Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/17/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/17/2009Tonight the news feed has reached a new milestone: it contains more than a hundred articles.

If you’re experiencing a slow load of this blog, the news feed is probably responsible, because even though the bulk of it is below the fold, the “invisible” text loads along with the above-the-fold portions when the page opens.

I have no solution to offer, except to start a separate blog for the news feed, which I am loath to do…

Thanks to Abu Elvis, Andy Bostom, C. Cantoni, Craig Karpel, Fausta, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, TB, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
- - - - - - - - -
Financial Crisis
Czech Rep: Hundreds of Jobless Foreigners Decide to Leave Czech Republic
How Elite Environmentalists Impoverish Blue Collar Americans
Italian Banks to Get ‘Stress Test’
State Considers Return to Gold, Silver Dollars
Stimulus Jobs: Non-Union ‘Need Not Apply’
UK: Don’t Let Mandarins Ration Mortgages
Are You a Terrorist Suspect?
Formerly Useful Idiots
Obama Snubs Mideast Allies
Rome is Burning, Nero is Fiddling
The Republicans Can Take Heart as Barack Obama Staggers to the Left
Union Thuggery Hits New Low
Veterans: President Won’t Budge on Insurance Proposal
Jonathan Kay on the Globe & Mail’s Appalling Front-Page Smear on Religious Christians
‘Sex as the Carrot to Fulfil Evil Intentions’
Europe and the EU
A Devastating Picture of the Polish Political Class
Austria: Josef Fritzl Offered Counselling ‘to Cope With Trial’
Czech Rep: Czech Town Launches Crusade Against Drug Addicts
Denmark: Record Arrests Did Not Stop Gang War
Finland: Stefan Wallin Calls for Nordic Defence Alliance
Finland: Demand for Somali-Language Literature in Finland Rising
Finland: Atheist Bus Campaign Coming to Finland
Germany: Turk Faces “Terrorism” Charges in Germany — Prosecutors
Italy: Porn Star in Bourse Panty Attack
Luxembourg Legalises Euthanasia
Mafia Families ‘Need Shrinks’
Netherlands: Bus Drivers: 300 Complaints About Public Aggression
Netherlands: Wilders’ Supporters — What Do They Want?
Netherlands: “Export of Social Benefit Payments” Challenged
Newsweek Explores ‘Jihad Chic’ in London
Spain: Doctors at Risk of Aggression, 7 Out of 10 Victims
Spain: Government Agreement With Andalusia on Historic Debt
Spain: Students Tie £56 Camera to Balloon and Send it to Edge of Space to Capture Stunning Images of Earth
Sweden: Police to Quiz 8 Year Olds in Sex Crime Probe
Sweden: Two Explosions Shake Gothenburg
Switzerland: Young Campaigner Raises Stakes in Parliament
Switzerland: Parliament Opposes Ban on Storing Arms at Home
UK: Embarrassment for New Met Chief After He Personally Leads Helicopter Raid With 80 Officers — for Suspect Who’d Already Been Arrested
UK: Gerry Adams Says IRA Killings ‘should Not be Exaggerated’ as He Calls for British Forces to Stay Out of Ireland
UK: Obama Backs Peace in Northern Ireland as Gerry Adams Says IRA Killings ‘should Not be Exaggerated’
UK: Patients Died Due to ‘Appalling Care’ at Staffordshire Hospitals — Healthcare Commission
UK: The Sandwich Box Stasi: Parents’ Fury Over School Which Inspects Lunches and Confiscates Junk Food
UK: The PC Procession: Carnival Queen Scrapped for Being Sexist… Now She’s a ‘Community Champion’
UK: Trusting the Police
Bulgaria: Radical Islam Row Continues
Montenegro: Berlusconi Accused of Electoral ‘Meddling’
Mediterranean Union
Fishing: Egypt Minister, 15,000 Jobs From Project With Italy
Mediterranean Union: Secretary General to be Named by April
North Africa
Algeria: Danone Wants to Import 11,000 Cows
Algeria: National Koran Week Opens
Egypt: Non-Oil Exports at +23% in 2008, Italy Main Importer
Terrorism: Algeria, Family Massacred in Tebessa
Tunisia: Elections in October, First Moves of the Opposition
Western Sahara: Polisario, Morocco Obstructing Solution
Israel and the Palestinians
Criticism of Israel Dropped From Durban II Draft Resolution
EU Warns Israel, Two State Solution is a Must
Gaza: Letter to UN Asking for International Investigation
Gaza: Kouchner, Yes to Independent International Investigation
Gilad: Hamas, Hizbullah Can’t be Trusted
Israel: Government; Deal With Netanyahu, Lieberman FM
Jerusalem Tractor Drivers Fear for Their Lives Following Terror Attacks
Judges Call for Alleged Gaza War Crimes Inquiry
Middle East
Iran to Send Female Skier to Winter Games
Iraq Looks to Future With “Optimism.” Economic Crisis Feared More Than Security
Iraqi Fan Kills Soccer Player During Close Game
Piracy: Turkish Frigate Intercepts Pirates in Gulf of Aden
Syria: Human Rights, 3 Years in Jail for Political Dissident
Terrorism: ‘Teenage Suicide Bomber’ Behind Yemen Blast
Turkey: Nationalist Slogans to be Removed From Hillsides
US-Turkey: Washington May Need Ankara for Iraqi Withdrawal
Zbigniew Brzezinski: More Bad Advice on Iran
Russia Announces Rearmament Plan
Far East
China Plans Opera Version of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital
Koreas: North Reopens Border
Philippines: China Sends Former Warship to Patrol Contested Spratly Islands
Philippines: Saga of Baselines Law
Philippines: Muslims Seek Supreme Court Representation
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Malcolm Turnbull Turns Up the Heat on Carbon Trading
Darwiche Texts Threat From Jail
Sub-Saharan Africa
Mauritania: Alliance Against Libyan Mediation Strengthens
Mozambique: Mozambique Mob, Angry Over Disease Rumors, Kills 4
Sudan: President Orders Halt to Overseas Aid Distribution
Latin America
Chavez Offers Russia Use of Base
Mexico: On the Trail of the Traffickers
UK Action Over Turks and Caicos
Finland: Poll: Rural Residents and Blue-Collar Workers Most Negative Toward Immigration
Italy: Hundreds More Illegal Immigrants Land on Lampedusa
Malta Blocks Italian Navy Ship
Migrant Boats Rescued South of Lampedusa
Nigerian Human Traffickers Go on Trial in the Netherlands
Sweden: Inconsistent Rulings Frustrate Somali Asylum Seekers
UK: More Than Three-Quarters of Britons Want to See Jobless Immigrants Forced to Leave UK
UK: Why Are the Gurkhas Still Waiting?
Culture Wars
A Few U.S. States Buck Stem Cell Trend With Bans
Spain: Bishops Start Pro-Life Campaign Against Abortion
Geert Wilders and Totalitarian Islam
How to Stop the Drug Wars
What is Marxism?

Financial Crisis

Czech Rep: Hundreds of Jobless Foreigners Decide to Leave Czech Republic

Prague — A total of 738 foreigners have applied for free air tickets and a 500-euro allowance by March 15, thus making use of the government offer to the unemployed foreigners who decide to return home voluntarily, Hana Mala, from the Interior Ministry, told CTK today.

Mongolians were largest group of applicants for the free air tickets home and the allowance in the first month since the government measure aimed at helping the foreigners who lost jobs due to the economic crisis took effect on February 16, Mala said.

She said 550 Mongolians who had asked for the aid made up three-quarters of all applicants, followed by citizens of Uzbekistan — 104, and Vietnam — 37.

Among the 516 foreigners who have left for home there were 405 citizens from Mongolia, 58 from Uzbekistan, 18 from Vietnam, 19 from Ukraine, six from Indonesia, four from Georgia, three from Bosnia and Herzegovina, two from Moldova and one from Russia, Mala said.

The largest number of applications — 250 — were registered in the first week since the measure took effect while 200 applications on average were registered in the following weeks, she said.

Foreigners most often apply for the government aid at the foreigner police in Prague and Plzen, west Bohemia, Mala said.

The foreigners who are leaving the country voluntarily receive the 500-euro allowance on board the plane. Children receive half of the sum, she said.

The government measure aims at preventing jobless foreigners from remaining in the Czech Republic where they would stay and work illegally.

A total of 2000 foreigners could apply for the aid within the first phase of the project that will cost about 60 million crowns.

Interior Minister Ivan Langer said if foreigners showed an increased interest in returning home voluntarily he would try to convince the government to extend the project.

He said he wanted the government to continue financing the project from its budget reserve.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

How Elite Environmentalists Impoverish Blue Collar Americans

Entire economy based on large-scale, high-tech agriculture is being brought to its knees.

The great Central Valley of California has never been an easy place. Dry and almost uninhabitable by nature, the state’s engineering marvels brought water down from the north and the high Sierra, turning semi-desert into some of the richest farmland in the world.

Yet today, amid drought conditions, large parcels of the valley — particularly on its west side — are returning to desert; and in the process, an entire economy based on large-scale, high-tech agriculture is being brought to its knees. You can see this reality in the increasingly impoverished rural towns scattered along this region, places like Mendota and Avenal, Coalinga and Lost Hills.

In some towns, unemployment is now running close to 40%. Overall, the water-related farming cutbacks could affect up to 300,000 acres and could cost up to 80,000 jobs.

However, the depression conditions in the great valley reflect more than a mere water shortage. They are the direct result of conscious actions by environmental activists to usher in a new era of scarcity.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italian Banks to Get ‘Stress Test’

Government must stay out of the banking business, Draghi says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 17 — Italian banks will soon be given a ‘stress test’ to determine whether they have sufficient capital to make it through the current economic recession, Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi told parliament on Tuesday.

The aim of the initiative, he told the lower house finance committee, was no longer to calculate the value of their so-called ‘toxic assets’ but to “put a number on how much they expect to lose from bad loans, how many of their clients will not pay their debts and how they plan to balance this in their budgets”.

“Once we have this number, we will ask them: do you have enough cash?”, Draghi added.

The governor said the period under examination will run until June 2010, when the recession is expected to be over, and in making their calculations banks will need to factor in how much they lost in previous recessions and the amount of debt their clients had at the time.

Looking at the global credit crunch, Draghi said that while central banks and the state “were able to keep the financial system from collapsing, insufficient light was shed on the balance sheets of those banks which had invested heavily on what became toxic assets,” or bad loans and investments.

“We still do not know for certain how big the losses were for the world’s leading banks and how these losses were distributed,” Draghi explained.

The governor defended the Bank of Italy’s performance as the country’s financial watchdog and pointed to the fact that “banks did not fail in Italy the way they did in other countries”. Draghi also recalled that when he took office in February 2006 he had drawn attention to the risks created by the derivatives market — which later triggered the crisis — and how the central bank’s watchdog function had been more focused “on operators rather than on products”.


Turning his attention to the action the Italian and other governments have taken to deal with the global credit crunch, Draghi stressed that while governments should work to ensure the correct functioning of the credit system, they must not interfere in the business of banking.

In Italy’s case, the central bank governor explained that the government’s monitoring of the credit sector on a local level “must not result in pressure on banks to lower their standards which guarantee a healthy and cautious management of their clients”.

Draghi added that “banking must remain a business activity based on a cautious, professional evaluation of the validity of projects seeking credit”.

On their part, he said Italian banks must now demonstrate greater foresight in making decisions during this period of economic turmoil.

Draghi observed that “at a time when the quality of credit will inevitably worsen due to the recession, decisions are needed which show foresight. To be a good banker it is not enough to keep accounts in order”.

Showing foresight, the governor explained, meant “giving firm support to clients who deserve credit” in order to avoid “an excessive credit squeeze which would only aggravate the recession and worsen the position of bank clients”. In order to foster the flow of credit, Draghi urged banks to “take advantage of support offered by the state to pump credit into the economy”. The Treasury has offered to buy up short-term bonds issued by banks on the condition that the funds be used for personal loans, mortgages and to help small businesses. In return, banks will pay a yield of 7.5%-8.5% on the bonds which will gradually increase with time in order to ensure their short-term nature. Looking at what more could be done to help the banking sector, Draghi suggested tax cuts for banks and other credit institutions in order to make them more competitive. High taxes, he explained, “translate into less self-financing, fewer assets and a reduced ability to extend credit”. According to Draghi, current limits on tax deductions and additional VAT payments in services performed within banking groups subtracted some two billion euros from net profits in the banking sector.

In his appearance before parliament, Draghi also announced that the Bank of Italy will soon issue guidelines to determine salaries for top bank executives.

These will not entail establishing a salary cap but “will link earnings to their ability to avoid taking unnecessary risks, unlike before,” he said.

The guidelines, which Draghi said would be the first in the world by a central bank authority, would also ensure greater salary transparency by making these known to and approved by shareholder meetings.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

State Considers Return to Gold, Silver Dollars

Proposed bill slams Fed, allows payments in precious metals

A bill being considered in the Montana Legislature blasts the Federal Reserve’s role in America’s money policy and permits the state to conduct business in gold and silver instead of the Fed’s legal tender notes.

Montana H.B. 639, sponsored by State Rep. Bob Wagner, R-Harrison, doesn’t require the state or citizens to conduct business in gold or silver, but it does require the state to calculate certain transactions in both the current legal tender system and in an electronic gold currency. It further mandates that the state must accept payments in gold or silver for various fees and purchases.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stimulus Plan: Spend Now, Details Later (Promise)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wants governors to hurry up and begin building bridges and schools to revive the economy. His administration is learning that spending $787 billion as quickly and transparently as promised is no easy task.

States wanting desperately to tap into the new money are having trouble keeping track of the application deadlines and requirements in the 400-page stimulus bill. Governors must sign pledges saying they’ll spend the money appropriately, but the administration is still figuring out what the rules are.

“Well, that’s kind of scary,” said Richard Eckstrom, South Carolina’s comptroller general.

Hanging over all of this are two threats. The first was written into the law, saying that if states miss a deadline or don’t spend the money fast enough, they lose the cash. Vice President Joe Biden delivered the second threat last week, warning that if states misspend the money, “don’t look for any help from the federal government for a long while.”

Yet figuring out how to spend the money correctly isn’t easy. For example:

  • The Housing and Urban Development Department is offering $1.5 billion for homeless prevention, but there’s confusion over who qualifies.
  • Governors are required to report how many jobs are being saved or created, but there has been no explanation of how to count them.
  • The Energy Department is giving out money to make homes energy-efficient, and the work must begin soon, but there aren’t enough trained workers for all the remodeling jobs.

When Washington tries to spend a lot of money, spend it quickly and spend it responsibly it usually succeeds only in two of those three goals. Federal aid after Hurricane Katrina was wasted on temporary house trailers and fraudulent assistance applications. Some of the government loans rushed out to help small businesses recover after the Sept. 11 terror attacks went instead to a radio station in South Dakota, a motorcycle shop in Utah and more than 100 Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway franchises.

The Obama administration is working to prevent such stories about the stimulus bill. Governors, meanwhile, are making some tough calls.

California, for instance, is counting on at least $10 billion from the stimulus to stabilize its budget. If it comes up short, it probably will need to cut $1 billion. That decision needs to be made soon. But right now, there’s no way to know for sure how much the state will get.

“There’s mass confusion still at this stage,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

At a conference for state officials at the White House complex last week, a representative from Utah asked Obama’s budget officials what data they would be required to collect from contractors. He was told to expect an answer within the next several weeks.

But the governor was preparing to sign a contract. Should he delay the project?

There were more questions than answers at the conference, where representatives from 49 states assembled to learn more about the stimulus money. Idaho is restricting travel by state employees and didn’t send anyone.

Why haven’t the feds produced a comprehensive list of deadlines and rules? What did Congress mean by “permanent” when it ordered permanent changes to state unemployment insurance? Will all federal agencies collect the same data or will each agency set its own rules?

And how, exactly, are states supposed to track and report all this spending when there’s no money in the law for tracking or auditing?

Deputy Controller Danny Werfel spent the day alternating between fielding such questions and pacing the hallways with his cell phone, trying to get answers.

Werfel is one of many Obama budget officials trying, in a matter of days, to reinvent a Byzantine federal spending process.

“Everybody would like more specifics. But they’re giving us as many specifics as they can,” said Pamela Walsh, deputy chief of staff to New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch. “Nobody has more sympathy for what they’re trying to do than a bunch of people who are trying to do the same thing at the local level.”

William Newton, Alabama’s deputy finance director, said he was surprised that the Obama administration was struggling as much as states to make sense of the new law.

“We’ve been looking at this from our state’s point of view. But now I realize they’re getting calls from 49 other states and they don’t have answers,” Newton said.

Even the watchdogs have new roles. Earl Devaney, the chief auditor overseeing the stimulus spending, said he can’t be a traditional inspector general who roots out and exposes fraud. He has to prevent it.

Devaney and other watchdogs said they need to hire new investigators. Some agencies are recruiting auditors out of retirement. Ideally, Devaney said, he would have started working on this a year ago. Instead, he’s had about three weeks.

“I’m very concerned,” Devaney told state leaders. “But we’re going to try to do everything possible to help you.”

Most governors are willing to give the Obama administration time to figure out the details, said John Thomasian of the National Governors Association, who hosted a conference call last week for governors’ staffs to discuss working through these problems.

“There’s a recognition that everyone is trying to do it well and we’re all in the position of trying to make this work,” Thomasian said. “Frustration will surface if these questions have not been answered in a few months.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Stimulus Jobs: Non-Union ‘Need Not Apply’

When President Obama talked about those shovel-ready jobs, we now know who was using the shovel and what was being shoveled.

“The stimulus package that has passed both houses of Congress is tilted toward union contractors, said the president of an association of nonunion builders.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Don’t Let Mandarins Ration Mortgages

One of the more insidious consequences of the crash has been the Government’s worrying conviction that only it has the answer to our most intractable problems. Having bailed out the banks, it believes that it must now bring its unrivalled expertise to bear on other aspects of the crisis, because market mechanisms have failed. Tomorrow we will learn how Whitehall intends to run the housing market when Lord Turner delivers, at Gordon Brown’s request, his ideas for reforming bank regulation.

Central to the Turner blueprint, it appears, will be the state rationing of mortgages. That is not the way it will be portrayed, of course, but that is what we are getting. Lord Turner apparently intends to establish industry guidelines fixing a ceiling of three times salary for mortgages, while 100 per cent advances will not be allowed. Micro-managing housing finance in this way is not the business of government. No one would deny that the property boom (fuelled, remember, by a Government and a central bank happy to see interest rates kept dangerously low for too long) spawned bad practices. They always do. The most egregious were the “extreme loans” of up to 10 times salary and the self-certifying mortgage, both of which acted as an open invitation to the irresponsible to take on unaffordable debt. Yet while bad debts were incurred, there was nothing in this country on the scale of the US subprime debacle. The rate of home repossessions testifies to that: there were 40,000 last year compared with 75,000 in 1991, the last time property values fell.

So why does the Government feel the urge to intervene in the mortgage market so crudely? It will make life tougher for first-time buyers and delay the revival of the housing market, without which the wider economy will not start to perk up. The lessons of the bust will not be lost on any lender. It is already far tougher to get housing finance without HMG putting its oar in. The Prime Minister sees this statist intervention as encouraging the “reinvention of the traditional savings and mortgage bank in Britain”. That is meant to sound like a return to the good old days; but in reality it will be a return to the bad old days when raising the finance to buy a home was an uphill slog and the property market was inflexible and inefficient as a consequence.

But this is not about efficiency — it is about control. The instincts on display here are the same as those that informed Professor Sir Liam Donaldson’s clumsy attempt to price alcohol out of the reach of the feckless. It is a recrudescence of that tired old idea that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best. Well, he doesn’t.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Are You a Terrorist Suspect?

Did you support Ron Paul for president last year?

Do you believe there are people actively working to merge the U.S. with Mexico and Canada?

Do you display an American flag?

Did you ever display a Libertarian Party bumper sticker on your car?

Do you buy gold?

Any of these characteristics might lead law enforcement authorities to conclude you represent a danger to the republic. You are more likely to be a militia member or a domestic terrorist, according to a document distributed to Missouri police and, potentially, law enforcement authorities nationwide..

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Formerly Useful Idiots

Lenin famously said of liberals in the West that they were “useful idiots.”

A number of really smart (go ahead, ask them) people endorsed Obama only to find out that they were hoodwinked. He’s not the guy they fell in love with. It’s the morning after, and they’ve been forced to confront the fact that he’s a fraud. A forgery.

In John LeCarre’s “Smiley’s People” master spy George Smiley points out that “the more one has paid for a forgery, the more one defends it in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.” And, these people have paid plenty for their forgery.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Snubs Mideast Allies

Notably, President Obama did not respond to greeting messages from America’s Mideast allies until weeks after he’d entered the White House. The Iraqi leadership had to wait three weeks. Afghan President Hamid Karzai waited 40 days. Leaders of traditional allies such as Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia didn’t wait as long — but got only protocol calls devoid of political content.

Obama’s emissaries to the region have made it clear that the new administration is keener on cultivating its foes than courting its friends.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Rome is Burning, Nero is Fiddling

Did you know that the White House is being bombarded by “minutiae?” That the president’s personal aide is a “hunk”? That his speech writer has a “buzz cut?”

While America slides precipitously toward an all-out economic depression, while Also Known As (AKA) Obama continues to break every promise he made on the campaign trail, this is what the New York Times thinks is important for people to know!

Wow, aren’t you just really impressed?

And the lamestream media wonders why people are turning off their television sets, terminating their newspaper subscriptions, and using their computers to access alternative media sources and joining news loops to learn what is really going on in this nation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Republicans Can Take Heart as Barack Obama Staggers to the Left

The President’s recent display of liberalism — and confusion — can only help the opposition, says Janet Daley.

The Republicans now believe they have a grip on what Barack Obama is about. At least for this week. The grip is subject to reappraisal because Mr Obama has developed a gift for reinventing himself with remarkable alacrity. One very senior commentator on the Right said to me, “First we had Candidate Obama, who was a liberal [ie Left wing]. Then we had President-Elect Obama, who was post-partisan and centrist. Now we have President Obama, who has reverted to being ultraliberal.”

The question of who Mr Obama really is, and what he truly believes, underlies the growing list of Very Odd Things that seem to be happening under his administration. Among the most perplexing of these mysteries is why, when he went to such pains to assemble a huge and widely experienced team of White House economic advisers (even going to the lengths of parading them at a press conference before he took office) he then handed over the actual drafting of his economic policy to the old Democratic fixers in Congress. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, are now, for all intents and purposes, running the Obama recovery plan.

Even if you do not regard the former as a monster and the latter as pretty hopeless, one thing is for sure: bipartisan they are not. So there is nothing very centrist about the budget which they are hoping to push through under the banner of Obama’s “change we can believe in”. The result: this is a $3.6 trillion Pelosi budget, embodying most of the wish-list of liberal projects that the Left of the Democratic Party has been dreaming of for more than 20 years. Should we assume, then, that this is what Mr Obama always wanted? Or that he is simply out of his depth and being steamrollered by the formidable Democratic machine in Congress?

Most of the Republicans I have spoken to here are inclined to think that this peculiar turn of events can be attributed to Rahm Emanuel, who is Mr Obama’s Alastair Campbell. This is partly because they are inclined to think that pretty much everything in the Obama presidency can be attributed to Mr Emanuel, but also because of his revealing comment that “every crisis should be seen as an opportunity”. This can be roughly interpreted as, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

When I met Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, at a Washington breakfast, he expressed the suspicion openly that the Democrats might actually be deliberately avoiding attending to the banking and housing crises because they wanted to prolong the moment in which they could push through their favoured liberal packages (such as health care, and environmental policies) under the cover of an emergency rescue operation. (And who better to bludgeon such measures through Congress than those old Democrat manipulators Pelosi and Reid?)

Another quandary that bemuses the opposition — while it deeply disturbs Mr Obama’s supporters — is why the President is having so much trouble staffing his Cabinet team. His Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, may not be sitting in splendid isolation any longer (the administration has finally succeeded in making three Treasury appointments) but there are still 17 unfilled positions in what is arguably the most important government department of the day.

Quite apart from the possibility of embarrassment over past tax and social security payments, are plausible candidates worried about being associated with high-risk White House strategy? Maybe, but given that Mr Obama swept into the White House on a tide of popular approval, surely he should be able to find enough people who are appropriate and willing to serve?

When I put this question to Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, he pointed out that most of the Obama camp consisted of people who wanted to work in social and environmental policy: in those areas, and in the tactical-public relations business, the White House is staffing up like crazy. (Interestingly, another Washington journalist told me that a number of major business donors to Mr Obama’s campaign who had expected to have at least an advisory role in his Treasury policy have been cold-shouldered. The White House seems to be taking very little advice on economic recovery from outsiders or even from that raft of gurus it drafted in during the much-publicised “transition” project.)

Meanwhile, the sharp swerve to the Left accelerates. One of the most startling measures to which the Obama-Pelosi-Reid administration has committed itself is the Employee Free Choice Act (commonly known as the “card check” bill) which does precisely the opposite of what it says on the tin. The Act would effectively abolish the right of trade union members to secret ballots. In other words, it would give American union bosses the kind of power to intimidate their membership into strike action that used to belong to British union leaders before the Thatcherite reforms.

I was amazed to discover that most US Republicans were unaware that the statutory right to a secret ballot was one of the most crucial aspects of the 1980s British industrial relations revolution. Needless to say, when I imparted that snippet of information to Mitch McConnell, he and his press officer looked as if all their birthdays had come at once.

But from the opposition point of view, there are some upsides to this White House Leftism: assuming that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid juggernaut stays on its present course, the Republicans can see a very clear path for themselves. In the Senate, Mr McConnell will set them solidly against borrowing too much, spending too much and taxing too much.

But the success of that stand depends on Mr Obama staying in one place long enough to be confronted. At the end of last week he had shifted his description of the economic crisis from being “as deep and dire as any since the Great Depression”, to “not being as bad as we thought”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Union Thuggery Hits New Low

The motto of unions should be, if you cannot win fairly — buy politicians, buy a president and have them lie for you while you complain how bad you have it. In other words, lie, cheat and bribe to get what you want. That is precisely what the “Employee Free Choice Act” is.

Card Check, as the proposed bill is also called, would change how unions are allowed to organize workers in the U.S. It purposes to eliminate the private ballot. And if you are wondering what that means and why same is important, imagine not being able to cast your vote for the candidate of your choice in private.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Veterans: Who Pays for War Wounds?

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Let me get this straight — *The One* wants to create a socialized national health care system on “par” with the UK and Canada — while simultaneously making us pay for injuries that we received while serving our country!?! WTF?]

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering making veterans use private insurance to pay for treatment of combat and service-related injuries.

The plan would be an about-face on what veterans believe is a longstanding pledge to pay for health care costs that result from their military service.

But in a White House meeting Monday, veterans groups apparently failed to persuade President Barack Obama to take the plan off the table.

“Veterans of all generations agree that this proposal is bad for the country and bad for veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “If the president and the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) want to cut costs, they can start at AIG, not the VA.”

Under current policy, veterans are responsible for health care costs that are unrelated to their military service. Exceptions in some cases can be made for veterans without private insurance or who are 100 percent disabled.

The president spoke Monday at the Department of Veterans Affairs to commemorate its 20th anniversary and said he hopes to increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years. But he said nothing about the plan to bill private insurers for service-related medical care.

Few details about the plan have been available and a VA spokesman did not provide additional information. But the reaction on Capitol Hill to the idea has been swift and harsh.

“Dead on arrival” is how Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington described the idea.

“When our troops are injured while serving our country, we should take care of those injuries completely,” Murray, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told a hearing last week.

“I don’t think we should nickel and dime them for their care,” she added.

In separate comments, Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said the nation “owes a debt to the veterans who fought and paid for our freedom.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Veterans: President Won’t Budge on Insurance Proposal

[Comments from JD: link above includes screenshot of original yahoo article, in case the yahoo article is mysteriously removed.]

The leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization says he is “deeply disappointed and concerned” after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

“It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan,” said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. “He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.”

The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, “This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ‘ to care for him who shall have borne the battle’ given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm’s way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America’s veterans!”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Jonathan Kay on the Globe & Mail’s Appalling Front-Page Smear on Religious Christians

Canadians differ on whether a supernatural entity had a role in the creation of human life. In a 2007 poll, 26% of respondents said they believe in creationism, 29% picked evolution, and 34% said they believe in some combination of the two.

But according to militant secularists — given disgracefully prominent play by the Globe & Mail in today’s edition — that’s not good enough. They want everyone in society — or at least everyone leading this country — to dogmatically subscribe to the minority view that a supernatural entity had no role at all in human creation.

In a Tuesday front-page article — “Minister won’t confirm belief in evolution: Researchers aghast that key figure in funding controversy invokes religion in science discussion” — Globe science writer Anne McIlroy breathlessly reports that “Canada’s science minister [Gary Goodyear], the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won’t say if he believes in evolution”; that “some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist”; and that “Mr. Goodyear’s evasive answers on evolution are unlikely to reassure the scientists who are skeptical about him.”

In fact, Goodyear’s remarks (delivered in a private interview with MccIlroy) seem to have been carefully considered words from a man trying conscientiously to balance his personal faith with his public responsibilities. To wit: “Obviously, I have a background that supports the fact I have read the science on muscle physiology and neural chemistry … I do believe that just because you can’t see it under a microscope doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It could mean we don’t have a powerful enough microscope yet. So I’m not fussy on this business that we already know everything. … I think we need to recognize that we don’t know.”

But that sort of intellectual modesty and agnosticism is boring: It too closely approximates the way millions of ordinary Canadians think about the mysteries of the cosmos. So McIlrony instead decided she’d go for the Globe’s front page by getting some sexed up reaction quotes from outraged secularists who could be depended on to slam any inkling of spirituality as a portend of theocracy.

Brian Alters, founder and director of the Evolution Education Research Centre at McGill University, gets trotted out first. He is “shocked” by Goodyear’s refusal to disavow any possibility of God’s role in human creation. (“It is the same as asking the gentleman, ‘Do you believe the world is flat?’ and he doesn’t answer on religious grounds” etc.) We also get a chime in from a “flabbergasted” Jim Turk — executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers — who falsely alleges that Goodyear “rejects the basis of scientific discovery and traditions.”

In general, I try not to get too animated by what runs in other newspapers. On slow news days, all editors — including those at this newspaper — occasionally feel obligated to get readers riled up about not-so-exciting b-rate news events. But this particular Globe story is a disgrace. There is an air of witch-hunt about it. What other public figures will the Globe “out” as suspected Godly followers, one wonders? The clear implication is that service in the federal Cabinet is a privilege open only to that minority of Canadians who subscribe rigidly to the tenets of atheism.

And please, no letters from readers complaining about yet another “gaffe” from a “socially conservative” Conservative “re-awakening fears” about a “secret agenda.” Unless Canadians expect their politicians to lie about their own personal belief in God, there was no gaffe here — just a journo-concocted pseudo-scandal. If it becomes a real scandal, it will be soley due to the Toronto media’s own echo chamber — not anything Goodyear actually said.

There is a broader issues at play here. So permit me to leave the fishbowl of Canadian politics for a moment. Seventeen years ago, in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a plurality of U.S. Supreme Court Justices wrote these soaring words: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

The 1992 decision, which upheld the broad constitutional right to abortion, was slammed by conservatives for the touchy-feely way it conceived human morality and metaphysics. Yet those same words should echo in our minds as noisy activists, and the cheerleader journalists who cover them, try to convince us that a person’s private belief in God disqualifies him from a leadership role in Canadian politics.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

‘Sex as the Carrot to Fulfil Evil Intentions’

TORONTO — A girl on trial for the first-degree murder of Stefanie Rengel was the driving force of hate, obsession and “intense jealousy” behind the killing, a jury heard yesterday.

In his closing address, Crown prosecutor Robin Flumerfelt told a jury they need look no further than the 17-year-old accused — known as MT — when looking for why a now-19-year-old called DB slaughtered Rengel outside her East York home on New Year’s Day in 2008.

“Without her (MT), there is no crime; without her, there is no murder; without her, we are not here,” Flumerfelt said. “Without her, Stefanie Rengel goes on living the life she is destined to live.”

He outlined a litany of electronic messages — between May 2007 and the moments following the murder — where MT tells DB she wants Rengel dead, using sex as a reward.


           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Devastating Picture of the Polish Political Class

Polityka 02.03.2009 (Poland)

Adam Krzeminski paints a devastating picture of the Polish political class. Cosmopolitan, educated men like Bronislaw Geremek are nowhere to be found. And the politicians aren’t interested in letting such people emerge. “The aggressive provincialism and national eccentricity of the Law and Justice Party have set the tone for Polish politics in recent years. Not very many politicians from the younger generation can be found, even though there are thousands of well-educated youth with Polish and foreign university degrees who have proven themselves in international institutions. But there’s no system for recruiting them for poltical parties, let alone a long-term plan for directing their careers based on principles that aren’t purely mercenary. A few years ago, responding to a question about how many fellowship recipients his group had sent to foundations belonging to sister parties in France, Germany, or the UK, a leading politician of one of our parties responded with amusement: Am I so suicidal that I want to nurture an executioner who’ll lop my head off someday?”

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

Austria: Josef Fritzl Offered Counselling ‘to Cope With Trial’

Josef Fritzl who raped his daughter Elisabeth more than 3000 times during the 24 years he imprisoned her in a cellar has been offered counselling to help cope with the trauma of his trial.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Czech Rep: Czech Town Launches Crusade Against Drug Addicts

Chomutov — The Chomutov Town Hall that started seizing part of welfare allowances from rent-defaulters via a distraint officer in mid-February wants to launch a crusade against drug addicts who bother residents this week, spokesman Tomas Branda told CTK today.

Apart from money distraints the authorities have also been evicting notorious rent-dodgers from their municipal flats and moving them to special tin container-like flats on the outskirts of the town.

The Town Hall has also taken tough measures against local prostitutes. The repression measures are part of the Safety Belt project aimed to protect decent residents against those unadaptable, Branda said.

Town Hall employees, in cooperation with the state and municipal police, will search all shadow places, restaurants and bars where drug addicts spend most time, he said.

“The goal of the measure is to reduce the number of drug addicts and drunkards’ attacks on decent residents on the streets in broad daylight,” Mayor Ivana Rapkova (senior ruling Civic Democrats, ODS) said.

The latest attack was registered by the police last week when a drugged young man attacked a policeman who received sick leave injuries, municipal police head Vit Sulc said.

In the past, ombudsman Otakar Motejl and Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities Minister Michael Kocal (for the Greens) criticised the Chomutov Town hall for the seizure of debtors’ money immediately after they receive their social benefits as unlawful.

But Rapkova has rejected the criticism and argued that those who criticise the Town Hall’s steps had offered no solution to the situation with rent-defaulters.

The Chomutov District Court supported her position last week when it rejected three proposals for the stoppage of money distraints from rent-defaulters’ social allowances.

This means that the town authorities are acting in accordance with the law, Branda said.

However, the court is still only to make decisions regarding further proposals and its verdicts could be different if the matter was heard by a different panel of judges.

Rapkova’s steps have been supported by the mayors of Czech statutory towns and by Interior Minister Ivan Langer (ODS).

Last October, the Chomutov police started to operate a camera system that consistently follows the areas where prostitutes offer their services.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Record Arrests Did Not Stop Gang War

In 2007, a record number of biker and gang members were sentenced for serious crime — but it didn’t stop the gangwar shootings.

Last year, police managed to charge and convict a record number of criminal elements within biker groups and immigrant gangs, according to the National Police Investigation Centre annual report on gang crime which is soon to be published.

According to the report, police managed a record 400 convictions for serious crime involving members of the Hells Angels and its support group AK81, the Bandidos and five immigrant gangs.

Shootings Nonetheless, it remains uncertain whether the police focus on gang crime has actually worked. Since August 2007, Copenhageners have been plagued by an historically large number of armed attacks between bikers and immigrant groups.

Liberal Party Justice Spokesman Kim Anders says, however, that the police focus is working.

“The large number of convictions show that the police are on the right track. But the figures also show that we are dealing with hardened criminals. The unfortunate thing is that despite police successes and their focus, new members are coming into the gangs,” Andersen says.

Loose groupings The police report shows that the National Police is monitoring five Category 1 gangs, in which members are mainly from ethnic minorities. Due to their loose organization, it is difficult to determine how many members they have, but police estimate some 172 members.

Some 139 charges were brought against the groupings, with convictions for serious crime in 131 cases involving violence, narcotics or weapons possession.

One conviction each The report goes on to say that the Hells Angels had 120 members at the end of 2007 with members being charged 87 times and receiving 61 convictions for serious crime.

The Hells Angels support group AK81 — with 113 members at the end of 2007, was, on paper at least, the worst of the gangs with 314 charges and 164 convictions. This means that on average, each member of AK81 received more than one conviction in 2007.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Finland: Stefan Wallin Calls for Nordic Defence Alliance

Stefan Wallin, Chairman of Finland’s Swedish People’s Party has come out in favour of the idea of a military alliance of the Nordic Countries. Speaking on Friday at a meeting of the executive of the Swedish People’s Party, he that such an alliance could be set up through a declaration of mutual solidarity. The idea of such an arrangement was launched by Norway’s former foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg, who advanced the proposal in a report on foreign and security policy cooperation, which was commissioned by the Nordic foreign ministers.

The defence alliance was the last item on the three part programme suggested by Stoltenberg, but Wallin feels that it is the most fundamental of the proposals. “And it is not even very strange. We have a statement in the EU on support, so why shouldn’t we have that in the Nordic region, which remains politically, economically, and culturally our traditional reference group?” Wallin said. Wallin noted that Sweden has stated officially on a couple of occasions that if some EU country or Nordic country would come under threat, Sweden would not stand by.

Wallin continued to say that he does not believe that there is reason to doubt that Finns would take a positive view of showing solidarity toward the other Nordic countries. He pointed out that if a solidarity declaration were drawn up, it could lead to broader defence cooperation, and to monetary savings in materiel acquisition.

Wallin also took issue with the composition of a committee headed by Jukka Rantala on delaying the start of retirement. Wallin pointed out that all eight members of the working group are men, and felt that women would be needed there. The working group, which now comprises representatives of the labour market organisations and pension experts, is to be augmented by two representatives of government ministries. Wallin says that it would not be enough even if both of the new members were women. “As Minister for Equality Affairs I demand that at least four women will be part of the final composition of the working group.

Four new candidates for the European Parliament elections were named on Friday. They are Päivi Storgård from Helsinki, Charly Salonius-Pasternak from Helsinki, and Bo Lindeman from Vaasa. The Swedish People’s Party now has 12 candidates for the elections of the European Parliament. The remaining eight are to be named next month.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Finland: Demand for Somali-Language Literature in Finland Rising

Demand for youth Somali-language literature is growing in Finland, as the majority of the 10,000 Somali-speaking inhabitants in Finland are children and youths. Experts say libraries should stock more Somali-language books that deal with everyday issues facing the Somali community, such as learning to live in a new culture.

Libraries in the greater Helsinki area say they currently have 150 Somali-language titles on their shelves for children and 262 for adults.

“It’s important that we as quickly as possible find new publishers of Somali-language books,” says Antti Mäkinen of Helsinki City’s Multilingual Library.

Mäkinen says libraries should recognise the important role they play in bringing a variety of issues to light through their choice of book orders.

“Collections should cover more than folklore. There is for example a demand for books about societal issues pertaining to integration and how Somali youths and adults adapt to new environments around the world,” says Mäkinen.

Somali Culture Traces Roots to Poetry

While “standard Somali” was only introduced in 1972, Somali has been transliterated into other scripts—including Arabic— for centuries.

Poems are particularly popular among the Somali diaspora.

“We are a nation of poets. Poetry is the social fabric of the Somali community,” says Mohamed Sh Hassan, who manages the Scansom publishing house, which publishes Somali-language materials in Canada and Sweden.

Hassan says he expects demand for bilingual books to increase. Children’s Somali-language story books could include texts in Finnish, Swedish or English, according to Hassan.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Finland: Atheist Bus Campaign Coming to Finland

[Comment from Tuan Jim: These guys really are all over.]

A much-debated international advertising campaign is coming to Finland. The Atheist Bus Campaign is to be promoted on buses in Helsinki and Tampere, with the message: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’.

The Finnish Humanist Union, together with the Union of Freethinkers of Finland, is currently collecting funds to carry out the campaign, which will be fully financed through donations.

Freethinkers of Finland Chairman, Jussi K. Niemelä, says the intention is to discuss atheism in a positive way.

‘The intention is to create a discussion’, says Nimelä.

The Atheist Bus Campaign was launched across the UK on January 6 2009, and has since been carried out in several big cities across the world. Comedy writer/journalist Ariane Sherine initially started the campaign in response to evangelical Christian ads, which she saw on London public transport.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Germany: Turk Faces “Terrorism” Charges in Germany — Prosecutors

KARLSRUHE, Germany (AFP)—A Turkish citizen, whose brother is accused of involvement in a bomb plot, has been charged with “terrorist-related offenses” in Germany, federal prosecutors said here Tuesday.

The 22-year-old man, identified as Burhan Y., has been charged with transferring 1,100 euros (1,400 dollars) to a contact in Istanbul who was to pass it on to the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Jihad Union.

This group is believed to have set up training camps for Islamist radicals along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, prosecutors said.

His brother, identified as Adem Y., was arrested along with two others in September 2007 in western Germany and charged with involvement in a major plot to attack U.S. citizens based here.

The suspects, who are also believed to be connected to the Islamic Jihad Union, are accused of planning to use chemicals to attack installations such as U.S. military bases in Germany and sites popular with U.S. citizens.

A fourth bomb plot suspect, a 23-year-old German, identified only as Attila S., was extradited from Turkey to Germany in November.

He is believed to have procured 26 detonators recovered in September 2007 with drums of hydrogen peroxide, the substance used in the deadly 2005 attacks on London’s transport system.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Italy: Porn Star in Bourse Panty Attack

Financiers ‘stripped Italians of everything but underwear’

(ANSA) — Milan, March 17 — A semi-naked Italian porn star shook up the Milan stock exchange Tuesday by accusing financiers of “stripping Italians of everything but their underwear”.

Laura Perego, a 22-year-old Sicilian who staged a similar stunt at the recent Sanremo Song Fest, slipped into the bourse clad in a sober black suit only to strip down to her underwear, climb onto a table and shout: “I want to launch a message to all those who mismanaged our savings”.

Perego was also wearing body paint in the colours of the Italian flag as well as the words of her ‘underwear’ accusation, which she repeated several times to the bemused brokers before being bustled out of the building

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Luxembourg Legalises Euthanasia

Luxembourg has become the third European Union country, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to decriminalise euthanasia. Terminally ill people will be able to have their lives ended after receiving the approval of two doctors and a panel of experts.

Last year, Luxembourg became embroiled in a constitutional crisis when Grand Duke Henri refused to sign the euthanasia bill into law. The crisis led to his power being curtailed and laws no longer need to be signed by him.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Mafia Families ‘Need Shrinks’

Growing pyschiatric problems as ‘culture crumbles’

(ANSA) — Palermo, March 17 — The relatives of Mafia members are increasingly in need of psychiatric help, according to a new study from the University of Palermo.

“Psychiatric problems are steadily rising among the families, a sign that the monolithic culture of Mafia society is crumbling,” said the author of the study, Palermo University psychologist Girolamo Lo Verso, who has studied the increasing frailty of the Mafia mindset for years.

Lo Verso’s new study, entitled The Psychology of Organised Crime in the Mezzogiorno, found clinical anxiety in 20% of Mafia relatives and personality disorders in 17%.

The study, which builds on a 2003 book that found rising numbers of bosses taking to the psychiatrist’s couch, examined 81 patients — 55 adults, nine teenagers and seven children — in Italy’s three main Mafia organisations, Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Campania’s Camorra and Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta.

“These people are victims of terrible identity crises because they aren’t used to seeing their world view challenged,” Lo Verso says in the study, set for publication in Sicilian magazine S on March 21.

“They’re like fundamentalists, but as soon as something happens that brings the security wall down, they have crises”.

Lo Verso’s work since the mid-1990s appears to have proved that the plot lines of Hollywood hit Analyze This and Mafia TV serial The Sopranos are not at all far-fetched.

In particular, his 2003 popular book, “La Psyche Mafiosa” (The Mafia Psyche), found more and more mobsters turning to shrinks just like the dons played by Robert De Niro and James Gandolfini.

The book cites a raft of clinical cases, such as drug-taking or bulimic offspring and the wife of a murdered boss suffering from panic attacks like De Niro’s character treated by Billy Crystal in Analyze This and its sequel.

Just as The Sopranos revolved around the mental fall-out from mob life and family problems affecting boss Tony Soprano, La Psyche Mafiosa shows a Mafia grappling with psychological ills created by stressed-out modern living, Lo Verso found.

As well as food disorders, anxiety and depression, the book details the sort of sexual problems that occasionally beset the fictional Tony, along with the kind of shame he feels at failing to live up to macho stereotypes.

In one real-life case, a homosexual son of a top Trapani boss rebels against his father’s code and dares to come out of the closet, causing personal pain and wider clan uproar.

Informants in witness-protection schemes are facing particular problems in adjusting to their new lives, the book says.

Lo Verso, who collated the case studies that make up the book, described their condition as “dramatic.” “Death is a recurrent leitmotiv in their dreams, a nightmare for them,” he said in the book’s introduction.

One of the contributors, sociologist Renate Siebert, describes them as “unthinking practitioners of the systematic use of terror”.

“(But) this system is now closing in on them, also psychologically, leading them to identify with their past victims and even act like them,” she says.

“They seem increasingly uncertain that they’ve made the right choice,” Lo Verso says.

Some seek solace in the religious devotion that is another hallmark of the Mafia lifestyle, the book says.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Bus Drivers: 300 Complaints About Public Aggression

Bus drivers say they are continuing to be threatened, scolded or spat on by passengers. A complaints centre set up by the FNV trade union received 300 complaints about aggression last week. The drivers say there is a lack of professional help and claim they are being made to go back to work too quickly after being harrassed by the public. Other complaints focused on the tight timetables. Drivers often find that passengers are frustrated because their bus is late.

The complaints centre is part of a union project intended to improved security on buses. The drivers’ experiences will be included in an inventory of grievances which will be published by the union later this month.

The action comes after a series of incidents. Only last week, drivers in the town of Ede near Arnhem went on strike for a couple of hours to protest at the aggressive behaviour of some passengers.

One week ago a 17-year-old youth in the southern town of Tilburg was arrested for an assault on a bus driver in late January.

In October 2008, tension mounted in the city of Gouda after a bus driver was robbed at knifepoint, allegedly by Moroccan youths. Although no connection with any Moroccans could be established, drivers refused for a couple of days to drive their buses through the neighbourhood where the incident took place, citing earlier instances of aggression.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Wilders’ Supporters — What Do They Want?

“I want to become prime minister.” That’s what Geert Wilders said after a private meeting with 200 followers in his home town of Venlo on Monday. “One day my party will be the biggest, and then it will be an honour to accept the prime-ministership.”

According to a recent poll, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) is the most popular party in the Netherlands. But exactly who supports this party is unclear. Two Volkskrant journalists tried to find out.

If there were elections today, the right-wing populist PVV would get 27 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. That, at least, was the outcome of a poll conducted by Dutch researcher Maurice de Hond a few weeks ago. This sudden rise of popularity is mainly due to the fact that party leader Geert Wilders was recently denied access to the UK.

But who really are the supporters of Geert Wilders? As the Freedom Party does not have members, the profile of his followers remains a bit unclear. The stereotype image is that of the low-paid and low-educated inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods who saw their familiar surroundings change beyond recognition by the coming of immigrants.

But a recent poll [TNS NIPO] reveals that the Freedom Party is also attracting increasing numbers of voters with a higher education. Thirteen percent of Mr Wilders’ current followers have received higher education, in contrast to nine percent at the time of the elections of 2006. Also, it turns out that the average Freedom Party supporter is now earning more than before.

Profile In a long article in the Volkskrant (20th February 2009), journalists Janny Groen and Annieke Kranenberg attempted to profile the typical Freedom Party supporter. They approached a number of people who wrote hate mails to Gerard Spong, the lawyer who filed a legal complaint against Wilders for discrimination and inciting hatred. 15 of them were willing to talk: some of them were indeed low-paid and lived in poor neighbourhoods, others lived in better parts of town.

It’s said that the turning point in Mr Wilders’ life came when he spent some time in Israel in the 1980s. To this day he maintains a strong bond with the country. Back in the Netherlands, he won a seat in parliament for the conservative VVD in 1998. He became party spokesperson on foreign policy. His colleagues were impressed by the breadth of his knowledge of the Middle East.

Fear of Islamisation is the dominant theme with all. Many of Geert Wilders’ supporters are convinced that Muslim politicians have a secret agenda to Islamise Europe. Mr Wilders, in their view, is the only politician who understands this and dares to speak about it.

No respect In the poor neighbourhoods the stereotype image is not far from the truth. There is a general sense of frustration that the immigrants living there have no respect for Dutch norms and values. Daily annoyances about the deterioration of the living surroundings play a big part in this frustration.

The interviewees, all over 50, are annoyed by people who park their cars on the pavement and throw their garbage from the balconies of their apartments; and by children running wild through the halls and staircases of the apartment blocks at midnight without being kept in check by their parents. They feel threatened by groups of immigrant youths in the streets and mention the increasing crime rate in their surroundings.

“Recently, an old woman was robbed of her wallet”, says 72-year-old Alida Kroep in the Volkskrant article.

All the interviewed agree that “Moroccan criminals should be sent back to their country of origin”. Remarkably, however, Geert Wilders’ supporters never fail to emphasise that they do not consider themselves racists.

“I do not hate these people”, says Lisa Looper (57), “but they have to adapt themselves goddammit!”

Conspiracy The better educated Freedom Party supporters live in neighbourhoods where Dutch-Moroccan boys on scooters are rarely seen. The daily annoyances about deteriorating living conditions are absent here and the fear of Islamisation is more abstract.

Company director Joost Wildschut (37) compares Islamisation with Nazism. He believes in the existence of a conspiracy to Islamise Europe, as described in the book Eurabia by the Jewish-Egyptian author Bat Ye’or: “I think it’s bizarre that there are separate hours for Muslim women in the swimming pool and a special financial system for Islamic ‘halal’ mortgages. And it annoys me to see a Muslim woman wearing a burqa in the market.” Qualified nurse Ger Dalen (53) states that he only wants to socialise with Muslims who embrace democracy, denounce the headscarf and view non-Muslims as their equals.

Many Freedom Party supporters feel that the growing influence of Islam causes them to lose more and more rights, in particular the right to express themselves. They harbour a deep suspicion against the established political parties who try to shut them up by dismissing them as racists, which in their own view they aren’t.

To them Geert Wilders is the only politician who has the courage to withstand this and express what they think. That explains why they view him as a hero of free speech and why they are so furious about the pending legal prosecution of Wilders.

Freedom of speech Something, however, does not quite add up with Mr Wilders’ new persona as a hero for freedom of speech. His supporters are angry because he is being brought to court for discrimination and sowing hatred and because he was denied access to the UK. But Wilders himself wants to prohibit the Qur’an and deny radical Muslim preachers access to the Netherlands.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Note the lack of reference (even in a Dutch publication) to the fact that “Mein Kampf” is already banned and that there is a precedent.]

According to Paul Schnabel, director of the Dutch Bureau of Social and Cultural Planning, this contradiction is not a coincidence. He says in an interview with the Volkskrant (23 February 2009): “The issue is not the freedom of speech, but our freedom of speech. The idea that people from outside come here to tell me that I’m not allowed to say what I want, is unbearable.” At the end of the day, says Paul Schnabel, it all boils down to one question: Whose country is this? “It’s a matter of power. Who bows for whom? We do not want people from outside to tell us what we can do and what we can’t. They have to adapt to our rules.” Mr Schnabel, by the way, believes that Geert Wilders merely says what people think and should not be classified as ‘extreme right’. “He does not play on the classical themes of the extreme right. He is for the emancipation of homosexuals and women and he is not anti-Semitic.”

*RNW Translation (hs)

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: “Export of Social Benefit Payments” Challenged

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Again…Why is this even something that needs to be discussed — or why was it taking place to begin with?]

A centre-right majority in the Dutch Lower House is in favour of ending child support benefits for children of Moroccan and Turkish immigrants who are attending school in their parents’ countries of origin. The money is paid into the account of the parents.

The House debated the matter on Tuesday with Deputy Social Affairs minister Jette Klijnsma, following press reports of benefit fraud. The conservative VVD party pleaded for freezing treaties with Turkey and Morocco regarding what was referred to as “the export of social benefit payments”. Christian Democrat MP Mirjam Sterk says that such treaties cannot be cancelled unilaterally; instead, she suggested a new treaty with Turkey and Morocco, retaining the export of benefits but excluding child benefit payments.

The third party demanding an end to support payments for children who are not Dutch residents is Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Newsweek Explores ‘Jihad Chic’ in London

The current cover of Newsweek advertises a story on “Taliban Chic” in London, and it’s natural to assume it might be another story lauding the “burqini.” Instead, it’s a chilling look at how the openness of London (and Western society) can create space for Islamic radicalism.

Newsweek reporter Sami Yousafzai clearly wrote in the spirit of the new Newsweek: a first-person account with no real objectivity or detachment. But it was gripping, as he began by describing how he came to London after being shot by Islamic radicals in Peshawar, Pakistan. Hoping for a safe environment, he was disturbed to discover London youths dressed like the Taliban: “I saw a tall young Afghan who reminded me of my would-be assassin, striding down the street like a bad dream.”

His neighborhood nickname was “Talib Jan,” a “friendly Afghan slang term for a Taliban member, something like GI Joe for Americans.” He found “during my three-month stay in England I met a surprising number of Muslims who shared Jan’s fascination with the Taliban…Few seemed troubled by the brutality that characterized Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s reign, or by his banning of music or girls’ education. Indeed, many looked back on Omar’s rule as a kind of Islamic utopia, and they eagerly snapped up the Islamist leaflets handed out after Friday prayers at various mosques around town.”

Yousafzai decided to try and befriend the man they called Talib Jan:

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]

Spain: Doctors at Risk of Aggression, 7 Out of 10 Victims

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 16 — Doctors run a high risk in Spain, where last Wednesday a 34 year old female doctor was gunned down with a pistol in a healthcare centre in Moratalla (Murcia) by a 74 year old patient, who didn’t like the treatment he received for respiratory problems. A paramedic who was also injured during the shooting and miraculously survived is still currently undergoing treatment in hospital. The murder of Maria Eugenia, the doctor who was killed, is only the tip of the iceberg of the phenomenon of violence against healthcare professionals, which has taken on disquieting dimensions on the Iberian Peninsula if it is true, according to data released today by ‘La Vanguardia’, that 7 doctors out of 10 and half of all employees at emergency rooms have been victim to physical and psychological aggression at some point in their careers by patients disappointed by the level of service received, even if only an extremely reduced 5% reports the aggression or insults they suffered. Sources from the sector assure that Spain ranks first in Europe for the phenomenon of violence in healthcare centres. The medical profession is becoming a target, in spite of the professional organisations and healthcare administrations that continue to invent measures to curb it. Ashtrays, stethoscopes, and even orthopaedic limbs; anything can be used as a weapon against medical personnel if one considers the doctors’ and nurses’ painful experiences published in the newspaper. According to the Institut Català de la Salut (ICS ), the number of assaults is increasing slightly, since 2008 852 cases were reported by healthcare personnel, compared to the 845 reported in 2007, even if judicial proceedings are increasing regarding the matter. It is a percentage that is considered low, however, if the 50 million medical visits every year are considered. But, the enormous number of unreported cases are not included in the statistics, sometimes due to intimidation or fear of retaliation from the patients and their families. The vice-secretary of the general council of physicians, Francisco Toquero, pointed out that “lack of health education” is the primary cause of this security emergency. “Violence has increased in hospitals and healthcare centres”, Toquero said, “because healthcare personnel are perceived as an official and the patients believe themselves to be in possession of all the rights, but no duties”. According to the representative of the organisation, in the rest of Europe “healthcare is perceived as an expensive service, which contrary to Spain, should not be abused”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Government Agreement With Andalusia on Historic Debt

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 16 — The Spanish central government has reached an agreement with the Council of Andalusia for the payment of the so-called ‘historic debt’ of 1,204 billion euros. The historic debt is the amount of money Andalusia maintains the state owes the region to meet its underdeveloped socio-economic conditions, a claim that first appeared in the 1981 charter for autonomy, which was re-established in the current charter, and which is considered to be a valid regulation. The agreement on the historic debt was announced today in a statement released by the Ministry for Public Administration, headed by Minister Elena Salgado. Of the 1.204 billion euros stipulated in the agreement with Andalusia, the state has already paid 420 million, made in two payments in 1996 and in 2008. The remaining amount, according to the understanding, will be paid before March 20 2010, as specified in the region’s charter. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Students Tie £56 Camera to Balloon and Send it to Edge of Space to Capture Stunning Images of Earth

Teenagers with a £56 camera and latex balloon have managed to take stunning pictures from 20 miles above Earth.

Proving that you don’t need Google’s billions or the BBC weather centre’s resources, the four Spanish students managed to send a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere.

Taking atmospheric readings and photographs, the Meteotek team of IES La Bisbal school in Spanish Catalonia completed their incredible experiment at the end of February this year.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Police to Quiz 8 Year Olds in Sex Crime Probe

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Should I be surprised that Malmo is also referenced in this article?]

Police in Skåne in southern Sweden have begun investigating an eight-year-old boy’s claims that he was sexually abused at school by boys his own age.

The boy at the centre of the investigation told staff at the school in January that he was the victim of sexual assaults perpetrated by two other boys. He named both of his alleged tormentors.

Staff at the school are also to come under investigation for failing to adequately look into the boy’s claims.

Only in exceptional cases will police in Sweden investigate suspicions of criminal actions carried out by young children. Initially, Malmö’s deputy chief prosecutor elected not to take up the case.

But after reexamining the details at hand, Chief Prosecutor Peter Herrting has now ordered a full police investigation. The seriousness of the allegations means that the young suspects will face police questioning.

The chief prosecutor has also argued that an investigation is necessary if the alleged victim is to be entitled to financial damages.

Police are also to investigate a Malmö Council employee for slander after a statement appeared on the council’s website dismissing the boy’s claims as “a rumour” that lacked any truth.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Two Explosions Shake Gothenburg

Police in Gothenburg continue their search for suspects believed to be involved with two separate explosions that rocked different parts of the city on Sunday night.

The first blast occurred shortly before 11pm on Sunday near a police car which was out on patrol in the city’s Hvitfeldtsplatsen neighbourhood.

Police suspected that someone may have thrown a hand grenade at the vehicle.

“Colleagues in the car think so, judging from the strength of the explosion and now we’re looking for fragments in the area,” said Johan Ljung of the Gothenburg police to the TT news agency.

Shortly after midnight, another blast occurred in a public toilet near Kungsparken, close to the Stora teatern theatre.

The explosion was thought to be of roughly the same strength as the evening’s first blast.

“The blast was of equal power, so it seems as if both incidents are related. Which makes one think it could have been a coincidence that a police car was in the area when the explosion occurred. It can also be a diversionary tactic for something else taking place,” said Per Mattson of the Gothenburg police to TT.

Police still don’t know what sort of explosive material was used in either blast and both areas remained blocked off through the night while police conducted investigations.

Following the first explosion, police said they believed two assailants between 25 and 30-years-old were involved.

No one was injured in either explosion.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Young Campaigner Raises Stakes in Parliament

Lukas Reimann, the youngest member of parliament, takes pride in being Swiss and makes it his mission to defend traditional values. The poker-playing representative of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party spearheaded a vote in February against a labour accord with the European Union.

The reputation that precedes him and his track record are impressive enough. Some see the 26-year-old parliamentarian as the new shooting star of his party.

No less remarkable is the fact that Reimann mounted a challenge against the EU labour deal against the wishes of his party elders, prompting a spectacular party policy reversal.

Now he is again at the forefront of a campaign — this time aimed at bringing down a law on the introduction of biometric passports to be voted on in May.

Not just an avid campaigner, Reimann is parliament’s champion of online communication. He boasts the highest numbers of friends on Facebook.

Sitting face-to-face in the parliament lobby during the spring session, you see a different side to him: friendly and modest, nothing showy and no strong statements. It’s not what you necessarily expect from a representative of the controversial People’s Party.

Face-to-face He’s wearing a suit and tie and seems shy at first. He looks straight at you and speaks with a firm voice, occasionally lapsing into party political jargon.

Start him on subjects such as the EU and other perceived threats to Switzerland’s independence, and you understand why his supporters trust in his strong convictions and fall sway to his charisma.

“If you know a lot about a particular subject you have no reason to doubt your position,” says Reimann.

But he does not rush to form opinions and sometimes has initial doubts.

“I read more than 30 books on Islam over the years. The same goes for my interest and knowledge of the EU. That’s what makes me sure about my political position.”

Labels Reimann is uneasy when asked whether he considers himself a conservative. “I don’t like being boxed into a category.”

He says there are issues where he is definitely liberal, but he hesitates when asked for concrete examples.

He prefers the label of pragmatist and shares with the Greens what he calls “an anti establishment attitude”.

Role models for Reimann are hard to find, and there is no use looking for prominent names in his own party. Even his uncle, Max, who is a senator, does not come close.

“He has been important and I often had discussions with him. He is as strongly opinionated as I am,” Reimann smiles.

Influence A definite influence was a former politician of the German Liberals of the 1990s. Reimann admires the talent of Jürgen Möllemann. “He was able to explain in simple words the liberal policies: less state intervention, lower taxes, fewer laws and more freedom.”

As for his own talents and personal ambitions, Reimann does not believe he is a particularly fascinating speaker or gifted with an exceptional sense for politics. “There are plenty of better orators here in Bern,” he says.

His special interests appear to be campaigning and organising, but he says he likes the different aspects of politics. Over the past 14 months he has begun to appreciate the work in parliamentary committees, although it is seldom in the media spotlight.

A priority in his life is his law studies. At the moment he devotes more time to his studies than to his political mandate. But it was the opposite when he led the campaign for a referendum against an EU treaty.

“I have no plans for an executive position in politics,” he says convincingly. “But I quite like the idea of being a consultant and running an agency for campaigns one day.”

Is there a life beyond debates and campaign politics for someone like him who imbibed politics as a teenager?

Reimann lists hiking, playing cards and watching football among his hobbies. He regrets there’s hardly enough time for these activities.

And when it comes to card games he found a way to link hobby and politics. Reimann lodged a motion last year to legalise private poker tournaments.

Images The young politician could be considered a typical conservative Swiss, but his personal experience goes beyond the alpine environment.

Reimann spent 12 months in the United States and has fond memories of his stays in Scandinavian countries. As an EU critic he has built up a network of like-minded people, as a look at his travel schedule over the next weeks shows.

He takes time to consider the question as to whether he occasionally feels uneasy about clichéd images of Switzerland as a mountain paradise.

“I like it when people have a positive image of Switzerland,” he says disarmingly.

It’s true what is said about Reimann. Although it’s hard to dislike him, you can’t lose sight of the astute tactician behind the boyish face.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Parliament Opposes Ban on Storing Arms at Home

Proposals to break with the longstanding tradition of storing army weapons in Swiss homes have been dismissed by the country’s parliament. Monday’s debate in the House of Representatives was the latest in series of discussions over gun law issues over the past few years.

Legislators threw out an initiative, supported mainly by centre-left parliamentarians, which would have forced members of Switzerland’s militia army to keep their rifles at army bases instead of storing them in households.

Ninety-nine parliamentarians came out against a proposed ban, while 82 were in favour. The chamber also threw out a similar non-binding petition launched by students in the wake a 2007 killing of teenager by a soldier outside Zurich.

However, politicians narrowly approved calls by a Green Party representative for the creation of a central arms registry.

Members of the Swiss army are issued with rifles and 50 rounds of ammunition. They keep their firearms after completing military training and take regular refresher courses to be ready for a call to arms in times of crisis.

However, two years ago, parliament moved to outlaw the keeping of army-issue magazines in households, except for the about 2,000 specialist troops.

Safety before tradition “How many more people have to die until parliament is ready to disarm the households,” asked Chantal Galladé, a parliamentarian of the centre-left Social Democrats, who championed the proposal.

Ida Glanzmann, a Christian Democrat, pointed out that safety came before tradition. She welcomed the storage of ammunition in arsenals as a first step in the right direction.

“The central storage of weapons can save lives,” she said on behalf of several members of a centre-right group.

Anti-gun campaigners argue that weapons at home are a serious safety risk. Experts say guns play a central role in suicides and family conflicts. About 300 people in Switzerland are killed every year by standard-issue weapons, according to official statistics.

There has been a series of highly publicised cases of murders with army weapons over the past decade, beginning with an attack by a gunman on a cantonal parliament in central Switzerland, in 2001.

Responsibility The centre-right and rightwing majority in the house said the decommissioning army rifles was tantamount to undermining Switzerland’s security and would represent a vote of no confidence in its soldiers.

“Don’t blame the weapon. It’s the man who commits weapons abuses,” said Andrea Geissbühler of the Swiss People’s Party. “There is no need for the state to patronise its citizens.”

In a similar vein, Corina Eichenberger of the centre-right Radicals said citizens should take responsibility. But she also called for soldiers to be allowed to store their army weapons at barracks on a voluntary basis.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said the government wanted to maintain the tradition in principle. He added that moves were underway to increase efforts to prevent abuses and facilitate the storage of individual weapons at barracks.

The Senate, Switzerland’s other parliamentary chamber, backed the government in a debate two weeks ago. Voters will have the final say on a possible ban of storing personal army-issue weapons at home.

A broad alliance of centre-left political parties, unions, church and peace groups, as well as women’s, health and human rights organisations collected enough signatures for a nationwide ballot on the issue.

The people’s initiative was handed in to the authorities last month and will come to a vote at a later date.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Embarrassment for New Met Chief After He Personally Leads Helicopter Raid With 80 Officers — for Suspect Who’d Already Been Arrested

Britain’s new top policeman was left red-faced today when he led a raid on the home of a chief suspect only to discover he had been arrested hours earlier.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson directed a team of 80 police officers — some armed with Taser stun guns — who swooped on a notorious burglary gang by raiding seven addresses in South London and Surrey.

At the address of the gang’s suspected handler, as a Met helicopter hovered overhead, officers used a battering ram to smash their way through the front door. But the suspect was nowhere to be found.

It later emerged that he had been arrested after an alleged break-in.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Gerry Adams Says IRA Killings ‘should Not be Exaggerated’ as He Calls for British Forces to Stay Out of Ireland

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has renewed his attack on the use of British Special Forces in Northern Ireland following the three brutal murders in the province last week.

Speaking in Washington, Mr Adams today claimed that it was the use of British troops to track down the dissident IRA murderers that ‘could undermine the peace process’.

Last week, two British soldiers and a policeman were killed in shootings which brought the spectre of sectarian violence back to Northern Ireland.

But in words certain to anger those mourning last week’s killings, Mr Adams claimed that ‘it was important we don’t exaggerate what occurred’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Obama Backs Peace in Northern Ireland as Gerry Adams Says IRA Killings ‘should Not be Exaggerated’

[Comments from JD: Contrast this with the reception he gave Gordon Brown.]

Barack Obama has backed the Northern Ireland peace process as he called America’s bond with Ireland ‘one of the strongest in the world’.


Mr Obama met Mr Cowen in the Oval Office as part of a day full of events to mark the holiday, and said that he hoped to visit Ireland.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams also held talks with Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, about the current situation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Patients Died Due to ‘Appalling Care’ at Staffordshire Hospitals — Healthcare Commission

Appalling standards of care have been exposed at Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals trust, where between 400 and 1,200 more patients died than would be expected in just three years, according to a damning report by the Healthcare Commission.

Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, described the failures as a ‘gross and terrible breach of trust’ of patients.

A litany of poor standards of care was uncovered by the Healthcare Commission in one of the most critical reports of NHS treatment.

It is not clear how many patients died as a direct result of the failures but the Commission found that mortality rates in emergency care were between 27 per cent and 45 per cent higher than would be expected, equating to between 400 and 1,200 excess deaths.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson offered his apologies to patients and staff who suffered as a result and the trust chief executive Martin Yeates, and chairman, Toni Brisby, both resigned earlier this year.

Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Healthcare Commission, said the report is a ‘shocking story’ and that there were failures at almost every stage of care of emergency patients. “There is no doubt that patients will have suffered and some of them will have died as a result,” he said.

The investigation of the trust now called the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, found overstretched and poorly trained nurses who turned off equipment because they did not know how to work it, newly qualified doctors left to care for patients recovering from surgery at night, patients left for hours in soiled bedclothes, reception staff expected to judge how seriousness of patients arriving at A&E, patients left without food or drink, others who received the wrong medication or none at all, blood and faeces left on lavatories and floors, and doctors diverted away from seriously ill patients in order to treat minor ones who were in danger of breaching the four hour waiting time target.

When high mortality rates triggered questions, the trust board of directors ‘fobbed off’ investigators by saying the rates were a result of statistical errors but the Healthcare Commission found this was not that case.

The report said there was a ‘reluctance to acknowledge or even consider that the care of patients was poor’.

The trust was more concerned with hitting targets, gaining Foundation Trust status and marketing and had ‘lost sight’ of its responsibilities for patient care, the report said.

Sir Ian said: “The resulting report is a shocking story. Our report tells a story of appalling standards of care and chaotic systems for looking after patients.

“These are words I have not previously used in any report. There were inadequacies in almost every stage of caring for patients.”

Bill Cash, the Tory MP for the neighbouring Stone constituency, said: “We have a history with the hospital. Frankly, it just simply cannot go on like this. It has to stop, it has to improve.

“What we have to do now is look to the future and have a complete radical shake-up. There are some wonderful staff, there is no doubt about that, and we’ve got to get back to bringing the hospital to the highest possible standards.”

Eric Morton, new Chief Executive of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The report has highlighted instances where care standards fell below those that our patients had a right to expect of their hospital and we regret this.

“We would like to take this opportunity to offer our very sincere apology. We would like to reassure the local community that our focus is, and will remain, on providing high quality, efficient and safe health care for the people of Staffordshire.

“As a NHS Foundation Trust we have made significant changes within a very short period of time and put in place new management, effective governance structures and made operational system changes, in order to address the key issues of accountability, staffing levels and staff training. In addition we have put in place a robust financial system which has enabled us to invest substantially in new staff, equipment and services in order for us to continuously improve.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: The Hospital Where ‘at Least 400’ Could Have Died Needlessly to be Exposed in Damning Report

Unacceptable standards of patient care could have led to hundreds of deaths at a single hospital in a three-year period.

A damning report to be released tomorrow by the Healthcare Commission will outline a catalogue of failings at a hospital trust blinded by a drive to save money and abide by Government waiting-time targets.

An advance copy of the report seen by the Daily Mail estimated ‘at least’ 400 deaths between 2005 and 2008 could not be accounted for by ‘other factors or by chance variation’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: The Sandwich Box Stasi: Parents’ Fury Over School Which Inspects Lunches and Confiscates Junk Food

A primary school has been accused of running a ‘mealtime Gestapo’ after insisting on inspecting children’s lunchboxes for unhealthy food.

If pupils are found to have sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks or full-fat crisps, teachers confiscate them and hold them in the staffroom.

The snacks are returned at the end of the day but only if parents ask.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: The PC Procession: Carnival Queen Scrapped for Being Sexist… Now She’s a ‘Community Champion’

A carnival queen competition is being scrapped after more than 50 years because organisers think it sexist.

They say the event does not promote equal opportunities and is past its sell-by date.

Instead they are introducing a ‘carnival community champion’.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Trusting the Police

Why, if there are more police officers than ever, are fewer seen on the streets? One reason is that the form-filling necessary to comply with Home Office standards and targets keeps them tied up for hours in their stations. Another is that most officers patrol in pairs. It is rare to see a bobby patrolling alone, yet it used to be unusual to see them on the beat together. It is heartening, then, to learn that London’s new police chief, Sir Paul Stephenson, intends to require his officers to patrol as singletons except when it would be patently dangerous to do so. This would double police visibility and make officers more likely to communicate with members of the public instead of with each other.

There will be arguments, especially from the Police Federation, that the job is more dangerous than it once was; and in some inner-city estates this may well be true, though that owes much to the loss of authority that has come with changes to the way the police act and dress. While officers are often expected to put themselves in harm’s way, recent Home Office figures suggest non-injury assaults have fallen and there is no reason why a brace of officers should patrol a leafy suburban avenue or a crowded town centre.

Sir Paul and his like-minded colleagues elsewhere are to be encouraged in their efforts to inject some common sense back into policing. Over the past 20 years or so, the police have become increasingly estranged from the law-abiding majority on whom they could once rely for almost unstinting support. This is an unhealthy state of affairs. The great strength of policing in Britain has always been that it is carried out with the consent and approval of the public. If Sir Paul and his fellow chiefs are serious about reinstating the sort of policing on which such trust was based, that can only be a good thing.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Bulgaria: Radical Islam Row Continues

A hero’s welcome greeted the mayor of Gurmen municipality in southwestern Bulgaria, Ahmed Bashev, and Mourat Boshnak, a teacher of Islam in the village of Ribnovo, on their return on March 16 2009 from the State Agency for National Security (SANS).

The two were taken to SANS’s headquarters in the early hours of March 16 2009 for questioning after a request from prosecutors in relation to tip-offs that the two had been preaching radical Islam and forcing youngsters to adhere to an Islamic dress code and way of life.

The tip-off came from independent MP Yane Yanev who, on March 14 2009, almost got into a fight with Boshnak during a debate on private national bTV broadcaster about whether radical Islam was on the rise in the western Rhodopi mountains, where the population is predominantly Muslim.

Yanev claimed that people from the area had told him about both Bashev and Boshnak forcing students and teachers to wear Muslim clothes (headscarf for the girls) when coming to school and that all students were forced to sign up to Boshnak’s lessons in Islam.

Bashev and Boshnak spent several hours in SANS custody and were released without charge, the two told private national broadcaster Nova Televisia on March 17 2009.

When they returned to Ribnovo TV cameras showed several hundred of the 3000 inhabitants gathered at the village square to applaud the pair.

Bashev was lifted aloft and wrapped in the Bulgarian flag. “This whole thing was just a set-up by Yanev who wants to see himself elected to Parliament again after this summer’s elections,” Bashev told Nova. “Once elections are over, no one would ever remember Ribnovo,” he said.

“I am pleased with SANS’ actions and I think that this is what they should do: to investigate whenever they have doubts. I have no criticism of them,” he said. “They came to my door at about 6am and let me get dressed and were very polite,” he said.

However, SANS actions were criticised by some media as gesture tactics. Instead of marching in with masks SANS could have simply summoned Bashev and Boshnak, just like any other Bulgarian citizens, Dnevink daily said on March 17 2009.

Both Bashev and Boshnak dismissed Yanev’s allegations that they were preaching radical Islam using foreign foundations’ money.

“I was born Bulgarian, I am a Bulgarian citizen, I have served in the Bulgarian army, I pay my taxes here and I want to die here as a Bulgarian,” Boshnak said.

“I have never been to Saudi Arabia and I don’t speak any language other than Bulgarian. I have studied in Macedonia and in Bulgaria,” he noted.

“All children who are studying Islam with me have done it by their own volition with the knowledge of their parents,” he said.

Bashev, a former principal of the school, said that at the end of every term parents can ask schools to form classes on certain topics and that religion (Christianity and Islam) is one of them. “Ribnovo is 100 per cent Muslim, so we picked Islam,” he said. “Everything happens under the direct control of the state in the form of the Education Ministry and its regional inspectorate”.

“I teach by textbooks in Bulgarian that have been approved by Education Ministry,” Boshnak said. “I don’t teach the Koran but Islam,” he said. “Of course, Islam is based on the Koran but I’m not only teaching them that,” he said.

As for the dress code allegations, the two said that every student and teacher could choose what to wear. However, they admitted that the school had internal rules stipulating that a teacher could not come to work in jeans and women could not wear skirts that fell short of their knees.

“These are regulations valid for most public buildings in Bulgaria,” they said. As for the headscarf, Boshnak said it was up to the students themselves and part of local tradition.

A Nova TV reporter from Ribnovo showed women wearing scarfs. “I wear it because I want to, not because someone told me or forced me to do it,” a middle-aged woman said. “I decide what to wear, not someone else; it is how we dress up here,” she said. “Some people wear modern clothes and everybody is fine with that.”

The reporter talked to a young girl wearing jeans and a leather jacket. “The whole affair (Yanev’s allegations) is a lie,” she said. “No one forces us to wear traditional Muslim clothes. I’ve been living here for 23 years and nothing here happens in the way of radical Islam.”

“When we graduated we wanted to go to Greece and we went; it was great fun,” she said, when asked whether students are being sent to trips in Turkey by the school.

Talking to Nova TV on March 17 2009, Yanev continued claiming that radical Islam was being taught in Ribnovo. He said that he had been tipped-off by people living in Ribnovo who had complained about the actions of Bashev and Boshnak.

Several hours later Yanev tipped off SANS about another alleged transgression in the village of Satovcha, southern Bulgaria. Yanev told Bulgarian National Radio that the principal of the school in Satovcha, who is currently on leave, had forced students into a lifestyle compatible with radical Islam.

Education Ministry’ regional inspectorate has also started an investigation into Yanev’s claims.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Montenegro: Berlusconi Accused of Electoral ‘Meddling’

Podgorica, 16 March (AKI) — Montenegro’s political opposition on Monday accused Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of interfering in the local campaign for political elections to be held on 29 March. It also said Berlusconi’s meeting with Montenegro’s current premier and so-called political ‘godfather’ Milo Djukanovic sent “a bad message that organised crime pays off.”

Berlusconi was to arrive for a surprise visit to Podgorica late Monday for talks with president Filip Vujanovic and Djukanovic, known as Montegro’s political ‘godfather’.

A controversial figure, Djukanovic has already served four terms as prime minister and one term as president, but he resigned in 2006 to dedicate himself to his business interests.

Montenegro’s opposition leaders have claimed Djukanovic accumulated millions of euros in investment and banking schemes between 2006 and 2008.

Berlusconi was also to meet Italian language students, but refused to meet politicians from Montenegro’s opposition parties.

Nebojsa Medojevic, president of the opposition Movement for Changes party, said he requested a meeting with Berlusconi through the Italian embassy in Podgorica, but Berlusconi had declined the request.

Medojevic said the embassy replied that Berlusconi would meet “only with representatives of official institutions”.

Medojevic said that Berlusconi’s visit came at a “very sensitive moment at the end of a parliamentary election campaign and everything should be done to avoid a possible political manipulation of the visit.”

Djukanovic has been investigated by Italian prosecutors for his alleged role in a multimillion dollar mob-run cigarette smuggling racket to Italy in the 1990s and for money laundering.

But the case was dropped after he became prime minister again last February.

Medojevic said that Berlusconi’s visit was a “private arrangement with some people at the pinnacle of power”.

“We are disappointed that the Italian premier is meeting ahead of the election with a man who was indicted by the Italian judiciary,” Medojevic said.

“That could only send a message that organized crime pays off.”

Montenegro foreign ministry said in a statement that relations between Rome and Podgorica were “excellent” and that Berlusconi’s visit was a “support to their further development.”

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

Mediterranean Union

Fishing: Egypt Minister, 15,000 Jobs From Project With Italy

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 16 — The Egyptian Fisheries Minister, Mohamed Fathy Osman, has said that he is convinced that ‘the realisation of several fishing projects between Italy and Egypt could create 15 thousand jobs in the sector”. The minister was speaking at the IV Mediterranean Forum which is underway in Cairo. ‘One of these projects”, Fathy Osman continued, ‘will begin in three months and will regard aquaculture. The Italians will provide the expertise to start this type of initiative on the north-west coast of Egypt. The project will get underway thanks to an agreement signed by the two countries in 2008 and will involve Italian universities, the Egyptian Water Regulatory Authority and Italian credit funds”. ‘This forum”, Osman concluded, ‘is an effective tool that not only allows an exchange of information about fishing but which also increases commercial, cultural and political relations between Mediterranean countries”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union: Secretary General to be Named by April

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — The Mediterranean Union will resume its work by the end of April with the appointment of its secretary-general and deputy secretaries, announced French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner today during the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly in the European Parliament in Brussels. Kouchner and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, his Egyptian counterpart, have discussed the need to continue the Union’s activities after the crisis in the Middle East. Kouchner listed the next steps to be taken by the Mediterranean Union. By the end of April a decision must be taken on the choice of secretary. There are several candidates for the position: a Tunisian, a Palestinian and a Jordanian. Reportedly an agreement on the deputy secretaries has already been reached. Then there will be meetings on the projects initiated by the Union: in May a meeting in Greece on transport and in Egypt on energy, followed the session in June in the Principality of Monaco on finances. Kouchner said he is in favour of the idea of welcoming an EMPA delegation as observer of the projects of the Mediterranean Union: “That way EMPA MPs become observers of the projects of the Mediterranean Union” as already is the case in the Arab League. Kouchner added that his proposal is backed by the co-president of the Mediterranean Union, Egypt.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Danone Wants to Import 11,000 Cows

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 16 — The Danone Djurdjura Algeria group, a branch of the French brand, signed a convention with the national agricultural loans bank (Cassa nazionale agricola di mutuo, Cnma) which also provides for the purchase of 11,000 cows over the next two years to try to lower the importation of powdered milk. Mohamed Soulak, director of the national milk office (Onil), explained that “the convention will allow for greater guarantees to the breeders”. Danone’s 450 breeders and suppliers, who own 5,000 cows, “will be insured by Cnma”. Soulak added that “We want to modernise the milk supply chain, increase the production of fresh milk and thus lower dependency on imports”, and announced the creation of 3 farm-schools to train breeders. Algeria, which has a milk deficit of some 900 million litres, spends 600 million dollars every year for powdered milk. With a yearly pro-capita milk consumption of 110 litres, milk represents a central product in the Algerian diet. Algerian authorities had announced in 2008 the import of 145,000 units of cattle to deal with this milk crisis. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: National Koran Week Opens

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 16 — Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the personal representative of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, inaugurated the tenth national week of the Holy Koran that opened today in Algiers. Belkhadem stated that the religious event organised during the third month of the Islamic calendar, Raba El Aouel, on occasion of the Mouloud festivity, anniversary of the birth and death of prophet Mohamed, “is now a tradition for Algeria”. The week’s schedule, promoted by the Algerian minister of religion, will include subject meetings, conferences on the various aspects of the life of the Prophet, and a competition for the reading and psalmody of Islam’s sacred text. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Non-Oil Exports at +23% in 2008, Italy Main Importer

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 16 — Egypt’s non-petroleum exports amounted to 17.445 billion dollars in 2008, up 23 percent from the year earlier, said a report released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The report said the country’s non-oil exports dragged down by 24 percent and 1 percent in November and December respectively, compared to the same period in 2007. Non-oil exports were down by 17 percent in January and 9 percent in February 2009, compared to the same period in 2008. The report said Italy was the biggest importer of the Egyptian non-oil products with 1.59 billion-dollar imports. The Saudi markets ranked the second with 1.35 billion-dollar imports while the US came the third with 1.16 billion-dollar imports. Minister of Trade and Industry Rashid Mohamed Rashid attributed the rise in the non-oil exports to the free trade deals signed with Arab and foreign countries. He said the country’s non-oil exports to Arab countries reached to 6.800 billion dollars in 2008, compared to 1 billion dollars in the previous year. Rashid, however, said the global financial turmoil affected the country’s non-oil products. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Terrorism: Algeria, Family Massacred in Tebessa

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 16 — A group of armed men raided a farm in Chetabia, in the Tebessa region, during the night between Saturday and Sunday, not far from the Algeria-Tunisia border, and after having slaughtered 300 rams, killed their owner. Shortly afterwards, upon the arrival of neighbours and security forces, reported the Algerian press today, two explosives placed by terrorists inside of the house detonated, killing the shepherd’s three other family members and a city councillor. A vast round-up operation by the army immediately began afterwards. On February 12, seven people, including four civilians, died in a double-attack in the same region (600km southeast of Algiers). A few days later, four soldiers were killed in another attack in Tebessa. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Elections in October, First Moves of the Opposition

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 16 — In preparation of the Tunisian presidential elections scheduled for next October, three opposition parties are starting to draw up their respective strategies. The three parties have already participated in past elections: Party of People’s Unity (PUP), Unionist Democratic Union (UDU), and Ettajdid. Based on a new constitutional amendment, the head of each party can present their candidacy. The PUP, which already participated in the 1999 and 2004 presidential elections has decided to nominate their current Secretary-General Mohamed Bouchicha. A special commission has been formed to draw up the election manifesto to take the party’s message to the electorate. The PUP also plans to use new computer and communications technology to get its message to the people. The UDU, which nominated a candidate in the 1999 elections, this year plans to nominate the party’s Secretary-General Abderrahmane Tlili who has already begun to outline his electoral programme. Ettajdid will nominate its Secretary-General Ahmed Brahim, heading up a coalition of political entities and independents. Ettajdid participated in the 2004presidential elections as part of a coalition called the “Democratic Initiative”. All eight opposition parties have announced their participation in the legislative elections, also scheduled for October at the same time as the presidential elections. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Western Sahara: Polisario, Morocco Obstructing Solution

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MARCH 16 — “The plan for autonomy, presented by Morocco as a take-it-or-leave-it and only solution, is an obstacle to the finding of a just and durable solution to the Western Sahara conflict”, declared Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, Foreign Minister of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is recognised by around eighty countries but by no western State. “Unfortunately, Morocco persists with its traditional intransigence,” reads a note, and “continues to obstruct the construction of the Arab Maghreb, of peace, cohesion and stability in the region”. “Rabat’s attachment to its autonomy plan does not contribute to the success of the fifth round of direct negotiations between the Polisario and Marocco”, continued Salek. Morocco’s Foreign Minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, on Saturday turned down once more the idea of organising a referendum for the self-determination claimed by the Sahrawi. The most recent direct negotiations began in 2007 in Manhasset, near New York, under the aegis of the UN, came to a halt in March 2008. The new United Nations envoy for the Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, recently visited the region to try and re-launch negotiations. The issue of the former Spanish colony, occupied by Morocco in 1975, continues to divide the Maghreb region: Algeria, which has always stood alongside the Polisario, sees ‘the organisation of a referendum which allows the Sahrawi people to choose their future freely”; Morocco is ready to concede autonomy to the region, but under its sovereignty. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Criticism of Israel Dropped From Durban II Draft Resolution

United Nations officials said Tuesday that Muslim-backed references to ‘defamation of religion’ and criticism of Israel have been dropped from a draft being prepared for next month’s world racism meeting.

Initial draft resolutions for the United Nations Durban II summit branded Israel as an occupying state that carries out racist policies.

Islamic countries were campaigning for wording in the draft that would equate criticism of a religious faith with a violation of human rights and would take Israel to task for its treatment of Palestinians.

The latest draft declaration, a compromise 17-page text issued by Russian working group chairman Yuri Boychenko after private consultations, omits any reference to the Middle East conflict as well as defamation of religion.

It now speaks only of concern about the negative stereotyping of

religions and does not single out Israel for criticism, according to the officials.

“The document contains no reference to Israel, the Middle East or defamation of religion,” said one United Nations source.

“The text goes in the right direction,” an EU diplomat said.

           — Hat tip: Abu Elvis[Return to headlines]

EU Warns Israel, Two State Solution is a Must

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — While Israel is preparing for a government dominated by the right-wing and Arab countries sound the alarm on peace negotiations, the European Union has begun to make its voice heard: not all that comes with the new Netanyahu administration is welcome, said the EU Council of Ministers and the European Commission, because it goes against the solution that calls for the formation of a Palestinian nation. If Israel does not support the two states for two peoples solution, supported by the Arab countries and by the entire West, “there could be consequences” according to the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Javier Solana. “The EU is ready for business as usual with the new Netanyahu government as long as it is willing to continue with the solution that everyone is calling for”, Solana explained. That of two independent states, one Palestinian and one Israeli, which will exist side by side in peace and in complete sovereignty. It is the hypothesis that the EU and all of the West has supported for some time. “We would like for the new Israeli government and all of its ministers to accept the same solution that we support”, said External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero Waldner. Also according to Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, Israel “must immediately resume negotiations for the peace process based on the two states for two peoples solution”. If not, that is “if this message was to be abandoned, we (the EU, ed.) would be in serious difficulty, because it is that which the Quartet for the Middle East established”, Frattini specified. But if the EU has begun to make itself heard, Arab countries continue to sound the alarm on the rightward turn of the new Israeli executive branch. “It is dangerous for the peace process”, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said speaking at the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly today in Brussels at the European Parliament. Gheit defined the coalition agreement between incumbent Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and the extreme right Likud party led by Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beitenu) “a negative factor”, because the emergence of a right-wing government in Israel “could damage the peace process”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Letter to UN Asking for International Investigation

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 16 — Antonio Cassese, the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu are among the sixteen signers of a letter to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, to ask for an international investigation into the violation of human rights by Israel and armed Palestinian groups during the Gaza conflict. The open letter, an initiative of Crisis Action backed by Amnesty International which published its text, reads: “Without a credible and impartial investigation into what has happened during the conflict in Gaza, it will be difficult for the communities that have paid a very high price for the violence to overcome the consequences of the conflict and to work together to build a better peace… A quick, independent and impartial investigation would for a public documentation on the serious violation of human rights and would advise on the way those responsible will have to respond for what they’ve done… We ask the world leaders to make it clear that hitting civilians during a conflict is completely unacceptable. We ask them to support the institution of a UN Investigating Commission on the Gaza conflict.. There is a desperate need for aid an reconstruction but, to really heal the wounds, we must find out the truth about the crimes committed against civilians by both parties”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Kouchner, Yes to Independent International Investigation

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 16 — “We have always been in favour of international justice and we are in agreement with our Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, for an investigation, as long as it is independent and impartial,” said Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister, responding to the possibility of Israel being judged by an international court for its aggression in Gaza, during a debate in the Political Affairs Commission of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) held today in Brussels. “We must put an end to double standard policies,” said Taysir Qubaa, a representative from the Palestinian delegation. “Why aren’t decisions analogous to the ones made for Eastern Europe made also with Israel? Why not appeal to the International Criminal Court?”. “For Parliament members like myself, there cannot be peace without justice,” said Ahmed Fati Sorour, the president of Egyptian Parliament. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gilad: Hamas, Hizbullah Can’t be Trusted

[TJ: This sounds a lot like what Spencer, et al have been saying for years.]

Terror groups can agree to 30-year truce, violate it 30 days later, top security official says

Both Hamas and Hizbullah will continue to seek Israel’s destruction and must not be granted any legitimacy, top security official Amos Gilad said Monday.

Speaking at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Security Bureau said terror groups were “decent enough to say what they think — that Israel has no right to exist.” He said both Hamas and Hizbullah are “entities with an incredibly radical worldview, but they’re flexible in terms of timetable.. For them, there is no such thing as defeat or surrender.”

“If they sustain a blow, as happened in Operation Cast Lead for example, they may accept a temporary agreement. However, in terms of their value system, they can always violate such deal the moment they feel strong enough,” he said.

“This is what happened with the previous lull,” Gilad said, noting that he was deeply familiar with the issue. “I’m telling you that the lull was unlimited and was not restricted to six months, as Hamas claimed. They violated it because they thought Israel is weak and won’t enter Gaza.”

“They are capable of agreeing to a 30-year ceasefire and violating it after 30 days,” he said. “Those who think that such agreements can serve as a basis for negotiation are wrong. We should never be tempted into strategic negotiations with Hamas.”

‘No chance for peace deals’

Turning his attention to the recent British willingness to engage in dialogue with Hizbullah, Gilad said: “I see elements in the Western world that are considering dialogue with these groups in an attempt to convince them, but it won’t make a difference. It’s possible to reach agreements with them, but we should never think this will lead to peace treaties.”

Replying to Ynet’s question about whether Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s latest speech, where he hinted of willingness to engage in talks with the US, constituted a change in policy, Gilad replied: “Hamas and Hizbullah are open to any kind of dialogue. Legitimacy is very important to them. If the Western world is willing to recognize them, they will of course accept that, and this is what Nasrallah meant. However, they will not change their ways, and Israel will always be a target for elimination in their eyes.”

During the evening, Gilad refused to respond to questions regarding the Gilad Shalit negotiations.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Israel: Government; Deal With Netanyahu, Lieberman FM

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 16 — Premier designate Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) is stepping up the pace in an attempt to present his new government to the Knesset next week. He still doesn’t rule out a broad coalition with Kadima, but last night he signed a political agreement with the radical right-wing party Israel Beitenu, whose leader Avigdor Lieberman will become foreign minster together with a total of five ministries that will be appointed to the party. Today Likud wants to sign another deal with the orthodox Shas party and other agreements with three more religious and right-wing parties. But Netanyahu has already warned future government partners that he wants to leave the possibility of a broad government with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima and Ehud Barak’s Labour party open. Lieberman, when signing the agreement, confirmed that he is in favour of a possible government with Kadima. But Livni at the moment only wants Kadima to govern if Netanyahu is willing to re-launch the Annapolis process, in other words if he commits to the formation of ‘two States for the two peoples’. Rumours say that negotiations with the Palestinians are not explicitly mentioned in the political agreement between Likud and Israel Beitenu. The parties promise however that Israel “will not negotiate with terrorist organizations” and that Israel’s strategic objective will be to bring down the Hamas regime in Gaza. The new government sees “an immediate threat” in Iran’s nuclear programme, which “must be warded off for Israel’s safety and for the people of the Region and the free world”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jerusalem Tractor Drivers Fear for Their Lives Following Terror Attacks

East Jerusalem tractor drivers say have become easy targets in wake of series of terror attacks in capital. ‘We have done nothing wrong, but people still give us hateful looks in the street,’ one of them says during demonstration, ‘anyone who shoots a tractor driver is considered a hero’

Daniel Edelson Published: 03.17.09, 12:35 / Israel News

Several dozen tractor drivers from east Jerusalem protested outside Teddy Stadium in the capital Tuesday and carried signs reading “I am not a terrorist”.

The drivers said their lives were at risk in the wake of a series of terror attacks in Jerusalem in which tractors were used. In July three people were killed and 36 others were injured during a tractor attack on Jaffa Street.

In September a similar attack on King David Street left 18 people wounded, and during the most recent tractor attack, carried out in early March, two police officers were lightly injured when a tractor plowed into their squad car on Menachem Begin Boulevard.

In all of the incidents the terrorists driving the tractors were shot and killed.

“We have done nothing wrong, but people still give us hateful looks on the street,” said Isam Jaradat, a 35-year-old tractor driver from Wadi Joz. “We are afraid that any mistake on our part may result in a bullet to the head. One of my drivers quit because of this. All we want is to make an honest living, and we urge the public not to fear us.”

Another tractor driver said, “Anyone who shoots a tractor driver is considered a hero; anyone holding a gun will want to open fire because he thinks he may receive a million shekel (about $242,000) reward.

“One day I entered a very narrow alley and hit a car’s side-view mirror by mistake. The owner of the car immediately began shouting ‘terrorist, terrorist!’ I fled the scene for fear someone would shoot me. Had I waited for the police to show up, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Abu Elvis[Return to headlines]

Judges Call for Alleged Gaza War Crimes Inquiry

Jerusalem, 16 March (AKI) — A 16-strong group of the world’s most experienced investigators and judges called on Monday for a full international investigation into alleged breach of international law during the recent Gaza conflict.

The call is made in an open letter to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as well as all members of the UN Security Council.

The letter comes at a time when a UN Board of Inquiry is expected to report to Ban on its initial findings regarding attacks on UN facilities and personnel in Gaza.

The new letter stresses the need for an investigation into “all serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.”

It argues that the UN investigation “should not be limited only to attacks on UN facilities.”

The signatories — who have led investigations of crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Darfur, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, East Timor, Lebanon and Peru — say that they have been “shocked to the core” by events in Gaza.

The signatories argue that they “have seen at first hand the importance of investigating the truth and delivering justice for the victims of conflict and believe it is a precondition to move forward and achieve peace in the Middle East.”

The letter’s signatories urge world leaders “to send an unfaltering signal that the targeting of civilians during conflict is unacceptable by any party on any count.”

The signatories include Antonio Cassese (First President and Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Richard Goldstone (Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and Chairman of the UN Inquiry on Kosovo).

The letter calls for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict that has a mandate to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

William A. Schabas, former member of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a signatory to the letter, said: “The international community must apply the same standard to Gaza as it does to other conflicts, and investigate all abuses of the laws of war and human rights.

The current UN inquiry is no substitute for a full investigation. It is not only the UN personnel that deserve truth and justice, but Palestinians and Israelis themselves.”

The signatories conclude that: “relief and reconstruction are desperately needed but, for the real wounds to heal, we must also establish the truth about crimes perpetuated against civilians on both sides.”

The 22-day Israeli military operation launched on 18 December killed some 1,330 Palestinians, injured more than 5,400, over one-third of them children, and caused widespread damage and destruction in Gaza.

Thirteen Israelis — including ten soldiers — died during the offensive, whose stated aim was to end rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamist militants against Israel.

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

Middle East

Iran to Send Female Skier to Winter Games

Iran is to send a female skier to the Winter Olympics for the first time at next year’s Games in Vancouver, Canada, the head of the Islamic Republic’s ski federation told state media Monday.

Fatemeh Kiadarbandsari, competing at last month’s World Ski Championships, in France.

The chosen competitor will ski in “full Islamic dress,” Iran’s National News Agency reported.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Iraq Looks to Future With “Optimism.” Economic Crisis Feared More Than Security

Violence and lack of security are not the main cause of concern. 85% of Iraqis call the current situation “very good or quite good.” Sources for AsiaNews confirm the reopening of shops and businesses. The country must promote economic alternatives to oil, like tourism and agriculture.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — Violence and lack of security are no longer the main cause of concern for Iraqis. This is the result of a recent survey, and is confirmed by sources for AsiaNews in the country. “An improvement in the quality of life is evident,” confirms one Iraqi Chaldean Christian, but there remains the “concern over attacks in recent days in Baghdad,” following which the government and the Presidency Council have opened “an official investigation” to discover the “causes and perpetrators of these actions.”

According to a survey conducted in February by the BBC, ABC News, and NHK, for the first time since 2003 Iraqis say they are “more upbeat” about the future. The survey examined the responses of 2,228 citizens of the 18 provinces into which the country is subdivided: the main concerns stem from “everyday problems” like “the economy and work.” In the matter of security, 85% of those interviewed call the current situation “very good or quite good,” with an increase of 23% compared to last year. Only 8% say that security has worsened, compared to 26% in 2008. 59% say they “feel safe” in the area where they live, compared to the previous 37%.

“The improvement in the level of security,” confirm the sources for AsiaNews, “is a concrete fact, but we must not let down our guard. The recent attacks in Baghdad are confirmation of this.” Last March 13, a series of dynamite attacks killed one woman and wounded seven other people; on March 10, a suicide attack northwest of the capital killed or injured at least 60 people. “The new development with respect to the past is that the government and the Presidency Council have promoted a parliamentary inquiry into the reasons for the attacks. The intention is to understand whether these are due to a breach in the security system, or whether they were just isolated incidents.”

For Iraq as well, the main causes of concern derive from the global financial crisis and the effort to revive the nation’s economy: “Shops and businesses are being reopened. In Mosul,” one local source recounts, “a car repair shop has been reopened, run by a Christian family. The demand for repairs is strong, and the spare parts are available. The people want to revive businesses that were abandoned because of the war. There is again talk of hospitals, schools, education, energy and raw materials.”

In recent days Iraqi interior minister Jawad al-Bolani has stated that “the military operations against al Qaeda are over”; now the focus will shift to “targeted activity on the level of intelligence and the secret services,” against the “leaders of the movement.” The first victims of terrorism have been the Iraqi Christians, for whom “a sense of threat remains,” because “the memory of the recent massacres” is still strong. “There is not absolute trust,” confirm the Christians of Mosul, “but there is an undeniable sense of hope for the future.”

In order to provide a new boost to the country’s economy, it is necessary to guarantee high standards of security, so that “the big international companies may again invest in Iraq.” “The economic crisis and the fall in the price of oil,” confirm the sources for AsiaNews, “have aggravated the problem, but the country can rely on its natural resources and water reserves, on agriculture and archaeological and religious tourism: if the country is truly able to stabilize itself, the economy will also see beneficial effects over the long term.”

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

Iraqi Fan Kills Soccer Player During Close Game

BAGHDAD — Police say an Iraqi soccer player has been shot dead just as he was about to kick what could have been the tying goal in a weekend game south of Baghdad.

Police Maj. Muthanna Khalid says a striker from the Buhairat amateur team was facing only the goalie during a Sunday match in Hillah when a supporter of the rival Sinjar club shot him in the head in the final minute of play.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Piracy: Turkish Frigate Intercepts Pirates in Gulf of Aden

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 16 — A Turkish frigate intercepted a group of pirates in the Gulf of Aden as they attempted to hijack a cargo ship, Hurriyet Daily reported. The Turkish frigate, Giresun, prevented the pirates from boarding the Vietnamese vessel off-coast of South Yemen. The two Turkish AB-212 helicopters also participated in the interception, which was carried out in cooperation with a war ship from Danish Naval Forces Command. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Syria: Human Rights, 3 Years in Jail for Political Dissident

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, MARCH 16 — A Syrian writer and human rights activist, who has been in prison several times for publicly asking for political reforms in the country that has been ruled by the Baath regime for forty years, was sentenced to three years in prison today. According to Syrian human rights organisation ONDUS, Habib Saleh (62 years old) was sentenced today to three years in prison by the criminal court of Damascus under charges of “spreading false information to weaken national sentiment and to reawaken confessional dissent”. “Many European and Western diplomats, as well as activists in the community, were present this morning when the verdict was read”, an ONDUS note explains. Saleh, who was arrested six times between 1982 and May 2008, was arrested almost a year ago by government security services after publishing an article on internet in which he asked for political reforms. Since the accession in the summer of 2000 of President Bashar al-Assad, son of the deceased Hafiz al-Asad, tens of civilians and human rights activists have been imprisoned for “spreading false information to weaken national sentiment”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Terrorism: ‘Teenage Suicide Bomber’ Behind Yemen Blast

The bomb blast that killed four Korean tourists in the city of Shibam in the southeastern province of Hadramaut, Yemen, on Sunday afternoon was a suicide attack linked to the Al-Qaeda network. DPA on Monday quoted local investigators as saying a terrorist wearing an explosives vest committed the suicide attack in a style typical of Al-Qaeda. Yemen’s official Saba News Agency also said Al-Qaeda is behind the incident. Hamid Al-Kurashi, the head of Hadramaut police, said investigators found a video message the suicide bomber, a teenager, had left. The Korean Foreign Ministry said it is checking the facts.

The blast took place at around 5:50 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, or 11:50 p.m. Korean time, claiming the lives of four Korean tourists and injuring three people including a tour guide from Amman, Jordan, and other tourists. A group of 18 Korean tourists, including the four dead, left Incheon International Airport on March 9, and 13 of them were sightseeing in the city of Shibam on Sunday, the seventh day of their tour.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Nationalist Slogans to be Removed From Hillsides

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 16 — The Islamic-rooted ruling Justice and Development Party (Akp) of premier Tayyip Erdogan, is ready to cleanse the mountains of nationalist slogans and reintroduce removed Kurdish place names, daily Taraf reports. The AKP’s plan has two steps: first, the Party will introduce legal amendments to revert to the Kurdish names of places that previously held a Kurdish name; second, nationalist slogans such as “How happy is he who calls himself a Turk”, — written on mountainsides particularly in the country’s Southeast — will be removed in a bid to reconcile with the Kurdish population of the country. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US-Turkey: Washington May Need Ankara for Iraqi Withdrawal

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MARCH 16 — US may need Turkey’s cooperation while withdrawing its troops from Iraq, Anatolia news agency reported quoting Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Babacan. “US has not yet made plans about the number of soldiers and the route it would withdraw the troops”, Babacan said, adding that “Washington will inform Turkey about its plans and Turkey would make assessments about it”. “Iraqi people supports withdrawal of US soldiers and they want this to take place soon”, the head of Turkish diplomacy declared noting that “Iraq had given a signal to Turkey to assist this”. Concerning the agenda of Barack Obama’s meeting, Babacan declared that “Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, developments in the Middle East, Iran, the Caucasus, Balkans, Cyprus, Armenia, as well as Iraq would be discussed during the talks”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Zbigniew Brzezinski: More Bad Advice on Iran

The most discredited foreign policy official in U.S. history has the president’s ear.

by Craig Karpel

Gen. Douglas MacArthur ended his farewell address to Congress on April 19, 1951, by quoting the refrain of a barracks ballad that went, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Former presidential national security advisers, in contrast, neither die nor fade away. They’re too busy drumming up business for their inevitable consultancies and tweaking their “legacies” by writing op-ed pieces and testifying before legislative committees.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. He advocated the cessation of U.S. support for the shah of Iran, thereby contributing to (and some would say resulting in) the Islamist takeover of the country 30 years ago. On March 5, Brzezinski testified alongside his Bush 41 counterpart Brent Scowcroft at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iran. Both called for talks with Tehran and said the main problem posed by Iran’s nuclear program is not that nuclear-armed Iranian missiles will threaten Western cities, but that Iran’s possession of such weapons will spur other countries in the region and around the world to acquire nuclear weapons.

In his testimony, Brzezinksi lambasted an Israeli government memorandum that was leaked to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz just before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jerusalem this month. The document, drafted to provide talking points for the officials who would be meeting with Clinton, contained four recommendations…

           — Hat tip: Craig Karpel[Return to headlines]


Russia Announces Rearmament Plan

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said Moscow will begin a comprehensive military rearmament from 2011.

Mr Medvedev said the primary task would be to “increase the combat readiness of [Russia’s] forces, first of all our strategic nuclear forces”.

Explaining the move, he cited concerns over Nato expansion near Russia’s borders and regional conflicts.

Last year, the Kremlin set out plans to increase spending on Russia’s armed forces over the next two years.

Russia will spend nearly $140bn (£94.5bn) on buying arms up until 2011.

Higher oil revenues in recent years have allowed the Kremlin to increase the military budget, analysts say. But prices have averaged $40 a barrel in 2009 compared with $100 last year.

In his first address to a defence ministry meeting in his capacity as supreme commander, Mr Medvedev said considerable sums are being channelled towards developing and purchasing modern military equipment.

“Despite the financial problems we have to cope with today, the size of these sums has remained virtually the same as planned.”

Analysts say the brief war in Georgia exposed problems with outdated equipment and practices within Russia’s armed forces and led to calls for military modernisation.

President Medvedev’s remarks also appear significant for what they say about the diplomatic game between Moscow and the new administration in the United States, says the BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow.

Both sides are looking for a solution to issues — such as US missile defence plans in Europe — which bitterly divided the Kremlin and the White House during the Bush administration. Neither, though, seems willing simply to abandon previously-held positions, our correspondent adds.

The Russian Security Council is currently developing a new military doctrine which is expected to reflect current and forthcoming international developments, including any changes Nato may set out this year, missile defence deployments and WMD proliferation.

“The Security Council will approve Russia’s national security strategy until 2020 in the near future,” President Medvedev said.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Russian PM Vows to Increase Nuclear Arsenal on the Day Gordon Brown Says He Wants to Scrap Some Trident Warheads

Britain is willing to scrap a significant number of Trident nuclear warheads for a new push on disarmament, Gordon Brown said today.

In a keynote speech he claimed that a new deal to reduce the world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons could be in sight.

But his announcement came as Russian president Dmitry Medvedev promised to do just the opposite and boost Russia’s nuclear forces.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Plans Opera Version of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital

Normally disdained by revolutionaries as a bourgeois art form, the show’s producers insist that in the confident, modern-day People’s Republic, opera is a novel way to explain the proletariat’s triumph in the class struggle.

“The particular performance style we choose is not important, but Marx’s theories cannot be distorted,” said director He Nian, in an interview with China’s Wen Hui Bao newspaper.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Koreas: North Reopens Border

North Korea, in a see-saw move, yesterday reopened the inter-Korean border to allow South Koreans to head either to the North or home to the South. The Unification Ministry said more than 500 South Koreans were able to travel to the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and other permitted areas in the North, with some 300 returning to the South following a message the North sent at around 10 a.m.

Minutes later, Pyongyang also said it would allow South Koreans to travel to the North via the Donghae Railway to access the Mount Geumgang resort.

Few South Koreans are in Gaeseong or Mount Geumgang as tours to those areas have been temporarily halted amid increasing inter-Korean hostility.

Yesterday marked the second time in a little more than a week that the North reopened the Military Demarcation Line, allowing not only people but essential raw materials and foodstuffs needed for the operation of the joint complex and the mountain resort.

North Korea, protesting a joint military drill between South Korean and U.S. troops, on March 9 banned access across the demarcation line. It reopened the border a day later, but closed it again on Friday.

On Monday, it permitted South Koreans to travel home, but not to the North.

“The North has said it would cause ‘inconvenience’ for the South over the duration of the drill, and that is exactly what it is doing by opening and closing the border at whim. So this situation may keep up until March 20 when the drill is scheduled to end,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies here.

He added that the real problem would occur if the North attempts to continue using the border closure option even after the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are over to keep Seoul on its toes up until Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch in early April.

The Unification Ministry yesterday said it was uncertain if the North may keep the border open or close it down again.

The North, as part of its brinkmanship aimed at both Washington and Seoul, has recently notified international naval and aviation agencies of its intent to launch a satellite between April 4-8.

Most of international society believe the North will try to fire a long-range missile. This, according to the six parties discussing North Korea’s denuclearization, would be in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Hit with rising complaints and concerns from the firms operating in Gaeseong, the Seoul government this week indicated it is considering possible options for ensuring the safety of South Koreans in the Gaeseong complex. Some have suggested a temporary halt.

Critics, however, believe such a move would only offer the North a chance to blame the South for the deadlock in inter-Korean ties. Pyongyang has continuously blasted President Lee Myung-bak for assuming a tougher stance towards it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Philippines: China Sends Former Warship to Patrol Contested Spratly Islands

The Spratly and Paracel islands are contested by China, the Philippines, and other countries. Last week, the Filipino parliament claimed sovereignty over some of the islands. Now there is fear of an armed confrontation, with unpredictable results.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Since yesterday, a 4,450 ton Chinese ship has been navigating around the Paracel Islands (in Chinese: Xisha) in the South China Sea, after a new Filipino law last week declared Manila’s sovereignty over these. The islands are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, while the nearby Spratly Islands are claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, which want exploit the rich oil and mineral reserves beneath the sea bed.

Official Chinese sources say that the ship China Yuzheng 311, a former military ship and now one of the most powerful patrol boats, departed a week ago and is intended only to “protect fishing vessels . . .. in China’s southernmost maritime territory.” It is not known whether the Chinese ship is armed.

In addition to having extensive energy resources, the area is also one of the busiest shipping routes.

Beijing has defined as “illegal and invalid” the new Filipino law claiming sovereignty over the Paracel Islands. For his part, Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi paid a visit on March 5 to the Danwan Reef in the Spratly Islands, claiming sovereignty over this.

In 2002, China and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed an agreement rejecting military confrontation, and pledging support for a peaceful solution for the South China Sea. Now the Filipino foreign minister has called on “all sides” of the agreement to observe their commitments.

But experts note that an increasing confrontation is taking place among countries with a stake in the area, and the developments of this are unpredictable.

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

Philippines: China Shows Might in South China Sea

Security chief Gonzales worried by move

MANILA, Philippines—China’s dispatch of a state-of-the-art patrol ship in the South China Sea doesn’t necessarily smack of gunboat diplomacy, but Malacañang is taking it seriously.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales Sunday said he would call for an immediate meeting of the Cabinet’s security group to discuss the Chinese action in the wake of Beijing’s protest over the signing of the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law.

“The deployment of the patrol ship was a message and we cannot just ignore it,” Gonzales told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview. “We have to take it seriously.”

China’s state media Sunday reported that the country had dispatched its “most modern patrol ship” in the South China Sea following an incident with a US naval vessel and the signing of the Philippine baselines law.

“This should remind us that even in this era of dialogue and understanding in the world, there will always be nations that will show might and threaten perceived weak nations like us,” Gonzales said.

He said the meeting of the national security cluster would tackle the Philippine government’s response to the ship deployment in the context of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

“That’s where we should be going,” he said. “The only thing we can do is to resort to diplomacy.”

In the declaration, China and Southeast Asian nations agreed to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features, and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

Baselines bill ‘illegal’

China had earlier protested the signing of the baselines bill, describing it as “illegal.”

But the Philippine government maintained that it was standing by its claim on the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal—an area potentially rich in oil.

The baselines law excludes the disputed Kalayaan Group of Islands and the Scarborough Shoal from the archipelago, treating them instead as part of a “regime of islands.”

Still, China was adamant that the Philippines was claiming its territories in the Spratlys, particularly Huangyan Island and the Nansha Islands.

Gonzales said the Chinese protest could be considered a form of diplomatic “posturing.”

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde Sunday described Beijing’s move as a “normal conduct in international diplomacy.”

“We should not be worried about it,” Remonde said in his Sunday media forum on state-owned Radyo ng Bayan. “The United Nations will be the final arbiter of the issue.”

UN Law of the Sea

Remonde maintained that the baselines law was consistent with requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“What our President and our government (officials) did was in accordance to their sworn constitutional duty which is to uphold and protect the sovereignty of our country,” he said.

Remonde said the Philippine government would also have lodged a similar diplomatic protest if China or other claimants of the disputed island came up with an official action similar to the baselines law.

No official reaction has been issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, but a DFA official who did not wish to be named said that the Chinese move seemed to comply with the 2002 declaration, particularly its provision on notification coursed through official media.

Beijing News said the Chinese vessel would conduct patrols of what it called China’s exclusive maritime zone in the disputed waters surrounding the Paracel and Spratlys, according to Agence France Presse…

…The Spratly and Paracel island chains have been flash points for years.

The Spratlys are claimed in full or part by China and Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and the Paracels are claimed by China, which now occupies them, as well as by Vietnam and Taiwan.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Philippines: Saga of Baselines Law

Hopefully, an insider would one day write the saga of the Philippine Baselines Law enacted last week. It could prove to be an interesting document full of twists and turns as well as political and diplomatic drama.

The law defines the maritime borders of the Republic and its exclusive economic zone as well as its claims to portions of two groups of islands in the South China Sea. However, that is not the only reason why this law is remarkable.

Equally notable is the fact that legislators crossed party lines and ultimately put up a united front in order to assert national sovereignty-despite the very really likelihood of offending the country’s more powerful neighbor nations with which it has conflicting territorial claims in the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal.

In fact, only a few months ago it did not seem as though Filipinos could ever be made to agree on how to define the maritime borders of their own archipelago.

It was three years or so when Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. first raised the alarm on the approaching deadline set in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. The Philippines and other countries were given until May 13, 2009 to “deposit” with the UN general secretariat their baselines.

According to lawyer Henry Bersuto Jr., secretary general of the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the baselines law “puts the whole world on notice” that the Philippines now has clearly defined maritime borders.

For one thing, when the baselines law becomes fully operational, 15 days after it was signed, there will no longer be any “pockets of high seas” within Philippine waters. In such pockets, complete freedom of navigation had prevailed for decades.

These pockets of high seas were exploited by foreign fishermen poaching in Philippine waters. A couple of the pockets are located between the islands of Samar and Leyte and in the Sulu Sea off Palawan. When intercepted by Philippine authorities, foreigners invariably claimed they were sailing on international waters.

The baselines law puts an end to this legalistic nonsense.

No cakewalk

Bersuto and his staff were largely responsible for getting both chambers of Congress to finally pass what is now known as Republic Act No. 9522, or the Philippine Baselines Act. Not that it was an easy process-far from it.

The maritime commission formulated several options for the lawmakers’ deliberations. From the get-go, however, Bersuto and his staff indicated their preference for a formula that would depict the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal as a “regime of islands” distinct from the main archipelago.

The option triggered angry reactions from senators, congressmen and other quarters who decried what they considered as the surrender of the country’s territorial claims on the South China Sea islands, believed to be sitting atop huge oil and natural gas deposits.

In the Senate, one powerful member even initially refused to heed the advice of international law experts, insisting that “the only expert I need to rely on is myself.”

In the House of Representatives, however, the baselines proponents were able to gain the support of Rep. Antonio Cuenco of Cebu, the foreign affairs committee chairman, and Rep. Ferdinand Marcos 2nd of Ilocos Norte, who authored the chamber’s version of the bill.

The congressmen threw their support for the baselines bill after they were assured that the regime of islands formula would not prejudice Philippine claims to the KIG and Scarborough Shoal.

Speaking at the weekly Kapihan sa Sulo media forum on Saturday, Cuenco revealed that he even had to plead with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, to “hear out the experts.”

In time, resistance to the baselines bill melted as Bersuto and his staff tirelessly sought to convince lawmakers-and the public at large-to support their version of the proposed law through countless briefings.

At the Kapihan, too, Bersuto said R.A. 9522 adds 94 million hectares to the country’s territorial waters-three times more than what was provided for in the Treaty of Paris of 1898, “which no other country actually respected anyway.”

As for the objections coming out of Beijing immediately before the baselines bill was enacted, Bersuto said they had anticipated “political protests from the countries affected by [R.A. 9522]. It is their way of asserting their claims because silence could be interpreted as acquiescence.”

Bersuto added, however, that “we did what we have to do for the interest of the country.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Philippines: Muslims Seek Supreme Court Representation

Party-list Rep. Hataman notes that no Muslim has been appointed to the High Court since Cory’s time

MUSLIM lawmakers are now asking seeking their representation in the Supreme Court (SC) by asking the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and President Arroyo to recommend and appoint a Muslim Associate Justice in one of the six vacancies before the high court this year.

In a press conference, Anak Mindanao Party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman said that there has been no Muslim appointed to the high court for the past 22 years. The first time and only time that a Muslim became a Justice of the Supreme Court was during the administration of then President Aquino when she appointed Supreme Court Justice Abdulwahid Bidin. No Muslim has since followed Bidin.

Hataman said that they are now invoking the laws that allow representation of Muslim applicants to the High Court.

This includes the 1995 Peace Agreement and Republic Act 6743 or the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao law (ARMM) and the 1976 Tripoli Agreement.

The said laws mandate that there should be at least one Justice who will be appointed for the Supreme Court and two Justices for the Court of Appeals.

Hataman said that among the Muslim members of the House of Representatives who are batting for the appointment of a Muslim Justice before the High Court are Rep. Nur Jaafar of Tawi Tawi, Representatives Munir Arbison and Yusoph Jikiri of Sulu.

He said that the appointment of a Justice to the High Court would help a lot in solving the peace and order situation in Mindanao.

“We believe that the appointment of a Muslim Justice to the Supreme Court will help a lot in solving the peace process in Mindanao,” Hataman said.

Hataman pointed out that the appointment of representatives in different agencies of government is the long-time clamor of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“This has been the clamor of the MILF and there are the laws like the 1995 Peace Agreement and the ARMM law which says that there should be a Muslim Representative to the Supreme Court,” he pointed out.

Currently, two Muslim Magistrates from the appellate court will attempt to enter the high court and seek the representation for the cultural minorities.

Court of Appeals Justices Japar Dimaampao and Hakim Abdul-wahid were included in the list of candidates for the vacancy following the retirement on February 16 by Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna.

Both Dimaampao and Abdul-wahid now hold the highest positions in the judiciary.

Dimaampao, a Maranao, was a former State Prosecutor of the Department of Justice and afterwards he became the youngest Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge in the country after being appointed at the Mandaluyong RTC. He now holds the record as the youngest justice of the appellate court at the age of 40 and eventually could become the youngest magistrate of the SC at the age of 45. He is a Certified Public Accountant, bar reviewer, Sharia bar examiner and author of books in Taxation and Commercial Law.

Abdulwahid, a Tausug and Yakan, was a former Judge of Zamboanga RTC and a graduate of the University of the Philippines and a member of the influential Sigma Rho Fraternity. He was a former examiner in Sharia bar examinations

Both Dimaampao and Abdul-wahid are part of the list of 18 candidates for the Azcuna vacancy.

Also attempting to enter SC again is Solicitor General Agnes Deva-nadera and businessman Rodolfo Robles who were both disqualified by the JBC during the last nomination for the post vacated by Justice Ruben Reyes.

Other applicants are Court of Appeals Justices Amelita Tolentino, Lucas Bersamin, University of Santo Tomas Law School Dean Robert Abad and human rights lawyer Pablito Sanidad.

Tolentino became popular when she convicted Hubert Webb, son of former Sen. Freddie Webb, for the Vizconde massacre case while Bersamin was the former president of the guillotine club during his stint as a judge of Quezon City RTC. Other applicants from the CA are Justices Portia Hormachuelos, Martin Villarama, Andres Reyes, Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Juan Enriquez.

In the Sandiganbayan the applicants are Acting Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval along with Justice Francisco Villaruz.

Court of Tax Appeals Presiding Justice Ernesto Acosta will now apply for the incoming SC vacancy along with Ateneo Law Dean Cesar Villanueva and former Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner Jose Buñag.

Besides Reyes and Azcuna, the five other vacancies in the SC shall Justice Azcuna, a former 1986 Constitutional Commission delegate and later on became the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel of then President Corazon Aquino will retire on February 16, 2009.

The April 30, 2009 vacancy shall be incurred by Justice Alicia Austria-Martinez who applied for early retirement and the next one will be on May 11, 2009 when Justice Dante Tinga retires.

The other retirees for 2009 are Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago (October 5), Justice Leonardo Quisumbing (November 6) and Justice Minita Chico-Nazario (December 5).

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Malcolm Turnbull Turns Up the Heat on Carbon Trading

MALCOLM Turnbull has linked emissions trading to thousands of feared job losses in Queensland, claiming three Townsville metal smelters will close, the state’s coal industry will face a “carbon bill” of $2.4 billion over five years and even green jobs will be threatened by the Rudd Government’s scheme.

With Queensland the first state to go to the polls since the economic crisis hit, the federal Opposition Leader intensified his attack on the potential jobs consequences of the ETS, including the plight of Queensland-based company Envirogen, which generates power from coalmine waste gas. It could close and put 100 people out of work if the ETS replaces state greenhouse incentive schemes.

“Why are you putting people out of work?” Mr Turnbull asked the Prime Minister, particularly since the ETS did “little or nothing to protect the environment”.

In a letter to the Opposition, Envirogen chairman and former Queensland Labor treasurer David Hamill said the ETS would put “current investment of $455 million and 100 jobs … at risk”.

He said the company would “certainly not be in a position to make planned new investments” if the ETS proceeded as planned.

But claims from Opposition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb that the scheme would also cost up to 4000 jobs in Townsville were undermined by at least one of the companies named.

“Townsville’s three refineries — Xstrata’s copper refinery, BHP’s nickel refinery and the Sun Metals zinc refinery — will all be made uncompetitive if Mr Rudd’s emissions trading scheme is allowed to go ahead as planned,” Mr Robb said in a statement, claiming this would “cost thousands of local jobs”. A spokesman for Sun Metals said the claim about his refinery was “not true”.

“We had a meeting with (Opposition climate change spokesman) Mr Greg Hunt three or four months ago and at that time there was no emissions-intensive assistance for zinc, but since then we have made significant progress and we will now get significant compensation, so I can say for sure there is no way we will shut down,” the spokesman said. “This story is based on very old information. I don’t know why Mr Robb would say these things.”

In a separate statement Steve de Kruijff, of Xstrata Copper North Queensland, and Brian Hearne of Xstrata Zinc, said their operations would be “under even more pressure” over the long term, rather than cause immediate closure.

Premier Anna Bligh, who faces an election on Saturday, said Queensland had warned the federal Government it would be one of the states most seriously affected by an ETS, and had insisted on adequate compensation and protection for trade-exposed industries.

Renewable energy company Pacific Hydro said the emissions trading scheme and the Government’s proposed 20 per cent renewable energy target would create thousands of new jobs.

But coal miner Peabody, which operates 10 mines in Australia, said the ETS would have a severe impact on its two underground mines, in Queensland and in NSW.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Darwiche Texts Threat From Jail

ONE of the state’s most dangerous prisoners, who may know the whereabouts of several stolen rocket launchers, has sent an ominous message to the people involved in the murder of his brother, the crime boss Abdul Darwiche.

The weekend murder of Darwiche, the 37-year-old alleged head of a Sydney drug syndicate, has led to fears of reprisal violence.

Those fears have been heightened following the message sent from behind the walls of the state’s highest security prison, Goulburn’s Supermax, yesterday by Darwiche’s brother.

Adnan “Eddie” Darwiche is serving a life sentence at Supermax for a 2003 double murder related to the ongoing feud between the Darwiches and the Razzaks.

An underworld source yesterday described the message to the Herald: “It said, ‘I’m going to kill you, even if it’s kids, I don’t care’. Once that’s said, you can imagine what will happen.”

Police will be particularly worried by the threat, given it is being issued by the man they believe purchased several stolen Australian army rocket launchers on the black market years ago. Only one of the nine weapons has been recovered.

Police cut a deal with Adnan Darwiche to recover one of the launchers and about 20 kilograms of light explosives, but they fear he may know the location of several more.

Yesterday police attached to Strike Force Solomon continued to search for Darwiche’s killer, believed to be a family member of one of the people murdered in the 2003 violence.

Despite police officially saying they were confident there would be no reprisals for Darwiche’s murder, one senior investigator told the Herald: “I don’t see how the Darwiches can stand back after this. I mean, the head of the family has been killed — they have to act.”

Even arresting the killer would not solve the problem, he said. “It doesn’t matter if [police] get the offender, [the Darwiches] have to save face.”

The tension in the Auburn area was stretched a little tighter yesterday when a large fire gutted several business on South Parade, near the Auburn train station.

One of the shops is rented by Ali Al Maliky, who is related to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

It is also feared that other criminals may be using the resumption of violence between the Razzaks and the Darwiches as an excuse to settle other scores.

That may be the reason behind the drive-by shooting at the house of a senior Bandido Motorcycle Club member, Mahmoud Dib, about 1am on Monday.

About a dozen bullets struck the low cement fence and the house’s facade, with several passing through the front wall and into the house.

Mr Dib, 27, is understood to be furious with the shooters for risking the lives of his wife and two children — including a four-year-old boy — who were asleep. Nobody was injured.

Notorious, the Kings Cross bikie club police suspect to be behind attacks on the Nomads’ Marrickville clubhouse and the Hells Angels’ Petersham clubhouse in recent months, is suspected of being behind the shooting.

“They think they’re untouchable,” one underworld source said of Notorious.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mauritania: Alliance Against Libyan Mediation Strengthens

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MARCH 16 — The front against Libyan mediation in the crisis in Mauritania did not appreciate the statements made by Colonel Gaddafi who said “it is necessary to accept what has been done” in reference to the military coup of August 6 2008, which overthrew the first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, and has strengthened with the support of prominent politician Ahmed Ould Daddah siding against Libya. The head of the opposition under the Abdallahi regime, Daddah sided in favour of the coup to dissociate himself from the military council that came into power, regarding the presidential election on June 6, during which, in his opinion, no military candidates or the head of the council, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz should run for office. “The statements of the Libyan mediator, which ask people to accept what has been done and the agenda of the council, following the final declaration in which he said that the mediation has concluded, lead us to declare that the mediation failed,” read a joint message signed by Daddah and by the National Front for the Defence of Democracy. “It is necessary to continue the fight to reject all unilateral solutions and all resignations to what has been done.” On Saturday night, Gaddafi, the current President of the African Union, which gave him the task of mediation, said that former President Abdallahi must “accept what has been done,” specifying that he discussed this with him in Sirte. “He told me that if they want to reinstate his power, fine, otherwise he will stay in his village,” said Gaddafi, who two days earlier said that the sanctions adopted by the African Union against the members of the council were now “closed” as a result of the elections that were announced for June 6. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mozambique: Mozambique Mob, Angry Over Disease Rumors, Kills 4

MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — A mob angered by rumors that health workers were spreading cholera has killed four people in northern Mozambique. And 12 suspects in the violence were killed later in what a prison official said Tuesday was a fight in jail.

A police statement Tuesday said 29 people had been detained for questioning in Saturday’s violence in the Quinga area of Nampula province. The prison official, Floriano Sumane, was quoted on state radio Tuesday as saying he had received information from police that 12 of the suspects died early Tuesday during violence inside the cell they shared.

Sumane denied reports the deaths were caused by the police opening fire on prisoners trying to escape. The general director of prisons, Joao Zandamela, told state radio a team had been dispatched from the provincial capital to find out more about the deaths in detention.

The bizarre chain of events began early Saturday, when a mob killed a Mozambican Red Cross volunteer, two government health workers and a policeman.. Five other Red Cross workers were seriously injured. Authorities said rumors they were spreading the disease were false.

The Red Cross said 33 workers fled the area, of whom 16 were missing, presumably still hiding in the bush. Equipment was destroyed and a home belonging to a worker was set on fire, the Red Cross said.

The dead and injured were treating cholera victims and helping with prevention and education in the area, which has been hit by the waterborne disease.

In a statement, the Red Cross called on politicians, development groups, teachers and others to help prevent rumors by educating Mozambicans about how cholera is spread and how it can be prevented.

“We hereby express our deepest regret for what happened, and present our most sincere condolences to the bereaved families, as well as our solidarity to all the volunteers deployed in Quinga, particularly those who sustained injuries, hoping that they will recover soon,” the Red Cross statement added.

“These violent events do not encourage us to pursue our humanitarian work of alleviating human suffering and improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable communities.”

Cholera is spread by drinking contaminated water. It is easily treated, but can cause severe diarrhea and fatal dehydration.

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries and is still struggling to rebuild its health and sanitation system after a long civil war. Cholera is fairly common, especially during the heavy rains of this time of year.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sudan: President Orders Halt to Overseas Aid Distribution

Khartoum, 16 March (AKI) — Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir ordered on Monday international organisations to stop distributing humanitarian aid in the country within a year, saying Sudanese aid groups will take over this job.

“We have ordered the ministry of humanitarian affairs to completely Sudanise the voluntary work in Sudan within one year, and after that no international organisations will distribute relief to Sudanese citizens, said al-Bashir during a rally of Sudanese armed forces.

“They (the international organisations) can just leave their food aid at the airport and Sudanese NGOs (non-governmental organisations) can distribute the relief.”

He made the remarks as the joint United Nations-African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission to Darfur (UNAMID) welcomed the safe release on over the weekend of four aid workers who had been abducted at gunpoint on 11 March allegedly in protest over al-Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

The aid workers — three international and one Sudanese national — from the non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF)’s Belgian arm arrived by government helicopter at Sudan’s El-Fasher Airport in North Darfur.

The aid workers had been taken at gunpoint from their office in the town of Saraf Omra in North Darfur on 11 March. One other Sudanese staff member abducted at the same time had been freed earlier.

One of those released, Mauro d’Ascanio, an Italian doctor, said he was fine and that he was looking forward to speaking with his family. The other staff have been identified as Laura Archer, a Canadian nurse Raphaël Meunier, a French coordinator and Sharif Mohamadin, a Sudanese guard.

“We are very happy. This is a very good thing — we were really concerned about this,” said AU-UN Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada.

Mohammed Osman Kibir, the Wali, or governor, of North Darfur state, said he personally intervened by negotiating with the abductors over the telephone four times. He flew with a government team to pick up the four aid workers.

While the identities of the abductors have not been made clear, they did inform Kibir that their actions were in response to the decision earlier this month by the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir last week for alleged crimes committed in the region.

Immediately after the ICC announced al-Bashir’s indictment of , the government ordered the expulsion of 13 aid groups which assist nearly 5 million people in Darfur, and the UN has continued to press the Sudanese authorities to reverse the expulsions.

Al-Bashir, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the court, faces five counts of crimes against humanity, including responsibility for murder, rape and torture, and two counts of war crimes.

An estimated 300,000 people have died, either through direct combat or because of disease, malnutrition or reduced life expectancy, over the past five years in Darfur, where rebels have been fighting government forces and allied Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, since 2003.

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

Latin America

Chavez Offers Russia Use of Base

Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, says he has offered Moscow the use of an airfield off its Caribbean coast for Russian strategic long-range bombers.

But Mr Chavez denied there would be discussions on building any permanent base on the island of La Orchila.

The comments came a day after a senior Russian air force general said it was considering Venezuela’s offer of a “whole island with an aerodrome”.

Moscow has played down the general’s remarks, saying they were hypothetical.

Russia has been strengthening its ties in recent months with several Latin American countries including Venezuela..

The two countries held joint naval exercises in Venezuelan waters in November.

Speaking on Sunday evening on his weekly TV and radio programme, Alo Presidente, Mr Chavez insisted reports that he had offered the Russian military a permanent base on La Orchila were not true.

“I simply told [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev that any time Russia’s strategic aircraft need to land in Venezuela to meet their strategic aims, Venezuela will be at their service,” he said.

“We did just that not too long ago, when their strategic long-range bombers came. There is nothing new in that,” he added.

The Tu-160 is capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles that can be fitted with nuclear warheads, and has a range of 12,300km (7,642 miles) without refuelling.

On Saturday, Maj-Gen Anatoly Zhikharev, the Russian air force’s chief of staff for long-range aviation, said Mr Chavez had offered “a whole island with an aerodrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers”.

“If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible,” he told the Interfax news agency in Moscow.

Gen Zhikharev said he had visited La Orchila to examine its military airfield. The runway was being extended, he said, making it the right length for takeoff by Russia’s long-range bombers when they are heavily loaded with fuel.

Foreign bases were forbidden under Venezuelan law, “but the temporary deployment of a contingent, for example for carrying out patrols, which is what we do, is possible,” he added.

After the report was published, a Kremlin spokesman said Gen Zhikharev had merely been “speaking about technical possibilities”.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Mexico: On the Trail of the Traffickers

Illegal drugs are causing havoc across the world. Over four articles, we look at attempts to curb supply and cut demand, beginning in Mexico

IN RECENT months Mexicans have become inured to carefully choreographed spectacles of horror. Just before Christmas the severed heads of eight soldiers were found dumped in plastic bags near a shopping centre in Chilpancingo, the capital of the southern state of Guerrero. Last month another three were found in an icebox near the border city of Ciudad Juárez. Farther along the border near Tijuana police detained Santiago Meza, nicknamed El Pozolero (“the soupmaker”) who confessed to having dissolved the bodies of more than 300 people in acid over the past nine years on the orders of a local drug baron. Mr Meza, revealing a proper sense of machismo, added primly that he refused to accept the bodies of women or children.

“Organised crime is out of control,” Felipe Calderón declared on taking office as Mexico’s president in December 2006. He launched 45,000 army troops against drug-trafficking gangs. Since then, some 10,000 people have died in drug-related violence, 6,268 of them last year. Troops and police have fought pitched battles against gangsters armed with rocket-launchers, grenades, machineguns and armour-piercing sniper rifles, such as the Barrett 50. But perhaps their most effective weapon is corruption: in November Noe Ramírez, the prosecutor in charge of the organised-crime unit of the federal attorney-general’s office, was charged with taking bribes of $450,000 a month to pass information to the Sinaloa drug mob. Six other officials from the unit face similar charges…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK Action Over Turks and Caicos

Self-government in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a UK dependency, is set to be suspended after ministers were accused of incompetence and likely corruption.

The Foreign Office is threatening to suspend large parts of the Turks’ constitution and hand power over to the governor of the West Indies territory.

This follows a report which pointed to the “high probability of systemic corruption” in its administration.

Chief minister Michael Misick has faced allegations of corruption.

Mr Misick is alleged to have built up a multi-million dollar fortune since coming to power in 2003.

He has denied selling crown land for personal gain.

In a written statement to MPs, Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron said a draft order would be put to parliament in the near future seeking a suspension of parts of the islands’ constitution.

This follows an interim report by a Commission of Inquiry — led by a retired British judge — into allegations of corruption against members of the Turks’ Cabinet and Assembly.

It found “information in abundance pointing to a high probability of systematic corruption or serious dishonesty”.

It also concluded there were “clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of a general administrative incompetence”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams said if MPs approved the draft order, it would suspend the authority of the government and legislature, the House of Assembly, with powers being transferred to Governor Gordon Wetherell.

Mr Wetherell succeeded Richard Tauwhare last year.

Mr Tauwahre instigated the inquiry but was criticised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for not acting sooner to tackle what it said last year was “a climate of fear” on the islands.

In her statement, Ms Merron said ministers had “formed the view” that significant action was required.

“This would be an act of constitutional significance in order to restore the principles of good governance,” she said.

The West Indies dependency, which has a population of about 30,000, is a leading offshore financial centre.

Thousands of foreign companies are registered in the islands.

Once a dependency of Jamaica, the islands become a crown colony when Jamaica gained its independence in 1962.

Residents of the islands have British citizenship.

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]


Finland: Poll: Rural Residents and Blue-Collar Workers Most Negative Toward Immigration

Voters largely unaware of political parties’ views on immigration

Residents of rural areas appear to have the most negative views of a possible increase in the number of immigrants in Finland. According to a poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by Suomen Gallup, opponents of immigration also outnumber supporters among those in blue collar professions. Men also tend to take a more negative view of immigration than women do. The most positive attitudes toward immigration are among students, those aged under 25, high-ranking white collar employees, and residents of the Helsinki area. “They are more open, and interact more with foreigners in general”, says Juhani Pehkonen of Suomen Gallup.

In September 2007 a poll showed that 55 per cent of Finns were in favour of increased immigration. Now the figure has dropped to 45 per cent. In the same period, the proportion of those opposed to taking more immigrants rose from 39 to 44 per cent. The proportion of those who are uncertain has also grown. Examined from the point of view of political party identification, the most eager to take in more immigrants are supporters of the Green League, the Left Alliance, and the National Coalition Party. Supporters of the True Finns were the most negative.

Juhani Pehkonen attributes the more negative attitudes to sharpened public debate concerning immigration policy and foreigners. The sharpened tones have been primarily to the benefit of the True Finns, who made considerable gains in last year’s municipal elections. Another significant factor is the present economic uncertainty. “We are now living a time that is ripe for an increase in reticence”, Pehkonen says.

The poll also surveyed views on work permit consideration. Under current practice, foreigners from outside the EU, the Nordic Countries, and Switzerland do not get work permits if Finnish labour is available for the posts that they seek. The poll shows that 44 per cent would like to drop the practice and put all foreigners on the same starting line along with Finnish job applicants. The present practice is favoured by 49 per cent. Changes from two years ago in this matter are not as sharp as in questions concerning the number of immigrants.

The survey also revealed that Finns do not have a very clear idea on the views taken by Finland’s various political parties on the immigration issue. For instance, half of respondents could not say which parties have taken a “right direction” with respect to immigration issues. Standing out were the True Finns, whom one third of respondents felt were “too anti-foreigner”. In January, Helsingin Sanomat ascertained the attitudes of political parties toward immigration policy. It came out at that time that in many party policy programmes, the issue had been touched upon only briefly. Some had not dealt with it at all. None of the parties that had been long in government were satisfied with the result of integration policies.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Italy: Hundreds More Illegal Immigrants Land on Lampedusa

Palermo, 16 March (AKI) — The recent wave of illegal immigrants heading for Italy by boat continued on Monday when coastguard intercepted a boat with 257 illegal immigrants on board ten miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Many of the illegal immigrants were transferred to Porto Empedocle on the southern Sicilian coast. Meanwhile in Maltese waters, an Italian navy vessel intercepted a boat with 76 illegal immigrants on board headed for Malta’s port of Valletta.

On Sunday, coastguard rescued over 250 illegal immigrants who were transferred to Lampedusa’s expulsion centre, bringing the total number of immigrants held there to 607.

A fire there last month started by inmates protesting at the conditions inside the centre destroyed half of the accommodation wing.

Originally designed as a temporary reception and identification centre for illegal immigrants, the Lampedusa centre is designed to hold a maximum of 800 people.

Members of the European Parliament, the United Nations refugee agency and other humanitarian organisations have criticised overcrowding on Lampedusa since the Italian government decided on a policy of expelling all illegal immigrants directly from the centre.

Most of the illegal immigrants currently being held in Porto Empedocle will be transferred to other expulsion centres in the Sicilian towns of Caltanissetta and Trapani.

Hundreds of illegal immigrants have been arriving on Lampedusa each week aboard people smuggling boats that set sail from the North African coast, especially during the warmer months between March and October.

The Italian government is currently seeking repatriation agreements with the various North African countries.

But the majority of illegal migrants (63 percent) enter Italy by land or plane, according to Italy’s interior ministry.

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

Malta Blocks Italian Navy Ship

(ANSAmed) — VALLETTA, MARCH 16 — The Maltese government has not authorised the Italian navy ship ‘Minerva’ to enter the port of Valletta to offload the 76 migrants (including 13 women) to whom it came to the rescue as they drifted in a rubber dinghy 40 miles south of Lampedusa in Maltese waters. The ship’s commander invoked the laws which guarantee docking at the nearest secure port for sea-rescue operations, whilst also considering the overcrowding of the identification and deportation centre (CIE) in Lampedusa. The Italian ambassador has begun to work on the issue. At this time the ship is just off the Maltese coast, waiting for the diplomatic impasse to be resolved. This evening the Maltese parliament is expected to discuss the immigration emergency, following the visit last Friday of the EU Commissioner for Justice and Civil Liberty, Jacques Barrot.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Migrant Boats Rescued South of Lampedusa

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, MARCH 16 — The Italian navy and coastguard carried out 2 rescue operations of damaged rubber dinghies carrying migrants in the Sicilian channel yesterday evening. The Italian naval ship, Minerva, rescued an adrift rubber dinghy carrying 76 immigrants, including 13 women, two of whom are pregnant. The migrants’ boat, which was in Maltese waters, 40 miles south of the Pelagie islands, had been reported to the Italian authorities by a Tunisian motor trawler. All the immigrants were transferred onto the Minerva and taken to the port of Valletta. During the night, a boat carrying 237 non-EU citizens, amongst whom 15 women, was intercepted 10 miles south-east of Lampedusa. 79 were taken to Porto Empedocle in coastguard and financial guard patrol boats. A total of 250 immigrants in 4 boats disembarked on the Pelagie islands yesterday. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nigerian Human Traffickers Go on Trial in the Netherlands

A high-profile trial against eleven suspects of human trafficking between Nigeria and Europe got off to a false start this week.

On May 4, 2006 a Nigerian woman who goes by the name of Jenny arrives at Schiphol airport on a KLM-flight from Lagos. She is travelling with a Nigerian man who had guided her through the check-in and customs in Nigeria. At Schiphol, the man asks Jenny to wait while he gets something to eat. When he doesn’t return, Jenny panics.

That’s how she was found by a policeman who belongs to a unit specialised in human trafficking. Jenny ends up at the IND, the Dutch immigration and naturalisation service, where she is introduced to Wilma Hompe, an immigration lawyer.

It doesn’t take Hompe long to figure out that Jenny is a victim of human trafficking. She fits the profile: lured to Europe with vague promises on a paid-for trip, papers in her purse she knows nothing about and caarying a fake passport. Hompe has a pretty good idea of what is in store for Jenny.

Transit country

Jenny says she is 16. The Netherlands doesn’t allow unaccompanied minors to be sent back immediately, not even to a “safe” country like Nigeria. The Dutch authorities are required to first make sure that there is adequate reception at the other end. Meanwhile, Jenny will be placed in an open shelter for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. There a human trafficker will intercept her on her way to school or church.

“At the time, the Netherlands were being flooded with girls like Jenny,” Hompe says. “The police weren’t doing anything about it because the girls were not yet victims of human trafficking upon arrival; they were only potential victims. They had not yet been forced into prostitution. Although it was clear that the Netherlands were being used as a transit country, the police were concentrating on deportations. They had targets to meet.”

The next day a Nigeria calls Hompe’s office from a German phone number. He says he is Jenny’s cousin. How he found out that Hompe is acting as Jenny’s lawyer, he doesn’t want to say. Jenny says she doesn’t have a cousin in Europe. It is clear to Hompe that this is a human trafficker trying to locate Jenny.

Hompe puts in a call to a special police task force on human trafficking that was set up in 2005. A police investigation begins.

Public outrage

When the different police services start comparing notes, a pattern quickly emerges. Over the past few months, dozens of Nigerian women like Jenny have arrived at Schiphol airport. They all tell the same rehearsed story of how their parents were killed during fighting between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Many of them have false identity papers. Most have since disappeared from the shelters — destination unknown.

It is nothing new that Nigerian human traffickers have been using the Netherlands as their gateway to Europe. From 1996 to 1999, some four-hundred Nigerian girls have disappeared from the government shelters. Some were later found in Amsterdam’s red-light district or in sex clubs elsewhere in the Netherlands. In 1999, Dutch parliamentarian Boris Dittrich gave voice to the growing public outrage over this situation when he said that “Dutch asylum policy was facilitating the prostitution business.”

A few Nigerian human traffickers were arrested in the 90s but the business at large was unaffected. The gangs no longer put the women to work in the Netherlands but in neighbouring Belgium and later in southern Europe. When circumstances changed, they quickly adapted destinations, supply routes and methods. Nigerian women may have disappeared from the Dutch brothels, but Jenny’s arrival proved that Schiphol, with its direct flights to Nigeria, was still very much a hub for human trafficking in 2006.

In November 2006, the police start investigating a Nigerian called Solomon. His phone is tapped. His BMW 3-series is fitted with a transmitting device. Gradually, the police start getting a better idea of the organisation behind the human trafficking. A travel agency in Nigeria is in charge of getting papers for the girls, the customers are Italian brothels. The Netherlands is the transit country where a top operative takes possession of the girls and sends them on to their next destination. He has about twenty helpers, including several in Belgium and France.

The Dutch authorities are faced with a choice: either arrest the Dutch branch of the organisation, with the risk that someone else will take its place in no time, or go higher up the food chain. “We realised that if we wanted to uproot this organisation, we would have to go all the way: from the country of origin to the country of destination,” says Warner Ten Kate of the national public prosecutor’s office.

In March 2007, the Dutch police liaise with the Italian police who start their own investigation. Nigeria is a tougher nut to crack. There are no official police contacts, no extradition treaties, no direct experience with the ill-reputed Nigerian police. A local partner is found nevertheless in Naptip, a Nigerian organisation dedicated to the fight against human trafficking that reports directly to the president.

Jenny goes missing

Meanwhile, Nigerian women keep arriving in the Netherlands. Police count at least 89 potential victims in 2006 and 50 in 2007. And despite warnings about what awaits them, the women keep disappearing from the shelters. Jenny also has gone missing.

Through the phone taps, police discovered how the traffickers were putting pressure on the women. They reminded them that they had signed a contract back in Nigeria, and how higher powers had sealed that contract through rituals. Did they really think they could escape punishment? And what about their families back in Nigeria? One women panicked when she received a curse from a traditional Nigerian priest via a text message to her phone.

The Dutch authorities are faced with a dilemma. Given the opportunity, the police would have liked to plant chips under the women’s skin to track their whereabouts, or better yet, to lock them all up. But locking up asylum seekers — minors who have not committed a crime — is going too far for NIDOS, the Dutch institution entrusted with the guardianship of minor asylum seekers. The women themselves blame the police for endangering the lives of their families by keeping them from fulfilling their obligations to the traffickers. In the shelters, the women start breaking windows and attacking the staff.

At the same time, the police investigation is starting to pay off. Police witness a meeting between Solomon and a British suspect in Sheffield. The take pictures of Solomon meeting an Italian suspect in Amsterdam. They find out that Solomon gets a money transfer from Nigeria every time a women disappears from a shelter.

On October 24, 2007, police in the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany and the US raid the houses of eighteen suspects. The main suspect in Nigeria initially gets away but is later trapped with the help of Naptip. On January 15, 2008, the Italian police arrest 51 suspects.

Voodoo rituals

But the Dutch police now face another problem. Most of the suspects are in custody — seven from Nigeria, three from other African countries and one from Surinam — but none of the Nigerian women has filed a complaint. The women don’t trust the police. They fear deportation but also the religious rituals.

The authorities seek the help of a former victim of human trafficking, a Nigerian woman who now has resident status in the Netherlands and is employed as an interpreter for the government. She tells the women about her own experiences. The police also turn to a Nigerian preacher, Moses Alagbe. He tries to calm the women’s fear of spiritual vengeance. He tells them that God is mightier than any number of voodoo rituals. In the end, ten women agree to file a complaint.

Almost seventeen months after the arrests, the case finally went to trial this week. The public prosecutor’s office is calling it an historical trial and the result of groundbreaking police work.

“For the first time we have been able to tackle the entire chain from beginning to end,” says Ten Kate. He says the level of collaboration between the different European police forces is unique. “This rarely happens. Europe is a high-speed train when it comes to economics but it is a horse and cart when it comes to the justice system. And we have demonstrated that it is possible to work with the Nigerians in the fight against human trafficking. France, Norway, Italy, have already followed our lead.”

But there is no reason to assume that the investigation has dealt more than a temporary blow to the human traffickers. The airports of Geneva and Budapest are reporting suspiciously high numbers of Nigerian women arriving there. And most of the women who came through the Netherlands are still missing.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Inconsistent Rulings Frustrate Somali Asylum Seekers

The fate of Somalis seeking asylum in Sweden depends a great deal which court hears their case.

While the migration court in Gothenburg has allowed every Somali from the capital city of Mogadishu stay in Sweden, the migration courts in Stockholm and Malmö reject most asylum applications.

“It’s a threat against the rule of law,” said attorney Ove Behrens to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

“We can’t have it so that those who have their cases heard in Gothenburg get to stay, while at the same a whole gang here in Stockholm gets deported.”

He represents several Somalis who, according to court decisions, are to be deported from Sweden.

For the Somalis, it’s a question of life and death, said Behrens.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s impossible for me to return to Mogadishu. My family has fled to Kenya,” Mogadishu-native Yasin Ahmed told DN.

Following reports of the deteriorating situation in Mogadishu, the migration court in Gothenburg has reversed around a dozen decisions by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) in the last three months and instead granted the Somali asylum seekers Swedish residence permits.

During the same period, the migration court in Stockholm has decided that about 50 out of 60 people should be expelled from Sweden. And of the few cases heard by the court in Malmö, most have resulted in deportation

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: More Than Three-Quarters of Britons Want to See Jobless Immigrants Forced to Leave UK

The Government has failed to ‘get control’ of the issue of immigration, ministers admitted today. Phill Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said he was not surprised by findings of a poll which showed that nearly eight out of ten people believe all unemployed foreign migrants should be asked to leave the UK. Mr Woolas said the the British people would never be comfortable with immigration until they believe ministers have a firm grip on the nation’s borders. Mr Woolas said: ‘The poll figures are not a surprise. They are a concern, and in significant part they are because the public don’t believe that the government has got control.’ ‘The central goal of my immigration policy is to provide the assurance to the public that we know who’s here and who’s not here.’

Insisting the Government’s border controls were working, Mr Woolas added today that hundreds of refugees risking their lives in Calais to get into Britain are “locked out, not queuing to get in”.

He told GMTV the UK’s borders were tougher than that between the United States and Mexico: “We are, on the whole, stopping people getting through,” he said. “We’re counting people in and counting people out.”

The minister claimed opposition to foreign workers was ‘based on the belief that the immigrant has no legitimate right to be here,’ adding: ‘We will only get a country that is comfortable with immigration when we can show the Government has it under control.’ Mr Woolas’s admission highlights the Labour Government’s defensiveness over immigration — following years of increasingly tough rhetoric and repeated efforts to tighten controls. More than half of those surveyed in the poll for the Financial Times opposed giving other EU citizens the right to live and work in Britain — one of the cornerstone principles of the European Union. It questioned thousands of people across the UK, Europe and the United States regarding immigration and the economy. Among the British public it highlights widespread ill-feeling towards foreign workers at a time when unemployment is nearing the two million mark. In the UK a huge majority — 78 per cent — believed immigrants should be asked to leave the country if they do not have a job, with only 14 per cent disagreeing and eight per cent undecided. A similar number held the same view in Italy along with sizeable majorities in Spain, Germany and the U.S. and around half of those questioned in France. Just over half of British adults opposed the right of all EU citizens to settle and work in Britain. A narrow majority of Germans agreed, while there was slightly more support for the right of free movement and access to Labour markets among French, Italians and Spaniards. An estimated one million foreign workers flocked to the UK after eight eastern European states joined the union in 2004. Most other member states exercised a treaty right to bar eastern Europeans from their own job markets, but Britain allowed a free-for-all and the huge numbers arriving massively exceeded the Government’s expectations. Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘What this poll represents is the combination of that policy failure with the obvious pressures on the job market because of the recession.’ Phil Woolas suffered a further setback yesterday when watchdogs rejected his criticism of the Office for National Statistics over its release of immigrant population figures last month. The ONS brought forward the published of the startling figures — showing that one in nine UK residents was born overseas — because of officials judged that the material was topical and important to the immigration debate. But Phil Woolas, who faced embarrassment over the figures, unleashed a ferocious attack on the independent statisticians accusing them of straying into ‘the most inflamed debate in British politics’ and claiming the release was ‘at best naive, or, at worst, sinister.’ Today the UK Statistics Authority gave its strong backing to the ONS, concluding that the publication was ‘consistent’ with the rules and the timing was ‘influenced by the level of public interest in the topic.’ The ONS’s press release was ‘factually accurate’ and ‘neutral and impartial’ in tone, the watchdog added, whereas failing to publish the figures could have led to a misinformed debate based on flawed figures — although it said the ONS should have made a formal announcement explaining why it was bringing the publication forward, and included more supporting information.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Why Are the Gurkhas Still Waiting?

But to see her once again standing outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London to plead the case for the Gurkhas is baffling. Was this issue not resolved last year when the Gurkhas won a famous legal victory against the Government that would allow them to remain in the country for which they had fought? Apparently not.

The Home Office was told in September by Mr Justice Blake that the immigration rules it applied to the Gurkhas, allowing only those discharged from the Army after 1997 to stay, were unlawful, ambiguous and irrational. Yet nothing has happened since. The Home Office says that it needs to consult widely across Whitehall; and it is surely the case that the wheels of bureaucracy grind exceeding slow. But as Miss Lumley pointed out, many of the Gurkhas affected are growing old. Many do not have the welfare opportunities that are available to asylum seekers because they are in a sort of legal limbo. There is a suspicion that the Government is dragging this matter out in order to reverse the judgment or to save money; yet the Gurkhas are not asking for money, just for the right to stay in the country that owes them a debt of honour.

They have returned to the High Court to force the Home Office to apply the new policy forthwith. There is no obvious reason why it should not do so. It cannot take more than a Ministerial order to change the immigration rules to enact the court’s judgment. Currently, there are more than 1,300 applicants seeking the right to settle in this country and not one case had been reviewed despite a Home Office promise to the court to do so by the end of last year.

The Government, to its credit, changed the rules several years ago to let post-1997 Gurkhas settle in the UK on their retirement. As a result, over 6,000 former Gurkhas and family members have been granted settlement in the UK since 2004. Subsequently, however, the Government has managed to make a total botch of this policy by failing to understand the injustice done to the Gurkhas who left the Brigade before it was relocated to the UK from Hong Kong after the handover the China in 1997. It has tarnished this country’s reputation for fair dealing. It is clear that most British people want the Gurkhas to be allowed to stay if they wish to settle and Ministers must end these delays.

As Gladstone said: Justice delayed is justice denied. The Government must get on with it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

A Few U.S. States Buck Stem Cell Trend With Bans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Oklahoma politician Mike Reynolds believes the federal government has gone too far this time.

Days after President Barack Obama lifted limits on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research this month, the state House passed a bill introduced by the Republican representative that would make much of such work illegal in his state.

“I absolutely believe that if the federal government messes things up, states have a right to straighten it out,” Reynolds said in a telephone interview.

“I believe the federal government has infringed on several states’ rights. The right to protect lives is one.”

Other states are taking similar action to curb stem cell research. Their moves are reverse images of legislation in Maryland, New Jersey, California, New York and other states that passed their own laws encouraging and even funding stem cell research despite the restrictions under former President George W. Bush.

Reynolds said his bill will need some rewording before it passes through the Oklahoma state senate. “My motivation is to protect unborn children,” he said.

The executive order from Obama, a Democrat, erased limits set by his Republican predecessor Bush on human embryonic stem cell research. The limits meant researchers could only use federal funds to work with a few batches, or lines, of the powerful cells that existed as of August 9, 2001.

Obama has left it up to the National Institutes of Health to control what scientists can do with federal money and opponents of embryonic stem cell research fear the NIH could open up the possibilities.

While most embryonic stem cell lines are now made from unused embryos from fertility clinics, there are some fears the NIH may allow or even encourage the use of cloning technology to make embryos as a source of cells.


The trenches in this battle do not fall firmly along traditional abortion rights dividing lines. Some staunch opponents of abortion rights support human embryonic stem cell research, which supporters say could lead to insights that could provide treatments for diseases from diabetes to AIDS.

The Georgia state senate passed a bill last week outlawing the use of cloning technology to make a human embryo, and the bill specifically notes that stem cells from other sources, including stem-like cells called iPS cells, are not affected.

But the bill could put pressure on a traditional alliance of social conservatives and the business community.

A coalition ranging from academic institutions to business interests and patient advocacy groups opposes the Georgia bill, said Charles Craig, president of Georgia Bio, which promotes the state’s interest in the life sciences industry.

“Georgia should not do anything more restrictive than the federal government when it comes to scientific research,” Craig said. He fears the measure, if it becomes law, would send a “negative signal” to the rest of the world and could “brand the state as being anti-science.”

The Mississippi House passed a bill last week forbidding the University of Mississippi to use state funds for research that would destroy a human embryo.

A bill filed last week in the Texas legislature would ban the use of state funds for stem cell research.

Arizona already has a law on the books that says university researchers cannot use state funds to manipulate embryonic stem cells in pursuit of treatment or potential cures.

Another Arizona law prohibits Arizona scientists from experimenting with any type of human embryo or fetus. Similarly, Louisiana prohibits research on embryos made in vitro fertilization or IVF clinics.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Spain: Bishops Start Pro-Life Campaign Against Abortion

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 16 — Spanish bishops have presented a very critical publicity campaign against the government’s plan to reform the abortion law. According to the ads, in Spain animal species in danger of extinction enjoy greater protection than unborn children. The campaign was presented today by Episcopal Conference Secretary and spokesman José Antonio Martinez Camino, on the Right to Life Day the Catholic Church will celebrateon March 25. For the day of pro-life demonstrations, the bishops, according to Martinez Camino, are promoting the campaign with posters displayed in 37 Spanish cities. The posters show a baby next to an Iberian lynx cub, with the slogan ‘The lynx is protected while the baby asks, And me? Protect my life!’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Geert Wilders and Totalitarian Islam

By Andrew G. Bostom

During a thoughtful, revealing interview with the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby (published March 8, 2009), Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders clearly unnerved the mainstream conservative journalist with this frank characterization of Islam:

I have nothing against the people. I don’t hate Muslims. But Islam is a totalitarian ideology. It rules every aspect of life — economics, family law, whatever. It has religious symbols, it has a God, it has a book — but it’s not a religion. It can be compared with totalitarian ideologies like Communism or fascism. There is no country where Islam is dominant where you have a real democracy, a real separation between church and state. Islam is totally contrary to our values.

Wilders remained steadfast, dismissing Jacoby’s invocation of the hollow, if oft repeated trope “radical Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution.” This tired mantra—reiterated constantly for the past decade without a scintilla of supportive evidence—is defied by hard polling data from 2006/2007, and their most recent follow-up reported February 25, 2009. Overwhelming Muslim majorities i.e., better than two-thirds (see the weighted average calculated here) of a well-conducted survey of the world’s most significant, and populous Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries, want these hideous, immoderate outcomes: “strict application” of Shari’a, Islamic Law, and a global Caliphate.

Specifically, the World Public Opinion.org/ University of Maryland poll (released February 25, 2009) indicated the following about our erstwhile Muslim ally nations of Egypt and Pakistan: 81% of the Muslims of “moderate” Egypt, the largest Arab Muslim nation, desire a “strict” application of Shari’a, Islamic Law; 76% of the Pakistan’s Muslims—one of the most important, and sizable non-Arab Muslim populations—want this outcome. Furthermore, 70% of Egyptian Muslims and 69% of Pakistani Muslims desire the re-creation of a “…single Islamic state or Caliphate.” Earlier, I detailed the totalitarian impact of these fulfilled Islamic desires —based upon their doctrinal and historical application, across space and time.

The tenaciously held pieties of Mr. Jacoby and his ilk notwithstanding, Wilders’ keen, if blunt conceptions articulate contemporary realities irrefragably, while re-stating seminal insights on Islam observed by great scholars whose works antedate the present day morbid affliction of cultural relativism…

           — Hat tip: Andy Bostom[Return to headlines]

How to Stop the Drug Wars

Prohibition has failed; legalisation is the least bad solution

Illustration by Noma BarA HUNDRED years ago a group of foreign diplomats gathered in Shanghai for the first-ever international effort to ban trade in a narcotic drug. On February 26th 1909 they agreed to set up the International Opium Commission—just a few decades after Britain had fought a war with China to assert its right to peddle the stuff. Many other bans of mood-altering drugs have followed. In 1998 the UN General Assembly committed member countries to achieving a “drug-free world” and to “eliminating or significantly reducing” the production of opium, cocaine and cannabis by 2008.

That is the kind of promise politicians love to make. It assuages the sense of moral panic that has been the handmaiden of prohibition for a century. It is intended to reassure the parents of teenagers across the world. Yet it is a hugely irresponsible promise, because it cannot be fulfilled.

Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

What is Marxism?

Marxists claim that Marxism is a science. It is not. It is a sort of pagan religious cult. It is a theology. It is a form of superstition.

Marxists claim that Karl Marx understood capitalism and economics. He did not. They also claim that the entire validity of Marx’s set of theories on all subjects rests ultimately on how valid Marxist economic thought is. Marxist economic thought was completely wrong.

Marx claimed that all products contain value that is directly proportional to the amount of labor embodied within them. He was wrong. All the rest of Marxism is based entirely on this mistaken and falsifiable premise.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Kathy said...

Regarding Obama's plan to shift VA care of wounded soldiers to the private sector, I wonder how many of them voted for him. And this in the face of increased involvement in Afghanistan. I wonder how long it'll be before the Universal Selective Service Act. All those billions for banks and mortgage companies, and even millions for Hamas, but not enough money for our soldiers' health care. What a stench in the nostrils of God this president is.

laine said...

Can Obama not be hanged by his own petard of belief that government involvement is always beneficial? Can it not be pointed out that with this maneuver, he is admitting that government funded health care is doing a poor job for even this circumscribed population, so the notion of nationalizing health care makes no sense?