Friday, March 06, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/6/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 3/6/2009To a disinterested observer such as myself, the Obama administration looks particularly inept, foolish, petty, vindictive, and unprofessional. Even the adoring MSM has a hard time papering over all The One’s recent missteps. After making some spectacularly bad cabinet appointments and snubbing the prime ministers of Japan and the UK, he has now moved on to picking a fight with Rush Limbaugh.

That last one is a big mistake, because unlike the Messiah, Mr. Limbaugh can think quickly on his feet and argues off-the-cuff effectively (and without a teleprompter). Challenging the President to a debate was a smart move — it would be like a duel between Zorro and Sponge Bob Squarepants.

May the best lightworker win!

Thanks to AA, C. Cantoni, CSP, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Holger Danske, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, KGS, MZ, TB, TC, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Deception at Core of Obama Plans
Obama’s Radicalism is Killing the Dow
When ‘Change’ Overcomes a People
Why I Miss Bill Clinton. and Why the Democrats Will, Too
 
USA
Chimpanzee Victim May be Blind, Brain Damaged
Execute Rush Limbaugh for Treason?
Foreign Ties of Nominee Questioned
Imam’s Detention Unites Muslims
Islamic Honor Killings Take Center Stage
Madoff Takes First Step to Pleading Guilty
NY Woman Had Reported Abuse in North Texas Before Beheading
Obama Subverting Authority of Congress?
Report: U.S. Textbooks ‘Whitewash’ Islam
Republican Senator Says Snopes Settled ‘Eligibility’
Senate Leader Offers Plan for ‘Green’ Power Grid
The Voice of America, Silenced on Radical Islam
US: Italian Bank May Face Charges Over Illegal Iranian Payments
 
Europe and the EU
Barack Obama Must Grow as a Statesman if He is to Lead the Free World
Denmark: Record Number of Young Offenders in Adult Prisons
Denmark: Liberal Spokesman: Signal Policies
Finland: Researcher: Russian Empire Will Return, But Will Not be a Threat to Neighbours
Finland: Another Baby Boom Being Experienced in Greater Helsinki Area
Finland: Refugee Woman of the Year Wants Finns to Care for Each Other More
Greek Foreign Minister Expresses Support for Turkey’s EU Bid
Italy: Not Even in the First Republic Did Italy Experience Such Levels of Avarice, Injustice, Dereliction and Failure
Italy: Govt Probes Suspected Mafia Use of Skype
Italy: Govt OKs Public Works Funding
Italy Asks EU to Boycott UN Summit
Netherlands: Coalition Divided on Sanctions for Parents of Criminal Children
Second No Could Force Irish Exit From Union — MEP
Spain: Extremist Terror Suspect Arrested
Sweden: Moderate Party: ‘Half Our Candidates Will be Women’
Sweden: Copenhagen Police Provide Swedish Back-Up
Sweden: Davis Cup Double Fault
Sweden: Gothenburg Tram Driver’s Offensive Remarks ‘Not a Crime’
Switzerland: Minaret Ban Wins Little Support in Parliament
Tourism: Marseilles Future Cruise Ship Capital
Transportation: France, South-East High-Speed Route Debated
UK: Airlines That Break Emission Rules Could Have Planes Seized
UK: Family’s Fury at Legal Blunders That Left Husband Free to Stab Wife to Death…
UK: Gym Club Banned From Holding Classes at Girls School After Muslim Parents Complain About Boy Members
UK: Kennedy Should Not be Honoured
UK: Students Register Delight at New Face-Fit Check-in
UK: The EU is Ignoring the Will of the People
Videotape Clears Berlusconi of Sarkozy Blunder
 
Balkans
Energy: Agreement to Link Croatia-Hungary Gas Pipelines
EU-Croatia: Rehn, Worried About Membership Delay
Italy-Croatia: Berlusconi, Sanader, Excellent Relationship
The Islamic Arch in the Making
 
Mediterranean Union
EU-Morocco: Spain to Host First Summit in 2010
Fashion: Italian Leather Export Grows in Gulf and Med Area
Islam: Egyptian Imam Tantawi, Preachers Must Know Italian
Italy-Tunisia: Forum, the Italian Business in Tunisia
Sicily: Assembly President Meets Morocco’s Ambassador
 
North Africa
Auto: Land Rover Egypt Sales Up 49%
Egypt: Death Sentence for 10 Gang Rapists
Jailed Leader to be ‘Freed’ as Part of Shalit Deal
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: Israel, From ‘Valzer Con Bashir’ to Anti-Blockade Ad
Gaza: Italian Delegation Not Allowed in
Israel: Another Indictment Looms for Olmert
 
Middle East
Human Rights: Saudi Arabia, Criticism Result of Ignorance
Jordan: Islamists Protest Against Bashir ICC Arrest Warrant
Jordan: Children Victims of Violence in Schools, Says UN
Lebanon: Unifil; Graziano, Peace in South is Possible
Syria: Soldiers of Peace
 
Russia
Turkey-Russia: Pilot Customs Practice Between the Countries
 
South Asia
“Democracy is a Sin and Nothing More Than Infidelity”
India: Orissa: Violence Continues, Another Christian Killed
India Announces Tariffs on Chinese Aluminum: Trade War Fears on the Rise
Indonesia: US Keeps Grip on Bali Bombing Kingpin
Malaysia: Man Wins Fight to be Christian
Report: More Young Girls Face Rape in Afghanistan
Thailand: Anupong Denies US Secret Prison Here
 
Far East
China/EU: China Moving to Buy Up Troubled Euro Companies
Philippines: Manila May Resume Talks With Muslim Rebels
 
Australia — Pacific
300 Brawl in Darwin Shopping Centre
Australia: Fury at Lenience on Child Molester
New Zealand: Victims Caught in Cultural Silence
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa: ‘Stop Giving Aid to Africa. It’s Just Not Working’
Darfur: Interview With Jem Leader, Khalil Ibrahim
ICC Arrest Warrant for Bashir, Reactions From Arab World
Mauritania Expels Israeli Ambassador and His Staff
 
Immigration
Italy: Anti-Mafia Police Smash People Trafficking Gang
 
Culture Wars
Abortion: Spain; Panel, Sixteen-Year-Olds Free to Decide
Atheists to Fight Bus Slogan Ban
Could St. Louis Lose Its Catholic Hospitals Under New Federal Abortion Legislation?
Media Trash Breadwinning Dads
 
General
Bishops: Threats From US Christian Fundamentalists
Doctors Try to Silence Negative Reviews From Patients
Malades Sans Frontières
Vatican-Islam: Schoolbooks Must Not Offend Any Religion

Financial Crisis

Deception at Core of Obama Plans

By Charles Krauthammer

[…]

…Obama has come to redeem us with his far-seeing program of universal, heavily nationalized health care; a cap-and-trade tax on energy; and a major federalization of education with universal access to college as the goal.

Amazing. As an explanation of our current economic difficulties, this is total fantasy. As a cure for rapidly growing joblessness, a massive destruction of wealth, a deepening worldwide recession, this is perhaps the greatest non sequitur ever foisted upon the American people.

At the very center of our economic near-depression is a credit bubble, a housing collapse and a systemic failure of the entire banking system. One can come up with a host of causes: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pushed by Washington (and greed) into improvident loans, corrupted bond-ratings agencies, insufficient regulation of new and exotic debt instruments, the easy money policy of Alan Greenspan’s Fed, irresponsible bankers pushing (and then unloading in packaged loan instruments) highly dubious mortgages, greedy house-flippers, deceitful homebuyers.

The list is long. But the list of causes of the collapse of the financial system does not include the absence of universal health care, let alone of computerized medical records. Nor the absence of an industry-killing cap-and-trade carbon levy. Nor the lack of college graduates. Indeed, one could perversely make the case that, if anything, the proliferation of overeducated, Gucci-wearing, smart-ass MBAs inventing ever more sophisticated and opaque mathematical models and debt instruments helped get us into this credit catastrophe in the first place.

And yet with our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.

What’s going on? “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”

Things. Now we know what they are. The markets’ recent precipitous decline is a reaction not just to the absence of any plausible bank rescue plan, but also to the suspicion that Obama sees the continuing financial crisis as usefully creating the psychological conditions — the sense of crisis bordering on fear-itself panic — for enacting his “Big Bang” agenda to federalize and/or socialize health care, education and energy, the commanding heights of post-industrial society.

Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy — worthy and weighty as they may be — are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure. The fraudulent claim that they are both cause and cure is the rhetorical device by which an ambitious president intends to enact the most radical agenda of social transformation seen in our lifetime…

[continue at URL]

[Return to headlines]


Obama’s Radicalism is Killing the Dow

By Michael J. Boskin

It’s hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president’s policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis.

Martin KozlowskiThe illusion that Barack Obama will lead from the economic center has quickly come to an end. Instead of combining the best policies of past Democratic presidents — John Kennedy on taxes, Bill Clinton on welfare reform and a balanced budget, for instance — President Obama is returning to Jimmy Carter’s higher taxes and Mr. Clinton’s draconian defense drawdown.

Mr. Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget blueprint, by his own admission, redefines the role of government in our economy and society. The budget more than doubles the national debt held by the public, adding more to the debt than all previous presidents — from George Washington to George W. Bush — combined. It reduces defense spending to a level not sustained since the dangerous days before World War II, while increasing nondefense spending (relative to GDP) to the highest level in U.S. history. And it would raise taxes to historically high levels (again, relative to GDP). And all of this before addressing the impending explosion in Social Security and Medicare costs.

To be fair, specific parts of the president’s budget are admirable and deserve support: increased means-testing in agriculture and medical payments; permanent indexing of the alternative minimum tax and other tax reductions; recognizing the need for further financial rescue and likely losses thereon; and bringing spending into the budget that was previously in supplemental appropriations, such as funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The specific problems, however, far outweigh the positives…

           — Hat tip: MZ[Return to headlines]


When ‘Change’ Overcomes a People

The economic crisis hit. The people were longing for a leader. The markets were tanking. People were scared and wanted someone to lead them.

The previous administration had, according to the majority of the people, brought about depression and despair.

The people had to find scapegoats. Who was at fault? The rich? The noble elite? The government? Certain groups who had special business privilege?

Then, someone very few people had ever heard of came on the scene. His speeches were inspiring. His oratory was loved by most. “This is a man who can save us,” they chanted.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Why I Miss Bill Clinton. and Why the Democrats Will, Too

It’s hard to overstate the expansion Obama proposes. Leave aside the supposedly temporary spending binge that constitutes his stimulus package. Under his budget blueprint, total spending would soar by roughly 75 percent above what it was last year.

Of whom else could that be said? Do you expect to be spending 75 percent more 10 years from now? Does your employer?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

USA

Chimpanzee Victim May be Blind, Brain Damaged

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Connecticut woman mauled by a chimpanzee two weeks ago lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids and may be blind and suffering brain damage, and hospital officials say it’s still unclear if her condition can improve at all.

The Cleveland Clinic, revealing the specific injuries Wednesday for the first time, told The Associated Press in a statement that 55-year-old Charla Nash also lost the bone structure in her face when she was attacked on Feb. 16 in Stamford, Conn.

Her wounds have been stabilized, but “critical issues still remain related to a significant traumatic brain injury and injuries to her eyes that threaten her vision,” the hospital said.

Neurosurgeons and ophthalmologists are working to evaluate and manage her injuries, but “the full extent of these injuries and her potential for recovery, if any, remain unclear at this time,” the hospital said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Execute Rush Limbaugh for Treason?

That’s what Obama-loving talker suggests on CNN

Radio talker Stephanie Miller, outraged that Rush Limbaugh wants Barack Obama’s policies to fail, has called for the nation’s top talk host to be charged with treason and executed.

She made the call, not on her rather obscure radio program but on CNN’s “Larry King Live” show Tuesday.

King seemed unfazed by the suggestion, neither following it up with a challenge or a question.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Foreign Ties of Nominee Questioned

By Eli Lake

An independent inspector general will look into the foreign financial ties of Chas W. Freeman Jr., the Obama administration’s pick to serve as chairman of the group that prepares the U.S. intelligence community’s most sensitive assessments, according to three congressional aides.

The director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, last Thursday named Mr. Freeman, a veteran former diplomat, to the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council, known inside the government as the NIC. In that job, Mr. Freeman will have access to some of America’s most closely guarded secrets and be charged with overseeing the drafting of the consensus view of all 16 intelligence agencies.

His selection was praised by some who noted his articulateness and experience as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a senior envoy to China and other nations. But it sparked concerns among some members of Congress from both parties, who asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s inspector general, Edward McGuire, to investigate Mr. Freeman’s potential conflicts of interest.

Mr. Freeman has not submitted the financial disclosure forms required of all candidates for senior public positions, according to the general counsel’s office of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Nor did Mr. Blair seek the White House’s approval before he announced the appointment of Mr. Freeman, said Mr. Blair’s spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi.

“The director did not seek the White House’s approval,” Ms. Morigi said. “In addition to his formal background security investigation, we expect that the White House will undertake the typical vetting associated with senior administration assignments.”

Among the areas likely to be scrutinized in the vetting process are Mr. Freeman’s position on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC). The Chinese government and other state-owned companies own a majority stake in the concern, which has invested in Sudan and other countries sometimes at odds with the United States, including Iran.

Mr. Freeman is also president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. He also has chaired Projects International, a consulting firm that has worked with foreign companies and governments.

[…]

Topping the list of concerns will be Mr. Freeman’s links to CNOOC. He joined the board of international advisers for the Chinese concern in March 2004, one year before the company made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the American energy company Unocal. Since then, CNOOC has been a source of worry for lawmakers from both parties as well as the Treasury Department as it looks to discourage oil field investment in Iran.

The State Department looked into whether CNOOC violated the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act at the end of 2007 when the company announced a deal to help develop the North Pars gas field.

President Obama has supported sanctions against businesses investing in Iran. In August, his campaign put out a press release titled: “What McCain Won’t Tell You About Iran,” highlighting the lobbying work for CNOOC by Charlie Black, a strategist for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“CNOOC is among those companies that appears to be capitalizing on the U.S.-led effort to isolate Iran economically, particularly in the energy sector,” said Roger Robinson, the president and chief executive officer of Conflict Securities Advisory Group, a Washington-based risk management company that specializes in identifying and profiling public companies with business ties to states accused of sponsoring terrorism.

Mr. Freeman’s connection to CNOOC could oblige him to recuse himself from some matters regarding China as well as Myanmar…

[…]

Mr. Freeman’s ties with Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) also have come under scrutiny. According to the 2006 tax returns for the organization — considered a nonprofit by the Internal Revenue Service — 11 donors contributed a total of more than $2.7 million that year.

MEPC’s acting director, Jon Roth, said the organization would not disclose the names of the donors, but added, “If the government needs something, we will cooperate with them.”

In 2007, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced that he had provided a gift of $1 million to the MEPC for its endowment. Prince Alwaleed’s attempt to give New York money after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was refused by New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Buck Revell, the FBI’s associate deputy director responsible for investigations and intelligence from 1980 to 1991, said the receipt of Saudi money alone is not a reason to disqualify Mr. Freeman.

“Saudi money is everywhere. It is in the George Bush library, it is in the Clinton library, it’s everywhere. So that in and of itself is not disqualifying,” Mr. Revell said. “But how that money was used — was it used for the correct purposes, was it diverted to other entities or other organizations — that would raise issues of security. If it is going to organizations that say Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth and other stuff, that would raise issues.”

Three former NIC chairmen and one former vice chairman told The Washington Times that Mr. Freeman’s business ties to China, Saudi Arabia and other nations should be vetted before Mr. Freeman takes his post…

[rest of story at URL]

[Return to headlines]


Imam’s Detention Unites Muslims

Leenah Salem’s husband called her at work to break the bad news. He said the rumors were true. The spiritual leader of their southeast Houston mosque had been detained by immigration authorities and could face deportation.

“It was just devastating,” Salem said. “I broke down and cried.”

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, a native of Algeria, was arrested at his home shortly after leading morning prayers at the Abu Bakr Siddqui mosque Dec. 17 and has been held without bond at a detention center in north Houston ever since.

The popular imam’s detention has angered Houston-area Muslims, who are rallying to support Bouchikhi with letter-writing campaigns, petitions and Web sites.

Salem started a group dedicated to his plight on the social-networking site Facebook that boasts more than 700 members. She prays every day for his release.

“I can’t move on,” the 23-year-old receptionist said. “If you go to our mosque, it’s just dead. He added life to our community. I honestly don’t know what I will do if he can’t come back.”

Officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to comment on Bouchikhi’s case. But his attorney, Brian Bates, believes the imam is caught up in a backlash by USCIS, which recently tightened visa regulations for religious workers because past abuses allowed in many immigrants who didn’t really work for religious organizations.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


Islamic Honor Killings Take Center Stage

Women’s rights group warns of beatings, executions

A human rights organization says it’s not enough for Americans to adopt “resolutions” opposing violence when Islamic girls are stoned for being victims of gang-rapes and warns that such violence already has moved into the United States, with beatings and murders — including a recent beheading — documented.

The result is a plan for a public rally on March 8, International Women’s Day, at the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., according to the organization Responsible for Equality and Liberty.

“Every day, women are under attack by Islamic supremacism that supports and approves of oppression, mutilation, and murder of women. According to leaders and followers of Islamic supremacism, they have the right to commit violence against women. Islamic supremacism views oppression of women as a legitimate ‘right,’ violence against women as a legitimate ‘right,’ and murdering women as a legitimate ‘right,’“ the organization announced.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Madoff Takes First Step to Pleading Guilty

NEW YORK, March 6 (Reuters) — Accused swindler Bernard Madoff took the first public step to pleading guilty to criminal charges of masterminding Wall Street’s biggest fraud, according to court papers on Friday.

A document filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said U.S. prosecutors intend to file a criminal “information” in their case against Madoff “upon the defendant’s waiver of an indictment.”

A hearing was scheduled on the charges for March 12, said a clerk in the court of U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, who was assigned the case.

Typically in white collar crime cases in the United States, such an information document indicates a defendant is expected to plead guilty, sometimes to the original charge or new charges. Madoff is the only person charged in the case.

Prosecutors have until March 13 to indict once-respected Wall Street trader and investment manager Madoff or reach a plea agreement.

The document filed on Friday “speaks for itself,” said Daniel Horwitz, one of Madoff’s attorneys.

Authorities said Madoff confessed in December to running “a giant Ponzi scheme” with losses of as much as $50 billion. A Ponzi scheme is one in which early investors are paid with the money of new clients.

Banks, wealthy investors, small investors and charities all over the world said they were bilked by Madoff.

“This is the first step in order to enter a plea agreement,” said Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, and a former federal prosecutor. “Most plea agreements are done by a criminal information rather than an indictment.”

[Return to headlines]


NY Woman Had Reported Abuse in North Texas Before Beheading

The newspaper reported that Muzzammil Hassan had “coerced” his wife into the bedroom where he pushed her on the bed, sat on her chest and pinned her arms and legs.

Flower Mound police attempted to charge Muzzammil Hassan with felony assault and violating an order of protection, the newspaper reported. But police were unable to contact Assiya Hassan again, Lt. Wess Griffin said.

“I can’t think of another [domestic violence] instance where we couldn’t contact the victim or perpetrator,” Griffin told the Buffalo newspaper.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Obama Subverting Authority of Congress?

[Comments from JD: Didn’t this ‘czar’ type structure exist in the communist structure?]

‘Czar’ system raises concerns about concentrating too much power in presidency

He has ‘super aides’ for healthcare, the economy, energy and urban issues, with more to come — prompting some lawmakers and groups to worry that he may be concentrating power and bypassing Congress.

Reporting from Washington — As President Obama names more policy czars to his White House team — high-level staff members who will help oversee the administration’s top initiatives — some lawmakers and Washington interest groups are raising concerns that he may be subverting the authority of Congress and concentrating too much power in the presidency.

The idea of these “super aides,” who will work across agency lines to push the president’s agenda, is not a new one. President Nixon may have named the first “czar” with his appointment of William E. Simon to handle the 1970s energy crisis. Other presidents have followed suit.

[…]

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) became concerned enough to send a cautionary letter to Obama last week. At times, he said, past White House staffers have assumed duties that should be the responsibility of officials cleared through the Senate confirmation process. He cited President Bush’s naming of homeland security czar Tom Ridge as an example.

“They rarely testify before congressional committees and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege,” Byrd wrote of past czars and White House staffers in similar positions. At times, he said, one outcome has been to “inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability.”

“The rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the constitutional system of checks and balances,” Byrd said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Report: U.S. Textbooks ‘Whitewash’ Islam

‘Publishers are afraid of activists; they don’t want trouble’

American students are not getting a realistic picture of radical Islam, and textbook publishers are even promoting the religion in U.S. public schools, experts say.

Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, a group that reviews history books, told Fox News the texts are sugarcoating Islamic extremism.

“Key subjects like jihad, Islamic law, the status of women are whitewashed,” Sewall said.

Cindy Ross, a mother of a junior high school student in Marin County, Calif.., said she was taken aback at the portrayal of Islam in her son’s seventh grade textbook.

“I was very shocked by what I saw, looking through the book,” she said. “What did strike me was that all the other religions seemed to be lumped together, where there is an inordinate emphasis on Islam specifically.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Republican Senator Says Snopes Settled ‘Eligibility’

Arizona’s Kyl cites website that assumes Hawaiian birth

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has referred constituents raising concerns over President Obama’s eligibility to occupy the Oval Office to an online “fact” organization that relies for its answer partly on information from the Obama campaign.

[…]

The Snopes explanation to which Kyl directed constituents refers back to another website, FactCheck, which in turn cites as documentation of Obama’s Hawaiian birth a “Certification of Live Birth” that the Obama campaign posted online during 2008.

[…]

“Do you see the ridiculousness of this response? … Snopes.com (a left-wing website) is now the arbiter of who is and isn’t qualified to be president,” said the voter who received the response. The person’s identity was withheld for this report.

“I thought it was our elected representatives in Congress that were responsible for that!”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Senate Leader Offers Plan for ‘Green’ Power Grid

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate’s top Democrat is proposing special power lines to carry renewable energy—like solar and wind power—from remote places.

The Federal government would be able override states and direct where the lines would go and who would pay for them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada unveiled his proposal Thursday. It is expected to become part of a broader energy bill the Senate plans to take up in the coming weeks.

The green power lines would boost development of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects otherwise cut off from the nation’s electric grid. It’s also a proposal that Reid acknowledged in a news release would give “an enormous boost” to his own state of Nevada where companies are eyeing large solar projects.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


The Voice of America, Silenced on Radical Islam

… a leaked memo dated March 2 from Jennifer Janin, head of the Urdu service at the Voice of America. The directive can be found in its entirety at “Urdu Language Style & Guidelines #3.” Addressed to the Urdu radio, television, and web teams, as well as to the director and program manager of VOA’s South Asia Division, her diktat insists on no connection being drawn from Islam to politics. In gist:

Islamic terrorists: DO NOT USE. Instead use simply: terrorist. Islamic Fundamentalism/ Muslim Fundamentalists: AVOID. Islamist: NOT NECESSARY. Muslim Extremists: NOT NECESSARY. Extremist serves well.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


US: Italian Bank May Face Charges Over Illegal Iranian Payments

New York, 2 March (AKI) — New York prosecutors will present formal charges against one of Italy’s largest banks, Intesa Sanpaolo, which is allegedly among at least 10 major Western banks to have illegally handled funds for Iran and concealed Iranian transactions routed through the United States. The cash may have been used to buy illegal arms, investigators allege.

US investigators and their Italian counterparts from the northern city of Milan allege that Intesa Sanpaolo’s branch in New York handled international credit transfers made via banks with headquarters in Iran, and also Syria and Libya, where the companies’ names have been concealed.

The payments were made by banks and companies slapped with US sanctions, investigators allege. Intesa Sanpaolo says it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

New York district prosecutors allege that these operations violate both US federal and state laws and will press charges against Intesa Sanpaolo in May.

Milan police involved in the inquiry say they have established that embargoed Iranian, Syrian and Libyan banks asked Intesa Sanpaolo to conceal their names on international credit transfers, which were made in US dollars.

The New York branch of Britain’s Lloyds TSB in mid-January paid a 350 million dollar fine in order to continue to operate in the US after investigators found it had handled illegal credit transfers from Iran and other ‘rogue’ states.

Lloyds TSB admitted to having handled 300 million dollars from Iran and 20 million dollars from Sudan that was paid “to American banks”.

According to investigators, Tehran purchased via the British bank nuclear centrifuges for its controversial nuclear programme and 30,000 tonnes of tungsten, a chemical element that can be used to build high-tech missiles.

The investigation, which is being carried out jointly with the US justice department, is also probing other major European banks, including Barclays, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, in western and eastern Europe and elsewhere.

If investigators prove that Intesa Sanpaolo is among the 10 or more banks that are illegally handling funds for Iran, the bank may be forced to close its New York branch. Other Italian banks are also being targeted by the probe, investigators say.

Another focus of the inquiry is the role of the Rome branch of Iran’s Bank Sepah, which has been subjected to a US economic embargo since January 2007 and also subjected to United Nations sanctions and Italian sanctions.

Bank Sepah’s executive director, Hassan Ali Qanbari, told semi-official Iranian news agency Fars in December that the bank’s Rome branch had “started up again.”

The bank has denied financing illicit weapons programmes.

Because of economic sanctions and the small size of Iranian banks, the banks have long relied on big European multinational banks in their international trade and credit transfers. Many of those transfers have flowed through New York City

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

Europe and the EU

Barack Obama Must Grow as a Statesman if He is to Lead the Free World

America’s new president will learn a thing or two about decorum on the world stage when he visits the Queen, says Nile Gardiner.

One thing’s certain when President Obama arrives in London at the end of March — he’ll receive a far warmer and more cordial welcome than the one he doled out to Gordon Brown in Washington earlier this week. As the British media widely noted, the Prime Minister was given a humiliatingly low key reception at the White House at the hands of a new U.S. Administration that seems to care little for the Anglo-American alliance or even the basics of international diplomacy.

No British leader in modern times has been greeted with less decorum by his American counterpart, and the amateur reception he received was more fitting for the arrival of a Third World potentate than the leader of America’s closest ally.

Brown is hugely unpopular in Britain — with good reason — but he is still the leader of the only nation in the world that the United States can rely on in war or time of crisis, which has consistently shed blood and expended treasure in numerous conflicts alongside America. A British Prime Minister deserves to be treated with respect, even he is a lame duck at home or is barely recognizable to much of the American public.

President Bush was frequently labeled a cowboy and an isolationist by his critics, but the Bush White House knew how to receive its guests (including traveling press corps) with tremendous dignity, respect for tradition and sincere warmth towards visitors who had traveled thousands of miles to be there.

The new U.S. administration has much to learn from how Britain will roll out the red carpet with style and panache for the new president. When Obama meets with the Queen at Buckingham Palace on April 1, as well as attend an official dinner at Downing Street as a precursor to the G-20 talks and later the NATO 60th anniversary summit, the reception he will get in London will be both genuine and impeccably managed. It will involve intricate planning, with every attention paid to detail.

The president may not yet appreciate the huge importance of the Special Relationship, but when he crosses the Atlantic for the first time as president he will begin to understand the great significance it carries in the hearts and minds of the British people. It is imperative that Obama acknowledges and pays tribute to the tremendous sacrifice of Britain’s armed forces alongside American troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as two world wars, something he has never done in a major policy speech.

He must also project for the first time on the world stage a clear vision for U.S. global leadership, anchored firmly in the transatlantic alliance with Britain. At present, the U.S. administration lacks clear direction in its foreign policy. The United States seems rudderless and unwilling to lead, against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous world.

When Joe Biden outlined the U.S. administration’s foreign policy at the Munich Security Conference last month, he delivered a muddled, quintessentially European-style speech that projected naiveté and confusion. It was a weak-kneed address that could easily have been drafted in Paris or Brussels, a celebration of “soft power” at a time of growing threats to international security. His words revealed a soft underbelly to the American superpower, one that will be probed and exploited by Washington’s worst enemies.

When he visits Europe, Obama will have to show more fibre than his vice president, and significantly develop his stature as a statesman if he is to successfully project American power across the globe. He must demonstrate strong American leadership on an array of key issues, from the war in Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear crisis, to the preservation of the NATO alliance.

The president has to address with conviction the global financial crisis, the menace of a resurgent Russia, and the continuing threat posed by Islamist terrorists. Alongside the prime minister he must call on European allies to help bear the military burden of the fight against the Taliban, by sending more combat troops to the battlefields of Helmand province. He should also declare that the West will not accept the ugly spectre of a nuclear armed Tehran, and will do all in its power, including the possible use of force, to prevent it from becoming a reality.

Whether Obama is actually up to the task remains to be seen. His meeting with Brown this week was nothing short of a PR disaster, the embarrassing fledgling steps of a new president unschooled in foreign affairs. He was out of his depth and it showed. In his trip to London and Strasbourg in three weeks time, Obama has a major opportunity to show that he has the maturity, strength and conviction to lead the free world. The whole of Europe will be watching, and the young president could learn a thing of two about leadership from Sir Winston Churchill, the British hero whose bust he so crassly removed from the Oval Office.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Record Number of Young Offenders in Adult Prisons

Last year saw a fifty percent increase in young criminals being sent to adult prisons due to lack of places in young offenders institutions

National institutions for young offenders were operating at full capacity in 2008, so much so that 243 young criminals were sent to adult prisons instead — an increase of 50 percent, according to new figures from the association of Danish regions, Danske Regioner.

There are seven secure institutions around Denmark, which can hold 121 young offenders. Local authorities are obliged to ensure that criminals between the ages of 15 and 17 serve their time in secure institutions and not in adult prisons.

However, in 2008 more than 240 young criminals were turned away from the institutions due to lack of places, compared to 2007, when 164 youths were sent to adult prisons instead of to institutions.

A spokeswoman for the criminal youth office of Danske Regioner said that the majority of the young people who had been sent to adult prisons were there temporarily, while waiting to appear before a judge.

‘If the judge decided that the young person be sanctioned with the two-year structured treatment, then it would be definitely carried out at an institution,’ said the spokeswoman.

‘It is decidedly harmful to send those between the ages of 15 and 17 to prison. Our duty is to re-socialise the young people and you can’t do that in a prison,’ said the head of the Danske Regioner’s social and psychiatry committee, Bent Normann Olsen.

Olsen said it was clear that there was a lack of institution places as the numbers of young people being assigned to the institutions have steadily risen since 2001.

‘The numbers speak for themselves. Five extra places will be opened this year and there are 10 more on the way, but we need more places,’ Olsen said to DR. ‘We’re ready, we just need the go ahead from the welfare minister.’

Ole Kyed, a psychologist with the National Council for Children said sending children to prisons posed a very serious problem.

‘They are stigmatised as criminals when sitting in a prison and it helps keep them in the criminal environment. They must have their own special places,’ said Kyed.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Denmark: Liberal Spokesman: Signal Policies

The integration spokesman for the ruling Liberal party has criticised the government’s anti-gang package as ‘signal policy’

The ruling Liberal Party Spokesman on Integration Eyvind Vesselbo has warned that there are too many signal policies and too little will to ensure that integration policy actually works.

“It will have a boomerang effect if we just introduce signal legislation and are not honest about what actually functions. We will lose our authority. The electorate can see through it,” he tells Berlingske Tidende.

Vesselbo says that he is deeply worried about the government’s reaction to the current gang warfare and suggests that an unwillingness to determine what actually works could eventually cost the government its position.

On Wednesday of this week, the Conservative Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen announced the government’s answer to the ongoing gang war, doubling up sentences for gang-related crime and proposing the immediate extradition of foreigners caught with illegal weapons.

Unhealthy concensus “Nowadays everyone seems to be racing to agree with the Danish People’s Party — so if you suggest something contrary, you’re stamped as being ‘soft’ on immigration policy. We have a weak opposition that isn’t suggesting alternatives. Even the Social Democrats want to tighten legislation. An unhealthy concensus has developed which is blocking a result-seeking debate,” Vesselbo tells Berlingske Tidende.

Vesselbo says that there is need for a ghetto plan to ensure that immigrants and their families have jobs.

“It’s not too late, but we need to change our focus entirely,” he says.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Finland: Researcher: Russian Empire Will Return, But Will Not be a Threat to Neighbours

Development which worries Finns does not frighten Russia expert

Few people are as certain about Russia as Alpo Juntunen, a researcher at the Department of Strategy at the Finnish National Defence College. In his view, Russia does not pose any threat to Finland “at this moment”. Juntunen’s book, Venäjän imperiumin paluu (“The Return of the Russian Empire”), was published on Thursday. When asked if Russia poses a threat to the world and to Finland, he answered “no”.

Juntunen believes that Russia will take action only if it feels threatened. “The most efficient impediment to a new Russian empire is another modern and efficient state or powerful group of states with strong defence forces. The small neighbour of an empire should not throw itself into the lap of one of the empires. If this were to happen, we would be going from the frying pan into the fire”, Juntunen deduces. Ordinary Finns are concerned about environmental pollution from Russia, its crime rate, the economic collapse, the military threat, the gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, the repression of freedom of expression, and the murders of critics of the status quo.

Juntunen sees the prospect of economic collapse in Russia to be a great threat to Russia, but he does not think that it is a serious threat to Finland. Russia does not yet have the kind of extensive middle class whose conditions would collapse as a result of the present recession, so no riots or unrest are to be expected. The recession will not have the people falling down very far.

Russia, which yearns for its old superpower status, and which is building up its international position, sees the countries of Central Asia as part of its sphere of influence. It has drawn up treaties with those countries, which are similar to the former Finnish-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance. Juntunen says that Russia takes a positive attitude toward Finland. “There are no problems on the official level, but Russians have been nervous about talk of the return of Karelia. I have also been asked a few times what this means. I have answered by saying that Finland’s official policy line is that the borders are unchangeable.” The Baltic Sea has been and still is an historic object of interest for Russia, and this needs to be taken into consideration. “From Russia’s point of view, the Baltic Sea is of vital importance. Russia wants it to remain a channel between Russia and the West.” Juntunen notes that the gas pipeline is a German-Russian initiative, but that Russia is using energy as a means of wielding power.

Juntunen has surprised his listeners by proposing that Finland should acquire a submarine. “From the point of view of the defence of the Baltic Sea, we should have the same kinds of tools as the others.” Juntunen has also suggested that Finland should set up a military alliance with Russia, after which all of the problems seen between Finland and Russia would be eliminated. “That was a test”, he says of his suggestion. The test did not awaken much sympathy. Juntunen has also supported the common military exercises proposed by Russia.

Considering that there is a great discrepancy between talk and action in Russia, has anything changed in reality? Not much criticism is allowed there. “If someone criticises the national leadership or the armed forces, that will not be tolerated. Russia has always found ways to repress freedom of expression.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Finland: Another Baby Boom Being Experienced in Greater Helsinki Area

Five hundred more births in 2008 than in the previous year

The birth rate has been increasing year by year in the Greater Helsinki area. In 2008, the number of newborn babies at the Maternity Clinics of the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCS) was approximately 2,000 higher than ten years ago. The same pace is expected to continue in the current year as well, while Helsinki’s Women’s Clinic and the Kätilöopisto Maternity Hospital both urgently require more labour and delivery rooms.

Increasingly often the HUCS hospitals have been forced to send women in labour to other hospitals, for example to Espoo’s Jorvi Hospital, which appears to have enough space for the time being. Previously, a similar boom was experienced in the Greater Helsinki area in the 1960s.

However, the average birth rate for the entire country has not increased significantly. According to Statistics Finland, no nationwide baby boom has been recorded since the post-World War II phenomenon, which in the Finnish experience is taken to cover the years from 1945 to 1950. In each of those years there were more than 95,000 live births recorded in the country: the latest figure (for 2007) is just over 58,700.

The current growth in the number of births in the capital region is attributable to the area’s net immigration and migration gains, Statistics Finland reports. In fact, the total fertility rate considering the age group distribution and the total number of population indicates that the birth rate in the region has been clearly lower than the corresponding figure for the entire country over the period from 1987 to 2008.

In 2008, the number of births at the Women’s Clinic alone was 400 babies higher than in the previous year, and the aggregate local figure was 500 higher. One of the reasons for the growth in popularity was a new family unit opened at the clinic in the spring of 2007. The unit has 20 rooms for one mother at a time. Previously, the hospital had very few rooms in which parents could learn how to live together with their newborn baby. Today, particularly women having their first child are likely to choose a family room.

At the Women’s Clinic, all women in labour are placed in the family unit if there is space. As a result of the increasing birth rate, the HUCS is being forced to increase the number of delivery rooms, which could be a strain on the staff, as the size of personnel is smaller than the obligations presently require.

In mid-February 2009, the total population of Finland stood at 5,327,748. The increase on the figure from 12 months previously was around 25,000 (5,302,375). Much of this comes from net migration into the country, which accounted for around 14,500 of the growth in 2008.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Finland: Refugee Woman of the Year Wants Finns to Care for Each Other More

Kosovo Albanian Fatbardhe Hetemaj instinctively helps others

After living in Finland for nearly 17 years, 23-year-old Kosovo Albanian Fatbardhe Hetemaj has been named Refugee Woman of the Year by the Finnish Refugee Council. Hetemaj has been seen as a person who does not simply complain about how many Finns treat refugees in everyday situations. When a group of Finnish boys were harassing a fearful lone Somali boy on a bus, Hetemaj immediately went to the driver and asked for help. The driver stopped the bus and cleared up the situation. Even at school, Hetemaj would defend refugee children if they were mistreated.

Hetemaj now lives in the Tapanila district of Helsinki. She came to Finland with her parents and siblings in 1992. Thanks to her blonde hair, she was not singled out for harassment because of her appearance. However, she has noticed that a refugee who speaks fluent Finnish is often in a strong position when looking for work all the way until the name is mentioned. After that, there is no job on offer, or any interest in the applicant.

Hetemaj has worked as a cleaner and as a sales clerk. Later she studied business in Britain. She is now taking a year off from studies, and plans to continue them in the autumn. She is currently working at a large European IT service company.

Hetemaj praises former President Martti Ahtisaari for clearing up the situation in Kosovo. However, she does not want to move back to Kosovo, although she imagines that she “could work there for a couple of years. My parents would move back if they could get their children to come with them. That is not a very realistic dream, as my brothers Perparim and Mehmet are playing football in Greece, and my sister is also not interested”. Perparim Hetemaj represents AEK Athens, and Mehmet Hetemaj is playing for Panionios. Both made their début on Finland’s national football team a month ago, playing against Japan. “We refugees need to be more active both with respect to education and work. We are part of Finnish society, but we constantly run into racism at work and elsewhere. Her whole family are “real Finland fans”. “When we travel in other countries we always have Fazer chocolate in our pockets.”

As much as Fatbardhe Hetemaj likes Finland and the Finns, there is one glaring cultural difference that she does not understand. “This is somehow such an extremely individualist society. It seems that the Finns lack love of their neighbour, or are they just shy? But when someone is in trouble here, people just turn away and keep going.” Hetemaj thinks that people in Finland should be more caring.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Greek Foreign Minister Expresses Support for Turkey’s EU Bid

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 24 — Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership was of “key importance”, Greece’s Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni said on Monday as daily Hurriyet reports. Speaking at a conference at Brookings Institute, a U.S. public policy organization based in Washington D.C., Bakoyianni expressed her country’s full support for Turkey’s EU bid. Bakoyianni said Turkey had to fulfill its promises and responsibilities on the road to the EU, stating that Turkey had taken significant steps in reforms, however, there was still much to accomplish. During her speech, Bakoyianni also said that Turkey’s EU membership would be beneficial for both Europe and the country itself. Commenting on the Cyprus issue as well, Bakoyianni said that it was of great importance to reunify the island in a way that would enable the two communities to live together. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Not Even in the First Republic Did Italy Experience Such Levels of Avarice, Injustice, Dereliction and Failure

London Review of Books 26.02.2009 (UK)

Not even in the First Republic, writes Marxist historian Perry Anderson, did Italy experience such levels of avarice, injustice, dereliction and failure. But, as Anderson is quick to emphasise, Berlusconi is not to blame. The problem stems from the greed of political classes: “The Quirinale, where the president of the Republic — currently Giorgio Napolitano, until yesterday a prominent Communist, as impervious as his predecessors — resides, puts at his disposal more than 900 servitors of one kind or another, at the last count. Cost of the presidential establishment, which has tripled since 1986? Twice that of the Elysee, four times that of Buckingham Palace, eight times that of the German president. Takings of its inmates? In 1993 Gaetano Gifuni, the Father Joseph of the palace, at the centre of then President Scalfaro’s operations to protect himself from justice, received 557,000 euros at current values for his services — well above the salary of an American president. Transport? In 2007, Italy had no fewer than 574,215 auto blu — official limousines — for a governing class of 180,000 elected representatives; France has 65,000. Security? Berlusconi set an example: 81 bodyguards, at public expense. By some reckonings, expenditure on political representation in Italy, all found, is equivalent to that of France, Germany, Britain and Spain combined. Beneath this crust of privilege, one in four Italians lives in poverty.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Govt Probes Suspected Mafia Use of Skype

Rome, 18 Feb. (AKI) — Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni (photo) has formed a team of security officials to tackle the mafia and other criminal groups’ growing use of Internet telephony including computer programmes such as Skype to avoid police wiretaps.

The ‘taskforce’ of police and computer experts will seek technical and legal means of intercepting suspected criminals’ conversations via Skype and other VoIP technologies and making these admissible in Italy’s courts of law.

Italian tax police reported earlier this week they had tapped a phone conversation between suspected cocaine traffickers in which one said to another: “We’ll talk about those two kilos on Skype.”

A top-secret algorithm invented by Skype’s programmers encrypts speakers’ voices as they are carried over the Internet. No electronic trace of Skype conversations remains.

The software creates a new temporary password for each conversation, meaning Skype conversations are currently impossible to intercept.

Italian authorities make extensive use of phone intercepts in counter-terrorism as well as mafia investigations, political corruption and soccer match-fixing probes.

Conservative Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government is eyeing legislation that would restrict the use of wiretaps to the mafia and terrorism.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy: Govt OKs Public Works Funding

17. 8- billion- euro package includes cash for Messina bridge

(ANSA) — Rome, March 6 — The government on Friday gave its green light to funding for a major public works program valued at 17.8 billion euros.

The package was approved by the cabinet after it received a go-ahead from the interministerial economic committee Cipe earlier in the day.

Funding for the program is a mix of public and private resources, with infrastructure projects in southern Italy, including the Messina bridge linking Sicily to the mainland, receiving some 49% of the public cash.

The program had originally amounted to 16.6 billion euros, 8.51 billion euros in state funds and 8.09 billion euros from the private sector, but the government then added another 1.2 billion euros of public money to help fund school and prison construction projects.

Most of the additional funding, one billion euros, will be used to build and restructure schools, while the rest will go to help ease overcrowding in Italian prisons The Messina bridge, which once built would be the longest suspension bridge in the world, received 1.3 billion euros in funding from the government as a contribution to its estimated cost of some 6.1 billion euros.

Just over 1.5 billion euros has been earmarked for urban transport, including projects linked to Milan 2015 World’s Fair, Rome’s third metro line and new metro systems in the southern cities of Palermo and Catania.

Cash was also allocated to complete a long-delayed motorway expansion between Salerno and Reggio Calabria.

Included in the public works funding is 800 million euros to complete a controversial system of moveable flood barriers being installed in the Venice lagoon called MOSE, an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (experimental electro mechanic module).

While center-right government parties have praised the public works program and said it will give a jolt to the nation’s economy, it has received a mixed reaction elsewhere with consumer group Codacons calling the one billion euros earmarked for school building projects as ‘‘just a drop in the bucket’’.

The Democratic Party (PD), the biggest opposition force, criticised the Messina bridge project, saying it was not a priority for the nation and should have taken a back seat in the current credit crunch.

The bridge has been a pet project of Premier Silvio Berlusconi both in his previous 2001-2006 administration and the current one.

The Italy of Values (IdV) party of former Clean Hands prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro accused the government of ‘‘once again pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The 17.8 billion euros in reality do not exist and what we are seeing is a reshuffling of funding already approved by the previous center-left government and the shifting of funds from projects like the high-speed rail link to the Messina bridge’’.

Maurizio Gasparri, the Senate whip for the government People of Freedom Party (PdL) responded to the criticism by stating that the public works program was ‘‘in line with the actions the government has already adopted to deal with the current crisis’’.

‘‘Open work sites, create jobs, modernise infrastructures: this is what the center-right government intends to do, without demagoguery and far away from the empty slogans of the opposition’’.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy Asks EU to Boycott UN Summit

‘Major doubts’ over racism conference, Frattini says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 6 — Other European Union countries should follow Italy in boycotting an upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Friday.

Italy was the first EU country to follow Israel, Canada and the United States by withdrawing Thursday from the Durban Review Conference, a follow-up to the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Critics say both the original 2001 conference in Durban and preparatory meetings for the 2009 meeting undermined UN principles because of open anti-Israel sentiment, and other countries are also considering a boycott.

‘‘I have spoken personally with the Netherlands, France and Denmark: everyone has major doubts and I hope they will follow our example,’’ Frattini said.

The minister reiterated calls for organisers to remove ‘‘clearly antisemitic expressions and phrases breeding intolerance’’ from a draft declaration for the conference, which is due to take place in Geneva on April 20-24.

Frattini said Thursday that Italy considered the phrases in the document ‘‘totally unacceptable’’. On Friday the spokesman for the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, Rupert Colville, appealed for states to ‘‘put aside political divisions and narrow interests’ and participate in the conference.

He said that while Italy and the United States ‘‘were disturbed’’ by some aspects of the draft document, both countries seemed ready to return to the table if satisfactory changes are made in the text.

‘‘There are more than six weeks before the conference and there’s still time for the countries to create a text that is acceptable for everyone,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s clear that the countries must make a real effort to arrive at a conclusion that can help the millions of individuals in the world who suffer from racism, xenophobia and intolerance,’’ he added.

Both the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the European Jewish Congress renewed calls for countries to boycott the conference earlier this week. WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a statement that the conference ‘‘was not about combating racism, but about promoting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda within the framework of the United Nations’’. He said that ‘‘no good’’ could result from a conference where countries ‘‘such as Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Syria are dictating the agenda’’, claiming they were ‘‘attempting to protect their extremist ideologies under the disguise of banning the ‘defamation of religion’ while at the same time refusing to condemn Holocaust denial’’.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Netherlands: Coalition Divided on Sanctions for Parents of Criminal Children

THE HAGUE, 06/03/09 — The three coalition parties are divided on the introduction of financial sanctions for parents of criminal children who refuse to put their children on the right path.

The cabinet wants the option of suspending child allowances, which all parents receive monthly, for parents of criminal children aged below 12. The sanction should be imposed when they refuse to follow the advice of social workers assigned by judges to guide the family.

In the Lower House, however, serious objections exist within Labour (PvdA) and small Christian party ChristenUnie to interfering with children’s allowances. Their Christian democratic (CDA) coalition partner is in fact behind the proposed measure. The opposition is also divided.

Currently, children’s allowances can already be temporarily transferred to a guardian instead of the parents, but this measure is seldom applied. In fact, the cabinet itself does not yet have a concrete bill ready; it will first have the possibility of suspending children’s allowance further investigated.

The plan is part of the tackling of children aged below 12 who cause ‘nuisance’ on the street. The police must first advise the parents of their responsibility. If the child subsequently remains criminal, the Youth Care Bureau is retained. If the parents then again refuse its help, the child can be put under the supervision of social workers via the courts. Only if the parents also frustrate this would the children’s allowance suspension come into the picture.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Second No Could Force Irish Exit From Union — MEP

[Note from i o’p: According to the most recent M.R.B.I. polls only 13% of Irish citizens are in favour of seceding from the E.U. — islam o’ phobe]

THE LIBERAL group in the European Parliament has pledged to help Fianna Fáil fund a major campaign in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum this autumn.

But its leader, British MEP Graham Watson, has warned that a second No vote could force Ireland to withdraw from the union,prompting a flight of capital from the State.

“It is very difficult to see any country being able to stay in if they have had two Nos from the people,” said Mr Watson, who welcomed last week’s decision by Fianna Fáil to join the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) before the European elections in June.

“It would be very difficult to get large companies to invest in a country that looked as if it might be leaving the EU. I think it would have a social impact as well and, of course, it would call into question the future of the EU agency that is based in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Watson, who is campaigning to become the next president of the European Parliament, said ELDR and the Liberal group in the parliament would contribute money to the second Lisbon referendum campaign if Fianna Fáil asked for financial help.

“It would be our great pleasure to support Fianna Fáil if they wanted us to, either in the referendum campaign in the autumn or any other campaign . . . There is no doubt we could offer, being a much bigger group, a much broader base of support to Fianna Fáil than the UEN group,” said Mr Watson, who added this would not amount to millions of euro.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced to the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis last Friday that the party would apply to join the ELDR, a move that will see it end its 10-year relationship with the UEN group in the European Parliament.

The ELDR bureau is expected to discuss Fianna Fáil’s application at its meeting next week. It is likely to invite Mr Cowen to attend a meeting of Liberal prime ministers before the upcoming EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on March 19th as an observer. Formal acceptance of the party’s application is not expected until April.

The Liberals are the third-biggest group in the European Parliament, with 100 MEPs, while there are four Liberal EU prime ministers and seven commissioners.

By joining the Liberals, Fianna Fáil will be able to have a significant influence on top EU appointments, such as the next president of the European Commission or the next EU foreign affairs chief.

The Liberals will benefit by boosting the number of MEPs in its group and building its own representation in Ireland by adding a government party to its party membership.

The defection of Fianna Fáil from the UEN is likely to spell the end for the group, which will also lose MEPs from the Italian Alleanza Nazionale. It also means that Fianna Fáil MEP Brian Crowley will have to step down as co-president of the UEN, a position that entitled him to sit at the conference of presidents in the parliament.

Mr Watson hinted that Mr Crowley — who had previously opposed a plan by Fianna Fáil to join the Liberals after the last elections in 2004 — would get a good job in the Liberals.. “He is someone that commands huge respect and that will be recognised,” he said.

Some Fianna Fáil MEPs have, in the past, expressed concern about support by prominent Liberals for abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage. But Mr Watson said this should not cause a problem because such social issues were a matter for member states and the group did not support legislating at EU level on these issues.

“It is true the majority of liberal parties are in favour of civil partnerships and the partners in those having the same rights as married couples. It is also true that most of the liberal parties are in favour of abortion, but it is not true for all our parties. I could mention the Finnish Centre party and I could also mention our Italian colleagues — they don’t share the view of the Liberals on these issues. So Fianna Fáil would not be alone in its differences.”

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


Spain: Extremist Terror Suspect Arrested

MADRID: Spanish police have arrested a Moroccan man wanted on suspicion of belonging to an Islamic terror group that had allegedly prepared attacks on government and tourism targets in the North African kingdom, the Interior Ministry said Thursday.

The 21-year-old arrested Tuesday is accused of belonging to a cell that was broken up in Morocco in September, the ministry said in a statement that did not give his name.

Moroccan authorities say the suspect allegedly proposed that the cell also commit attacks in Spain, the ministry said. Spanish police arrested him on international warrant that Morocco issued last month.

The suspect is accused of links with a group called Fath al-Andalus. After it was broken up with the arrest of 15 people late last summer, the official Moroccan news agency MAP quoted police as saying the cell had “operational links with foreign extremists belonging to al-Qaida.”

Fath al-Andalus translates as “Combat for Islamic Spain” and appears to refer to Muslim rule of much of Spain in medieval times. Several al-Qaida messages have said re-conquering Spain was among the goals of the Jihad, or holy war, and train bombings in Madrid killed 191 people in 2004.

Morocco is a moderate Muslim nation and popular tourist destination that is a strong ally of the United States in its war against terrorism.

The North African country of 33 million has also seen a rise of political and radical Islam in recent years. Suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003 killed 45 people and hundreds of suspected Islamic militants are behind bars, either awaiting trial or sentenced on terrorism charges.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Moderate Party: ‘Half Our Candidates Will be Women’

Sweden’s Moderate Party says it wants half of the party’s candidates for the 2010 elections to be women.

In addition, at least 20 percent of the candidates will be new to politics, having never held elected office of any sort, writes the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

The decision to shake things up in the Moderate Party was taken in the most recent meeting of the party’s governing board.

“We will actively work to crush the glass ceiling and open up the party for people with different backgrounds and achieve a better gender balance,” Moderate party secretary Per Schlingmann told SvD.

The governing board’s decision on the new guidelines is expected to spark debate throughout the centre-right about the issue of gender quotas, Schlingmann believes.

“It’s a term which has been very emotionally charged, but it’s basically about our plans to work actively to achieve a more equal gender balance,” he said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Copenhagen Police Provide Swedish Back-Up

Police from Copenhagen will travel to Malmø to help Swedish colleagues during an anti-Israeli protest this weekend

Copenhagen Police are helping their Swedish colleagues across the Øresund to control the demonstrations against a David Cup tennis match between Sweden and Israel this weekend.

Politiken newspaper reports that Malmø police have borrowed 12 police vans and a truck, while Copenhagen Police spokesman Flemming Steen Munch told Berlingske Tidende newspaper that they anticipate some Danish activists getting involved in the protests.

‘We are sending some trouble spotters over to help the Swedish police,’ said Munch, but would not elaborate on how many officers would travel to Malmø this weekend. Local politicians decided to close the tennis matches to the public over security concerns and both left and right wing extremists have announced their intention to disrupt the match on Saturday.

Swedish media reports that up to 12,000 people are expected to take part in the ‘Stop the Match’ demonstration, which is in response to the recent Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Davis Cup Double Fault

Israel-Sweden Fan Lockout Stirs Controversy

Tennis players and fans are outraged by a Swedish mayor’s decision to keep fans away from a Davis Cup match pitting Sweden against Israel this weekend. He says he is worried about security. His comments, though, suggest his decision had more to do with politics.

Imagine putting on a professional tennis match at the highest level — and then preventing tennis fans from watching. That somewhat odd scenario will become reality this weekend as Sweden takes on Israel in a Davis Cup match in Malmo. The mayor of the southern Swedish city, Ilmar Reepalu, says he is worried about security.

Lately, though, Reepalu’s list of worries has gotten longer. His decision has generated a fair amount of controversy in both Sweden and abroad. Furthermore, suspicion has grown that security may not have been the only reason behind Reepalu’s decision — and that the Davis Cup match represents just the latest in a series of events in which Israeli athletes have been discriminated against.

In late January, the mayor of the city of 280,000 told the local newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet that “my personal opinion is that one should not play a match against Israel at all in this situation.” He continued, “the issue is one of crimes against human rights. There is so much weighing against (Israel).”

Reepalu also cited his city’s large population of residents with Middle Eastern descent, saying “I understand they are uncomfortable about this and want to demonstrate. This is not a match against just anybody. It’s a match against the state of Israel.”

Police estimate that up to 10,000 protesters — from such disparate groups as far-left activists and neo-Nazis — will gather outside the city’s 4,000-seat Baltic Hall as the first-round Davis Cup matches are played inside from Friday to Sunday.

Organizers have pledged that the protests, ostensibly aimed at Israel’s recent three-week offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, will be peaceful. Still, local authorities plan to deploy up to 1,000 officers to keep the peace. Officials have also borrowed 12 police buses and a van from Danish police — their reinforced windows can withstand the force of large stones.

Strong Words of Criticism, But Little Action

The Malmo mayor’s decision has drawn criticism from the International Tennis Federation, which presides over the Davis Cup. In a statement last week, ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said that he believed that planned security measures were sufficient. “Therefore we do not agree with the decision by the Malmo authorities to exclude the public,” Ricci Bitti said.

Swedish tennis authorities likewise voiced their displeasure. As have athletes from both countries. “Politics won over sports,” Israeli player Andy Ram lamented. “That’s sad. You don’t see that very often in tennis.” Thomas Johansson, Sweden’s top player, agreed. “What happened in Gaza was horrible,” Johansson said. “But you have to separate between sports and politics.”

Reepalu, though, has remained immune to the criticism, and has likewise shunned efforts to get the event moved to Stockholm. In response, ITF president Ricci Bitti has said that “the city of Malmo will not be welcome to organize such an event again.” Ram, though, says that tennis authorities have not pressed the issue hard enough. “They say it’s bad but they don’t do anything,” Ram told the Associated Press Thursday. “They have to act.”

Not A Solitary Event

The Malmo controversy isn’t the first incident surrounding the Israeli tennis team. In mid-February, the United Arab Emirates denied Israeli player Shahar Peer a visa to participate in the Dubai Tennis Championships. When the men were scheduled to play a week later, the organizers flip-flopped after US player Andy Roddick, the tournament’s defending champion, withdrew in protest. Ram, whose visa had also been held up, was allowed to play.

Still, it is hardly the kind of incident one expects to see in Sweden. And Ram, for his part, is worried that it may not end up being the last. Talking to reporters after Tuesday practice, Ram said “I think (the Malmo mayor’s decision) maybe can open the door for other countries to make a stupid decision like this one.”

There is, though, at least one recent incident that may lend credence to Reepalu’s security concerns. In January, an Israeli basketball team was run off the court in Ankara, Turkey after fans began yelling “death to the Jews” and bombarding players with bottles. The team holed up in the locker room for two hours before heading back to their hotel under heavy police escort.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Gothenburg Tram Driver’s Offensive Remarks ‘Not a Crime’

The Gothenburg District Court has ruled that a racially and sexually charged insult hurled by a tram driver at a boarding passenger does not constitute a crime.

The incident took place one evening in September 2008 when a 20-year-old black woman stepped aboard and asked the 50-year-old driver where the tram was headed, reports the Göteborgs-Posten newspaper.

The two then entered into a hostile exchange of words during which the driver called the woman “din jävla negerfitta”.

The slur prompted the woman to report the driver and he was eventually charged with agitation against an ethnic group for the remark.

The term combines the Swedish term for “nigger” with a highly offensive term referring to the female reproductive organ. The rough English translation of “Jävla” is “damn” or “

ing”.

In its ruling, the court agreed that the insult, which the driver admitted saying when questioned by police, was certainly “inappropriate” and “reprehensible”.

However, as so few people heard the offensive remark, the court found that the driver was not guilty of committing agitation against an ethnic minority, which has a prerequisite that the offensive remarks also be spread.

Because no more than two people other than the woman heard what the driver said, the court therefore ruled the driver should be acquitted of the charges.


           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Davis Cup, Israel-Sweden Readiness

Swedish police have had to borrow vehicles from Denmark as they prepare for a controversial Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden in Malmö.

Swedish police have been sticking their own livery on Danish police vehicles in recent days as they prepare for a Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden that is to be played behind closed doors and without spectators for fear of demonstrations.

Malmö police has borrowed some 12 police buses and a lorry from Danish police as part of their preparedness arrangements for the match in the Baltiske Hal in Malmö. The vehicles have reinforced glass that can withstand flagstones.

A large number of anti-Israeli demonstrations — from leftist groups to a neo-Nazi group — are expected, with some 10,000 people expected to demonstrate against the match.

Demonstrators are complaining about the match due to Israel’s recent incursion in Gaza. A ‘Stop the Match’ campaign’ has been under way in Sweden since the incursion.

Demonstrators have already suggested that they will attempt to blockade entrances to the Baltiska Hallen in order to postpone the match.

The Sydsvenskan newspaper reports this morning that a police helicopter has already begun circling the area as a small group of demonstrators have taken up position near the hall.

Asked whether she expected trouble in connection with the match, Anna Eriksson of the International Solidarity Movement told Sydsvenskan: “Ask them,” as she pointed to the police.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Davis Cup Protests Underway in Malmö

Around 20 demonstrators braved the chilly morning temperatures in Malmö on Friday to protest against Sweden’s Davis Cup tennis match with Israel.

If enough protesters show up, they’ll do their best to try to postpone the day’s match, said one of them to the TT news agency.

The demonstrators are with the International Solidarity Movement, an international protest movement against Israel’s policies.

In the parking lot of the nearby Coop grocery store, opposite the stadium area, some of the protesters played tennis with plastic rackets, while others held up the Palestinian flag and pro-Palestinian banners.

The morning’s demonstration should be seen as the start of a series of protest actions, according to demonstrator Oscar Schön.

“If there are enough of us, we’ll try to block the entrance to the stadium area and, for example, try to make sure the match is postponed. But we aren’t going to use any violence,” he told TT.

Police helicopters are circling above the area and nearby there is a large police presence, as well as many journalists and photographers.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Switzerland: Minaret Ban Wins Little Support in Parliament

The House of Representatives has come out against a proposal by rightwing political parties to ban minarets. A majority also rejected calls by the centre-left to declare the people’s initiative invalid. The other parliamentary chamber, the Senate, still has to discuss the issue.

The initiative, launched by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and a small ultra-conservative Christian party, was handed in with 113,540 valid votes last year. It will be put to a nationwide vote at a later date.

Muslim organisations have expressed their concern about the initiative, which has been rejected by the cabinet.

More than 50 parliamentarians took part in Wednesday’s debate which lasted for nearly six-hours. In the end, the House voted 129 against 50 to rebuff the initiative.

An overwhelming majority said the proposal violated human rights and international law and jeopardised the peaceful coexistence of religions.

“The initiative takes aim at the Muslim community,” warned Bea Heim of the centre-left Social Democratic Party. Other speakers described the plan as irresponsible, “an insult for Muslims”, scaremongering or “a campaign to instigate hatred”.

“I’m not willing to provide fuel for arsonists,” said Ueli Leuenberger of the Green Party, when he took the podium to explain his position.

Social Democrat Andreas Gross criticised the government for failing to nullify the initiative at an early stage. He called on parliament to “act bravely and to put respect for religious freedom over political opportunism”.

But his appeal was barely heeded by members outside the centre-left.

Fears For their part, People’s Party parliamentarians argued the initiative was the right answer to counter an alleged “Islamisation” of the western world. Minarets were described as claims to political dominance rather than religious symbols.

“It’s time to counter the pretension to power,” said Jasmin Hutter, who also slammed Islam as intolerant and repressive towards women.

“Minarets, muezzins [people at the mosque who lead the call to prayer] and Sharia law have to be seen in the same context,” added Walter Wobmann.

Numerous rightwing parliamentarians slammed Islamic values as incompatible with the Christian ideals and Switzerland’s democratic principles.

They also warned that Muslim extremists would use mosques for criminal activities.

During a heated debate Ulrich Schlüer accused opponents of trying to ignore the concerns of all those citizens who signed the people’s initiative.

Dialogue Representatives of the centre-right Christian Democratic Party called for more dialogue between the religions.

“I dread the forthcoming campaign by the People’s Party,” said Kathy Riklin.

Jacques Neirynck was among several speakers who expressed their feelings of disgust and shame over demands for a minaret ban and Wednesday’s parliamentary debate.

“The initiative is dangerous, populist and damages Switzerland’s reputation. I wish it was not on the table,” he said.

But several speakers also pointed out that the initiative had to be taken seriously because it reflected serious concerns of citizens.

It was launched in the wake of debates at a local level in parts of German-speaking Switzerland over the planned construction of minarets. At present only four mosques in the county have such spires.

Credibility Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf repeated the government’s rejection of the initiative.

“Switzerland would be in violation of international obligations and its credibility would be seriously dented,” she told the House.

However, she said the initiative did not violate international law.

Widmer-Schlumpf added that a minaret ban would endanger the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims.

“Minarets are religious symbols. A ban is an infringement of religious freedom,” she said.

She said the debate had shown that some supporters of a minaret ban were prepared to use unfair and dishonest arguments.

The initiative seeks a ban on minarets, according to supporters of the initiative, but it appeared that many speakers raised general objections against Islam, Widmer-Schlumpf said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Tourism: Marseilles Future Cruise Ship Capital

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 18 — By 2011 the port of Marseilles could reach more than one million cruise ships per year, double the current number, thanks to an enormous maritime station whose construction has finally been given the go-ahead by the European Commission after months of waiting. In April 2008 the Grand Maritime port of Marseilles decided to grant management of the space and the construction of the new terminal to a group made up by Costa Crociere, MSC Crociere and Louis Cruises. The new terminal will be built at the Leon Gourret dock and will cost 12 million euros, eight provided by the companies and four by the port authorities. The project, which aims to develop Marseilles as a destination for the major cruise companies, will involve the extension of dock 181 to allow boats over 300 metres long to moor. Two walkways and a new parking area are to be built, and the reception areas of the cruise companies will be renovated. The station will include boutiques, cafes, tourist offices and currency exchange counters. The consortium made up of the three companies, known as Marseille Provence Cruise Terminal Sas, is committed to guaranteeing 450 cruise ships and one million passengers in 2010. MSC Crociere has already announced that in March it will dock its flagship cruiseliner the MSC Fantasia, which was delivered to the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Transportation: France, South-East High-Speed Route Debated

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 12 — The French government has reportedly opted for the “north route” for the future south-east high-speed train (HST) line linking Paris to Nice, bypassing Marseille and Toulon. This is what the President of the General Council of the Maritime Alps, Eric Ciotti, belonging to the ruling majority, said, stirring up a hornets’ nest of controversy and protests. The official announcement was scheduled to be made by the Minister of Ecology and Development, Jean Louisd Borloo, Ciotti said. He explained that the north route which moves through the HST station of Arbois (Aix-en-Provence) and arrives at Nice crossing through the the middle of the Var region, was chosen over the south “route of the metropolises” linking Nice to Paris via Marseilles and Toulon, mainly for economic reasons: to skip the big cities means to save three billion euro (8.5 billion for the north route versus 11.5 billion for the south route). The report triggered a negative response by the Bouches-du-Rhone authorities favoring the south route and by the authorities of the towns on the north route, which, the deputy mayor of Aix-en-Provence, Maryse Joissains-Masini, said, will cause serious and useless inconvenience to inland inhabitants of the Var and Nice. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


UK: Airlines That Break Emission Rules Could Have Planes Seized

The Environment Agency is to be given powers to seize planes from airlines which break the rules of a new scheme to limit flights’ carbon emissions.

The transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, and the climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, will today announce the government agency’s new role, which goes far wider than its regulation of other UK industries.

As the official body to enforce the European Emissions Trading Scheme for aviation, the EA will monitor emissions from flying, police companies’ buying of credits when they exceed their allocation, impose fines and, as a last resort, have the power to seize assets of offending airlines. The new authority given to the EA goes beyond its power to enforce the existing trading scheme for power companies and other big industries in the UK, because it is considered harder to enforce fines against airlines with no fixed assets in the UK.

The appointment of the EA, whose chairman Lord Smith has been an outspoken critic of expanding Heathrow, will please environmental campaigners, but they are strongly critical of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

           — Hat tip: TC[Return to headlines]


UK: Family’s Fury at Legal Blunders That Left Husband Free to Stab Wife to Death…

…Despite her warnings he would kill her

The devastated family of a young mother battered to death by her abusive husband yesterday blasted the missed opportunities to put him behind bars.

Sabina Akhtar, 26, told police taxi driver Malik Mannan had beaten her 25 times, and predicted that he would kill her if he had the chance.

However prosecutors decided not to charge him even though he had repeatedly breached bail conditions by pestering her and calling at her home.

The 36-year-old immediately taunted Miss Akhtar by text message, boasting: ‘I am a free man, since 1.30. Case file closed. Isn’t it great.’

Just five days later he burst into the marital home and stabbed the mother-of-one to death.

Last night, after Mannan was jailed for life, his wife’s family attacked the blunders by the Crown Prosecution Service which had left him free to kill her.

Her uncle, Reaz Talukder, said: ‘Sabina’s parents blame the CPS for their wrong decision not to charge Malik Mannan at an earlier stage.

‘This was simply negligence — if they had charged him she might not be dead.’

He added: ‘Words seem inadequate to express the sadness we feel about the brutal killing of Sabina.’

CPS chiefs have admitted they got it wrong, and have promised to meet her family to apologise.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


UK: Gym Club Banned From Holding Classes at Girls School After Muslim Parents Complain About Boy Members

A gymnastics club was forced to stop holding classes at an independent girls school after Muslim parents complained about boy members of the group.

Colin Perry, who runs the Shirley Gymnastics Club, said he was saddened by the decision which he said compromised the school’s commitment to multiculturalism because of fears of offending a minority.

He is now desperately searching for a new home for the club’s 250 members — including 36 boys — which had held mixed-sex classes at the junior school site of Old Palace School, in Croydon, South London, since January last year.

‘It’s unbelievable,’ Mr Perry said.

‘There is a group of Muslim parents with Muslim children at the school and they are the ones putting pressure on the headteacher.

‘It makes me sad to say that.’

He was told about the decision at a meeting with headteacher Judy Harris a few weeks ago.

‘She said some of the parents have said their children go to an independent all girls school and unfortunately they’re concerned because we have got boys in the club,’ Mr Perry said.

‘She said to us that the school has got far more Muslim children than last year, so effectively we have to interpret that in our own way.’

Dudley Mead, a Tory Councillor in Croydon and governor at Old Palace school, said he was aware of the parents’ concerns.

He said: ‘That’s the Muslim belief isn’t it? They are very protective of their female children.’

The school did offer a compromise, that the gym club could stay but start later at 6.30pm, rather than 5pm as at present, by which time pupils will be off the site.

But Mr Perry says this would be impractical as some sessions wouldn’t end until 9.30pm, which is way too late for many of the club’s young members.

The club, which caters for young gymnasts aged between five and 21, has until April 3 to find a new home.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


UK: Kennedy Should Not be Honoured

Senator Edward Kennedy is one chum of Brown’s who should certainly not be given an honorary knighthood, says Andrew Pierce.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Gordon Brown popped in to see Her Majesty to drop the bombshell that he wanted her to confer an honorary knighthood on his old chum, Senator Edward Kennedy.

It’s not enough that this Government knighted Sir Fred Goodwin for “services” to banking — before he went on to destroy the Royal Bank of Scotland. Or even that Brown made his great chum James Crosby a Sir — quite an honour for the man who went on to bring HBOS to its knees and was at the Financial Services Authority when it was exercising nothing of the sort.

Not satisfied with these demonstrations of gratitude, Brown has secured another: for Kennedy in recognition of his services to the Northern Ireland peace process. Excuse me? Wasn’t it Kennedy who cosied up to Gerry Adams at the height of the IRA’s murderous campaign? Kennedy, that champion of nationalism, who declared in 1971 that the Protestants of Ulster “should be given a decent opportunity to go back to Britain”?

We will never know the Queen’s view about this honour. Or what the Prince of Wales thinks. We do know that the Prince was distraught at the death of his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, who was murdered by the IRA. Nicholas Knatchbull, 14, the Prince’s godson, was one of the other victims when Mountbatten’s boat was blown up in 1979. This is what the Prince said on the 25th anniversary: “I was almost struck dumb, absolutely devastated, when I heard about this terrible disaster…”

Sadly, Gerry Adams was not struck dumb and said at the time: “He [Mountbatten] knew the danger involved in coming to this country. In my opinion, the IRA achieved its objective: people started paying attention to what was happening in Ireland.” Yet Kennedy continued to fete Adams in New York, helping the US fund-raisers who contributed to the republican cause. This is a man who has never covered himself in glory. He was inextricably involved in the drowning in 1969 of Mary Jo Kopechne. One night in Chappaquiddick, he accidentally drove the car they were in off a bridge. Kennedy swam to safety; the young woman was left trapped in the car. He returned to his hotel, went to bed and reported the accident the next day — by which time she had suffocated. Had he called for help she might have lived.

Brown must surely think that his honouring Kennedy, whose backing for Barack Obama electrified the Democratic race, will cement his special relationship with the White House. But back in Britain, people will ask how the son of the manse, who played up his religious upbringing in his Congress speech, could possibly give a knighthood to a man whose contribution to the peace process was to demand British withdrawal from Northern Ireland and who, 30 years on, is still refusing to answer questions about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

Only 85 American citizens have received the honour since the Queen came to the throne and these include Rudy Giuliani, Bob Hope and Henry Kissinger. Kennedy has no business being the 86th.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


UK: Students Register Delight at New Face-Fit Check-in

[Comment from JD: Note the bias in the article about how this face-scanning technology is a good thing…]

HIGH-TECH facial recognition technology has swept aside the old-fashioned signing of the register at a school.

Sixth-formers will now have their faces scanned as they arrive in the morning at the City of Ely Community College.

It is one of the first schools in the UK to trial the new technology with its students.

Face Register uses the latest high-tech gadgets to register students in and out of school in just 1.5 seconds.

The technology works by scanning faces with an infra-red light and matching their image with key facial features stored on a secure system.

Not only a hit with the students, who enjoy signing themselves in, the system is saving a member of staff about an hour and a half each day in recording data.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


UK: The EU is Ignoring the Will of the People

Poll after poll tells us that the British people do not want to be signed up to the Lisbon treaty, but our political masters carry on regardless, says Nigel Farage.

That I would agree with a European President of anything, on anything, would normally be considered a sign of the coming apocalypse. However, when it’s the current President of the European Union (and Czech President) Vaclav Klaus, there has indeed been a meeting of minds. We agree that one of the biggest problems we collectively face is that certain entirely legitimate political views are being ruled out of order, simply not worthy of consideration. Our own shared euroscepticism, for example, our insistence that we can cooperate and trade without being part of an ever closer political union, is at risk of being smeared as nothing but racism and xenophobic petty nationalism.

Klaus’ most important concern goes to the heart of the problem with most of our political class. Poll after poll tells us that the British people do not want to be signed up to the Lisbon treaty, that if there was that referendum we were promised then the result would be a resounding no. Polls with a slightly different question, should we leave the EU altogether, also show a majority in favour of leaving the integrationists to their own devices. We’ll be quite happy trading with everyone, co-operating where necessary and desirable, but we don’t want to be part of this political union: the only form of Europe that is currently on offer. The majority are eurosceptics but unfortunately most politicians disagree with their own voters.

President Klaus, in the meeting we had this week, pointed out why. For example, David Cameron, in common with all too many others, is too worried about being “popular amongst politicians”. There’s a groupthink that the answer to any and every question is more Europe. Even if the people vote no, as the French, Dutch and Irish have done, then they must be asked again until they give the correct answer. The political classes do not think that they are there to do as the people want; the aim is to get the people to do as the politicians want.

I’m proud of the way that we in UKIP have been able to stop this pernicious view of democracy from entirely taking over. When we started, some 16 years ago, even to question the grand project was to be dismissed as near lunacy. What we’ve been able to achieve is to make questioning the aim of ever further integration an entirely respectable position. It isn’t a view held just by cranks and gadflies, as we have been described, but one that led to UKIP coming third in the last European elections. However, in the upcoming ones on June 4th, there is a danger that this hard won position will be threatened.

It doesn’t logically follow that if fascists are eurosceptic then eurosceptics are fascists. But if the BNP do well then that will be all too easy an allegation for the europhiles to throw around and some of it will indeed stick. We in UKIP reject, outright, the racism and xenophobia they represent but it will be easy enough, for those who wish it, to make opposition to the EU not respectable simply by smearing those who are against political union as being all the same.

We believe, and polls back us up in this belief, that the majority of people in this country wish to work with the EU on many issues — they just don’t want to be part of a political union. That is the essential position that must be debated, not dismissed by being linked to thuggish extremists.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Videotape Clears Berlusconi of Sarkozy Blunder

Prime minister was not referring to French president’s wife but Canal Plus refuses to apologise

Only what is said in front of the microphone should be on the record, not half-heard whispers, particularly when translation into another language could create confusion. It is true that Silvio Berlusconi has often denied or corrected even official recordings of his remarks, but this time it is genuinely difficult to claim that he whispered into the French president’s ear the words: “C’est moi che t’ai donné ta femme” (I gave you your wife), a heavy-handed allusion to Carla Bruni’s Italian roots.

The remark, made during the media briefing with President Sarkozy at the conclusion of last week’s Italy-France summit, was flashed round the globe, rekindling debate over the linguistic flamboyance of Italy’s prime minister and attracting charges of sexism. Two Democratic Party (PD) europarliamentarians, Anna Paola Concia and Donata Gottardi, even took the case to the European Court in Strasbourg, alleging serial offences against women’s dignity. But if you listen to the recording a few times, separating the words with the aid of a sound technician, the phrase that Mr Berlusconi actually said to Mr Sarkozy, in French and at a certain distance from the microphone, is quite different: “Tu sais que j’ai etudié à la Sorbonne” (You know that I studied at the Sorbonne). The press attaché at the Prime Minister’s Office was quick to point this out and refute the claims of the Canal Plus programme, which took the opportunity to elect Mr Berlusconi “relou de l’année” (an idiomatic expression that means more or less “pain of the year”). Yesterday, the Corriere della Sera was invited to listen again to the recording and to try to decipher it. The crucial question is whether the word “donne” can be mistaken for “Sorbonne”. Since the both words end in “nne”, and the accent falls on the second syllable of “Sorbonne”, the name of the celebrated Parisian seat of learning can in fact sound like “donne”. Yan Barthes, the author of the TV programme, wanted — and still wants, as the show has yet to be broadcast — to confirm the initial interpretation with the help of further technical and linguistic support. But “aural insistence” supports the view that the recording leaves no more room for doubt.

In fact, Mr Berlusconi’s remark came during the official part of the media briefing when Mr Sarkozy was announcing the bilateral agreements on cultural exchanges and education that Italy’s education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, had signed with her French counterpart, Xavier Dercos. At that point, Mr Berlusconi remembered he had studied at the Sorbonne. When asked about the incident, Mr Barthes refused to retract or confirm. “We listened to the press conference and we were sure of what we heard. We continue to work on the recording and we will be coming back to the issue”. For the time being, it’s stalemate with no apologies and no red faces. As we wait for a “grand jury of sound” to rule, we can also give the lie to a famous remark by Giulio Andreotti: “Thinking ill is sinful, but accurate”. It isn’t always like that.

Massimo Nava

04 marzo 2009

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Energy: Agreement to Link Croatia-Hungary Gas Pipelines

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, MARCH 3 — Today in Zagreb a project to link Hungarian and Croatian gas pipelines was signed, representing an investment worth 395 million euros that should be completed by the end of 2010. The link has been decided by the two national operators, Plinacro in Croatia and Fgsz (part of the Mol group) in Hungary. The system will measure 298km in length (88km in Croatia) and will have a transport capacity equal to 6.5 billion cubic metres of gas per year. Representatives of the two parties who were present when the agreement was signed observed that this is a strategic project capable of “affording the countries greater security and independence in gas supplies thanks to the diversification of import routes”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU-Croatia: Rehn, Worried About Membership Delay

(ANSA) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 3 — The Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he is “worried” about the talks relating to Croatia’s membership of the European Union which could take longer than expected and could lead to the country’s entry being delayed. Rehn said that if Croatia and Slovenia “do not accept the mediation proposals made by the European Commission soon, (ed. — so as to resolve the border controversies), the timetable for Croatia’s membership could be set back”. This would put Zagreb’s entry into the EU, which is currently expected to take place in 2010, at risk of being delayed. The commissioner, speaking at a conference on Croatia’s European future organised by EU Observer, explained that he was currently “awaiting an answer from both governments.” He added that he would call a meeting shortly between the Slovenian and Croatian Foreign ministers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy-Croatia: Berlusconi, Sanader, Excellent Relationship

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 5 — ‘We are the main supporters of Croatia’s entry into the EU and NATO”said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after a working breakfast at Palazzo Chigi with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader who is visiting Rome. The ‘excellent’’ relations between Italy and Croatia are borne out by imports and exports of ‘over 4 billion euros’’, added Berlusconi. Apart from the friendly relations between the two governments, the Prime Minister observed that ‘Italian tourists love Croatia, its islands and its sea’’: last year more than one million Italians visited Croatia, he said. Sanader topped his figure, pointing out that there were one million, three hundred thousand Italian tourists in Croatia in 2008. ‘It seems to me that we must continue on the path which we have been treading for a while, with a special closeness between our peoples and our economies: the first and second biggest Croatian banks are banks which belong to Unicredit and Banca Intesa’’ Berlusconi pointed out. ‘We must continue along this road, trying to improve and further intensify our relationship’’, he added.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


The Islamic Arch in the Making

Over the 1990’s one of the most popular theories regarding the changing nature of the Balkan affairs, was the existence of the “Islamic arch” or the “Green traverse” stretching from Turkey up to Croatia that would unite all the Balkan Muslim communities into a single force, subject to control by either Turkey or the Middle Eastern Sunni powers and the Shiite Iran as well.

The years after 9/11 many of such Islamic networks that were also connected with international terrorism, were disband. Moreover this particular theory faded away from the mainstream media, although it is still a reality that is being pursued by various Islamic circles.

This present article will briefly provide the most important events of this Balkan Islamic arch project that are related to terrorism…

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

EU-Morocco: Spain to Host First Summit in 2010

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 2 — Spain is to host the first summit between the European Union and Morocco, which is to take place in 2010 and is considered a milestone in relations between the two countries. The concession of the Advanced Statute of association with Morocco, signed on October 13, has led to a great qualitative leap in relations between the North African country and Brussels, with the fixing of periodic, high-level, bilateral meetings. The first such meeting is to be held in Spain, during the country’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2010. In giving the news at the end of a two-day-visit to Morocco, the EU Secretary of State, Diego Lopez Garrido, confirmed that the Spanish government formally advanced the proposal to organise the summit to the Moroccan government and that the Moroccan foreign minister, Taieb Fasi Fihri welcomed the initiative. In order to prepare for the EU-Morocco summit, the two have agreed to create a “coordination cell”, which will remain in constant contact to draw up the agenda of the meeting. Garrido underlined that, during its presidency of the EU, Spain will aim to give massive impulse to relations with all countries of the Mediterranean and the African continent, and not just Morocco. Taieb Fasi Fihri also highlighted the “Atlantic front” of relations with the American continent, in which Morocco ‘must play an important role’’. The Moroccan government expects that the Advanced Statute for association with the EU will translate into a broader level of economic cooperation. During his recent speech at a meeting at the Cervantes Institute in Casablanca, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry’s general secretary, Yusef Amrani, alluded to the compensation funds which the country is hoping for, just like those that Spain had access to for its integration with the Union. But Lopez Garrido clarified that the issue will be dealt with mostly from 2013 onwards, in the context of the EU’s budget and financial prospects. (ANSAmed).

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Fashion: Italian Leather Export Grows in Gulf and Med Area

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, MARCH 2 — The appeal of the ‘Made in Italy’ brand in the fashion industry is not showing any sign of weakening in the major Gulf and Mediterranean markets. In 2008 the leather goods industry in fact saw double-figure growth in various countries, which contributed to maintaining high levels of exports in the sector. This is the situation that emerges from the figures published today by the leather goods association AIMPES, to coincide with the launch of the ‘Mipel’ show, due to take place on March 4 at the Fieramilano. Despite the more or less consistent fall in the most traditional markets, exportation maintained a growth of 3.3% at 3 billion euros, above all due to the new markets being reached. In particular, amongst the major twenty markets, the United Arab Emirates recorded a growth of 30% whilst Turkey showed a 27% growth, and within Europe Greece showed a 20% rise. In terms of imports, a noticeable result comes from Tunisia which recorded a 30% rise, to bring the North African country to twelfth place in the classification of suppliers to Italy in the sector. (ANSAmed).

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Islam: Egyptian Imam Tantawi, Preachers Must Know Italian

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, FEBRUARY 23 — Preachers of the Koran who go to Italy to practice “must know Italian”, according to Imam Tantawi, the Sunni orthodox leader in Egypt, during his meeting with Lower House President Gianfranco Fini at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which produces the most Sunni experts. Fini asked Tantawi if it were possible to ask Muslims in Italy for preaching in mosques be done in Italian, “because we are afraid that at times there may be predators”. The imam responded with a verse from the Koran: “The teacher of religion or the preacher must know the language of the place in which they work, as long as it is understood that Muslims born in Italy must commit themselves to learning Arabic in order to understand the full meaning of the Koran”. For Tantawi, language is not the main problem: “A preacher — he explained — can have a translator. The problem is the meaning of the discourse, what the preacher is saying. Each person who is a guest in another country must respect the laws and cannot make speeches that incite violence”. The religious leader dedicated a passage to Jihad: “It is decreed for defense in case of aggression, and it is permissible when a person or country suffers an injustice. Those who speak of Jihad outside of this context are mistaken”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Italy-Tunisia: Forum, the Italian Business in Tunisia

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 20 — Italy is the second largest trading partner of Tunisia after France, and mid-long term prospects give rise to optimism. Italian products in the North African country range across almost every sector, with analysts saying that the services industry is likely to increase. Noteworthy is the Italian presence in the following sectors: insurance; banking; cultural, Sahara-based, archaeological, business and medical tourism and the management of logistics platforms. The figure which really stands out is that of Italian direct foreign investment, prevalently in the manufacturing sector with a strong focus on the textile industry (as shown by the large-scale presence of Italian firms in Tunisian districts with textile-based economies). In this sector, there are about 260 Italian businesses, mostly small or medium-sized. However, even large groups have shown interest in Tunisia, opting to locate plants in the country and thereby ensure a substantial presence, such as in the case of Benetton, Miroglio-Gvb, Marzotto and Cucirini. There are also many other Italian big-names working in Tunisia in other sectors, such as in energy (Eni, Agip, Snam, Progetti Terna, Ansaldo), automobiles (Fiat, Piaggio), metallurgy (Ilva) large-scale construction (Todini, Ansaldo, Carta Isnardo), and transport (Alitalia,Messina, Tarrso, Grimaldi, Bongiorno, Sirio, Germanetti, Martinelli, Faggioli, Stc). The ‘Made in Italy’ investment has been rising considerably in recent years in a country boasting of several points of interest for Italian entrepreneurs. In addition to its geographical proximity to Italy, Tunisia attracts investment for such elements as its political stability, security, low labour costs and the low level of conflict between unions and employers. However, the real magnet for Italian investors is the system of tantalizing facilitated terms and incentives that Tunisia offers to foreign investors. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Sicily: Assembly President Meets Morocco’s Ambassador

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, FEBRUARY 27 — The development and consolidation of stable relations between the inter-parliamentary group set up by Sicily’s Regional Assembly and Morocco’s members of Parliament were at the centre of a meeting between Sicily’s Regional Assembly Chairman Francesco Cascio and Morocco’s Ambassador to Italy, Mohammed Nabil Benabdallah, at the Palace of the Normans in Palermo. “Many proposals were tabled”, Cascio said, “but the most significant of all was aimed at a continuous dialogue on legal matters between our MPs and those from Morocco. In this context precious assistance was being provided by Morocco’s consul in Palermo Youssef Balla”, with whom we are planning a visit to Morocco by a delegation of our MPs to study the in depth aspects where our respective legislations come into contact and also assess new opportunities relating to trade and tourism”. Ambassador Mohammed Nabil Benabdallah said he looked at Sicily’s Self-ruling charter with great interest. “I’m firmly convinced”, he said, “that a frequent exchange and dialogue with the Sicilian Parliament can offer us important cues for reflection at a time when we in our Country are getting ready to pass Constitutional reforms, aimed above all a settling age-old matters which have resulted in territorial conflicts, involving in particular the regional area of Sahara”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Auto: Land Rover Egypt Sales Up 49%

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, FEBRUARY 19 — Earlier this month, MTI Automotive, Land Rover’s sole importer in Egypt, reported a 49% increase in car sales for 2008. In a statement, the company said the year saw the strongest sales record in the company’s 60-year history in Egypt. Leading the sales was the Range Rover Sport, with a growth of 15%. Sales for The Range Rover and Land Rover LR3 were particularly strong. Land Rover sales for the Middle East and North Africa were up 20%, selling a total of 11,061 vehicles. MTI Automotive is also the sole importer of Jaguar, Bentley, Maserati and Ferrari. The company is part of MM Group, which was established in 1895. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Egypt: Death Sentence for 10 Gang Rapists

Cairo, 5 March (AKI) — Ten men have been sentenced to death by hanging in Egypt, after being convicted of raping an 18 year-old woman two years ago.

The death sentence by hanging was handed down on Wednesday by a court in the northern governorate of Kafr el-Sheikh. Only eight of the sentenced men appeared before the court, while two others allegedly involved in the gang rape are still fugitives.

A 15-year-old youth who collaborated in the attack was sentenced to 15 years in jail. During the court proceedings, police were forced to intervene to stop protests by family members of the accused.

The court was told the ten men, who were all armed, raided a home in 2006 during the night and threatened all the family members.

After firing a few shots in the air, they kidnapped a woman and took her to an open field, where she was repeatedly raped for three hours until she lost consciousness.

Egyptian daily al-Ahram said the barbaric attack was aimed at punishing the woman’s husband, who had reportedly refused to marry the sister of the group’s leader.

The judge said that the court had chosen such a severe punishment because it learned about “the necessity to eradicate the roots of sin, and cleanse society.”

The court’s decision to impose the death sentence, however, will be sent to the Egyptian mufti who must then ratify it before it is carried out.

The last execution in Egypt took place in 2006. In December 2008 the Egypt’s general assembly voted against a moratorium on the death penalty.

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


Jailed Leader to be ‘Freed’ as Part of Shalit Deal

Ramallah, 5 March (AKI) — Prominent Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti would be released from jail in a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas that would also free kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, a close associate of Barghouti has claimed. Saed Nimr, director of the Free Marwan Barghouti campaign, spoke to Adnkronos International (AKI) on Thursday as Egypt-sponsored negotiations continue for a long-term peace deal between the parties.

“We have received assurances that Barghouti is included in Hamas’ list to swap Shalit,” Saed Nimr told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a telephone interview from the West Bank.

“There have been so many times when the release of Barghouti was talked about, this time, we have reasons to be more optimistic than any other time in the last seven years.”

Nimr, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, has been campaigning for Barghouti’s release since he was arrested in Ramallah in 2002.

Nimr was responding to claims by the Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi, which quoted Fatah sources who claimed that young Fatah members were protesting against the failure of Fatah’s so-called ‘old-guard’ to secure Barghouti’s release.

“Some of the leaders of the ‘old-guard’ are not very happy about Barghouti’s release, because they are afraid of reforms that Barghouti would implement in Fatah which could undermine their positions, “ Nimr said.

The pan-Arab daily claimed that Palestinian Authority officials were preventing Barghouti’s release, because PA officials are afraid that it could severely weaken Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and instead strengthen Hamas which is reportedly holding Shalit hostage in the Gaza Strip.

The newspaper also said Abbas was not able to secure Barghouti’s release during negotiations with outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Al-Quds al-Arabi also quoted a Hamas political official who confirmed the threat to Abbas’ power.

“ Palestinian officials asked their Israeli counterparts not to release Fatah’s patriot, Marwan Barghouti, because it would weaken Abu Mazen (Abbas) and strengthen Hamas,” said Hamas official, Mohammed Nazzal, from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.

However, Nimr told AKI how important Barghouti’s release was for both the Gaza-ruling Hamas and its rival Fatah.

“Not only is Hamas asking for the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, but Marwan Barghouti is one of them, “ he said. “From the point of view of Hamas, releasing Barghouti is very important because without him such a prisoner exchange deal would be very weak.

“Despite that he would most likely be its (Hamas) opponent in elections in the near future.”

Many consider Barghouti as Abbas’ successor as Palestinian leader, but Nimr said Barghouti would work with Fatah’s leadership.

Nimr said Barghouti is necessary for a reconciliation between Palestinian factions, and to lead them ahead of legislative and presidential elections as well as to unite the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Hamas and Fatah taking leading roles in politics.

“Definitely Marwan Barghouti is the one who is going to unify Fatah and lead the elections from Fatah’s side. Barghouti believes we should share power with Hamas, we should share the political arena.

“No-one can cancel the other one out. Hamas cannot lead without Fatah and Fatah cannot lead without Hamas, they need each other, even if it the other is in the opposition.”

Barghouti, was the leader of the West Bank’s Tanzim movement — a militant wing of Fatah — and is considered the new guard within the ruling Fatah movement.

He was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to five life-terms in 2004, by an Israeli court which found him guilty for the deaths of 26 people and for belonging to a terrorist organisation. Barghouti refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli court system.

During the first and second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 1987 and in 2000, Barghouti led marches through Israeli checkpoints and is widely associated with the grassroots movement opposed to Israeli occupation.

Shalit was kidnapped in June 2006 by Hamas-linked militants during a cross-border raid. He is believed to be being held in Gaza, which Hamas overran in mid-2007.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Israel, From ‘Valzer Con Bashir’ to Anti-Blockade Ad

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 5 — The online edition of the newspaper Haaretz reported that one of the drawers of the animated documentary film ‘Waltz with Bashir’, Ari Foldman’s much-acclaimed and Oscar-nominated film on the war in Lebanon, has recently created a short piece against the continuing closure of the border crossings into the Gaza Strip and in support of Palestinian freedom of movement. Yoni Goodman’s mini-film, which lasts 90 seconds and is called ‘Closed Zone’, was commissioned by the Israeli peace organisation Gisha. A Gisha spokesperson announced that “Yoni has used a single character to try and help the viewer put themselves in the shoes of the people of Gaza and to see how things really are: one and a half million human beings who want to realise their ambitions and dreams, but cannot do so because they are not allowed to move freely.”Goodman commented, “I only hope that when people see this film, they can detach themselves from an overly simplistic understanding of good and evil.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Gaza: Italian Delegation Not Allowed in

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 5 — A delegation of Italians, with representatives from local authorities and NGOs, was prevented from entering Gaza by Israeli authorities, as Tavola per la Pace reported. “The children of Gaza,” the delegation was quoted as saying by Tavola della Pace, “need help. We wanted to develop a plan to help them overcome the trauma of the war but were not allowed to cross the border. Despite the intervention of the Italian ambassador to Tel Aviv and the Consul General of Jerusalem, Israelis refused to let the delegation in. We waited at the Eretz checkpoint for three days and saw very few people pass. We are asking Italy’s political leaders to use the necessary pressure to allow access to humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza”. The Italian delegation — which included coordinator of NGOs for the Middle East Sergio Bassoli and Flavio Lotti, coordinator of Tavola della Pace and director of the National Coordination of Local Bodies for Peace and Human Rights — will meet today with the ambassador in Tel Aviv. The delegation has planned several meetings with Israeli and Palestinian civil society representatives, as well as with those of the main UN international agencies. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel: Another Indictment Looms for Olmert

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MARCH 5 — A third indictment is on its way to outgoing Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, coming on top of the first two which Chief State Prosecutor, Menachem Mazuz, has already referred for committal procedures. Public radio reported today that the police has decided to advise Mazuz to indict the premier on charges of fraud and abuse of trust. Investigators reportedly have reached the conclusion that Olmert made himself liable to these charges in appointing persons close to him to positions of responsibility in the Industry and Trade Ministry during his years in charge of the ministry (2003-2006). Mazuz has already announced that he will commit Olmert for trial in connection with two earlier investigations: in the first it was established that Olmert received illegal funds from an American Jewish businessman, Morris Talansky, for several years, first as mayor of Jerusalem and then as minister. The second investigation showed that Olmert apparently received repayments of travel expenses for foreign missions on behalf of State and State-controlled organisations. Olmert has denied all charges levelled against him.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Human Rights: Saudi Arabia, Criticism Result of Ignorance

(ANSAmed) — RIYADH (SAUDI ARABIA), MARCH 3 — “The organizations (for human rights protection) that are pointing the finger at Saudi Arabia are the result of ignorance of the principals of Islam,” said the Saudi Arabian Vice-President of the Commission for Human Rights, Zaid Bin Abdul al-Husain, today in Riyadh during a meeting with Foreign Undersecretary Stefania Craxi. “The most important challenge of the Commission is to spread the culture of human rights throughout the country,” said Zaid Bin Abdul al-Husain, who responds directly to the king, “all of the principals and rights of man are included in Sharia law.” Undersecretary Craxi underlined that “respect for human rights should be perused by a double point of view: on one side is the law, and on the other is the creation of a culture and a consciousness of human rights”. During the meeting, Stefania Craxi also underlined that “our religions set universal principals that are undoubtedly in favour of man, but the problem is exploitation perpetrated by religions through the centuries: when the Catholic religion was moved by the spirit of conquest, we had the Crusades and the Inquisition, when Islam was exploited we are faced with extremism and fundamentalism”. (ANSAmed).

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Jordan: Islamists Protest Against Bashir ICC Arrest Warrant

(ANSAmed)- AMMAN, MARCH 4 — Dozens of activists converged at the pro-Islamist professional association on Wednesday minutes after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, blasting the court as “racist.” Holding Sudanese and Jordanian flags, protesters called on the Arab League to “act with responsibility” and provide Sudan with political support. Salem Falahat, president of the council of professional associations, an umbrella of 14 labour unions, said this is a defining moment for the Arab world. “This is the start and many other Arab leaders will also be pursued. Jordan must pull out from the court to protest against this unfair ruling,” he told ANSA from among the crowds, who remembered the victims of Gaza war in which more than 1300 Palestinians were killed. “We must send (Israel defence minister Ehud) Barak and (Israel foreign minister Tsevi) Levni to court for committing a crime against humanity. They deserve this ruling, not an Arab leader,” he added. Protesters were prevented from taking to the street under the strict public gathering law. The protest ended peacefully despite strong presence of anti-riot police forces. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Jordan: Children Victims of Violence in Schools, Says UN

New York, 5 March (AKI) — The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund has highlighted Jordan’s efforts to tackle violence against children in schools — a problem affecting over half of the country’s young people.

“A recent study shows that more than one half of children in Jordan experience physical violence in school,” UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman said during a two-day visit to the country.

“Violence against children in schools is unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” she added.

UNICEF is working with the ministry of education and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to tackle the issue of violence in schools through the Ma’an (Together) initiative.

The family protection department in the police department is also responding to the problem of violence against children with a programme of early detection in public hospitals, a telephone help-line and a referral system.

A parent education campaign is being conducted nationwide in cooperation with local imams in mosques in a bid to target mainly fathers and teach them the principles of child care, respect, protection, and non-discrimination between girls and boys.

“The use of religious leaders and their moral authority in teaching principles of child rights to parents and families is an efficient way to reach out to the wider community. It is a powerful advocacy channel,” said Veneman.

Since the programme began in 2000, UNICEF has trained 600 imams in skills to train parents on child-rearing practices. Over 130,000 families have been trained on parenting skills.

During her trip which ended on Tuesday, Veneman visited several schools, including one that takes part in the Madrasati (My School) initiative.

She also visited schools that have integrated Iraqi children currently in Jordan. According to the ministry of education, there are 26,800 Iraqi children in school across Jordan, which has hosted Palestinian refugees since 1948.

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


Lebanon: Unifil; Graziano, Peace in South is Possible

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 5 — Peace is an achievable objective in south Lebanon and the UN mission (Unifil) deployed along the provisional border with Israel is still working in this direction, Unifil commander in chief general Claudio Graziano stated today. Speaking during a ceremony in Naqura, a coastal location only miles away from the border, which is the headquarters of the UN mission, Graziano repeated that the blue helmets fully support the Lebanese government and army to ensure security and stability in the region. The ceremony for the passage of duties for the command of the Italian helicopter squadron working with the Un mission (Italair) between lieutenant-colonel Antonio Villani and lieutenant-colonel Stefano Silvestrini was also attended by Italian ambassador Gabriele Checchia, colonel Gerardo Restaino, commander of the Italian component in Naqura, and general Flaviano Godio, commander of the 2,000-strong Italian contingent, which controls the western area under Unifil. Speaking of the recent firing of rockets by persons unknown’, Godio told ANSA that ‘these are very isolated episodes’’, as a result of which both the presence of blue helmets in the area and cooperation with the Lebanese army has been stepped up. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Syria: Soldiers of Peace

By Caroline Glick

Compare and contrast the following three events: At the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday, George Schulte, the US ambassador to the IAEA, pointed an accusatory finger at Syria. Damascus, Schulte said, has not come clean on its nuclear program. That program, of course, was exposed in September 2007 when Israel reportedly destroyed Syria’s North Korean-built, Iranian-financed al-Kibar nuclear reactor.

In its report to its Board of Governors, the IAEA stated that in analyzing soil samples from the bombed installation, its inspectors discovered traces of uranium. The nuclear watchdog agency also noted that the Syrians have blocked UN nuclear inspectors from the site and from three other suspected nuclear sites.

Reacting to the IAEA report, Schulte said that it “contributes to the growing evidence of clandestine nuclear activities in Syria.”

He added, “We must understand why such [uranium] material — material not previously declared to the IAEA — existed in Syria, and this can only happen if Syria provides the cooperation requested.”

On Tuesday, at a press conference in Jerusalem with outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama administration is sending two senior envoys to Damascus. Their job, as she put it, is to begin “preliminary conversations” on how to jumpstart US-Syrian bilateral ties.

Clinton’s statement made good headlines, but she was light on details. On Wednesday, hours after Schulte accused Syria of covering up its illicit nuclear program, US Sen. John Kerry helpfully filled in the blanks about the nature of the Obama administration’s overtures to nuclear-proliferating Damascus. In an address before the left-leaning Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute in Washington, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who just returned from a visit to Syria, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said that the purpose of US overtures to Damascus is to appease Syrian President Bashar Assad.

If in the past, both American and Israeli policy-makers interested in engaging Damascus have made ending Syria’s alliance with Iran a central goal of their proposed engagement, Kerry dismissed such an aim as unrealistic. In his words, “We should have no illusions that Syria will immediately end its ties with Iran.”

Indeed, as far as Kerry is concerned, Syria’s role in these talks is not to actually give the US anything of value. Rather, Syria’s role is to take things of value from the US — and of course from Israel.

Kerry proposed that in exchange for Syrian acceptance of the US’s offer of friendship and Assad’s willingness to negotiate an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights, America should consider “loosening certain sanctions” against Syria. Doing so, he claimed, will also be good for the US economy because it will open new opportunities for US businesses.

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Russia

Turkey-Russia: Pilot Customs Practice Between the Countries

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 20 — Customs authorities will implement a joint pilot program at Turkey’s Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports and Russia’s Minokova airport that would assist in the freer movement of goods to Russia, Deputy Prime Minister, Hayati Yazici, said. “Problems with customs transactions between the two countries have existed for almost a year and officials from both countries carried out intense studies in order to put an end to the ongoing conflict”, Yazici said at a press conference. “Following the protocol signed by the two parties in 2008, a memorandum of understanding covering technical issues has been agreed. According to this memorandum, a pilot implementation will be initiated in Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports of Turkey and Minokova airport of Russia”, the minister was quoted as saying by Anatolian Agency. The protocol signed in 2008 envisaged a Simplified Customs Line, a procedure that would speed up the passage of Turkish goods through Russian customs, which would be applied to companies who voluntarily agree to send to Russian authorities export information of their shipments in advance. Turkey and Russia had nearly $40 billion of trade volume in 2008. As of 2008, Turkish investments in Russia stand at around $5 billion, while Turkish contractors have undertaken Russian construction projects worth over $25 billion. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

“Democracy is a Sin and Nothing More Than Infidelity”

Outlook India 09.03.2009 (India)

Fareed Zakaria would probably describe Taliban fighter and cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who has introduced sharia to the Swat Valley with the permission of the Pakistani government, as extreme but not necessarily violent. In return for control, he wants to keep the peace, Sufi Mohammed explains in an interview. “We have set up our peace camp here and appealed to the Taliban to disarm and wind up the checkpoints they have established in the Valley. The Taliban’s response is positive. I have asked the government as well to remove the unnecessary checkposts along the roads. Now I am mediating between the two sides to ensure release of the arrested militants and captured personnel of the security forces”. What this peace means for his own people can be gleaned from one sentence: “Democracy is a sin and nothing more than infidelity”.

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


India: Orissa: Violence Continues, Another Christian Killed

Hrudayananda Nayak, 40, disappeared Wednesday evening. His lifeless body was found in the forest near the village of Rudangia whose residents are predominantly Christian. Eyewitnesses say that a group of Hindu extremists stopped him on his way home. This is the third murder since October after widespread anti-Christian violence in August and September of last year.

Bhumbaneswar (AsiaNews) — Another Christian has been killed in the State of Orissa. The lifeless body of Hrudayananda Nayak was found yesterday in the forest near the village of Rudangia, near Ghumusar Udayagiri, a city in the district of Kandhamal. The 40-year-old man had disappeared the day before.

Sajan George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told AsiaNews that after Nayak accompanied his sister to a place five kilometres from the city he was stopped on his way back by a group of Hindu extremists and vanished thereafter.

Yesterday afternoon around 4 pm some Christian residents from local villages walking along the path Nayak had taken saw some blood and a slipper in a roadside bush.

Aware that a man had disappeared they informed police who came to investigate.

After a brief search by police and the Christians, Nayak’s body was found, lifeless.

Rudangia is a predominantly Christian village, some 260 kilometres from the State capital of Bhubaneshwar

Rudangia was the scene of a lot of violence and was virtually under siege at the height of the campaign of persecution against Christians in Orissa in August and September of last year.

On 30 September a mob of some 3,000 people was able to storm the village, torching houses and the local church.

A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) platoon was dispatched to the village which was turned into a fortress. Christian residents have not dared leave it for fear of attacks.

Despite tight security measures violence has not ebbed in the area. Nayak’s death is the third such incident since 30 October.

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


India Announces Tariffs on Chinese Aluminum: Trade War Fears on the Rise

In January, New Delhi banned Chinese toys for six months, for safety reasons. Annual trade between the two countries amounts to 51.8 billion dollars, but is increasing rapidly.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) — India is announcing new import tariffs on Chinese aluminum, and says that it is studying similar measures for other products. There is a growing risk of a trade war between the two Asian giants.

G. K. Pillai, India’s commerce secretary, explained yesterday his concern over the sharp rise in imports of cheap Chinese goods, saying that “you can’t export to an extent, which can kill my domestic industry . . . China is a non-market economy,” with an elevated production capacity.

The new tax will go into effect within one or two weeks. According to the Indian media, Chinese aluminum imports more than doubled in the fiscal year 2007-2008, reaching 252.89 million dollars, while in the first quarter of this fiscal year, they totaled 82.74 million.

The measure comes after, on January 23, India instituted a six-month ban on the importing of Chinese toys, saying that they contain chemical substances that are dangerous for children (like lead and cadmium in the paint). Chinese toys account for about 70% of the Indian market, for an annual value of about 400 million dollars. Beijing has threatened to appeal to the World Trade Organization, and last week Indian trade minister Kamal Nath said he was ready “to talk” with the Chinese about the toys.

China’s trade ministry charges that India is considering similar measures for 17 Chinese products, and has warned that this could have “serious consequences” on mutual trade relations. Economic trade between the two countries rose sharply recently, after years of hostility following the border war in 1962. In 2008, trade amounted to 51.8 billion dollars, with a surplus of 11.2 billion dollars in China’s favor. It is a modest volume in comparison, for example, with the 450 billion dollars in trade with Europe. But in the current crisis, it is of great importance, in part because the two countries expect to increase their trade as commerce with the West passes through a period of difficulty.

More than 100 Indian companies have opened stores in China since 2000, and Chinese businesses invested about 10.5 billion dollars in India between January and October of 2008. For years, Beijing has insisted on establishing regional free-trade agreements with India, but India is hesitant because it is afraid of being swamped with cheap Chinese goods. Today, India mainly exports basic materials to China, with little value added, while it buys electrical and other manufactured products from China. India also believes that there would be a strong market in China for its agricultural products, but for now these are blocked by customs duties imposed by Beijing.

Meanwhile, as a consequence of the crisis, India’s Jet Airways has suspended its route from Shanghai to Mumbai, just six months after its triumphant beginning. And the Chinese are requesting fewer visas for India, in spite of an aggressive campaign to attract tourists.

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


Indonesia: US Keeps Grip on Bali Bombing Kingpin

THE US Government will not release Jemaah Islamiah operations chief Hambali into Indonesian custody, despite finally permitting the nation’s counter-terrorism officials to interview the alleged mastermind of the Bali bombings after more than five years of requests.

The decision to block the extradition of Hambali, al-Qaeda’s point man in South-East Asia who is believed to be responsible for a string of terrorist attacks in the region, has angered Indonesian police eager to prosecute him in Jakarta.

But, at a political level, the Indonesian Government is quietly content with the decision, believing his return could inflame Islamists and pose a security threat in the febrile political environment of an election year.

Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin, was interviewed by two members of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism squad, Detachment 88, at Guantanamo Bay in recent weeks.

This followed numerous requests by Indonesia over five years for access to Hambali. All requests were denied by the Bush administration but President Barack Obama has reversed that stance.

Mr Obama has also announced that, within a year, he wants to close the controversial US military prison, which has become a powerful symbol of worldwide concerns about the way the US has prosecuted its “war on terror”. That decision has left the fate of Hambali and more than 240 other prisoners detained there as “enemy combatants” in the balance.

However, senior Indonesian Government and police sources said the US had made it clear it had no intention of releasing Hambali into the custody of Indonesia or any other country when Guantanamo Bay closes.

During a visit to Washington last month, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla asked for Hambali to be returned to Indonesia for trial.

Counter-terrorism police said the concerns of the US lay in releasing the intelligence gleaned from interrogations of Hambali to other countries and the prospect it would be challenged as being extracted by torture.

As one of 14 “high-value” detainees at the military prison, the US wants to keep Hambali in custody and he is likely to be transferred to a prison on the US mainland. What fate awaits him there is unclear. The US has still not worked out how it will bring Hambali and other senior al-Qaeda figures to justice.

Hambali has some links to the ringleaders of the September 11 attacks in America.

However, the deaths of seven Americans in the Bali bombings means the 2002 atrocity is probably the best possibility for US authorities to have charges laid against him in a US court.

As well as the Bali bombings, Hambali is alleged to have been involved in the spate of bombings of churches in Indonesia in 2000 and in financing the Marriott Hotel bombing attack in Jakarta in 2003.

Jakarta-based terrorism analyst Sidney Jones, from the International Crisis Group, said Hambali’s return to Indonesia would be highly problematic for the Government.

“He would be a celebrity. He would be a pop star,” Dr Jones said. “He would become a rallying point for (militant Islamist) groups trying to point out the iniquities of the Government or the US.”

There are also doubts about whether Indonesian courts would be able to secure a conviction in Hambali’s case. The country’s terrorism laws were created after the 2002 Bali bombings and it is uncertain how much forensic material or authoritative witness testimony could be brought before a court.

Another problem is that Mukhlas, the Bali bomber who attended the meeting with Hambali when the plan for attacking “soft targets” frequented by Westerners in Indonesia was hatched, was executed last year.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Malaysia: Man Wins Fight to be Christian

KUALA LUMPUR — AN ISLAMIC court in Malaysia ruled on Friday that a man given an Islamic name at birth was a Christian, a rare victory for religious minorities in this Muslim-majority nation. The man — whose original identity card listed his name as ‘Mohammad Shah alias Gilbert Freeman’ — brought his case to the Shariah court in southern Negeri Sembilan state after the National Registration Department refused to accept he was a Christian and allow him to drop his Islamic name when he applied for a new identity card.

Lawyer Hanif Hassan said his client, who is 61, was raised as a Christian by his mother, and his Islamic name came from his Muslim father, who left the family when he was only 2-months-old. Mr Freeman is married according to Christian rites and has three children who are Christians.

‘The Shariah court ruled that he is not a Muslim. He is not practicing Islam, and he hasn’t applied to be a Muslim,’ Mr Hanif told The Associated Press.

He said his client was happy with the Shariah court’s decision.

‘This is a rare case but it shows that the Shariah courts are not rigid and are able to help resolve inter-religious disputes,’ he said.

Malaysia has a dual court system. Muslims are governed by the Islamic Shariah courts while civil courts have jurisdiction over non-Muslims. But inter-religious disputes usually end up in Shariah courts, and end in favor of Muslims.

Religious issues are extremely sensitive in Malaysia, where about 60 per cent of the 27 million people are Muslims. Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities have accepted Islam’s dominance but in recent years voiced fears that courts are unfairly asserting the supremacy of Islam, which is Malaysia’s official religion.

Mr Freeman sought the court’s help because he said he was getting old and he didn’t want any confusion over whether he should receive a Christian burial after, Mr Hanif said.

There have been several cases of Islamic authorities claiming the bodies of people they say converted secretly to Islam. — AP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Report: More Young Girls Face Rape in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) — Rapes targeting girls as young as seven are on the increase in Afghanistan where conditions for women are little better than under the Taliban, the U.N. and rights groups say.

In its annual report on human rights, the U.N. warned conditions were deteriorating in the war-ravaged country despite U.S.-led efforts after the 2001 removal from power of the hardline militia.

“Violence is tolerated or condoned within the family and community, within traditional and religious leadership circles, as well as the formal and informal justice system,” said Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

The “Afghan government has failed to adequately protect the rights of women despite constitutional guarantees.”

With a resurgent Taliban targeting NATO forces, government security forces and civilians, violence has been on the increase in Afghanistan..

The number of civilian casualties in 2008 totaled 2,118 — the highest number recorded since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the U.N. said, urging greater protecting for ordinary Afghans.

Violence against women comes in the form of rape, “honor killings,” early and forced marriages, sexual abuse and slavery, the report says. “The security is the big issue,” said Suraya Pakzad, founder of the Voice of Women Organization, which promotes education and awareness of women’s rights and protects women and girls at risk in Afghanistan.

“Because of security we, unfortunately, day by day, we have to pull out of areas where last year we operated, we have our operations. We were able to work with the women, but this year we cannot,” she said.

“We have to leave the area because security is getting worse day by day.”

“Rapes in the country have been growing tremendously, particularly child rapes within the ages of 9, 8, 7, even lesser than that,” said Wazhma Frogh, director of Global Rights Afghanistan.

“So these are the issues that are all born by this lack of security where women have no place in … security decisions.”

Domestic violence against child brides is widespread, said Suraya Pakzad, the founder of the Voice of Women organization, who was married at age 14 and has six children. She said girls as young as 10 face “violation” by husbands 40 years their senior. “By the end … women, or girls, run away.”

But women without husbands, especially widows, may have it even worse in Afghanistan, the report says. Without a spouse, the women are reduced to begging to feed their children.

           — Hat tip: AA[Return to headlines]


Thailand: Anupong Denies US Secret Prison Here

Army chief Anupong Paojinda insists the United States has no secret jail in Thailand for captured terror suspects.

“I insist there’s no such place in the army. I guarantee a million per cent with my position as guarantee,” Gen Anupong said.

The army chief said there were no such secret places in Udon Thani.

“ You can go everywhere, every district, every tambon in the province [to check],” he said.

Asked why the information the US has a secret jail in Thailand had been confirmed in the US, Gen Anupong declined to comment.

The issue of a US secret jail in Thailand re-emerged when US federal prosecutors revealed in documents submitted to a court in New York as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that suspected al-Qaeda operatives were reportedly flown in to be interrogated and allegedly tortured with the “waterboarding” technique at a secret jail in Thailand.

US Attorney-General Eric Holder has denounced waterboarding as torture.

The US prosecutors also revealed that 92 videotapes made and stored in Thailand of the waterboarding interrogation technique had been ordered destroyed by then head of the CIA Jose Rodriguez Jr.

Gen Anupong said he had not had any reports on the issue from the US.

Group Captain Monthol Satchukorn, deputy air force spokesman, said there was no US secret jail at the 23rd air force base in Udon Thani.

Grp Capt Monthol said there was a report on a secret US base in Udon Thani several years ago. The air force then allowed the media to tour the 23rd base but they found nothing.

The US embassy in Thailand also conducted a tour for the media of its Voice of America (VOA) radio station in Udon Thani.

Grp Capt Monthol said rumours of a secret US prison in Thailand might continue to circulate because the radio station, which was set up during the Vietnam war, was considered US property. The military has no authority over the VOA radio station compound, he said.

Security sources said military and security agencies had been searching for the secret US jail. They said the US military often used the navy’s U-tapao airport.

Adm Somdech Thongpiam, deputy navy chief, said there had been no reports that US authorities had brought terrorist suspects to Thailand.

He said the navy simply assisted US military officers when they flew their aircraft to U-tapao airport, but they would not pry into those US officers’ business at the airport.An army anti-terrorist expert said counterterrorist cooperation agreements between Thailand and the US allowed Washington to conduct secret operations in Thailand without telling the Thai government.

But as far as he knew, there was no secret US prison on Thai soil.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

China/EU: China Moving to Buy Up Troubled Euro Companies

China, which dispatched a large business delegation for purchasing to Europe late last month, will send another investment team consisting primarily of staff from large state-run companies.

The Chinese Securities Journal yesterday quoted Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming as saying, “The investment delegation will visit Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Britain, where the purchasing delegation visited earlier. This time the delegation will visit the countries for long-term investment, including acquisition of companies.”

Areas for investment will reportedly include processing and manufacturing as well as machinery and electronics. The investment delegation was formed at Chen’s instruction.

The minister had returned from his European tour with the purchasing delegation.

The investment delegation will likely comprise 40 to 50 companies and is smaller than the purchasing delegation, which had more than 200 members. The amount of its expected investment, however, will likely exceed the 13 billion U.S. dollars the purchasing delegation spent, as the investment delegation represents large state-run companies.

Chinese media said Chen decided to form the investment delegation while visiting Europe after hearing requests from European companies to invest rather than just buy products.

Beijing apparently seeks to kill two birds with one stone, as it can win support by helping troubled European companies and secure advanced technology and management methods by investing in such corporations

“Following the delegation’s tours to four Western European countries, we are also considering sending officials to Northern and Eastern Europe to find investment opportunities,” Chen said.

Li Wei, vice chairman of the Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, said, “The government will enthusiastically support companies’ overseas investments, including acquisitions of foreign firms.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Philippines: Manila May Resume Talks With Muslim Rebels

Manila, 4 March (AKI) — The Philippines government and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front are reported to be close to resuming talks, after Manila announced that it has dropped a precondition for arresting key commanders, Umbra Kato and Bravo.

Media reports cited foreign affairs undersecretary Rafael Seguis on Wednesday saying that the government peace panel is now waiting for the resumption of talks to be scheduled with the MILF by Malaysian facilitators.

The two commanders, at least formally repudiated by the MILF central command, are accused to have led a series of raids against Christian villages in the south in August last year.

The raids were sparked by the Philippines supreme court ruling that stopped the two parties from signing a memorandum which would have allowed the territory to be included in an autonomous Moro homeland, the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. The court later ruled the agreement unconstitutional.

Seguis said on Wednesday that the peace talks can resume even if the army is still to arrest the two rogue rebels.

On the fringes of the ASEAN meeting held last week in Thailand, Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi confirmed Kuala Lumpur’s commitment to the talks.

The combined effect of the Supreme Court ruling and the two commanders’ raids has led to worsening conflict in Mindanao.

Clashes between the army and rebel fighters have taken place almost daily and scores of people have been killed. The National Disaster Coordinating Council also said that more than half a million people were displaced at the height of the fighting in August last year.

It is estimated that some 112,000 people are still living in evacuation camps while another 200,000 are staying with friends or relatives.

The government has long stated that it will end its military operations when the MILF turns over the rogue commanders.

The MILF, however, is unwilling to hand over the commanders and wants international monitors to determine whether the men were responsible for ceasefire violations.

The Malaysian-led international team left Mindanao last November citing frustration with the slow progress of the talks.

According to the International Crisis Group think-tank, “the MILF has no interest in alienating Kato and cannot control Bravo.”

In its latest report, released in February, the Brussels-based ICG also expressed scepticism regarding a solution to the conflict.

“As it stands, the two sides are too far apart, the potential spoilers too numerous, and the political will in Manila too weak to hope for a negotiated peace any time soon,” the ICG said.

More than 80 percent of the five million Muslims in the Philippines live in Mindanao, where the MILF has been fighting for an independent separatist state since the 1970s.

According to the 2007 census, 81 percent of the 88.5 million Filipinos are Catholics.

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

Australia — Pacific

300 Brawl in Darwin Shopping Centre

More than 20 officers were called to a fight at Casuarina Square

Up to 300 youths have brawled at a Darwin shopping centre and homemade bombs have been set off elsewhere in the city.

Police said the explosive devices had been made with plastic bottles filled with a mix of substances.

One of the homemade bombs was hurled at a building in the vicinity of La Grande apartments on Knuckey Street about 10.45am (CST) on Thursday.

There was a second such incident in Mitchell Street about 1.30pm.

Firefighters were called in to make the area safe and clean up the remnants.

Police are looking for four young men seen in the area at the time.

“The fire service cannot stress enough the stupidity and potential danger caused by doing these acts,” police said in a statement.

“The potential loss of life, injury and property destruction far out weighs any perceived fun the offenders may find in their actions.”

Less than two hours later police were called to a large disturbance at Casuarina Shopping Square.

Watch commander Gary Smith said 27 police officers were called to break up a series of fights involving up to 300 youths.

“It was certainly a disappointing incident and police are calling on parents to ensure they know what their children are up to after school finishes,” he told ABC radio.

“Police will be taking a zero tolerance approach to these incidents, and we will issue trespass notices and infringement notices.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


300 Teens Brawl Metres From Cop Shop

HUNDREDS of teenagers were involved in a brawl only metres from a police station in Darwin yesterday.

It is understood the boys and girls, aged in their mid-teens, started fighting each other about 3pm near the Casuarina library.

Watch commander Daniel Shean said all available police officers were needed to disperse the youths, believed to be as many as 300.

“Obviously it was a previously organised thing by the number of the youths,” acting Senior Sergeant Shean said.

Members of the Casuarina Square foot patrol were the first to attend the scene.

But a back-up of a further 27 officers had to be called to control the brawl.

“When more police arrived they dispersed from the library area and continued to scuffle in the shopping centre,” acting Sen Sgt Shean said.

“They broke up into smaller groups and kept fighting.”

Acting Sen Sgt Shean said no force had to be used to disperse the youth, no arrests were made and no injuries were reported.

“Fortunately the near presence of police was enough to stop any offences from being committed,” he said.

It was not known last night what caused the dispute.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Australia: Fury at Lenience on Child Molester

RONALD Dean King is a 23-year-old Aboriginal man with a long criminal history. He is addicted to drugs and alcohol. He has never had a paid job.

On November 23, 2007, King broke into a home in the northern NSW town of Grafton. He got in through the back door. It was in two halves and secured with a nail. King crawled through the bottom section….

[Comment from Tuan Jim: You can follow the link to read the details of the crime…]

…King left the house, stopping to take a can of soft drink from the fridge. He smashed the front window of the family’s car, and tried to drive it away, but couldn’t get it started.

According to NSW District Court judge Chris Geraghty, this break and enter and this rape of a four-year-old girl are an offence at the “lower end” of seriousness. Ejaculating over the girl’s body, her clothes and her bed was no more than a “moment of drunken madness”.

“You need to be punished,” Justice Geraghty told King, at his sentencing hearing on February 5.

“But you will punish yourself for it.”

To the outrage of many in the community, Judge Geraghty — who could have given King 15 years or more — instead gave him a two-year suspended sentence, and put him on a two-year good behaviour bond.

There is anger, too, that all the sympathy in his judgment is directed not towards the little girl, but towards the man who assaulted her.

Judge Geraghty told King the seriousness of the offence was mitigated by the fact that “the child when assaulted was asleep” and there was “no evidence of major damage” to her vagina and “no evidence before me of any continuing damage, either physical or psychological”.

These assertions have outraged the girl’s parents, who say they have had to move away from the area to escape the memory of the crime. Their girl, now five, has nightmares and their marriage is under strain.

Jan Connors, who examined the girl after she was assaulted, did in fact find signs of trauma in her vagina. The girl had symptoms of pain on urination, and tenderness during the examination process. Dr Connors said the trauma would have been caused by penetration…

….Judge Geraghty told King the offence was “unimaginable” and the “community looks down on such offences with horror”, but he still decided it was “below the mid-range of seriousness and toward the lower end of the scale”.

He said King was “profoundly ashamed” of what he’d done, “terribly sorry”, “deeply embarrassed” and “accepted the little girl was afraid and scared”. He noted King had described himself as “scum of the earth”.

He concluded: “This is a terrible thing you did. I know you understand that”.

Judge Geraghty retired from the bench soon after handing down the sentence. The Weekend Australian tried to reach him this week but he wasn’t at the northern Sydney home he’s owned with his wife since 1985, and didn’t answer the phone at their country property.

Geraghty has previously been open about his thoughts and his experiences. In 2006, he published a book called The Priest Factory about the stately, stone St Patrick’s College in Manly, where he trained as a Catholic priest. He also wrote Cassocks in the Wilderness about his unhappy time at a seminary in the Blue Mountains, where he was schooled from the age of 12. He left the priesthood in 1976, after 14 years. Before joining the District Court, he was a judge of the NSW Compensation Court.

Some of Geraghty’s judgments were appealed by the offenders, for their toughness. Others were appealed by the Crown for “manifest inadequacy”.

In 2007, he jailed an extremely dangerous sex offender, Steven Roy Davis, for seven years, but backdated the sentence to the time of the crime (2001) meaning he would have been out on the streets last year.

The state Government was horrified. Davis had in 1993 been found guilty of two serious sex offences. In August of the previous year, he smashed his way into a woman’s house at Kemp’s Creek, threatened to kill her and sexually assaulted her. In October 1992 he sexually assaulted an agriculture teacher working in the sheds at St Mary’s College, using a knife to threaten her.

Davis was sentenced to a total of eight years for those crimes. Immediately on being released, in 2001, he attacked a woman in inner Sydney Darlinghurst, grabbing her around the throat. He was found unfit to plead, but in 2006 the courts decided he was fit to be tried.

In February 2007 he came before Judge Geraghty, who decided on a term of seven years, backdated to time of the crime. In other words, he was almost due for release. The state of NSW immediately applied to have Davis held in custody, pending psychiatric examinations, saying there was a very high risk that he’d reoffend.

In September 2007, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal doubled to five years a sentence Geraghty imposed on Hong Kong-born money launderer See Hon Siu, who had shuffled more than half a million dollars through local bank accounts.

In June 2007, the same court doubled a two-year suspended sentence Geraghty gave to Lebanese-born drug addict Ibrahim Naji, who robbed two convenience stores with black-handled metal scissors, threatening to kill the staff.

In March 2006, the court quashed a sentence Geraghty gave to a burglar, saying he had erred when he described him as a “petty thief”. The offender had 16 previous counts of break, enter and steal on his record.

University of South Australia child welfare professor Freda Briggs described Geraghty’s decision not to jail King as “inexplicable”.

“All the research showing that child sex abuse can cause life-long, serious harm, damaging victims’ social and emotional development and lead to long term mental illness. But some members of the judiciary continue to treat offenders lightly,” Briggs said.

“My concern is that without a prison sentence of more than 18 months, child sex offenders are unlikely to receive any treatment to attempt to change their perception of children as sex objects for their personal use.

“There is a clear need for the judiciary to be educated in all aspects of child abuse.”

Local state MP, Steve Cansdell, was livid.

“He attacked an innocent child. He doesn’t even deny it. It’s a complete and total disaster, incredible to me, to anyone,” he said. “The monster should be locked up in jail.”

The sentence will be appealed, but NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos wouldn’t be drawn on the details yesterday.

Instead, his spokesman produced a statement he had had released two days ago, saying: “The Sentencing Council was looking at ways of ensuring the standard non-parole period was enforced.”

As for Geraghty, he hopes that King — the offender, not the victim — can rebuild his life.

“This is your opportunity,” he told him at the sentencing.

“Make it up and you will only have yourself to blame.”

Releasing King into the community, he added: “I wish you all the best.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


New Zealand: Victims Caught in Cultural Silence

Jie Wang is referred to Shakti, the ethnic women’s domestic violence support network, by police and Auckland Hospital staff.

Her upper arms and thighs are bruised from kicks. Wang reluctantly attends her appointment.

Wang, whose true identity is protected, does not want to go to a refuge because she fears for her 9-year-old son and wants his life to remain normal.

Nor will she allow the police to press charges against her husband because those at home in China will blame her for the violence and breakdown of her marriage. Her Chinese-born husband has threatened to kill her if she does not heed his demands.

Shila Nair of Shakti says women from Middle Eastern, Asian and African communities referred to her network often talk of death threats.

“Treating women badly is a cultural issue and a behavioural issue. These men have been taught to have privilege. They have seen violence or abuse perpetuated against their mothers and they accept it as normal.”

Last year Shakti responded to more than 7000 women and children, many in “life-and-death” situations, says Nair. With more than 600 calls a month, Shakti’s four refuges are always full.

Auckland University Asian Studies associate professor Samson Tse, who has studied domestic violence in Asian families, found financial stress and employment difficulties led to “dysfunctional coping”.

Men turned to controlling and violent behaviour, holding women in “unbelievable” circumstances -”almost torture”.

Both husbands and wives feared they would lose face if the breakdown and abuse in their marriage became known, says Tse.

His study of 56 Asian immigrants, in the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, quotes women saying they were ashamed to disclose family violence because it damaged their community and brought shame to their country, children and parents. It reports one young bride’s wedding day warning from her father: “Only your dead body leaves this house.”

In China, the tragic result of women suffering and making sacrifices is evident in the country’s suicide statistics. The World Health Organisation estimates of the 1.5 million young Chinese mothers who attempt suicide every year 150,000 succeed — a number equivalent to the population of Chinese people in New Zealand.

To gain some understanding of the shame and loss of face that silences young Asian victims of violence I met Beijing’s leading advocate for women.

Speaking through an interpreter, Xie Lihua, deputy editor of China Women’s Daily and the head of Beijing’s Development Centre for Rural Women, estimates half of China’s 450 million married women in the countryside are trapped in unhappy relationships but do not see leaving their husband as an option.

“One may kill her husband, another will [commit] suicide,” says Xie. “In Chinese prisons there are many women criminals. They have suffered beatings and abuse. When they cannot endure it any longer, they kill their husband when he is drunk or asleep.”

In rural China the suicide rate is three times higher than in cities. “Eighty per cent of these deaths are caused by marital conflict,” says Xie.

Shanghai family violence researcher and PhD student Lu Zhang says few women complain because they believe they are to blame for the violence.

Old cultural beliefs assert that women must be beaten to make them listen to their husband. This allows villagers, police and judges to tell women to “stop whining” about violence.

China’s one child policy and the preference for male children traps many young mothers in impossible situations. In Guizhou province, southwest China, the Xintu Community Health Team works with mothers whose baby girls are dying for “other reasons”. Programme director, Yi Zhong, says

“The most important thing I do is educate mothers that girls are also our children, and babies are good.”

The need for boys is blamed on poverty, illiteracy and old cultural practices in which only sons inherit family wealth and maintain the family name.

The Chinese describe daughters as “spilled water”, because after marriage they live with their husband’s family and their loyalty shifts from their parents, to their husband’s family. This tradition sometimes reduces women to live virtually as slaves serving their husband, says Xie.

Shakti’s Nair says it is a practice that still survives in some New Zealand immigrant families from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She says young brides are expected to care for their husband’s family.

“Women are taught to accept male privilege and dominance and if the marriage breaks down they have nowhere to go. Their own family will not accept them back.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa: ‘Stop Giving Aid to Africa. It’s Just Not Working’

Development aid does more harm than good in Africa, says Zambian economist and author Dambisa Moyo, so we should stop it. She has the ear of at least one African president, Paul Kagame of Rwanda. ‘Why should Bono be the one to determine economic policy in Africa?

It was during her studies at Harvard that she first started wondering why Africa is the only continent that is forever struggling. Later, as she was working on her thesis at Oxford, she tried to figure out why poor Asian countries like South Korea or Thailand managed to join the world of emerging nations when no African country did. For the next eight years, she worked for the US investment bank Goldman Sachs. Gradually her conviction grew stronger: Africa will never get on its feet unless it makes a clean break with the system of development aid.

It is aid itself that is keeping Africa poor. This in a nutshell, is the argument Moyo develops in the first half of her book, Dead Aid, which came out last month. She is referring only to government aid, not to emergency humanitarian aid or charity. “Development aid simply doesn’t work,” she says. “It was supposed to lead to sustainable economic growth and a reduction of poverty. Name one African country where this has happened.”

Dead Aid caused a sensation in Great Britain. Here was a young, successful, educated African woman trespassing in a world dominated by middle-aged white men. Economist like William Easterley and Jeffrey Sachs. Rock stars like Bono and Bob Geldof. What’s more: she was arguing for pulling the plug on development aid.

“The danger is that this book will get more attention than it deserves,” wrote The Guardian. “Her proposal to phase out aid in five years is disastrously irresponsible: it would lead to the closure of thousands of schools and clinics across Africa, and an end to the HIV antiretroviral, malaria and TB programmes, along with emergency food supplies, on which millions of lives depend.

In The Independent , Paul Collier, a renowned development expert and Moyo’s former mentor, wrote that “Moyo is to development aid what Ayaan Hirsi Ali is to Islam,” a reference to the Dutch-Somali politician whose critique of Islam has forced her into hiding. Like Hirsi Ali, she is criticizing the system from the inside.

Moyo is unfazed by the criticism. “I don’t see why Bono should be the one to determine Africa’s economic policy,” she says during a hurried fried squid lunch in Oxford. She is due at a reading shortly, and later tonight she is a guest on Newsnight, the popular BBC current affairs programme, together with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi who developed the concept of microcredit.

She speaks fast, without pausing for breath. “I am fairly aggressive,” she admits. Asked about her age, she offers instead that the average life expectancy in her country of birth is between 36 and 37. “I have passed that particular milestone.”

If most people have focused on the first half of her book, Moyo herself thinks the really explosive material is in the second half. There she offers African government a series of tools to balance their budgets without the need for development aid: issue government bonds; attract foreign investment; boost exports by concentrating on emerging markets like India or China; put remittance, the money sent home by Africans living abroad, to good use… “It’s not rocket science,” she says. “Other countries have done it with success.”

Your verdict about development aid is pretty harsh.

Moyo: “I’m really not saying anything new. In fact, I’m plagiarising. I quote other people’s research. As early as the sixties, Peter Bauer, the development economist, was describing development aid as ‘a tax on poor people in rich countries that benefits rich people in poor countries’. He was ignored. In the world of development aid it is not a secret that it just doesn’t work. But aid organisations and celebrities like Bob Geldof are keeping the myth alive. My own family suffers the consequences of development aid every day.”

What are those consequences then?

“First and foremost the widespread corruption. The people in power plunder the treasury and the treasury is filled with development aid money. The corruption has contaminated the whole of society. Aid leads to bureaucracy and inflation, to laziness and inertia. Aid hurts exports. Thanks to foreign aid the people in power can afford not to care about their people. But the worst part of it is: aid undermines growth. The economies of those countries that are the most dependent on foreign aid have shrunk by an average of 0.2 percent per year ever since the seventies.”

But surely donor countries have checks and balances. They demand good governance.

“But at the end of the day they let the African countries get away with it. World Bank research has shown that 85 percent of development aid was used for other than the intended purpose. Donor countries are propping up the most corrupt regimes. From 1980 until 1996, 72 percent of World Bank aid went to countries that did not abide by the rules. The need for donor countries to just keep on giving appears to be insatiable.”

So why do Western countries keep on giving if it doesn’t help?

“The cynical answer is: because it distracts attention from the trade barriers they have erected in order to protect employment in the West. These trade barriers cost Africa an estimated 500 billion dollars every year. That’s ten times the amount Africa is given in development aid. And because they secretly don’t believe that Africa is ever going to pull it together. They feel sorry for the Africans. So they buy themselves a conscience.

But hasn’t Africa progressed enormously at the social level? In 1960, fifty percent of children went to school. Now that’s 82 percent. Child mortality has dropped by more than half in the past thirty years. Don’t you care about this?

“You can pay school fees for a 12-year-old girl. You can makes sure she has an education. You can say: look what development aid can accomplish. But what good is that for the girl is she can’t find a job after she leaves school? Because they are no jobs to be had. Every time I go home to Zambia, there are more street children. They can read, they can write, they speak English. And the only thing they can do to make a living is to hustle. More and more parents in the countryside are keeping their children out of school. If there are no jobs in the cities anyway, they say, the children might as well start working on the land right away.”

But isn’t pulling the plug on development aid a recipe for mass mortality?

“Only the elite will feel the pain. The poor won’t even notice the difference. It’s not like they ever saw any of that money anyway.”

Development aid experts like to point out that for decades the rich nations have used development aid as a weapon in the cold war, as an instrument of foreign policy. Unlike you, They plead for more and better direct aid.

“So where are we going to direct the aid now? In the sixties aid was supposed to be used for big infrastructure projects. In the seventies it was poverty. In the eighties it was structural changes and financial stabilisation. In the nineties it was democratisation and good governance. In the past sixty years 1.000 billion dollars in development aid has gone to Africa with nothing to show for it. How many times do we have reincarnate development aid before we can admit that it’s just not working?

Rwandan president Paul Kagame has approached you because he too would like to get rid of development aid.

“The president has been critical of development aid repeatedly in the past. But he is still dependent on it for 70 percent of his budget. He read an article about me in the Financial Times during a flight. He saw a chance to rid Rwanda from development aid. He wanted me to come to Rwanda right away. I was to meet with his ministers, who would then spend the weekend debating development aid.

“We discussed how to get a credit rating report as a country, how to sell government bonds, how to attract foreign investors, how to find new trade partners… ‘Just imagine,’ I wrote in my book, ‘that one by one African governments would get a phone call from the donor countries: “We’re phasing out your development aid over the next five years.”‘ An adviser to president Kagame told me: ‘We want to be the ones to make that phone call.’“

Do you expect other African countries to follow Rwanda’s example?

“Most African leaders find it much more convenient to just cash the development cheque every year. This way they don’t have to take action. They can do whatever they want. There is no one to call them to account.”

Paul Collier, your old professor at Harvard and Oxford, thinks you are far too optimistic about African countries getting access to world financial markets.

“With all due respect but I have worked in the financial markets. I know what investors want. It is not an easy road to take. But it’s possible. The reward is sustainable growth.

“I grew up in a country where every kind of initiative was either dismissed or suppressed. They can’t. They won’t. I’m fed up. Let’s try something new. Because the old approach clearly doesn’t work.”

Isn’t this the worst possible time to try a new approach now that the credit crunch has paralysed the financial markets?

“These are challenging times. But it’s not because the American and European markets are out of reach that all markets are. There are gigantic financial reserves in China and the Middle East just screaming for investment opportunities. And even if the markets are closed, all the more reason for African countries to start preparing for when they open up again. This apocalyptic situation isn’t going to last forever. So go practise your roadshow for investors. Why should they invest in your country and not another? Your answer is going to have to be convincing.”

Paul Collier also feels that you underestimate the specific problems of Africa.

“The problems of Africa are gigantic: they are historical, geographic, tribal. But there is nothing we can do about that. Should we just resign ourselves to the fact that Africa will never develop? How much longer are we going to keep using colonialism as an excuse? Can we finally move on?”

Another one of your old professors, Jeffrey Sachs, is proposing to double development aid to Africa to 100 billion dollars per year.

“I don’t get that. I think it’s hypocritical. At Harvard he was always saying that Russia, Poland and Bolivia had to adapt to the free market even if it was going to hurt. But when it comes to Africa, he has a whole other recipe. Is he saying that Africa is fundamentally different from the rest of the world? Is he saying that Africa will never get it together? Is he saying there is something terribly wrong with this continent? I would love to debate him. His arguments are emotional. They have little to do with economics or logic.”

Dambisa Moyo: Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa, 208 pages, Allen Lane. www.deadaid.org

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Darfur: Interview With Jem Leader, Khalil Ibrahim

“Bashir refuses to surrender? We’ll just go in and drag him out of his palace” Rebel leader declares: “Any chance for a deal is over”

NAIROBI — Talking on the satellite phone at full speed like an overflowing river, Khalil Ibrahim, leader of JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), is almost unstoppable. He’s speaking from his base camp somewhere in Darfur. His group of rebels is the strongest and fiercest of all the factions active in the wretched region of Western Sudan; the only group capable of giving the government troops serious cause for concern. Last year Khalil Ibrahim led his group on a surprise raid that got as far as the town of Ondurnman on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. Government forces beat them back and for a few days it seemed that Khalil had been killed. The Sudanese government propaganda machine spread the rumour.

ON THE PHONE — After expressing his satisfaction at the International Criminal Court’s verdict, the JEM leader went on to warn that if “Bashir didn’t surrender”, they would “go drag him out of his palace”. “They say we aren’t strong enough? We’ll soon show them. The Court’s decision just makes us all the stronger, but what makes us even stronger are the stupid positions adopted by the leaders of African and Arab countries who defend criminals instead of defending the civilian population”. “The people who are supporting Bashir,” declares Khalil, “are leaders who massacred their own people. Many of them have blood on their hands. They could hardly be expected to accept one of their own to be convicted. Most of these so-called gentlemen should be dragged before the Court to be judged for the massacres the perpetrated against defenseless civilians. The Hague verdict is a clear warning that they should stop these ruthless killings”.

THE APPEAL — “Following the Court’s ruling, Bashir has lost any shred of legality or credibility. Any chance of doing a deal with him is finished. He’s a common criminal and that’s how he should be treated. We were negotiating for peace at Doha in Qatar but we decided we couldn’t deal with a butcher like him. Negotiate with a tyrant? No way. I’m making an appeal to the Security Council to not consider requests to postpone the implementation of the international arrest warrant. A decision like that would just give new strength to all those dictators who have softened their approach for fear of being judged. If they thought they could get away with it, they would just go back to using their strongman tactics”. “The Arab League, a real Dictator’s Club, is also a disappointment. Just a bunch of leaders who look after their own interests and not their countries’. That’s why they all gang up against the people. As far as they’re concerned, one massacre is as good as another. They’re not worried about justice, they only want to protect their interests. They should be ashamed of themselves and we’re letting them know loud and clear: you are protecting a criminal. The international democratic community should not allow itself to be intimidated. How can we talk about improving the living conditions of people in Africa when the very lives of Africa’s people are in the hands of men like these? Getting rid of tyrants like Bashir means saving lives. Leaving him in power means condoning his killings and ethnic cleansing. We have told the International Court that we will give them our fullest cooperation and we will show them, evidence in hand, that they must also re-open the investigation into the accusation of genocide. We know that this person gave precise orders to burn villages, rape women, poison wells, all with the aim of destroying and annihilating whole tribes. Is this not perhaps genocide?”

Massimo A. Alberizzi

06 marzo 2009

English translation by Patrick McKeown

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


ICC Arrest Warrant for Bashir, Reactions From Arab World

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 4 — The Arab world has responded to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Egypt has asked for an emergency meeting in the UN Security Council to “open a global discussion on the means to examine the challenges in Sudan”. The foreign ministers of the 22 countries of the Arab League, who were in Cairo for a preliminary meeting for the next Arab summit in Doha, have decided to organise an emergency meeting on the arrest warrant. Also in Cairo, around a hundred Egyptian journalists, most working for the independent daily ‘Al Osbue’, demonstrated in front of the headquarters of their union shouting slogans. The Libyan minister for African affairs, Ali Triki, said that the arrest warrant is an illegal decision and that “it aims to undermine security and stability in Sudan and in Africa”. “What has happened in Darfur” he added, accusing former US president Bush “cannot be compared with the crimes committed in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan”. Hamas also condemned the decision taken by the Court. Hamas member in Gaza Taher A-Nunu, called it an unjust political decision. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mauritania Expels Israeli Ambassador and His Staff

Mauritania has expelled the Israeli ambassador and his staff from the overwhelmingly Muslim West African nation, Foreign Ministry officials confirmed Friday afternoon.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the Foreign Ministry had yet to release details. Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor would not immediately comment.

Army Radio quoted Jerusalem officials as saying that Mauritanian authorities on Friday morning had ordered the Israeli mission to dismantle the security apparatuses around the embassy and remove the Israeli guards, and that the embassy could therefore no longer operate.

An AP reporter in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott confirmed the embassy was closed.

Al-Arabiya reported that the Western African nation had given Israeli ambassador Miki Arbel 48 hours to leave the country.

Ties have been strained between Jerusalem and Mauritania — one of only three Arab League countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, to have full ties with Israel — since Operation Cast Lead.

In January, Mauritania suspended contacts with Israel to protest the IDF operation in Gaza, and earlier that month, the country recalled its ambassador from Israel for consultations amid street protests over the offensive.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Immigration

Italy: Anti-Mafia Police Smash People Trafficking Gang

Bari, 5 March (AKI) — Italian anti-mafia police on Thursday arrested 13 people suspected of trafficking illegal immigrants between Libya and the southern Italian coast and of ‘helping’ them escape from detention centres around Italy.

The 13 are accused of criminal association aimed at kidnapping and extortion and of abetting illegal immigration and falsifying documents.

The suspects were arrested in Italy’s southern regions of Sicily and Calabria and in the northern Lombardy region in the operation known as ‘Adib’.

The alleged trafficking gang abducted illegal immigrants after encouraging them to flee from detention centres around Italy. The gang used threats, physical force and even firearms, investigators said.

The illegal immigrants were only released after relatives already living in Italy had paid a ransom, investigators alleged. The traffickers then used hundreds of millions of euros of ill-gotten gains to purchase ethnic restaurants in northern Italy, according to investigators.

The ‘Adib’ operation began after an investigation of a group of foreign suspects in Italy by anti-terror police in 2005.

Although that probe failed to press terrorism charges against any suspect, investigators said they uncovered a vast people-trafficking ring operating between the Libyan and Italian coasts.

Police said the people-trafficking ring had cells with members in Libya and other North African countries and in Italy. Its various cells recruited would-be illegal immigrants in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan.

The would-be illegal immigrants were then transferred to the Libyan port of Zuwarah to set sail for Italy aboard rickety people-smuggling boats headed mainly for the southernmost Italian island of Lampedusa.

The people traffickers allegedly received instructions from cell members in Italy on which routes to sail and where to try and land, investigators said.

A Sudanese people-trafficker handled illegal immigrants after their arrival in Italy and their transfer to detention centres in the southern cities of Crotone, in Puglia, Agrigento and Caltanissetta in Sicily.

He is then alleged to have helped the illegal immigrants escape from detention to Italy’s more prosperous north, providing them with false documents.

Italian under-secretary for the interior, Alfredo Mantovano, welcomed Thursday’s arrests as “an important result” at a time when particular attention is focused on illegal immigrants reaching Italy from the Libyan coast.

Italy and Libya last month signed the implementation protocol of a bilateral accord originally endorsed in December 2007 to combat illegal immigration.

The signing of the protocol took place during a visit by Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni to Tripoli. It followed the ratification by the Italian Senate of the Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation Treaty between the two countries.

Under the treaty, Italy will give Libya millions of dollars in aid while Libya will allow the Italian military to join its naval force and monitor its coasts against illegal immigration.

Many of the illegal immigrants arriving on Lampedusa leave from Libyan ports. The joint patrols will be aimed at intercepting human traffickers departing on boats with hundreds of Africans on board.

Libya has always refused to take part in the European Union’s anti-migration patrol missions in the Mediterranean, conducted by border agency Frontex.

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

Culture Wars

Abortion: Spain; Panel, Sixteen-Year-Olds Free to Decide

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 5 — Voluntary abortion for 16 year-olds without parental permission and the total decriminalisation of voluntary termination of pregnancy, which would be freely available within the first 14 weeks and with consent up to 22 weeks in cases of risk to the life or health of the mother or where the foetus has serious abnormalities. These are the final proposals presented by the departmental minister Bibiana Aido, arrived at by the panel of experts set up six months ago to look into reforms in the abortion laws. The committee worked in parallel with the parliamentary commission on abortion, charged with drawing up the new law , scheduled for completion by the summer. Like the commission, the panel recommends that abortion be freely allowed during the first 14 weeks of gestation, and dependent on consent up to the 22nd week in cases of risk to the life or health of the mother or where the foetus has serious abnormalities. In cases where abnormalities are detected late, specialists recommend that the government should not set any limit to voluntary abortion. With regard to abortion for sixteen year-olds without parental consent, Aido pointed to the contradiction between the fact that an adolescent is considered mature enough at that age to be able “to get married or have sex” but not to terminate a pregnancy. “This is about guaranteeing the right to women who may decide to terminate a pregnancy to do it in complete freedom and legal security and within well-defined limits” said Aido. As for the marked increase in abortions among young women, the minister expressed her “concern”, and promised that the new legislation would emphasise information and prevention through sexual-relationship education and contraception education. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Atheists to Fight Bus Slogan Ban

Italian cities refuse ‘No God’ message

(ANSA) — Rome, March 4 — Italian atheists are ready to sue for freedom of speech after seeing a ‘No God’ bus slogan turned down across the country.

‘‘Freedom of expression is a constitutional right that is routinely swept aside whenever someone publicly says God doesn’t exist,’’ said Raffaele Carcano, head of the Italian Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists (UAAR).

‘‘We are ready to go to court over this,’’ he said after public transport advertising agencies turned down the slogan: The Bad News Is God Doesn’t Exist, The Good News Is You Don’t Need Him.

In the meantime, Carcano said, the UAAR has launched a Web campaign to choose an alternative slogan.

‘‘Supporters will put their ideas on our website and then they’ll vote on them,’’ he said, stressing that sympathisers had donated more than 30,000 euros to get an atheist message out on Italian buses following similar initiatives in other countries.

The UAAR has succeeded in starting up one ‘atheist’ bus, in the northwestern city of Genoa, but only after watering down the message in the face of religious protests last month.

The slogan that is currently appearing on two Genoa bus routes until mid-March is: The Good News Is There Are Millions of Atheists In Italy; The Excellent News Is They Believe In Freedom Of Expression.

However, the atheists did manage to gain approval for their first, stronger message in another northern city — but only for wall posters, not buses.

The posters will appear until mid-April in Pescara, on the Adriatic coast.

The UAAR lauded the city for granting them permission but the town council subsequently stressed, amid rising polemics, that they had had nothing to with the decision.

A Facebook group in favour of the UAAR’s drive has drawn thousands of supporters.

The Italian campaign follows similar ads in London, Barcelona and Washington where the slogan was: ‘‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’’.

The UAAR has 4,000 members across Italy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Could St. Louis Lose Its Catholic Hospitals Under New Federal Abortion Legislation?

By Tim Townsend

A proposed bill promising major changes in the U.S. abortion landscape has Roman Catholic bishops threatening to close Catholic hospitals if the Democratic Congress and White House make it law.

The Freedom of Choice Act failed to get out of subcommittee in 2004, but its sponsor is poised to refile it now that former Senate co-sponsor Barack Obama occupies the Oval Office.

A spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the legislation “is among the congressman’s priorities. We expect to reintroduce it sooner rather than later.”

FOCA, as the bill is known, would make federal law out of the abortion protections established in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade ruling.

The legislation has some Roman Catholic bishops threatening to shutter the country’s 624 Catholic hospitals — including 11 in the Archdiocese of St. Louis — rather than comply.

Speaking in Baltimore in November at the bishops’ fall meeting, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, took up the issue of what to do with Catholic hospitals if FOCA became law. “It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions,” he said. “That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil.”

[…]

But even within the Catholic community, there is disagreement about the effects FOCA might have on hospitals, with some health care professionals and bishops saying a strategy of ignoring the law, if it passes, would be more effective than closing hospitals.

[…]

Along with the 11 Catholic hospitals within the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Catholic Health Association of the United States says there are another seven in the St. Louis area within the borders of the Belleville and Springfield, Ill., dioceses.

According to the CHA, Catholic hospitals make up 13 percent of the country’s nearly 5,000 hospitals, and employ more than 600,000 people. CHA says one of every six Americans hospitalized in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital.

Not all bishops or Catholic health care professionals see closing down hospitals as a realistic option. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., a member of CHA’s board of trustees, wrote on his blog last month that “even in the worst-case scenario, Catholic hospitals will not close. We will not comply, but we will not close.” Instead, he advocated a strategy of “civil disobedience.”

[Return to headlines]


Media Trash Breadwinning Dads

“Alarming percentages of moms are angry at dads on a regular basis.”

“Hell hath no fury like a mommy scorned.”

“Moms are angry about dad’s role.”

These are some of the headlines that greeted Parenting Magazine’s new “Mad at Dad” survey, which found that 31 percent of mothers get “little or no help” with child care and 46 percent of mothers “get irate with their husbands once a week or more.” The New York Times called the survey “disturbing,” while a Washington Post columnist announced that mothers are “literally killing themselves.”

Is the survey a wake-up call? A shocking portrait of dysfunction in American family life? No — it’s junk science, and the New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets should have known better than to parrot its outlandish claims.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

General

Bishops: Threats From US Christian Fundamentalists

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 23 — A conference organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome and entitled ‘The Value of the Churches in the Middle East’, has brought journalists together with many Muslim and Christian religious, academic and political representatives, in order to find a way out of the crisis in the Middle East. The united message which left the conference rooms was the common aim to defend the spiritual wealth of the area from any kind of fundamentalism, including the new North American Protestant movements, and from attacks by those seeking to create tension between Christians and Muslims. The Latin Bishop of Baghdad, Jean Benjamin Sleimna, has denounced “Christian fundamentalism” in Iraq, which has been spread by certain American evangelical groups which “exploit God” for “obvious political ends”, and “proselytise with financial, moral and economic means”, causing harm to those churches already present in the country. Bishop Sleiman agreed that a synod for Christians in the Middle East would be significant for the situation in the region, and he added that for now “this is only a suggestion from one bishop and has not yet been discussed by the churches,” even though he stressed that “all churches long to be brought together again.” Recalling the good relationship with the western church (“I pray for Rome every day”, he said), the prelate said he was awaiting Benedict XVI’s visit in May, when the Pope will be meeting Iraqi bishops in Jordan: “I think there will be a specific meeting,” he observed, “as bishops we have received an invitation from the Patriarchy of Jerusalem.” Amongst the many speakers taking part in the event was the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi and the president of the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. “Religions in the Middle East contribute to social peace and brotherhood,” Al-Tayyebb said, and go against “attempts from overseas to sow discord and chaos.” According to Al-Tayyeb, there is “a western attitude” which aims to create division, invisible hands from abroad which want to create confusion. For the former President of the Republic, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, a moderator in one of the round-table meetings, all forms of fundamentalism should be eradicated “because,” he concluded, “fundamentalism is a sickness of faith.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Doctors Try to Silence Negative Reviews From Patients

Like other business owners, doctors are finding themselves chafed by negative reviews of their services online. Because of this, at least 2,000 doctors have begun using waivers that pressure patients not to post comments online, which they then use to try and have comments removed from review sites. Not all sites are amused by this development, though.

[…]

For their part, some sites that allow patients to review doctors are refusing to be bullied into taking down reviews, even if the reviewer in question has signed a waiver. “They’re basically forcing the patients to choose between health care and their First Amendment rights, and I really find that repulsive,” RateMDs cofounder John Swapceinsk told the AP. In fact, Swapceinsk is taking things a step further by putting up a Wall of Shame list of doctors who use patient waivers so that everyone can know who is engaging in these tactics.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Malades Sans Frontières

Worldwide medical tourism boom. Twenty thousand Italians go to dentists abroad

Italy’s malades sans frontières head for Romania, Croatia or Hungary in particular for dental treatment but they prefer Tunisia for a quick nip and tuck. If the problem is delicate, perhaps cardiac surgery or an operation on their joints, the destination can be more exotic, perhaps Thailand, Costa Rica, India or the Caribbean. And so it goes on as they seek out low-cost medicine, good beaches, state-of-the-art facilities and lower fees than at Italian hospitals. Welcome to the world of medical tourism, a phenomenon that takes millions of people to countries that can guarantee high-quality cut-price treatment.

BOOM IN USA — The trend has been around for a few years but only recently has it taken on significant proportions. This is mainly down to America, where an army of patients without a public health system, struggling to meet the cost of private health insurance — 45 million Americans have none — is prepared to go abroad for healthcare. According to a report by the Deloitte consultancy firm, the number of Americans who are treated abroad — 750,000 last year — is set to rise to six million by 2010 and ten million by 2012. It’s a boom that has turned heath into a global issue with repercussions in America and elsewhere. The first point is money. The Deloitte report claims that by 2012 the exodus to developing countries, particularly in Asia, could be worth around 21 billion dollars a year, a windfall for clinics in developing countries and a harsh blow for the American health system. In the Europe of national health systems, the trend is less marked but the siren song of low-cost medicine is finding an ever-wider audience. In 2006, almost 50,000 UK citizens upped sticks to spend several million pounds at hospitals in Turkey, India and Hungary. Saving money is the main attraction for globe-trotting patients. In fact, Deloitte’s experts reckon that on average treatment costs 15% of what an American would pay at home for the same operation. Nevertheless, there are other factors involved, of which the most important is cutting waiting times…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Vatican-Islam: Schoolbooks Must Not Offend Any Religion

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 26 — The Islamic-Catholic Joint Committee for Interreligious Dialogue would like to see school textbooks revised in order to remove any offences to religions. The committee is made up of members of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue between Monotheistic Religions. In a document approved at the end of their latest meeting a few days ago and released today by the Vatican press office, they state that “a culture of peace should permeate all aspects of life: religious training, education, interpersonal relations, and artistic expressions in their various forms.” “To this end”, it was specified, “school textbooks should be revised so that they do not contain material that could offend the religious sentiments of other believers, which may at times occur through the misleading presentation of dogmas, ethical visions, or historical reconstructions of other religions.” An appeal is then made in the document to protect young people “from the fanaticism of violence”. An important role was attributed to the media “in the promotion of positive relations between the faithful of different religions”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

6 comments:

Stormgaard said...

Please clarify - what exactly did Obama do to piss off Japan? (I'm already familiar with the UK rubs)

Anonymous said...

"It would be like a duel between Zorro and Sponge Bob Squarepants."

Tss, tss. This reeks of anti-Robert racism, Baron. I'm afraid I'll have to lodge an official complaint with some Human Rights Commission.

The Intellectual Redneck said...

Does Obama dislike the British? The answer seems to be-Yes. He really dissed the British Prime Minister. That could not have been an accident. He has too many diplomatic advisers for that to occur. Read more here.
Does Obama dislike the British?

Baron Bodissey said...

Stormgaard --

Here's the version from the Japan Times (Feb. 26):

Although Obama invited [Prime Minister Taro] Aso to be the first foreign leader to visit him at the White House, few of the usual hospitalities, including the joint press conference and lunch, were arranged for the unpopular prime minister.

Some analysts said the hidden message from Washington was that, while it recognizes the importance of maintaining the strong alliance with Japan to rebuild the global economy and deal with Afghanistan and North Korea, it is also fully aware that mounting pressures may force Aso out of power soon.

The meeting "sent an implicit signal that Washington supports the Liberal Democratic Party, if not Prime Minister Taro Aso himself," said Weston Konishi, a Japan-U.S. relations expert and adjunct fellow at the Mansfield Foundation.

Gordon, of course, received even worse treatment.

xlbrl said...

Yes, there is a degree of incompetence shown in treating inferiors with disrespect, because it makes the illusions spun by the revolutionary more difficult to impart. But there are no egos held in check within that inner circle.

laine said...

If we were not circling the toilet, there would be some schadenfreude in seeing Western world leaders representing constituencies who were part of the Bush bashing Obama glorifying glee club getting the cold shoulder not from the "ignorant cowboy" who was always gracious but from the Harvard snob.

They are dealing with a raging narcissist now, one with a Messiah complex who literally thinks he can make the climate warming waters subside and heal the world (if you agree with the First Boob that healing takes the form of communism). Everyone else on the world stage is treated like just a bit player.

Alas, western leaders suffer the additional handicap of melanin and ideology deficiency. For example, Obama bonded with Canada's black and leftist figurehead governor general rather than with the pale conservative Prime Minister and there were rumors that the Pres invited HER to Washington to discuss the problems of Haiti, her birth country. So she acted like the representative of Haiti rather than Canada, encouraged by Obama.

This outreach to every leftwing (Putin) and Muslim leader while giving the cut to Western leaders is the start of a new global country club at which whites are only fit to be the new slaves, working to support non-whites. It's hard to say what approach Obama will take with America's largest creditor China. They're left wing, but may lose points for polluting it with capitalism and they're not black or Muslim. Hmm. Tough one.