelligence SITE released the contents of the last message of bin Laden, published on jihadist forums. In the 12 minute long audio file, he celebrates the Arab revolution in Egypt and Tunisia, calling it a “historic opportunity” for change. Meanwhile, the interim leadership of Al Qaeda is now headed by Saif al-Adel, an long-standing Egyptian terrorist, ahead of the official investiture of the number two al-Zawahiri.

Even today, two weeks after the raid, officials and analysts are wondering how it was possible for Bin Laden, the world’s most hunted man, to live so long and undisturbed in an area with a concentration of military headquarters, including the most important military academy. The day news of the Al Qaeda leaders death was reported, Fr. Gill says, Christians “were holed up inside their homes and asked us to keep a low profile.” The same evening a meeting was held in the parish church of St. Peter, the faithful took part in mass to “establish security measures and the strategy for the coming days.”

The priest describes how he was unable to “leave home for several days,” virtually bringing “Church activities, pastoral visits to a standstill,” while in town “was on a state of maximum alert.” “The alarm level — he adds — has never been so high in Abbotabad: all major roads closed.” The 160 Catholic faithful have constantly called Fr. Gill, recounting their fear of becoming victims of Islamic fundamentalists revenge. “The Christian families in the district of Bilal — he adds — where Bin Laden’s residence was located, have all fled to other places.”

Fr. Javed Gill speaks of a “very low turn out for Mass,” although the military have set up a strict security system around places of worship. “The people — he says — fear possible attacks” because they are aware that “every time the Americans say or do something, Christians [in Pakistan] become the number one target.” Last year, for example, when the U.S. pastor Terry Jones announced plans to burn the Koran, we were subjected to threats. “We raised protective walls — he said — but they threw stones and empty bottles against the church.”

Even members of other Christian denominations remain barricaded in their houses, in an area where “for many years there hasn’t even been a meeting or group Bible study,” because of pressure from the local fringe. The situation in Abbotabad remains “critical” for religious minorities, concludes the priest, which is why Christians “pray and fast for peace in the region. “

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

Satellite Images Reveal Alarming Speed Pakistan is Rushing to Finish Weapons-Grade Nuclear Reactor

New satellite images have shown the alarming speed at which Pakistan is constructing a weapons-grade nuclear reactor.

The aerial images, taken on April 20, show the rapid building progress of the fourth reactor to produce plutonium in Pakistan’s Khushab facility.

The site was barren in 2009 and the facility ‘costing billions’ was undetectable by satellite just 17 months ago, but has since grown at an alarming rate.

The facility in Khushab is the fastest growing nuclear program in the world, with the speed of the latest reactor’s construction prompting concern from U.S. officials.

Pakistan first revealed the Khushab site and its plutonium production facility in 1998 after the country’s first nuclear test.

Although the U.S. has provided Pakistan with $20 billion in military and economic aid since September 11, 2001, it has been said that there is ‘no explanation’ as to how Pakistan are paying for the latest reactor.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Taliban Storm Building Firm Kill 35 Workers in East Afghanistan

(Reuters) — Taliban insurgents killed 35 construction workers and wounded 24 in an attack in volatile southeastern Afghanistan, provincial officials said on Thursday, adding 10 insurgents had also been killed.

Thirteen workers were still missing after the assault, which took place late on Wednesday in Paktia province’s Zadran district, government official Abdullah Durani told Reuters in neighboring Khost province.

Afghan forces have begun a search for the missing workers, said Rohullah Samon, spokesman for Paktia province.

The Taliban confirmed its fighters had killed “many workers” belonging to the firm in a gunfight, but denied it took any hostages, said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

Despite the presence of up to 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government by U.S.-backed Afghan forces, and last year saw record casualties on both sides.

Construction crews and others working on infrastructure projects are frequently targeted by insurgents. The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in March when three suicide bombers killed 24 construction workers in Paktika, a province considered a hotbed of the insurgency.

The Taliban last month announced the start of a long-awaited “spring offensive,” vowing to carry out attacks, including suicide bombings on foreign and Afghan troops and government officials in the tenth year of an increasingly unpopular war.

           — Hat tip: AC[Return to headlines]

Far East

Japan: Ashton Was Wrong to Suggest Lifting China Arms Ban

A recent proposal by EU high representative Catherine Ashton to lift the bloc’s arms embargo on China was a “mistake” which caused great “concern” in Japan, a senior Japanese diplomat has said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Watermelons Explode in China as Farmers Apply Too Many Growth Chemicals to Their Crops

Beyond melamine in the powdered milk and plastic in the rice, Chinese farmers have managed to achieve a little more food history with a new chemical monstrosity: Exploding watermelons.

This was accomplished by applying a chemical growth promoter to the melons. A day later, one farmer saw 180 watermelons explode. Other farmers lost up to two-thirds of their watermelon crops as the melons exploded in the field. The growth chemical used on watermelons is also used on grapes and other crops, even in the United States, by the way. It’s called forchlorfenuron, and research shows that it is implicated in human cancers and neurological disorders (url). It’s routinely used on melons and other crops grown in China.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Iran Building Rocket Bases in Venezuela

German paper “Die Welt” says Iranians paid cash to build mid-range missile launch pads on Paraguana Peninsula; Iranian engineers visited site in Feb.

The Iranian government is moving forward with the construction of rocket launch bases in Venezuela, the German daily Die Welt wrote in its Thursday edition.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is Teheran’s most important South American ally.

According to Die Welt, the clandestine agreement between Venezuela and Iran would mean the Chavez government would fire rocket at Iran’s enemies should the Islamic Republic face military strikes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Boat Carrying 300 Immigrant Sighted Off Lampedusa

(AGI) Lampedusa — The vessel sighted at about 10.30 this morning by a Coast Guard helicopter, about 15 miles west of Lampedusa, is expected to dock by 4 p.m. Sources have reported that there are about 300 migrants on board, probably of sub-Saharan origin coming from Libya. This will be the second arrival today following the 208 immigrants, including 23 women and 3 children, who arrived in the night.

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

Boat Overloaded With Migrants Rescued at Lampedusa

(AGI) Agrigento — A boat carrying between 400 and 500 migrants was sighted this morning by a GdF helicopeter 25 miles from Lampedusa. It was and reached this afternoon by six patrol boats and rescued. The boat was stricken and the passengers were transshipped in groups on Italian vessels, 3 of the Guardia di Finanza (GdF) and 3 of the Coast Guard. The first called in the port of Lampedusa at 4 pm. The immigrants all originate from Sub-Saharan African Countries and sailed from Libya.

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

Frattini: EU’s Effort Weak and Ineffective

(AGI) Paris — Frattini said the EU’s effort to tackle the immigration emergency has so far been “weak and ineffective”.

Speaking at a round-table meeting organised in Paris by MEP Rachida Dati to discuss migration issues, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini criticised EU’s “weak and ineffective” effort to help tackle the immigration emergency triggered by popular revolts in several Arab countries and the Libyan conflict.

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

Migrants: 208 Landed at Lampedusa, 23 Women & 3 Children

(AGI) Lampedusa — During the night, a Libyan boat with 208 migrants landed at Lampedusa, reaching the harbor at about 1:00 AM. Among the migrants, tentatively identified as sub-Saharan natives, there are 23 women and 3 children. Their arrival, after a few days of truce, coincides with a break in the weather. Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza continue to patrol the Sicilian channel by air and by sea.

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

UK Ethnic Population Has Risen 40 Per Cent in the Last Eight Years

Britain’s ethnic minority population has risen by nearly 40 per cent in just eight years because of immigration and high birth rates, official figures revealed today. The Office for National Statistics said that 9.1 million people living in England and Wales — equivalent to one in six of the population — were now from a “non-white” background. The new total, based on statistics compiled in 2009, is 2.5 million higher than the comparable figure of 6.6 million in 2001 and is certain to prompt renewed debate about the impact of Labour’s immigration policies.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


A Water Ocean on Titan?

Titan, which is larger than Mercury, is the only world besides Earth known to have liquid on its surface. Its seas, made of liquid methane instead of water, have often led to speculation as to whether or not they could host life. In addition to its seas on its surface, scientists recently also discovered hints that Titan possesses an internal ocean, one of water and ammonia. Using radar to peer through Titan’s dense atmosphere, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found that over time, a number of prominent surface features had shifted from their expected positions by up to 19 miles (30 kilometers), showing that the crust was moving and suggesting that it rested on liquid. Now Cassini’s gravity and radar observations of Titan have discovered more clues that it might have an underground sea.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dark Energy is Real, New Evidence Indicates

A census of 200,000 galaxies may confirm that the mysterious force of dark energy is what is pulling the universe apart at ever-increasing speeds, a new study finds. The results of the five-year galactic survey offer new support for the favored theory of how elusive dark energy works — as a constant force, uniformly affecting the universe and driving its runaway expansion.

“The action of dark energy is as if you threw a ball up in the air, and it kept speeding upward into the sky faster and faster,” said Chris Blake of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Blake is lead author of two papers on the study appearing in an upcoming issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “The results tell us that dark energy is a cosmological constant, as Einstein proposed,” Blake said in a statement. “If gravity were the culprit, then we wouldn’t be seeing these constant effects of dark energy throughout time.”

Dark energy is thought to dominate the cosmos, making up roughly 74 percent of the universe. Dark matter, a slightly less mysterious substance, accounts for 22 percent. “Normal” matter, which consists of anything with atoms, or the materials that make up living creatures, planets and stars, makes up only about 4 percent of the universe. The theory of dark energy was proposed during the late 1990s, based on studies of distant explosions of dying stars called supernovas. Supernovas emit constant, measurable light, which make them useful guideposts for astronomers to calculate the dying stars’ distance from Earth.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Lousy With Success: Genetics Reveal Fossil Lice as Evolutionary Champions

Lice lineages began to split and diversify during the late Cretaceous, when dinosaurs, birds and early mammals probably were on the resilient parasites’ menus

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Regret That Tattoo? You’re in Good Company

More young people are flocking to tattoo parlors to get inked under the impression that it no longer has to be forever. Some experts believe that the demand for removal technology in the future may grow exponentially, creating a greater need for qualified dermatologists. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, tattoo regrets are common — in fact, 17 percent of those who get tattoos consider getting them removed.

Now with the availability of tattoo laser removal and the introduction of new ink that can be more easily removed, tattoos are starting to mark a phase in someone’s life rather than becoming a permanently inked statement.

“It’s likely that more medical professionals will be trained in laser removal in the upcoming years, as tattoo removal is expected to rise,” said Allen Falkner, owner of Fade Fast Laser Tattoo Removal. “Tattooing is still a growing industry and tattoo removal will most likely see a similar growth pattern.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Myth of Evil Aliens: Why Stephen Hawking is Wrong About the Danger of Extraterrestrial Intelligences

In fact, any civilization capable of extensive space travel will have moved far beyond exploitative colonialism and unsustainable energy sources. Enslaving the natives and harvesting their resources may be profitable in the short term for terrestrial civilizations, but such a strategy would be unsustainable for the tens of thousands of years needed for interstellar space travel.

In this sense, thinking about extraterrestrial civilizations forces us to consider the nature and progress of our terrestrial civilization and offers hope that, when we do make contact, it will mean that at least one other intelligence managed to reach the level where harnessing new technologies displaces controlling fellow beings and where exploring space trumps conquering land.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Where Should NASA Land Its Next Mars Rover?

WITH NASA’s rover Curiosity due to blast off for Mars in November, the debate over the most interesting place to send it is coming to a head. The stakes are high: the $2.5 billion mission offers the best chance yet of finding hints of past life on the planet. Curiosity, aka the Mars Science Laboratory, weighs 900 kilograms. The biggest and most capable rover yet by far, it is the first to carry instruments designed specifically to detect complex carbon-based molecules that could signal life. It will also lay the groundwork for a future mission that will drill below the surface, where organic material would be better preserved. “Awesome science is going to come out of this,” says John Mustard of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

World’s Smallest 3-D Printer is a Factory in the Home

At-home 3-D printing could revolutionize shopping by allowing users to download and print anything from earrings to replacement machine parts to silverware. Unfortunately, most 3-D printers remain too large and too expensive for private use. The new milk carton-size printer developed by the Vienna University of Technology may finally change that by providing rapid fabrication in the small size and low price needed by the home consumer. The printer itself weighs a little over three pounds and costs 1,200 Euros ($1,700). “We will continue to reduce the size of the printer, and the price will definitely decrease too, if it is produced in large quantities,” said Klaus Stadlmann, one of its creators.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]