Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/27/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/27/2009The global financial crisis continues its ravages. Foreign investment is rapidly fleeing China. The average Australian has lost 36% of his net wealth. And the United Auto Workers are seeking another government bailout — for their golf course.

In other news, Michael Jackson’s fans among the inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines will honor the late singer by reprising their dance version of Thriller.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, Islam in Action, JD, PatriotUSA, TB, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Australia: We’ve Lost 36% of Wealth
Foreign Investment Flees China
Italy: No to Pensions Move, Berlusconi
UAW Seeks Another Bailout
Conyers Backs Off Probe of ACORN
Iran Has Come to America
Obama Admin Appoints Envoy to Muslim World
Obama, The African Colonial
Our Democratic Socialist Party
Europe and the EU
Abaya Gets a Makeover From John Galliano and Blumarine
BBC Laid Low by Tales of State-Funded High Life
European Leaders Mark Iron Curtain Fall in Hungary
France: Veil Flouts Secular Principles Says Mosque Chief
Gordon Brown’s Bid to Lead World on Global Warming
Italy: Bonino, Burqa is Against Principle of Responsibility
Italy: Police Close in on Mafia Kingpin
Nazi SS Officers Sentenced to Life for Second World War Massacre in Italy
Spain: Bishops, State Saves Billions Thanks to Church
Sweden: Iran Slams ‘Terrorist Attack’ On Embassy
Vatican: Report Raises Questions About Internal Debate
North Africa
Tunisia: Conference Warns of Decline in Arabic Instruction
USCIRF Expresses Concern Over Reported Attacks on Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt
Israel and the Palestinians
Gilad Shalit Soon to be Transferred to Egypt
UCSB Prof Cleared of Any Misconduct
Middle East
Jihadist Urges Muslim Soldiers to Cannibalism
Lebanon: First Italian Ice Cream Shop Opens in Beirut
Money Floods Out of Iran as Election Crisis Continues
Obama’s Praise for Iran’s Mousavi
Slaughter of Foreigners in Yemen Bears Mark of Former Gitmo Detainee, Say Experts
Turkey: Sex Workers Seek to Establish a Trade Union
Turkey: Court Sentences Man to Lifetime for Killing Italian
Turkey to ‘Never Give Up’ EU Bid
US Says Turkish Help Needed in the Region
NATO and Russia Expected to Resume Military Ties
South Asia
Karzai Tells Taliban to Vote in Afghan Elections
Far East
Michael Jackson is Dead: Prisoners to Recreate Dance Tribute
North Korea Threatens to Shoot Down Japanese Spy Planes
Sub-Saharan Africa
Horror of Kenya’s ‘Witch’ Lynchings
EU Summit: Cooperation With Country of Origin

Financial Crisis

Australia: We’ve Lost 36% of Wealth

AUSTRALIAN households have lost an extraordinary 36 per cent of their financial wealth since the economic crisis began.

Estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics put combined household wealth at just short of $787 billion at the end of March, down from a peak of $1246 billion in September 2007.

The total includes household wealth held in cash, bank deposits, bonds and shares, but net of borrowing. Significantly it excludes wealth held in the form of superannuation and real estate, and both of these have also dived since the crisis began.

Financial wealth per household as measured by the Australian Financial Accounts has slid from $159,000 to $98,000 — its lowest point for more than three years. Per person it has slipped from $58,900 to $36,200.

“It’s the result of the collapsing sharemarket,” said Savanth Sebastian, a Commonwealth Securities economist. “Australians are more exposed to shares than the citizens of virtually any other country.

“Up until March our share prices had dived 43 per cent.”

In the early 1990s recession wealth collapsed sharply during the first quarter of 1991 and then bounced around rather than sliding relentlessly as it has done this time.

“Back then our wealth wasn’t so tied up in shares,” said Mr Sebastian.

“We weren’t as exposed.” The good news is that share prices are climbing again. Since March they have rebounded a further 10 per cent, leading CommSec to expect an end to the slide in financial wealth when the next figures come out in three months.

“We think household wealth will tread water for two quarters and then pick up towards the end of the year,” Mr Sebastian said.

As our sharemarket slid, more and more of our wealth has been switched into cash and bank deposits, with the total either held under beds, in safes or in banks and credit unions reaching a record $487 billion in March, roughly 60 per cent of household wealth.

However the amount that we owe has continued to climb throughout the crisis, jumping a further $15 billion in the March quarter to a record $1306 billion.

“Our ratio of debts to liquid assets has hit 154 per cent, meaning we don’t have the readily available cash we would need to cover our debts in the event of a sharp downturn.

“We are vulnerable,” Mr Sebastian said.

In contrast, Australian companies have strengthened their balance sheets, reducing debt by a further $11 billion the March quarter.

“As a result their net assets have climbed to their highest point in two years. This should give investors confidence,” he said.

The Australian Financial Accounts show foreign investors demonstrating that confidence, lifting their ownership of Australian shares to 42 per cent, the highest proportion in 12 years.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Foreign Investment Flees China

Direct foreign investment in China is down by 17.8% in May, for an eighth straight month of decline. The flight of foreign capital is hard on the manufacturing industry resulting in heavy job losses.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Foreign direct investment in the mainland dropped 17.8 per cent year-on-year in May for the eighth straight monthly fall, commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian, revealed today.

The decline compared with a fall of 22.5% in April from the same month in 2008. Experts say it may indicate that the economy is reaching the lowest point of the crisis, but that there are no certain elements to guarantee a quick recovery.

For years the Chinese economic boom was favoured by massive foreign investment by companies who were encouraged to move production to the mainland because of its low manufacturing costs: a low cost labour force with few rights, lands conceded to industries for minimum rents, generous fiscal policies in favour of the foreign companies. But in the wake of the market contraction, caused by the global financial crisis, foreign investors have preferred to cease production and close down factories.

A direct consequence of this is the grave increase in unemployment, particularly in the labour industry: official data records 30 million migrants who have been made jobless because of factory closures. Companies financed by foreign investors represent 30% of all industrial output, but over 55% in exports.

The Chinese economy grew by 6.1% in the first quarter of 2009, but analysts believe that the expansion is insufficient to satisfy the increased demand for work.

Experts note that Beijing’s stimulus plan of 4 trillion Yuan (400 billion euro) has so far failed to have any affect on the number, and how it obviously does not benefit foreign investment.

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

Italy: No to Pensions Move, Berlusconi

‘Not right time, ‘ premier says

(ANSA) — L’Aquila, June 25 — It is not the right time to raise the retirement age for public-sector women in line with men, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday.

Reacting to a European Commission warning that Italy should comply with European Union gender parity rules in the public sector, the premier said: “We’ll think about it, but in a financial crisis it does not appear to be the right time for such a measure”.

Earlier, Civil Service Minister Renato Brunetta’s announcement that Italy would comply with the EU directive spurred protests from the centre-left opposition who said the government should first do more for working women, including equal pay and workplace creches.

One leftwing party said the warning from Brussels “came from the bosses and banks who helped create the EU”.

photo: Berlusconi addresses drug industry conference in L’Aquila Thursday

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAW Seeks Another Bailout

The auto executives have had to give up most of their perks in exchange for the federal bailout money. No private jets. No lavish sales outings.

But the United Auto Workers seems to have slipped under the radar.

The UAW still owns and operates a $33 million posh golf resort on Black Lake near Cheboygan that ostensibly serves as an education center but provides an elegant getaway for union leadership.

And now the union is appealing to the state Tax Tribunal for $3 million in property tax relief from Waverly Township, disputing the assessment of the property. If the UAW wins, schools will be hurt.

“Once again, the next generation is getting cheated out of a quality education — a chance at a brighter future — because the UAW doesn’t want to pay its fair share of taxes,” Drain Commissioner Dennis Lennox said.

The waste watchdogs at the White House’s auto task force should note that the resort has lost $23 million over the past five years, and has been kept alive by loans from the union’s strike fund.

           — Hat tip: PatriotUSA[Return to headlines]


Conyers Backs Off Probe of ACORN

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate purported wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying “powers that be” put the kibosh on the idea.

Mr. Conyers, Michigan Democrat, earlier bucked his party leaders by calling for hearings on accusations the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) has committed crimes ranging from voter fraud to a mob-style “protection” racket.

“The powers that be decided against it,” Mr. Conyers told The Washington Times as he left the House chambers Wednesday.

The chairman declined to elaborate, shrugging off questions about who told him how to run his committee and give the Democrat-allied group a pass..

Conyers spokesman Jonathan Godfrey said late Thursday, several hours after the first request for comment, that the chairman had been referring to himself as “the powers that be.”

Pittsburgh lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh, whose testimony about ACORN at a March 19 hearing on voting issues prompted Mr. Conyers to call for a probe, said she was perplexed by Mr. Conyers’ explanation for his change of heart.

“If the chair of the Judiciary Committee cannot hold a hearing if he wants to, [then] who are the powers that he is beholden to?” she said. “Is it the leadership, is it the White House, is it contributors? Who is ‘the power’?”

The comment spurred similar questions by House Republicans, who asked whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was involved in blocking the probe.

“Chairman Conyers has a responsibility to explain who is blocking this investigation, and why. Is it Speaker Pelosi? Others in the Democratic leadership? Who in Congress is covering up ACORN’s corruption?” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, ranking Republican on the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, said the chairman should be calling the shots.

Mr. Conyers, who heard the allegations against ACORN, was sufficiently impressed to realize a future hearing was needed to thoroughly investigate the matter,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that people who didn’t hear the testimony are making the decisions. The Democratic leadership should step up to disclose who instructed Mr. Conyers to drop his plan.”

The office of Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, did not respond to questions about Mr. Conyers’ comments.

Capitol Hill had bristled at the prospect of hearings because it threatened to rekindle criticism of the financial ties and close cooperation between President Obama’s campaign and ACORN and its sister organizations Citizens Services Inc. and Project Vote.

The groups came under fire during the campaign after probes into suspected voter fraud in a series of presidential battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada.

ACORN and its affiliates are currently the target of at least 14 lawsuits related to voter fraud in the 2008 election and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act complaint filed by former ACORN members.

The group’s leaders have consistently denied any wrongdoing and previously said they welcomed a congressional probe.

The group did not respond to questions about Mr. Conyers being convinced to drop those plans.

Ms. Heidelbaugh, who spearheaded an unsuccessful lawsuit last year to stop ACORN’s Pennsylvania voter-registration drive, testified in March that the nonprofit group was violating tax, campaign-finance and other laws by, among other things, sharing with the Barack Obama campaign a list of the Democrat’s maxed-out campaign donors so ACORN could use it to solicit them for a get-out-the-vote drive.

ACORN also provided liberal causes with protest-for-hire services and coerced donations from targets of demonstrations through a shakedown it called the “muscle for the money” program, said Ms. Heidelbaugh, a member of the executive board of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

Mr. Conyers, a fierce partisan known for his drive to continue investigating President George W. Bush’s administration, had been an unlikely champion for opponents of ACORN.

Before calling for the probe, he frequently defended ACORN. In October, he condemned an FBI voter-fraud investigation targeting the group, questioning whether it was politically motivated to hamper a voter-registration likely to turn out supporters for Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

But in March, Mr. Conyers dismissed the argument made by fellow Democrats that accusations of voter fraud and other crimes should be explored by prosecutors and decided in court, not by lawmakers in Congress.

“That’s our jurisdiction, the Department of Justice,” Mr. Conyers said in March. “That’s what we handle voter fraud. Unless that’s been taken out of my jurisdiction and I didn’t know it.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Iran Has Come to America

The nation of Iran is presently balanced on the precipice of civil war over the recent stolen elections returning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term as president. And what do we hear from the leader of the free world, President Obama? Nothing but weak, tepid words amounting to acquiescence to mass slaughter by the autocratic mullahs who acutely feel their power slipping by the day.

As millions of Iranians march in the streets of Tehran and throughout other cities, I am struck by the dichotomies between their righteous indignation over the sham elections versus America’s indifference and apathy concerning our own stolen elections six months ago by Obama (who’s most likely not even a natural born citizen), the Democrat Party and the government-controlled media. Other than hundreds of “tea parties” that broke out in cities and towns across America to memorialize the Boston Tea Party of May 10, 1773, there have been no mass demonstrations in Washington, D.C., in front of the White House expressing outrage that 62.7 million voters, 54 percent of the voting population willfully elected a neo-Marxist with fascist tendencies as president of the United States.

Iran has come to America. In my home state of Michigan, a federal judge has recently upheld a decision by festival organizers in Dearborn, which is about 30 percent Muslim, to ban a Christian ministry from handing out religious tracts on public sidewalks. If America wasn’t already a benign dictatorship, Congress would have immediately drawn up articles of impeachment against this renegade judge for so blatantly abridging freedom of religion and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment.


“He’s got a very delicate path to walk here,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. “You don’t want to take ownership of this,” defending Obama’s effeminate stance against Iran’s brutal political repression. That’s not Reagan’s “Peace through strength”; that’s not inspired leadership; that’s licking your finger, holding it up in the air and seeing which way the wind blows. Leaders lead! It’s time for Obama to stop being a man-child in the Promised Land and be a Man. But he can’t — why?

Obama is enslaved by his neo-Marxist, socialist ideology, which hates American exceptionalism, or the idea that America, by her unique history, religious traditions and Constitution is better than other countries possessing inferior historical and political traditions.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Admin Appoints Envoy to Muslim World

White House appoints Farah Pandith as rep to Muslim world

The United States State Department announced Friday the appointment of a Muslim woman from Indian origin as a new envoy to deal with the Muslim world, following a previous appointment of an Egyptian-born advisor in April.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Farah Pandith to serve as Special Representative to Muslim Communities,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appointed the 41-year-old to interat with Muslims across the globe, said in the statement.

“Farah brings years of experience to the job, and she will play a leading role in our efforts to engage Muslims around the world,” Clinton added.

Pandith, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child from Indian Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, will “be responsible for executing the administration’s efforts to engage with Muslims around the world on a people-to-people and organizational level,” the department said in a statement.

Previously, Pandit has been a senior adviser to the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs on outreach to Muslim communities in the West. She has also served on the National Security Council and with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on assistance projects for Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

“She has said that she sees her personal experience as an illustration of how Muslim immigrants to the U.S. can successfully integrate themselves into American society,” the statement added.

President Barack Obama has made improving U.S. relations with Muslims around the world a signature theme of his presidency.

In his inauguration speech on Jan. 20, Obama vowed to seek a “new way forward” with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and respect,” after eight rocky years under his predecessor George W. Bush.

Not sure if Muslim

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed Thursday that Pandith had been appointed, and promised a statement later.

Asked why the State Department had not formally announced Pandith’s appointment, Kelly noted it had been disclosed in an internal memo.

Kelly said he could not say whether Pandith was a Muslim, although two U.S. officials said privately that they believed she was. Pandith was not immediately available for comment.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government has labored to improve its image with Muslims abroad.

Afeefa Sayeed, another American-Kashmiri, has been working as senior

adviser in the Obama administration’s international aid agency USAID.

Egyptian-born American Dalia Mogahed, who heads the Gallup American Center for Muslim Studies, became the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House in April. Mogahed advised Obama on his Cairo speech.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Obama, The African Colonial

Had Americans been able to stop obsessing over the color of Barack Obama’s skin and instead paid more attention to his cultural identity, maybe he would not be in the White House today. The key to understanding him lies with his identification with his father, and his adoption of a cultural and political mindset rooted in postcolonial Africa.

Like many educated intellectuals in postcolonial Africa, Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. was enraged at the transformation of his native land by its colonial conqueror. But instead of embracing the traditional values of his own tribal cultural past, he embraced an imported Western ideology, Marxism. I call such frustrated and angry modern Africans who embrace various foreign “isms”, instead of looking homeward for repair of societies that are broken, African Colonials. They are Africans who serve foreign ideas.

The tropes of America’s racial history as a way of understanding all things black are useless in understanding the man who got his dreams from his father, a Kenyan exemplar of the African Colonial.


The African colonial (AC) is a person who by means of their birth or lineage has a direct connection with Africa. However, unlike Africans like me, their worldviews have been largely shaped not by the indigenous beliefs of a specific African tribe but by the ideals of the European imperialism that overwhelmed and dominated Africa during the colonial period. AC’s have no real regard for their specific African traditions or histories. AC’s use aspects of their African culture as one would use pieces of costume jewelry: things of little or no value that can be thoughtlessly discarded when they become a negative distraction, or used on a whim to decorate oneself in order to seem exotic. (Hint: Obama’s Muslim heritage).

On the other hand, AC’s strive to be the best at the culture that they inherited from Europe. Throughout the West, they are tops in their professions as lawyers, doctors, engineers, Ivy League professors and business moguls; this is all well and good. It’s when they decide to engage us as politicians that things become messy and convoluted.

The African colonial politician (ACP) feigns repulsion towards the hegemonic paradigms of Western civilization. But at the same time, he is completely enamored of the trappings of its aristocracy or elite culture. The ACP blames and caricatures whitey to no end for all that has gone wrong in the world. He convinces the masses that various forms of African socialism are the best way for redressing the problems that European colonialism motivated in Africa. However, as opposed to really being a hard-core African Leftist who actually believes in something, the ACP uses socialist themes as a way to disguise his true ambitions: a complete power grab whereby the “will of the people” becomes completely irrelevant.

Barack Obama is all of the above. The only difference is that he is here playing (colonial) African politics as usual.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Our Democratic Socialist Party

For all practical purposes, the Democratic Party in the United States has become the Democratic Socialist Party of the United States. With Barack H. Obama at its helm, the Democrats have launched an agenda the socialists have pursued for a century. While employing just the right rhetorical tone, Obama ridicules those who call him a socialist, while he is advancing his unprecedented socialist agenda.

Obama is a better salesman than his socialist predecessors, but the result is the same: Government control must trump individual freedom in order to achieve economic balance, environmental protection and social equity. Obama and his socialist Democrat congressional majority are transforming America more dramatically, and faster, than anyone could have imagined.

The Americans who created the government of the United States, accepted by the majority of Americans when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, expressly limited the power of the federal government and reserved all power not granted to the federal government for the states, and for the people. The purpose of the government was to protect the freedom of its citizens from all enemies, whether foreign or domestic.

The Democratic socialists in Washington reject this purpose, and are rapidly constructing a government in which the expression of individual freedom — as in peaceful assemblies such as the recent tea parties — is labeled a threat, a potential threat, or “low-level terrorism.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Abaya Gets a Makeover From John Galliano and Blumarine

Top European fashion labels, including John Galliano and Blumarine, have sent models in couture abayas down the runway in an effort to lure wealthy Muslim women.

A horsewoman in a flowing, made-to-measure Islamic gown atop a snorting steed opened the fashion show on Thursday at the George V Hotel in Paris.

Abayas are the body-covering black robes some Muslim women don over their clothing in public, usually accompanied by a head scarf or niqab, the face veil that covers all but the eyes.

Designers who tried their hand at making over the abaya, which is required in Saudi Arabia, included Christian Dior’s artistic director John Galliano, French luxury labels Nina Ricci and Jean Claude Jitrois and Italian houses Blumarine and Alberta Feretti.

The show began with a bang, as the carrot-topped cavaliere — decked out in a Galliano-designed abaya exploding with firework of coloured sequins and dangling fringe — rode her mount into the hotel’s subterranean salon.

Twenty models followed on foot, wearing abayas heavy with rhinestones or airy in gauzy fabrics.

“I realised that most of the Saudi clients are wearing designer brands, but they’re covered by a black abaya,” said Dania Tarhini, the show’s organiser and a general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue in Saudi Arabia. “It is an obligation to wear the abaya there, but let them feel good about it.”

The timing of the Paris show was propitious: four days earlier, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, struck a nerve in the Muslim world by declaring that full-body veils such as the burka are “not welcome” in France, saying they make women prisoners. A top Muslim group in Britain called Mr Sarkozy “patronising and offensive.” Lebanon’s most influential Shia cleric called on Mr Sarkozy to reconsider his comments.

Ms Tarhini, a Lebanese who has lived in Saudi Arabia for the past seven years, acknowledged “it wasn’t easy” to convince designers to take part in the project.

At first, “they couldn’t imagine how to make a designer abaya,” she told The Associated Press in an interview. “I explained to them the concept is to (make women) look good and also to promote their brands … Then they accepted.”

She said the initial batch of made-to-measure abayas — worth between â‚4,000-â‚8,000 ($5,500-$11,150) — would be given as presents to Saks’ most faithful Saudi clients.

Ready-to-wear versions of the robes by the 21 designers featured in the Paris show are expected to go on sale in Saks stores the Saudi Arabian cities of Jeddah and Riyadh in September. The gowns, which are to retail for â‚1,800 ($2,500), could later be sold in the store’s branches in neighbouring Bahrain and Dubai, she said.

Most of the gowns on display adhered to standards considered appropriate for wear in Saudi Arabia: all were black, most were floor-length and many had a built-in head covering or matching veil.

The few translucent abayas, like a bell-sleeved gown embroidered with white and yellow flowers by Carolina Herrera, the Venezuelan designer favoured by Renée Zellwegger, were meant to be worn over evening gowns, Ms Tarhini said.

“Everybody’s waiting for a change in a good way,” she said. Some women in Saudi Arabia “don’t want to feel obliged (to wear the abaya). They want to wear it to look fashionable, as well.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

BBC Laid Low by Tales of State-Funded High Life

From wrapping paper to iPods and luxury jets, the expenses of BBC executives have been thrown open to public scrutiny

The lifestyle and pay packets of top executives at the BBC were laid bare yesterday, revealing how the Corporation’s senior staff used public money to pay for everything from wrapping paper and iPods to flowers and champagne for its highest-earning stars.

Luxury hotels, a private jet and even gifts for fellow BBC staff members also appeared. Details revealing the finances of the BBC’s top team also show that many were paid more than the Prime Minister, while executives spent £20,978 last year entertaining other members of staff.

Most of its 50 highest-paid executives were paid more than £200,000, with the director general, Mark Thompson, earning £647,000 a year. The lowest paid of the group earned an annual salary of at least £160,000. MPs predicted last night that the publication of the expenses would heap pressure on other public bodies, such as the NHS and quangos, to follow suit. The embarrassing documents appeared on a day that the private sector announced thousands of job losses and pay cuts, underlying the growing disparity between the public and private sectors. British Airways announced a voluntary pay cut for up to 7,000 workers, while steelmaker, Corus, said that it was cutting around 2,000 jobs.

Despite widespread anger over the claims, the BBC last night ruled out the possibility of executives repaying money. It said there had been one repayment made since 2004 in the form of a voluntary £1 donation to Unicef originally claimed as part of a hotel bill by the BBC’s director of vision, Jana Bennett. A spokesman said that all other expenses had been approved by the BBC’s internal auditing system and that the returned £1 would remain the sum total of funds handed back to the taxpayer.

Details of the expenses emerged after a long Freedom of Information campaign for the release of details to spell out how the BBC was using public money. The expenses will be published online every three months from now on. And further details are on the way, with around 100 BBC executives eventually being included in the process.

In a day which saw the row over the use of publicly-funded expenses shift from Westminster to White City, the BBC’s base, the eye-opening list of expense claims included:

* Jonathan Ross, whose contract is said to be worth £18m, handed a £100 bouquet of flowers.

* A publicly-funded £1,137 party to celebrate Terry Wogan’s knighthood.

* £99 for a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee champagne, given as a present to Bruce Forsyth for his 80th birthday.

* Flights costing £2,200 to fly back Mark Thompson, the director general, and his family from holiday in the wake of the controversy over the prank phone call made to the actor Andrew Sachs. He also claimed £1,277 to charter a private jet to return from holiday to deal with an expenses row.

* Jana Bennett, director of vision, claimed a gift-wrapped Harrods bear costing £47.50 and a pair of engraved Tiffany cufflinks for £85..25 as a “talent gift”.

* Ashley Highfield, the former head of Future Media, bought a £238 iPod “for testing with BBC services”.

Other items included in dozens of pages of documents dating back to 2004 included claims from Dame Jennifer Abramsky, the former director of Audio and Music, for wrapping paper for a leaving present costing £5.96, and a £20 picture frame.

Mr Thompson was also under pressure after it was revealed that he had claimed to stay in a hotel in London. A spokesman said that Mr Thompson only did this when he was unable to commute to and from his Oxfordshire home as a result of late or very early meetings. He has claimed £77,823.35 in expenses over the past five years.

Though Mr Thompson said the BBC had published the details in order to be open with the public, he said that pay packets agreed with big names and funded by the taxpayer, including Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton and Jeremy Paxman, would remain secret.

“It has been our view that it does not make sense for the BBC to disclose individual talent fees,” he said.

“Why? We operate in an industry where confidentiality is the norm in which only one of our competitors is themselves subject to Freedom of Information. There’s a real danger that talent would migrate to broadcasters where confidential information about how much they are paid will not be disclosed.”

The Tories hinted that they would subject the BBC to a budget squeeze in the wake of the claims. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow Culture Secretary said that the embarrassment caused over the publication of the claims, along with the prospect of a less generous financing deal under the next government, would see the lavish claims disappear.

“At this time, it’s not the best time for MPs to be criticising other people over expenses, but I think what this demonstrates is that the best way to make sure people are wise to the way they use public money is transparency,” he said. “The combination of that with a new negotiation over the licence fee in 2013 will put the BBC under huge pressure to be incredibly careful with its spending.”

John Mann, the Labour MP who has campaigned over the publication of expenses for MPs, said last night that the BBC needed to go “further down the line” in exposing the way taxpayers’ money was spent.

“The more is published, the better behaviour we will get,” he said. “Everyone needs to justify what they are spending public money on. The public has a right to know. This is the start of a revolution that will spread throughout the public services.”

Don Foster, the Culture spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that “the veil of secrecy” over spending also needed to be lifted on spending by executives at Channel 4, which is publicly owned, and the industry’s regulator, Ofcom.

He also called on the National Audit Office to be allowed to investigate the BBC’s spending on big- name stars without revealing the value of their contracts in its findings…

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

European Leaders Mark Iron Curtain Fall in Hungary

BUDAPEST, Hungary — European leaders marked the 20th anniversary of the symbolic fall of the Iron Curtain, often described as the first crack in the Berlin Wall and one of the key episodes leading to the end of communism in Eastern Europe, in Budapest on Saturday.

The presidents of Germany, Austria, Finland, Slovenia and Switzerland, as well as high-ranking officials from Poland, Britain and more than 20 other countries will participate in a commemorative session at the Hungarian parliament and a gala event at the Hungarian State Opera House.

On June 27, 1989, the then-foreign ministers of Hungary, Gyula Horn, and Austria, Alois Mock, cut through some barbed wire on the border between the two countries, putting a symbolic end to a physical and psychological boundary of which by then there was little left.

“Looking at the entire chain of events, we rightfully and deservingly celebrate June 27 as the day in which the partitioning of Europe came to an end,” Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom said at the start of the special session in parliament. “We have every reason to celebrate together. The cut barbed wire fence was an immediate symbol that helped the whole world understand what was happening here in the center of Europe.”

Hungary had begun to dismantle the Iron Curtain nearly two months earlier, on May 2, 1989 — partly because border guards said it was in such poor condition that even small animals were setting off false alarms along the electrified fence.

With most of it already gone, officials had trouble finding even a small section of the Iron Curtain for Horn and Mock’s staged photo opportunity with wire cutters.

“What happened at the end of June was a nice symbolic gesture … but the border continued to be strictly controlled,” Swiss-Hungarian journalist and historian Andreas Oplatka said on state radio.

Still, pictures of the event were published around the world and inspired tens of thousands of East Germans to leave their country, find temporary refuge in Hungary, Poland or Czechoslovakia and wait for an opportunity to travel to West Germany.

By the end of the summer, thousands of East German “tourists” were living in tents on the grounds of the West German embassy in Budapest and in several other locations around the city, including church yards and the site of a communist youth camp.

After allowing some of the “Ossies” to leave for West Germany via Austria in August and then some more a few weeks later, Hungary finally decided to let all East Germans out from Sept. 11, 1989.

Within two months, on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany’s reunification was formalized in October 1990.

On Saturday, German President Horst Koehler thanked the Hungarians for their solidarity with the East Germans and their contributions to German unity.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the Hungarian people for their bravery, attitude and support toward the East Germans,” Koehler said.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer drew parallels between the 1989 transition to democracy in Eastern Europe and the current protests in Iran.

“1989 was a dramatic year but it had a peaceful outcome,” Fischer said.. “No dictatorship, however solid it may seem, can ever feel truly safe.”

“These were events which can motivate people in Iran to feel that their democratic opinions can be expressed,” Fischer said, drawing applause from hundreds of guests in the upper chamber of Hungary’s parliament on the banks of the Danube River.

Speaking at a Friday evening memorial on the border with Hungary, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger characterized the 1989 events as “the great triumph of the citizens of the former Eastern Bloc states.”

“Today, watchtowers and barbed wire are a part of the past. The ‘peace project Europe’ has prevailed with much success,” Spindelegger said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

France: Veil Flouts Secular Principles Says Mosque Chief

Paris, 23 June (AKI) — French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s rejection of the burka and the face veil are “in keeping with the republican spirit of secularism,” according to the rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, quoted by media.

Boubakeur said he supported a proposal by French MPs for a panel of deputies to look at the wearing of the burka “on the condition that they listen to what the experts on Islam have to say”.

The burka marked “a return towards Islam’s past, in line with the preaching and vision of fundamentalists” added Boubakeur (photo).

But he also said many women chose to wear a full-body covering as a way of asserting their Muslim identity in host societies they felt were hostile to any kind of Islamic headscarf.

In a speech he gave at the Palace of Versailles on Monday, Sarkozy said that the burka or head-to-toe Islamic garment for women was not a religious symbol but one of oppression.

“The burka is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience,” he told members of both parliamentary houses gathered for his speech.

Sarkozy’s comments followed an appeal last week by 65 French MPs for a parliamentary commission to examine whether Muslim women who cover themselves fully in public undermine the secular tradition in France as well as women’s rights.

France’s housing minister Fadela Amara, a Muslim-born women’s rights campaigner, weighed into the debate saying “we must do everything to stop burkas from spreading, in the name of democracy, of the republic, of respect for women.”

“The worrying thing is that we are seeing more and more of them,” she said, describing the burka as “a kind of tomb for women.”

But the head of the official French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, insisted full-body veils remain a rare exception among France’s Muslim community, Europe’s largest.

An inquiry by a French parliamentary commission would be “a way of stigmatising Islam and the Muslims of France,” he said.

Moussaoui’s view was shared by Ahmed Jallah, head of the European Institute of Humanities in Paris, who said he was “stunned” by Sarkozy’s comments.

Amid intense public debate, a 2004 law outlawed religious symbols in French schools. These included the Islamic veil, Sikh turbans, prominent Christian crosses and Jewish Stars of David.

Youths in high-immigrant areas of France’s inner cities rioted for several weeks in 2005, after two youths were electrocuted in the northern Parisian suburb of Clichy-Sous-Bois during a police pursuit.

Analysts say high unemployment, poor public services and overcrowding in schools were some of the root causes of the problems plaguing the economically deprived suburbs of Paris and other major French cities.

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

Gordon Brown’s Bid to Lead World on Global Warming

Gordon Brown yesterday bid to lead the world in tackling global warming by launching a groundbreaking initiative to set up a 100bn dollar-a-year fund, rescuing deadlocked international negotiations on a new climate treaty.

In a landmark speech in London the Prime Minister publically broke with the position of other developed countries by proposing that they provide “around 100 billion dollars” (£60bn) a year to help developing nations combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

It would be used to help fund their measures both to reduce their emissions of the pollution that causes global warming and to defend themselves against the consequences of increasing temperatures and rising seas.

Such financial aid is one of the key Third World demands in the negotiations, but until now no rich country has been prepared to make a concrete response. It has been one of the main reasons why talks convened by the United Nations — which two weeks ago concluded their second abortive session so far this year in Bonn, Germany — have so far failed to make progress.

Setting out the Government’s manifesto for international climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year, the Prime Minister said it was essential to cap damaging carbon emissions in order to stabilise global warming.

Speaking at the manifesto launch at London Zoo, Mr Brown committed Britain to paying its “fair share” of the global total and said he expected other developed countries to do the same.

“Over recent years the world has woken to the reality of climate change. But the fact is that we have not yet joined together to act against it. Copenhagen must be the moment we do so,” he said.

“If we act now, if we act together, if we act with vision and resolve, success at Copenhagen is within reach. But if we falter, the earth itself will be at risk.”

Mr Brown’s initiative was immediately welcomed yesterday by Denmark — which will host the crucial final session of the negotiations in Copenhagen in December — and by the key developing world governments of Bangladesh and the Maldives, two of the countries most threatened by inundation from the higher sea levels that will result from global warming.

And it received unaccustomed praise from hitherto critical environmental pressure groups. WWF-UK (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) said Britain should be “loudly applauded for being the first country to begin to break the stalemate that has dogged international talks.”

Greenpeace added that “by becoming the first major leader to put a figure on how much money is needed” the Prime Minister “has shown signs of leadership on climate change that have so far been sorely lacking”.

Mr Brown will now phone the leaders due to attend a climate change summit in Italy next month — starting with President Obama — to muster support for the plan. The summit, which will immediately follow the annual meeting of the heads of G8 countries, will bring together major developed and developing nations in an attempt to breathe new life into the UN negotiations.

So far European finance ministers have twice refused to come up with a figure for the amount of money they are prepared to offer, fearing that it will only be bid up by Third World countries.

Some goverments, including France, tried to persuade Mr Brown not to make today’s announcement. But he decided that it was needed both to revive the negotiations and to provide a realistic proposal around on which the talks could focus.

In his speech, the Prime Minsiter described the £100 billion a year sum as “a working figure” and “a credible number against which countries can develop their plans”.

He added that the negotiations “are not moving at the pace we need” and hoped his proposal would “help us move forward towards agreement.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Italy: Bonino, Burqa is Against Principle of Responsibility

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 24 — The Deputy Speaker of the Italian Senate, Emma Bonino has today spoken out against the burqa, saying that “in a liberal society in which the principle of individual responsibility rules, it is not acceptable to go around without being able to be recognised, so therefore neither the niqab nor the burqa”. Bonino was addressing a seminar entitled ‘The Arab Woman in the 21st Century: Prospects for Gender Equality’, set up by the Italian Institute for Africa and the East (ISIAO), the League of Arab States and the Foreign Ministry. Religion does not even enter the equation according to Bonino, not that you can make an issue over state secularism like in France “seeing as we even have crucifixes in courtrooms”. Instead, reiterated Bonino, it is “a question of individual responsibility, which must be present everywhere, in the street, at the bar, and of respect for the rules and the law”. As for the situation of women in the Arab world, the deputy speaker said that “here, a stereotyped image prevails, whilst the lives of women in Turkey or Morocco are very different to the lives of those living in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the road of gender equality is an uphill one in Italy too, where women’s status is absolutely pathetic. Just think about access to the job market compared to the European Union average, the gap between the North and the South, the chance of taking on leadership roles. Indeed, the women of Italy are making a silent revolution — that of not having children any more”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Police Close in on Mafia Kingpin

Arrests ‘drying up water where Messina Denaro swims’

(ANSA) — Trapani, June 16 — Thirteen Mafia suspects were arrested Tuesday in an operation police said had helped them close the net on fugitive kingpin Matteo Messina Denaro.

“Today’s operation is part of a strategy of capturing Messina Denaro by drying up the water he swims in,” said Palermo Chief Prosecutor Francesco Messineo.

The arrests took place in the provinces of Trapani, Palermo, Rome and Piacenza.

The 13 had been active in helping the 47-year-old Messina Denaro elude capture, police said.

Some 37 inmates in 15 jails were also searched after evidence they had been sending messages to Messina Denaro, who is believed to be the Sicilian Mafia’s top boss.

The Cosa Nostra chieftain based in this western Sicilian city, who has been on the run since 1993, is believed to be expanding his criminal empire abroad and police found evidence of trips to Austria, Greece, Spain and Tunisia.

Messina Denaro is suspected of travelling under fake ID papers supplied by the Rome-based head of a showbiz security firm, Domenico Nardo.

Nardo was arrested along with the courier suspected of taking messages from Trapani to Palermo in the aftermath of the April 2006 arrest of long-time fugitive superboss Bernardo Provenzano.

Palermo boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo appeared to be vying with Messina Denaro for control of Cosa Nostra but his arrest in November 2007 has left the scene clear for the Trapani boss to take command, police say.

Also arrested in Tuesday’s sweep, which involved 300 police, was a former finance guard, Achille Felli, who had been working as an aide to a leading former member of the Anti-Mafia Commission, Carlo Vizzini.

Vizzini, who sacked Felli after his arrest, recently stepped down after being named in a probe into the suspected misappropriation of a hoard left by Vito Ciancimino, Sicily’s first mayor to be arrested for Mafia links.

Messina Denaro, who is reportedly idolised by Cosa Nostra younger troops because of his charisma and ruthlessness, has managed to become one of the world’s top drug dealers despite being on the run for 16 years, the FBI says.

Notes found in Provenzano’s farm hideout in 2006 showed that the Trapani boss had been in constant touch with the ‘boss of bosses’.

The young boss sent more messages than any other Mafia leader to the sheepfarm outside Corleone where Provenzano, 73, was smoked out after 43 years in hiding.

In all of them he addressed the widely venerated Don in “intimate” terms and signed off each note as “your nephew Alessio”.

All these were signs that the Armani-clad, Ray-Ban-wearing ‘playboy’ had poked his nose in front of the older Palermo rackets king Lo Piccolo in the line of Mob succession, police said.

Denaro may look like a slick manager on the make, police say, but he sealed a reputation for brutality by murdering a rival Trapani boss and strangling his three-months pregnant girlfriend.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nazi SS Officers Sentenced to Life for Second World War Massacre in Italy

Nine former members of the Nazi SS were sentenced to life in prison for a series of massacres during the Second World War by an Italian court, according to news reports.

The court also ordered Germany to pay damages to some of the families of the hundreds of victims, the ANSA news agency reported.

The nine suspects, aged between 84 and 90 were tried in absentia and found guilty of the murders of more than 350 civilians in the summer of 1944..

A tenth defendant was acquitted and another died during the trial, the agency said.

The victims, including many women and children, were rounded up by Nazi troops ostensibly on the hunt for partisans and shot in separate killings that occurred in the area around the Tuscan town of Fivizzano in August, 1944.

Germany will have to pay damages to some fifty families of the victims, ANSA said. The total amount will be fixed later, though the court ruled an initial â‚1.25 million (£1 million) should be paid immediately, the agency reported.

Italian law allows victims and their relatives to attach civil lawsuits to criminal cases to obtain damages. It is not the first time a court has ordered Germany to pay compensation for Nazi massacres and for the thousands of Italians sent to Nazi Germany as slave labourers during the war.

In some cases, judges have suggested that, if the government refuses to pay, German assets in Italy could be auctioned off.

The compensation suits have become a sensitive issue in Italian-German relations.

Germany has refused to pay, arguing that, under international law, claims by individuals cannot be used to pursue compensation from nations and that Germany has already paid reparations for Nazi crimes under international treaties with Italy.

German has also taken the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Spain: Bishops, State Saves Billions Thanks to Church

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 9 — The Spanish government saves “several dozen million euros per year” thanks to the church, and 3.372 billion thanks to the education sector alone, not counting health care, cultural, liturgical, and pastoral assistance, said the vice-secretary for economic affairs of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, Fernando Jimenez Barriocanal, presenting the 2007 “Annual record of the activities of the church in Spain”. Barriocanal, cited by El Mundo’s website, said that almost 20,000 Spanish priests dedicate “over 46 million hours of spiritual attention to people in Spain”, performing over 5 million Eucharistic ceremonies per year and teaching “about one million children and young individuals in parishes”. With a notary’s precision, he explained that each year in Spain, 325,271 baptisms are celebrated, 256,587 first communions, 96,766 confirmations, and 113,187 marriages, “not counting confessions”. The Catholic church may even be in a crisis in the former “spiritual reserve” of the West, but priests still have plenty of work. In the education field alone, the church is present with 6,022 private or state-recognised schools, where 1,277,256 students are educated. Barriocanal stressed that in this way, the Catholic church allows the state to save three billion euros per year “because the cost of a seat in a public school is almost double that in a state-recognised school “managed by the ecclesiastical community”. In the cultural sector, ecclesiastical institutions own 30% of the public monuments in Spain, which “is not a source of revenue”, said Barriocanal, it is a service to the community that costs the church 54 million euros per year in restorations. The church also plays an important role with its charities and assistance networks, such as Caritas, which helps almost 3 million people in Spain per year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Iran Slams ‘Terrorist Attack’ On Embassy

Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, described a protest outside the Iranian embassy in Stockholm on Friday as a “terrorist attack” after around 100 protesters stormed the compound and a staff member was injured.

Iran summoned Swedish Ambassador Magnus Werndstedt following the incident.

“Following the terrorist attack by anti-revolutionary groups on Iran’s embassy in Stockholm on Friday, the Swedish ambassador was summoned immediately,” the IRNA report said.

The employee, whose nationality was not known, was hurt when protesters entered the compound and attacked him, according to Stockholm police.

He was punched and kicked and received medical attention at the embassy.

The protest outside the Iranian embassy in Stockholm broke out on Friday afternoon. Around 150 demonstrators, some of them wearing masks, began throwing rocks and trying to break into the embassy.

“People were yelling chants and cheers at the Iranian embassy for about an hour, and then about an hour later around 100 of the protesters entered the embassy compound through a gate,” Massood Mafan, a witness at the scene, told news agency TT.

“In the building itself they were stopped by guards.”

Mafan said that he had seen at least three people who were injured, including an older woman who was hit in the back with a nightstick.

The three to four police offers who were initially at the scene couldn’t stop the protesters from storming the embassy. Around 20 patrol cars were later dispatched to the scene.

“It was a little chaotic out there. We have had demonstrations there for several days and it has been extremely calm. But (then) they started to put on masks and throw rocks and try to break into the compound,” said Janne Hedlund, commander on duty at the Stockholm police.

By 6:30 pm the situation outside the embassy was calm. Between 150 and 200 people remained outside yelling chants.

“We are here because we demand that Sweden shut down the embassy and suspend all relations with Iran,” Mohammad Mohammad Bagheri, 29, told TT.

Ulf Höglund of the Stockholm police said the number of protesters inside the compound remains unconfirmed. Two people have been arrested on suspicion of vandalism.

According to police, there is no information about injured protesters, but one woman showed bruises she claimed were from a baton.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Vatican: Report Raises Questions About Internal Debate

Vatican City, 25 June (AKI) — The Vatican is beset by a number of internal conflicts that risk paralysing the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, according to a report in the Italian magazine Panorama. The weekly magazine, due to be published on Friday, says several cardinals in senior positions are divided over issues including dialogue with China, relations with the Jews and the beatification of former pope John Paul II.

Inside the Vatican, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Levada, is reported to be in conflict with the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Antonio Canizares.

Former secretary of state Angelo Sodano and former personal secretary of Pope John Paul II, Stanislao Dziwisz, are also reported to be “duelling”, while another cardinal Achille Silvestrini is accused of challenging the power of the Vatican’s influential secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone.

According to the article Pope Benedict has had positive medical tests in recent weeks, including a magnetic resonance test and his heart is said to be functioning well.

However, the magazine article is suggesting that manoeuvres have already begun for the next papal conclave to determine his successor.

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

North Africa

Tunisia: Conference Warns of Decline in Arabic Instruction

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JUNE 25 — In a conference held in Tunis by the Arab Organisation for Education, Culture and Science (ALESCO), scholars and specialists from nine Arab countries have said that the teaching of the Arabic language is in decline. The participants looked into the possibility of setting in motion an ALESCO-run project for various methodologies used for Arabic instruction, for the use of information technology and linguistic research. The experts all agreed that the Arabic language is suffering due to insufficient teaching and a mediocre use of the language itself, in particular in modern communications and on the internet, and that it must be strengthened at all educational levels for wide-ranging social and linguistic development. According to ALESCO (which has its head offices in Tunis) director Mohammed Aziz ben Achour, there is an urgent need to restructure the teaching of the Arabic language in universities and institutions. At the end of the works a general recommendation was released to create a national centre in Tunis in charge of promoting the teaching and learning of the Arabic language. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

USCIRF Expresses Concern Over Reported Attacks on Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is concerned at reports of attacks targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians in the small Egyptian village of Ezbet Boshra-East.

USCIRF has learned that Egyptian authorities reportedly have released from custody all those suspects who were originally arrested earlier this week. Local authorities reportedly are conducting an ongoing investigation even though persons involved in the violence appear to be free.

“This latest incident is another example of the upsurge of violence against Coptic Christians we have seen in the past few years,” said Felice D. Gaer, chair of the Commission. “The Commission has long expressed concern that the Egyptian government does not do enough to protect Christians and their property in Egypt, nor does the government adequately bring perpetrators of such violence to justice.”

On June 21, Muslim villagers looted and attacked private homes and a building used for Christian gatherings and religious services in Ezbet Boshra-East. According to reports, a group of Christians from Cairo were visiting a pastor who lives in the building. This apparently caught the attention of local residents, particularly Muslims. Soon after, it is alleged that a group of Muslims began looting. Several Christians and Muslims sustained injuries and some of the homes and the building were damaged. In addition, crops were uprooted by Muslim rioters on property owned by Christian farmers. A curfew reportedly is in place, although most Christians remain in their homes for fear of additional attacks.

Initial reports say that state security services did little to prevent the violence from occurring. This repeats the established pattern that security services do not adequately protect Christian citizens in many localities.

For all Christians in Egypt, government permission is required to build a new church or repair an existing one, and the approval process for church construction is time-consuming and inflexible. Even some permits that have been approved cannot be acted upon because of interference by the state security services at both the local and national levels.

“The Commission recommends that the Egyptian government implement procedures to ensure that all places of worship are subject to the same transparent, non-discriminatory, and efficient regulations regarding construction and maintenance,” said Ms. Gaer. “If the Egyptian government would pass and implement such a law, it may help in stemming some of the violence targeting Christians who are forced to convert private homes and buildings into churches because they cannot get permission to build an appropriate place of worship.”

Egypt has been cited by the USCIRF “Watch List” as a country with serious religious freedom violations, including widespread problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as non-conforming Muslims.

[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gilad Shalit Soon to be Transferred to Egypt

The captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, might be transferred to Egypt very soon as part of a prisoner-exchange deal with the Hamas movement.

The move is considered as the ‘first step’ towards a prisoner-swap deal mediated by Egypt, and conducted in cooperation with the United States and Syria.

According to the plan, Shalit will be entrusted to the Egyptian intelligence, and his parents will be allowed to visit him. He will be returned to Israel after an agreement is reached regarding the list of Hamas prisoners to be released.

Besides prisoner exchange, the deal would also include internal Palestinian reconciliation as well as Israel’s opening of the Gaza crossings.

Meanwhile, Egyptian security officials have confirmed that a deal on the issue would be signed by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and other factions by July 7.

The notion to transfer Shalit to Egypt in exchange for the release of Palestinian captives was raised about a year ago when former US president Jimmy Carter paid visits to Damascus, al-Quds (Jerusalem) and Gaza.

In exchange for the soldier, Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including about 450 long-serving inmates.

Gilad Shalit — now 22 — was captured on June 25, 2006 as Israeli forces engaged in a cross-border raid with Palestinian resistance fighters in June 2006.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

UCSB Prof Cleared of Any Misconduct

A UC Santa Barbara professor of sociology who drew national attention for sending materials to his students that compared Israeli actions against Palestinians to Nazi abuses during the Holocaust has been cleared of any wrongdoing by university officials after a lengthy investigation.

A committee set up to investigate alleged faculty misconduct found no cause to take disciplinary action against professor William Robinson, according to a letter sent to the professor on Wednesday from Gene Lucas, the university’s executive vice chancellor.

“I have accepted the findings of the charges committee,” Lucas wrote in the short, straightforward message. “Accordingly, this matter is now terminated.”

In the wake of the decision, an organization established to defend Robinson criticized UCSB for not clearing his name earlier, while critics of the professor called the decision “disturbing” and called for greater protection of the academic rights of students.

Robinson has been at the center of a whirlwind of discussion surrounding academic freedom and allegations of anti-Semitism since January, when he sent an email to students in a course on sociology and globalization that included a photo essay comparing images of Israeli abuse to photos of Nazi atrocities.

Two students dropped the course and issued formal complaints against the professor, saying they felt intimidated by the emailed material, which Robinson countered was designed to prompt open discussion and debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A student-led group calling itself the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB jumped to the professor’s defense and questioned the lengthy investigation into what it deemed a clear-cut case of academic freedom.

“University officials might believe this case is closed, but we will pursue the matter until full justice is achieved,” Yousef Baker, a spokesman for the group, said in a news release yesterday. “Unless those that violated university procedures and effectively politicized this case are held accountable and punished accordingly, this episode will have set a precedent for impunity and will leave in place a chilling atmosphere of censorship on campus.”

Although he could not be reached yesterday, Robinson said in the same statement that he is waiting for a public apology from the university to clear his name, adding that university officials acted “deceitfully and shamelessly.”

Paul Desruisseaux, vice chancellor of public affairs for UCSB, said the university couldn’t comment on the specific case, citing privacy policies surrounding personnel matters.

“We would like to underscore that the university places great importance on the defense of academic freedom,” he said. “That isn’t incompatible with an inquiry into whether the Faculty Code was violated.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which called on the university to look into possible faculty wrongdoing on the part of Robinson, expressed disappointment with the decision to drop any possible disciplinary action against the professor.

Cyndi Silverman, the ADL’s regional director, said the issue was improperly cast as a discussion of protecting academic freedom when it should have been approached from the viewpoint of student rights being violated.

“Not pursuing this issue by conducting a further investigation, as the committee decided, sends a disturbing message that only the rights of faculty are to be respected, not the rights of individual students,” she said in a news release. “If students who are understandably feeling intimidated and excluded by actions such as these by a faculty member — this was not a mere difference of opinion about what happened in Gaza — conclude that there is no recourse for their concerns, it will create a climate in which true academic freedom will not be able to endure.”

The email in question went out to students in Robinson’s Sociology of Globalization course on January 19.

One of the students who dropped the course and filed a complaint stated that she found the material “intimidating,” “disgusting,” and “horrific,” particularly one passage that stated, “Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw.”

The ADL also sent a sternly worded message to Robinson and the university in the weeks after the professor sent out the email, calling the juxtaposition of Nazis and Israelis “offensive” and arguing that no accurate comparison can be made between the two groups.

“We also think it is important to note that the tone and extreme views presented in your email were intimidating to students and likely chilled thoughtful discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to the ADL statement.

However, Robinson responded to the official complaint and corresponding inquiry into any possible misconduct by noting that his classes are designed to spark open debate on global affairs, even if the views expressed by students are contrary to his own.

He called any the investigation “a grave an ominous threat to academic freedom on this campus and in the University of California, with potentially chilling effects not only on said academic freedom but as well on the ability of the university community to engage in open debate and exchange of ideas on contemporary matters free from intimidation and the threat of sanctions.”

Robinson said he plans to file his own grievance with the university’s Academic Senate for alleged violations of his faculty rights.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jihadist Urges Muslim Soldiers to Cannibalism

Muslim fighters are being told they may be justified in cannibalizing U.S. soldiers, it emerged Friday.

The chilling message is contained in a recent jihadist Internet entry that quotes from the work of a prominent jihadist ideologue, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi.

In one section of his work, Maqdisi discusses the idea of having to do something that is otherwise forbidden, including eating food “sacrificed for an idol,” according to the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which translates jihadist “chat” sites. Maqdisi adds some scholars believe this has evolved to mean that Muslims, faced with hunger, are allowed to kill an enemy and “cannibalize him.”

In a bid to instil fear into U.S. soldiers, the entry says Americans should be told that Muslim fighters “smack their lips to eat the flesh of . . . the eaters of hamburgers and Pepsi.”

But some jihadist respondents made light of the entry, which appeared on the al-Fallujah forum June 12. “If we are forced to eat Americans, we will make them (into) kabsa,” said one posting, referring to a family of rice dishes served mainly in Saudi Arabia. This contributor said the kabsa would have “the taste of gunpowder,” and added that the “limbs of apostates” could be turned into appetizers.

Another jihadist said the “slaughter” of Americans must be carried out in accordance with Shariah law, and posted a picture of the beheading of Nick Berg, an American businessman murdered in Iraq in 2004 after he went there to seek telecommunications work.

           — Hat tip: Islam in Action[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: First Italian Ice Cream Shop Opens in Beirut

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JUNE 23 — To export Italian culture to the Mediterranean through handmade ice cream, one of the country’s marks of excellence, is the purpose of the managers of ‘Franco Gelato & Caffe”, the “first genuine Italian ice cream shop” to open in Beirut today. And this is simply the first stage of a plan to expand into the region. Francesco Cesario, one of the managers of Franco Gelato, guaranteed that “The development of our product is followed, step by step, by experts working with the Carpigiani Ice Cream University”. Speaking to ANSA from the second floor of the ice cream shop located in the central Hamra street, Cesario added that “there are dozens of flavours, creams and fruit, crushed ice drinks, and a wide variety of coffees: these are our main products. Our aim is not only to sell ice cream, but also to spread Italian culture in Lebanon and the regions by setting up events to attract a growing local crowd. In future we plan on opening in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cities”. Cesario is in business with two Lebanese entrepreneurs. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Money Floods Out of Iran as Election Crisis Continues

Millions of pounds in private wealth has begun flooding out of Iran in the wake of mass demonstrations which have paralysed commercial life after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Fears of a new round of crippling sanctions are also thought to have fuelled the movement of money out of the country.

Western intelligence agencies have reported that prominent private businesses and wealthy families have moved tens of millions of dollars out of Iranian banks into overseas accounts.

The Italian foreign intelligence service is said to have detected multiple transactions, each of up to $10 million dollars, by Iran’s big four banks on behalf of Iranian families seeking a safe haven for funds.

Iran has already been hit by three rounds of financial sanctions from the UN over its nuclear programme, which have limited its access to international finance and world trade

A spokesman for HM Treasury hinted that further action could be taken, particularly in relation to Mojbata Khamenei, the powerful son of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who runs his father’s office.

“We do not have this person on the sanctions list and while we do put people on the list on human rights grounds we do it very much in conjunction with the EU and the UN,” the spokesman said.

“We can be very aggressive in pushing within those bodies, though I’m not saying we’re doing so in this case.”

It came as one of Iran’s leading foreign investors, the Austrian oil and gas firm OMV, said it would not invest any more money in a large offshore gas project and gave warning that it would pull out of the country if Iran demanded more cash.

Helmut Langanger, its Iran representative, said the political environment would have to improve before it put any move money into the giant South Pars offshore gas field.

“They are proceeding with the project on their own without us,” he said.

In the US, Republican congressman Mark Kirk has claimed there is growing support for a bill he is sponsoring which would strip American support for foreign companies supplying refined petroleum to Iran.

Iran is a large oil producer but decades of financial isolation means it must import petrol and other end products from abroad.

Reliance, the Indian operator, provides one-third of Iran’s daily needs while also enjoying a massive trade loan from the US.

Another bill that would exclude companies involved in the trade from doing business in the US was put on hold earlier this year as a gesture from President Barack Obama to improve relations.

The fallout from the pro-democracy demonstrations is expected to embroil Iran and the Gulf in a new cycle of instability.

Sami Alfaraj, a leading Gulf expert, warned Iran was unpredictable and that meant the stability of the oil-rich region was in the balance.

“Iran could launch foreign attacks,” the director of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies said. “It could disrupt the shipping lanes of the Gulf, drive up the cost of doing business, use its cells in Egypt and Iraq or Jordan to create havoc, trigger a new confrontation with Israel. All these options would have an economic impact. We have all reached an affinity of threat from Iran.”

The leading contender in the rigged presidential election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi has targeted the influential business class by calling on merchants to close their businesses. Tehran’s bazaar, which covers two square miles and plays an economic role similar to the City of London, is mostly closed but some shops have opened.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Praise for Iran’s Mousavi

US President Barack Obama has praised the opposition candidate in Iran’s disputed presidential election.

Mr Obama said Mir Hossein Mousavi had captured the imagination of groups in Iran that were interested in opening up to the world.

He spoke of the bravery of protesters in the face of “outrageous” violence.

Mr Obama’s comments came hours after foreign ministers from the G8 nations issued a statement “deploring” the post-election violence in Iran.

In Iran itself, a spokesman for the powerful Guardian Council — which is due to give its final ruling on the election on Sunday — said there had been no election fraud.

And a member of Iran’s top clerical body urged the judiciary to deal ruthlessly with the leaders of the protests.

Some 17 people are thought to have died in street protests in the past two weeks, and Tehran has imposed severe restrictions on journalists and the internet.

Rights group Amnesty International called on Iranian leaders to release more than two dozen journalists arrested since the polls.

‘Condemn it’

Mr Obama made his comments at a news conference in Washington after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


12 June Presidential election saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected with 63% of vote

Main challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi called for result to be annulled for electoral fraud

Street protests saw at least 17 people killed and foreign media restricted

Mr Mousavi had become the representative of protesters on the streets who, he said, had displayed “extraordinary courage”.

“The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous,” Mr Obama said. “In spite of the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we condemn it.”

In Italy, meanwhile, G8 foreign ministers said they respected the sovereignty of Iran, but deplored the post-electoral violence.

“We express our solidarity with those who have suffered repression while peacefully demonstrating and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights,” their statement said.

“The crisis should be settled soon through democratic dialogue and peaceful means.”

But the G8 leaders said the door to dialogue with Iran must remain open. And the G8’s comments were not as strong as France and Italy had wanted, after Russia warned against isolating Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said engagement with Iran was “the key word”.

He stressed the need to focus on “the main task — to move toward resolving the issues of the Iranian nuclear programme”.


Jeremy Bowen BBC News, Tehran

The Guardian Council is due to give its definitive verdict on Sunday.

But the remarks by its spokesman are yet another indication that it will be a formality.

The question though is whether the fracture in the ruling elite that this crisis has caused will heal.

When you ask Iranians about the way this might go, a phrase keeps cropping up. They say it might seem quiet to an outsider but there is fire below the ashes.

Before the G8 issued its statement, a spokesman for Iran’s top election body, the Guardian Council, said the vote had been fair.

“We have had no fraud in any presidential election and this one was the cleanest election we have had,” Abbasali Kadkhodai told Irna news agency.

Meanwhile, a senior hard-line cleric said in his Friday sermon that the leaders of the protests should be dealt with “severely and ruthlessly”.

“I want the judiciary to… punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson,” Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran university in comments broadcast nationwide

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Slaughter of Foreigners in Yemen Bears Mark of Former Gitmo Detainee, Say Experts

The fate of three of nine foreigners abducted in Yemen last week is known — their bodies were found, shot execution style. The whereabouts of the other six — including three children under the age of 6 — remain a mystery.

But terrorism experts say their abductors and killers are almost certainly not a mystery. They say the crimes bear the mark of Al Qaeda, and they fear they are the handiwork of the international terror organization’s No. 2 man in the Arabian Peninsula: Said Ali al-Shihri, an Islamic extremist who once was in American custody — but who was released from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And if al-Shihri is behind the gruesome murders and abductions, they say, it raises grave concerns that the scheduled January 2010 closing of the Guantanamo prison and the release of most of its prisoners to foreign countries will galvanize Al Qaeda and compromise American national security.

The nine foreigners — four German adults, three small German children, a British man and a South Korean woman — were abducted on June 12 after they ventured outside the city of Saada without their required police escorts, according to a spokesman from the Yemeni Embassy in Washington. Days later the bodies of Rita Stumpp and Anita Gruenwald, German nurses in training, and Eom Young-sun of South Korea were found shot execution style in the Noshour Valley in the province of Saada, an area known to be a hotbed of Al Qaeda activity.

Stumpp and Gruenwald attended a Bible school, and Young attended a Christian missionary school in South Korea. Other members of the group had ties to missionary organizations, and all six adults worked for World Wide Services Foundation, a Dutch international medical relief group.

No one has claimed responsibility for the abductions and murders, but experts say killing women and children is considered off-limits among many jihadist groups — though not to al-Shihri, a Saudi national who was released from Guantanamo in November 2007 and sent to a Saudi Arabian “rehabilitation” program for jihadists. It wasn’t long before a “cured” al-Shihri was released from the program, crossed into Yemen and rejoined Al Qaeda, with whom he quickly rose to deputy commander.

In addition to last week’s kidnappings, he is believed to have been behind the September attacks that left 16 dead at the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of San’a.

“This bears the marks of al-Shihri’s activity and bears the signs of his beliefs and assumptions of his behavior that are not viewed by other jihadists,” said Robert Spencer, terror expert and director of Jihad Watch, referring to the killing of women and presumed killing of the three small children.

Defense officials said that “while there is suspicion that Said Ali al-Shihri is involved in these latest attacks, we can’t confirm it.”

“There is great presumption of his involvement, but it’s not open and shut,” Spencer said.

“If he believed that these people picnicking in Yemen were aiding in the war against Islam, then he can justify these killings as legitimate — it’s this kind of perspective that this guy holds to, that it’s right to kill people who would normally be considered off-limits,” Spencer said.

“Christians aren’t allowed to proselytize in the Muslim world, and if that’s what was going on here … well then, there you go.”

Gregory Johnsen, the editor of a forthcoming book, “Islam and Insurgency in Yemen,” agreed. “The most likely scenario is that Al Qaeda’s responsible,” he said. “And if it does turn out that Al Qaeda is responsible, then it would be that al-Shihri had a hand in the operation whether behind the scenes or up front.”

And that involvement is an ominous sign for critics, who say the release of detainees from Guantanamo, under President Obama’s plan to close the detention center by January 2010, could lead to future and more severe terrorist attacks.

The United States is negotiating with Yemen, according to Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, over the possible transfer of the more than 100 Yemeni nationals currently behind bars in Gitmo.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Committee, opposes closing Gitmo and says Obama is rushing “helter skelter” to find homes for the remaining detainees to meet his “arbitrary deadline,” which he says may come at the cost of national security.

“The president’s policies are very very disturbing. He appears to have decided to close Guantanamo without any idea of where these detainees are going to go and is now trying desperately to find countries and places for these people to go,” King told

“By far largest number of detainees comes from Yemen, and they are hardcore dangerous people. Sending them back to Yemen, where prisoners who have been held there before somewhere magically escaped from prison, and is in many ways the centerpiece of the Al Qaeda movement — returning them to Yemen is just inviting disaster.

“Sending them to Saudi Arabia to the rehabilitation center is just putting off the inevitable threat to the United States,” King said. “I am very concerned that these prisoners will soon be back in the battlefield hurting Americans.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Sex Workers Seek to Establish a Trade Union

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 26 — Activists and sex workers in Turkey are working on a project to establish Turkey’s first sex workers union, daily Hurriyet reports. Several activists plan to establish a trade union to protect the health, security and education rights of sex workers in Turkey, where the majority of them work without licenses or social security. “People should have the right to voluntarily choose to be a sex worker and to have sovereignty over his or her body”, Buse Kilickaya, an activist from Ankara-based Pembe Hayat Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender association (LGBT), said. “We are against forced sex labor but this is the oldest profession on earth and this will continue to be done by some people; this is why those people’s rights need to be protected”, the activist declared. Prostitution is mentioned in the Turkish Penal Code and sex workers have to be registered according to the law. “Only 126 sex workers are registered in Istanbul but the real number is much higher”,Muhtar Cokar, a doctor who helps sex workers access free and easy medical support, said. “The number of registered sex workers in Turkey is 3,500 according to police data while Ankara Trade Chamber said there are around 100,000 unregistered”, the doctor revealed. “There is a social consensus that if you are a sex worker then you deserve to be exposed to violence, sexual harassment and discrimination”, Kilickaya said, adding that “this approach has to change”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Court Sentences Man to Lifetime for Killing Italian

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 25 — A criminal court in Turkey gave sentenced to life in prison a man who was found guilty of raping and killing an Italian performance artist, Anatolia news agency reports. The Italian artist, Pippa Bacca, was found dead on April 11, 2008 after being raped and then killed by Murat Karatash, a Turkish truck driver. Bacca departed from Milan in March 2008 together with a fellow artist Silvia Moro on a “Brides on Tour” journey, with both wearing bridal gowns and hitchhiking from Italy through southern Europe and the Middle East, with the intention of meeting up together at the end in Jerusalem. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey to ‘Never Give Up’ EU Bid

Turkey has urged France and Germany to back its bid to join the EU, rejecting calls for a special partnership rather than full membership.

“We will never give up,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Brussels.

Turkey’s EU accession talks are going at a glacial pace and risk suspension if Ankara fails to open its ports and airports to Cyprus this year.

France and Germany want to give Turkey a “privileged partnership” with the EU.

But Mr Erdogan insisted “our goal is full membership”.

He also said it was “populist and wrong” to use Turkey’s bid as an election issue.

Some right-wing parties opposed to Turkey’s bid made gains in the recent European Parliament elections.

Slow progress

The BBC’s Oana Lungescu says both opposition inside the EU and insufficient democratic reforms in Turkey are hampering its bid.

Next week will see a small step forward, when Turkey is due to start talks on taxation, one of the 35 areas where it is negotiating EU entry terms.

Turkish diplomats argue that their country is of strategic importance to Europe and that its eventual accession would send a positive signal to the whole Muslim world.

So far, Turkey has opened talks on 10 out of the 35 “negotiation chapters” in the accession process, which started in October 2005.

But eight chapters have been frozen because of Ankara’s refusal to open up its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus, an EU member.

Turkey says it will not do this until the EU takes steps to end the Turkish Cypriot community’s economic isolation.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

US Says Turkish Help Needed in the Region

ISTANBUL — Washington is seeking to work with Turkey actively for improving the political stability of Iraq, says a visiting senior American official. Turkey may be also included in the withdrawal plan of US troops from Iraq and in anti-terrorism efforts in Pakistan, she adds

The U.S. administration is attributing a crucial role to Turkey in its withdrawal plan from Iraq and in tackling key terrorism issues in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior American official said Friday.

Washington is seeking to actively work with Turkey on improving the political stability of Iraq and the economic development of the warn-torn country, said Anne Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department.

“More broadly, it [Iraq] has been a very important market for Turkey before the war. Iraq needs economic development and political stability and [in] both of those areas, Turkey has a very important role [to play],” Slaughter told a group of journalists at a roundtable meeting in Istanbul.

Under a security pact between Baghdad and Washington, the Americans must pull back from Iraqi cities by June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011. But the continued violence has raised concerns about the readiness of the Iraqi security forces to protect the people.

‘Equipment bigger problem than troop withdrawal’

“The question of how to move heavy equipment out of Iraq is bigger than that of the pullout of U.S. troops,” Slaughter said, adding that officials have been engaged in talks with relevant countries on the issue.

When asked about the possibility of withdrawing troops or heavy equipment via Turkish territory, she responded: “We are negotiating with various governments about what will be possible or not, which is also a matter for Turkey as well.”

Slaughter is currently visiting Turkey to hold talks with her counterparts on key policy issues, including the Middle East, Pakistan-Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. She arrived Tuesday and is set to leave Saturday. On Tuesday, Slaughter held various talks with officials in Ankara; on Wednesday, she met with representatives of the Turkish business community in Istanbul.

A former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Slaughter was appointed to her State Department post by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January.

Though Slaughter had never traveled to Turkey before being appointed, since January, she has visited the country twice. “That should tell you something about the importance of Turkey in the way President Obama and Secretary Clinton see the world,” she said.

Slaughter also expressed her government’s desire to work with Turkey in tackling key issues facing the world and to see the country as part of the solution.

According to the State Department official, Turkey has an important role to play in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and Syria Äž and particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan Äž as well as the Balkans, Caucasus and Black Sea region, as Washington focuses on education and strengthening democracy in those parts of the world.

“Turkey has very important diplomatic roles to play because it has the confidence of the Pakistani government. It also has an important social and educational role to play particularly,” she said. “The Turkish education system is more relevant to the Pakistani education system than the American educational system.” She added that Turkish schools could be important in Pakistan in terms of educating girls.

In regard to Iran and President Obama’s overtures to the country, Slaughter said that the U.S. administration would review its new approach to the Islamic regime once the post-election situation is stabilized in that country. She said the White House was in a wait-and-see situation until Iran has a stable government that it can engage with.

The United States rescinded invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 parties at U.S. embassies following the violent suppression of protests in Iran, she added.

‘Obama seeks more multidimensional Iran policy’

President Obama came under fire over his initial stance on the disputed Iranian elections after he said that his government does not want to be seen as meddling in another country’s internal affairs. Supporters of the reformist candidate launched mass demonstrations in the Iranian capital after incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overwhelmingly won the elections.

Although the U.S. disagrees with a number of the policies that Iran pursues, the Washington administration does not seek to challenge or change the government of Iran, Slaughter said.

The difference between the administration of former President George W.. Bush and the Obama administration is that the latter seeks a much more multidimensional policy, she said, adding: “There is a perception in Obama’s administration that we have to engage in whole range of issues and we have to be thinking about building ties with societies in many countries..”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


NATO and Russia Expected to Resume Military Ties

CORFU, Greece — NATO and Russia are set to resume military ties Saturday and agree to cooperate on Afghanistan, counterterrorism and anti-piracy patrols at their first high-level meeting since last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, Western officials said.

Relations between the alliance and the Russian military were frozen in the aftermath of the five-day war last August. Although political ties have thawed considerably over the past five months, there have been no formal military contacts since then.

“I’ve come in an optimistic mood,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said ahead of a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterparts from NATO’s 28 member nations on the Greek island of Corfu.

“I expect (the meeting) will be the restart of our relationship, that we can see where we can more intensively work together, not shying away from the differences of opinion that we have,” the NATO leader said.

The talks are being held in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, a panel set up in 2002 to improve ties between the former Cold War rivals.

The meeting comes as President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare to hold a summit next week, and is likely to reflect the trend toward improved relations.

“What we would like to see is cooperation in areas where we have clearly identified interests,” said a senior U.S. official who spoke on usual condition of anonymity. “We hope today’s meeting is the beginning of the process of reviving military-to-military cooperation.”

Despite last year’s disruption of ties with NATO, Russia has continued cooperating with individual NATO nations such as the U.S., France or Germany by allowing them to use Russia’s rail network to resupply international forces in Afghanistan, and its navy has worked with NATO warships on their joint anti-piracy patrols.

Officials said participants are expected to give a go-ahead Saturday for formal military ties to be restarted with meetings of defense ministers and military chiefs of staff.

NATO commanders are particularly interested in Russia’s cooperation on the transshipments of military supplies to the rapidly expanding U.S.-led force in Afghanistan. The normal supply route to landlocked Afghanistan via Pakistan has come under repeated Taliban attack, and the generals are keen to have an alternate overland supply route available through Russia and the Central Asian countries.

Saturday’s meeting coincides with preparations for Afghanistan’s presidential elections Aug. 20, seen as a key indication of whether the U.S. and NATO are succeeding in their efforts to stabilize the nation. NATO also wants Russia to provide more assistance to the war effort, including helping the government army with arms and airlift.

The U.S. official said that in addition to Afghanistan, other areas of military-to-military cooperation range from anti-piracy patrols off Somalia and counterterrorism activities, to missile defense and other issues.

Lavrov is expected to brief the NATO ministers on Medvedev’s proposal for a new European security structure, including a stability treaty encompassing Europe and North America.

Contentious issues such as Georgia and a key European arms-control treaty will also be discussed, but none is seen as an obstacle to improving relations.

“We expect a vigorous discussion on areas where we disagree,” the U.S. official said. “But at the same time we would like to see agreement on how to move forward on a range of issues.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was expected to meet with Lavrov in Corfu, was forced to cancel those plans after she fell and broke her elbow at the State Department. Deputy Secretary of States James Steinberg will replace her.

The NATO-Russia meeting will be followed Sunday by a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose rotating chairmanship Greece currently holds.

The OSCE talks, which start Saturday night with a dinner, will be followed Sunday afternoon by a meeting between EU ministers to discuss Iran, the Greek Foreign Ministry has said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Karzai Tells Taliban to Vote in Afghan Elections

KABUL (Reuters) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban and their allies on Saturday to vote in August’s elections rather than attempt to disrupt the nation’s second presidential poll.

The August 20 vote is seen as a crucial moment for Karzai’s government and for Washington, which is sending thousands of extra troops this year as part of President Barack Obama’s new regional strategy to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan.

“I appeal to them (the Taliban) again and again to avoid any conflicts, not only during polling days but forever,” Karzai told a news conference at his heavily guarded palace.

“Through elections we can bring peace and security, and through elections we can bring development,” he said.

The Taliban, whose strict Islamist government was ousted after a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have repeatedly rejected the election as a Western-inspired sham.

The Taliban have also rejected Karzai’s calls for them to join the peace process, saying no talks can take place until all foreign troops have left the country.

Washington has already almost doubled the number of its troops from the 32,000 in the country in late 2008 in order to secure the elections and to combat a growing Taliban insurgency.

Karzai has ruled since the Taliban’s ouster and won the nation’s first direct vote for president in 2004.

A clear favorite to win again, he welcomed meetings held by foreign officials and diplomats with some of the 40 candidates opposing him, particularly his main rivals, former senior ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.

But he also called on the international community not to interfere and to play an impartial role. Most of the more than $230 million the Afghan election will cost is being provided by Washington and its allies.

An unflattering report by leading think tank the International Crisis Group this week said poor security and failure to capitalize on gains since the 2004 poll meant widespread fraud was possible in the voting.

The Taliban-led insurgency has reached its most violent level since 2001, U.S. military commanders have said. It has grown out of traditional Taliban strongholds in the south and east into the once relatively peaceful north and to the fringes of Kabul.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

Michael Jackson is Dead: Prisoners to Recreate Dance Tribute

Prisoners in the Philippines who spawned a worldwide internet hit with their version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video are to recreate their dance in tribute to the dead star.

Michael Jackson’s epic performance will be recreated on Saturday inside the provincial jail in Cebu, the country’s second-biggest city, quoting Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre officials.

The global hit on YouTube, shows 1,400 inmates wearing saffron prison uniforms performing their own version of one of Jackson’s most famous hits.

Crisanto Niere, a balding, gap-toothed drug dealer who impersonated Jackson in the YouTube dance, “is sad his idol died,” a prison official said.

“For now there’s no word yet how the performance will be affected” by the news of Jackson’s death.

Cebu prison officials introduced dances as a way of improving physical fitness and to relieve stress among inmates.

The four-minute video of the original prison dance has so far generated more than 23 million hits on YouTube.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

North Korea Threatens to Shoot Down Japanese Spy Planes

North Korea threatened today to shoot down any Japanese planes that intrude into its airspace, accusing Tokyo of spying near one of its missile launch sites.

The North has designated a no-sail zone off its eastern coast from June 25 to July 10 for military drills, raising concerns that it might test-fire short- or mid-range missiles in the coming days, in violation of a UN resolution.

North Korea’s air force said Japan’s E-767 surveillance aircraft conducted aerial espionage near the Musudan-ri missile site on its northeast coast on Wednesday and Thursday.

The country’s official Korean Central News Agency said the air force “will not tolerate even a bit the aerial espionage by the warmongers of the Japanese aggression forces but mercilessly shoot down any plane intruding into the territorial air of the (North) even 0.001 mm.”

Officials of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force were not immediately available for comment today.

The threat against alleged Japanese aerial espionage is rare, though the North has regularly complained of US spy missions in its airspace.

Japan is very sensitive to North Korea’s missile programs, as its islands lie within easy range. In 1998, a North Korean missile flew over Japan’s main island. Tokyo has since spent billions of dollars on developing a missile shield with the United States and has launched a series of spy satellites primarily to watch developments in North Korea.

But in April, another rocket flew over Japan’s main island, drawing a strong protest from Tokyo. Pyongyang claims it put a satellite into orbit, while the US and its allies say it was really a test of the country’s long-range missile technology.

The launch was one of a series of missile tests in recent months, and the communist regime has further raised tensions by conducting a second underground nuclear test. Its actions have drawn harsh international condemnation and new UN sanctions.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Horror of Kenya’s ‘Witch’ Lynchings

Villagers, many straight from their farms, and armed with machetes, sticks and axes, are shouting and crowding round in a big group in Kenya’s fertile Kisii district.

I can’t see clearly what is going on, but heavy smoke is rising from the ground and a horrible stench fills the air.

More people are streaming up the hill, some of them with firewood and maize stalks.

Suddenly an old woman breaks from the crowd, screaming for mercy. Three or four people go after her, beat her and drag her back, pushing her onto — what I can now see — is a raging fire.

Burned alive

I was witnessing a horrific practice which appears to be on the increase in Kenya — the lynching of people accused of being witches.

I personally saw the burning alive of five elderly men and women in Itii village.

“ They point at me saying — that is a son of the witch “

Joseph Ondieki

I had been visiting relatives in a nearby town, when I heard what was happening. I dashed to the scene, accompanied by a village elder.

He reacted as if what we were watching was quite normal, which was shocking for me.

As a stranger I felt I had no choice but to stand by and watch. My fear was that if I showed any sign of disapproval, or made any false move, the angry mob could turn on me.

Not one person was protesting or trying to stop the killing.

Hours later, the police came and removed the charred bodies.

Village youths who took part in the killings told me that the five victims had to die because they had bewitched a young boy.

“Of course some people have been burned. But there is proof of witchcraft,” said one youth.

He said that a child had spent the night walking around and then was unable to talk the following morning — except to one of the so-called witches.

I asked the youths whether or not people involved in this supposed witchcraft should be punished.

“Yes, they must be punished, every one,” said the first youth.

“We are very angry and that’s why we end up punishing these people and even killing them.”

His friend agreed: “In other communities, there are witches all round but in Kisii we have come up with a new method, we want to kill these people using our own hands.”

I later discovered that the young boy who had supposedly been bewitched, was suffering from epilepsy.

His mother had panicked when he had had an attack.

All too common

The village elder was dismissive of my horror, saying that this kind of thing happens all the time in the western district of Kisii.

He told me about Joseph Ondieki, whose mother had been burned to death less than two months earlier.

I found Joseph and his wife Mary Nyaboke tending vegetables in their small shamba, or homestead.

“ If I visit my neighbours I fear they might poison my food “

Joseph Ondieki

Mary told me that on the day her mother-in-law had been killed she had been visiting her own parents.

She had heard a noise and discovered the truth when she came home.

She said that in the 20 years she had been married, she had never had any reason to believe her husband’s mother was a witch.

Joseph told me he has suffered a lot since his mother died.

“I was born here, but at this stage I feel as if this is not my home any more,” he said.

“I cannot visit neighbours or relatives.

“Even when they see me standing by the road side, they point at me, saying: ‘That is a son of the witch’.

“And when I go to town they also start wondering what has taken me there. Is it that I am going to give evidence against them?

“When I come back, they say I’ve been seen at the police station, but I’ve never been there. I’ve never reported the matter.

“If I visit the neighbours, I always fear that they might put poison in the food.

“So when I’m forced to visit, I make sure I don’t eat anything.

“If I can’t get my own food I just have a glass of water and sleep.”

I set off with Joseph up the hill towards his house, which was far from the centre of the village.

On the way we passed his mother’s house.

A neighbour was reluctant to talk to me and denied even knowing Joseph’s mother.

“Here in Kisii, people are being burned on mere allegation and most of them are old,” Joseph said.

“We now don’t have any old people in the village to consult.

“Even me I’m now approaching 50 years old — I’m afraid that they’ll come for me also.”

Warning signs

I spent three days in Kisii trying to speak to the authorities, but nobody, neither the police nor the local government officials would talk to me.

As night drew in, and it was time for me to leave, Joseph walked with me from his village to where my car was parked.

When we arrived, he begged me to take him with me to Mombasa, where I am based.

It was very difficult for me to leave him behind.

As I drove away I passed signs pinned to trees, warning witches that they would be tracked down.

“We know you by your names”, someone had typed in bold.

To listen to the full broadcast of Kenya’s Witch Lynchings , tune in to African Perspective on the BBC World Service. The program is first broadcast on Saturday 27 June at 1106 GMT. It will be available online from 2106 GMT, for one week.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


EU Summit: Cooperation With Country of Origin

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JUNE 19 — A ‘significant strengthening” of cooperation with the primary countries of origin and transit for immigration flows in the Mediterranean is necessary, sustain Europe’s leaders, in Brussels for an EU summit. The issue was addressed in the final draft of conclusions in the part dedicated to illegal immigration requested above all by Italy. The heads of European governments urged the European Commission to ‘explore concrete cooperation with third countries” with the ‘priority” of a conclusion to negotiations for agreements on readmission with primary countries of origin and transit. ‘Until that moment, the bilateral agreements that are already in existence should be adequately implemented,” the draft reads. The 27 countries are asking for the coordination of measures for internal redistribution for those that benefit from international protection in EU territory ‘exposed to specific and disproportionate pressure.” In particular the council took notice of the intention of the EU to adopt initiatives in Malta. For European leaders, it is also necessary to strengthen the border control operations coordinated by Frontex, as well as ‘clear rules on the organisation of shared patrols and for the landing of rescued immigrants and the increase in the use of shared repatriation flights.”(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Zenster said...

Foreign Investment Flees China

Companies financed by foreign investors represent 30% of all industrial output, but over 55% in exports.

It sounds like a huge chunk of China's manufacturing capacity―and therefore, employment―is beholden to a foreign financed export sector that may become increasingly gun shy about participating in the Politburo's control-based economy.

In fact, foreign investment is fleeing at record levels:

Foreign direct investment in the mainland dropped 17.8 per cent year-on-year in May for the eighth straight monthly fall, commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian, revealed today.

The decline compared with a fall of 22.5% in April from the same month in 2008. Experts say it may indicate that the economy is reaching the lowest point of the crisis, but that there are no certain elements to guarantee a quick recovery

The article goes on to note:

Experts note that Beijing’s stimulus plan of 4 trillion Yuan (400 billion euro) has so far failed to have any affect on the number, and how it obviously does not benefit foreign investment.

Way to go, China! Don't breathe any life into that ailing Direct Foreign Investment sector that your country so heavily relies upon.

How far could this decline go?

Try, to 1990 levels.

In 2009, economic growth in China will be "only" 7.5%, the lowest level since 1990 and about two points below the worst previous predictions. Louis Kuijs, a World Bank expert in Beijing and a respected author, today warns that with the global financial crisis, it will probably be "worse," with even greater effects on the Chinese economy, especially because of its heavy dependence on exports.

Let's see if this precarious situation just might inspire China to stop sabotaging the economy of its biggest customer.

All of this recalls that parable about the scorpion who rides atop a frog's back as it crosses the river, only to sting his batrachian transport and drown as well.

Much like Islam, one must wonder if the nature of the Chinese beast can possibly―amid its unrelenting enmity―refrain from further goring America's economy.

Zenster said...

Jihadist Urges Muslim Soldiers to Cannibalism.

Muslim fighters are being told they may be justified in cannibalizing U.S. soldiers, it emerged Friday.

Just when you think it is impossible for Islam to descend any further it excavates an entirely new sub-basement which allows Muslims to reach yet another unprecedented nadir.

People continue to complain about how criticism of Islam tends to focus upon dehumanizing Muslims.

I say that they do a superlative job of it all by themselves.

What becomes increasingly clear is that―rid for once and all of Islam―the civilized world will find that there is little, if anything, to miss about it.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Jihadist Urges Muslim Soldiers to Cannibalism

Hm. I've been mentioning cannibalism as an example that Islam does not encourage every known depravity.

Guess I'll have to adjust my opinion of Islam. Downwards...

Henrik R Clausen said...

In 2009, economic growth in China will be "only" 7.5%

Zenster, that's still *growth*!

If you want Americans back to work, I think you'll need to tell them that prices will go up, Social Security has been abolished, and half the government staff will be laid off.

Zenster said...

Henrik R Clausen: ... that's still *growth*!.

I'll not ask you to prove a negative but with how routinely China cooks their books, whatever "growth" they posit could be entirely illusory.

This is complicated even more by how brittle China's internal commerce structure is rendered by corruption plus the Politburo's arbitrary laws and favoritism.

Things could just as easily collapse if internal tensions caused sudden crackdowns on major players that get out of line while trying to avoid "breaking rice bowls" (layoffs) among their upper echelons of party elite.

There are so many other unpredictable variables and political wild cards―well beyond that of America―resulting from flaunting of pollution controls, product regulations and copyright or patent law that China's house of cards could come crashing down at any minute.

Even if China weren't cooking its books, can anyone say that 7.5% growth is sufficient to stem their ongoing unemployment epidemic? Clearly, China―like any modernizing country―is beginning to embrace that ultimate breaker of rice bowls, automation, and those are menial jobs that will never be coming back, especially in the most crowded urban centers.

Lack of mobility, a taste for an improved standard of living and a period of totally unrealistic growth based upon unsustainable economic warfare has left the Chinese populace with what could just as easily be a now-smouldering discontent that will not be so easy to extinguish.

Brinkmanship might work in poker games but it becomes a far more dangerous proposition in managing a major global economy like China's.

Baron Bodissey said...

Zenster & Henrik --

Remember, growth in China is a relative term. Yes, 7.5% growth is still growth, but it falls far short of normal, and is less than the minimum required to prevent massive destabilizing unemployment -- I think China estimates that it needs 15% or higher growth.

China is like a shark that has to keep swimming real fast or die. 7.5% is not good enough.

China and the USA are both in serious economic difficulties, but in different ways. They're kind of mirror images of each other.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Given the state of US finance, the US GDP figure is as least as brittle as that of China.

In general, I've stopped considering the GDP a meaningful indicator of economic health, for it includes the most absurd stuff, including the financial circus we've been witnessing as well as the housing bubble. Better indictators, such as figures for production, are needed.

China today is a freeer country than at any previous point in history. The crisis certainly might trigger yet further freedom.

China is taking some hits from the crisis. But nothing like what the US is taking, and will take.

Zenster said...

It occurs to me that I should add:

There are so many other unpredictable variables and political wild cards―well beyond that of America―resulting from flaunting of pollution controls, product regulations and copyright or patent law that China's house of cards could come crashing down at any minute.

It is precisely this uncertainty that has always driven China's rampant illegal profit-taking and shoddy business practices. Imagine now―with its entire economy teetering on the brink―just how out-of-control this sort of grasping at straws will become.

China has sown the wind and is about to reap the whirlwind.

China's attempts to position the renminbi as a replacement for the US dollar as our world's reserve currency may not see any sort of success until 2050. Such undercutting of the dollar may only see increasing damage done to China's own massive portfolio of American financial instruments. What's more, it remains to be seen if China can even keep its leaky ship of state afloat for that long.

Zenster said...

Baron Bodissey: Remember, growth in China is a relative term. Yes, 7.5% growth is still growth, but it falls far short of normal, and is less than the minimum required to prevent massive destabilizing unemployment -- I think China estimates that it needs 15% or higher growth.

My point entirely.

China is like a shark that has to keep swimming real fast or die. 7.5% is not good enough.

My point as well.

China and the USA are both in serious economic difficulties, but in different ways. They're kind of mirror images of each other.

This is a truly significant observation.

America rose to its economic preeminence by way of an exceptionally healthy internal production and consumption pattern that naturally branched out into a well-developed system of exports.

China has inverted this model and based its economic success upon what could literally be described as an "infinite market" for its exports. Of which there is no such thing nor has there ever been.

As I have noted elsewhere: America has yet to tear down all of its shuttered factories. They could be re-opened and help the USA to regain its economic health.

China has no such option. Shall it tear down its factories and plant rice paddies? There is little, if any, wiggle room for China. Especially, now that its population has had a brief glimpse of the good life. There can be no turning back and the Politburo's economic roadmap could just as easily be a dead end.

Henrik R Clausen said...

As I have noted elsewhere: America has yet to tear down all of its shuttered factories. They could be re-opened and help the USA to regain its economic health.

That would be most excellent.

Interesting article on reserve currencies above. My opinion is that having any reserve currency creates moral hazard for the issuer that makes the entire concept unworkable. The US certainly has misused this priviledge.

As for China, I see actual intelligence in their government, using some of their export revenues to gain control of crucial natural resources. They're dealing with the situation in a much more sensible way than the 0bama administration.

Zenster said...

Henrik R Clausen: My opinion is that having any reserve currency creates moral hazard for the issuer that makes the entire concept unworkable. The US certainly has misused this priviledge.

It would be nice if you might take a moment to explain why the US dollar became this world's de facto reserve currency. There was a damn good reason for it.

As for China, I see actual intelligence in their government, using some of their export revenues to gain control of crucial natural resources.

It sure must be nice for China to be able to gambol about, sucking up the strategic natural resources of other nations without having to endure the Zero Sum Equation Liberal shrieks of "robbing the Third World" and other communist-planted hypocrisies. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of the most evil sort.

They're dealing with the situation in a much more sensible way than the 0bama administration.

Might that not be because communists struggled for decades to plant this exact sort of shill in the Oval Office just so this very scenario could take place?

With respect to America's overall political landscape, BHO is a sort of discontinuity. It is truly important to recognize that he represents nothing more than a temporary swing of the pendulum away from Bush's Ivy League elitist good-old-boy network over to an even darker labor-mob-statist behemoth that America's people will see through soon enough.

BHO's policies are just as unsustainable as China's. It's just that China has no safety net of a pre-existing matured internal market infrastructure or the hard-earned credibility that enabled America's dollar to become this world's de facto currency.

Without some truly momentous changes to China's monetary system and its governance, any notion of the renminbi as this world's reserve currency has all the appeal of using Monopoly money for that purpose.

Henrik R Clausen said...

It would be nice if you might take a moment to explain why the US dollar became this world's de facto reserve currency.

You mean the Bretton Woods system? That was a very generous setup, where the US was backing every major currency (of the time) with its huge gold reserves. That was a wonderful opportunity for other governments to implement less-than-wise policies, only to fall back on the US gold reserves when its currencies (predictably) plummeted.

That was an inherently unstable situation, which was ultimately destabilized by Lyndon B. Johnson (Great Society, War on Poverty, Vietnam War), leading to its collapse in 1971. Since then, it's been fiat currency for everyone. But we still have the World Bank and the IMF, which really were part of that system.

I think a saner approach after WWII would be for each nation to take care of its own currency instead of taking a free ride on the US gold reserves.

Henrik R Clausen said...

Might that not be because communists struggled for decades to plant this exact sort of shill in the Oval Office just so this very scenario could take place?

Yes. They've been trying to guilt us into doing something patently stupid like this. They succeeded.

When we're through the current monetary crisis, I don't think any fiat currency has a chance to become worldwide, unconditionally trusted reserve currency again.

Zenster said...

Henrik R Clausen: You mean the Bretton Woods system? That was a very generous setup, where the US was backing every major currency (of the time) with its huge gold reserves. That was a wonderful opportunity for other governments to implement less-than-wise policies, only to fall back on the US gold reserves when its currencies (predictably) plummeted.

You say that like it was a bad thing.

Might not America's largesse―at great cost to itself in defaults and renegotiations―have carried a tremendous price tag for its own people? If so―as is likely the case―then why did we do it?

Do you think that, just maybe, it was part of a larger plan to draw nations into the free-market fold and thereby avoid having them fall into the clutches of communism?

Your references to America continue to have a "back handed" inflection to them, as in the famous old pseudo-compliment:

"For a fat girl, you don't sweat much when you dance!"

I welcome you to project for the studio audience and all the folks at home exactly what this world's socio-economic landscape might look like had America not supported the economies of so many emerging nations.

Had those smaller countries been left to communism's not-so-tender mercies, the situation might be quite different and far more bleak than it is today.

Henrik Ræder said...

You say that like it was a bad thing.

Yes, I think Bretton Woods was a flawed system from the outset. It was generous, probably too much so, and led us down a path of dishonest money and inflation that we could have done without. The intention was good, but excessive generosity tends to have unintended side effects.

Your references to America continue to have a "back handed" inflection to them.

True, and that has a reason. I've been reading up on the 20's as well, and found that the US generosity towards Great Britain, who insisted on monetary folly and bad economic policies, was a major contributing factor to the Crash of 1929. The 'help' was given in the form of domestic inflation, which created the stock market bubble and the recession.

There are no absolutes in this game. The US has been very generous towards us Europeans, and has felt that this generosity has not been appreciated. But there's an underlying monetary folly that is coming home to bite everyone now. I keep hinting at it, because it's important to understand in the crisis that is brewing - a crisis that the 0bama administration is doing their best to accelerate.

Henrik Ræder said...

You say that like it was a bad thing.

Yes^2: It permitted governments to draw unduly on US largesse instead of implementing economically sound policies in their own countries. Doing so is a subtle, yet deep, source of resentment.

Zenster said...

Henrik Ræder: It permitted governments to draw unduly on US largesse instead of implementing economically sound policies in their own countries.

Be that as it may or may not be, you have yet to respond regarding my request that you forecast with equal dedication, "what this world's socio-economic landscape might look like had America not supported the economies of so many emerging nations."

My personal view is that industrialization in the Third World would have been slowed to the same degree that the spread of communism―or other non-free market systems―would have been accelerated.

Do you argue against this?

Henrik Ræder said...

Zenster, I didn't answer that one, for it's an extremely complex question - not the usual straightforward "What if?" scenario.

My personal belief is that a purer free-market approach, focusing more on common defense and mutual free trade, would have worked better in the long run.