Sunday, January 12, 2003

News Feed 20120328

Financial Crisis
»Bankers Worried About Irish No Vote
»Brussels Believes Spain Should Tap EU Rescue Fund to Recapitalize Its Banks
»Dutch Deficit Talks in ‘Difficult Phase’: Official
»Estonia Boasts 2011 Budget Surplus, EU’s Lowest Debt
»European Debt Crisis: The Hidden Risks Lurk in ECB’s Accounts
»Eurozone Firewall Meeting to be ‘Positive’
»France ‘To Blame for Euro Woes’
»Hungary Has Highest Interest Rate in EU
»Italy: Monti Warns About Dangers of Spain
»Italy Blames Germany, France for Eurozone Debt Culture
»Italy: Six-Month Lending Rate Drops to Lowest Since Sept. 2010
»Monti Chides Parties: Confident Labour Reform Will Pass
»More Money for the Euro Rescue: Onward, To the Next Red Line!
»OECD Says Eurozone Needs to Double Bailout Fund
»Russia: Bank Privatizations Risk Downgrades
»Spain Budget Due Amid EU Pressure, Strikes
»Spain Likely to Need Bailout This Year: Citi
»America: A Nation in Decline and Slowly Cracking Up
»Barack Obama: I Have a “Moral Obligation” To Neuter America
»Freedom and Understanding P.E.R.S.
»Senator: Supreme Court Would Allow ‘An All Powerful Government’ By Upholding Obamacare
»Stakelbeck on Terror Show Featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann
»The EPA Wrecking Ball
Europe and the EU
»“Anders Breivik is Not Crazy” — The Surprise Defense of Norway’s Mass Killer
»Belfast Commemorates Titanic: Disaster Ship Remembered in City That Built it
»Berlusconi Friend, Employee Probed After Swiss Bank Rejected His Millions
»Brussels Airlines Threatens to Leave Belgium: Report
»Don’t be Fooled. Europe’s Far-Right Racists Are Not Discerning — Opportunistic Words of Love for Jews and Israel Cannot Disguise the European Far Right’s Toxic Rhetoric of Hatred
»EU Announces Proposed Cybercrime Center
»EU Diplomats’ Generous Holiday Schemes Raise Eyebrows
»Finland: Dispute Brews Over Who Qualifies as Sámi
»France: Hippies Head for Noah’s Ark: Queue Here for Rescue Aboard Alien Spaceship
»France: Toulouse School Getting Hate Mail Since Attack
»French Scientist in Terror Trial
»French Reveal Loathing for ‘Violent’ Suburban Youth
»Fringe Parties Set to Score Well in Greek Elections
»‘Geert Wilders’ Anti-Pole Website Crashes After Polish TV Satire’
»Germany: Anti-Nazi Groups Struggle to Find Funding
»Germany: Victim Slams Court’s Racial Spot-Check Ruling
»Half of Adult Romanians Have Not Used a Computer
»Hungary Amends Justice Law After EU Threats
»Hunt for Skilled Labor: Germany Woos Portugal’s Lost Generation
»Italy: Monti Government Collected 13 Billion Euros Since November
»Italy: Big Parties Reach Agreement on Electoral Reform, MP Cull
»Italy: Refuse: Clini: Powers to Commissioner for New Sites in Rome
»Italy: PM Monti on Labor ‘I Have the Consensus, Reform to be Done’
»Muslim Girls Must Swim With Boys: Swiss Court
»Netherlands: Student Cleared on Charges of Threatening Geert Wilders
»Norway: Krekar Back in Court After ‘Dream’ Arrest
»Sarkozy Forbids Islamist Preachers From Entering France
»Sex Toy Survey: Germans Come First
»The Sámi — the Only Indigenous People in the EU
»Toulouse Gunman Was Informant of French Intelligence?
»Toulouse Murders Show France’s True Colors
»Tungsten-Filled 1 Kilo Gold Bar Found in the UK
»UK Riots Caused by Demoralized Youth, Panel Says
»UK: Bookmarks April [Tom Holland — in the Shadow of the Sword]
»UK: Dudley Mosque Fight Drags on
»UK: MP’s Fear Over Death Threats
Mediterranean Union
»Tunisia: Ambassador to the EU, Visa Easing Needed
North Africa
»Gaddafi’s Assets Seized in Italy
»ISNA Works With Authorities in North Africa to Develop Protocols to Protect Religious Minorities
»Libya’s Toubou Tribal Leader Raises Separatist Bid
»Libya: Christians Bear Witness to Easter in a Country Burdened by Hatreds and Violence, Mgr Martinelli Says
»Tunisia: Crossroads of Fanatical Preachers and Jihadists
Israel and the Palestinians
»Kadima: Mofaz Gets His Revenge, Defeats Livni
Middle East
»“The Prophet Came From Jordan”
»Arab League Transforms Itself Into a Sought-After Partner
»Erdogan Visiting Iran
»Hair Product for ‘Real Men’: Turkish TV Ad Features Hitler to Sell Shampoo
»Obama’s Over-Hasty Withdrawal: Iraq is Neither Sovereign, Stable Nor Self-Reliant
»Qatar Postpones French Suburb Fund Until After Election
»Spain: Al Qaeda ‘Librarian’ Arrested in Valencia
»For Russian Orthodox Church, Cross Ban in Workplace is a Form of Totalitarianism
»Russia’s Medvedev Tells Romney to ‘Use Head’
South Asia
»Afghan Woman is Killed ‘For Giving Birth to a Girl’
»Bangladesh Celebrates Independence in the Shadows of the Past
»De Mistura Calls Detention of ‘Enrica Lexie’ Unacceptable
»Italian Commitment in Afghanistan and Pakistan Remains
»Pakistan: Christians Under Attack: Attacks by Islamic Extremists in a Suburb of Karachi
»Pakistan: Hindu Girl Tells Supreme Court She Would Rather Die Than Convert to Islam
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Briton Arrested in Somalia Was Looking for ‘Somewhere Sunny’
»Dutch Party Upset Over Pretoria Street Names
»Belgium: Nationalists Want to Set Language Requirement for Foreigners
»Denmark: Boom in Immigrants on Incapacity Pensions
»Dutch Parliament Condemns Anti-Immigrant Website
»Wars and Crises Spark Global Rise in Refugees
Culture Wars
»300 Swiss Died by Assisted Suicide in 2009
»EU Slams Albanian Official’s Anti-Gay Comments
»Italy: Minister Profumo: Divine Comedy to Remain in Syllabus
»Sweden: ‘Gay-Bashing’ Reggae Star’s Gig Put Off Again
»UK: Doctor Claims He Was Dismissed for Emailing Prayer to Colleagues
»Billions of Habitable Alien Planets Should Exist in Our Galaxy
»Cat Parasite May Affect Humans, Researcher Claims
»Executions on the Rise Globally, Says Amnesty
»New ‘Life in Space’ Hope After Billions of ‘Habitable Planets’ Found in Milky Way
»The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New by Peter Watson — Review

Financial Crisis

Bankers Worried About Irish No Vote

The Institute of International Finance, a banking lobby, has said Ireland’s referendum on the fiscal discipline treaty, due 31 May, is a large cause for concern. “Putting it very simply, we worry about what happens if there’s a No vote,” the institute’s chief economist Phil Suttle told The Irish Times.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Brussels Believes Spain Should Tap EU Rescue Fund to Recapitalize Its Banks

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said a few months back that European citizens are not ready for another round of bank recapitalization, but there may be an exception: Spain. The European Commission believes the Madrid government should tap the European Union rescue fund to accelerate the government-orchestrated restructuring that is already under way in order to get credit flowing again.

Brussels believes the restructuring plan introduced by the team of Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, which calls for additional provisions of 52 billion euros by the banks to cover possible losses on real estate assets on their books could be insufficient if the crisis drags on. The restructuring is aimed at fomenting further consolidation in the sector, using when necessary injections from the Deposit Guarantee Fund, which is funded by the banks themselves.

The rescue fund seems the best option at present given the problems in raising capital privately and restrictions on the use of public money because of the austerity drive to rein in the country’s deficit.

The Commission feels that Spain should not consider having to tap the fund as a stigma. “There is one possibility, and that is to continue to drag one’s feet, stretching out the process, and that the banks continue not to lend, therefore, stymieing the recovery,” a source in Brussels said. “And there is an indirect way, which is to tap the rescue fund. There are no easy solutions to the crisis.”

The government has rejected the option of seeking a loan from the fund. “But the resources of the Deposit Guarantee Fund are running out, and if there is a sharp fall in house prices, there will be no other option but to inject public funds in the banks,” a market source said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dutch Deficit Talks in ‘Difficult Phase’: Official

(THE HAGUE) — Negotiations between the Dutch government and its right-wing parliamentary partner over the country’s deficit were suspended Wednesday with officials saying talks had entered a “difficult phase.”

Premier Mark Rutte’s ruling coalition and the far-right, eurosceptic Party for Freedom (PVV) are meeting in The Hague to hammer out a plan to cut spending in order to meet the EU deficit ceiling of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product.

“It is a difficult phase” in talks, a Dutch government official told AFP who asked not to be named. The official refused to give further information on negotiations that have been labelled make-or-break.

Figures by the country’s central planning bureau (CPB), on which government depends, showed earlier this month that the state must save 16 billion euros ($21 billion) in 2013 to meet EU rules.

The Dutch government was put in an embarrassing spot as the bureau’s data showed that the public deficit for 2013 would rise to 4.6 percent of domestic gross product under current conditions.

The figures were a blow to a hard-line Dutch government that has insisted deficit sinners such as Greece keep within the EU’s budget deficit rules.

Talks in The Hague are aimed at curbing spending, but are also seen as a litmus test for Rutte’s rightwing liberal government consisting of his own party and its coalition partner the Christian Democratic Action (CDA), which with far-right support enjoys a majority in the Dutch parliament.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Estonia Boasts 2011 Budget Surplus, EU’s Lowest Debt

(TALLINN) — Estonia posted a budget surplus of 1.0 percent of the economy last year, while its public debt totalled just 6.0 percent, the lowest debt in the 27 member European Union, data showed Monday. The Baltic state of 1.3 million which joined the EU in 2004 and eurozone in 2011 has long been known for its rigorous fiscal discipline. Estonia recorded 7.6 percent growth last year and its economy is forecast by the central bank to grow by 1.9 percent this year.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

European Debt Crisis: The Hidden Risks Lurk in ECB’s Accounts

Some economists warn that the German central bank faces hidden liabilities of 500 billion euros in the form of unsettled claims within the European payments settlement system, and could lose that sum if the euro zone breaks apart. According to SPIEGEL, the German government has said it sees no such risks. But a Greek euro exit could still cost the German central bank billions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Eurozone Firewall Meeting to be ‘Positive’

Top European Union officials Wednesday expressed confidence for a breakthrough in talks this week as the bloc debates a bigger financial firewall to avert eurozone crises. A meeting of EU finance ministers in Copenhagen on Friday is expected to focus on whether to increase the size of the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund from a planned 500 billion euros ($667 billion).

“I’m confident that we will reach a positive outcome,” EU president Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference after talks with South Korea’s President Lee Myung-Bak in Seoul. The International Monetary Fund has been pushing for an increase to as much as one trillion euros before it agrees to strengthen its own resources against a fresh eurozone crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel fuelled optimism prior to the meeting in Denmark by indicating that she was prepared to allow a boost in the firewall, in an apparent shift of position amid fierce international pressure.

Van Rompuy described a treaty signed earlier this month to control EU budgets as “a turning point in the crisis”. And European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told the Seoul news conference that he was “absolutely sure” the EU would emerge from the debt crisis stronger than before.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France ‘To Blame for Euro Woes’

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Wednesday said the root of Europe’s debt woes lay partly in the irresponsible parenting of Germany and France during the bloc’s infancy. Monti told reporters in Tokyo that because the eurozone’s two largest players had not abided by fiscal rules, they had set a bad example for the rest of the continent.

“The story goes back to 2003 (and) the still almost infant life of the euro,” Monti said. “It was in fact Germany and France that were loose concerning the public deficits and debts.”

The widely-respected technocrat, who replaced billionaire media magnate Silvio Berlusconi in November as head of the eurozone’s third largest economy, said the flouting of rules allowing for an annual budget deficit of no more than three percent of GDP was the issue.

He said despite recommendations, a meeting of ministers from European Union governments had decided not to punish France and Germany for going beyond the deficit limit.

“So the two largest countries in the eurozone had the (deficit) with complicity of Italy, which was then chairing under the rotation system the council of prime ministers of European Union. “Of course if the father and mother of the eurozone are violating the rules, you could not expect… (countries such as) Greece to be compliant.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Hungary Has Highest Interest Rate in EU

Hungary’s central bank, Magyar Nemzeti Bank, has the EU’s highest interest benchmark rate at 7 percent. The rate has been at 7 percent for the past three months. The bank may refrain from cutting the rate due to a delay in obtaining an International Monetary Fund loan.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Monti Warns About Dangers of Spain

Rome, 26, March (AKI/Bloomberg) — Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti warned that Spain could reignite the European debt crisis as euro-area ministers this week prepare a deal to strengthen the region’s financial firewall.

Monti pointed to Spain’s struggle to control its finances ahead of a finance ministers meeting in Copenhagen starting on March 30, where officials will seek agreement to raise a 500 billion-euro ceiling on bailout funding.

“It doesn’t take much to recreate risks of contagion,” Monti said during the weekend at a conference in Cernobbio, Italy. Days after his Cabinet approved a bill to overhaul Italy’s labor laws, Monti praised Spain’s efforts to loosen work regulations while advising it to focus on cutting the national budget. Spain “hasn’t paid enough attention to its public accounts,” he said.

The euro crisis has eased after the European Central Bank last month boosted liquidity through three-year loans to banks, while European Union leaders this month sealed a second Greek bailout package. Still, signs of a deepening economic recession in the region and struggles to meet austerity goals have kept decision makers on alert, underscored by rising Spanish and Italian yields.

EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was confident ministers will resolve their differences on providing more bailout funding for the euro. Speaking yesterday to reporters in Saariselkae, Finland, Rehn said that officials “will take a convincing decision on the reinforcement of the firewalls.”

Euro-area leaders have established two bailout funds, the temporary European Financial Stability Facility and the permanent 500 billion-euro European Stability Mechanism, which is scheduled to begin operations this year. Under current rules, unused EFSF funds would be passed on to the ESM, though disbursement could not exceed the half-trillion limit.

Policy makers are discussing how to add to the funds, for example by allowing the EFSF and ESM to work concurrently to make more money available. Deploying unused sums from the temporary fund while allowing the ESM to operate at capacity would bring a total crisis backstop to 692 billion euros.

General Strike

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, have abandoned their opposition to combining the two funds, Der Spiegel reported yesterday, citing unnamed government officials. The two leaders have agreed that the EFSF and ESM may be “in operation” for a transitional period, the magazine reported.

The focus by policy makers and investors has shifted over recent weeks from Greece to Spain, where Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is struggling to reduce the country’s budget deficit in the face of a looming recession.

Rajoy faces his first general strike on March 29 as unions protest against changes to employment laws making it cheaper to fire workers and cut wages. Three months after coming to power, he is due to present the 2012 budget on March 30, which is designed to cut the deficit.

ECB Loans

Meanwhile, Rajoy failed to win an outright majority in elections for Spain’s most populous region, Andalusia, last night. Even though his People’s Party took more seats in the legislature than any other, it fell short of the 55 needed. The region has been controlled by the Socialists since Spain’s return to democracy in 1978

The conundrum for European leaders was underscored on March 22, when a report showed that euro-area services and manufacturing output contracted more than economists forecast. The drop in March on declining domestic demand added to signs that the region’s economy is sliding into recession.

Leaders struggling to resolve the crisis have been given some space by the ECB’s three-year loans to banks, made between December and February. Speaking at the seminar he hosted in Saariselkae, north of the Arctic Circle, Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen warned that crisis management “can’t be outsourced” to the region’s central bank.

“While more than a trillion euros is not exactly small change,” the ECB’s loans “have certainly not solved the euro area’s problems once and for all,” Joachim Fels, chief economist at Morgan Stanley, wrote in a note yesterday.

As he lauded Rajoy’s efforts to loosen rules on employee dismissals, Monti pushed a bill to overhaul Italy’s labor laws through Cabinet on March 23, facing down opposition from unions and political allies needed to pass the measure in parliament.

Illustrating the difficulties in establishing consensus for change, Pier Luigi Bersani, the head of the Democratic Party on whom Monti relies for backing in parliament, has said he will seek to get the law amended during debate. The CGIL, Italy’s biggest union, has called a general strike.

The Italian premier, in office since replacing Silvio Berlusconi in November, opted not to force through a decree that would have implemented the measures immediately.

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

Italy Blames Germany, France for Eurozone Debt Culture

Mario Monti believes ‘irresponsible’ former political leaders in Germany and France laid the foundation for the eurozone debt crisis. By setting a bad example, they weakened fiscal discipline, the Italian leader said.

The eurozone’s two biggest economies had not “abided” by the currency area’s deficit rules, thus setting a “bad example” for the rest of the continent, the Italian Prime Minister said Wednesday.

“The story goes back to 2003 and the still almost infant life of the euro,” Monti told reporters in Tokyo, where he is currently holding political talks with Japanese leaders.

Describing the deficit and debt policies of the two countries as “loose” at the time, he accused them of flouting the eurozone’s three percent annual budget deficit rule, and making efforts to get away with it.

“Despite recommendations, a meeting of ministers from European Union governments decided not to punish France and Germany for going beyond the deficit limit.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Six-Month Lending Rate Drops to Lowest Since Sept. 2010

Bonds rate drops to 1.119%

(ANSA) — Rome, March 28 — The interest rate on six-month Italian Treasury bonds dropped to its lowest since September 2010 at an auction on Wednesday.

The rate fell to 1.119% when the Treasury sold eight billion euros worth of six-month bonds, compared to 1.202% at the last such sale on February 27.

In November, when Mario Monti became premier after Silvio Berlusconi resigned with the debt crisis threatening to spiral out of control, the six-month lending rate was over 6%.

The spread between 10-year Italian bonds and their German equivalent, a key indicator of market confidence in Italy’s ability to weather the eurozone debt crisis, dropped back below 320 points in early trading Wednesday, to 318.7, with a yield of 5.10%

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Monti Chides Parties: Confident Labour Reform Will Pass

Move to make firing easier a ‘bitter pill to swallow’

(ANSA) — Tokyo, March 28 — Premier Mario Monti said on Wednesday that he was confident his government’s hotly contested reform of the labour market would be approved while chiding Italy’s political parties.

Monti, who took over the helm of an emergency government of non-political technocrats after Silvio Berlusconi resigned as premier in November, threatened to step down earlier this week if the “country is not ready” for his reforms.

The centre-left Democratic Party, one of the three main political groups backing Monti’s administration, and Italy’s biggest trade union CGIL are demanding changes to part of the package that would make it easier for firms to dismiss workers.

Monti said the package, which also features new benefits for people out of work, will boost productivity, growth and make it easier for young people and women to find jobs.

“Companies are afraid of hiring because it’s very difficult for them to dismiss (staff) even if they have economic reasons (to do so),” he told reporters in Tokyo.

The former European commissioner added that he was hopeful the package would be approved before the summer despite the opposition.

He said this confidence was based on the fact that controversial pension reforms that raised Italy’s retirement age to 67 were pushed through as part of an austerity package in December.

“A part of the reform has been accepted by everyone and that’s not strange as it’s the part that entails government spending,” Monti said.

“But there are also other parts of the reform, which we believe complete it and make it a good reform, which are a more bitter pill to swallow”.

Monti also took a little swipe at the country’s political parties, which were frequently furiously at odds with each other before the top mainstream groups decided to support his emergency government.

“We (the government) are enjoying high approval ratings in the polls, even though there has been a drop in recent days because of our labour measures, and the parties are not,” he said. “In part this is because we are a brief exception (to normality)”. Monti added that he believed Italy’s political life will be different when the parties start to run the country again after elections next year because of the experience of his government.

“I think things will be different because they (the parties) will be more aware that there is a demand for governance from the public, while the supply of governance was lacking in the past,” he said.

He also praised the parties, as well as Berlusconi, for standing aside to allow his administration to come to power when the debt crisis threatened to spiral out of control last year.

“It’s not easy to find a political system in which a prime minister who has not clearly been defeated in parliament resigns,” he said.

“The parties, who were belligerent in the past, have decided to (come together for) a period of national unity”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

More Money for the Euro Rescue: Onward, To the Next Red Line!

The euro bailout funds will be enlarged, and Germany’s guarantees will rise further as a result. Once again, Berlin has exceeded its own self-imposed limit in crisis talks. Coalition members are grumbling, but seem to have lost the will to fight. Finance Minister Schäuble has promised this will be the last concession, but experience indicates otherwise.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

OECD Says Eurozone Needs to Double Bailout Fund

The head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Angelo Gurria, said that the eurozone needs to double its bailout fund to €1 trillion. “The mother of all firewalls should be in place, strong enough, broad enough, deep enough, tall enough, just big,” Gurria said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Russia: Bank Privatizations Risk Downgrades

The fulfillment of a proposal by President Dmitry Medvedev to reduce the state’s presence in the financial sector could hit the credit profile of Russia’s biggest banks, rating agency Fitch said Monday.

Given the current appetite for privatization, there is a “significant probability” that the state will cut its holdings in the country’s two largest banks — Sberbank and VTB — to below 50 percent over the next six years, Fitch analysts wrote in a report.

Medvedev ordered the Central Bank and the government last week to develop a proposal for turning their majority stakes in domestic banks to minority ones by Sept. 1.

But such privatizations “could reduce the potential for state support” and negatively impact the ratings of the affected banks, Fitch said.

Market leader Sberbank is 57.6 percent owned by the Central Bank. The government controls 75.5 percent of VTB and 100 percent of Rosselkhozbank.

Sberbank and VTB were the financial pillars of the Soviet Union and still enjoy significant state backing. Both received enormous support during the 2009 crisis, while last year VTB required a record state bailout of $14 billion following its takeover of Bank of Moscow.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain Budget Due Amid EU Pressure, Strikes

Spain’s conservative government unveils its 2012 budget on Friday, under pressure from European leaders fearful of financial contagion and growing protests by its own citizens.

Friday’s announcement by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy comes a day after a general strike — the first such action since he took power in December, in anger at reforms he says will create jobs and stabilise the public finances.

“It will be a very austere budget,” Rajoy warned on Tuesday, speaking in Seoul. “Last year we spent 90 billion euros more than we received. We cannot go on like that.”

The same day, eurozone finance ministers will be meeting in Copenhagen with a focus on Spain’s plans to rein in its public deficit to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product under a target Rajoy agreed to in Brussels this month.

“Everything indicates that Brussels is is going to be watching our economy very closely to see that these forecasts are met,” said Jose Antonio Herce, an analyst at Spanish consultancy AFI.

European leaders are concerned over Spain’s deficit, fearing it may become the biggest victim of a eurozone debt crisis that has already driven Greece, Ireland and Portugal to accept international bailouts.

The 2011 deficit figure was 8.5 percent of GDP, high above the 6.0 percent target. Rajoy tried to get away with a target of 5.8 percent this year, above the 4.4 percent demanded by the EU, before reaching the 5.3 percent compromise.

“While the revised fiscal target for 2012 is more realistic than the previous one, the government will still need to implement a substantial fiscal adjustment,” credit rater Moody’s warned.

It calculated that Spain will have to make a huge 41.5 billion euros ($55.5 billion) in budget cuts this year to meet the target, while other economists offer even higher estimates.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain Likely to Need Bailout This Year: Citi

Spain will likely need emergency help from international lenders this year to shore up its banks and public finances, a leading economist at major financial group Citi said on Wednesday. “Spain looks likely to enter some form of a troika programme this year” as a condition for the European Central Bank to keep supporting it by lending to it on favourable terms, Citi’s chief economist Willem Buiter said in a note.

The “troika” refers to the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which jointly provided funds to Greece, Ireland and Portugal to save them from financial collapse. Tension on the financial markets that lend to Spain eased in recent months after the ECB provided massive liquidity but jitters have returned in past weeks.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


America: A Nation in Decline and Slowly Cracking Up

[WARNING: Graphic content.]

In Greece, thwarted entitlements have sent mobs of people into the streets where they started burning things. Many are laid off bureaucrats, captive of the entitlement ethos. I see that happening in this country eventually. Barring apocalyptic scenarios, I can envision these attacks of irrational violence increasing in number and severity, especially in cities, until the rest of us barricade ourselves indoors: de facto prisoners in our own homes and apartments as the U.S. slowly returns to a Hobbesian state of nature.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Barack Obama: I Have a “Moral Obligation” To Neuter America

Barack Obama actually plans to do it. He actually plans to neuter America by unilaterally dismantling most of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal. In fact, Barack Obama says that the United States has a “moral obligation” to disarm as we lead the way to “a world without nuclear weapons”.

Sadly, a “world without nuclear weapons” is a fantasy that will not be possible any time soon. Nuclear weapons technology is getting into more hands with each passing year, and geopolitical tensions are rising all over the globe. If the United States did not have nuclear weapons, anyone with just a handful of nukes would constitute a massive threat to our national security. An overwhelming strategic nuclear arsenal helps keep us safe because every other nation on the planet knows that it would be national suicide to attack us. If you take that overwhelming strategic nuclear arsenal away, the entire calculation changes.

Many out there claim that even if the U.S. only has a few hundred nuclear warheads that it will be more than enough to be an effective deterrent.

Sadly, that simply is not true.

If an enemy knows that we only have a few hundred warheads, and if they know exactly where those warheads are located for verification purposes, then a first strike which would take out the vast majority of our operational warheads becomes very plausible.

That is why what Obama wants to do is so incredibly dangerous. If he reduces our strategic nuclear arsenal down to almost nothing, the odds of a nuclear first strike against the United States someday go up dramatically.


Meanwhile, Russia and China are taking an approach that is 180 degrees in the other direction.

Russia has already been spending big money modernizing and updating the Russian military.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Freedom and Understanding P.E.R.S.

Thomas Jefferson: “the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

John Kennedy: “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

The problem with understanding PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) is that it requires an immense background of information in history, economics, finance, markets, law, religion, human nature, ethics, and from this, a historical perspective. This idea was thoroughly discussed in Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. in 1987, which is even more applicable in today’s culture than it was at that time. “American School Materials from 1790 — 1900 were in almost complete unanimity in values and emphasis in textbooks. They consistently contrasted virtuous and natural Americans with corrupt and decadent Europeans; they unanimously stressed love of country, love of God, obedience to parents, thrift, honesty, and hard work; they continually insisted on the perfection of the United States, the guardian of liberty and the destined redeemer of a sinful Europe.” But today, many in our society are illiterate. In fact, according to NAAL 43% of the people can’t read and only 13% of adults are considered proficient. It brings to mind F.A. Hayek: “It takes a large group of ignorant (illiterate), gullible, and docile people to move from Freedom to Socialism.”[1]

PERS in Economic History is a Financial Fraud and a Swindling Scheme. The new alchemist is the actuary: the wizard of numbers, which he manipulates to present a misleading future. Moreover, his current algorithms are not working as the cost of PERS payroll is going up another 6% in 2013. This can be easily proven especially under the definition by Jefferson. PERS does not need reform it needs to be shut down and liquidated. We are now in a condition that we either liquidate PERS or the citizens, their property, and their families will be liquidated. That is what history tells us. PERS is not new: it is a history repeat.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Senator: Supreme Court Would Allow ‘An All Powerful Government’ By Upholding Obamacare

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona told The Daily Caller that the Supreme Court would be allowing an “all powerful government” over the people if it upholds the individual mandate in the health care law. Kyl said the court must “draw a line” in terms of whether or not the federal government can force individuals to purchase a good or service.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck on Terror Show Featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann

On this week’s episode of the Stakelbeck on Terror show, we examine disturbing new details about the Iran/Hezbollah network on American soil.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann also joins us to discuss Iran, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and much more.

Click the link above to watch.

           — Hat tip: Erick Stakelbeck[Return to headlines]

The EPA Wrecking Ball

We are witnessing the destruction of the nation by the environmental movement and the EPA has just provided you with the most dramatic example of that plan.

The Environmental Protection Agency is using its power to advance the objective of the environmental movement to deny Americans access to the energy that sustains the nation’s economy and is using the greatest hoax ever perpetrated, global warming—now called “climate change”—to achieve that goal.

“This standard isn’t the once-and-for-all solution to our environmental challenge,” said Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, “but it is an important commonsense step toward tackling the ongoing and very real threat of climate change and protecting the future for generations to come. It will enhance the lives of our children and our children’s children.”

This is a boldfaced lie. Its newest rule is based on the debasement of science that is characterized and embodied in the global warming hoax. It will deprive America of the energy it requires to function.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

“Anders Breivik is Not Crazy” — The Surprise Defense of Norway’s Mass Killer

Interview: Anders Breivik is unlike any client attorney Geir Lippestad has ever had — and not just because of the ghastly number of murders he’s accused of. As Lippestad tells Le Monde, Breivik admits to killing 77 mostly young Norwegians and expects to be held accountable.

LE MONDE/Worldcrunch | Mar 27, 2012

By Olivier Truc

OSLO — Geir Lippestad will definitely cause some controversy with the approach he plans to take in the upcoming trial of Anders Breivik, Norway’s infamous extreme-right terrorist. For starters, Lippestad, Breivik’s defense attorney, intends to place Mullah Krekar — an Islamist extremist from Kurdish Iraq who has been living in Norway since 1991— on the witness stand.

In an interview with Le Monde, Lippestad outlined his strategy for this exceptional trial, which is scheduled to begin April 16, less than eight months after the double attack on July 22, 2011, in which 77 people died. The majority of the victims were attending a summer camp hosted by the youth wing of the governing Social Democratic party.

This trial has seriously challenged Lippestad’s beliefs as both a support of the Social Democrats and a father of eight children. “I feel I have lost my soul in this case,” he said. “I hope to get it back once all this is over, and that it will be in the same state as before.”

Unlike all of Lippestad’s previous clients, Anders Breivik is not afraid of being found guilty. The possibility of receiving Norway’s maximum penalty (21 years in prison) doesn’t scare him — on the contrary, he wants it.

“This trial is unique, just like the dreadful acts that will be judged,” said Lippestad. “We have to think differently. In the majority of trials, you have a defendant who denies the facts or who says he didn’t intend to do what he did. Here you have someone who recognizes the facts, who takes responsibility for them, and who says he would do the same thing again if the opportunity arose.”

“He doesn’t intend to run away from his responsibilities,” the attorney added. “Quite the opposite, he wants to be found sane and accountable [for his actions].”

Not so paranoid after all

Lippestad initially based his defense on his client’s poor mental health. The first two psychiatrists who examined Breivik declared him insane. But in the end, the lawyer decided to follow his client’s wishes.

The idea that Breivik could be declared not criminally responsible and therefore escape a prison sentence had distressed a large part of the Norwegian population. A second team of psychiatrists has been appointed to evaluate him. They are expected to present their conclusions on April 10. Even if these psychiatrists confirm the first team’s findings, Breivik’s lawyer won’t change anything about his client’s defense.

“It is about showing that his beliefs and way of thinking are common,” said Lippestad. “He is not as unique, as paranoid or schizophrenic as the experts say.”

Lippestad is counting on exposing discrepancies in the expert opinions. “What we see is that there is a gap between what the human sciences say on extremism, and what doctors and psychiatrists know.” In Lippestad’s opinion, many of those who share Breivik’s ideas are classified as extremists, not psychotic. Why, therefore, should he be considered insane?

“We will place people from extremist backgrounds on the witness stand to explain their thought process in order to establish that there are others who, without going as far as to commit the crime, share the same ideology and way of thinking,” said Lippestad. “What we want to show is that we are dealing with an ideology and that he is not the only person to stand behind [those beliefs]; that he is not a psychotic living in a separate world.”

A controversial star witness

By summoning Mullah Krekar to testify —potentially alongside other Islamists— Lippestad wants to show that “Islamists also believe that Europe is the setting for a war of religion and that it is not just a delusion that Breivik has imagined.”

Krekar, real name Faraj Ahmad Najmuddin and often called the “most controversial refugee in Norway,” used to be the leader of Ansar Al-Islam, a small Islamist group from Iraqi Kurdistan that carried out several attacks there. In a book published in Norway in 2004, Krekar admitted to having met Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in about 1990 in the hope of receiving some financial help for his guerrilla group. He left the meeting empty handed.

The lawyer intends to place the Norwegian blogger “Fjordman,” believed to be Breivik’s main inspiration, on the witness stand as well. Breivik cites Fjordman in his 1,500-page manifesto, which he distributed on the Internet just before the attacks.

It is Breivik himself who is orchestrating the strategy defended by Lippestad. While waiting for his trial, he is doing lots of exercise. He also has access to a work cell equipped with a computer. “He doesn’t have Internet access, but he can write, and he is preparing a speech that he intends to read during the trial,” said Lippestad.

The defendant receives letters, watches television and reads the newspapers. “He writes letters to five or six people whom he considers to be his ideological brothers and sisters, in Norway and abroad,” the attorney explained.

“His motivation for carrying out these monstrosities was to distribute his manifesto,” Lippestad added. “Breivik believes that the revolution will start in France or England because, according to him, multiculturalism is very conflicting there.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Belfast Commemorates Titanic: Disaster Ship Remembered in City That Built it

A striking new museum opens this week in Belfast, the birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic luxury ship. Opening a century after the cruise ship slammed into an iceberg, killing 1,500, the exhibition recalls a tragedy which was long taboo in Northern Ireland’s former industrial hub.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Berlusconi Friend, Employee Probed After Swiss Bank Rejected His Millions

Rome, 27 March (AKI) — A close friend and employee of Italian media tycoon and politician Silvio Berlusconi is being investigated by tax police for his alleged unsuccessful effort to deposit 2.5 million euros in an offshore bank account just across the Italian boarder in Switzerland.

Emilio Fede, news anchor for Berlusconi’s Rete 4 television network, in late December was told by a bank employee in Lugano, Switzerland that he couldn’t deposit the cash, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper. The bank contacted Italian tax authorities in January, the report said.

Fede told Adnkronos that he is the victim of a plot make him lose his job anchoring the news.

Fede is already defending himself in a trial for allegedly supplying escorts to erotic parties held at the Berlusconi’s residence. His legal troubles may be the reason the bank rejected his cash, Corriere speculated.

“It’s not possible that with the problems I already have I would have gone around Switzerland with a briefcase full of cash,” he said.

The Italian government has declared a war on tax evaders in its effort to reduce its 1.9 trillion-euro debt. Billionaire Berlusconi was considered soft on tax cheats, declaring multiple amnesties that required the payment of only 5 percent of the sum to the government.

Still. Berlusconi declared his own war on tax evasion for those who failed to take advantage of his leniency. As part of his effort, tax police would commonly intimidate Italians travelling to Lugano by searching cars at the border or writing down license plate numbers.

Fede doesn’t hide his affection for Berlusconi on air or in his personal life. The 81-year-old anchorman and author of about 10 books published by a Berlusconi company is a fixture in the divisive politician’s social circle.

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

Brussels Airlines Threatens to Leave Belgium: Report

(BRUSSELS) — Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s biggest carrier, threatened to relocate if the government did not offer tax breaks to help it compete against Ireland’s low cost giant Ryanair, De Morgen daily reported on Wednesday.

“Ideally, we’d like to stay in Belgium, but this can’t go on,” Brussels Airlines chief executive Bernard Gustin told officials according to the paper.

“If you are not ready to do something against the distortion in competition, we’ll go looking for another headquarters,” he told the officials.

The paper reported that the carrier, a spin-off of the now defunct Sabena Airlines, was exploring a move to Luxembourg or Ireland, destinations that offered fiscal advantages to employees, notably pilots.

The paper added that the request met with reluctance by the government of Prime Minister Elio di Rupo who is resisting tax breaks to individual companies while the country struggles to implement austerity reforms.

Brussels Airlines, in which Germany’s Lufthansa holds a 45-percent stake, employs 3,300 people and operates 300 flights a day to 70 destinations from its hub at Brussels airport.

Ryanair uses a regional base in Charleroi, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Belgian capital.

Last week the European Commission said it had extended the scope of an investigation opened in December 2002 into advantages granted Ryanair when it set up operations at Charleroi.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Don’t be Fooled. Europe’s Far-Right Racists Are Not Discerning — Opportunistic Words of Love for Jews and Israel Cannot Disguise the European Far Right’s Toxic Rhetoric of Hatred

Anne Karpf

On Saturday, in the Danish city of Aarhus, a Europe-wide rally organised by the English Defence League will try to set up a European anti-Muslim movement. For Europe’s far-right parties the rally, coming so soon after the murders in south-west France by a self-professed al-Qaida-following Muslim, marks a moment rich with potential political capital.

Yet it’s also a delicate one, especially for Marine Le Pen. Well before the killings, Le Pen was assiduously courting Jews, even while her father and founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was last month convicted of contesting crimes against humanity for saying that the Nazi occupation of France “wasn’t particularly inhumane”. Marine must disassociate herself from such sentiments without repudiating her father personally or alienating his supporters. To do so she’s laced her oft-expressed Islamophobia (parts of France, she’s said, are suffering a kind of Muslim “occupation”) with a newfound “philozionism” (love of Zionism), which has extended even to hobnobbing with Israel’s UN ambassador.

Almost all European far-right parties have come up with the same toxic cocktail. The Dutch MP Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant Freedom party, has compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf. In Tel Aviv in 2010, he declared that “Islam threatens not only Israel, Islam threatens the whole world. If Jerusalem falls today, Athens and Rome, Amsterdam and Paris will fall tomorrow.”

Meanwhile Filip Dewinter, leader of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang party, which grew out of the Vlaams Blok Flemish nationalist party, many of whose members collaborated with the Nazis during the second world war, has proposed a quota on the number of young Belgian-born Muslims allowed in public swimming pools. Dewinter calls Judaism “a pillar of European society”, yet associates with antisemites, while claiming that “multi-culture … like Aids weakens the resistance of the European body”, and “Islamophobia is a duty”.

But the most rabidly Islamophobic European philozionist is Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the Austrian Freedom party, who compared foreigners to harmful insects and consorts with neo-Nazis. And yet where do we find Strache in December 2010? In Jerusalem alongside Dewinter, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

In Scandinavia the anti-immigrant Danish People’s party is a vocal supporter of Israel. And Siv Jensen, leader of the Norwegian Progress party and staunch supporter of Israel, has warned of the stealthy Islamicisation of Norway.

In Britain EDL leader Tommy Robinson, in his first public speech, sported a star of David. At anti-immigrant rallies, EDL banners read: “There is no place for Fascist Islamic Jew Haters in England”.

So has the Jew, that fabled rootless cosmopolitan, now suddenly become the embodiment of European culture, the “us” against which the Muslim can be cast as “them”? It’s not so simple. For a start, “traditional” antisemitism hasn’t exactly evaporated. Look at Hungary, whose ultra-nationalist Jobbik party is unapologetically Holocaust-denying, or Lithuania, where revisionist MPs claim that the Jews were as responsible as the Nazis for the second world war.

What’s more, the “philosemite”, who professes to love Jews and attributes superior intelligence and culture to them, is often (though not always) another incarnation of the antisemite, who projects negative qualities on to them: both see “the Jew” as a unified racial category. Beneath the admiring surface, philozionism isn’t really an appreciation of Jewish culture but rather the opportunistic endorsement of Israeli nationalism and power.

Indeed you can blithely sign up to both antisemitism and philozionism. Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik described himself as “pro-Zionist” while claiming that Europe has a “considerable Jewish problem”; he saw himself as simultaneously anti-Nazi and pro-monoculturalism. The British National party’s Nick Griffin once called the Holocaust the “Holohoax”, subsequently supported Israel in its war “against the terrorists”, but the day after the Oslo murders tweeted disparagingly that Breivik was a “Zionist”.

Most Jews, apart from the Israeli right wing, aren’t fooled. They see the whole iconography of Nazism — vermin and foreign bodies, infectious diseases and alien values — pressed into service once again, but this time directed at Muslims. They understand that “my enemy’s enemy” can easily mutate into “with friends like these ….”.

The philozionism of European nationalist parties has been scrutinised most closely by Adar Primor, the foreign editor of Haaretz newspaper, who insists that “they have not genuinely cast off their spiritual DNA, and … aren’t looking for anything except for Jewish absolution that will bring them closer to political power.”

Similarly Dave Rich, spokesman of the Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors antisemitic incidents in Britain, told me that far-right philosemites “must think we’re pretty stupid if they think we’ll get taken in by that. The moment their perceived political gain disappears they revert to type. We completely reject their idea that they hate Muslims so they like Jews. What targets one community at one time can very easily move on to target another community if the climate changes.” Rich’s words, spoken before the murder of Jews in Toulouse, now sound chillingly prescient. The president of the French Jewish community, Richard Pasquier, judges Marine Le Pen more dangerous than her father.

French Muslim leaders rallied round Jewish communities last week. Next week sees the start of Passover, a festival celebrating the liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt, when Jews often think about modern examples of oppression. Let’s hope that French Jewish leaders use the occasion to rally round Muslim communities, and to remember that ultimately, racism is indiscriminate.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

EU Announces Proposed Cybercrime Center

The European Union has announced a proposal that would see the creation of a Cybercrime Center aimed at fighting online criminals and protecting consumers online.

In effort to combat online crime and protect consumers from becoming victims of cyber crime, the European Union proposed a new center that would fight against cyber-threats.

A statement from the European Commission on Wednesday said that the center would focus on illegal online activities carried out by organized crime groups, such as online credit card fraud. The cyber crime center would also help protect users of social network profiles by fighting online identity theft.

“Millions of Europeans use the Internet for home banking, online shopping and planning holidays, or to stay in touch with family and friends via online social networks. But as the online part of our everyday lives grows, organised crime is following suit — and these crimes affect each and every one of us,” said Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Home Affairs.

The center would be established within the European Police Office (Europol) in The Hague. The proposal would need to be adopted by Europol’s budgetary authority before the cyber crime center can be established.

According to the European Commission, more than one million people become victims of cyber crime daily, with the costs of those crimes expected to rise to $388 billion (291 billion euros).

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Diplomats’ Generous Holiday Schemes Raise Eyebrows

Diplomats working in the EU foreign service are entitled to almost 17 weeks holiday a year, the Daily Telegraph reports. German conservative MEP Ingeborg Graessle suggests changing the staff regulation, meaning annual leave and flexitime for EU diplomats may not exceed 49 days, a reduction of seven weeks

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Finland: Dispute Brews Over Who Qualifies as Sámi

People excluded from voting in Sámi Parliament election call for broader definition of ethnicity

A big dispute is brewing in Finnish Lapland over who can properly be considered a Sámi — a member of the indigenous Lapp population. Many of those who have been excluded from official Sámi status by being left off the electoral rolls of the Sámi Parliament feel that the present definition is too restrictive and discriminatory. The electoral rolls are approved by a five-member electoral board of the Sámi Parliament. Applications for the roll are accepted once every four years in connection with the elections to the Sámi Parliament.

“The actions of the electoral board amount to discrimination”, says researcher Erika Sarivaara, who is writing a doctoral thesis on the Sámi at the Kautokeino Sámi University College in the north of Norway. Sarivaara was part of a delegation that visited Helsinki last week to discuss the matter with Finnish Members of Parliament and representatives of government ministries. Members of the group have tried to be included in the electoral roll of the Sámi Parliament, but their applications were not accepted.

The law on the Sámi Parliament defines a Sámi as someone who speaks the Sámi language, or whose ancestors were Sámi under certain criteria. “The definition and its interpretation can be considered obsolete, because it is based on information that is antiquated from a legal and social science standpoint”, Sarivaara says. “Being a Sámi is very much a question of identity. Many consider themselves Sámi with good reason, but the use of the language in the family came to a halt at some point for reasons such as the efforts of the state to impose Finnish identity on the Sámi.”

“As there seem to be some economic advantages to the Sámi identity, the electoral board apparently wants to keep the number of Sámi as low as possible. Our concern, meanwhile, is how to keep the Sámi identity alive”, Sarivaara says.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Hippies Head for Noah’s Ark: Queue Here for Rescue Aboard Alien Spaceship

Thousands of New Agers descend on mountain they see as haven from December’s apocalypse

A mountain looming over a French commune with a population of just 200 is being touted as a modern Noah’s Ark when doomsday arrives — supposedly less than nine months from now.

A rapidly increasing stream of New Age believers — or esoterics, as locals call them — have descended in their camper van-loads on the usually picturesque and tranquil Pyrenean village of Bugarach. They believe that when apocalypse strikes on 21 December this year, the aliens waiting in their spacecraft inside Pic de Bugarach will save all the humans near by and beam them off to the next age.

As the cataclysmic date — which, according to eschatological beliefs and predicted astrological alignments, concludes a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar — nears, the goings-on around the peak have become more bizarre and ritualistic.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Toulouse School Getting Hate Mail Since Attack

The Jewish school in France where a gunman killed three children and a teacher has received a rash of anti-Semitic hate mail and phone calls since the attack.

The Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse complained to the local prosecutor about the harassing mail and phone calls, the French news agency AFP reported.

Toulouse terrorist’s father plans to sue France

Prosecutor Michel Valet said Wednesday that he had ordered a police investigation into the incidents.

The school’s e-mail system reportedly filled up with messages calling for the murder of Jews and linking the attack to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to AFP.

The gunman, Mohammed Merah, who was killed by police after a 30-hour siege, told French police that he killed the Jewish students at the school in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers the previous week for serving in Afghanistan.

Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his two young sons, as well as the 8-year-old daughter of the school’s principal, were killed in the March 21 attack.

It was also reported Wednesday that Merah would be buried in Algeria at the request of his father.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

French Scientist in Terror Trial

A Franco-Algerian nuclear scientist goes on trial on Thursday for allegedly plotting terror attacks in France, where an Islamist’s killing spree has already overshadowed the presidential campaign.

A week after police shot dead Franco-Algerian Mohamed Merah for killing seven people in and around Toulouse, Adlene Hicheur goes on trial charged with criminal association as part of a terrorist enterprise.

French police arrested Hicheur, a researcher studying the universe’s birth — the Big Bang — at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), in October 2009 after intercepting emails he wrote.

Following his arrest at his parents’ home near CERN, which lies on the Franco-Swiss border northwest of Geneva, police discovered a trove of al-Qaeda and Islamic militant literature.

France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency’s suspicions were raised following a statement from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that was sent to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Elysee Palace in early 2008.

Police carried out surveillance on several email accounts including Hicheur’s and his exchanges with Mustapha Debchi, an alleged AQIM representative living in Algeria.

On March 1, 2009, Hicheur wrote an email to Debchi saying he would ‘propose … possible objectives in Europe and particularly in France’.

On March 10, he continued: ‘Concerning the matter of objectives, they differ depending on the different results sought after the hits. For example: if it’s about punishing the state because of its military activities in Muslim countries — Afghanistan — then it should be a purely military objective. For example: the air base at Karan Jefrier near Annecy in France. This base trains troops and sends them to Afghanistan.’

Hicheur was referring to a French military base at Cran-Gevrier, close to CERN.

In June 2009, Debchi asked Hicheur: ‘Don’t beat around the bush: are you prepared to work in a unit becoming active in France?’

Hicheur replied on June 6: ‘Concerning your proposal, the answer is of course YES but there are a few observations: … if your proposal relates to a precise strategy — such as working in the heart of the main enemy’s house and emptying its blood of strength — then I should revise the plan that I’ve prepared.’

Magistrates investigating the case said the exchanges ‘crossed the line of simple debate of political or religious ideas to enter the sphere of terrorist violence’.

They say the accused ‘knowingly agreed with Mustapha Debchi to set up an operational cell ready to carry out terrorist acts in Europe and in France’.

Ever since he was jailed pending trial two-and-a-half years ago, Hicheur has said he never agreed to ‘anything concrete’.

‘There is not the least proof of a beginning of a (terrorist) intention,’ said Hicheur’s lawyer, Patrick Baudouin.

The lawyer slammed what he called ‘the steamroller of anti-terrorist justice’.

‘He has since the beginning been painted as the ideal guilty party,’ Baudouin said. ‘When the justice system gets going it finds it difficult to admit its mistakes.’

If found guilty, Hicheur could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

French Reveal Loathing for ‘Violent’ Suburban Youth

Nearly 60 percent of the French say they distrust youth from the ‘banlieues’, France’s impoverished, immigrant-dominated suburbs, according to a new survey that has laid bare the country’s divisions. “The results are extremely worrying,” Thibault Renaudin, national secretary of Afev, the youth organisation which published the poll, told The Local.

“Youths from the banlieues already suffer from discrimination, unemployment, and this suspicion just adds their difficulties.” A poll conducted by Afev shows that while 75 percent of the French have a positive opinion of young people, 57 percent have a negative opinion of youths from improverished suburbs.

Banlieue youths are thought to break the rules, slip into petty crime and are viewed as violent and agressive. Renaudin says French authorities and the media are partly responsible for this negative image. “These youths only get attention when problems of security are addressed,” says Renaudin, “but they also do good work that needs to be promoted.”

The poll also reveals older generations have failed to give youths decent opportunities. “The very independent generation from the 70s struggles to make room for these youths that have been hard hit by 20 years of crisis.” 76 percent of the French are aware that youths don’t have the same opportunities as their elders.

Renaudin says the poll also reveals French racial divisions, given that many banlieue youths are from immigrant backgrounds. “They are always reduced to their origins, multiple, different and dangerous.” “If your name is Mohamed and you come from the banlieues, it’s very difficult to find a flat in Paris,” he says. “And that’s unacceptable in a powerful country like France.”

The organisation Afev says youths are misunderstood, have been ignored and suffer from a lack of attention. “They feel neglected, like orphans, and feel they don’t have a role to play in society.”

Afev also says France should be inspired by initiatives in Scandinavian countries and give pupils and students from the banlieues a second chance. “That’s the problem with France’s elitist system, if you don’t fall into the mould, you’re out for good,” says Renaudin, adding that children who drop out at age 12 aren’t given second chances in school.

In the run-up to elections next month, presidential hopeful Socialist Francois Hollande has focused on youth initiatives, a “positive move”, says Renaudin. “But we don’t need any more promises, we’ve had that, now we need action.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Fringe Parties Set to Score Well in Greek Elections

In upcoming Greek elections, expected in April or May, radical opposition groups may scoop half of the votes, according to recent opinion polls, WSJ reports. The two largest parties, New Democracy and Pasok, may form a bipartisan coalition, but can only expect combined support of 35-40 percent in the elections.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

‘Geert Wilders’ Anti-Pole Website Crashes After Polish TV Satire’

The website set up by the anti-immigration PVV to collect complaints about central and eastern European workers, crashed for a time on Tuesday evening after a Polish satirical television show called on viewers to leave a reaction, according to the AD.

The show featured presenter Szymon Majewski interviewing himself made up as Wilders in a blonde wig and posing against a backdrop of sheep and a windmill.

‘I do not hate Poles who work in the Netherlands. I hate all Poles,’ the fake Wilders says.

According to Radio Netherlands, another clip from the show features a Chinese man telling his audience that all foreigners, even Dutch, are welcome in Poland. ‘Poles are friendly and helpful. All the ugly, nasty, greedy Poles are over in the Netherlands,’ he says.

Access blocked

According to the AD, the PVV’s website is no longer accessible to Polish internet users. PVV parliamentarian Ino van den Besselaar refused to say if steps had been taken to keep people with a Polish internet address from making a comment.

On Tuesday evening, MPs voted by a large margin to distance themselves from the website, which has been condemned by ambassadors, European commissioners and employers’ leaders.

The motion to condemn the website was not supported by the PVV, the ruling right-wing Liberals (VVD) and the fundamentalist Christian SGP. Hero Brinkman, who left the PVV last week, voted in favour.

Prime minister Mark Rutte has repeatedly refused to distance himself from the motion, arguing it is a matter for the PVV alone. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold has asked the prime minister to explain how he intends to put the motion into practice.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany: Anti-Nazi Groups Struggle to Find Funding

While Germany tentatively prepares a bid to ban the far-right NPD party, anti-racism groups complain that they are chronically underfunded and sometimes even face obstruction from the authorities. They say their fight to stop young people from becoming extremists is more important than getting rid of the NPD.

German authorities are gradually preparing a legal bid to ban the far-right National Democratic Party and have announced the arrest of dozens of fugitive neo-Nazis this year following bitter criticism of their failure to stop the so-called Zwickau cell of terrorists from murdering and bombing immigrants. But human rights campaigners, politicians and researchers say the government is neglecting crucial work being done to combat xenophobia in regions where right-wing extremism is rife. Anti-racism groups complain that they face a constant struggle to obtain funding. For example, anti-Nazi activists in the Sächsische Schweiz (“Saxon Switzerland”) region south of Dresden have been organizing lectures and training courses and setting up exhibitions and youth exchanges with young people from Poland. Such projects usually get only temporary financing. Once the funding expires, the work stops, forcing the staff to claim unemployment benefits. The same is true of similar projects across the country. “It takes years before local authorities even start taking you seriously,” says political scientist Dierk Borstel, who works on pro-democracy projects in the northeastern region of Mecklenberg-Western Pomerania, where support for the NPD is particularly strong partly because established parties have given up trying to woo voters there. The region has been neglected since unification in 1990, argues Borstel.

Government Hampering Efforts

A further problem is that civil society groups are often themselves accused of being left-wing extremists. For example, last year German Family Affairs Minister Kristina Schröder introduced a so-called extremism clause stating that all projects seeking federal government funding must pledge that they and all the organizations and people they work with will support the German democratic constitution. Opposition parties and project leaders have criticized this clause because it forces groups to vet the people they work with to make sure they have a sound ideology. Bianca Klose, who runs an information center for combating racism in Berlin, says the clause obstructs her efforts. Her office works with local authorities, schools and youth clubs, and runs projects in inner city areas aimed at curbing the influence of neo-Nazis on young people. The group didn’t sign the clause, which means it has no access to federal funding. “If the city of Berlin hadn’t gotten involved and provided much of the missing funds, the project would have been over after 10 years of successful work ,” says Klose. The funding for 2012 is unclear and the group is waiting for confirmation that it will get money from the city again — even though more than 1,000 crimes were committed by right-wing extremists in Berlin alone last year.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Germany: Victim Slams Court’s Racial Spot-Check Ruling

The young black German whose refusal to show police his ID led to a court ruling that cops could use skin colour as a criteria for spot-checks, says he will fight the case all the way.

Speaking to The Local, the 25-year-old student said he was disappointed by the verdict which has provoked a storm of outrage. One human rights lawyer called for the judge to be dismissed, while his own lawyer says he will take the case to the Constitutional Court if necessary.

“I don’t want to believe it — that my country now supports this, it is terrible,” the student said. “The police have been told they can do this — no-one is thinking of the person getting hurt. I just wish every kind of racism would stop; it is horrid how people are treated by those who think they are lesser.”

The student, who asked not to be identified, said he often took the train from Kassel, where he studies, to visit family in Frankfurt. “Over the last three years I have been asked for my identification about 15 times on that train,” he said. “It was making me sick.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Half of Adult Romanians Have Not Used a Computer

Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, released a study that shows only 50 percent of Romanians aged between 16 to 74 used a computer in 2011. In Bulgaria, it is 55 percent and in Greece it is 59 percent. Over 90 percent used computers in Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Hungary Amends Justice Law After EU Threats

(BUDAPEST) — Hungary’s government submitted Tuesday an amendment to its controversial new law on the judiciary after the European Commission threatened legal action.

On March 7, the European executive had given Hungary one month to bring two controversial laws — on its judicial system and its data protection authority — in line with EU principles or face court action.

It said Budapest’s bid to secure 15-20 billion euros from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union would depend on Hungary proving its commitment to democratic principles enshrined in EU treaties.

“We must expand oversight over the work of the president of the National Judicial Office,” Robert Repassy, a deputy of the ruling centre-right Fidesz party, said Tuesday during the parliamentary debate following the proposal.

“The main goal of the amendment is to broaden oversight of the NJO, in line with the proposals from the Venice Commission and the national judges’ association,” he said.

Last week, the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, slammed Hungary for handing sweeping powers to the president of the newly-established NJO, a close family friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The newly created post has a mandate of nine years.

Rights groups and the opposition had spoken out against Tunde Hando’s nomination in December as the head of the NJO.

The Council of Europe’s secretary-general Thorbjorn Jagland also criticised that in the judiciary and in the media in Hungary, “too much power is given to a body or a person which is not accountable to anybody.”

Following the EU’s threats of legal action, Budapest submitted an amendment to its law on the data protection agency on March 9.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Hunt for Skilled Labor: Germany Woos Portugal’s Lost Generation

The crisis-hit nations of southern Europe have one booming industry left — their skilled workers are in high demand in Germany, which has a chronic shortage of qualified labor. German employers in search of nurses and engineers have launched a recruitment drive in Portugal, where over a third of young people are unemployed.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Monti Government Collected 13 Billion Euros Since November

(AGI) Rome- During the four months of Mario Monti’s government the Italian State has collected 13 billion euros more in taxes.

The announcement was made by Cabinet undersecretary Antonio Catricala’ on the evening television program Ballaro’.

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

Italy: Big Parties Reach Agreement on Electoral Reform, MP Cull

Lawmakers likely to be cut by almost 200

(ANSA) — Rome, March 27 — Italy’s biggest political parties agreed on Tuesday to an outline to reform the country’s much criticised electoral system and cut the number of parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The number of lawmakers looks set to fall by almost 200 following Tuesday’s meeting of the leaders of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and a coalition of centrist parties called the Third Pole.

If the draft agreed on Tuesday is approved, the number of Senators will go down to 250 from 315 and the number of MPs in the Lower House will drop from 630 to 500.

The leaders of the three main parties supporting Mario Monti’s emergency administration also consolidated the common ground they had already found on a new electoral law, which they hope to have in place before next year’s general elections. The new law would give voters more scope to choose which candidates they want from the party lists.

The current law has been widely criticised for distancing politicians from voters, who effectively cannot pick their representatives, as party leaders have the power to name candidates on so-called ‘blocked lists’, which are then voted on.

As a result, candidates do not need to champion the concerns of constituents so much but they do need to lobby within their parties to get high enough on the lists to be elected. The new law will also remove the obligation for parties to decide which other groups they want to ally with before elections and feature a threshold under which only parties polling more than 4% or 5% have representatives in parliament. “This is an act of great importance,” said Pier Ferdinando Casini, the leader of the centrist UDC that is part of the Third Pole.

“The world of politics was asked to act (to cuts costs and reform in the light of the economic crisis) and we did it.

“We’ve managed to go from words to deeds”. PD chief Pier Luigi Bersani said he would meet with Casini and PdL head Angelino Alfano again next week for more talks on the reforms.

But Casini said at a press conference held together with PD and PdL representatives that the reforms should start going under scrutiny in parliament within two weeks. “We’ll be quick,” said Ignazio La Russa, a former defence minister and senior member of the PdL.

“There is already a text on the reforms. We could start tomorrow”.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano praised the three main parties on the agreement.

But some politicians belonging to parties that do not support Monti’s government were unhappy.

“It’s an electoral fraud, more or less,” said Massimo Donadi of the anti-graft Italy of Values party.

Italy’s next general election is scheduled for spring 2013.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Refuse: Clini: Powers to Commissioner for New Sites in Rome

(AGI) Rome — Clini said more powers would go to the commissioner for the emergency in Rome who will find new landfill sites. These sites will come in addition to the seven refuse landfills listed by the Region and on which issues have emerged. Environment minister Corrado Clini explained the situation after a technical meeting on the issue of waste in the capital. Speaking to journalists, Clini explained, “The Malagrotta landfill must be closed by the end of the year. We have asked the province of Rome to work with us to identify sites for temporary landfills, in addition to the seven sites already chosen, on which problems have emerged. Prefect Pecoraro will have a broader mandate to explore other sites to take less than the total amount of treated waste.” The minister of the environment also launched the Plan for Rome, which requires the signing by 30 April 2012 of an operational agreement between the City of Rome, the Province of Rome, Lazio Region and the companies running TMB plants, facilities for the preparation of compost and energy recovery plants across the country. .

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

Italy: PM Monti on Labor ‘I Have the Consensus, Reform to be Done’

(AGI) Rome — PM Monti had said yesterday, “I don’t want to just scrape by.” Today he added that his government had the consensus, and some others (read: the political parties) no.

That is to say, he is not the one just scraping by, the others are. Mario Monti’s visit the the Far East continues, as does that which is taking on the appearance of a long distance duel, not only with the parties (which, in reality, support him) but with politics in general. The opinion polls show a drop? “This government has a high consensus in the surveys,” he answers, “the parties no.” And patience about the data published in the principal national newspapers, which show the government a little above, or a little below the 50 percent of consensus level. . .

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

Muslim Girls Must Swim With Boys: Swiss Court

A Muslim family in Basel has been fined 1,400 francs ($1,550) for refusing to let its daughters participate in mixed swimming classes. The family had sought to avoid paying the fine on the grounds that the requirement for the girls to join the swimming lesson infringed on their religious freedom, online news website Le Matin reported.

The parents argued that, in accordance with the teachings of the Koran, they wanted to instil a sense of shame in their children before they reached puberty. Mixed swimming lessons in primary school, the family claimed, would be incompatible with such an aim.

Following the family’s appeal of the original Administrative Court verdict, the Federal Court decided to uphold the fine. The court stated that the obligation to participate in mixed swimming classes did not represent a significant assault on the family’s religious freedom. The upper court said it agreed with the Administrative Court’s view that there was a “substantial public interest that all children take swimming lessons”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Student Cleared on Charges of Threatening Geert Wilders

A 22-year-old art school student was on Wednesday found not guilty of threatening the safety of PVV leader Geert Wilders by The Hague appeal court. A lower court also found the student not guilty.

Yaïr C was arrested after hanging a shop dummy from a tree next to The Hague’s central station in 2009. The dummy had a plastic bag over its head and a photo of Wilders was pinned to it with a knife.

C. said it was an art project. According to Elsevier, he was given a pass mark for the project. The public prosecution department decided to prosecute the student, saying objects which are said to be art can also be seen as a threat.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: Krekar Back in Court After ‘Dream’ Arrest

The arrest of Mullah Krekar could represent a dream scenario for the Kurdish Islamist convicted this week for issuing death threats, said terrorism researcher Magnus Ranstorp. His stature would grow in extremist circles after he was apprehended on Tuesday in a raid on his home, Ranstorp said. But the Swedish terrorism expert added that the arrest did automatically equate to a heightened risk of terrorism in Norway.

“There have been similar situations in other countries, including Britain, without them leading to further violence. I’m sure the security police (PTS) are following this situation closely,” he told broadcaster NRK.

Krekar will face a remand hearing on Wednesday morning at Oslo District Court. PST has asked for him to be held for eight weeks, while the mullah’s lawyers are calling for his immediate release.

Krekar was sentenced on Monday to five years in prison for issuing death threats against a former government minister and three Kurds living in Norway. He was released pending the outcome of an appeal.

Tuesday’s arrest came after it emerged that Krekar had issued further threats on an internet forum last weekend. If jailed, his followers would hold an unnamed Norwegian hostage in a cellar, Krekar said. He also spoke of former government minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, claiming he knew where the Christian Democratic politician lived.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sarkozy Forbids Islamist Preachers From Entering France

(AGI) Paris — Nicholas Sarkozy forbids extremist islamic preachers from entering France, as in the case of Sunnite Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who was coming to France from Qatar to take part to a religious conference. In the light of what happened in Toulouse, the French president decided for a quick expulsion of radical preachers and underlined that “all those who insulted France and our values will not be allowed to enter the Country”. Qaradawi, who has connections with Egypt’s Muslim Brothers, had already been banned from Uk and Usa.

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

Sex Toy Survey: Germans Come First

Germans top the unofficial kinky league table, a new survey on between-the-sheets behaviour revealed Tuesday. It demonstrated that nearly half of Germans like “tools and gadgets” — more than any other country.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Sámi — the Only Indigenous People in the EU

The Sámi are the only indigenous people in the territory of the European Union. Indigenous is a name applied to a population group whose ancestors inhabited an area as it was conquered or taken over by settlers, or if they were there before the appearance of today’s national borders. The Sámi language is related to the Finnish language. Finland has three Sami languages in use: Northern Sámi, Inari Sámi, and Skolt Sámi.

Schoolchildren in the Sámi regions who speak Sámi have the right to be taught in the language. There are about 3,000 people in Finland who have learned Sámi as their native language. The status of the Sámi language is protected by law. Few services in Sámi are available, but the Sámi are provided translation and interpretation services when dealing with officials.

The Sámi live in the arctic regions of the Nordic Countries. There are Sámi living in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. The Sámi homeland in Finland includes the areas of Enontekiö, Inari and Utsjoki, as well as the northern parts of Sodankylä. The state owns 90 per cent of the land in the Sámi home areas. Traditional Sámi professions are raising reindeer, fishing, and hunting, but most Sámi today earn their living in non-traditional professions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Toulouse Gunman Was Informant of French Intelligence?

Mohamed Merah, the notorious killer shot in a stand-off with police a week ago in Toulouse, is still stirring controversy in France. An ex-chief of the French spy agency says Merah might have acted as an informant to the local equivalent of the FBI.

­The speculation comes as Yves Bonnet, a former intelligence chief, says Merah might have passed information onto the DCRI, a French domestic intelligence agency.

“He was known to the DCRI, not especially because he was an Islamist, but because he had a correspondent in domestic intelligence,” Bonnet told La Dépêce newspaper on Monday.

“When you have a correspondent, it’s not completely innocent,” he remarked.

On Tuesday the assumption, worthy of a huge scandal, was rebuffed by DCRI head Bernard Squarcini.

Merah was indeed interviewed by a local intelligence agent in November 2011, Squarcini said, but this was because the agency “wanted to receive explanations about his trip to Afghanistan.”

As Merah stated he went to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 as a tourist, he was let go but placed on a watch list. Merah “did not serve as an informant to the DCRI or any other French intelligence service,” stressed the DCRI head.

Previously, French officials said “no evidence” indicated that Merah was linked to terror groups or that the shooting spree, which took the lives of seven people in Toulouse earlier this month, was ordered by al-Qaeda.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent had been tracked for several years before the tragic events in France’s south. Authorities put him down as a radical Islamist. Besides his trips to Afghanistan, the man was also understood to have visited Pakistan and received training in militant camps. This made the US add Merah’s name to its no-fly list as a suspected terrorist.

At the same time, French domestic intelligence seems to have viewed Merah as one of many. The DCRI “follows a lot of people who are involved in Islamist radicalism,” said French Interior Minister Claude Geant on Friday, defending the work of the spy agency. “Expressing ideas, showing Salafist opinions is not enough to bring someone before justice.”

Merah carried out three deadly attacks in and around Toulouse, killing three French soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi. Local police and security forces spent thirty-two hours sieging the house Merah resided in before a sniper shot him in the head.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Toulouse Murders Show France’s True Colors

[WARNING: Graphic content.]

The way in which the French handle these types of terror incidents is a window into their tres bizarre world view.

A French paratrooper wearing civilian clothing was shot and killed on Sunday March 11 in a suburb of Toulouse, France. Then, two more paratroopers were shot and killed and a third critically injured while wearing uniforms outside a bank in Toulouse, a southern French city. But how well does sleepy France mobilize into action? Remember France is a country where people, much less soldiers are not routinely murdered. Is there a nationwide call up of personnel? Hardly, 50 soldiers are commandeered and incredibly, France’s military, get this, orders French soldiers not to leave their bases wearing uniforms!!!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tungsten-Filled 1 Kilo Gold Bar Found in the UK

The last time a story of Tungsten-filled gold appeared on the scene was just two years ago, and involved a 500 gram bar of gold full of tungsten, at the W.C. Heraeus foundry, the world’s largest metal refiner and fabricator. It also became known that said “gold” bar originated from an unnamed bank.

It is now time to rekindle the Tungsten Spirits with a report from ABC Bullion of Australia, which provides photographic evidence of a new gold bar that has been drilled out and filled with tungsten rods, this time not in Germany but in an unnamed city in the UK, where it was intercepted by a scrap metals dealer, and was supplied with its original certificate. The reason the bar attracted attention is that it was 2 grams underweight. Upon cropping it was uncovered that about 30-40% of the bar weight was tungsten.

So two documented incidents in two years: isolated? Or indication of the same phenomonenon of precious metal debasement that marked the declining phase of the Roman empire. Only then it was relatively public for anyone who cared to find out on their own. Now, with the bulk of popular physical gold held in top secret, private warehouses around the world, where it allegedly backs the balance sheets of the world’s central banks, yet nobody can confirm its existence, nor audit the actual gold content, it is understandable why increasingly more are wondering: just how much gold is there? And alongside that — while gold, (or is it GLD?), can be rehypothecated, can one do the same with tungsten?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK Riots Caused by Demoralized Youth, Panel Says

Poor schooling and inadequate support for demoralized young people were root causes of the riots that shook Britain last year, a panel set up to draw lessons from the unrest has found.

The Riots, Communities and Victims Panel said inadequate schooling, poor parenting and lack of confidence in the police all contributed to the outbreak of violence in British cities in August last year.

“When people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating,” said panel chairman Darra Singh.

“We must give everyone a stake in society,” he said.

“There are people bumping along the bottom, unable to change their lives,” he said, referring to around 500,000 “forgotten families.”

The panel on Wednesday issued a series of recommendations to government and local authorities, which they said should be enacted in concert for the best outcome.

“Should disturbances happen again, victims and communities will ask our leaders why we failed to respond effectively in 2012,” they wrote.

The recommendations included fining schools that failed to teach kids to read and write and a government guarantee to find work for young people who have been jobless for more than two years.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Bookmarks April [Tom Holland — in the Shadow of the Sword]


With Rubicon and Persian Fire, Tom Holland established himself as one of our finest historians of the great empires of antiquity. His latest, In the Shadow of the Sword, tells the story of how the ancient world came to an end and how a new power, Islam, arose. Religion and societies were transformed forever, creating a world still shaped today by this great convulsive age. In the book, Holland sheds light not on the dark ages of the past, but illuminates instead how the strifes and divisions of contemporary religious and geographical disputes are not new, but a legacy of this great conflict.

Holland will be talking about In the Shadow of the Sword at St. Peter’s Church in Ely on Monday, April 30th, at 7.30pm.

Tickets for both the above events are £7/6, including £7/6 off the price of the book, available from Topping & Company Booksellers, 9 High Street, Ely. Call 01353 645005 or visit

:: Tom Holland will also be at Heffers in Cambridge on Wednesday, April 11th at 6.30pm. Tickets are £2 — call 01223 463200 or email

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Dudley Mosque Fight Drags on

A HIGH Court official has delayed a decision on Dudley Council’s buyback challenge against Dudley Muslim Association to take back land earmarked for its multi-million pound mosque.

After four hours of legal arguments at London’s High Court earlier today, Master Marsh reserved his decision and is now expected to give his ruling at a later unspecified date. Last year the council lodged the court bid to pursue the buyback clause, which maintained the council was entitled to buy back the Hall Street land, if the mosque was not substantially under way by December 31, 2008. DMA’s defence was dismissed in November last year but the group was given a further opportunity to submit an alternative defence to the decision.

If DMA is successful on this occasion, the case will go before a High Court judge later in the year.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: MP’s Fear Over Death Threats

HENLEY MP John Howell says he fears for his family’s safety after being sent death threats.

He has reported to the police messages sent to him after a recent email exchange about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict with one of his constituents was posted on the internet.

The MP, who lives with his wife Alison and grown-up son, said: “The last thing I want to appear as is a drama queen but you have to take seriously a threat when it says, ‘I would like to see you dead’.

“This is not normal behaviour. MPs should not be put in the way of these sorts of threats.”

The emails are thought to have been sent after Harry Fear, from Watlington, used his website to publish a question he had asked Mr Howell about attacks in Gaza and the MP’s reply.

He asked: “What actions are you taking to see that Israel halts the military actions that are taking place in defiance of international law and basic human decency?”

The email was accompanied by a photograph of an explosion with a caption saying: “Only a few hours ago, Israel felt it necessary to inflict this destruction and death on the Strip.”

Mr Howell replied: “And what is your position, Harry, on the 100 rockets which have landed in Israel over the weekend?”

On his website, Mr Fear complained that his question was ignored and he found the reply “deeply disturbing”, “latently abusive” and “sarcastic” in tone.

He continued: “Considering we are talking about the lost lives of innocent children and the possibility of further death and destruction, I was utterly flabbergasted to receive this inhumane reply from my constituency MP.” Mr Fear then asked readers to write to Mr Howell “civilly, expressing your discontent” and published a link to the MP’s email address.

Almost 50 people have replied to his blog post with many saying they had also sent emails to Mr Howell complaining about his conduct.

Mr Howell said he had received about 30 emails, some of which he described as “worrying” while others used language not suitable in a family newspaper.

One read: “John, you ugly son of a gun, how much do you get to protect Israel’s interests, u corrupt, smug-looking English twerp?

“Your (sic) nothing in the eyes of God. Carry on supporting Israel, u fiend of England. This place is a hot mess and the people here are the slime of the devil.”A woman claimed to have cursed Mr Howell and said: “You will suffer the consequences of this corruption and callousness.”

Mr Howell said: “There has been a series of emails from fictitious addresses with names such as Jihad Alshamie, which gets you worried straight away, and lines such as ‘it is people like you who deserve to die’.

“There are a huge number of emails from pro-Palestinine and Arab fanatics, some from the UK and some clearly not, some equally threatening.”

He referred to Labour MP Stephen Timms, who was stabbed twice at a constituency surgery in 2010 by a woman angry at his vote for the Iraq war.

Roshonara Choudhry, a British Islamist, was found guilty of attempted murder and jailed for life. She was said to have been inspired by a radical American website.

Mr Howell said: “It is not just a question of me, it is my family and my staff. All it takes is one person out there who is weird enough, with a distorted view of life, to make an attempt to carry this out.”

When he raised the issue with the Serjeant at Arms, who is responsible for security in Parliament, he was told that a total of 80 MPs were facing extreme threats on a range of issues.

After taking advice, Mr Howell has removed the dates, times and locations of his surgeries from his website and asks constituents who are interested in meeting him to call a surgery hotline.

He said: “I have been helped by the house authorities in parliament, who are assessing the level of risk, and also by Thames Valley Police, who have provided extremely good security advice. If I feel at all unsafe there can be a policeman with me at a surgery.”

Mr Howell said he did not hold Mr Fear personally responsible for the threats but he refuted the claims that he was pro-Israel.

“How he read that into my email reply, I don’t know,” said the MP. “I was asking for balance and it has come to this. The web page asked people to write and tell me what they think of me. The trouble then is it becomes out of your control and you have no idea who is going to pick it up or respond.

“My stated position on the Middle East is that in order to have peace we need a secure and universally recognised Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.”…

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Tunisia: Ambassador to the EU, Visa Easing Needed

Iacolino (PDL), cooperation now aims at partner countries

(ANSA) — BRUSSELS, March 28 — As part of a dialogue “between two partners” that began a few weeks ago, Tunisia has asked the EU for “the easings of visas for businessmen and students” . This was explained by the Tunisian Ambassador to Brussels, Ridha Mohammed Farhat, on the sidelines of a conference on immigration at the European Parliament, organised by PDL MEP, Salvatore Iacolino.

“Immigration — said Farhat — is only one aspect among others of the dialogue. For us, this is about easing the flow between the two parties: commercial products, services and free movement of persons. I know it is difficult, but for us it is a goal, without ignoring the problem of illegal immigration.” On this front, “there has been structured dialogue for a few weeks and we will see the results, in the logic of future relations with the EU.” “ For a few months — added Iacolino — there has been an increased southern dimension of the European Union, for cooperation based not only on the regulation of migration flows, but also on concrete initiatives that bring development and competitiveness.” An example of this is the recent agreement between the EU and Morocco on the liberalisation of trade in fruit and vegetables. According Iacolino, it is important to give the “opportunity for young North African businessmen to come to Europe and increase their professionalism,” but that does not mean that “we believe that economic migrants are not entitled to remain in the EU if they don’t have a contract, something refugees have.’.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Gaddafi’s Assets Seized in Italy

Over 1 billion in Eni and Unicredit shares

(ANSA) — Rome, March 28 — Italian financial police seized over one billion euros in assets belonging to ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif Al Islam and former intelligence chief Abdullah Al Senussi on Wednesday. The brunt of the assets came from a 1.26% share in Italy’s largest commercial bank Unicredit, worth 611 million euros, and a 0.6% share in energy giant Eni, worth 410 million euros. A 2% share in Italian arms manufacturer Finmeccanica and a 1.5% share in soccer team Juventus were also confiscated. The seizure was issued by the Rome Court of Appeals with backing from the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

The same court made a request for discovery of assets attributable to the late dictator and his associates when it issued arrest warrants in June for their crimes against humanity. The assets had been frozen according to two UN resolutions passed in February and March of 2011, early in Gaddafi’s bloody campaign to quell a popular uprising that led to his overthrow that summer and death last October at the hand of insurgents.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

ISNA Works With Authorities in North Africa to Develop Protocols to Protect Religious Minorities

TUNIS, 3 Jumada Al-Awwal/25 March (IINA)-Last week, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) President, Imam Mohamed Magid, and Director of Community Outreach, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, met with high-ranking religious authorities and scholars in Morocco and Tunisia to discuss the rights of religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries across the globe. Working in consultation with these authorities, they presented the idea of developing Islamic standards and protocols to guarantee equal participation of various religious groups in Muslim-majority countries. ISNA is deeply concerned about the rights of religious minorities and among those with whom they met were Dr. Ahmed Toufiq, Moroccan Minister of Islamic Affairs and Endowment; Dr. Noureddine Khadmi, Tunisian Minister of Religious Affairs; and Dr. Abdul Aziz Othman Altwaijri, General Manager of the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). All of them remain solidly committed to addressing this issue.

The Kingdom of Morocco has a history of harmonious coexistence between people of diverse religious backgrounds. Under the guidance of original Islamic scholarship stemming from some of the most reputable Islamic institutions in the Muslim world, both the Moroccan government and its majority-Muslim population peacefully coexist with the Moroccan Jewish and Christian communities. Similarly, developments in Tunisia following the Arab spring have re-energized a commitment to a pluralist democracy and to a guarantee of the rights of all people to wholly participate in government and society.

ISNA is committed to religious freedom and seeks to promote it not only in the United States, but also abroad. We deeply appreciate the partnership of religious leaders of all faiths, particularly the way religious leaders and community members from Jewish and Christian faiths have wholeheartedly demonstrated their support for Muslims through the institutionalization of the campaign, Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values. Similarly, ISNA is dedicated to standing in solidarity with people of other faiths everywhere, whether they constitute the majority or the minority. Following this trip to Morocco and Tunisia, stay tuned for news about a series of activities, as ISNA works to promote a mechanism for developing standards and protocols on religious freedom and the role of religious minorities in the Muslim world.


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Libya’s Toubou Tribal Leader Raises Separatist Bid

(AGI) Tripoli — The leader of the Toubou tribe in Libya, Issa Abdel Majid Mansour, has raised the threat of a separatist bid.

Over the past three days, the Toubou tribe, which is settled in southern Libya, has engaged in violent clashes with the Arab population in the southern oasis town of Sabha, the ancient capital of the desert region of Fezzan. At least 25 people have so far been killed and 80 others wounded. Mansour denounced what he said is a plan to “ethnically cleanse” his people. “We announce the reactivation of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya (TFSL) to protect the Toubou people from ethnic cleansing “, Mansour said. The TFSL is an opposition group that was ruthlessly persecuted under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

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

Libya: Christians Bear Witness to Easter in a Country Burdened by Hatreds and Violence, Mgr Martinelli Says

The bishop of Tripoli talks about Easter preparations in Libya’s tiny catholic community. Eight people from Sub-Saharan Africa will be baptised during Easter Mass. Celebrations will take place during the day. Getting back to normal after 42 years of dictatorship and one year of civil war is a hard task.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) — “The presence of Christians is helping the Libyan people regain a sense of life through a supernatural look that favours reconciliation. Through their work in hospitals and assistance to the sick, Catholics show people burdened by hatreds and vendettas the beauty of forgiveness and impress upon them a desire to look forward,” Mgr Innocenzo Martinelli, apostolic vicar to Tripoli, told AsiaNews.

“After about a year of civil war, the Christian community, mostly Filipinos and Sub-Saharan Africans, is reconstituting itself,” the prelate said. “Sunday Masses, especially during Lent, are crowded. There is a great desire to get back to normal.”

All celebrations during Holy Week will take place in daytime to avoid problems with local authorities, which are suspicious about activities held after dusk.

As Easter approaches, the Diocese of Tripoli is preparing the baptism of eight catechumen, all migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.

“It is hard to ignore what has happened,” the bishop said. “Although the situation in Tripoli is calm, 42 years of dictatorship and one year of war have left their mark on the population. Christians are in the service of these people; their task is to help the Libyan people get back to normal, by promoting dialogue among the various factions that came out of Gaddafi’s fall.”

“I urge all Christians in Libya to find unity again and bear witness to their faith amid the population, helping them look to the future with confidence, through the mystery of the risen Christ, the only path to overcome hatreds and violence.”

The end of the old regime has brought to the surface old tribal rivalries. For many experts, Libya is still a ‘non state’ over which the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC), most of whom are former members of the old regime, still do not exert any power.

Fifty people were killed yesterday in Sabha, in southern territory of Fezzan, in clashes between the Tibu and Sabha tribes over control of the region.

Although the NTC sent 300 troops to quell the violence, they were unable to stop the fighting that broke out last Sunday.

In a report issued last month, Amnesty International detailed the crimes committed by militias that are still armed despite the end of the civil war and government orders to hand in weapons.

For the human rights organisation, thousands of such armed fighters are still roaming in the country without any control, killing, torturing and jailing people, tribes and communities linked to the Gaddafi clan, refusing to recognise the authority of the NTC.

More than 200 people, primarily migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, are still being held in prison without trial. (S.C.)

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

Tunisia: Crossroads of Fanatical Preachers and Jihadists

Fall of Ben Ali opened the doors to Islamic extremism

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, March 28 — For more than twenty years the gates of secular Tunisia defended by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were shut to those who wanted to make a banner of Islam. But the fall of the dictator and, above all the emergence of the religious Ennahdha party as the largest force in the country, has upset everything and as a consequence it has become more obvious that Tunisia has become a place of welcome for all: fanatical preachers, inciters of violence in the name of Allah, jihadists, and supporters of female genital mutilation.

The situation could become even more incandescent with the continuing confrontations between Islamic fundamentalists and secularists, which only by chance have not yet led to a drama.

Everything now seems allowed, especially for the people who Ben Ali had kept well away from Tunisian borders. So Tarek Maaroufi just released from prison Belgium, where he served ten years for terrorism, flew to Tunis, where he was greeted by a score of Salafites with tears in their eyes. Having passed through international arrivals, Maaroufi kneeled to pray and kiss the ground. And just to stop anyone from thinking that the prison had induced him to change his mind, he said he was happy to have seen that jihad is also in the minds of Tunisians. He may or may not be right, but his profile (he was accused of ties with al Qaeda and complicity’ in the death of Commander Massoud, who was killed two days before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in America) should lead to a great attention to he may do in the near future.

Another element to reflect on is the exponential increase in the workload of the Tunisian border police at the capital’s airport, where the arrival of controversial preachers, previously denied entry, is an everyday issue. Two arrived on Sunday. The first, Heni Sbai, Founder of the Maqrizi Centre for Historical Studies, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Egypt and is wanted by various countries for “active collaboration” with the Taliban and al Qaeda. A few hours later landed another Abd El Mustafa Mun’em Halima Abu Bassir alias Abu Bassir El Tartus, a preacher of Yemeni origin, who likes to say that “more’ half of the Koran and hundreds of words of the Prophet call to jihad and the fight against tyrants.” In both cases, they were greeted by celebrating Salafites, happy to have obtained ‘passes’ for their favourites from the police.

In a country that is debating its profile (Islamic or Arabic), the preachers find all too fertile soil in the absence of a response from the state, also urged by the leader of Ennahdha, Rached Gannouchi. Too many threats receive no response from the institutions: on Sunday a sheikh called Tunisians prepare to kill the Jews and on the same occasion a preacher wished the death (he later explained that he was speaking in political terms) of former premier Beji Caid Essebsi. And the air is still filled with the insane propositions of an Egyptian Wahhabi preacher, Wajdi Ghenim, who came to Tunisia to say, before frenzied crowds, that female genital mutilation is not only imposed by the Koran, but are longed for because they are cosmetic surgery operations.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Kadima: Mofaz Gets His Revenge, Defeats Livni

Former Defence Minister tasked with regaining support lost

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV — Four years after the last clash, Israel’s former Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has got his revenge. He won last night’s elections for the leadership of the centrist Kadima party (created by Ariel Sharon) over Tzipi Livni, who in 2008 had defeated him. A 63-year-old former general, previously Chief of Staff and many times minister, Mofaz had never before managed to come to the fore as a front line politician. Now he has his chance, as well as influence, to try and relaunch the main opposition party, support for which has slid against the right-wing governing party under Benyamin Netanyahu.

According to the first results, still partial but clearly showing who the winner will be, he racked up 62% of votes (more than observers had been expecting) compared with the 38% for the outgoing leader and 53-year-old former Foreign Minister. Turnout stood at 45% among the 95,000 registered members of the party, which polls say may see its 21 seats — which currently give it a relative majority in the Knesset (Parliament) — halved in the 2013 elections.

Mofaz will await the final results before giving his winner’s speech, but some sources say he has already begun to send conciliatory messages to party members siding with Livni. The stand-off between the two had in any case been conducted in a mild manner, being as they are both figures with an opaque sort of charisma. While Livni had projected herself as more of an alternative to the right in focusing on a resumption of talks with the Palestinians, Mofaz — an astute man of the system with Iranian origins — insisted instead on domestic social problems and especially national security.

The latter are issues which worry Israelis, especially due to the nuclear threat attributed to the country in which the former general of the Kadima party was born, but which will make it even more difficult to distinguish between the platform of the Likud centrists under Netanyahu (which enjoys a robust lead and is climbing, with forecasts giving the number of seats at up to 35-40). It is a contiguity that Hanan Cristal, an authoritative political analyst from Israeli public radio, claims could now serve as a prelude to a true undividedness on the right, with the entrance into Netanyah’s government in exchange for a few ministerial positions.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

“The Prophet Came From Jordan”

Islam is a mishmash of earlier religions. Muhammad was an Arab version of the Greek poet Homer. Islam didn’t arise in Mecca but in the Jordanian city of Petra. The Arab conquests came first, and only then the Muslims. In his new book The Fourth Beast, British historian Tom Holland makes some shocking claims. The Dutch version is out now, even before the English version [In the Shadow of the Sword] has been published.

“Islam wasn’t a fresh start but an accumulation of elements from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism,” says Tom Holland, who is in Amsterdam for the launch of his book this week.

Conquest came first

Another remarkable statement: Holland doesn’t believe that Arabs first converted to Islam before setting off to conquer other countries. “Horsemen with a Qur’an in one hand and a sword in the other — that’s not even possible,” he jokes. “Do you know how much weight you’d have to carry?” No, only when the Arabs had gained power across a wide area did Islam gradually develop over a time span of around two centuries, Holland believes. His book describes not only the rise of Islam, but also the decay of the Roman and Persian empires in the Middle East.

Cat lover

Holland doesn’t dispute the fact that Muhammad did exist as a prophet, but he doesn’t see Islamic writings as the most reliable source to find out the truth about Muhammad.

“We supposedly know a lot about Muhammad, a lot more than about Jesus,” Holland says. “What he ate, whom he fell in love with, even that Muhammad liked cats — I find that the nicest characteristic, that Muhammad cut up his clothes so the cat could sit down. But the odd thing is that the further away from Muhammad’s birth date you get, the more extensive the biographies become.” There is hardly any material from the time of Muhammad. “Everything dates from at least two centuries later,” Holland says. He likes to compare Muhammad with the Greek epic poet Homer.

Anxious reactions

Speakers like Tom Holland attract a lot of attention in the Western media. After all, they make controversial claims: that Islam didn’t come about in a flash of divine inspiration, for example, and that more than one version of the Qur’an exists. Holland’s friends and family were anxious when he told them the topic of his new book, after having written previous books about the Romans and Christianity. The first word they could think of was fatwa, he says. But Holland is less concerned. “It would be a sort of Islamophobia if I was scared to enter into the discussion, as if that would immediately provoke violence.” The reality is quite the contrary, he says. “The Muslims I meet understand perfectly well that as a non-Muslim I should want to investigate certain assumptions in the Islamic tradition.” For Islam researchers, Holland’s claims will come as no surprise. “It says in the Qur’an itself that it’s a continuation of Judaism and Christianity,” says Petra Sijpesteijn, professor of Arabic language and culture at Leiden University. “Western researchers generally assume that the Qur’an wasn’t written all at once, and Muslim scholars also recognise that Islam developed over the course of the centuries.” It’s obvious that during the Arab conquests local customs and rituals were adopted, says Sijpesteijn. “The new world view had to connect with the world of the people living in a region, or it wouldn’t have been accepted.”

Early sources

Sijpesteijn also points out that there are sources from the time of Muhammad or shortly afterwards, both Islamic and non-Islamic. She studies Arabic writings on ancient papyrus scrolls. “In the writings of 12 years after the death of Muhammad, Muslims are referred to as a separate religious group, first using the term muhajiroun, migrants who had left hearth and home with a purpose, or Saracens, descendents of Sarah and Abraham,” she says. “And from around 730AD, terms like Islam, Muslims and specific religious customs such as zakat (charity) were already being practiced and described.” Sijpesteijn also disagrees with Holland about the place in which Islam arose. “Mecca is already described as a holy place in pre-Islamic manuscripts. So why wouldn’t it exist?” She does think that Arab Christians from more northerly regions played a major role in the further development and distribution of Islam. In short, there is nothing particularly new in Holland’s book, though it’s “nice that he makes it accessible to ordinary people,” says Sijpesteijn. “But as soon as you talk about the origins of Islam, the discussion among both Muslims and non-Muslims becomes extremely sensitive.”


           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Arab League Transforms Itself Into a Sought-After Partner

Since a wave of revolutions swept across the Arab world, the Arab League is playing an important role politically. But it’s questionable whether its members are meanwhile capable of pushing more strongly for democracy.

The Arab League was for a long time a Club of Dictators, boasting members such as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak or Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The body, a union of 22 Arab-speaking countries in Africa and the Middle East, reflected the political paralysis of its members.

League summits always ended with the same official statements. Hardly anyone took the League seriously — neither the people who lived in the region nor politicians from East and West. This has changed with the uprisings in the Arab world. The Arab League is somebody again.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Erdogan Visiting Iran

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has begun a two-day visit to Tehran for talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program and the conflict in neighboring Syria. The Turkish-Iranian talks in Tehran bring together two leaders with strongly diverging policies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Erdogan’s government, once a close ally of Syria, has increasingly switched to hosting Syrian dissidents and refugees.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Hair Product for ‘Real Men’: Turkish TV Ad Features Hitler to Sell Shampoo

A Turkish TV commercial has sparked international criticism for featuring Adolf Hitler to praise the virtues of a “hundred percent men’s shampoo.” Critics have called it “repulsive,” but it follows a controversial trend among firms to sell their wares with supposedly humorous references to Hitler and the Nazi era.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Over-Hasty Withdrawal: Iraq is Neither Sovereign, Stable Nor Self-Reliant

This week, Baghdad will host its first Arab League summit since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The historical event marks Iraq’s return to the international stage but diplomats will also focus on Iran’s growing influence in the country. A few months after the US withdrawal, it is clear that — despite Obama’s claims — Iraq is neither sovereign, stable nor self-reliant.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Qatar Postpones French Suburb Fund Until After Election

Qatar has postponed launching a fund for entrepreneurs from France’s deprived suburbs until after the presidential election to prevent it becoming a political football, officials said Wednesday.

“We want this to happen peacefully and not amid controversy,” said Kamal Hamza, an official in the Paris suburb of Courneuve who is president of ANELD, a group representing local officials from ethnic and religious minorities.

ANELD is due to participate in the disbursing of the fund.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has attacked Qatar for investing in what she said were “Muslim” areas of French cities and said that unnamed foreign countries wanted to develop Islamic fundamentalism in France.

The Qatari embassy in Paris was not immediately able to confirm when contacted by AFP that the emirate was postponing the launch of the 50-million-euro ($67-million) fund until after the two-round vote in April and May.

Gas-rich Qatar is a traditional French ally and provided vital Arab support to French and British-led efforts to get a UN mandate for military action to protect civilians during the eight-month uprising in Libya.

Qatar also gave military support to NATO-led operations in Libya, including deploying troops on the ground.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain: Al Qaeda ‘Librarian’ Arrested in Valencia

The Jihadist arrested yesterday in Valencia was known to those in the heart of the Al Qaeda organisation as the ‘librarian’ and was a key player in the propaganda machine and in the campaign to recruit terrorists via the Internet, said Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz today.

The minister explained that the man arrested, a Saudi Arabian citizen born in Jordan, was working for Al Qaeda and for two of its subsidiary organisations — Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).

The detainee worked full time at disseminating the jihad via the Internet, working from home for between 8 and 16 hours a day luring and indoctrination radical Islamists and even providing transport for terrorists to go to Afghanistan and other areas where Al Qaeda are currently active.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


For Russian Orthodox Church, Cross Ban in Workplace is a Form of Totalitarianism

Metropolitan Hilarion criticises the decision of the British government to defend ban on religious symbols in the workplace before Strasbourg court. Russian priest says one of her parishioners was fired for wearing a cross that was not visible.

Moscow (AsiaNews) — The Moscow Patriarchate deplores the ban in Great Britain on wearing religious symbols in the workplace, describing it as a manifestation of totalitarianism.

“Those Western liberals who are actually forcing totalitarian regime standards on free people are making a big mistake,” said Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, on Rossiya 24 television.

These people have not gone through reprisals against the Church “and therefore they do not know what it feels like when your cross is being ripped off your neck,” he added.

The Metropolitan said he had had an experience of living in Britain and he could see “liberal and Anarchist patterns spreading fast in the public space.”

Recently, British courts have given employers the right to fire workers who wear crosses on their clothes.

The British government wants to defend the ban on wearing crosses at work in the European Court of Human Rights, which is set to examine four cases brought by British citizens.

They include that of Nadia Eweida (pictured), a British Airways employee who was suspended for wearing a cross on a plane, in violation of company policy.

Ms Eweida has taken her case to Strasbourg. For David Cameron’s government, which backs the airliner, wearing a cross is not a compulsory element of the Christian faith.

“The introduction and even a discussion of such standards looks like a symptom of some madness or extreme moral decay,” Hilarion said, adding that believers will never put up with this and will fight.

Archpriest Mikhail Dudko, the sacristan of the Russian Assumption Cathedral in London, said recently that one of his parishioners, a woman, lost her job for wearing a cross at work, even though it was not visible.

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

Russia’s Medvedev Tells Romney to ‘Use Head’

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Mitt Romney on Tuesday to use his head and stop reverting to Hollywood stereotypes after the US presidential hopeful branded Moscow as Washington’s top foe.

“I recommend that all US presidential candidates, including the candidate you mention (Romney), do at least two things,” Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as telling a reporter on the sidelines of a nuclear security conference in Seoul.

“That they use their head and consult their reason when they formulate their positions, and that they check the time — it is now 2012, not the mid-1970s,” said the outgoing Russian president.

Medvedev said Romney’s quip “smelled of Hollywood” because it typecast Moscow as Washington’s main enemy from the Cold War era just like in the popular spy movie thrillers of the time.

“As for ideological cliches, I always get nervous when one side or the other starts using phrases such as ‘enemy number one’ and so on,” Medvedev said.

Romney had roundly criticised Obama on Monday for getting caught by an open mike making a controversial promise to Medvedev about missile defence.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Woman is Killed ‘For Giving Birth to a Girl’

A woman in north-eastern Afghanistan has been arrested for allegedly strangling her daughter-in-law for giving birth to a third daughter.

The murdered woman’s husband, a member of a local militia, is also suspected of involvement but he has since fled.

The murder took place two days ago in Kunduz province. The baby girl, who is now two months old, was not hurt.

The birth of a boy is usually a cause for celebration in Afghanistan but girls are generally seen as a burden.

Some women in Afghanistan are abused if they fail to give birth to boys. And this is just the latest in a series of high-profile crimes against women in the country.

Late last year a horrifying video emerged of the injuries suffered by a 15-year-old child bride who was locked up and tortured by her husband…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Bangladesh Celebrates Independence in the Shadows of the Past

Bangladesh celebrated its 41st Independence Day on Monday. But the young country, on its way to becoming a new emerging market, continues to fight with its past.

Every now and then, Bangladesh makes headline news because of a large flood, ferry accident, tornadoes or some other disaster. The extremely flat country, which is as large as the German states Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg combined, has a population of around 160 million people or twice as big as Germany’s.

Over the past years, the overpopulated poorhouse has transformed itself into the sewing room of the West and is poised to become an emerging market. Prior to its independence on March 26, 1971, the country was part of Pakistan. But “we were never a nation,” said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“Bangladesh is Bangladesh;” Hasina added. “Our people are very broadminded and secular-minded. They are tolerant and, culturally and religiously, they are completely different from Pakistan.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

De Mistura Calls Detention of ‘Enrica Lexie’ Unacceptable

(AGI)Rome -Deputy Foreign Minister De Mistura defines “unacceptable” that the Italian ship Enrica Lexie is still blocked in India. The Italian oil tanker is still detained with another 4 Italian marines, besides the two marines in jail, in Trivandrum. “Frankly I find it unacceptable, it is a situation which has lasted more than a month,” declared Staffan De Mistura, speaking at the Farnesina Palace during a briefing with the press, The Deputy Secretary will return to India in the next few days where, he said, he will carry out “punctual, frequent and pressing visits” to confirm the involvement of Italian authorities to the two marines and “to find the formula” for a resolution to the case. .

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

Italian Commitment in Afghanistan and Pakistan Remains

Foreign Minister Terzi meets US State Department envoy in Rome

(ANSA) — Rome, March 28 — Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi met with US State Department special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, in Rome on Wednesday to discuss Italian operations in the two countries.

Plans for the return of Italian troops remain “as projected,” said Terzi, as does the country’s commitment to NATO and its allies.

Italy’s death toll since it joined the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan in 2004 rose to 50 when Michele Silvestri, a 33-year-old soldier, was killed at the weekend.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Christians Under Attack: Attacks by Islamic Extremists in a Suburb of Karachi

Karachi (Agenzia Fides) — The Christian population is terrified: violent raids are increasing, day and night, carried out by groups of Islamic extremists in Essa Nagri, Christian suburb of the city of Karachi. In the area, densely populated, about 50,000 Christians live in extreme poverty and lack of basic services. According to local sources of Fides, in the suburb of Essa Nagri there are about 15 churches of various denominations: Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, Salvation Army and others. In the area various NGO work with projects concerning education, social and economic support to the community. Among these, the NGO “Mission and Action for Social Services” (Mass), informed Fides that it has filed an official complaint to the police, because in past months attacks on behalf of Islamic militants against the families of the neighborhood have increased tremendously.

As reported to Fides, the militants enter Essa Nagri wielding pistols and machine guns, ransacking homes and committing all kinds of violence against defenseless families. They steal, extort money, saying that they must cash the “Jizya” (the tax imposed, according to the sharia on non-Muslim minorities), they beat innocent victims, abuse women for fun. The NGO “Mass” claims to have asked the authorities to “take action against these terrorists.” The phenomenon had already been reported to Fides by the Catholic politician of Sindh, Michael Javed (see Fides 14/1/2012) who had spoken of “rapes and torture of Christian women and children” in the suburbs of Karachi. In past days, a Christian woman from Essa Nagri, who was shocked reported: “Armed men and drunk broke into my house and raped my two daughters under my eyes. Who protects us? “. There are also numerous cases where the militants have kidnapped Christian girls, forcing them to marriage and conversion to Islam. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 27/3/2012)

           — Hat tip: LAW Wells[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Hindu Girl Tells Supreme Court She Would Rather Die Than Convert to Islam

Seized by an influential Muslim, with the “political cover” of an elected official, 19 year old Rinkel Kumari launches a desperate appeal to the courts. “Justice is denied Hindus in Pakistan” and therefore asks to” kill me here “in the courtroom. The family, after reporting to police, forced to leave the village in Sindh. Each year there are 300 forced marriages and conversions

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — “In Pakistan there is justice only for Muslims, justice is denied Hindus. Kill me here, now, in court. But do not send me back to the Darul-Aman [Koranic school] … kill me”. This is the desperate, heartbreaking outburst of Rinkel Kumari, a Hindu girl aged 19, who has entrusted her heartfelt appeal to the judges of the Supreme Court in Islamabad. Her story is similar to that of many other young women and girls belonging to religious minorities — Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis — kidnapped by extremist groups or individuals, most of the time lords or local mafia, which convert them by force and then marry them . And that is what the girl said on 26 March, before the judges of the capital’s court.

The drama of Rinkel Kumari, a student of Mirpur Mathelo, a small village in the province of Sindh, began the evening of February 24: A handful of men seized her and delivered her a few hours later into the hands of a wealthy Muslim scholar, the man then called her parents, warning them that their daughter “wants to convert to Islam.”

Nand Lal, the girl’s father, a teacher of an elementary school, accused Naveed Shah, an influential Muslim, of kidnapping his daughter. The man has the “political cover” provided by Mian Mittho, an elected National Assembly Member, suspected of aiding and abetting. After identifying the perpetrators of the kidnapping of his daughter, he was forced to leave the area of origin to escape the threats of people affiliated with the local mafia. The father found refuge and welcome in Gurdwara in Lahore, in Punjab province, with the rest of his family.

As often happens in these cases, even the judiciary is complicit: a local judge ordered that the girl should be given to the Muslims, because her conversion is “the result of a spontaneous decision” and also stated the marriage was above board. A claim that was repeated on February 27, at the hearing before the court, after which the girl was “renamed” Faryal Shah.

However, the story of Rinkel is not an isolated case: every month between 25 and 30 young people suffer similar abuses, for a yearly total of about 300 conversions and forced marriages. Hindu girls — but also Christian — who are torn from their family and delivered into the hands of their husbands / torturers.

On March 26, she appeared before the judges of the Supreme Court in Islamabad, while the Hindu community waited with bated breath for the girl’s statements in court. To avoid pressure, the presiding judge ordered the courtroom cleared and — later — the dramatic testimony was relayed: in Pakistan, “there is no” justice, “kill me here but do not send me back” to the kidnappers.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr. Anwar Patras, the Diocese of Rawalpindi, condemned “with force” the kidnapping and forced conversion. “The Hindus in Sindh — adds the priest — live a hard life. The reality is getting harder for them, they are forced to migrate because the state is unable to protect them and their property.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Briton Arrested in Somalia Was Looking for ‘Somewhere Sunny’

A British man arrested after touching down at the airport in Somalia’s anarchic and war-torn capital said he had only been looking for “somewhere peaceful, sunny.”

Cleve Everton Dennis, arrested Tuesday, said in a confused and rambling speech he gave to reporters that he had wanted to travel to the southern Somali city of Kismayo, the key stronghold of Al-Qaeda allied Shebab insurgents.

Dennis said he originally wanted to go to the Kenyan coastal tourist city of Mombasa, before travelling by land to Somalia, apparently unaware Kenyan troops invaded the region to battle insurgents there.

“When I went I just wanted somewhere peaceful, sunny, you know, somewhere like Nairobi, sunny, nice, (where) people aren’t crazy.”

“Mombasa is a holiday mecca… Ideally I would have gone to Mombasa, and then probably overland to Kismayo… but I couldn’t get a ticket so had to do it the long, hard way,” he said.

Security forces are on the look out for foreign fighters with the hardline Islamists who are battling regional armies, African Union troops and government forces.

Britons form one of the largest foreign contingents in Shebab ranks.

“The British citizen was arrested by the security forces at the airport,” said General Abdulahi Gafow, head of Mogadishu’s immigration department.

“They have screened his belongings and things they found in his bags included knives and marijuana, we are still investigating him.”

Somalia has lacked effective central government for over two decades, allowing warlords, extremist militia and pirates to rule vast regions while civilians have been plagued by lawlessness, hunger and death.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dutch Party Upset Over Pretoria Street Names

A Dutch political party has demanded action from the Dutch Cabinet in support of the retention of Afrikaans street names in Pretoria.

“The Netherlands Embassy situated in Queen Wilhelmina avenue should refuse to accept a new name,” the “De Partij voor de Vrijheid” (the Party for Freedom), PVV, said in a statement issued in The Hague on Wednesday.

The suggestion was contained in a parliamentay question to Dutch deputy minister Halbe Zijlstra on Wednesday.

Zijlstra was asked if he was aware of the planned name changes and whether he thought the plans were a “slap in the face of the Dutch royal family”.

The PVV said the ANC planned to change 27 Pretoria streetnames, including Beatrix street and Queen Wilhelmina avenue.

Many of the names were a reminder of the anti-colonial struggle of the independent Boer republics against the British empire, the statement said.

“The name Queen Wilhelmina avenue is an ode to the young queen who in 1900 dispatched a Dutch warship to fetch a beleaguered President Kruger,” PVV parliamentarian Martin Bosma said.

Other street names commemorating historical characters were “Voortrekkers” with Netherlands backgrounds who helped establish Pretoria, the PVV politician said.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]


Belgium: Nationalists Want to Set Language Requirement for Foreigners

Like EU citizens citizens from outside the European Union can take part in the local elections in October if they register in time. People from outside the European Union can only register if they have been staying in the country legally for at least five years, but further conditions may now also be set.

Belgium’s largest party, the opposition Flemish nationalist N-VA, wants to ensure that only non-EU foreigners who speak the local language can exercise their vote.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Boom in Immigrants on Incapacity Pensions

The number of non-westerners on incapacity pensions has increased almost ten-fold

While the number of ethnic Danes on incapacity pensions has dropped considerably over the past 20 years, the number of non-westerners has increased dramatically. Since 1990, the number of immigrants from non-Western countries on incapacity pensions has risen from 2,979 to 27,375, according to a Rockwool Foundation Research Unit report in Berlingske today.

Rockwool Foundation Senior Researcher Marie Louise Schultz-Nielsen says part of the explanation is that immigrants tend to work in the cleaning sector and as social workers, jobs in which chances for early work-related problems are greatest. At the same time, refugees with war traumas also affect the figures.

“It is clear if you look at the refugee nationalities that these are a large part of incapacity pensions. We know from those who process them that, of course, it is some of the war traumas that result in them having incapacity pensions,” Schultz-Nielsen says.

The figures show that 41 per cent of non-Western immigrants between the ages of 55 and 59 are on incapacity pensions, while the figure for ethnic Danes is 13 per cent.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dutch Parliament Condemns Anti-Immigrant Website

A majority in the Dutch parliament Tuesday condemned a website set up by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party — a junior partner in the governing coalition- asking people to report problems experienced with foreigners. The European Parliament already called the website “deplorable” while PM Mark Rutte has declined to condemn it.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Wars and Crises Spark Global Rise in Refugees

The wars and crises of 2011 have lead to a steep increase in refugees across the globe. With many western countries closing their borders, refugees are beginning to look elsewhere for shelter.

It’s like the calm before the storm. The sea is washing against the shore, small fishing boats are returning to port after a day’s work. The town is preparing for the coming tourist season. Over the course of the winter, Lampedusa almost vanished off the radar of public interest.

The small Italian island nestled just off the Tunisian coast had been the focus of much attention last year. For months, Lampedusa had been flooded with African refugees searching for a better life. The poor conditions in the refugee camps led to protests and uprisings. In September the camp was set on fire.

According to the latest statistics of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Malta and Italy both saw an increase in asylum applications in 2011. Turkey also had more people requesting asylum — especially refugees from Iraq and Syria.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

300 Swiss Died by Assisted Suicide in 2009

Three hundred Swiss residents died in 2009 by assisted suicide, according to the first such official data published by the Swiss Federal Statistics Office on Tuesday. Nine in ten of them were aged 55 or older, with just one percent younger than 35 years, according to the data, which does not take into account foreigners who come to Switzerland for assisted suicide. From 1998 to 2011, Swiss association Dignitas helped 1,169 foreigners die, including 664 from Germany, followed by 182 from Britain and 117 from France.

Belgium and the Netherlands are the only other two countries issuing data on assisted suicide. In Belgium, the number of cases was at 7.9 per 1,000 deaths in 2009, while in the Netherlands, it stood at 2.3 per 1,000 deaths. In Switzerland, the data corresponded to 4.8 deaths per 1,000.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Slams Albanian Official’s Anti-Gay Comments

(TIRANA) — The European Union on Tuesday denounced an Albanian official who said participants in a planned gay pride parade “should be beaten with truncheons.”

“The European Union strongly condemns any discriminatory rhetoric as well as any incitement to hatred or violence,” the EU delegation in Tirana said in a statement.

The EU statement came after Albania’s deputy defence minister and leader of the royalist party, Ekrem Spahiu, slammed a plan by gay organisations to hold their first-ever pride parade on May 17.

“My only commentary on this gay parade is that they should be beaten with truncheons,” he said last week.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said he backed the planned parade in Tirana as “Albania is a country where all freedoms are guaranteed.”

On Sunday Albanian Muslim and Catholic organisations voiced strong opposition to the parade, insisting that gay rights events threatened society.

Human rights organisations say gays face both discrimination and violence in Albania, a society where many are regarded as deeply homophobic.

Albania passed a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2010.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Minister Profumo: Divine Comedy to Remain in Syllabus

(AGI) Rome — “No risk that Dante’s masterworks are to be eliminated from school syllabi”. This is what Education Minister Profumo said, answering to the question time for Pdl on the stance taken by an NGO -Gerush921- who supported the elimination of the “Divine Comedy” as it conveys antisemite, homophobic and racist messages. “The didactic contexts are the best place to divulge the message of the Great Poet. In particular the Ministerial Decree 211 of 7 October 2011 have detected students’ skills at the end of the high school programme, envisaging the intensive study of the Divine Comedy.

It is a decisive element of the Italian cultural identity.

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

Sweden: ‘Gay-Bashing’ Reggae Star’s Gig Put Off Again

Jamaican reggae singer Sizzla, who had been given the green light to perform on Wednesday night in Stockholm despite an initial cancellation, has been put off again after show promoters gave in to the backlash from the gay community. A statement was released on Wednesday by Ulrika Westerlund, spokesperson for the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas och transpersoners rättigheter — RFSL). In it, she urged concert goers to reconsider their decision, adding that “it should go without saying that gigs should not be booked for this man”.

Slakthuset, the company behind the event, apologized on Wednesday afternoon in a statement, and acknowledged that the concert would be canned for the second time. “We want to apologize to all who felt offended or have been upset because of all the commotion surrounding this situation,” organizers said. “We would also like to apologize to the large crowd of reggae fans who looked forward to this concert and hope that the audience understands and respects our decision.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Doctor Claims He Was Dismissed for Emailing Prayer to Colleagues

A Christian doctor who claims he was sacked for emailing a prayer to colleagues in a bid to raise their spirits is suing a hospital for unfair dismissal.

Dr David Drew, 64, told an employment tribunal that he was made to feel like a “religious maniac” after sending out the prayer by St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, to motivate his department.

He said he was subsequently disciplined and ordered to refrain from using religious references in professional communication. When he sought clarification from executives, he was told to accept the recommendation without questioning or to resign, he claimed.

The report into his behaviour even chastised him for sending a text message to a colleague, Rob Hodgkiss, reading “Have a peaceful Christmas”.

“While DD may regard such messages as benign RH perceived them as aggressive and unwelcome intrusions into his private time,” it said.

Dr Drew claimed Mr Hodgkiss had simply replied, saying “likewise”.

He said: “I believe this trivial example demonstrates that anything can become a matter of offence.”

The doctor said problems began when he voiced concerns about practices at Walsall Manor Hospital, Birmingham, in 2008.

He said there were two occasions in which children had been sexually assaulted on the ward and one in which a child had died after a consultant let him go home.

But he claimed that when he complained, he was promptly stripped of his role as clinical director.

A subsequent investigation was carried out into Dr Drew’s conduct after he complained about the behaviour of a “very rude nurse”, he said.

And he was finally dismissed after he queried the order not to use religious language in professional communications “verbal or written”.

“The allegation that I have forced my religion onto other people, that I am some kind of religious maniac was made worse by the fact that they told me there was no need to understand what this is all about,” he told the Birmingham tribunal.

“If the trust wanted me to behave in a different way they should give me some explanation.

“Little did I know that this email would cause me so much difficulty and ultimately result in my dismissal.”

Dr Drew, a father of four who lives with his wife Janet, 61, in Sutton Coldfield, West Mids, said he was pushed to accept that he had behaved inappropriately and was even offered a “financial inducement” to go quietly.

He was first excluded in April 2009, after sending the prayer, and was eventually dismissed three days before Christmas in 2010. He lost an appeal last April.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]


Billions of Habitable Alien Planets Should Exist in Our Galaxy

There should be billions of habitable, rocky planets around the faint red stars of our Milky Way galaxy, a new study suggests.

Though these alien planets are difficult to detect, and only a few have been discovered so far, they should be ubiquitous, scientists say. And some of them could be good candidates to host extraterrestrial life.

The findings are based on a survey of 102 stars in a class called red dwarfs, which are fainter, cooler, less massive and longer-lived than the sun, and are thought to make up about 80 percent of the stars in our galaxy.

Using the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers found nine planets slightly larger than Earth over a six-year period. These planets, called super-Earths, weigh between one and 10 times the mass of our own world, and two of the nine were discovered in the habitable zone of their parent star, where temperatures are right for liquid water to exist.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Cat Parasite May Affect Humans, Researcher Claims

A Czech biologist is trying to show how Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that normally affects only cats and rodents, also affects adult human behavior. He’s now trying to prove a damaging effect on intelligence.

Since its discovery over a century ago, scientists and doctors have known for many years that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is transmitted through cat excrement, causes cognitive problems in mice.

Research has shown that in cases where the immune system is weakened — such as in fetuses or those with immune deficiencies — the parasite can lead to birth defects, swollen lymph nodes or brain damage. However, approximately half of the world’s population has already been infected from exposure to cats, usually to little effect.

In some European countries, such as France and Belgium, Toxoplasma screening for pregnant women is routine — but in the United Kingdom and the United States, the medical establishment does not recommend the practice.

However, for years, Jaroslav Flegr, a professor of biology at Charles University in Prague, has argued that this cat parasite can cause an array of cognitive and behavioral problems, including schizophrenia, in normal adults. He has catalogued the effects of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii through tests on thousands of students since 1992.

The proposition that a strange parasite reaps destructive changes in human behavior is a tough pill to swallow. So Flegr is now working to strengthen his case.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Executions on the Rise Globally, Says Amnesty

Amnesty International says state executions are on the rise. Twenty countries executed a total of 676 people in 2011, up from 527 in 23 countries in 2010. Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia were responsible for most of the increase. It is thought China executes thousands each year, says the group.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

New ‘Life in Space’ Hope After Billions of ‘Habitable Planets’ Found in Milky Way

Billions of potentially habitable planets may exist within our galaxy, the Milky Way, raising new prospects that life could exist near Earth, a study has found.

Researchers discovered that at least 100 of the “super-Earths” may be on our galactic doorstep, at distances of less than 30 light years, or about 180 trillion miles, from the sun.

Astronomers say the findings were made after conducting a survey of red dwarf stars, which account for about four in five stars in the Milky Way.

They calculate that around 40 per cent of red dwarfs have a rocky planet not much bigger than Earth orbiting the “habitable zone”, in which liquid surface water can exist.

Scientists say that where there is water, there also could be life although they add that being in the habitable zone is no guarantee that life has evolved on a planet.

Dr Xavier Bonfils, from Grenoble University in France, who led the international team, said: “Because red dwarfs are so common — there are about 160 billion of them in the Milky Way — this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New by Peter Watson — Review

by Tom Holland

Back in 1991, when personal computers were still in their infancy, a hugely influential video game appeared which challenged players to “build an empire to stand the test of time”. Civilization — which, in an upgraded incarnation, remains a bestseller to this day — requires those who play it to lead a tribe of hunter-gathers, and guide them through all the various stages of history until with luck, by AD2100, they have reached Alpha Centauri in a spaceship. Although players can choose which leader to play — Alexander the Great, Montezuma, Genghis Khan — the differences between them are really only cosmetic. The evolution of human society is represented as inexorable progress from one civilisational breakthrough to another. Agriculture leads to pottery and so on, all the way to the invention of rocket boosters. Civilisation itself is cast as one immense, wind-up clock.

The reality, of course, is altogether messier. Notoriously, the brilliant and sophisticated empires of the New World never got around to inventing the wheel. It is the implications of that failure, and of the much broader differences between the civilisations of the Old and New Worlds, that are the focus of Peter Watson’s The Great Divide. Anthropologists and archaeologists, as Watson points out, have generally preferred to emphasise the similarities between the various human cultures that have developed since the last Ice Age; but Watson himself is altogether more intrigued by the contrasts. Between 15,000BC, when the first humans crossed into Alaska, and 1492, when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, there were two distinct populations of homo sapiens developing in parallel, each utterly unaware of the other. This constituted, in Watson’s words, “the greatest natural experiment the world has seen” — and it is his attempt to trace it, and to draw apposite conclusions from it about “how nature and human nature interact”, that constitutes the meat of this fascinating, ambitious and yet ultimately frustrating book.

The broad thrust of his argument, that civilisation in both the New and Old Worlds has been shaped above all by environmental factors, will be familiar to anyone who has read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (1997). The “Great Divide”, in Watson’s pithy summation, was between shepherds and shamans. The plentiful availability in Eurasia of animals just waiting to be domesticated ultimately led to the invention of the plough, the chariot, the wool industry and the pork pie. Meanwhile, what the peoples of the New World might have lacked in terms of horses or cattle was compensated for by a quite prodigious supply of naturally occurring hallucinogens. While the great intellects of Eurasia were busy inventing monotheism and the water-mill, their counterparts in the Americas were off their faces on drugs. This, combined with the fact that the New World is much more prone to extremes of weather and seismic activity than the Old, resulted in gods that were scarily in people’s faces. “In the New World,” so Watson argues, “the existence of a supernatural world was altogether more convincing.”

All of this, traced over millennia, makes for an exhilarating ride — and one from which few, I suspect, will not profit and learn. I certainly had no idea that changes in the post-Palaeolithic era had resulted in the narrowing of women’s pelvic canals, with all that implied for the ease of childbirth — nor that the Maya enjoyed giving themselves nicotine-infused enemas, and used pupettes fashioned out of deer bones and bladders to do so. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of Watson’s canvas represented a challenge that has, to a degree, overwhelmed him. Part of the danger with applying broad brushstrokes is that the detail will often get blurred. His quixotic attempt to combine archaeology, anthropology, meteorology and natural history with thousands of years’ worth of global history requires a range and depth of learning that not even the most polymathic scholars possess.

When, for instance, Watson describes the battle of Salamis as “an axial moment”, it is evident that one of the reasons he does so is because he has just been reading Karen Armstrong’s book on the so-called “Great Transformation”: the axial period that supposedly linked Socrates, Confucius and the Buddha. But in what sense was Salamis “axial”? A bare 14 years previously, the precociously brilliant Ionians had been roundly thumped in a naval battle, thereby demonstrating that an aptitude for philosophy did not necessarily translate into success at sea. Nor, indeed, can the very existence of an axial age be presumed; and quoting Armstrong to imply that it can be ignores the vast number of scholars who would profoundly disagree. Perhaps the value of the concept of an axial age to Watson is that it enables him to shepherd together what would otherwise be an inchoate and undifferentiated mass of research topics, and assemble them all in the same sheep-pen.

This is a strategy that works well in computer-games. In Civilization, the reward for making a set number of technology leaps is to be promoted into “the Classical Period”, or “the Renaissance”, or whatever. In a book devoted to demonstrating the range and variety of human culture, it is altogether less effective. The shame of this book is that Watson, although most original and stimulating as a “splitter”, has ended up all too often and reductively a “lumper”.

• Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword will be published by Little, Brown in April.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]