Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110915

Financial Crisis
»Beijing is No White Knight
»Budapest Accused of Fleecing Austrian Banks
»China to EU: We’ll Back the Euro if You Open Your Markets
»ECB, Central Banks Boosting Dollar Liquidity
»Germany: Liberals Threaten Greece and the Coalition
»Greece: Is More Belt-Tightening Worth it?
»Greece: A Tragic Farce
»Greek Debt Runs to Some 333 Billion Euros.
»Man Held in London Over UBS Rogue Trading
»Merkel and Sarkozy Support Greece
»Netherlands Considers Greek Bankruptcy Unavoidable
»Portugal to Slash Public Sector Posts in Cost Cutting Move
»Spain Says to Impose Wealth Tax to Battle Deficit
»Swiss Defend Their Island of Prosperity
»Ulterior Motives Seen Behind China’s Offer of Help to US, Europe
»Will German Indecision on the Euro Drag the Whole World Down?
»Worst Case Scenario for Euro Approaches
»Jersey City Boy Allegedly Threw Baseball Bat at Cops During Afterschool Brawl
»NASA to Build Most Powerful Rocket in History
»NASA’s New Mega Rocket Would be Most Powerful Ever Built
»Advanced Birds Lived Alongside ‘Hairy’ Dinosaurs
»Feathers Preserved in Amber Reveal Colorful, ‘Fluffy’ Dinosaurs
Europe and the EU
»African Scandals Shake French Republic
»Belgium: Leterme Finds Asylum at the OECD
»Commission Pushes for ‘Europeanisation’ Of Border Controls
»Denmark: Social Dems ‘Did It’
»Finland: Halla-Aho Suspened for Two Weeks
»France: Islam; Praying in Paris Streets Banned From Tonight
»Germany: Lost Friedrich Der Große Sex Poem Uncovered
»Greenwashing After the Phase-Out: German ‘Energy Revolution’ Depends on Nuclear Imports
»Gun Ownership Shooting Up in Switzerland: Study
»History Brought to Life as Battle of Marathon Re-Enacted
»Italy: Unipol: Silvio Berlusconi is the Addressee of the Tape
»Jack Straw Urges UK to Back Palestinian State at UN
»Munich Conference: Trifkovic on Germany and Russia
»Neanderthals Ate Shellfish 150,000 Years Ago: Study
»Netherlands: Terrorist Worked as Imam in Tilburg Prison
»Norwegian ‘Wild Man’ Faked Famed Blog While Living in a Swedish Hotel
»Rumours Fly That Berlusconi Insulted Merkel’s Figure on Phone
»Stockholm Bomber’s Widow Arrested in UK
»Sweden: Drunken Elk Hides Kids’ Swing Set in a Tree
»UK: Liverpool Striker’s Controversial 9/11 Tweets
»UK: The Niqab Cuts Women Off From the World
»Kosovo Unrest Picks Up Again
North Africa
»Cameron, Sarkozy Pledge Continued Help for Rebels on Visit to Libya
»Egypt Declares Camp David Accords With Israel ‘Not a Sacred Thing’
»Libya: George Washington Slept Here
»Sarkozy and Cameron in Libya: Heroes for a Day
»Tunisia: Salafists Aganist Alcohol Sellers, Huge Brawl
Israel and the Palestinians
»Britain Should Say Yes to Palestinian Statehood — And So Should Israel
»Palestine Must be Judenrein
»UK: Nicolas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley the Only Tory MPs to Support EDM [Early Day Motion] In Favour of Palestinian Statehood
Middle East
»9/11, Muslims and the Next 10 Years
»Israel Jordan Ambassador Evacuated Over Protest Fears
»Pakistan, Iran to Boost Bilateral Trade to $10 Billion From $1.2 Billion
»Stakelbeck: Former Saudi Wahhabi Radical Takes on the Koran
»The Man Who Could Trigger a World War
»Tunisia: Erdogan’s Visit, Israeli Flags Burnt
»Srdja Trifkovic: Beyond the “Strategic Partnership”
South Asia
»Accused of Proselytising, American Family Attacked by Indonesian Extremists
»Kabul Attack: ISAF and Taliban Press Officers Attack Each Other on Twitter
»Pakistani Cleric: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Safe, Controls 70% of Afghanistan
Far East
»China Sentences Four to Death for Violence in Xinjiang
Australia — Pacific
»Canberra’s 9/11 Decade: Bureaucracy
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Five Spaniards Aboard Tanker Taken by Pirates
»U.N. Reports One Million Darfur Refugees Return Home
»EU: Towards Strengthening Border Surveillance
»Immigrant Boat Adrift, 95 Rescued in Lampedusa
»Playground Joshing Has Become a Hate Crime
»UK: Asian Peer in ‘Children for Benefits’ Row
»UK: Ex-Tory Peer’s Pakistani/Bangladeshi Smear Ignores the Evidence
»UK: Immigrants Have Children for Benefits, Says Baroness Flather
»UK: Migrants Have More Kids for Big Benefits
»Ancient Meteorite Showers Responsible for Earth’s Gold, Study Finds
»Astrophile: The Most Surreal Sunset in the Universe
»Planet Like ‘Star Wars’ Tatooine Discovered Orbiting 2 Suns

Financial Crisis

Beijing is No White Knight

La Repubblica, Rome

The announcement by Italy of a flow of Chinese capital rushing in to support the Italian economy has raised hopes of Beijing riding up to rescue the euro. We must be wary of false hopes, however, writes La Repubblica. China is a prudent and discriminating investor

Federico Rampini

Will the Chinese buy up stakes in the public energy giant ENI — or the public electricity company ENEL? Can they acquire a share of the industrial group Finmeccanica — or the port of Genoa? Buy up shares in Unicredit Bank in exchange for taking part in long-term treasury bill auctions, and so fill the vacant seat of the departed Muammar Gaddafi?

To grasp what is behind these varied scenarios — or if these rumours are coming from Italy itself — we must reconstruct the map of Chinese investment around the world, Beijing’s financial strategies, and how the investments intertwine with the geopolitical interests of the world’s number two economy.

Two types of adjustments are underway in how China is managing its capital reserves: diversification away from the dollar and into other currencies; and a shift of government securities into blocks of shares in industrial companies — where possible, those of strategic importance to China. These adjustments are graduated, and at no time can they be permitted to upset the “stability of the global economic system.”

Those who are quick to interpret the Rome-Beijing contacts as a “vote of confidence” of the Chinese government in the solvency of Italy are much mistaken. The head of Spain’s government, José Luis Zapatero, fell into the trap when he prematurely announced massive purchases of Spanish debt securities by China that later were revealed to be rather modest.

Fleeting impact on the markets

In the midst of the systematic disaster of 2008, China’s strategists were called on by the United States to act as a “white knight”, and China responded. At home, though, furious controversy on the wisdom of the gallantry followed. At the worst time, with U.S. stock indices tumbled to historical lows, Chinese managers were accused by their political leaders of having wasted national resources to bring a relief to U.S. banks that was as risky as it was useless. Today, the outcome of this operation is less negative, but the scars linger as a cautionary tale to Beijing.

The players in Beijing are two financial behemoths. First, there is the “parent company”, the government body that, like a true ministry, looks after the monetary reserves of China’s central bank. These reserves are the commercial assets China has accumulated in global trading over the years, and they are the most sizeable in the world: 3,200 billion dollars [2.3 trillion euros]. The acronym of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange — “SAFE”, as in both “secure” and “strongbox” in English — is an efficient synthesis of its investment philosophy.

Just as speedily as China’s central bank reserves have been replenished by new commercial assets, the SAFE has invested, in the first half of this year alone, $ 275 billion [€ 200 billion]. That means that, if it wanted to, SAFE could buy up the entire Italian debt coming to maturity by the end of the year. But that would not exactly be very “safe” — which is why the central bank continues to reinvest most of its reserves in U.S. treasury bonds.

As for the ongoing diversification out of the dollar and into other currencies, the central bank in Beijing prefers — to stay on the “safe” side — German bonds and Japanese debt securities, all considered solid investments. The repeated announcements of massive Chinese buy-ups of assets of Mediterranean countries have always proved exaggerated. In July 2010, for example, rumours of support for Spain had only a fleeting impact on the markets. Instead of saving the country, SAFE had made only a modest purchase of 500 million euros worth of ten-year bonds.

A sign of the changing times

In October 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Athens, and there too hopes of large-scale purchases of Greek bonds proved fleeting. The only actual purchase was a stake in the management of the port of Athens by the Chinese logistics giant, Cosco. This episode illustrates another dimension of the Chinese strategy: the more aggressive one. The main player behind it is the China Investment Corporation (CIC), Beijing’s sovereign wealth fund. The CIC’s resources still come from the same source, the monetary reserves of the central bank.

But it is the CIC, with its greater freedom of action and more diverse functions, that is spearheading the penetration of China into the global economy. Its status gives it a “market orientation and purely economic-financial goals”. As a company, the CIC is accountable to its shareholders — which would be the government in Beijing. It cannot be ruled out therefore as a Trojan horse to tackle strategic objectives, such as acquiring advanced technology, management expertise, setting up bridgeheads in promising markets or in activities where China still needs to sharpen its competitive edge.

Geographically, China’s direct investments remain focused on the United States, at 42 percent, followed by Asia, at 30 percent. At just 22 percent, Europe trails in third place. Europe is also an example of how China is pursuing diversification of its industrial assets. Profiting from the crisis of 2008, the Chinese managed to wrest control of Volvo from Ford Motor Company.

The next summit of the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which is to be held next week in Washington and which should discuss possible support for the eurozone, is a sign of the changing times. Today, it’s with the emerging powers that capital is to be found. Guido Mantega, Brazil’s Minister of Finance, has declared that the eurozone crisis is “the agenda of the day.” The world is well and truly upside down. Brazil and Russia, synonymous only yesterday with “payment default”, are now being chalked up with China on the list of potential “white knights”. Provided they want to play this gallant role, and that the rewards we offer are to their liking.

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

Budapest Accused of Fleecing Austrian Banks

Der Standard, 13 September 2011

The appreciation of the Swiss Franc threatens relations between Austria and Hungary. “Expropriation of banks: Vienna files a suit against Budapest,” announces Austrian daily Der Standard. The Austrian government’s anger towards its Hungarian counterpart isn’t abating over a plan to allow debtors to repay their loans at fixed — and advantageous — rates. Hungarians would be allowed to reimburse their loans in Swiss Francs at a rate of 180 forints rather than 240 and loans in euros at a rate of 250 forints rather than 280.

Losses would be absorbed by the banks, which outrages Austrian banks, which have holdings worth €5 billion in Hungary. Vienna asked the European Commission to examine the possibility of a suit before the European Court of Justice. Der Standard believes that Budapest is shooting itself in the foot because, by intervening in private contracts, it risks causing investors to flee.

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

China to EU: We’ll Back the Euro if You Open Your Markets

China has offered to help save the euro in return for getting EU recognition as a ‘market economy’ — a new status that would help it to export more cheap goods to Europe. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao made the offer at a meeting of business leaders and officials organsied by the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China, on Wednesday (14 September).

“European countries are facing sovereign debt problems and we’ve expressed our willingness to give a helping hand many times. We will continue to expand our investment there”, he said. “Based on WTO rules, China’s full market economy status will be recognised by 2016. If EU nations can demonstrate their sincerity several years earlier, it would be the way a friend treats a friend”, he added.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

ECB, Central Banks Boosting Dollar Liquidity

The world’s leading central banks have decided on joint action to provide banks with extra dollar liquidity, the European Central Bank said on Thursday. “The governing council of the European Central Bank (ECB) has decided, in coordination with the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank, to conduct three US dollar liquidity-providing operations with a maturity of approximately three months covering the end of the year,” the ECB said in a statement. “These operations will be conducted in addition to the ongoing weekly seven-day operations announced in May 2010.” The announcement drove up sharply shares in European banks, and Europe stocks market surged by about 3.0 percent.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Germany: Liberals Threaten Greece and the Coalition

Financial Times Deutschland, 14 September 2011

Managing the Greek portfolio has become a stress test for Germany’s governing coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals in Berlin. “The FDP is looking for a showdown with Merkel,” headlines the Financial Times Deutschland the day after the umpeenth dust-up between the Chancellor and her restive allies. Caught off guard by doubts about the solvency of Athens expressed out loud by Philipp Rösler, the (Liberal) Minister of Economy, the Chancellor has asked members of her cabinet to stop speculating in public about a bankruptcy in Greece, the newspaper adds. In vain. Unimpressed, the head of the FDP writes in a guest editorial in Die Welt that “the Germans, Germany itself, the financial markets and the Greeks need clarity” — a clarity that cannot be had “by imposing a code of silence”. The FTD notes that the discord in the German government has had appreciable consequences for other Member States of the euro zone, including an increase in interest rates on Italian bonds, which has prompted even U.S. president Barack Obama to express his concern.

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

Greece: Is More Belt-Tightening Worth it?

Eleftherotypia, 12 September 2011

“Cuts and more cuts, the strongest will survive,” runs a headline in Greek daily Eleftherotypia, following the government’s announcement of new budget cuts, totalling €1.7 million, aimed at bringing the deficit down to 7.6% of GDP as demanded by the troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund).

The announcement, which ended 48 hours of suspense, was made at a time of a tense social and political climate and at a time when Greece’s European partners are talking more and more openly about the problem posed by remaining within the eurozone at any price and of exiting the single currency to return to the drachma, the paper says.

The new measures “show the triple failure of the government,” notes Eleftherotypia. First, it was unable to renegotiate with the troika the terms of its austerity plan in order to reduce its debt-reduction goals for 2011. Secondly, the executive recognises that it depends entirely on the demands of the troika and that it will have to adopt new austerity measures. Finally, the government’s austerity policies are unable to lead the country out of the crisis. “Adopting reforms, back against the wall, selling our sunshine to the Germans and being resigned to having a single salary per family will not suffice to contain the anger of the Greeks regarding these new, never-ending measures,” concludes the Athens paper.

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

Greece: A Tragic Farce

Ta Nea, Athens

Embed a tax into electricity bills: the most recent proposal from the government is an admission of failure of the measures taken in the last year and a half, writes Ta Nea. And the worst of it is that some officials are refusing to implement it.

Dimitri Mitropoulos

As in the dark tragedies of Shakespeare, the Greek political drama can be reversed by a single character. This character isn’t in a starring role, but he is crucial to how the scenes evolve, and not in a positive way, either. Someone like Iago in Othello.

All things considered, this analogy could be applied to Nikos Fotopoulos, the president of the Genop-DEI union (Greece’s public power corporation). Fotopoulos is dark, unshaven, dressed in black and has something theatrical about him. But the analogy fits mostly because this union boss stands centre stage at a critical moment in our national financial tragedy Desperate, the Papandreou government is combing about for around two billion euros to cover the deficit.

To get the money, it’s putting forward the idea of again taxing property, using electricity bills to identify the owners since not all properties have been registered with the modern cadastral offices. Rather usefully, DEI keeps records on the square metres, the age of the property and the neighbourhood. But having to fall back on DEI bills to bring in a new tax (which will be included in the calculation of the bill) is an admission of failure. The government is openly admitting that it has no trust in the mechanisms for tax collection — a sad commentary on the effectiveness of taxes up till now.

National elite turns against its own government

This year and next year, the government will impose a new extraordinary tax. It’s taking this step because for 20 months it has been struggling in vain to reform public administration, to sell off assets and eliminate some public bodies. There have been cuts to wages but no real reforms. The single salary scale for public servants will have so many exceptions that it will cancel itself out, while assigning civil servants to “non-active service” is just an obscure dodge to save the state from laying off employees.

For in reality, neither PASOK [the ruling Socialist Party] nor the New Democracy [right-wing opposition], dare lay their hands on the state. The state, after all, is their own creation, even if it is a monster. To avoid reforming it, the government prefers to reach into the pockets of all those Greeks who own property. It’s a bit of theatre with an invisible director, but, ironically, with walk-on roles for Fotopoulos and the bosses of the Genop-DEI who refuse to let their electricity bills be used to enforce the law imposed by the government.

And so the children of PASOK, who count the elite of the state among them, are rounding on their own government. Better for them that the country sink into bankruptcy than that their perks should be touched. In any event, the cost for the Greeks will be significant.

The problem is that no real tragedy — Shakespearean or financial — has a happy ending. In the end, we’ll have to pay…

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

Greek Debt Runs to Some 333 Billion Euros.

Financial experts consider Greek debt restructuring increasingly likely. They say that, in the event that such arrangements will be made, some 75 percent of the Greek debt should be written off.

“If we take into account how much debt Greece has and how weak its economy’s carrying capacity is, then we can think that maybe even three quarters of Greek debts should be forgiven to give Greece good opportunities to start growing again,” says Senior Vice President Jaakko Kiander from the pension insurance company Ilmarinen.

Senior Economist of the Tapiola Group Jari Järvinen agrees with this assessment.

“If we consider debt as relative to the GDP, then the problem is so big that I would estimate that some 75 percent of the debt should be written off, and I would continue from there with a credible stabilisation programme,” Järvinen says.

Sampo Bank’s Chief Economist Pasi Kuoppamäki says that potential restructuring arrangements need to be drastic.

“Greek debt would need to be significantly reduced—halved, for example. This would return Greece to a credible path. Even after that, it would need to exercise considerable budgetary discipline,” Kuoppamäki notes.

The repercussions

The big question about potential debt restructuring is whether or not such a step would elicit as violent a reaction from the markets as the bankruptcy of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers did in 2008.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Man Held in London Over UBS Rogue Trading

A man identified as 31-year-old Kweku Adoboli was arrested by police in London on Thursday after a rogue trader at Swiss bank UBS lost an estimated $2.0 billion (€1.46 billion) in unauthorised trades, sources said. The man, arrested before dawn in central London on “suspicion of fraud by abuse of position,” is in police custody, London police sources said.

Two minutes before trading began on the Swiss stock exchange, the bank issued a statement that it “has discovered a loss due to unauthorised trading by a trader in its Investment Bank.” The announcement is a severe blow to the bank’s retrieved reputation after the financial crisis which tarnished the standing of Swiss banking, as well as to its profit outlook and puts a question mark over the investment banking division. UBS said: “The matter is still being investigated, but UBS’s current estimate of the loss on the trades is in the range of $2 billion.” The bank added that it may also be forced to report a loss for the third quarter due to the unauthorised trade.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Merkel and Sarkozy Support Greece

El Periódico de Catalunya, 14 September 2011

“Merkel and Sarkozy take the reins on Greece,” headlines El Periódico. Following another day of tensions on financial markets, “Germany and France attempt to avoid an ‘uncontrolled’ default by Greece,” notes the Barcelona daily. The intervention of Berlin and Paris is expected to be in the form of a video-conference between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Greek PM Georges Papandreou on Wednesday, September 14, “as a gesture to not abandon Greece to its fate”. The discussion is scheduled just ahead of a meeting of the European Union Council of Finance Ministers on September 16 in Wroclaw, Poland. The ministers must face the “delicate European economic situation” currently “prey to rumours” that have shaken it, adds adds El Periódico. The paper also notes the criticism that greeted the comments of US President Barack Obama, who recently stated that Italy and Spain are a serious “problem” for the euro. “It may be that Obama was not discerning,” the paper says, but he pointed out “the disarray of the world in the face of the sluggishness and the doubts in decision-making within the European Union”.

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

Netherlands Considers Greek Bankruptcy Unavoidable

THE HAGUE, 15/09/11 — The Netherlands considers Greek bankruptcy unavoidable, sources at the finance ministry said yesterday on news programme RTL Nieuws. Greece would not be able to meet all its debt obligations. The question at the ministry is no longer whether but in what way Greece will go bankrupt. The ministry is preparing a controlled way of going bankrupt to prevent other weak eurozone countries like Italy and Spain from running into problems, the sources said.

Faced by the statements from sources at his ministry, Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager did not want to repeat these in an interview with RTL Nieuws. He did say that all scenarios are being taken into account. In close consultation with other eurozone countries, all likely and unlikely scenarios are currently being prepared, he said. What exactly will happen if Greece goes bankrupt is unknown, as no country has ever collapsed in this way. A large portion of the Greek banks is expected to go bust and trade with Greece will be temporarily halted. Athens, at least if it wants to cooperate with a solution, will be put under the supervision of the IMF, but Greece will also still be able to involve itself as eurozone country.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Portugal to Slash Public Sector Posts in Cost Cutting Move

Portugal unveiled Thursday plans for a slimmed-down central administration with the axing of 27 percent of directors’ posts as creditors met to ensure the country’s bailout rules were being met.

“We urgently need to reduce costs and make the state more effective,” to “adjust the size of the state to its financial capacity,” public administration chief Helder Rosalino told a press conference following a cabinet meeting.

The plan, which proposes a saving of 100 million euros next year, includes the axing of 1,700 managerial posts from the state administration and 137 public companies.

By getting rid of positions and merging public institutions the government plans to reduce the number of state organisations by 38 percent.

Portugal agreed to cuts of at least 15 percent across its departments as part of a financial aid package put together by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in May.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Spain Says to Impose Wealth Tax to Battle Deficit

Spain will impose a wealth tax in 2011 and 2012 to help slash the public deficit, Finance Minister Elena Salgado said on Thursday. The wealth tax, which had been suspended in 2008, would go to a weekly cabinet meeting Friday for approval, she said, in Spain’s latest effort to show markets it can meet its ambitious deficit-cutting targets. If reinstated in the same form, the wealth tax would hit about 160,000 people and boost state revenues by about 1.08 billion euros ($1.5 billion), the finance minister told a news conference.

The tax money would roll in during 2012 and 2013, “which are years when we have to carry on our effort to reduce the deficit in accordance with a stability agreement agreed with the European Union,” Salgado said. Spain had to press ahead with efforts to “favour financial stability and our growth,” she said. Salgado said “all possible liquidity” from the tax will go Spain’s 17 regional governments, many of which are loaded with debt and struggling to meet deficit-cutting targets.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Swiss Defend Their Island of Prosperity

The euro zone’s woes have made the invulnerable Swiss franc extremely attractive to investors. But the capital flowing into the country has made the franc too strong, hurting exports and domestic retail sales. Switzerland is now fighting to preserve its prosperity by pegging its currency to the euro.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Ulterior Motives Seen Behind China’s Offer of Help to US, Europe

As both Europe and the United States continue to struggle to find solutions to the escalating debt crisis, China has positioned itself as a potential savior. But will Beijing’s reward for help be a price worth paying? China’s offer to help the US and European nations through their debt crises may on the surface appear to be just a tactic designed to extract the full market economy status which it so desires. But officials in both the US and EU are wary of what geopolitical motives may lie behind Beijing’s flinging of a financial lifeline to the West.

China holds just over $3 trillion (2.2 trillion euros) in foreign currency reserves — almost 30 per cent of the global total — with 65 percent held in dollars and 26 percent in euros. As the debt crisis ravages the euro zone, Beijing has already committed to investing in Greece, Spain and Portugal while engaging in preliminary talks with Italy to provide Rome with financial assistance. With leaders in both Europe and the United States running out of options as the debt crisis escalates, China has picked its moment to ride to the rescue and use some of its huge financial clout to offer relief — once western powers “first put their own house in order.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Will German Indecision on the Euro Drag the Whole World Down?

Monetary union hasn’t worked, but Germany, Europe’s strongest nation, won’t face the consequences.

Does Germany sincerely want to be European? I pose this seemingly silly question because, as has long been apparent, Europe’s fate lies in that country’s hands. As the great engine room of the European economy, it has the power to save or break the euro. Germany could also choose to stop inappropriately imposing its own monetary disciplines on others, and leave the euro itself. In the spirit of altruism, this might indeed be the best thing it could do for its fellow Europeans. Yet torn between two constituencies — a policy elite that remains wedded to discredited ideas of European solidarity, and the great mass of the German people who do not see why they should be required to subsidise the profligacy of their ill-disciplined fellow travellers — Germany has become paralysed. Trapped by their history, the country’s leaders seem incapable of facing up to the choices that need to be made to bring the chaos of today’s related sovereign debt and banking crises to any kind of meaningful resolution. In its indecision, Germany threatens not just the future prosperity of Europe, including its own, but as is clear from the growing alarm of American and Chinese policymakers, that of the world economy as a whole.

There can be no more potent a symbol of how far the centre of economic gravity has shifted than the meeting scheduled for next week of “Bric” nations to discuss joint action to help the eurozone. For the developing world to find it necessary to come to the aid of once-”rich”, advanced economies is a turnaround most of us did not think we’d see in our lifetimes.

The longer Europe’s debt crisis persists, the more likely it is that some kind of catastrophic denouement will plunge the world back into deep recession and possibly even long-lasting depression.

Not since the Second World War has Europe been at such a perilous crossroads. A project intended to bring once-warring nations closer has ended up only tearing them apart. Throughout the continent, there is now almost universal disillusionment with the single currency and the alleged benefits its supporters claimed it would bring. Just as Germany yearns for the return of the deutschemark, peripheral nations look back longingly on the sometimes violent currency swings of pre-euro days as if it were a golden age. However unsettling the exchange rate turbulence of those times was, at least national governments were still in control of their own destiny. Now they’ve lost even the blessing of low and stable interest rates.

There was something almost pitiful about the spectacle of George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, promising on bended knee during last night’s conference call with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel to impose yet more job cuts and austerity in a desperate attempt to meet the demands of Paris and Berlin. By joining the euro, Greece and other peripheral nations lost much more than control over interest and exchange rates. They also lost the capacity to issue debt in their own currencies. As a result, they are being progressively forced into default, a fate hitherto reserved only for developing and third world nations. Just as bad, they have lost the discretion to apply counter-cyclical budget policies. The extreme mix of deflationary measures they have been forced into to regain competitiveness means they may not even be able to use automatic fiscal stabilisers to fight economic contraction.

A self-feeding spiral of economic destruction has established itself. Curiously for such a logical people, the Germans cannot seem to grasp that to inflict further punishment has become not just pointless but counter-productive. Germany has become like all disgruntled creditors: if it is not going to get its money back, then it is going to make the debtors suffer. Rather than thinking creatively about workable solutions, it obsesses only with the irrelevance of moral hazard and the perceived need to penalise miscreants.

As one who was once quite drawn to the idea of European Monetary Union, I can sympathise with the German dilemma. The economic dangers of such union without corresponding political and fiscal integration were always apparent, but as long as conditions remained benign, they were easy to ignore. Once set on a particular course, it becomes very difficult for the architects of that strategy to admit they were wrong. They’ll wriggle and squirm, and find any number of excuses for not changing course. What is more, the process of euro area integration has now gone so far it cannot be disentangled in anything other than a profoundly negative manner. Monetary union of necessity gives rise to intense financial integration, which in turn creates collective problems — when one government faces a debt crisis, this will lead to financial repercussions in other member countries. For every troubled debtor, there is a troubled creditor.

As Paul De Grauwe, professor of economics at the University of Leuven, has put it in a defining paper on the difficulties of the eurozone, “a monetary union can only function if there is a collective mechanism of mutual support and control. Such a collective mechanism exists in a political union. In the absence of a political union, the member countries of the eurozone are condemned to fill in the necessary pieces. What has been achieved, however, is still far from sufficient to guarantee the survival of the eurozone”. The problem is that Germany is determined not to go further. Indeed, it has now been told by its constitutional court that it mustn’t, never mind the concerns of ordinary Germans about being made liable for other people’s debts.

A happy, or even only mildly painful, ending to Europe’s debt crisis is becoming ever harder to imagine. Even if Germans could be persuaded of the merits of a full transfer union, it would take years to agree and implement the arrangements. It seems likely that markets would break the euro before we ever got there. Nor does kicking Greece and other offenders out of the currency help very much — though it is increasingly difficult to see how they can remain in. As Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, has explained, Greece’s exit would create a powerful and highly visible precedent. As soon as Greece had departed, markets would focus on the country or countries most likely to leave next. Deposits would flee all countries deemed at risk and head for the handful of “safe havens” likely to remain in the euro area. This deposit run in the periphery would in itself create financial havoc and a deep recession. There would also be a major banking crisis in creditor nations forced to take deep write-offs on their exposure to exiting countries, and a consequent collapse in credit in those nations. Disorderly break-up involving the forced exit of weaker members, though perhaps now inevitable, certainly offers no economic panacea.

So what would work? If Germany has become more the problem than the solution, then perhaps the departure of Germany itself is the least disruptive answer. Last week’s resignation of Jurgen Stark, holder of the Bundesbank flame on the European Central Bank board, in protest at ECB support for the European periphery, demonstrates that Germany is at the end of its patience. The euro hasn’t worked, and until a United States of Europe is formed, is most unlikely to. Time to face up to the truth

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Worst Case Scenario for Euro Approaches

With Greece progressively sinking deeper and deeper into crisis amid doubts about the country’s ability to remain in the Eurozone, the European press worries about the national and continent-wide consequences of Greek default, which appears to be increasingly likely.

“What will be left of the Eurozone in a year’s time? the question may appear brutal and inappropriate” writes Jean-Marc Vittori in Les Echos, “but it is critically important in the light of the chaotic chain of events in recent weeks.” The French editorialist continues:

“that cockpit of monetary policy, which is the European Central Bank (ECB), has been shot through with disagreement to the point where it has clearly emerged among its directors. There is no denying that, in these troubled times, monetary policy has become a dangerous art. In printing banknotes to purchase massive quantities of sovereign bonds, the central banks are going against the principles which justified their independence; and the money that they are creating may one day feed inflation. Not surprisingly, given these conditions, the task of forging a consensus has become increasingly difficult both in the American Fed and in the ECB. But, until now, discussions have been held behind closed doors. In resigning from the ECB’s board of directors, Jürgen Stark has paved the way for a new era in which it may no longer be possible to reach common decisions on the fate of the single currency. […] The Germans are unhappy with at least two aspects current ECB policy: the purchase of sovereign bonds, mentioned above, and interest rates that are too low for their country, which is the only Eurozone state to come under inflationary pressure. There are two possible escape routes: the upward path towards the creation of a European federal state, or a descent towards the break-up of the Eurozone. Given the scale of the problems that have to be resolved, decisions will have to be made very quickly.”

De Volkskrant is highly sceptical about Greece’s ability to pay its debts. “The sale of public companies has served no purpose,” remarks the Amsterdam daily, which points out that “although Athens promised to privatise the equivalent of five billion euros in state property, hardly anything has come through.” Three months after it made a commitment to the troika (composed of representatives of the ECB, IMF, and European Commission) to privatise 1.3 billion euros worth of public assets before the end of September,

“the Greek government has executed very few of the promised reforms, leaving the EU and IMF confused. […] The only state property that has been sold is a small holding in a telephone company, worth 390 million euros. […] There have been several projects to sell the national lottery, which have all proved to be empty political posturing. In the end excuses were invented, and none of the deals were finalised.”

Spain is particularly worried about the reprecussions of the Greek crisis: “The possibility of Greece going bankrupt in October threatens Spain,” headlines El Mundo. At a time when the risk premium on Spanish debt has crossed the alert threshold of 370 points “in spite of massive bond purchases made by the European Central Bank” (ECB), the daily argues that “the Greek crisis has created the need for an economic agreement that will have to be pushed through before the 20-N” (the early general elections in Spain, slated for the 20 November).

“The extreme vulnerability of this situation should force [Prime Minister José Luis] Zapatero to zealously implement the necessary reforms, but instead the leader of the government has led us into a labyrinth. In calling for a general election four months ahead of time, he has halted any progress. The enactment of key economic reforms has been neglected by his government, to the point where Europe, precisely because of this lack of effectiveness, was forced to insist that it approve changes to the consitution [to introduce the ‘golden rule’ for budgetary stability].” “The only possible option now is for Zapatero to retake control of the situation by quickly convening a meeting with [right-wing opposition leader Mariano] Rajoy and [socialist candidate Alfredo Pérez] Rubalcaba, so that they can accelerate the implementation of structural measures, like the modification of collective bargaining procedures and the introduction of more effective labour market reform, which the Spanish economy will need in the coming years.”

Countries where the single currency has yet to be adopted, are worried that they may be sidelined in decisions in decisions about the future of the euro. “Poland wants to decide the the euro’s fate,” headlines Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, which reports on yesterday’s meeting of Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian and Latvian representatives in Brussels who were trying to work out a “common position concerning the vision of tightening co-operation within the euro zone.” The Warsaw economic daily hints that at the EU summit in October and December a decision “on starting negotiations on changing the Lisbon Treaty and transforming the currency union into the fiscal one” will surely be taken.

“Poland is building a coalition of countries willing to adopt the euro and therefore demand the right to participate in the debate about the shape of the currency union. Warsaw doesn’t want decisions about its future to be made only in Berlin or Paris.”

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


Jersey City Boy Allegedly Threw Baseball Bat at Cops During Afterschool Brawl

A group of about 50 juvenile males who appeared “agitated” and were armed with baseball bats and bricks clashed in front of Ferris High School Monday, an altercation that led to the arrest of a 16-year-old male accused of throwing a baseball bat at a police officer. The altercation, which occurred at around 3:15 p.m., shortly after the school was dismissed, involved about 30 Hispanic males and 20 black males, according to reports. They had separated from a larger group of about 100 males who were “swarming” at the intersection of Montgomery and Brunswick streets, on the southeast corner of the Ferris campus, police said.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

NASA to Build Most Powerful Rocket in History

Two months after the final flight of the space shuttle, NASA has decided on a replacement that can take humans into space. But the vehicle won’t fly until 2017 at the earliest. Yesterday, the agency announced plans to build the most powerful rocket in history. If all goes to plan, the blandly named Space Launch System will have its first test flight in 2017 and be capable of launching humans beyond low Earth orbit.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

NASA’s New Mega Rocket Would be Most Powerful Ever Built

NASA announced plans today (Sept. 14) for a new giant rocket that will one day carry astronauts on deep space missions to destinations such as an asteroid or Mars. The next-generation launch vehicle is expected to be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of taking human explorers to targets further in space than ever before, agency officials said. NASA intends to use the new Space Launch System (SLS) to fulfill a variety of launch capabilities, ranging from carrying 70 metric tons of material into space at first, to eventually being capable of hauling 130 metric tons, which is between 10 to 20 percent more thrust than the Saturn V rockets used to launch the Apollo moon missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, agency officials said. “It’s fair to call this the largest rocket, most powerful rocket,” Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate said in a news briefing today.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]


Advanced Birds Lived Alongside ‘Hairy’ Dinosaurs

By the late Cretaceous, about 80 million years ago, birds had evolved feathers for flying or diving, but they lived alongside dinosaurs with primitive feathers like hair. Both kinds of feathers have been found together, preserved in amber. The feathers offer a snapshot of late Cretaceous life, says Ryan McKellar of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. He identified 11 pieces of amber from the same Canadian deposit, dating from 79 to 78 million years ago. Two were donated by amateur fossil hunters, and the rest had sat unremarked in a museum for 15 years.

The amber, which is fossilised resin, contains fragments of feather between 2 and 8 millimetres long that were probably blown in as the resin dribbled down a tree trunk. Although small, they are exquisitely preserved. The dinosaur feathers are primitive, thin filaments that look similar to mammalian hair but are much thinner and lack the scales that cover ordinary hair. Some appear to have been arranged evenly in a pelt, while others are in tufts. Their colour ranges from medium to dark brown. McKellar thinks the simple feathers helped keep dinosaurs warm, and endured until the animals died out. By contrast, the preserved bird feathers resemble those of modern birds.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Feathers Preserved in Amber Reveal Colorful, ‘Fluffy’ Dinosaurs

About 80 million years ago, the flap of wings in a conifer forest let loose feathers that floated through the air before sticking to globs of shining tree sap below. Researchers in Western Canada have discovered these slicks of solidified sap, known as amber, contain a great variety of dinosaur and bird feathers from the Late Cretaceous period. They found 11 sets of feathers after screening more than 4,000 amber deposits in different museum collections. The feathers were so well-preserved that the researchers were even able to guess at what colors they might have been. They also contained samples of each of the four stages of feather evolution. “All the feathers are preserved down to micron scale, showing indentations and pigmentation,” study researcher Ryan McKellar, of the University of Alberta, told LiveScience. “It’s also the first time we’ve found protofeathers [feathers thought to belong to nonavian dinosaurs] preserved in amber.”

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

African Scandals Shake French Republic

Le Monde, 13 September 2011

“Robert Bourgi, the former ‘Mr. Africa’ who fires up the Republic,” headlines French daily Le Monde. Last weekend, this former unofficial advisor of President Nicolas Sarkozy accused former president, Jacques Chirac and his former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin of having “received several million dollars per year in stuffed attaché cases,” from African heads of state in order to finance electoral campaigns.

These revelations smell like “stink bombs,” deplores the Paris daily, noting that “Mr. Bourgi is not just anybody. He was a long-time collaborator of Jacques Foccart, father of the Elysée [presidential palace] Africa section, the inventor of these incestuous relations between France and its former colonies: covert financing to such and such a party in exchange for French support for the reigning African regimes” [known as Françafrique]. In a leader article called The Fifth — A Banana Republic? Le Monde notes that “coming after the musty smells of the Bettencourt case and the illegal surveillance of a Le Monde journalist, this gives a poor and sullied image of our democracy and is unsuitable to an electoral debate required for the high stakes of the moment”.

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

Belgium: Leterme Finds Asylum at the OECD

De Morgen, 14 September 2011

“Leterme flees politics,” headlines Belgian daily De Morgen. The Flemish-language paper explains that on September 16, the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria will announce the appointment of the Belgian Interim Prime Minister, Yves Leterme as his deputy for a two year term. Yves Leterme will begin his new functions once a new federal government is established in Belgium, which seen the current rate of progress in the negotiations, could take some time. For his party, the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), this is another “blow in just a few weeks,” after the announced departure from the government of Inge Vervotte, Minister for the Civil Service and Public Works. For Wouter Verschelden, editor-in-chief of the paper, the OECD post represents “an exit from the quagmire of national politics”. As of September, political leaders have been unable, for the past 458 days, to form a new federal government due to the on-going discord between French and Dutch speakers.

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

Commission Pushes for ‘Europeanisation’ Of Border Controls

Brussels — The EU commission is pressing ahead with a controversial draft bill on ‘europeanising’ the way border checks are introduced, allowing national governments to act on their own for only five days. The draft, seen by EUobserver, has already irked France, Germany and Spain who jointly oppose the idea of giving the EU commission a veto right over what so far has been the exclusive competence of national governments. Initially scheduled for the beginning of the week, the publication has been delayed until Friday (16 September), one day after the general elections in Denmark where border controls are a favourite topic of the populist Danish People’s Party.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Social Dems ‘Did It’

Social Democrat leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt put an end to a decade in opposition for her party tonight, when her centre-left coalition mustered enough votes to win a slim five-vote majority in parliament.

The electoral win puts a woman in the prime minister’s office for the first time in Danish history while at the same time ousting the Liberal-Conservative government, and its backers in the right-wing Danish People’s Party.

Addressing a crowd late Thursday evening Thorning-Schmidt proclaimed “we did it”.

“Today is change-day in Denmark. The Social Democrats are ready to work,” Thorning-Schmidt told a crowd of party faithful gathered at Copenhagen’s Vega concert hall.

The centre-left had campaigned on a platform of reinvigorating the social welfare state, and in her acceptance speech Thorning-Schmidt pledged to work for a society that “included everyone, and where everyone got a second chance — and another second chance”.

Continuing a theme that has laced this general election, Thorning-Schmidt also pledged to seek broad-based compromise and called on “everyone”, politicians and ordinary voters alike, to take part in that effort.

The new Social Democrat-led government and its allies are projected to have won control of 92 seats in the 179-member parliament. The Liberal-led alliance of now-former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen is forecast to end with 87 seats.

Election night proved bittersweet for Rasmussen. Despite the centre-right bloc being forced into opposition, his Liberal party surpassed the Social Democrats to become parliament’s largest party with 47 seats, one more seat than the party earned in 2007.

The strong result had Rasmussen cautioning Thorning-Schmidt not to get too comfortable in her position.

“Take care of the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office, they are only yours to borrow,” Rasmussen said during his concession speech.

While it was Thorning-Schmit that claimed victory as the country’s new leader, it was two of her allied parties, the centrist Social Liberals and the far-left Red-Green Alliance that were the election night’s biggest winners.

Both parties more than doubled their representation in parliament and will wield significant influence over a minority Social Democrats-Socialist People’s Party government.

Also adding seats was the Liberal Alliance, a centre-right party supporting lower taxes and a smaller state.

Both the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party lost seats in the election, as did the Danish People’s Party — the first time the party has suffered an electoral setback since entering parliament in 1998.

Part of the responsibility for the centre-right’s defeat is also due to be pinned on the Conservatives, who lost more than half of their representation and is now parliament’s smallest party.

[Return to headlines]

Finland: Halla-Aho Suspened for Two Weeks

The Finns party MP Jussi Halla-aho was suspended for two weeks by his parliamentary group on Thursday afternoon following Facebook comments deemed inappropriate by the party.

On Wednesday Halla-aho had posted a message on Facebook advocating a military junta in Greece and tanks on the streets to crush protesters.

The parliamentary group’s decision to suspend Halla-aho was unanimous and Halla-aho himself agreed to it.

The approved disciplinary measure is two weeks shorter than the original month-long suspension demanded by party chair Timo Soini.

On Thursday, Soini said that the parliamentary group made the best possible decision in the situation. He noted that, once the punishment is suffered, there can be a new start with a clean slate.

While his suspension lasts, Halla-aho will continue his normal work as MP. He will also carry on with his work as the chair of the Administration Committee.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

France: Islam; Praying in Paris Streets Banned From Tonight

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — Beginning this evening at midnight, holding Muslim prayers in the streets of Paris will be prohibited. The announcement was made by France’s Interior Minister, Claude Gueant, in an interview published today by the daily Le Figaro, which noted that “use of force” against those not complying with the regulation had not been ruled out. The minister underscored that a “convention” had been signed with Muslim associations so that a former barracks could be used as a place of prayer. For a long time Paris Muslims have met in the city streets on Friday, especially in the working class neighbourhood Goutte d’Or (18th arrondissement), due to a lack of space in mosques.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Germany: Lost Friedrich Der Große Sex Poem Uncovered

A poem about passionate sex written by Prussia’s Friedrich der Große (Frederick the Great) has been unearthed after being archived and — perhaps deliberately — lost for hundreds of years.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Greenwashing After the Phase-Out: German ‘Energy Revolution’ Depends on Nuclear Imports

Germany’s decision to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022 has rapidly transformed it from power exporter to importer. Despite Berlin’s pledge to move away from nuclear, the country is now merely buying atomic energy from neighbors like the Czech Republic and France.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Gun Ownership Shooting Up in Switzerland: Study

More than a quarter of Swiss households have access to a gun, according to a study carried out by the Institute of Criminology at the University of Zurich. In a victim study carried out on behalf of the conference of cantonal police chiefs, Martin Killias at the Institute of Criminology found that around 27 percent of Swiss homes have access to a firearm. Furthermore, the number of gun licences has increased sharply in many cantons since 2008, the SonntagsZeitung newspaper reported.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

History Brought to Life as Battle of Marathon Re-Enacted

Sweating beneath heavy armour, a group of die-hard archaeology fans brought the Battle of Marathon to life this weekend on the coastal plain where the fate of Europe dramatically changed 2,500 years ago. Gathering from Europe, North America and Australia, the re-enactors staged a three-day event of combat, archaic culture revival and commemoration at Marathon Bay never before seen in Greece despite its rich archaeological heritage.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Italy: Unipol: Silvio Berlusconi is the Addressee of the Tape

(AGI) Milan — Preliminary investigations magistrate of Milan, Stefania Donadeo stated that “Almost all of the accused people have reported that the addressee of the telephone interceptions was not Paolo Berlusconi but his brother Silvio Berlusconi.” She asked for compulsory charges against the Italian Prime Minister within the investigations regarding the telephone interceptions between former Ds leader, Pietro Fassino and former Unipol president Giovanni Consorte.

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

Jack Straw Urges UK to Back Palestinian State at UN

The former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called on MPs to support Palestinian plans for a unilateral statehood bid at the UN. The British government has not confirmed whether it will support the Palestinians if a vote goes ahead, although the US has already vowed not to back the move. Mr Straw has written to every member of parliament urging them to help admit the state to the UN and add their support to an Early Day Motion backing the bid. He said it would be the “best way” to restart peace negotiations. He said: “It is vital that the UK and other European countries have the courage to point the way forward.” He noted that the World Bank, the UN, the EU and the IMF had all judged the Palestinians as “ready for statehood” and added: “We all understand the fears that Israelis have for their security, but it will not enhance their security to deny the right of self-determination permanently to the Palestinians. Mr Straw was in charge of foreign affairs for five years, including during the invasion of Iraq.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Munich Conference: Trifkovic on Germany and Russia

… Dr Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of ‘Chronicles’ Magazine, further emphasised that “The global re-distribution of power, and the continued crisis in the European Union, means that Europe must rediscover the benefits of togetherness.” … Dr Trifkovic continued: “The likely return of Putin will be beneficial to unlocking the untapped potential of German-Russian relations as well as with other European partners such as France and Italy.” He added that this will be necessary in order to set Russia on the path to further modernization and help Russia “realize its full potential.”

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic[Return to headlines]

Neanderthals Ate Shellfish 150,000 Years Ago: Study

Neanderthal cavemen supped on shellfish on the Costa del Sol 150,000 years ago, punching a hole in the theory that modern humans alone ate brain-boosting seafood so long ago, a new study shows. The discovery in a cave near Torremolinos in southern Spain was about 100,000 years older than the previous earliest evidence of Neanderthals consuming seafood, scientists said. Researchers unearthed the evidence when examining stone tools and the remains of shells in the Bajondillo Cave, they said in a study published online in the Public Library of Science. There, they discovered many charred shellfish — mostly mussel shells — left by Neanderthals. They were able to date the shells by radiocarbon testing to about 150,000 years ago.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Terrorist Worked as Imam in Tilburg Prison

TILBURG, 15/09/11 — A radical Muslim arrested for murder in Spain in July has turned out to have worked as an Imam in a Dutch prison. Hasan B. was arrested in Madrid on 20 July at the request of the Moroccan authorities, who have requested his extradition. He was given the death sentence in Morocco in 1985 for involvement in murders of political opponents. The 44 year old man has worked for some time as an Imam in Tilburg Penitentiary (PIT). The justice ministry yesterday confirmed statements about this by various staff members of the prison. The man was hired as a temp by the ministry’s Spiritual Care Service. “Pending the investigation in Spain, no more use will be made of his services,” said a spokesman.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Norwegian ‘Wild Man’ Faked Famed Blog While Living in a Swedish Hotel

A Norwegian man who became a celebrity for documenting “a year” of living in the Norwegian wilds has confessed he spent much of the time living in a hotel in northern Sweden.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Rumours Fly That Berlusconi Insulted Merkel’s Figure on Phone

Italy’s gaffe-prone Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears to have insulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel using a vulgar phrase about her figure during a recent phone call.

The call between Berlusconi and a businessman was recorded by investigators during their search for evidence against the 74-year-old politician for a variety of charges including corruption.

Although the recording has not been released so the exact phrase Berlusconi used is unclear, it is said to be extremely insulting and concern Merkel’s physique.

Italian MP Rocco Buttiglione brought the gossip out of selected newspaper columns and into the open this week, according to Bild newspaper.

He told parliament: “If the rumours are true, which are not only circulating in journalist circles but also in parliament, that the Prime Minister has spoken about Merkel in an unspeakable, unpronounceable, unacceptable way, the situation would be dramatic. Someone who has reached out their hand to us would be spat at in the face.”

He said the rumours were already causing damage to German and Italian relations.

Berlusconi has already faced domestic outrage over the phone call for allegedly calling Italy a “shit country” that he planned to leave soon.

Merkel and Berlusconi have had public mishaps in dealing with each other in the past, with one example mentioned by Bild being in 2009 when Berlusconi arrived in Germany for a Nato conference. He got out of his car while on the phone and ignored Merkel, walking past her still talking on the phone.

Germany has been complaining that Italy is not doing enough to stem Europe’s brewing sovereign debt crisis and the countries clashed recently over reparations for victims of World War II.

The Italian practice of giving economic migrants from Tunisia travel documents, and effectively sending them elsewhere in Europe has also proved unpopular among the country’s neighbours.

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

Stockholm Bomber’s Widow Arrested in UK

A 28-year-old woman reported to be the wife of Stockholm suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab was arrested in the UK on Tuesday as part of an ongoing investigation into the attack. The woman is being held on suspicion of the preparation of terrorist acts, the BBC reports. According to the AP news agency, the woman is Mona Thwany, Abdulwahab’s widow.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Drunken Elk Hides Kids’ Swing Set in a Tree

An elk drunk from eating fermented apples in southern Sweden ended its binge by making off with a family’s swing set and hiding it in the woods. A homeowner from Storebro in northern Kalmar County arrived home on Wednesday night to find his garden littered with bits of apple and other signs that an elk had been partying in his back yard, the local Östran and Barometern newspapers reported. The concerned homeowner also discovered that the children’s swing set which normally sat in the yard was missing. The man immediately called police, who contacted a local hunter to track down the inebriated elk who was thought to possibly be injured.

Drunken elk are common in Sweden during the autumn season when fermenting apples are plentiful, both on the ground and hanging from the branches of trees which many Swedes have in their yards. While police and the hunter failed to meet up with the prank-playing elk, they did eventually find the family’s swing set, propped up in a tree deep in the woods about 500 metres from their home.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

UK: Liverpool Striker’s Controversial 9/11 Tweets

Liverpool is investigating striker Nathan Eccleston for tweets about the Sept. 11 attacks. The 20-year-old Eccleston posted the comments on Twitter on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks in the United States. “I aint going to say attack don’t let the media make u believe that was terrorist that did it,” Eccleston tweeted. He also made a reference to O.T.I.S., which can mean Only the Illuminati Succeed. The comments were later removed, but have been widely repeated online. Liverpool’s principal owner is John Henry, whose Fenway Sports Group also owns the Boston Red Sox.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: The Niqab Cuts Women Off From the World

I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room when I notice a small boy sitting on his mother’s lap, clapping. He is very sweet, smiling, laughing and enjoying himself. As I usually do when I see cute children, I look up at his mother and smile. Ordinarily, his mother would have smiled back, her heart surging with pride. She may have hugged her child ever so slightly, or patted him on the head, wanting to show off that he belonged to her. At least, this is often the response I get when I smile at mothers, letting them know that I think their child is lovely.

But this mother could not smile back at me. She could not interact with me across this crowded waiting room, as one woman to another. Between us lay her niqab, leaving only a slit for me to see her eyes. I looked straight at her eyes, smiled again and looked down at the boy. No response. Surely one can smile with the eyes, I thought…? But even if one can, does she know that such a thing is possible? And more importantly, given the barrier of the niqab, is she accustomed to having this sort of interaction with strangers?

A while later, this same woman and her child come out of the doctor’s office and she notices two women she knows sitting nearby. “Hello! Hello!” she shouts, waving at them. The women look at her blankly. “Don’t you remember me?” she squeals. The women look at each other, and then back at her. They have no idea who she is. After all, they cannot see her face. The woman tries several times to help them to remember, naming the place they met, talking about people they know in common. Still, the women have no idea. The woman in the niqab quickly looks around the waiting room and upon realising that there are only women in the room, she quickly lifts her veil.

‘Oh!’ The women exclaim. ‘How are you?’ ‘How lovely to see you!’ ‘How is X?’ And on the conversation goes. They chatter away for a few minutes and I sit, watching the scene in awe. Had this woman not been able to show these women her face, she would have left without having the experience of acquaintances running into each other, catching up, smiling, laughing, just as she had missed out on the friendly interaction with me just before.

While I believe absolutely in this woman’s right to wear whatever she wants, I do wonder why anyone would want to cover themselves in this way. I can only presume this woman’s choice to fully cover herself is a recent one, otherwise the white British women in the waiting room are unlikely to have previously seen her face in a public sphere. In choosing to cover herself completely, this woman chooses to cut herself off from society in many ways, and I cannot help but feel a little sad. There she is with her little boy — a boy who is able to be recognised, smile at people, interact with them and enjoy the freedoms that are forbidden to his mother. Yet she is the adult, and he is the child. Is there not something wrong with that?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Kosovo Unrest Picks Up Again

Another roadblock was put up Wednesday night in northern Kosovo, on the main bridge linking the Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica to the other side of town. Kosovar authorities tried to send police to the border crossings in late July, but Serbs reacted with barricades and skirmishes, killing a policeman.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Cameron, Sarkozy Pledge Continued Help for Rebels on Visit to Libya

The heads of France and Britain, leaders of the NATO bombing campaign to oust Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya, have visited the country to meet with representatives of the rebel-led government they helped install. British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy completed a lightening-fast visit to Libya on Thursday, as the new leaders they helped put into power continued the fight to win control over the last pockets of resistance in their country.

The two men were greeted at Tripoli’s Metiga airport by Mahmoud Jibril, the vice-chair of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), and were quickly taken to the Tripoli Medical Center, where they toured three of the hospital’s wards. Crowds of medical staff gathered to shake the Cameron and Sarkozy’s hands and thank them for their countries’ support. “It’s extremely moving to see young Arabs turn towards these two great Western countries to say, ‘Thank you,’“ Sarkozy told reporters in Tripoli. “This proves that conflict between the West and the Middle East is by no means an inevitability.” Cameron pledged continuing support to Libya, saying the UK would look to unfreeze 12 billion pounds (13.8 billion euros/$19 billion) in Libyan assets to help the new government.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Egypt Declares Camp David Accords With Israel ‘Not a Sacred Thing’

Egypt’s prime minister triggered angry consternation in Israel on Thursday after declaring that the historic Camp David accords underpinning peace between the two countries were “not a sacred thing”.

Dramatically heightening tensions during an increasingly volatile time in Israel’s relations with the Arab world, Essam Sharaf’s suggestions that the 32-year treaty could be revised prompted disbelief in the Jewish state.

“The Camp David agreement is not a sacred thing and is always open to discussion with what would benefit the region and the case of fair peace,” Mr Sharaf told Turkish television. “We could make a change if needed.”

Coming just days after an angry mob stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Israeli officials said they were staggered more by the timing of Mr Sharaf’s comments than their actual content. “Less than a week ago, we had the problem with the embassy,” an Israeli official said. “I don’t think a responsible prime minister should say things like that.”

Reeling from a noxious diplomatic row with Turkey and fearing that an expected Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN next week will heighten its growing sense of isolation.

On Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, raised the stakes by repeating his intention to deploy warships in the Mediterranean to challenge Israeli “aggression”.

“Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said. “They will see what our decision will be on this subject. Our navy attack ships can be there at any moment.”

Israel has spoken of its determination to defuse tensions with Egypt in the wake of last week’s embassy raid.

Until yesterday, Egypt’s transitional military leadership had responded in kind, insisting that it wanted to uphold the Camp David accords, whose historic agreement in 1978 is widely seen as ending the cycle of Israeli-Arab wars that erupted in the preceding 30 years.

But, in the wake of the popular revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the former president, in February, Egypt’s present crop of transitional leaders have been forced to take into account the view of ordinary Egyptians, many of whom remain deeply suspicious of Israel. Mr Mubarak, by contrast, assiduously upheld the treaty with Israel, even assisting in imposing an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has a border with Egypt.

Public anger towards the Jewish state mounted after Israeli troops in pursuit of suspected militants inadvertently shot dead five Egyptian border guards, leading to last Friday’s riot at the embassy.

In the aftermath of the revolution, a number of civilian politicians likely to contest presidential elections in Egypt at the end of the year have said they want to revise “humiliating” aspects of the treaty with Israel.

In particular, they want the right to take fuller economic and military control of the Sinai region, which Israel occupied after the Six Day War of 1967 but handed back after the peace treaty of 1979, signed a year after the meeting at Camp David brokered by then US president Jimmy Carter.

Israeli officials in private say such demands are not unreasonable, and could even be beneficial given the growing lawlessness of the Sinai region. But the phrasing of Mr Sharaf’s comments, particularly that the treaty is not “scared”, is seen as incendiary.

“Others who have said this kind of thing have been presidential candidates but this is the prime minister — that is what is disturbing,” the Israeli official said. “He should be more careful.”

By making his comments to Turkish television, Mr Sharaf appeared to be attempting to burnish his populist credentials.

He spoke just after Prime Minister Erdogan had completed a visit to Egypt.

Seeking to present himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, a stance that has won him huge popularity in the Arab world, Mr Erdogan has kept up a steady stream of invective against Israel in recent days.

Earlier this month he expelled Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, downgraded diplomatic relations and suspended defence ties after Israel refused to apologise for killing nine Turkish nationals during its botched raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year.

Increasing Israel’s sense of vulnerability, a last-ditch US bid to prevent the Palestinian Authority from making a controversial bid for statehood appeared to have failed yesterday, setting the stage for a major diplomatic showdown at the United Nations next week.

Palestinian officials signalled their determination to defy stiff opposition from Washington by pressing ahead with a formal application for UN membership after the annual session of the General Assembly opens in New York on Monday.

With Israel threatening “harsh and grave consequences” if the bid goes ahead, President Barack Obama sent his closest Middle East advisers, Dennis Ross and David Hale, to the West Bank to persuade Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to back down.

But aides in the Palestinian city of Ramallah said that, although he would hear the Americans out, Mr Abbas would not be dissuaded from pursuing a cause seen as vital to his political survival. The Palestinian leader is due to address the General Assembly next Friday, Sept 23rd.

“We will see if anyone carries with him or her any credible offer that will allow us to look into it seriously and to be discussed win the Palestinian leadership,” said Riyad al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister. “Otherwise, on the 23rd at 12.30, the president will submit the application.”

[Return to headlines]

Libya: George Washington Slept Here

by Diana West

If a tree falls in a forest — no, if a bunch of al Qaeda and Hezbollah “flickers” seize power of the ninth largest oil state with NATO and US support — will anyone take notice?

Not the New York Times and pals — until it’s too late.

From today’s Old, Grey (Blind) Lady, Page One:

Islamists’ Growing Sway Raises Questions for Libya

TRIPOLI, Libya — In the emerging post-Qaddafi Libya, the most influential politician may well be Ali Sallabi, who has no formal title but commands broad respect as an Islamic scholar and populist orator who was instrumental in leading the mass uprising.

The most powerful military leader is now Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.

“Once believed”? What a deceptively fuzzy term to use given that the US State Department, in its 2008 rundown of terrorist organizations, describes a 2007 “merger” between Belhaj’s “hard-line group” (the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) and al Qaeda!

This same “merger,” not incidentally, was announced by Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri. Indeed, as this 2005 Jamestown Foundation paper argues it was Qaddafi’s opposition to the jihadist LIFG that changed his whole international footing. Jamestown writes: The internal challenge the LIFG posed to Qaddafi’s rule led him to “abandon his quixotic defiance of the United States and join the Bush administration’s war on terror, while the prospect of a LIFG takeover in Libya has facilitated American and European forgiveness of past transgressions.”

Don’t look now, but with massive American and European military and civilian support, that once-dreaded LIFG takeover of Libya is now in progress. It must be pretty far along if even the New York Times is taking notice…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Sarkozy and Cameron in Libya: Heroes for a Day

European leaders are rarely celebrated as heroes, but this is precisely how Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron were treated in Tripoli on Thursday. As a reward for their military deployment against Moammar Gadhafi, the president and prime minister received a warm reception. The French appear to have gained the most in Libya.

But the French president may have to defend the selfless dedication of his country against the potential criticism that France acted alone out of strategic calculation to push the military operation through the UN, speculating on Libya’s oil riches just as the United States did ahead of their invasion of Iraq. Such suspicions have not been dispelled, because Sarkozy and Cameron obviously wanted to beat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Libya with the quick visit. The new leaders in Tripoli have made the calculated move of announcing that their Western allies will be favored when contracts are awarded. Both the British and the French hope to recoup the costs of their military operations through lucrative deals for their companies back home.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Salafists Aganist Alcohol Sellers, Huge Brawl

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 15 — The incidents of intolerance which in Tunisia (as in other North African countries such as Algeria) see Islamic fundamentalists attacking clandestine sellers of alcohol are increasing. Yesterday evening in the streets of Menzel Abderrahem in the Bizerte governorate, were the theatre of a huge brawl in which hundreds of people took part and which had been sparked when Salafists tried to stop the clandestine selling of alcohol. According to Tunisie Numerique, the number of casualties has not yet been released (though many are thought to have been injured on both sides). The site underscored, however, that the fighting went on for a long time without any police forces intervening.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Britain Should Say Yes to Palestinian Statehood — And So Should Israel

A no vote at the UN will boost Netanyahu, wound Fatah and discredit the Europeans as useless hypocrites

Britain doesn’t usually count for much in the Middle East, but this time it could make all the difference. As the Palestinians seek United Nations recognition as a state, a quirk of diplomatic algebra leaves Britain with a chance to play the decisive role — and to complete some unfinished business dating back more than 60 years. Barack Obama has already said the US will vote against any Palestinian move towards statehood at the UN general assembly now gathering in New York. Large swaths of Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East plan to vote for it. Which leaves Europe as the diplomatic battleground. If the leading European powers side with the US, the Palestinian initiative will be seen as a failure. If an EU majority backs recognition in some form, the Palestinians can claim symbolic victory.

Already negotiations are under way, both among the European nations and between the EU and the Palestinians, aimed at reaching a common, compromise position. France and Spain want to say yes, Germany and Italy are wary. Which leaves Britain with something akin to a casting vote in the “quintet” of leading European nations. How David Cameron jumps will be crucial in determining Europe’s stance, and therefore the fate of the Palestinian effort itself. For decades Britain has talked about punching above its weight. Now its weight really counts.

The backroom haggling concentrates on which UN body will make the decision — the general assembly or the security council — and what exactly they’ll be voting on. If the Palestinians aim high, they’ll apply to the security council for full UN membership, where Obama has promised they will be greeted by a US veto. Or they could go before the general assembly, where 140-odd countries are ready to grant the lesser prize of an upgrade in UN status, from observer to “non-member state”, with access to some of the major international institutions. Devil’s in the details and all that, but Britain’s attitude should be clear: we should say yes.

That’s because UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 will breathe fresh life into the ailing idea which, despite everything, remains the last best hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace — a two-state solution. By recognising a state of Palestine alongside Israel, the UN will entrench the notion that the only way to resolve this most stubborn of conflicts is for these two nations to divide the land between them into two states. In so doing it will halt the steady drift, born of despair more than enthusiasm, towards the so-called one-state solution — so-called because while it would bring one state, it offers no solution, just a single entity that would frustrate the yearning for self-determination of both sides.

The two-state solution has been on life support for years now, its health deteriorating since Binyamin Netanyahu returned to the prime minister’s office. Officially he subscribes to two states, yet his every policy action, typified by unceasing settlement building in the West Bank, puts that goal further out of reach. A loud yes vote at the UN would reverse that trend, renewing what has long been the global consensus: that the land of historic Palestine has to be shared between the two peoples who live there.

Here’s where Britain and Europe can give a little extra help. A new and insightful policy document by the European Council on Foreign Relations — titled Why Europeans Should Vote

Yes — suggests the new UN resolution could explicitly support the idea of “Israel alongside a Palestinian state, thereby entrenching Israel’s legitimacy and its permanence”. Having the general assembly, including its Arab and Muslim member states, vote for such a resolution would amount to de facto recognition of Israel — and reassure those who fear the country’s “delegitimisation”. The text might even reconfirm UN resolution 181, the original 1947 partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Renewing 181 would complete two items of unfinished business. First, that Palestinian state promised 64 years ago never materialised: its land was gobbled up, the West Bank taken by Jordan, Gaza by Egypt and much of the rest by Israel. A yes vote next week would finally acknowledge the Palestinian right to lands they were meant to govern decades ago. Second, Britain abstained in 1947; now it has a chance to say yes to the partition of the land it once ruled.

Still, it’s the future we should be imagining, specifically the day after a US- and Europe-led no vote. Palestinian public opinion would surely conclude that the path of nonviolence and diplomacy had failed, shunned by the very countries who had repeatedly urged them to take it. In the ongoing argument within Palestinian society, the advocates of armed resistance would appear vindicated, their opponents humiliated.

Imagine the contrasting scene in Israel, where Netanyahu would be doing a victory dance. As Daniel Levy, co-author of that ECFR paper, told me, a European no vote would reward the Israeli PM’s stubbornness: “He will respect the EU even less, and it would entrench his rejectionism even more.” Bibi would taunt those who had warned of a September diplomatic tsunami as “liberal crybabies”, unable to see that tough intransigence always wins the day. A prime minister who should be on the ropes — assailed for watching as two former allies, Egypt and Turkey, make common cause against Israel — would instead be hailed as a maestro of international power politics.

If the prospect of boosting Bibi and discrediting Fatah does not deter European governments contemplating a no vote, perhaps they should think on their reputations in the region if the Palestinians are thwarted. Having praised those peoples who seized their own destiny through the Arab revolutions, they would have denied, however symbolically, that same path to the Palestinians. Obama is already fated to be condemned as a hypocrite by the Arab world, thanks to his promised veto. If the Europeans make the same mistake, they will lose whatever influence they retain in the Middle East. No one will listen to a word they say.

There are misgivings among Palestinians and their supporters, of course. Some worry that recognition of the Palestinian Authority would diminish the PLO, which represents the wider Palestinian diaspora. The glib answer is that the Palestinians of the occupied territories have been dominant since at least the Oslo accords, signed 18 years ago today, and that a UN vote will only formalise what is already true. More subtly, such a usurping of the PLO would only be in prospect if the Palestinians started implementing practical statehood, declaring interim borders on the West Bank and the like. And no one believes that is likely.

The truth is that, by itself, a positive UN vote will not change the lives of too many Palestinians. But a negative response would be a disaster, boosting Israeli hardliners, weakening Palestinian peacemakers and choking the near-dead two-state solution. All three of those arguments should resonate in European capitals, but the last two should hit home in Israel itself. That is why a wise Britain would vote yes at the UN — and why a shrewd Israeli government, one that understood the best form of security is peace, would vote exactly the same way.

[JP note: Nuts.]

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

Palestine Must be Judenrein

Israel’s peace partner, the PA (Palestinian Authority), is showing its true colors. With the impending unilateral declaration of statehood on the agenda, PA officials are beginning to tell it as it is. In the past, this was only done in Arabic, while the messages to the media in Hebrew and English were frequently whitewashed to maintain the image. PA Ambassador to the US Maen Areikat said Wednesday (Sept. 14) that the future State of Palestine must be free of Jews, explaining to reporters in the United States that over the past 44 years, they have known nothing other than occupation and the time has come to bring this to an end. He boldly added this is best for both sides, Israel and Palestine. Such a state would be the first to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which sought a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews, said Elliott Abrams, a former US National Security Council official.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Nicolas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley the Only Tory MPs to Support EDM [Early Day Motion] In Favour of Palestinian Statehood

Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley are the only Tory MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion supporting Palestinian membership of the United Nations. The EDM, tabled by Labour MP Ann Clywd on 5th September, has gained 79 signatures, mostly from within the Labour Party.

The premise of the EDM, supporting Palestinian statehood is that:

“the way forward is to recognise an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and support its admission to the UN because this will be the most effective guarantor of a resumption of negotiations and will also be the best protector of the rights not only of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but also of Palestinians living in Israel and of Palestinian refugees abroad”

Former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has also added his name to the list — only the second time he has signed an EDM since leaving government, and his first this year. Another Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, proposed an amendment to the EDM on the 7th September, calling for a “clear distinction” to “be drawn between moderate Palestinians such as those in the West Bank who are seeking a peaceful two state solution and terrorist groups in Gaza such as Hamas.” The amendment was proposed in light of comments by Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas in the Gaza strip, condemning the killing of Osama bin Laden, who he described as an “Arab holy warrior”. Halfon’s proposal states that only those areas of Palestine which “renounce terrorism, should be considered for statehood. Another Tory MP, David Amess, has signed in favour of such an amendment.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Middle East

9/11, Muslims and the Next 10 Years

Having personally been to Ground Zero less than a month after the world’s turning point — 9/11 — I tracked the news from around the world to see how society, politics and religion are intersecting with one another 10 years later. Much has been written on Islam in and Muslims in the past decade, a lot of it filled with hate, prejudice and bias but a fair amount of valid criticism of the way the religion has been abused by its leaders. For every individual who has moulded Islam to fit into narrow confines, millions have risen to prove the opposite.

Over the next two decades, in 2030, the Muslim population is going to be:

  • Larger. According to the Washington-based Pew Research Center, “the world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030”. This would take the total Muslim population to 26.4% of the world’s, from 23.4% today.
  • Younger today but ageing. “The so-called Muslim youth bulge — the high proportion of youth and young adults in many heavily Muslim societies — has attracted considerable attention from political scientists,” the report states. “Less notice has been paid to the fact that the Muslim youth bulge peaked around the start of the 21st century and is now gradually declining as the Muslim population ages. The percentage of 15- to 29-year-olds in Muslim-majority countries rose slightly between 1990 and 2000 (from 27.5% to 28.8%) but has since dipped slightly to 28.5% and is projected to continue to decline to 24.4% in 2030. While this is not a large drop, it means that the proportion of youth and young adults in many Muslim-majority countries has reached a plateau or begun to fall.”
  • Largely Sunni. “Sunni Muslims will continue to make up an overwhelming majority of Muslims in 2030 (87%- 90%),” the report states. “The portion of the world’s Muslims who are Shia may decline slightly, largely because of relatively low fertility in Iran, where more than a third of the world’s Shia Muslims live.”

This is going to change many things, primarily foreign policy that has in the past 10 years been woefully dominated by Islam. “In 1950, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey had a combined population of 242 million,” wrote Jack A. Goldstone in Foreign Affairs. “By 2009, those six countries were the world’s most populous Muslim-majority countries and had a combined population of 886 million.” Dealing with this population and religion is going to need some shift in attitudinal gears.

The currently young population will continue to drive the Arab Spring that is still in its infancy with many flowers still to bloom — Saudi Arabia, Somaila, Yemen and so on. Dictators in these regimes will have to contend with the younger and dynamic aspirations of the future. “But more than demographics — or perhaps because of it — it will be the spirit of the Arab people that will drive change,” I wrote in a previous blog post. “The Arabs, as their reputation goes, are a fiercely independent people.”

But is the Arab uprising “Islamic”? Between varied opinions, “I think, the issue is one of freedom, not religion and we’ll just have to wait and see how democracy shapes up in this freedom-starved region,” I wrote in a blog post titled, Is the Egyptian uprising Islamic?. “If after getting democracy, Egypt supports radical Islam, this ‘revolution’ would end up as the greatest tragedy of this North African nation — and the world.” This issue is not going to end with the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, it will continue to discuss it through the decade ahead. I’ll be tracking it here. In these years, I will watch my nephew grow into a man. In his eyes I see the compassion, the love and the intellect that defines the true Muslim — in body, mind and spirit.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Israel Jordan Ambassador Evacuated Over Protest Fears

The Israeli Prime Minister has ordered the evacuation of the embassy in Jordan. Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement came amidst fears about possible violent anti-Israel protests at the Amman embassy. Although Israeli diplomatic staff leave Jordan every weekend, the Prime Minister took the decision to have vacate the embassy early. A Facebook group planning a demonstration at the embassy has already attracted 3,000 supporters. Last Friday, the Israeli ambassador to Egypt had to be flown out of the country after a violent mob stormed the complex. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994 and have enjoyed largely peaceful relations in recent years.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Pakistan, Iran to Boost Bilateral Trade to $10 Billion From $1.2 Billion

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Iranian President Mehmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday agreed to boost trade between the two countries, currently at $1.2 billion to $10 billion, according to a Pakistani daily. The two leaders said that an increase in collaboration between the two countries was important for enhancing trade volume compatible with their proximity and potential, according to a report in the Daily Times newspaper. Gilani and Ahmadinejad agreed that the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and the import of 1000MW of electricity from Iran be expedited as Pakistan is facing an acute energy shortage, the report added.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck: Former Saudi Wahhabi Radical Takes on the Koran

He’s a former radical Wahhabi Muslim from Saudi Arabia who knew the Bin Laden family and once wished to follow in Osama’s footsteps.

Now Al Fadi (a pseudonym) is a Christian who spends his time challenging the Koran.

He’s the focus of my latest report for CBN News.

Watch at the link above.

           — Hat tip: Erick Stakelbeck[Return to headlines]

The Man Who Could Trigger a World War

by David Warren

The greatest threat to the world’s peace, at this moment, comes from a man named Recip Tayyip Erdogan. He is the prime minister of Turkey, at the head of the Justice and Development Party (“AK,” from the Turkish). A former mayor of Istanbul, he was arrested and jailed when he publicly recited Islamist verses (“the mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets are our bayonets,” etc.), in defiance of the old secularist, Ataturk constitution, which made it an offence to incite religious and racial fanaticism.

Erdogan’s credentials as an anti-Semite, but also as an anti-Communist, were established from his school days. He came from an observant Muslim family, and while nothing he says can be taken without salt, he claims an illustrious ancestry, of fighters for Turkish and Ottoman causes.

He is an “interesting case” in other respects. His post-secondary education was in economics; he is a very capable technocrat, and under his direction the Turkish economy was rescued. He is a dragonslayer of inflation, and public deficits; he took dramatic and effective measures to clean up squalor in the Turkish bureaucracy, and as the saying goes, “he made the trains run on time.” Erdogan is also a “democrat,” who has no reason not to be, because he enjoys tremendous and abiding domestic popularity. The party he founded came to power by a landslide, and has been twice re-elected. (He had a stand-in for prime minister at first, for he was still banned from public office.) There are demographic reasons, too, why Turkish secularism has been overwhelmed by Turkish Islamism. The Muslim faithful have babies; modern secularists don’t.

The “vision” of this politician, which he can articulate charismatically, is to combine efficient, basically free-market economic management, with a puritanized version of the religious ideals of the old Ottoman Caliphate. (Gentle reader may recall that I am allergic to visionary and charismatic politicians, who operate on the body politic like a dangerous drug.)

Erdogan’s vision has turned outward. His strategy has been to seek better economic integration with the West, while making new political alliances with the East — most notably with Iran. He now presents Turkey as the champion of “mainstream” Sunni Islamism, while trying to square the circle with Persian Shia Islamism. This could still come to grief over Syria, where the Turks want Iran’s man, Assad, overthrown, and the Muslim Brotherhood brought into a new Syrian government.

Turkey’s military was the guarantor of pro-western Turkish secularism, under the Ataturk constitution. With characteristic incomprehension of the consequences, western statesmen supported Erdogan’s efforts to establish civilian control over the generals — our old NATO friends. By imprisoning several senior officers on (probably imaginative) charges of plotting a coup, Erdogan was able to induce the entire Turkish senior staff to resign, last month. They did this because they had run out of allies. Hillary Clinton and company hung the only effective domestic opposition to Erdogan out to dry. Turkey’s powerful, western-equipped military is now entirely Erdogan’s baby, and the country’s secularist constitution is a dead letter. Erdogan, the Islamist, now has absolute power.

It was he who sent the “peace flotilla” to challenge Israel’s right to blockade Gaza (recognized under international law and explicitly by the U.N.). He made the inevitable violent result of that adventure into an anti-Israeli cause célèbre. He has now announced that the next peace flotilla will be accompanied by the Turkish navy. This will put Israel in the position of either surrendering its right to defend itself, or firing on Turkish naval vessels. There is no way to overstate the gravity of this: Erdogan is manoeuvring to create a casus belli.

He has made himself the effective diplomatic sponsor for the Palestinian declaration of statehood next week — from which much violence will follow. Every Palestinian who dies, trying to kill a Jew, will be hailed as a “martyr,” with compensation and apologies demanded.

He has been playing Egyptian politics, by adding to the rhetorical fuel that propelled an Islamist mob into the Israeli embassy in Cairo last Friday. He is himself in Cairo, this week, on a mission to harness grievances against Israel, in the very fluid circumstances of the “Arab Spring.” For action against this common enemy is the one thing that can unite all disparate Arab factions — potentially under Turkish leadership. The West is just watching, while Erdogan creates pretexts for another Middle Eastern war: one in which Israel may be pitted not only against the neighbouring states of the old Arab League, but also Turkey, and Iran, and Hamas, and Hezbollah. This is what is called an “existential threat” to Israel, unfolding in live time. It could leave the West with a choice between defending Israel, and permitting another Holocaust. In other words, we are staring at the trigger for a genuine world war. With Recip Erdogan’s twitching finger on it.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Erdogan’s Visit, Israeli Flags Burnt

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 15 — Israeli flags have been set fire to by hundreds of people who over the night awaited the arrival of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan — who has begun a two-day visit — in front of the Tunis-Carthage airport. Reports were on the Tunisie Numerique site.

The act was intended to show solidarity with Turkey, involved as it is in a harsh diplomatic contest of wills with Israel which culminated in Israel’s ambassador being expelled from Ankara. No further incidents have been reported, in part due to substantial security in the form of hundreds of police officers

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Srdja Trifkovic: Beyond the “Strategic Partnership”

The E.U.-Russia Centre Conference, Munich, September 15, 2011

The “Strategic Partnership” between Berlin and Moscow is usually understood in the English-speaking world in somewhat simplified terms: Russian energy meets German technology with a lot of high-minded political rhetoric on top. In the meantime, the received wisdom goes, Germany remains firmly anchored in the Euro-Atlantic framework of political, economic and military institutions and relationships. In other words, Moscow may be Germany’s partner, “strategic” or otherwise, but Washington remains Berlin’s primary ally and its primary institutional focus is still in Brussels.

This may have been so over the years but it need not be so in the future. A foreign policy realist would argue that in the years ahead of us the German decision-making elite would be well advised to critically reconsider old assumptions and to develop an overall strategy of greater equidistance vis-à-vis Moscow and Washington. (Instead of equidistance, “more equal proximity” may be a better term.)

If German political, economic and civilizational interests are considered in realist terms, without the rhetorical ideological shackles of common values and ideals, it transpires that the Federal Republic has a more natural community of long-term geopolitical interests with Russia than with the United States.

The fundamental German-Russian compatibility is that they are traditional European nation-states pursuing limited objectives by limited means. By contrast, the leaders of the United States of both parties still subscribe to the notion of America’s exceptionalism and to the propositional creed rooted in Puritan millenarianism…

           — Hat tip: Srdja Trifkovic[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Accused of Proselytising, American Family Attacked by Indonesian Extremists

Only the intervention of the police prevented serious consequences for the parents and their two boys. The father had started two weeks earlier to teach English at a local Protestant school. The attack, which took place in South Sulawesi, was ordered by a radical local Muslim leader.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Only the intervention of police saved the lives of an American family that was attacked by an enraged mob spurred by a local religious leader. Muslim fundamentalists were incensed by charges that the head of the family was engaged in proselytising in the predominantly Muslim area. The latest of its kind (a few days ago clashes between Christians and Muslims left people dead and wounded in Maluku, this incident is further proof of Indonesia’s steady slide towards extremism, a situation that threatens the country’s constitutional foundation, namely its pluralism.

The attack came at night on 5 September in an area west of Palu, provincial capital of South Sulawesi. An American family, David Ray Graeff, 41, his wife Georgia, also 41, and their two sons Benjamin and Daniel, had been staying at Bukit Kabonena Permai housing compound for the previous two weeks. Mr Graeff had been hire to teach English language and literature at a local Protestant divinity school in the village of Uwera, Sigi District.

On that night, an extremist mob, spurred by a local Muslim leader, Muhammad Saleh bin Abubakar Alaydrus, from the local Nurul Khairaat praying group, attacked the family, accusing them of proselytising in the mostly Muslim area. For them, the presence of Americans was itself a “serious threat”.

In the course of their attack, the mob set fire to the family’s property, including a minivan.

Police, who had already been deployed in the area to pre-empt acts of violence, was able to intervene and prevent the worse.

However, the family had to be moved to avoid possible deaths and injuries, Southeast Sulawesi Deputy Police Chief Senior Superintendent Ari Dono Sukmanto said.

Indonesia’s good reputation as a pluralistic, multi-confessional society, has been tarnished by the attack in South Sulawesi and the clashes on the Maluku Islands.

Comments and articles in Indonesia’s press have highlighted the matter, as many see such incidents as a confirmation of the country’s possible Islamisation.

Indeed, Muhammad Saleh bin Abubakar Alaydrus, the Muslim leader that ordered the attack on the American Christian family in Palu, had joined in 2001 a government peace plan agreed in Malino to end sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in Maluku.

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

Kabul Attack: ISAF and Taliban Press Officers Attack Each Other on Twitter

A 20-hour standoff between Taliban suicide attackers and Afghan and Nato troops sparked another conflict between their spokesmen who attacked each other on Twitter.

While shots and explosions rang out across central Kabul, the two enemies challenged each other on the microblogging site. The exchange highlighted the emphasis both sides now place on trying to win the propaganda war and Nato’s efforts to counter a virulent insurgent information campaign. The spat between the coalition press office, @ISAFmedia, and @ABalkhi apparently began when Nato responded to a tweet boasting that Taliban militants were still holding out in a tower block under siege by Afghan and coalition forces.

“Kabul still under siege as battle continues into second day…”, posted @ABalkhi, which is one of several accounts tweeting Taliban messages and has a little over 300 followers.

The international coalition quickly responded, saying: “Re: Taliban spox on £Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm’s way?”

The Taliban spokesman, who uses the name Abdulqahar Balkhi on his account, responded: “i dnt knw. u hve bn pttng thm n ‘harm’s way’ fr da pst 10 yrs. Razd whole vllgs n mrkts. n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout ‘harm’s way’“ The coalition press office hit back citing a United Nations estimate that four fifths of civilian casualties, which are running at record levels, are caused by the insurgents. “Really, @abalkhi? UNAMA reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities,” the coalition, which has just over 11,000 followers, tweeted. The Taliban then questioned the credibility of the United Nations.

A team of Taliban spokesmen run a sophisticated propaganda outfit which is in daily contact with Afghan reporters using email, twitter, mobile phones and their website.

Propaganda statements claim responsibility for attacks within minutes, though the insurgent reports carry usually inflated and often wholly fabricated death tolls for “Nato invaders” and “American cowards”. By contrast the Nato press office often appears flat-footed and slow. Commanders point out that unlike the insurgents they must take time to check their information is accurate.

Twitter has also quickly become the preferred medium for reporting bomb attacks and security incidents in Kabul, with Afghan journalists tweeting details long before news hits television and radio bulletins. By Wednesday evening, the Nato press office appeared to be trying to provoke another exchange with the enemy. Challenging another Taliban twitter account, the coalition posted a link to a video of Gen John Allen, its top general, checking on his troops after the attack. “Does your boss do this?” the tweet asked. In recent weeks the coalition has tried to exploit intelligence reports which say Taliban foot soldiers harassed by coalition raids in Afghanistan are bitter their leaders remain in safety across the border in Pakistan.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Pakistani Cleric: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Safe, Controls 70% of Afghanistan

Maulana Samiul Haq, a renowned Islamic scholar and leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) party, has said that the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar is safe and sound, and is leading his movement with full strength, according to an Urdu-language daily.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Sentences Four to Death for Violence in Xinjiang

China has sentenced four people to death over unrest in the ethnically-torn Xinjiang region after vowing to crack down on “terrorism” in the troubled far-western area. Two courts in Xinjiang have sentenced four people to death after they were found guilty of masterminding and engaging in terrorist organizations, illegally making explosives, murder and arson. The official Chinese Xinhua news agency has reported that two others have received 19 years in prison for their participation in violent outbreaks in Xinjiang. Protests had broken out in July among the mainly Muslim Uighur minority against Chinese rule.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Canberra’s 9/11 Decade: Bureaucracy

Part II of a series on Canberra’s 9/11 Decade; part I is on the ADF.

This is ‘Lubyanka on the Lake’, Canberra’s most expensive public building since the new parliament. ASIO’s new HQ isn’t quite the proudest and most prominent spook-catching construction in the Western world: that title still resides with its sister agency, MI5, resplendent in Thames House, on the river just down from the British Parliament. Yet the imposing ASIO pile facing across the Lake to the High Court and parliament will stand as a symbol of what 9/11 did to Canberra.

So, also, will the shift of the Australian Federal Police from a relatively small HQ in Civic to the Barton Building in Kings Parade, just down from parliament. In the geography of Canberra power, the AFP has shifted from the periphery to the centre, and ASIO now sits on a high hill. The buildings are part of Canberra’s new counter-terrorism edifice, built and growing on the conviction that the jihadist threat is ‘persistent and permanent’.

At the start of the decade, the elements of the edifice cost $1 billion. By the end, it was $4 billion. After 9/11 and the Bali bombing in 2002, Canberra was driven by a dreadful fear, expressed in the statement that a terrorist attack on Australian soil was only a matter of time. This sense of inevitability has slowly faded, but the fear has driven policy shifts that continue. Here is Dr Chris Michaelsen, of NSW University Law Faculty, on the 9/11 decade:

ASIO’s budget has increased by 655%, the Australian Federal Police budget by 161%, ASIS by 236% and the Office of National Assessments by 441%. The legislative response has been unprecedented, too. Since 9/11, Federal Parliament has enacted more than 40 pieces of ‘security legislation’ which ensure that Australia has some of the most Draconian anti-terrorism laws in the Western world. In fact, it is the only Western liberal democracy that allows its domestic intelligence agency, ASIO, to detain persons for seven days without charge or trial and without reasonable suspicion that those detained are actually involved in any terrorist activity. This gigantic policy response has been at odds with the reality of the risk of terrorism in Australia. To date, not a single person has been killed in a terrorist attack on Australian soil in the post-9/11 era. About 100 Australians have died in terrorist attacks overseas, most of them in the Bali bombings. Indeed, chances of dying in a terrorist attack in Australia are close to zero.

If that ‘close to zero’ moment does happen in Australia, it seems certain it will be caused by Australians. That was another big shift over the decade. At the start, Canberra looked outward for the threat, to Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. Now it looks inward at its own people. In a speech looking back at the 9/11 decade, the Attorney-General, Robert McLelland, said the focus is on the danger posed by Australians who become radicalised:

Since 2000, there have been four major terrorist plots disrupted in Australia. To date, 38 individuals have been prosecuted as a result of counter-terrorism operations and 23 have been convicted. Significantly, 37 of the 38 people prosecuted are Australian citizens and 21 of the 38 were born in Australia.

Just as America needs to worry about how so much of its foreign relations is now run by its military, Australia needs to contemplate the way ‘security’ drives its decisions and policy options. Canberra’s counter-terrorism edifice forms part of the national security complex that is seeking to consolidate after an extraordinary period of growth. Those inside it prefer the term ‘national security community’, but the always-present elements of competition as well as cooperation mean that ‘complex’ is a more accurate description. The competition is inevitable because cash does not flow equally to all parts of the complex. The loser in Canberra’s security decade was Foreign Affairs, as the Lowy Institute has charted in detail. Agencies like the Australian Defence Force, ASIO and the AFP thrived in the 9/11 decade while DFAT lagged. Just to tilt that image a little, though, consider the point that one of major winners was not an obvious member of the security complex. Over the decade, the cash cascaded consistently into aid, and its custodian AusAID. The aid budget doubled in the 9/11 decade and will do it again this decade. The Howard Government put weak and failing states in the same frame as terrorism, and suddenly international aid looked like a good investment.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Five Spaniards Aboard Tanker Taken by Pirates

Five Spaniards are among a 23-strong crew captured on a Cyprus-flagged tanker off the coast of the West African country of Benin, Spain’s government said Thursday. “We are doing everything we can from our embassy in Ghana to resolve the situation,” said a spokesman for the Spanish foreign ministry, which confirmed that five of the crew were Spanish citizens. Pirates boarded and hijacked the tanker, taking her 23 crew hostage, in the early hours of Wednesday, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The coast of Benin, which neighbours Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, has seen a steep increase in hijackings this year, with 19 ships coming under attack.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

U.N. Reports One Million Darfur Refugees Return Home

(AGI) Khartoum — One million of the 2.7 million refugees from the fighting between rebels and government forces in Darfur have returned home, according to the African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur, referred to by its acronym UNAMID.

According to its director, Ibrahim Gambari, the UN peacekeepers were a contributing factor, who achieved “great success in reestablishing stability and security” in the western region of the Sudan, where violence “has dropped 70% in the last year.” .

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


EU: Towards Strengthening Border Surveillance

La Voix du Luxembourg, 14 September 2011

“Immigration splits the EU,” leads La Voix du Luxembourg, following the vote in the European Parliament to strengthen Frontex, the European border surveillance agency, by requiring member states to share in its operations and by beefing up its capabilities. The newspaper, which published on its front page a photograph of the coffins of African migrants who died trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, said that faced with the influx of refugees from North Africa in the spring, the European Commission had been the first “to seize the ball by proposing a strengthening of its powers and establishment of ‘mandatory solidarity’ among all member states”. Under the plan approved on Sept. 13, the member states will, among other things, put their own national border guards at the disposal of Frontex in the event of mass migration into the Schengen area. At present, “Frontex must rely on the goodwill of member states to deploy personnel and equipment in the missions of the agency.”

On September 16 as well the Commission should be presenting another instalment of the “new Schengen governance,” writes Le Figaro for its part: Brussels will now be able to suspend from the Schengen area any countries that fail to protect their sector of Europe’s common border. It’s a threat that especially affects Athens, notes the French daily. But this programme has not won unanimity within the EU: the Ministers of the Interior from France, Germany and Spain have already drafted a joint statement in which they refuse point-blank to surrender control over temporary checks at their own borders to the EU.

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

Immigrant Boat Adrift, 95 Rescued in Lampedusa

(AGI) Palermo — Another boat of immigrants has made landfall on Lampedusa. 95 Tunisians, including 2 little girls, reached Lampedusa during the night after being rescued at 30 miles from the island by a Guardia di Finanza patrol boat. All the migrants were transshipped on another Guardia di Finanza ship because the boat adrift had an engine failure which made it impossible for it to continue its course.

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

Playground Joshing Has Become a Hate Crime

Children’s innocence is being corroded by the thought police.

Four months ago, I was having a chat with some mums at a local recreation ground when I heard a tale that froze my bone marrow. They told me that the six-year-old son of a mutual acquaintance had been reported by his school to the local authority after saying to a friend of ethnic origin: “Your skin is the colour of poo.” This was deemed to be a racially motivated incident. No matter that every little boy thinks no sentence is complete without a mention of excrement. Rare is the day when I’m not told: “Mummy, you’re a poo,” or the ever popular: “You smell like a poo,” while many evenings end with the recitation: “Twinkle twinkle little poo.”

Would I find this scatological assault offensive if I was of African or Asian origin? I doubt it. Futhermore, the “poo” joke happened in a classroom in Britain’s most liberal city, where the citizens are so right-on they tend to embrace both hoodies and further immigration. Clearly it is right for teaching staff to be sensitive about how banter concerning a child’s appearance could be interpreted, but surely it’s not beyond anyone’s ken to tell a child firmly that lavatorial jibes are unacceptable. Instead, the parents of the accused boy were distraught to find a silly bit of playground joshing was logged with the bureaucrats as a hate crime.

I don’t blame the head or teachers, who were only following Orwellian diktats foisted on them by the state. The 2000 Race Relations Act obliges teaching staff to report all “hate speech”, and you can imagine the accusations of “cover-up” that could dog any staffer who dared to exercise restraint and common sense in such instances. It’s the same brand of PC bullying that saw my sister-in-law reduced to tears in Hackney when a teacher reprimanded her for saying “Wendy house”, instead of “play house” — so turning a charming reference to Peter Pan into an act of wanton sexism.

Such attitudes leave parents in a quandary about how they maintain their children’s natural state of openness. How should I, for example, respond to my seven-year-old son when he comes home and tells me about a new boy in his class, who is “nice and clever” and has “brown skin”. The remark is made in the same spirit as his comment that a new girl has “blonde hair”, so why am I left anxious that I should, perhaps, have warned him not to repeat the remark in school? Everyone’s innocence is being corroded by the thought police.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Asian Peer in ‘Children for Benefits’ Row

Britain’s first female Asian peer sparked outrage today by claiming Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are having lots of children in order to claim extra benefit payments. Baroness Flather was branded “deeply irresponsible” and “out of touch” following her comments in the House of Lords. The 77-year-old crossbencher said: “The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis, have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child.” Lady Flather admitted the claim was “politically incorrect” but added: “I think it is about time we stopped using children as a means of improving the amount of money we receive or getting a bigger house.”

Her comments caused dismay among community leaders. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation which aims to promote understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, said: “This is deeply irresponsible. As a prominent Asian woman she should know better but it shows how out-of-touch she is from our community. I would invite her to come and show me these families.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Ex-Tory Peer’s Pakistani/Bangladeshi Smear Ignores the Evidence

Former Tory peer Baroness Flather used the opportunity of the welfare reform bill’s second reading in the House of Lords to attack Pakistani and Bangladeshi families for having too many children.

Specifically, she lays the charge that they do so to claim more benefits.

The Daily Mail faithfully reports that she told the Lords:

“The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis, have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child. “Nobody likes to accept that, nobody likes to talk about it because it is supposed to be very politically incorrect.”

According to the BBC, she went on to compare Pakistani and Bangladeshi families unfavourably with Indians and Jews:

“Indians have fallen into the pattern here. They do not have large families because they are like the Jews of old. They want their children to be educated.

“This is the other problem — there is no emphasis on education in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi families.”

Not only does this ‘slice ‘em and dice ‘em’ analysis leave a bad taste in the mouth, but it also only has a loose relationship with any actually evidence.

First, although birthrates are higher among Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, they are not so much higher as to assert there is a general culture of very large families.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Immigrants Have Children for Benefits, Says Baroness Flather

The UK’s first female Asian peer has used a debate in the Lords to criticise Pakistani and Bangladeshi families for having too many children. Baroness Flather suggested people in some minority communities had a large number of children in order to be able to claim more benefits. The peer, born in Lahore before the partition of India, said the issue did not apply to families of Indian origin. The cross-bencher said benefit cuts could help to discourage extra births.

Baroness Flather, speaking during a debate on the government’s welfare changes, said: “The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child. “Nobody likes to accept that, nobody likes to talk about it because it is supposed to be very politically incorrect.” The 67-year-old said that immigrant families must stop having lots of children “as a means of improving the amount of money they receive or getting a bigger house.”

Indians ‘different’

The former Tory peer also claimed Indian families had a different mentality to Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in the UK. “Indians have fallen into the pattern here,” she told peers. “They do not have large families because they are like the Jews of old. They want their children to be educated. This is the other problem — there is no emphasis on education in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi families.” Baroness Flather called for a gradual reduction in benefits in order to discourage large families and suggested payments should be reduced after a couple’s first two children. She said: “I really feel that for the first two children there should be a full raft of benefits, for the third child three-quarters and for the fourth child a half.”

Baroness Flather’s comments were not well-received by Labour work and pensions spokesman Lord McKenzie. Concluding the argument for the opposition, he told the Lords: “I had not expected the treatise on the family sizes of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities and hope I don’t again.” Welfare reform minister Lord Freud, replying to the debate, did not refer to Lady Flather’s comments. The Welfare Reform Bill is the biggest shake-up of the benefits system for 60 years. A universal payment to replace income-related work-based benefits, such as child tax credit, is planned, as are stricter rules for people losing their benefits if they refuse a job.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Migrants Have More Kids for Big Benefits

ASIAN parents breed big families to claim more benefits, says Britain’s first woman Asian peer. Baroness Flather called for child benefit to be capped after the second child to deter mega broods. And she accused politicians of sweeping the issue under the carpet for fear of appearing politically incorrect. The former barrister, 77, said: “The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child. “Nobody likes to accept that, nobody likes to talk about it because it is supposed to be very politically incorrect. It is about time we stopped using children as a means of improving the amount of money they receive or getting a bigger house. I really feel that for the first two children there should be a full raft of benefits, for the third child three quarters and for the fourth child a half.” The baroness, born into a wealthy Indian family, was speaking during a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill which aims to cap benefits a family can receive at £26,000. She said in some countries parents relied on children in old age, but added: “This doesn’t apply here — every old person has a pension and will be looked after.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]


Ancient Meteorite Showers Responsible for Earth’s Gold, Study Finds

Researchers say they have evidence that most of the gold floating around world markets and jewelry stores today was carried to Earth billions of years ago by meteorites, long after the planet’s formation.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Astrophile: The Most Surreal Sunset in the Universe

One of the most memorable scenes in the Star Wars series features Luke Skywalker on a dusty hill, watching a pair of suns set in tandem. Skywalker is standing on the fictional planet of Tatooine, but it turns out that similarly surreal sunsets are visible in reality — from the newly discovered exoplanet Kepler 16b, which orbits two stars. A word of caution for any Earthlings hoping to glimpse a double sunset though: you’d need to travel for 200 light years first, and once you got there, you wouldn’t be able to stand on the planet itself — it is gaseous.

At the heart of the newly discovered binary solar system, an orange star and a smaller red one orbit each other every 41 days, separated by about half the distance between Mercury and the sun. The orange dwarf and its red-dwarf partner have 69 and 20 per cent of the sun’s mass, respectively. The clues that the planet is there were picked up by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]

Planet Like ‘Star Wars’ Tatooine Discovered Orbiting 2 Suns

It’s a real-life Tatooine. A spectacle made popular by the “Star Wars” saga — a planet with two suns — has now been confirmed in space for the first time, astronomers revealed. Scientists using NASA’s Kepler space telescope captured details of a giant planet in orbit around the pair of binary stars that make up the Kepler-16 system, which is about 200 light-years away.

“This discovery is stunning,” said study co-author Alan Boss at the Carnegie Institute in Washington. “Once again, what used to be science fiction has turned into reality.” When Tatooine was depicted on film, many scientists doubted that such planets could really exist. Now there’s proof. “It’s possible that there’s a real Tatooine out there,” said John Knoll, visual effects supervisor at the special-effects firm Industrial Light and Magic, which was behind the “Star Wars” films. “Kepler 16b is unambiguous and dramatic proof that planets really do form around binaries.”

The new discovery is expanding the bounds of what scientists, as well as filmakers, can conceive, he said. “Again and again we see that the science is stranger and cooler than fiction,” Knoll said during a NASA press conference today. “The very existence of these discoveries gives us cause to dream bigger, to question our assumptions.” The planet, dubbed Kepler-16(AB)-b, passes in front of both stars in view of the satellite, regularly dimming their light. Each star also eclipses its companion as they orbit each other. Altogether, these motions allow scientists to precisely calculate the masses, radii and trajectories of all three bodies.

           — Hat tip: Rembrandt[Return to headlines]