Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/28/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/28/2009The fierce crackdown against demonstrators in Iran has caused dissidents to find creative new ways of expressing themselves. The latest phenomenon is known as the “wailing of wolves”, in which people cry out against the regime from the rooftops of the city. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promises severe purges as soon as the election results are certified.

In other news, a new report says that Swedes have developed much more positive attitudes towards refugees in the last two decades.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, islam o’phobe, JD, 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
Beijing Reaffirms the Urgent Need to Replace the Dollar With a Global Currency
Alarm Rings as Michelle Flexes Muscles
Communist U.N. Boss Praises “Mother Earth”
Obama Speech Inspires Mass Quran Distribution
Roberts: Supreme Court Not Setting School Rules
No Sane, Free Person Would Choose to Wear a Burka
Europe and the EU
Amid Jewish Revival, Poland Gets Openly Gay Rabbi
Britain is No Longer a Christian Nation
Former East Germans Miss Failed Communist Dictatorship
Italy Expels Palestinian Hijacker to Syria
Swedes More Positive to Refugees: Report
The Shocking Picture of a White Boy Aged 11 Being ‘Converted’ To Islam by Radical Preacher
UK: Anger as Government Sends Out 2,000 Bogus Job Applications to Unmask ‘Racist’ Companies
UK: BBC Sends 407 Staff to Glastonbury Festival
UK: Doctors Want Right to Talk Faith
UK: Darling Tries to Hide Labour Cuts From Voters
Serbia: Balkan Leaders Back EU Integration
Israel and the Palestinians
Barry Rubin: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s Response: A Narrative He Dares Not Speak
Why the Germans Are Particularly Qualified to Tell the Israelis How to Behave
Middle East
Ahmadinejad Threatens Obama
Iran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Regime Plots Purge After Election Protests
Iran: ‘Wailing of Wolves’ As Cries of Allahu Akbar Ring From Roofs
Iran: Leading Demonstrators Must be Executed, Ayatollah Khatami Demands
Lebanon: Hariri Steps Out of His Father’s Shadow
Muslim World Grieves for Michael Jackson
Saudi Arabia: Police Arrest ‘Homosexuals’ At Party
Turkish Parliament Paves Way for Civilian Courts to Try Army Personnel
Vodka Kills as Many Russians as a War, Says Report in the Lancet
South Asia
Revealed: The Chilling Words of the Mumbai Killers Recorded During Their Murder Spree
US Changes Tack on Afghan Poppies
Far East
South Korea Getting U.S. Missiles to Boost Defences: Report
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Indian Community Outraged Over Jail Terms
Australia: War on Chronic Disease to Shift Out of Hospitals
Australia: Aged-Care Safety Policy Too Costly, Says Watchdog
Sub-Saharan Africa
MP’s Arrest Halts Exposure of Zimbabwe Blood Diamonds Massacre
Somalis Taste South Africa Xenophobia
Latin America
Argentine Army in Torture Ruling
Why Doesn’t Obama Care About Freedom?
Police Clash With Immigration Protesters in Calais
Culture Wars
UK: Dawkins Sets Up Kids’ Camp to Groom Atheists
Facebook, Twitter and Peers for Sale — Privately

Financial Crisis

Beijing Reaffirms the Urgent Need to Replace the Dollar With a Global Currency

The 2008 Report of the Central Bank of China suggests the of the International Monetary Fund’s SDR. This should also have control over the foreign exchange reserves of member countries. Criticism of the U.S..

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — The Chinese central bank has reiterated the need to replace the dollar with a new currency for international trade. The 2008 report of the Bank of the Chinese people, issued yesterday, suggests the launch of “super-sovereign” a currency. The report also demands more rules for nations that emit currency in support of the global financial system. “An international monetary system dominated by a single currency — the report says — increases the concentration of risks and the spread of the crisis.”

In March, the Governor of Central Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, had already expressed the idea of replacing the dollar with SDR (Special drawing right), a measure introduced 40 years ago by the International Monetary Fund (see Goodbye dollar? G20 summit to discuss a single world currency). The SDR is based on a unit account of currencies including the U.S. dollar, the Euro, Japanese Yen and British Pound. China seems to want to broaden the account to include the Yuan.

According to the report, the world should not only adopt the SDR, but entrust the IMF with the administration of a portion of foreign currency reserves of its members. In a veiled criticism of the United States, the report states that it is difficult to balance national needs with international requirements.

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


Alarm Rings as Michelle Flexes Muscles

Democrats are fretting as the first lady seeks a wider role in the White House

Over the past five months Michelle Obama has basked in some of the most flattering reviews ever earned by an American first lady. Yet the first stirrings of discontent are beginning to surface as President Barack Obama’s wife emerges from her newly installed White House vegetable garden in search of a meatier political role.

Reports last week that she is seeking to expand her influence in her husband’s administration set alarm bells ringing among Democratic veterans.

Despite denials from White House officials that Michelle Obama is suffering from “Hillary-itis” — a burning desire to help her husband run the country — her long-running interest in healthcare has raised painful memories of 1994, when Hillary Clinton presided over a political debacle as her health reform proposals collapsed in Congress.

As a Harvard-educated lawyer and a former hospital administrator from Chicago, Michelle Obama has been dealing with the shortcomings of US healthcare for much of the past decade.

Yet since her husband became president in January she has mostly steered clear of the contentious debate over the soaring costs of treatment, insurance and care for the poor.

Instead she has emerged as a fashion icon, a model mother and a symbol of African-American achievement. The angry black woman who once suggested she had not been proud of her country until her husband ran for president has since been hailed as the most glamorous first lady since Jackie Kennedy.

To the astonishment of Republicans, who regarded her as a potential liability to her husband’s campaign last year, her approval ratings have consistently outstripped her husband’s.

Yet Democratic insiders have long suspected that Michelle Obama was ill-equipped for a background role as a dutiful spouse. “You know when she was happiest during the election?” asked one party strategist.. “When Barack had to go back to Hawaii for his dying mother and Michelle took over his campaign.”

Earlier this month she caused a minor stir in party circles when she abruptly replaced her White House chief of staff after only four months in the job.

Jackie Norris, 37, had been Barack Obama’s campaign co-ordinator in the early primary state of Iowa and had apparently hit it off with his wife. But Norris later fell out with Desiree Rogers, a Chicago businesswoman and close friend to Obama who had become the White House social secretary.

When Norris was quietly shipped off to a different job, Michelle Obama turned to Susan Sher, 61, another old friend and her former boss at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Sher told The Washington Post last week that her first move as Michelle’s new chief of staff was to tell David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, that he needed to return her calls immediately.

Since Sher took over, Michelle Obama has become perceptibly more vocal about healthcare and community issues. Last week she visited San Francisco to launch a summer volunteer programme.

She also sent an e-mail to millions of Democratic supporters urging them to support her husband’s healthcare proposals, then gave a television interview to discuss her role in fighting childhood obesity.

Urging Americans to embrace a healthier lifestyle, she added: “Government can’t do it all . . . my hope is that if I play a role in sort of ringing the bell of prevention and wellness and exercise . . . I think that can be helpful.”

Acutely conscious of the Clinton precedent — which not only scarred Hillary’s reputation but also set back the cause of healthcare reform for a decade — White House officials insist the president’s wife will steer clear of policy controversy.

“It has never been our interest in having the first lady play a prominent or leading role in advancing our policy positions,” said one official. “You are not going to see her out there on the stump.”

Oprah Winfrey recently described Michelle as “an authentically empowered real woman who looks and feels like a modern woman in the 21st century”. Others have praised her as a symbol of middle-class, feminist accomplishment and stylish working motherhood.

Michelle Obama gave up her $300,000 (£182,000) a year job to be a stay-at-home president’s wife. To expect a woman of such substance to bite her tongue on controversial issues may prove unrealistic. She has already instructed her staff to think “strategically” about maximising her impact on the issues she addresses; she is also hiring her own speechwriter.

Sher insisted Michelle Obama was not about to turn into Hillary Mark Two: “My own perception of it is that she doesn’t want to get involved in . . . wonky policy issues \ the kind of contentious legislative proposals that are going on at any given time.”

Other Democrats are beginning to wonder how long she can restrict herself to such uncontroversial subjects as her daughters’ enthusiasm for vegetables.

“Sasha likes peas,” she said last week. “And Malia is a pretty big broccoli fan.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Communist U.N. Boss Praises “Mother Earth”

Armed with a new sex scandal that can further damage Republican opponents of the Obama Administration, our media haven’t found much time to cover the U.N. Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis underway at the world organization’s headquarters in New York. But the Obama White House is working hand-in-glove with a Communist Catholic Priest who gave a bizarre speech on Wednesday devoted to saving “Mother Earth” from evil capitalists…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Speech Inspires Mass Quran Distribution

CAIR plans to give ‘holy texts’ to 100,000 local, state leaders

The Council on American-Islamic Relations intends to launch a nationwide campaign to distribute copies of the Islamic Quran to 100,000 local, state and national leaders, a campaign the organization’s public relations department claims was inspired by President Obama’s speech to Muslims earlier this month.

In a statement released prior to a planned news conference next week announcing the “Share the Quran” campaign, CAIR described the scope of the outreach:

“In the multi-year initiative, American Muslims will sponsor Qurans for distribution to governors, state attorneys general, educators, law enforcement officials, state and national legislators, local elected and public officials, media professionals and other local or national leaders who shape public opinion or determine policy,” the statement said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Roberts: Supreme Court Not Setting School Rules

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Don’t look to the Supreme Court to set school rules, only to clarify them when officials have abdicated that responsibility, Chief Justice John Roberts said Saturday.

At a judicial conference, Roberts was asked how school administrators should interpret seemingly conflicting messages from the court in two recent decisions, including one Thursday that said Arizona officials conducted an unconstitutional strip-search of a teenage girl. In 2007, the justices sided with an Alaska high school principal, ruling that administrators could restrict student speech if it appears to advocate illegal drug use.

Roberts told the audience there was no conflict in the court’s rulings, just clarity intended to deal with narrow issues that surface from government actions.

“You can’t expect to get a whole list of regulations from the Supreme Court. That would be bad,” Roberts said. “We wouldn’t do a good job at it.”

In the Arizona case, the high court said school officials violated Savana Redding’s rights when they strip-searched her for prescription-strength ibuprofen. The court said educators cannot force children to remove their clothing unless student safety is at risk.

Roberts said administrators should take comfort in the 8-1 ruling, which also found that officials could not be held financially liable when carrying out school policy.

“We recognized that they didn’t have very clear guidance,” Roberts said. “We laid down a rule about what they can and can’t do, but we said they don’t have to fork over damages from their own personal funds if they guess wrong.”

Roberts also defended the court’s diversity — all nine justices are former federal appeals court judges. The issue has surfaced in light of Justice David Souter’s decision to retire.

Senators from both parties have said the court needs justices who don’t come from the federal bench, or the “judicial monastery,” as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has called it. Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin hearings next month on Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to succeed Souter; she, too, is an appeals court judge.

Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic justice and the third woman ever on the court.

Roberts said the current justices have a range of legal experience despite their shared background on the appeals level.

“I consider myself a practicing lawyer,” Roberts said, noting he was a judge for only a short time. He served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 2003 to 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated him to be chief justice.

Other justices have academic and political experience, he said, adding that Justice Clarence Thomas ran a federal agency.

“We’re also a pretty diverse bunch,” he said.

Roberts did not refer directly to Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s first nominee to the court.

Asked about his desire for more consensus among justices in the court’s opinions, Roberts said he wasn’t suggesting that justices compromise, but that agreement gives clearer guidance.

“The more we can speak with a broader degree of agreement, it looks a lot more like law,” he said.

Hinting at his legal philosophy, Roberts said one of the Supreme Court’s most monumental cases in underscoring how “things went terribly wrong” was an 1857 decision in the Dred Scott case that said blacks, whether or not they were slaves, were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens.

Roberts said that in contrast to previous decisions that sought consensus, the chief justice in the Dred Scott case pushed an outcome “that really had no basis in the Constitution.” Roberts’ comments came days after a surprisingly unified Supreme Court ruled narrowly to preserve the Voting Rights Act.

While in some instances, justices may have to step in to decide cases of “great political significance,” in many others “there are going to be huge consequences if you do leap ahead and involve the court in politics,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


No Sane, Free Person Would Choose to Wear a Burka

By Licia Corbella, Calgary Herald

A while back I was asked to give a talk at my kids’ school about my December 2003 trip to Afghanistan.

As I waited to be introduced, I hid in an auditorium storage room wearing a burka I bought in that war-ravaged country, thinking I’d be out in a minute, maybe two. But the introduction took a lot longer than I had anticipated and by the time I came out to greet all those shining faces, I was very nearly hyperventilating from the oppression of it. I didn’t time my self-imposed confinement to the burka, but I probably wore the suffocating tent-like garment with mesh over my eyes for no more than 10 minutes. I told the kids I felt like I was buried alive.

I also told them that while in Afghanistan, I asked all of the many women I met there whether they liked wearing a burka. Not one said yes. In fact, they all said they hated it almost as much as they hated the Taliban.

It’s no wonder. The burka’s toll on these women was harsh. Many had lost most of their teeth and hair as a result of not having enough vitamin D, which comes from the sun. During the time of Taliban rule—from September 1996 to November 2001 —no portion of their skin, save their hands, was ever allowed to be exposed to sunlight. Think about the horror of that. The Taliban insisted that homes with women in them had to blacken their windows, lest a man pollute his delicate sensibilities by gazing upon the uncovered face of a woman behind the glass.

On Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated during the first presidential address to a joint session of France’s two legislative houses of Parliament in 136 years, that the burka was “not welcome” in France.

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” said Sarkozy.

He’s right. Women in burkas don’t seem human. After just a short while in Afghanistan, women in their blue burkas seem like ghostly apparitions devoid of a face, individuality or humanity.

At first, when my translators would tap me on the shoulder and suggest I “take a picture of that burka over there,” I would gently correct them by saying, “you mean, that WOMAN in the burka?” In a couple of days, however, I too was referring to them as simply burkas.

In France—where it’s already illegal to wear any conspicuous religious symbol in state schools including a head scarf—a parliamentary committee is studying the issue of whether or not to allow women to cover their faces for supposedly religious reasons. As Sarkozy said, the burka is “not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience.” The Muslim Canadian Congress agrees and urged Canada’s government to ban the burka.

“The decision to wear the burka is by no means a reflection of the genuine choices of Muslim women,” said MCC president, Sohail Raza in a news release. “The argument that Muslim women opt to wear the burka does not withstand scrutiny when considering the repressive nature of orthodox Muslim society in general.”

Reached at his Calgary home, Mahfooz Kanwar, Mount Royal College professor emeritus of sociology and criminology, says many well-meaning Canadians believe it is “tolerant” to allow Muslim women the “choice” of wearing the burka.

“There is no choice involved in this, and allowing it will lead to intolerance,” said Kanwar.

“Some people say banning the burka would be a slippery slope and would lead to the banning of wearing a scarf over your mouth in the winter while outside,” said Kanwar. “But the real slippery slope can be seen in some Islamist ghettos in Paris or in Denmark, where non-Muslim women are harassed for not covering their hair to the point where they have been forced to start doing so to prevent verbal and physical attacks by semi-literate Muslim men. That’s the real slippery slope.”

Kanwar, a Muslim who has written eight books, including one on the sociology of Islam, echoes Sarkozy’s comments. “The burka is not mandated by Islam or the Qur’an and is therefore not religious and protected under the Charter. In Canada, gender equality is one of our core values and faces are important identifying tools and should not be covered. Period,” added Kanwar, who is also a director with the MCC.

Many French politicians are on the side of a burka ban including some prominent Muslim politicians like Fadela Amara, France’s cities minister. Amara has called the burka “a coffin that kills individual liberties,” and a sign of the “political exploitation of Islam.”

Funny, but “coffin” was a word several women I met in Afghanistan used to describe their burka. Consider the words of Massooda, a 36-year-old widow, who looked more like 60 as a result of her harsh life. “I will never wear a burka again,” she said defiantly. “They will have to put me in a coffin before I walk around in one again.”

That’s choice. No sane, free person would ever “choose” the burka.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Amid Jewish Revival, Poland Gets Openly Gay Rabbi

WARSAW, Poland — When Rabbi Aaron Katz walks the streets of Warsaw’s former Jewish quarter, scenes of that lost world fill his imagination: Families headed to synagogue, women in their kitchens cooking Sabbath meals, his father as a boy with the sidecurls of an Orthodox Jew.

But Katz’s life could hardly be more different from that prewar eastern European culture, at least in one key respect: He is Poland’s first openly gay rabbi.

Born in Argentina 53 years ago to parents who fled Poland before the Holocaust, Katz is the latest rabbi to play his part in reviving a once vibrant Jewish community that was all but wiped out by Hitler.

He settled into Warsaw’s historic Jewish district in March with Kevin Gleason, a former Hollywood producer on such reality TV shows as “The Bachelor” and “Nanny 911,” with whom he entered into a registered domestic partnership in Los Angeles two years ago.

They live only three streets from the birth home of Katz’s father in a modern and spacious apartment with their dogs, two gentle brown boxers. Katz says he is moved by the links to his past, but keeps his focus on the future.

“I don’t think we will come back to this great Jewish life,” he said, referring to prewar Poland, a country where one person in 10 was Jewish and where synagogues, yeshivas and shtetls defined the landscape. “But I hope we will have a normal Jewish life in Poland.”

Katz is certainly an anomaly in conservative Poland, where to be either Jewish or gay is challenge enough — at least outside the cities. Of a population of 38 million, about 5,000 are registered as Jews, while thousands more have part-Jewish ancestry, and some have returned to their roots since Poland shed its communist dictatorship.

Katz is the second rabbi to serve Beit Warszawa, a Reform community with 250 members that was founded in the capital 10 years ago by Polish and American Jews who felt little affinity with some Orthodox practices, such as separating men and women during Sabbath services. The Reform movement ordains gay rabbis.

Homosexuals have won acceptance at differing levels throughout post-communist Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic and Slovenia recognize same-sex partnerships, as will Hungary from July 1. Poland hasn’t gone that far. It has an active gay rights movement and gay nightclubs in the cities, but the Catholic church and some conservative politicians still publicly describe homosexuality as abnormal and immoral.

Katz, a citizen of Argentina, Israel and Sweden, says so far he has not faced anti-Semitism or homophobia in Poland. But some community members, speaking in private, reveal a degree of discomfort.

One woman at a Sabbath service whispered that she found Katz’s open sexuality too “aggressive.” A longtime male member counseled against writing about the rabbi, lest anti-Semites use it against the community.

A third member, Piotr Lukasz, said he himself supports gay rights, and marched with an Israeli flag during a recent gay rights parade in Warsaw. But he said he had heard others complain that it would weaken an already small and fragile community.

“They say that Poland is not a ready for a gay rabbi because the outside society is very conservative,” said Lukasz, a 23-year-old student of cultural anthropology. “An openly gay rabbi is something very controversial.”

Others, though, seem comfortable, as evidenced by a recent string of dinners where Jews and non-Jews joined Katz and his partner at their home, digging into goulash or chicken-and-potato meals around the dining room table and socializing through the evening.

Katz is the chief cook — it’s because he likes to be in charge, says Gleason, who instead welcomes guests warmly at the door and keeps their wine glasses filled through the evenings.

“I think the rabbi’s home should be open,” Katz said. “The moment that you take a position, your family takes the position too. It’s a role.”

Katz’s life as a rabbi has been an evolution from one world to another.. In the 1980s and early 1990s he was Sweden’s chief Orthodox rabbi, married to a woman with whom he had five children now aged 16 to 31. Later he lived and worked in Berlin and Los Angeles. He had a dark beard, but today is clean-shaven.

The only photograph in their living room shows Katz and Gleason on the day they sealed their partnership — which they refer to as a marriage — surrounded by both their families, including Katz’s sons and daughters, who are close to the couple and who showed their acceptance of the union with a gift of a ketubah, a traditional Jewish wedding certificate..

Katz’s journey away from Orthodox Judaism was part of his “coming out process,” he explains, but also was influenced by the realization that some of his children were not attracted to Orthodox worship. He concluded that Reform Judaism was more attractive to the young.

Still, he insists that as modern as he is, he loves tradition.

He keeps a kosher home and has enthusiastically embraced the Jewish tradition of matchmaker, using his dinners to introduce singles — usually heterosexuals but not exclusively.

Asked how many marriages have resulted, he said “a couple,” but Gleason jumped in to correct him: “You’re being modest,” he said.

Gleason, 50, was born into a Catholic family but converted to Judaism for Katz. He left Hollywood and now does administrative and fundraising work for the synagogue. He attends services, sitting in the back and tapping on his watch when he feels the rabbi’s lively sermons are getting too long.

Still, the openness of their relationship can catch people in Warsaw off guard.

“I introduce him as my partner they say, ‘Oh he’s also a rabbi?’“ Katz said. “When I say ‘my partner’ they think I mean like in business. So I say ‘no, no, no, we are living together.’“

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Britain is No Longer a Christian Nation, Claims Church of England Bishop

The Rt Rev Paul Richardson said declining church attendance and the rise in multiculturalism meant that “Christian Britain is dead”.

He criticised his fellow bishops for failing to appreciate the scale of the crisis and warned that their inaction could seal the Church’s fate.

As one of the Church’s longest-serving bishops, the comments by the assistant Bishop of Newcastle are set to fuel the debate over its future.

The General Synod, the Church’s parliament, will next month consider proposals to cut the number of bishops and senior clergy amid fears over the Church’s finances.

Writing for The Sunday Telegraph, Bishop Richardson said: “Many bishops prefer to turn their heads, to carry on as if nothing has changed, rather than face the reality that Britain is no longer a Christian nation.

“Many of them think that we are still living in the 1950s — a period described by historians as representing a hey day for the established church.”

He said that the Church had lost more than one in ten of its regular worshippers between 1996 and 2006, with a fall from more than one million to 880,000.

“At this rate it is hard to see the church surviving for more than 30 years though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility,” said Bishop Richardson.

Nearly half of the population in England regard themselves as belonging to the Church of England, while seven in ten described themselves as Christian in the last census.

However, the Bishop said that the fall in church marriages and baptisms revealed that Britain was no longer a Christian nation.

The number of babies being baptised has fallen from 609 in every 1,000 at the turn of the twentieth century to only 128 in 2006/7 and church marriages have also dropped.

Bishop Richardson said: “The church is being hit by a double whammy: on the one hand it confronts the challenge of institutional decline but on the other hand it has to face the rise of cultural and religious pluralism in Britain.”

He says that the way the Church responds to this will be “crucial in determining whether it will be able to survive as a viable organisation and make a contribution to national life”.

“At present church leaders show little signs of understanding the situation. They don’t understand the culture we now live in.”

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

Britain is No Longer a Christian Nation

If recent trends are any guide, many Church of England parishes will have been cheered by higher attendances at Easter services. The last published statistics for 2006/7 show rises of 7 and 5 per cent in church going at Christmas and Easter.

By the Rt Rev Paul Richardson

But these figures are just about the only signs of hope for the church and certainly not the first green shoots of a revival. Other statistics make for gloomy reading.

Annual decline in Sunday attendance is running at around 1 per cent. At this rate it is hard to see the church surviving for more than 30 years though few of its leaders are prepared to face that possibility.

In the short term we are likely to see more closures of buildings as the church battles to meet a big pension bill, pay clergy, and maintain a large bureaucracy.

To its credit, the church has been successful at getting members to give, but larger donations cannot offset the fall in numbers. At present the church is struggling to maintain 16,200 buildings, many of them old and listed with 4,200 listed Grade I.

If decline continues, Christian Research has estimated that in five years’ time church closures will accelerate from their present rate of 30 a year to 200 a year as dwindling congregations find the cost of keeping them open too great.

Perhaps the most worrying set of statistics for the Church of England is the decline in baptisms. Out of every 1,000 live births in England in 2006/7 only 128 were baptised as Anglicans.

The figure rises by a small amount if adult baptism and thanksgiving services are included but it is hard to see the Church of England being able to justify its position as the established church on the basis of these numbers.

By way of contrast, out of every 1,000 live births in England in 1900, 609 were baptised in the Church of England. Figures for church marriages show an equally catastrophic decline.

The church is being hit by a double whammy: on the one hand it confronts the challenge of institutional decline but on the other hand it has to face the rise of cultural and religious pluralism in Britain.

How it responds to the second challenge will be crucial in determining whether it will be able to survive as a viable organisation and make a contribution to national life.

At present church leaders show little signs of understanding the situation. They don’t understand the culture we now live in.

Many bishops prefer to turn their heads, to carry on as if nothing has changed, rather than face the reality that Britain is no longer a Christian nation.

Many of them think that we are still living in the 1950s — a period described by historians as representing a hey day for the established church.

The coronation brought church and nation together in a way which will never be repeated. School assemblies had a definite Christian tone and children still sang familiar hymns.

The church could function as chaplain to a nation that was nominally Christian and Anglican, even if many actually only attended for baptisms, weddings and funerals. That world has gone for good.

Gordon Brown’s unilateral decision to take no part in nominating bishops to the Queen (a matter he did not discuss with David Cameron or Nick Clegg, in breach of constitutional protocol) makes it less likely that bishops will retain their place in a reformed House of Lords.

Rather than try to cling on to their places in the House of Lords, they should take the initiative by withdrawing, which would show that they appreciate Christian Britain is dead.

The church can try to fight the forces of change or it can see the crisis as an opportunity to give itself a clearer sense of identity.

One reason for increased attendance at Christmas and Easter may be that people are looking for a way of affirming identity in a pluralist society.

So far its leaders are choosing to resist but doing so in a very Anglican way: making concessions when necessary and hoping by small, strategic retreats to buy time and preserve the status quo.

The reason offered for upholding establishment is usually that it gives the church a sense of responsibility to the whole nation. In practice it often looks as if the church is really trying to keep its special privileges on false pretences.

For a time other faith communities may welcome the special position of the established church as a bulwark against secularism.

The Chief Rabbi is a forceful defender of the valuable role the Church of England can play in bringing faith communities together and fostering understanding across creedal barriers.

But the church would be a more effective bulwark against secularism if it was stronger and the role the Chief Rabbi has mapped out is likely to disappear as different faith communities get used to dealing with each other directly.

Disestablishment will actually pose major problems for society. Every country needs shared rituals and celebrations to foster a sense of community and provide a backdrop to major national occasions.

We are going to have to invent a new civil religion. Already the process has begun with the observance of Holocaust Day and increasing focus on Human Rights as providing a shared basis for morality.

If Anglicans could acquire a stronger sense of who they are and what they believe they might slow the rate of decline and possibly even stabilise their numbers.

They would still be a minority but they could be a creative minority. The trick will be to reach this situation without falling into a fundamentalist trap or cutting off links with the wider world.

Other organisations, particularly Roman Catholics with their three-hundred year history of persecution and minority status, can be a guide, showing both the dangers to avoid and the opportunities to seize.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Former East Germans Miss Failed Communist Dictatorship

More than half of Germans from the former communist east see the failed dictatorship in a positive light, according to a new survey conducted for the government.

The daily Berliner Zeitung reported on Friday that 20 years after the joyous scenes of the Berlin Wall being torn down, 49 percent of easterners asked agreed with the statement: “The German Democratic Republic had more good than bad sides. There were a few problems but one could live well there.”

A further eight percent chose the statement: “The GDR had overwhelmingly good sides. One lived there better and happier than today in reunified Germany.”

The result of the survey, conducted by polling company Emnid, disappointed Wolfgang Tiefensee, the government’s representative for the reconstruction of eastern Germany.

He called for school education about the politics of the GDR to be improved, telling the paper that the survey results showed: “we cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in the re-examination of GDR history.”

He said he had written a letter to the education ministers of all German states calling on them to ensure that their schools were doing a good enough job teaching children about the former east and the peaceful revolution of 1989-1990.

The survey further showed that Germans from the former west and east, with only 56 percent of those in the former east saying reunification had brought them equality before the law, and the rule of law. Only 37 percent agree with the idea that the influence of individual citizens on politics is a given. And just over half say they are experiencing the increased material wealth they had hoped to have.

Those from the former west are said to see reunification more positively, with 78 percent praising the rule of law and more than half the influence of citizens.

Westerners were not asked about the enormous amounts of money that has been poured into the east, among other things, via the solidarity part of income tax.

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

Italy Expels Palestinian Hijacker to Syria

ROME — A lawyer says Italian authorities are set to expel to Syria one of the Palestinians who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and killed an American passenger in 1985.

Attorney Gianfranco Pagano said Youssef Magied al-Molqui was about to be flown from Palermo, Sicily, to Rome and then on to Damascus on Saturday.

In April, Al-Molqui was transferred to a holding center for immigrants in Sicily after spending 23 years in prison.

Al-Molqui was a member of the four-man team that hijacked the Achille Lauro off the Egyptian coast. He was convicted of shooting Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish man from New York, and ordering him to be dumped in the sea while in his wheelchair.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Swedes More Positive to Refugees: Report

Opposition among Swedes to accepting refugees into the country has declined, a new report shows.

“The trend is that opposition to refugees is in decline,” said professor in political science Marie Demker to the news agency TT.

A new survey, to be published by the SOM institute at Gothenburg University in a couple of weeks, shows that the proportion of Swedes that think it is a good idea to accept fewer refugees has declined from 49 percent to 45 percent over the past year.

Marie Demker, who is responsible for the survey, says that the figures collated through the years indicate a gradual, steady decline.

“We had a significantly greater opposition in the beginning of the 1990s.”

She says that the results of the new survey can be considered somewhat unexpected considering the advance of a party such as the far-right Sweden Democrats, which advocates tighter restrictions.

The survey also indicates that factors such as education, age and place of residence also affect attitudes towards refugees.

For example 57 percent of those who lack high school (gymnasium) or university education consider it a good idea to accept fewer refugees. Among those with higher education only 28 percent agree with the statement.

“Education is the single strongest explanatory factor to attitudes regarding the acceptance of refugees,” Marie Demker said.

The full report from the SOM institute will be published on July 7th.

The survey involved 6,000 people interviewed during the autumn of 2008.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

The Shocking Picture of a White Boy Aged 11 Being ‘Converted’ To Islam by Radical Preacher

This is the shocking picture of a young, white schoolboy being converted to Islam by a cleric linked to a radical Muslim hate preacher.

The bewildered 11-year-old, who gives his name as Sean was filmed repeating Arabic chants and swearing allegiance to Allah.

The boy is prompted throughout by controversial cleric Anjem Choudary, a follower of exiled hate-preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed.

The incident was filmed during a demonstration by Choudary’s Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah group in Birmingham city centre earlier this month.

Choudary, 42, was one of the masterminds behind the protests at the homecoming parade of heroic British soldiers in Luton earlier this year.

He praised protesters who branded British troops ‘murderers’ and later appeared at a press conference flanked by thugs who took part in the demo.

Choudary defended the young boy’s ‘reversion’ to Islam but admitted his parents were not with him and were not consulted.

He said: ‘The child was genuinely interested in Islam.’

‘The boy told us he wanted to become a Muslim and, of course, some people are intellectually more mature than they are physically. I don’t see there is any harm in this.

‘He was with his friends, but I didn’t see if his parents were there,’ he added.

A message on Choudary’s website offers advice for those who become Muslim at his Islamic Roadshow.

‘Conversion packs are already provided to those who revert to Islam in the Islamic Roadshows,’ it says.

‘They include a booklet on ‘Everything a Muslim must know’ and a free DVD with a brief guide on how to pray in Islam.’

Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah, is a splinter group of the controversial Al Muhajiroun sect.

Al-Muhajiroun, which has recruited hundreds of fanatics in the Midlands, fell apart in 2004 just months before Bakri was stopped from coming back to the UK under terror laws.

It has been revealed that the sect is planning to reform.

Bakri has now set his sights set on a return for the extremist group, though the Home Office is understood to be closely monitoring its activities.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Anger as Government Sends Out 2,000 Bogus Job Applications to Unmask ‘Racist’ Companies

Ministers were embroiled in a row last night over an extraordinary covert operation to expose racist businesses.

Civil servants have fabricated more than 2,000 job applications and concocted hundreds of false names to try to catch out bigoted managers.

Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper’s department has secretly applied for 1,000 separate jobs with made-up CVs.

The bizarre operation — condemned as ‘unethical and underhand’ by business leaders — is designed to reveal whether employers turn down applicants simply because of their names.

It could lead to a law banning firms from asking for job applicants’ names until the interview stage, amid claims that such a measure will also help women combat sexism.

A DWP spokesman said the department had responded to 1,000 job vacancies using false identities but with very similar CVs to see if a person’s name was a factor in whether they were given an interview. ‘The names are made up,’ she said.

Typically, officials put in two or three applications per job, with one under a traditional Anglo-Saxon name and others using an ethnic minority-sounding name, The Mail on Sunday understands.

Applications under women’s names were also submitted to ‘keep it realistic’, the spokesman said.

‘We can’t tell you what jobs, what companies, which sectors have been involved. There were 1,000 jobs involved. If someone gets an interview call, it goes through to a mobile phone number which politely declines an interview.’

The research is due to be published later this summer but Vera Baird, the Solicitor General, last week revealed the initial findings. ‘There was quite a strong sense that there is race discrimination going on,’ she said.

‘If you call yourself Patel, as opposed to Smith, then you get less opportunity.’

Ms Baird, now piloting Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill through the Commons, confirmed the no-names job application rule could be added to the Bill. ‘It could theoretically help, particularly young women. It might help because we are sure there’s a lot of pregnancy discrimination,’ she said.

However, the project was condemned by business leaders.

Gareth Elliott, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said it had strongly advised against the research because it was ‘unethical and a complete waste of time’.

‘We are completely shocked to hear the DWP has gone ahead. Businesses have enough on their plate without having to deal with the underhand tactics of the DWP.’

Theresa May, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, also criticised the operation as a ‘waste of taxpayers’ cash’. She backed moves to clamp down on discrimination but said the idea of banning bosses from initially requiring the names of job applicants was ‘unworkable’.

Challenged to justify the ethics of the operation, Ms Baird said: ‘Well, I don’t know because I wasn’t party to that research. I’ve only discovered it since I have been responsible for the [Equality] Bill. It’s a piece of legitimate research, isn’t it?’

The DWP said it was ‘right to find out if there was an issue regarding people being discriminated against because of their ethnicity when applying for jobs’.

Employers’ organisation the CBI called the proposals ‘unrealistic’. ‘Job applicants are already protected from discrimination when going through the recruitment process and can take legal action if treated differently,’ it said.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: BBC Sends 407 Staff to Glastonbury Festival

The BBC has sent 407 people to cover this weekend’s Glastonbury festival, almost as many as it flew out to film last year’s Beijing Olympics.

The corporation has admitted that 125 staff and 150 freelancers are at the festival, either as presenters, producers, directors or technical crew in order to broadcast across its digital television and radio channels and website.

They are joined by about 130 short-term contractors hired to offer support at the 1,100-acre Somerset site. The total operation is estimated to cost the BBC around £1.5 million.s

Also attending the festival are a clutch of senior corporation executives, who earlier this week were forced to disclose their expenses and earnings. They received free passes to attend in a “work capacity”.

The corporation has sent so many staff that it has had to block book hotels within a 10-mile radius of the festival. At the Wessex hotel in Street, Somerset, where prices range from £40 to £160 a night, the BBC has booked all 51 rooms.

Television audiences for the festival on BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4 reach a fraction of the number achieved by Wimbledon, where the men’s final attracted 12.7 million viewers last year.

There will be 111 hours of television coverage across these minority channels and the BBC’s interactive service, known as the “red button”. This compares with 3,050 hours coverage for Beijing, where the BBC sent just 30 more workers.

Critics have accused the BBC of needlessly duplicating its output. Conservative MP Philip Davies, who sits on the House of Commons Culture Select Committee, said: “I can’t imagine any other broadcaster sending this many people to cover one festival.

“This demonstrates once again that the BBC is a bloated organisation. It doesn’t operate according to the rules that other broadcasters have to follow.”

Last year the corporation was criticised after it sent a 437-strong team to China to cover the Olympics at a cost of £3 million.

Similarly, last year’s US Presidential Election was covered by 175 BBC staff. In contrast, ITV sent only 20 people while Sky News sent a team of 40.

A spokesman for the BBC said: “Our coverage of the festival is not comparable with the Olympics. We are the official broadcast partner to Glastonbury and are responsible for all broadcast infra-structure and transmission. Our pictures will be used around the world.”

Last week the corporation was forced to reveal under freedom of information legislation that its top 50 bosses are paid a combined total of up to £13.6 million, with most of them earning more than the prime minister.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Doctors Want Right to Talk Faith

Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them.

Medics will tell the British Medical Association conference this week that staff should not be disciplined as long as they handle the issue sensitively.

The doctors said recent cases where health workers had got into trouble were making people fearful.

But atheists said it was wrong to mix religion and health care.

The doctors, who are behind the motion being discussed at the Liverpool conference, are unhappy about the guidance that has been issued.

The General Medical Council code suggests that discussing religion can be part of care provided to patients — as long as the individual’s wishes are respected.

But at the start of this year the Department of Health issued guidance warning about proselytising.

It said that discussing religion could be interpreted as an attempt to convert which could be construed as a form of harassment.

It comes as NHS trusts have taken a hard-line in a number of recent cases.

Last year community nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended by North Somerset NHS Trust after offering to pray for a patient, although the 45-year-old was later allowed to return to work.

And only last week a Gloucestershire nurse said she had left her job at a local hospital after being told she could not wear a crucifix — although the hospital said it was because of health and safety rules, not religion.

Cancer specialist Dr Bernadette Birtwhistle, who works in hospitals across Yorkshire and is a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said: “I think it is getting to the point where many of us feel we cannot talk to patients about their spiritual or religious needs or ask them about praying.

“Christianity is being seen as something that is unhelpful.”

And she added: “Freedom of speech is being curtailed too much and I don’t think that is always in the benefit of patients.”

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

UK: Darling Tries to Hide Labour Cuts From Voters

ALISTAIR DARLING will keep voters in the dark about the government’s true spending plans for the next parliament, provoking a new row with the Tories.

The chancellor has abandoned plans for a comprehensive spending review, which should have been held this year, until after the general election.

The move is designed to wrong-foot the Conservatives who have conceded that they will cut spending if they return to government.

The delay in producing detailed figures will anger the government’s critics, who have accused Gordon Brown of lying over Labour’s true intentions. This will be seen as a further example of government dishonesty.

Philip Hammond, the shadow Treasury chief secretary, said: “The argument comes down to a choice between the Conservatives who are telling the truth that it is going to be tough and a Labour party who cannot face up to the facts.”

The scrapping of the spending review means the public will have no precise idea of what Labour’s plans would mean for public services if the party were reelected. Instead, the government will confine any detail to areas where spending will be maintained or increased.

There are likely to be vague pledges over schools and health-care in the chancellor’s prebudget report, but silence on areas such as defence, transport and crime where the axe will have to fall.

Darling’s strategy, which he will argue is because of continued economic uncertainty, will deny the Tories information to draw up their own plans.

Spending reviews are normally held every two years; the last was in 2007. The cancellation of the review until after the election means the next government will need to rush through its spending plans.

The political row over spending has been raging for almost three weeks since Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, admitted that the Tories might have to cut spending by 10% to slash the £175 billion budget deficit. The Tories maintained he was quoting the government’s own figures.

Darling’s ploy signals that Labour intends to persist with its “investment versus cuts” battle with the Tories. Yesterday Liam Byrne, Treasury chief secretary, said Labour would “continue to grow day-to-day current spending”.

An admission on Friday by Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, that his department would face cuts was slapped down by Downing Street. Whitehall officials said he was referring to reductions in existing published plans.

The prime minister will this week attempt to open a new front in the debate over spending with the launch of his long awaited “national plan” for public services.

The document, officially entitled Building Britain’s Future, will offer a “guarantee” to all parents that if their children fall behind in maths or English they will be provided with private one-to-one tuition paid for by the state.

Brown hopes the promise will woo middle-class parents who send their children to state schools but pay for extra out-of-hours lessons to coach them for exams.

The prime minister will also offer a “guarantee” that cancer patients will see a specialist within two weeks of referral. Should local National Health Service hospitals be unable to see a patient, he or she will be sent private, with the cost paid by the primary care trust.

In the foreword to the policy document, Brown will say: “We stand for fair rules and believe a strong economy and strong society go hand in hand. This will involve a radical dispersal of power: in the future, patients and parents must drive the system, with real rights of redress where minimum standards are not adequately met.”

The long-awaited government relaunch was undermined yesterday with the announcement that Alan Milburn, the Blairite former health secretary, is planning to retire from the Commons at the age of 51.

His departure reflects the growing fear that Labour is headed for an electoral defeat so severe that it will take the party a generation to win back power.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Balkan Leaders Back EU Integration

Novi Sad, 19 June (AKI) — Leaders of 14 central European countries at a summit in northern Serbian city of Novi Sad on Friday voiced strong support for the integration of west Balkans countries into the European Union. Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, attended the summit focusing on EU membership, cooperation in economy, energy and EU integration.

“Italy strives for and supports the integration of the western Balkans into the EU,” Napolitano told the summit. “We are all Europeans,” he added.

“In the new Europe all countries must be equal, regardless of whether they are founder-countries, new members or candidate countries,” Napolitano stated.

But he stressed that Europe is a community based on the rule of law, social justice and respect for human and minority rights.

Addressing the summit, Serbian president Boris Tadic called for governments to “to abolish all sanctions against citizens and the countries of the west Balkans region.”

“We want to become a part of Europe, not only because of our central geo-strategic position in the Balkans peninsula and economic prosperity of our country, but also because of common values we share with other European nations,” Tadic said.

Croatian president Stjepan Mesic said his country was striving for the EU membership of all western Balkan countries. “United Europe would make no sense if in its southeast there was a grey island isolated from everything that European integration stands for,” Mesic said.

Croatia began membership talks with the EU in 2005 and hopes to join the 27-nation bloc by 2011. Among the countries of the former Yugoslavia only Slovenia has so far become an EU member.

“We must all together knock on the European door even more forcefully if we want to enter,” the head of Bosnia’s rotating state presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, told the meeting.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Barry Rubin: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s Response: A Narrative He Dares Not Speak

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s big policy speech received global attention. Not so that of his Palestinian counterpart, Salam Fayyad. Fayyad’s June 22 presentation deserves careful analysis.

Fayyad is prime minister for one reason only: to please Western governments and financial donors. Lacking political skill, ideological influence, or strong support base, Fayyad does keep the money flowing since he’s relatively honest, moderate, and professional on economic issues.

But his own people don’t listen to him. Most PA politicians want him out. International pressure keeps him in.

So here’s the Fayyad paradox. If he really represented Palestinian stances and thinking, there’d be some hope for peace. Since he’s so out of tune with colleagues, though, Fayyad sounds sharply different from them. And even he’s highly restricted by what’s permissible in PA politics, limits which ensure the PA’s failure, absence of peace, and non-existence of a Palestinian state.

His first problem is that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and seeks the PA’s overthrow in the West Bank. Most Fatah and PA leaders prefer peace with Hamas rather than Israel. Make no mistake: this is a mutually exclusive choice. If Hamas merged with the PA the resulting would be far too radical to negotiate a solution, not to mention being en route to becoming dominated by Tehran-allied radical Islamism.

Moreover, to keep the door open for such conciliation, the PA can’t come closer to making a deal with Israel. But that’s not all. In veiled—an appropriate word here—language, Fayyad says Palestinians must avoid “politicizing” the Gaza issue so that any sanctions continue against the Hamas regime there.

By not opposing the suicide bombers, Fayyad follows suicidal policies…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Why the Germans Are Particularly Qualified to Tell the Israelis How to Behave

Die Welt 20.06.2009

Henryk Broder has noticed a creeping delegitimisation of Israel in recent years. And German critics of the Jewish state are working hand in hand with the “useful idiots”, he declares, in a speech which is printed in Die Welt. “With the murder of six million Jews, the Germans have qualified themselves for the job of ensuring that the survivors of the Holocaust behave properly. This is balsam to the wounded souls of those Germans who can only get over their past by pointing out that the Jews are no better. This is why German Anti-fascist groups are fighting the ‘fascism’ which determines Israel’s politics. If the invitation to do so comes from Jews themselves, then the fight is even more fun, after all it’s kosher. “

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

Middle East

Ahmadinejad Threatens Obama

Nearly lost in the exchange of invective between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Barack Obama is the former warning to put the latter on trial. Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin offer details at “Iran’s President Rebukes Obama; Candidates Reject Election Review” in the Washington Post today.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Iran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Regime Plots Purge After Election Protests

The supreme leader’s brutal crackdown has crushed dissent on the streets

Opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, are bracing themselves for a purge if, as expected, he returns to office following the country’s bitterly disputed presidential election.

His defeated rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who came a distant second in a poll he insists was rigged by the regime, has continued to defy what he has called “huge pressures” to halt his campaign for a new vote.

Last week his communications with the outside world were severely restricted, his web page was taken down and his newspaper was closed, with 25 of its employees arrested.

Supporters said they feared Mousavi could become another Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

Mousavi inspired hundreds of thousands of Iranians who poured onto the streets to demand that the results of the June 12 election should be annulled. Yesterday, however, the regime’s brutal crackdown, which has seen at least 17 demonstrators killed and about 3,000 detained, appeared to be succeeding.

Observers said they believed that after his inauguration, due by early August, a vengeful Ahmadinejad would oust anyone in government who had favoured the opposition or simply failed to support him.

“There will be a purge, no doubt about it,” said Ali Ansari, director of the Iranian Institute of St Andrews University, who until recently often travelled to Iran for research.

“There are people in Tehran who think, now that the regime has won, they will be left alone. I can’t tell you how far from the truth this is.”

The purge may already have begun. Akbar Torkan, the deputy oil minister and a rising star in the government, was sacked after writing sympathetically in an opposition newspaper.

Iranian sources said 17 senior officers in the elite Revolutionary Guard had been “reassigned” because their loyalties were suspect.

It is not a new tactic for Ahmadinejad. Since he became president in 2004 he has replaced every ambassador and all but one of Iran’s provincial governors with cronies, as well as filling important ministries with allies.

“I expect Ahmadinejad to continue the purge he started when he became president,” said Amir Taheri, an Iranian analyst. “He will go for the parliament, the Guardian Council, where four members were against him, and even the expediency council, which oversees the office of supreme leader.”

The analysts pointed out that Ahmadinejad was able to move because he had the public backing of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.

The streets of Tehran were quiet yesterday, with riot police in camouflage uniforms and basiji, the volunteer militia, on the main squares and patrolling on motorcycles and in trucks.

Mousavi, fearing more violence, said he would request official permission for rallies, which the regime has routinely refused. It gives the protesters little opportunity to keep their momentum going within the law.

Their fears increased dramatically when Ahmad Khatami, a hardline mullah, said the arrested protesters should be treated “ruthlessly and without mercy” — and that some should be executed.

The Guardian Council, the unelected group of 12 clerics and legal experts charged with monitoring the election, is to announce by tomorrow whether it will certify the results. It has already said it has found no evidence of fraud so its decision seems a foregone conclusion.

The protest movement has been severely undermined by the crackdown. During a demonstration last Wednesday near the Majlis, or parliament, security forces outnumbered protesters four to one.

The regime has blocked mobile phones, texts and networking sites such as Facebook, and Mousavi’s isolation has deprived the opposition of leadership.

All last week families sat huddled on newspapers in hot sunshine outside the feared Evin prison as they waited for the updating of a handwritten notice giving the names of prisoners. Some carried money or deeds to their homes, hoping to be able to post bail.

A retired teacher said he was looking for his 19-year-old son, Ardalan, who had been home on leave from the Revolutionary Guard when he went missing. They feared the worst because he was a conscript.

He had last been seen in Vanak Square on June 18, and they had found out he was in prison only because his frantic fiancée had been phoning his mobile, even though it was turned off. Finally, last Monday, a stranger answered.

“It was like he began interrogating me: ‘Who are you? What is your relation to Ardalan?’ When Ardalan finally got on the phone, all he could say was that he was in jail but ‘fine’,” his fiancée said.

“I thank God he is not dead, but what I am afraid of is that if they want to take him into tough interrogations he may have to sign and agree with things that he has not done at all,” said his mother, weeping and sweating in her hot black overcoat and hijab.

For now, the struggle has largely moved from the streets to a behind-the-scenes political tussle between two distinct camps in the Islamic republic.

Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, and Ahmadinejad lead the hardline camp that wants to continue strict social rules and defiant international policies. These are the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini, who overthrew the shah in 1979.

Mousavi is supported by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the wealthy former president who heads the expediency council. Their vision of a more relaxed social atmosphere and a moderation in Iran’s isolationist foreign policy is anathema to the hardliners.

The reformist ranks have been swollen by a strong “Anyone but Ahmadinejad” group of conservatives, clerics and even some Revolutionary Guard generals. “They all hate Ahmadinejad with a vengeance,” Ansari said.

The Assembly of Combatant Clerics, an influential group of mullahs in the holy city of Qom, sent an open letter saying: “The people of Iran, who with thousands of hopes and wishes and excitement came to the voting boxes, are now gathering the bodies of their youth out of blood and soil and are in mourning.

“Should these justice-seek-ing objections be answered with bullets that rip through the hearts of their children?”

Despite their disparate vision of Iran’s future, both camps want the Islamic republic to continue so they were still talking at the weekend.

One compromise supported by Rafsanjani at the height of the protests was that rather than insisting on removing Khamenei, the supreme leader should remain in office but have some of his powers passed to a three-man committee.

No one believes the confrontation is over. “The government may have won the first round, but there is fire under the ashes,” said a senior reform leader.

Mother weeps at dusty grave of shot Neda

There is no headstone on grave number 32, in section 257, column 41, in the dry, dusty new section of Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. Only the photograph of Neda Soltan reveals who lies beneath the mound.

Footage of the 26-year-old music student dying on a back street in Tehran shocked the world, turning her overnight into a global symbol of suffering under the brutality of the Iranian regime.

Protesters in Tehran and in capitals around the world last week held up placards and wore T-shirts proclaiming, “I am Neda.” At her grave, however, the scene was one of aching, personal grief. The regime banned her family from holding a funeral, but last Thursday her mother and brother sat in the dirt by the grave weeping. “Something was ravaged in her mother’s face,” said Mohsen, a 35-year-old PhD student. “She was doing her best to control herself, but she couldn’t. I can still hear her sobs in my ears.”

About 200 mourners laid flowers in the dirt and offered quiet words of condolence to her mother, dressed in a black manteau and hijab (headscarf)..

They murmured to each other, still in shock at the mobile phone footage that caught Neda’s death throes after she was shot in the chest by a basiji militiaman during a protest against election results.

As the crowd in the cemetery grew, security officers moved in, ordering the mourners to leave. Relatives picked up Neda’s mother from the ground, where she was still sobbing.

They may have cleared mourners away for one afternoon, but nobody doubts that the grave of the pretty young woman who had wanted to be a tour guide has already become a shrine to what her family said she wanted: justice.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Iran: ‘Wailing of Wolves’ As Cries of Allahu Akbar Ring From Roofs

At about 9pm each day Nushin, a young housewife, performs the same curious ritual. She climbs up the stairs to the roof of her Tehran home and begins shouting into the night. Allahu akbar,” she cries, and sometimes “Death to the dictator”.

She is not alone. Across the darkened city, from rooftops and through open windows, thousands of others do the same to form one great chorus of protest — a collective wail of anger against a reviled regime that no amount of riot police and Basiji militia can stop. “It sounds like the wailing of wolves,” said one Tehrani.

And each night, as the street demonstrations are crushed with overwhelming force and the regime cracks down on all other forms of dissent, it grows steadily louder and more insistent, not just in Tehran but in other densely populated cities of the Islamic Republic.

“It’s the way we reassure ourselves that we are still here and we are still together,” says Nushin, a woman who has never dared to rebel before.

“This is what people did before the revolution and I hope it warns the regime about what could happen if it doesn’t change its way.

“And because I’m a religious person the sound resonating in the neighbourhood makes me feel better. Even my little daughter joins me, and I can see how she feels that she is part of something bigger. It is our unique way of civil disobedience and what’s interesting is that it increases every time they do something that makes people angrier.”

Ever resourceful, the opposition has developed other ways of showing dissent short of wearing green or taking to the streets. They honk their horns, and they drive their cars and motorbikes with their headlights on. But the hour of chanting is anonymous, safe and almost impossible for the security forces to stop. Who could arrest someone for shouting their praise of God? Hossein, a young engineer, is another nightly participant. “The first time I did it, it was in protest to the theft of my vote, the insult that the President had made towards us,” he told The Times. But after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, ruled out any compromise in his sermon last Friday, “it has become much more than that. It is the people’s way of saying that they are still together and will stay that way until they reach their goal. It has become a way of getting out our anger when we can’t protest and to keep it going . . . It makes me happy to hear others, it reminds me that I’m not alone.”

In many ways this has been a high-tech rebellion, with the opposition using video clips shot with mobile phones, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the internet to generate outrage around the world. But the rooftop protests are the precise opposite and a deliberate and resonant throwback to an earlier age.

It is what Iranians did before the revolution of 1979. From their roofs, they would shout Allahu akbar” to support Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei in his battle against the tyranny of the former Shah. That a later generation should now be using the very same weapon against the regime that Khomeini helped to establish is an irony lost on no one.

Frontline tweets

16.00 A girl was shooted in Baharestan Sq, they don’t allow people to help shooted girl 16.00 See many people with broken arms/legs/ heads blood everywhere — pepper gas like war

16.30 They were waiting for us — they all have guns and riot uniforms — it was like a mouse trap — people being shot like animals

16.40 Saw 7/8 militia beating one woman with baton on ground — sure that she is dead

16.45 All shops closed — nowhere to go — they follow people with helicopters — smoke and fire is everywhere

17.00 Rumour they are tracking high use of phone lines to find internet users — must move from here now

17.15 In Baharestan we saw militia with axe chopping people like meat — blood everywhere — like butcher — Allah Akbar

17.30 They pull away the dead into trucks — like factory — no human can do this — we beg Allah for save us

18.00 Don’t know when we can get internet — they take one of us, they will torture and get names — now we must move fast

22.00 Baharestan Sq was Tiananmen Sq today!

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Iran: Leading Demonstrators Must be Executed, Ayatollah Khatami Demands

A hardline cleric close to the Iranian regime demanded the execution of leading demonstrators yesterday as the opposition ended the week in disarray.

In a televised sermon at Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami called on the judiciary to “punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson”. He said that those leaders were backed by the United States and Israel. They should be treated as mohareb — people who wage war against God — and deserved execution.

In a clear warning to all other dissenters, he declared: “Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction.”

The Ayatollah claimed that Neda Soltan, the woman shot during a demonstration last Saturday, had been killed by fellow protesters because “government forces do not shoot at a lady standing in a side street”.

Ayatollah Khatami’s address came at the end of a week in which the regime has brutally suppressed all street protests and arrested hundreds of opponents for daring to challenge President Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

The Guardian Council, which oversees elections and is controlled by regime loyalists, said that it had found no major irregularities in the election on June 12, and described it as the “healthiest” since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It offered the losing candidates the sop of a special commission but nobody believes that it will annul a result that has been unambiguously endorsed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Mr Ahmadinejad’s main sponsor.

Regime operatives appeared to have sabotaged the main website through which Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated candidate, communicates with his supporters. The former Prime Minister has not appeared in public for nine days and his movements are said to have been curtailed by a large, unwanted security force.

The regime’s ubiquitous security groups now break up even the smallest gatherings before they can gain critical mass. Its agents have become adept at spreading misinformation about when and where protests are taking place, and intimidating Tehranis with telephone calls warning them not to join rooftop protests at night. They have also shut opposition newspapers.

The regime blocked a day of mourning for the victims of the demonstrations that had been organised by Mehdi Karoubi, another of the defeated candidates, and pressured Mohsen Rezai, the fourth candidate, into dropping complaints about electoral fraud.

The opposition had planned to release thousands of green balloons over Tehran yesterday bearing the message “Neda you will always be in our heart”. The protest failed to get off the ground.

“The opposition is in retreat, pondering its next move,” an analyst in Tehran said. “People are demoralised to some extent and just don’t have the bounce in their step they had a week ago . . . The regime thinks it’s got them on the run and can finish them off.”

The most outspoken criticism of the regime is now coming from outside Iran. On Thursday President Obama called the regime’s suppression of dissent “outrageous”. He admitted that his hopes of opening a dialogue with Iran had been damaged but rejected Mr Ahmadinejad’s demand that he apologise for criticising the crackdown.

Speaking after talks with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, he said that their two countries spoke with “one voice” in condemning the regime’s behaviour.

The foreign ministers of the G8 powers, meeting in Italy, issued a statement deploring the crackdown and urging Iran to resolve the crisis over the disputed election through democratic dialogue. “We deplore post-electoral violence which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression,” the G8 ministers said in a joint statement.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said: “The violence we have seen over the last ten days and the killings and the beatings are deplorable and they show a failure to protect their own people.

“There is a crisis of credibility not between Iran and the West, but between the Iranian counting of the votes and the Iranian people.” Even Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, which is helping Iran to develop nuclear power, said that he was seriously concerned by the regime’s use of force, and urged Tehran to settle all issues in a democratic way.

The regime appears impervious to such criticism. For now it is concerned only with survival. “They believe the world will eventually have to deal with it,” an analyst said.

Iran’s obscene denial

It is the oldest trick in the Iranian book: discredit opponents by painting them as dupes of great, middling or little “Satans”.

All week the state media have been filled with tales of foreign powers whipping up protests to bring down the mullahs. Many vices are prohibited in this bastion of Islamic virtues but evidently not bald-faced lying.

Nothing has been more obscene, however, than the campaign to avoid blame for the death of Neda Soltan, the innocent demonstrator fatally shot last Saturday.

It gagged her family and stopped them mourning or burying her with dignity. Then it started accusing foreign agents and their Iranian stooges of killing her. Jon Leyne, the BBC correspondent in Tehran, allegedly hired a thug to shoot her so that he could get good pictures. Officials have variously claimed she was shot by fellow protesters, foreign agitators or the CIA..

Arash Hejazi, the doctor who was standing next to Miss Soltan and tried to save her life , has now risked permanent exile to tell the truth. She was shot in her chest by a basij militiaman on a motorcycle, he told The Times.

The man was caught by the crowd. He escaped with his life because, unlike the regime and contrary to its lies, the protesters eschew violence.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Hariri Steps Out of His Father’s Shadow

The Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has designated the 39-year-old leader of the Sunni majority, Saad Hariri, as the country’s new prime minister, asking him to form a new government.

Saad Hariri’s pro-Western alliance won a majority of seats in the June parliamentary election, beating the Iranian-backed opposition led by the Shiite military group Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s new prime minister is already among the country’s most prominent public figures.

The young billionaire businessman Saad Hariri heads one of the largest business conglomerates in the Middle East and has powerful allies in Saudi Arabia and the West.

But he is best known for being the son of Rafik Hariri — Lebanon’s former prime minister who was killed in Beirut in 2005.

The assassination, which altered the course of Lebanon’s history, marked the beginning of Saad Hariri’s own political career.

Softer rhetoric

Rafik Hariri’s heir emerged at the forefront of the campaign for justice for his father. Along with his supporters at home and in the West, he blamed Syria for the car bomb that killed his father and forty others.

Damascus denied any involvement, but the assassination sparked such outcry that Syria was forced to withdraw its troops, ending its 30-year domination of Lebanon. But more recently Saad Hariri has softened his anti-Syrian rhetoric and following the parliamentary election in June, he vowed to work together with the pro-Syrian opposition led by Hezbollah.

“His rhetoric now is much more reconciliatory, and is very different from what it was two years ago, when he was clearly a divisive figure,” says Rami Khoury, the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University of Beirut.


Prior to his political career, Saad Hariri was best known for his playboy lifestyle, but many say that over the years he has transformed himself from a rich and inarticulate young man into a much more seasoned and assertive politician.

“He has made mixed impressions, and he still has to prove himself, but I think he has shown himself as a smart man who is up to the task,” says Mr Khoury.

But the task is daunting — Saad Hariri will need to create a unity government in the country, which remains deeply divided along sectarian lines.

On the eve of his nomination as prime minister, Saad Hariri met with one of his main opponents, the leader of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah. At the end of their rare, four-hour meeting, the two men vowed to work together.

New dialogue

But like everything else in Lebanon, Saad Hariri’s success, or failure, as the prime minister will depend largely on what happens outside Lebanon..

This tiny country has always been the battleground of regional powers.

Many here believe that the success and calm of the June parliamentary election is the direct reflection of the new dialogue between the old regional foes — Syria, which supports Hezbollah, and Saudi Arabia, which backs Saad Hariri.

Equally, the recent events in Iran, Hezbollah’s biggest backer, have undermined the potential for a dialogue between Tehran and Mr Hariri’s allies in Washington — and that too could have a real impact on what happens in Lebanon.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Muslim World Grieves for Michael Jackson

Arab world mourns death of “Muslim King of Pop”

Michael Jackson’s sudden death at age 50 provoked an outpouring of emotion from Muslims and Arabs who paid tribute to the pop star whose conversion to Islam and brief residence in the Gulf helped cement his popularity among a global fan base.

Despite ruling the charts and dazzling audiences with trademarks like the “moonwalk” in the 1980s, Jackson’s career was overshadowed by his physical transformation and multiple allegations of child abuse. But his fans seem to prefer remembering him as an entertainer who transcended cultural boundaries and became one of the best-selling artists of all time

Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Isa Al Khalifa, the Bahraini prince who had a falling out with the “King of Pop” in 2008, publicly mourned his death as a tragic loss to the music industry in a statement in the Gulf Daily News.

Jackson moved to Bahrain with his children after his 2005 acquittal of child molestation charges and lived there for a year as a guest of the royal family. But after disagreement over plans for a concert comeback fell through his benefactor filed a lawsuit against him for $7 million that ended in an out of court settlement in 2008.

Yet Bahrainis, many of whom were accustomed to glimpsing the reclusive Jackson sporting a black women’s abaya, a black over garment,, connected to Jackson on a cultural level as many felt he was one of them.

“He had many faults but he came to the Middle East and felt at home here. I respect his cross-cultural awareness which knew no bounds,” a Bahraini fan said on Facebook page dedicated to the star.

“I grew up with Jackson’s music…he was my window to the world of pop culture and I grieve for his sudden death,” Haritha Moulid from Bahrain, said on a Remembering Michael Jackson Facebook page.

“It’s hard to overestimate the impact Jackson had on the world in general, much less the Muslim world,” Zahed Amanullah, associate editor of the London-based, wrote in an article on his website.

“Like young people elsewhere around the world, many Muslims simply loved Michael, for his gentle persona, his raw talent, or the pop culture seed planted in their subconscious,” said Zaid Shakir, a renowned American imam, adding that he hoped his faith “cushioned” his fall.

“Michael was an icon, a pain-filled, troubled icon, and like many of comparable stature before him, and inevitably many after him, his fall was sudden and unexpected,” Shakir wrote on his website. “Hopefully, the tears he cried in the privacy of his oftentimes lonely world, tears described by Smokey Robinson as those of a clown, shed when no one’s around, had dried,” Shakir said.

Jackson’s appeal to the Arab world went beyond his musical legacy and smooth dance moves amid rumors in 2008 of his conversion to Islam, the Arab world’s predominant religion.

Rumors that Jackson died as a Muslim intensified when Jermaine prayed for Allah to have mercy on him. “May Allah be with you, Michael, always,” the brother said in a statement available on You tube.

In early 2007, Jackson’s brother Jermaine Jackson, a Muslim and the family’s official spokesman, announced that Michael would embrace Islam. Last November press reports said that Jackson had formerly converted to the religion.

Jermaine Jackson explained that it was the experience of touring the Gulf that brought his late brother into contact with Islam and that the singer found Islam’s anti-racist universalism resolved some dilemmas about culture and race that Jackson had combated all his life.

Yet Jackson the Muslim remained shrouded in mystery and at best a rumor. Muslim folk singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, denied press reports that he had attended Jackson’s conversion ceremony.

“Contrary to persistent press rumours, I was not at any kind of conversion ceremony for Michael Jackson. Nor, I believe, was Dawud Wharnsby or any of the others mentioned in connection with the story,” Islam said in a statement on his website, adding, “I hope that he finds inner peace and can return to making the kind of music that has inspired generations.”

Nonetheless, Muslims were keeping an eye out for signs of his faith in death that may not have been visible in life.

“If anybody hears about a janaaza prayer (Islamic funeral) being held for Michael Jackson, Allah yarhamuh (May Allah have mercy on him), please pass it along. If it happens, I encourage all who are able to attend in full Islamic dress,” a Muslim fan requested of others on a Muslim listserv.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Police Arrest ‘Homosexuals’ At Party

Riyadh, 17 June (AKI) — Saudi Arabian police are reported to have arrested 71 foreigners accused of homosexuality in the capital Riyadh. According to a report in the Arab daily, al-Quds al-Arabi, police raided a party in the al-Manar district of the capital and arrested the group.

Several residents are reported to have notified police about people who were doing things that did “not conform” with Islamic sharia law.

When police arrived they reportedly found people wearing “indecent” clothes and conducting themselves in an “indecent” manner.

Seventy Filipinos and one Yemeni were arrested by police.

A few weeks ago police arrested 55 young men accused of homosexuality at a party at a farm in the Sihat area.

Homosexuality and cross-dressing are widely seen as immoral acts and are treated as serious crimes.

While the kingdom has faced criticism from human rights organisations, it insists that it always acts in accordance with Sunni Islamic law.

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

Turkish Parliament Paves Way for Civilian Courts to Try Army Personnel

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s parliament has passed legislation aimed at meeting European Union membership criteria to ensure military personnel are tried in civilian courts during peacetime rather than in military courts.

The legislation passed on Friday requires civilian courts to try members of the armed forces who are accused of crimes including threats to national security, constitutional violations, organizing armed groups and attempts to topple the government, according to parliament’s website.

The legislation comes amid renewed tensions between the powerful military and the government after a newspaper published a document this month that allegedly outlined an army plot to undermine the ruling AKP, which traces its roots to an outlawed Islamist movement.

Chief of the Military General Staff Ilker Basbug on Friday said the document was a smear campaign against the armed forces. A military prosecutor ruled this week there was insufficient evidence for an investigation, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has vowed that civilian prosecutors will now take over the probe.

The change to the penal code also says civilians cannot be tried in military courts unless the country is in a state of martial law or at war.

It was not clear if the changes to the penal code will affect the trial of military officers who have been charged in the so-called Ergenekon case investigating an alleged right-wing network that sought to topple the government

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Vodka Kills as Many Russians as a War, Says Report in the Lancet

The terrible cost of Russia’s love affair with vodka was laid bare in a study published yesterday. It blamed alcohol addiction for more than half of all deaths among Russians in their prime years and said that the scale of the carnage was comparable to a war.

The report, which appeared in The Lancet, said that three quarters of deaths among men and half of deaths among women aged 15-54 were attributable to alcohol abuse. The mortality rate in Russia in this age group was five times higher for men and three times higher for women than in Western Europe.

Professor David Zaridze, who led the international research team, calculated that alcohol had killed three million Russians since Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to restrict sales in 1987. He added: “This loss is similar to that of a war.”

The study analysed the deaths of almost 49,000 people between 1990 and 2001 in Tomsk, Barnaul and Biysk, three industrial cities in Siberia with typical mortality rates. It concluded that alcohol was the cause of 52 per cent of mortalities; 13 times greater than the worldwide average.

The Russian, British and French researchers said that “excess mortality from liver cancer, throat cancer, liver disease and pancreatic disease is largely or wholly because alcohol caused the disease that caused death”.

The findings will fuel the debate about a slump in life expectancy in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly among men. The average Russian man now lives little more than 60 years, compared with 77 years for men in Western Europe, while Russian women die on average at 73, nine years earlier than their European counterparts.

Soaring poverty and stress associated with the Soviet collapse, and the loss of jobs and security, have been blamed. The study highlighted a doubling of alcohol consumption in seven years between 1987 and 1994 to about 10.5 litres annually per person.

“Alcohol consumption is always connected with poverty. It’s been associated with social crisis. If we take our mortality statistics, it will be obvious that it’s parallel to our social crisis,” said Professor Zaridze, head of the Russian Cancer Research Centre.

Consumption has continued to rise sharply. A report in 2007 by Gennadi Onishchenko, the Chief Public Health Officer, said that Russians were drinking the equivalent of 15 litres of pure alcohol each year. His report said that almost 30,000 people died annually from alcohol poisioning and that at least 2.3 million people were alcoholics.

Attempts to limit Russians’ thirst have never enjoyed much success. Mr Gorbachev almost lost public support for his reforms by launching an antialcohol campaign in 1985, whichmerely encouraged a black market and put a hole in the state budget from lost revenues on official sales.

As President, Vladimir Putin ordered the introduction of a strict licensing system to fight illicit alcohol sales. It provoked complaints that poorer Russians were risking death by turning to industrial cleaners.

Even so, vodka remains remarkably cheap by European standards and supermarket shelves are lined with brands costing as little as £2 per bottle. Beer sales have tripled since 1998, but most do not regard beer as a “serious” alcoholic drink and it is common to see people consuming a bottle on their way to work in the mornings.

Drink that bites back

? Vodka can be produced from grain, potatoes, molasses, beets or other plants

? The name comes from the Russian word woda meaning water

? Normal vodka is about 40 per cent alcohol but the Balkan brand comes in at 88 per cent

? Deadly fake vodka, often made from industrial wood alcohol, has plagued Russia and Eastern Europe in recent years since production was liberalised

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Revealed: The Chilling Words of the Mumbai Killers Recorded During Their Murder Spree

This is Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, caught on film as he unleashed a devastating and indiscriminate attack in Mumbai that left 166 people dead. But this picture is not the most dramatic record of that day. During the raid, the Indian intelligence services intercepted mobile phone calls between Kasab, his terrorist comrades and a mysterious handler hundreds of miles away, who issued commands to shoot civilians without mercy. These shocking tapes reveal the sinister mind control used to turn young men into killing machines — and the casual, off-hand brutality of the men who masterminded the massacre

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Changes Tack on Afghan Poppies

The United States is to change the way it deals with the massive poppy growing industry in Afghanistan.

Instead of destroying the crops it will spend money encouraging Afghan farmers to grow different ones.

US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, at a G8 meeting in Italy, said current measures against poppy growers had been “a failure”.

The conference of foreign ministers in Trieste also called for credible elections in Afghanistan in August..

Mr Holbrooke said that existing programmes of eradication had not reduced by one dollar the amount of money the Taliban earned from production.

“Spraying the crops just penalises the farmer and they grow crops somewhere else. The hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on crop eradication has not had any damage on the Taliban.”

“On the contrary, it has helped them recruit. This is the least effective programme ever,” Mr Holbrooke added.

‘Sad joke’

Mr Holbrooke said in future destruction of poppy fields would be phased out and the money instead redirected to farmers to grow different crops.

The move was welcomed by delegates at the G8 conference.

One said the policy of eradication had been a “sad joke”.

The Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, said the G8 backed President Hamid Karzai’s appeal to the Taliban to take part in the Afghanistan elections in August.

Richard Holbrooke said the fairness of the elections would determine the legitimacy of the government.

“We have just seen a spectacularly bad example just next door in Iran”, he said.

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

Far East

South Korea Getting U.S. Missiles to Boost Defences: Report

SEOUL (Reuters) — South Korea is acquiring 40 U.S.-made missiles for an Aegis destroyer this month to boost its defenses amid reports North Korea may soon test-fire missiles, Yonhap news agency on Sunday quoted a military source as saying.

North Korea, which rattled regional security with a May 25 nuclear test, is preparing to test a long-range missile that could hit U.S. territory and mid-range missiles that could hit all of South Korea, a South Korean presidential Blue House official said last week.

The surface-to-air missiles for the Aegis destroyer, designed to track and shoot down objects including missiles, can hit targets up to 160 km (100 miles) away, Yonhap quoted the source as saying.

North Korea has also warned ships to stay away from waters off its east coast city of Wonsan, Japan’s Coast Guard said last week, in a possible indication of a missile test.

North Korea launched in April a rocket it said was carrying a satellite. The move was widely seen as a disguised test of its long-range Taepodong-2 missile and a violation of U.N. resolutions barring the reclusive state from ballistic missile testing.

The U.N. Security Council punished it for the missile launch by tightening existing sanctions and imposing new ones after the nuclear test to halt its arms trading, one of the few items the cash-short state with a broken down economy can export.

The U.S. Navy has said it is monitoring a North Korean ship under the new U.N. security resolutions imposed after the nuclear test. A South Korean intelligence source said the ship is likely carrying missiles and parts, and it could be heading to Myanmar, broadcaster YTN said.

At the weekend, the prickly North warned in an official media report it would shoot down any Japanese military plane that breached North Korean air space.

South Korean officials have said the North’s recent saber rattling may be a way for leader Kim Jong-il to build internal support as he prepares for succession in Asia’s only communist dynasty.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Indian Community Outraged Over Jail Terms

THE Indian community has reacted with outrage after a magistrate ruled that the young thugs who beat an Indian man almost to death will walk free after serving only six months.

On Wednesday, Magistrate Kay Macpherson said five teenagers acted “like a pack of animals” when they bashed Indian student Sukhraj Singh in December and left him in a coma for three weeks.

But she sentenced four of them to only 12 months’ youth detention — meaning they will be eligible for parole within weeks after serving more than six months on remand.

Another youth involved in the attack escaped custody, instead being sentenced to a 12-month youth attendance.

One of the youths — who at 14 already had an earlier conviction for armed robbery — had been involved in 12 violent incidents since he had been on remand, Ms Macpherson noted in sentencing him.

Mr Singh was initially speechless when told of the sentences.

“I don’t understand this at all,” he said.

But a source revealed that all four of the youths had been involved in violence while on remand at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre.

The source said the youths had been kept apart at the centre.

“We would have had no hope of controlling them if they had been together,” he said.

Mr Singh was bashed by the gang in December in a grocery store in Sunshine.

The five youths, then aged between 14 and 17, were originally charged with attempted murder over the attack, which fractured Mr Singh’s skull on three sides.

But the attempted murder charges were dropped when the five agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of intentionally causing serious injury.

The five also pleaded guilty to armed robbery over the attack.

Another man and a youth have pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and will be tried later.

Indian community leaders reacted with outrage to the leniency shown by the court.

“What sort of a sentence is this?” said Vasan Srinivasan, president of the Federation of Indian Associations, Victoria.

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

Australia: War on Chronic Disease to Shift Out of Hospitals

HIGHER taxes on cigarettes and tighter controls on food and drink promotion to counter obesity and alcohol abuse are likely to be among measures recommended tomorrow to turn health spending away from hospitals.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said the proposals were likely to trigger a “difficult” debate.

The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and two separate taskforces on prevention and primary health will propose much greater reliance on non-hospital, community measures to combat chronic diseases.

The Government is expected to delay any decision on any federal takeover of public hospital funding until it has considered the findings of its reform experts.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, pledged before the election that by the middle of this year he would propose a federal takeover if state governments failed to show they were improving public hospital standards.

Some states, including NSW, are struggling to show signs of overall improvement although they have reduced elective surgery waiting lists with the help of increased funding.

In its report to the Government, the health reform commission is thought unlikely to urge a federal takeover of hospitals but is expected to call for a bigger federal role in funding for primary care outside hospitals.

In an interview with the Herald, Ms Roxon said it was time for Australians to have a “difficult conversation” about choosing the most effective and affordable health system.

“We cannot keep funding every new drug and [medical procedure] and have no concern about whether it is a cost-effective treatment,” she said. “There has not really been a genuine debate about this issue for a long time.”

Ms Roxon said she and Mr Rudd had made it clear that they wanted to assess the recommendations of the health reform commission and the taskforces to gauge workable ideas.

The Government had already made significant advances in broadening care options through its GP “super clinics”, 20 of which should have contracts signed by next month, and on legislation to empower midwives and practice nurses to take over some roles reserved for doctors, she said.

“The key part of the debate is about how to modernise medicine and make sure it is focused on patient outcomes,” she said.

The doctors’ fee for service system would remain central to Medicare, she said.

“But I think we need a debate about what the add-ons [to Medicare] might be,” she said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia: Aged-Care Safety Policy Too Costly, Says Watchdog

A PRODUCTIVITY Commission report has savaged the Department of Health and Ageing, arguing that intrusive new regulations for aged-care facilities have driven up costs for providers but deliver limited benefits.

The efficiency watchdog said the Federal Government department was pursuing an overly cautious “zero-risk” approach to safety at aged-care facilities following a handful of incidents.

This approach showed “little concern for minimising the costs of compliance” to operators.

Proposed government rules are subject to a regulatory impact statement to ensure that only regulations that bring a net benefit to the public are introduced. But in aged care there was “little evidence” that these processes had motivated the department to consider unnecessary compliance costs and adverse side effects.

Among the regulations criticised by the commission was a strengthening of police-check requirements for staff, the requirement to report missing residents and an increase in the number of unannounced visits to facilities..

“Meeting regulatory requirements can come at the expense of providing better care as staff are directed to paperwork, a perverse outcome in a regulatory system that is designed to improve the quality of care,” the report says.

The finding was backed by Aged and Community Services Australia, which said that some aged-care facilities were struggling to stay afloat.

“The human and financial costs of red tape are unnecessary, unreasonable and unsustainable,” its chief executive, Greg Mundy, said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

MP’s Arrest Halts Exposure of Zimbabwe Blood Diamonds Massacre

A Zimbabwean MP who was about to reveal to an international delegation the site of a mass grave of diamond diggers, allegedly killed by government troops last November, has been arrested and jailed.

Shuwa Mudiwa, whose Mutare West constituency covers the Marange diamond fields where the killings occurred, was expected to disclose details of the massacre to a delegation from the Kimberley Process, a certification scheme aimed at preventing the sale of “blood diamonds”. It is due to visit Zimbabwe this week.

However, Mudiwa is now being held on a charge of kidnapping first lodged during last year’s fraudulent and violent election that returned President Robert Mugabe to power. The charge is widely thought to be trumped up.

Several other people the delegation wants to interview have been harassed and intimidated, making it unlikely the Kimberley Process group will be able to establish the truth.

Some of the diggers were reportedly shot by soldiers firing from helicopters to clear the diamond fields and bring them under military control.

As a result, Zimbabwe has been accused of trading in blood diamonds, a charge it denies. Human rights organisations have evidence that as many as 250 people died but the government says no massacre took place.

The deputy minister for mines, Murisi Zwizwai, admitted at a meeting of the Kimberley Process in Namibia last week that a “special operation” to clear the illegal miners had taken place. He denied any killings had occurred.

One official who attended last week’s meeting and who favours Zimbabwe’s suspension from the scheme, said: “I am concerned that if the team comes back and writes a report that is very partial because it has not been able to see anything, the Kimberley Process will accept that and will be endorsing a lie and misrepresentation.”

The Kimberley Process has come under mounting criticism for being toothless towards Zimbabwe and other governments such as Venezue-la that allegedly conduct an unethical trade in diamonds.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Somalis Taste South Africa Xenophobia

CAPE TOWN — Muhidin Hajji Mohammed, a Somali immigrant, was sorting out goods at his small shop near Cape Town when a group of mob showed up.

“I was balancing my day’s sales when a mob of people came shouting on the top of their voices kill the Somali, kill the dog,” Hajji Mohammed, 45, told

In a flash of a minute, the mob started to take away whatever their hands could carry from the hawking sweets shop in the Mfuleni township.

His son was shot when he tried to prevent the mob from stealing the shop.

“My son who tried to intervene was shot twice in the stomach as my wife was raped by a group of youth,” recalled a teary Mohammed, who arrived in South Africa from Somalia in 2001.

“My shop the only hope I had in life was swept clean, my dear son was shot and my lovely wife raped all because we are foreigners trying to make a decent living in this country.”

The assault on the Somali immigrant is the latest in unabated attacks targeting the Somali community in South Africa.

Nine Somalis were killed in western Cape Town in a single weak this month.

“We Somalis are being witch hunted because we are hardworking compared to locals,” said Abdihakim Mohammed Sheikh, the head of the Somali Community board of South Africa.

“They accuse us of frustrating their businesses by selling our goods cheaper compared to them.”

More than 600 Somalis were killed in South Africa since 2002.

“Somalis are very hard working people, who arrive in South Africa with nothing but in a year they normally have money to open shops or buy cars, which makes locals jealous and they are killed,” said Abdihakim.

South Africa is home to a Somali community of 20,000.


Somali immigrants are now living in panic over attacks targeting their community.

“We are totally surprised that our community is being targeted by these ruthless people,” Abdihakim said.

“Somalis don’t do crime like other foreigners. We are people who strive to make a halal, honest living. So I don’t know why we are being targeted.”

Jody Collopen of the South African Human rights Commission called for action to stop attacks against Somali immigrants.

“I appeal to the Government to immediately intervene in this matter as we shall not tolerate another blood bath in this country which belongs to all who live in it,” he told IOL.

At least 62 people were killed last year in xenophobic attacks that displaced tens of thousands of people.

Anti-Somalis attacks have also drawn strong condemnation from South African President Jacob Zuma.

“South Africans don’t know that the weapons that fought here against apartheid were being kept in Somalia,” Zuma told a Somali delegation.

“The late Somali President Mohammed Siyad Barre helped us during our first half of the liberation struggle.”

Somalia has been without an effective government since the ouster of Barre in 1991.

Since then, the Horn of Africa country sank into deadly violence that killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands.

But for Hajji Mohammed, he aspires for the day he returns to his home town Mogadishu.

“Although I have northing to go back to, I’m happy Allah has saved me and my family,” he said.

“We are all still alive and wish to return home for it is better to die there than being harassed here.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Argentine Army in Torture Ruling

About 70 Argentine army officers can be charged with torture of their own soldiers during the 1982 Falklands War, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Over 80 cases are under investigation, including allegations of murder and causing death by starvation.

The court upheld an earlier ruling that the alleged torture could be considered crimes against humanity and rejected a petition to abandon proceedings.

An Argentine veterans’ group welcomed the ruling.

“We have been fighting for 27 years for this to become known, we are really satisfied,” said Ernesto Alonso, president of the Centre for Falkland Islands Veterans.

“Next week, more soldiers will report about abuses they have suffered.”

Cases that are being investigated include the alleged execution of one soldier and the fatal abandonment of another.

Veterans who brought the legal action — all conscripted into service — also say four soldiers starved to death, while several others were staked to the ground as punishment.

Britain and Argentina fought a 10-week war over the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas, under British control since 1833.

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

Why Doesn’t Obama Care About Freedom?

… the Post editorial raised questions about Obama’s indifference toward Cuban freedom fighters in the context of his treatment of other Latin American Marxists.

The paper commented, “It’s not that the president is too busy to concern himself with Latin American politics. The White House arranged for a Spanish journalist to ask a question at Tuesday’s news conference; reporter Macarena Vidal pressed Mr. Obama on whether U.S. allies such as Chile and Colombia were doing enough to help with ‘less democratic countries.’ The president replied by heaping praise on visiting Chilean President Michele Bachelet, a socialist who has been promoting Cuba’s readmission into the Organization of American States and who has gone out of her way to avoid offending Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. ‘Chile is leading by example,’ Mr. Obama said, adding that its good relationship with Washington despite political differences ‘points the way for other countries…where the democratic tradition is not as deeply embedded as we’d like it to be.’“

The Post said that the message from Obama to Chávez and the Castro brothers was that “We can work with you” while the message to Cuba’s democratic opposition was “We don’t have time for you.”

This is an extraordinary indictment of Obama from the viewpoint of a liberal newspaper that now recognizes the far-left nature of the President’s policies toward Latin America.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Police Clash With Immigration Protesters in Calais

Protesters calling for thousands of illegal migrants to be allowed into Britain from France have again clashed with riot police in Calais.

The brawls followed threats by a group calling itself No Borders to “tear down the borders” to England. The 2,000 demonstrators were met by a similar number of French riot squad officers, who deployed tear gas in efforts to disperse troublemakers.

Last month Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, said Britain’s “lax asylum system and benefits culture” had imposed thousands of illegal migrants on the port town. A tense atmosphere has gripped the town all week, with a spotter helicopter circling overhead, roads blocked, and mobile police patrols circulating constantly. “Protestors have turned up looking for trouble,” said a police spokesman.

France calls on Britain to help close illegal migrant squat in CalaisChris Morgan, 31, who was among British activists in the demonstration, said: “There should be nothing preventing immigrants traveling from one country to the other. The borders between the UK and France should not exist, and we’re fighting to get rid of them.”

A tense atmosphere has gripped the town all week, with a spotter helicopter circling overhead, roads blocked, and mobile police patrols circulating constantly.

As protesters pitched tents and marquees on an official camp site to the east of Calais, some of the 2,000 odd migrants sleeping rough in the Calais area joined them.

This prompted the local authorities to obtain an official order preventing anyone buying or possessing anything which might be used as a weapon — including substances which could start fires or be used to make Molotov cocktails.

They said they had received email threats by protesters pledging to destroy wire fences and other security measures around the Channel Tunnel.

There were also threats to burn “symbols of capitalism” including local government offices, and hotels run by prominent global chains.

Local prefect Pierre de Bosquet said: “We received intelligence about widespread violence and could take no chances.” Last month Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, said the UK’s lax asylum system and benefits culture had “imposed” thousands of illegal migrants on her town.

In a blistering attack in which she also called for millions in compensation, Mrs Bouchart said the UK was entirely to blame for the those who use the port as a staging point.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Dawkins Sets Up Kids’ Camp to Groom Atheists

GIVE Richard Dawkins a child for a week’s summer camp and he will try to give you an atheist for life.

The author of The God Delusion is helping to launch Britain’s first summer retreat for non-believers, where children will have lessons in evolution and sing along to John Lennon’s Imagine.

The five-day camp in Somerset (motto: “It’s beyond belief”) is for children aged eight to 17 and will rival traditional faith-based breaks run by the Scouts and church groups.

Budding atheists will be given lessons to arm themselves in the ways of rational scepticism. There will be sessions in moral philosophy and evolutionary biology along with more conventional pursuits such as trekking and tug-of-war. There will also be a £10 prize for the child who can disprove the existence of the mythical unicorn.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Facebook, Twitter and Peers for Sale — Privately

NEW YORK — Scott Painter makes his living betting on startup companies, having played a role in launching 29 of them over the years. But with the bad economy choking initial public offerings and acquisitions, Painter is now backing an idea that makes it easier for insiders like him to sell shares in their companies even before they go public.

SharesPost, which was founded by Painter’s business partner, Greg Brogger, launched publicly in June. Through SharesPost’s Web site, Painter is trying to sell shares in several companies he helped found, including car pricing startup He also wants to buy shares in companies that are far from an IPO, like short-messaging site Twitter and business-networking site LinkedIn.

SharesPost is one of a few private stock exchanges that are emerging to fight what venture capitalists call a liquidity crisis. These exchanges give stakeholders an alternative way to trade their shares in hot startups like Facebook for cold, hard cash — without having to wait years for an IPO.

Employees at startup employees often put in long hours but get salaries that can be 20 percent less than their peers at public companies. In return, they get stock or options that they hope will be a path to sports cars and summer homes after their company goes public or is bought out.

Given this, services like SharesPost could help startup workers get some cash while awaiting a distant IPO that might never even get off the ground. Most people won’t be in on the action, though, since these exchanges are only open to a small pool of buyers.

And it’s not clear how much — or how little — stock has changed hands through them. In its short life, Santa Monica, Calif.-based SharesPost said it has executed one $25,000 transaction, while another service, New York-based SecondMarket, said it has completed about 40 transactions in the past year worth about $150 million.

Still, if they manage to thrive, these exchanges could help the economy. By selling shares on a private exchange, an investor can free up funds to put into other startups. And institutional investors could use these services to broaden their holdings to include fast-growing companies that have yet to go public.

The methods of these private exchanges vary. SharesPost uses an online bulletin board to introduce buyers and sellers. SecondMarket links the parties and lets companies set up their own mini-markets that they control, while Redwood City, Calif.-based XChange is rolling out an online system that will allow buyers and sellers to connect and directly trade shares for cash.

All are open just to institutional investors — organizations like venture capital firms or pension funds that manage at least $100 million in assets — and individual accredited investors. That category includes people with a net worth of at least $1 million, or salary of at least $200,000 for the last two years.

The concept is not entirely new. Nyppex, formed in 1998, facilitates private-company stock trades, and a few companies with similar offerings emerged during the last economic downturn but failed to gather much steam. Among the problems: Determining a fair price for a private company’s stock is tough without much public information.

This time, however, employees and investors are more aggressively looking for a way to get a return on their dedication and funding. More than a dozen companies have priced IPOs in the U.S. this year, down from 35 in the first half of 2008, according to research firm Renaissance Capital. In the same period of dot-com-crazy 2000, there were 219 IPOs in the U.S.

Besides the economy, startup investors say the high costs and regulatory requirements associated with going public have also stymied many smaller, younger companies. According to the National Venture Capital Association, the median span from a company’s founding to its IPO was 9.6 years in 2008.. In 1998 it was 4.5 years.

One factor is compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley anti-fraud law, which was enacted in 2002 after accounting scandals at companies like Enron Corp.. and WorldCom Inc. A key part of this law requires public companies to file reports on the strength of internal financial controls and fix any problems — steps that can be costly for a startup.

Issues like this have “just made it more and more difficult for companies to make it to that next step,” said Thomas Foley, chief executive of XChange, which he developed with venture capitalist Tim Draper.

SharesPost founder Greg Brogger believes his site has one solution to the slowdown in IPOs: Bulletin boards for more than 100 startups that allow buyers and sellers to post the price and number of shares they want to purchase or unload, and the ability to e-mail one another directly.

Parties wishing to make a deal can find the relevant contracts on the site to sign, and an escrow company completes the transaction, charging both sides $2,500. So far, a $25,000 deal — the site’s minimum transaction size — has been completed for 2,500 shares of electric car startup Tesla Motors at $10 apiece.

That reflects a great deal of optimism for a company that has only sold roughly 500 cars and had to get additional funding from the U.S. Energy Department. A report from one of SharesPost’s research providers, NeXt Up Research, valued Tesla at $1 billion, or $9 per share. The car company had no comment.

Anyone can sign up for free to see startups listed on SharesPost. Only qualified investors can buy shares, and SharesPost makes money by charging buyers and sellers $34 a month.

XChange, meanwhile, enables buyers and sellers to share confidential information necessary for making informed purchases, and it has a platform for users to trade shares. When it is fully launched later this year, XChange will be an automated online exchange, much like E-Trade, where users can instantly trade shares for cash.

But while these services may be able to speed up dealmaking, users must still grapple with another key issue: how to determine a fair price for stock in a company that isn’t required to regularly disclose its financial information and doesn’t have that many potential buyers or sellers.

At SharesPost, Brogger wants to solve the problem by offering as much information as possible about companies it lists, from analysts at Next Up Research and VC Experts. SecondMarket CEO and founder Barry Silbert said companies can decide to share some details with investors and potential bidders on his site.

SharesPost doesn’t believe the research on its site will cause any problems should the company file for an IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as these types of analyses are published by investment banks during the IPO process.

Still, the lack of public disclosure and limited number of traders on these services makes Kathy Smith bristle. A market with limited transparency, participation and disclosures “is not a solution to the markets we have now,” said Smith, a principal at Greenwich, Conn.-based Renaissance Capital..

And trading is not always as simple as posting a sales opportunity and an asking price. Startups often restrict what their employees can do with their shares and stock options — commonly imposing the “right of first refusal.” That generally means employees who find buyers for their shares have to let the company decide if it wants to buy the stock back instead, for the same price. Companies can use this stipulation to keep competitors from snagging a stake.

Even if these services help startup employees and investors, they’re not likely to eliminate the need to someday go public.

For one thing, this kind of market can only get so big. Private companies with more than $10 million in assets are required to file annual reports with the SEC if they have more than 500 shareholders of record. This rule prodded Google Inc. into filing for its IPO in 2004, and it could happen to others as these exchanges distribute shares among more shareholders.

Several of the private exchanges say it’s up to companies to keep track of their total shareholder count. Foley said XChange helps companies keep tabs by revealing who their shareholders are at any given time.

Another reason IPOs won’t vanish: Companies usually go public first to raise cash for their operations, and then to set a price that will eventually let insiders turn their holdings into cash. While some of the private exchanges do let startups themselves — and not just their employees and investors — sell stock, it’s not likely to be lucrative without a large base of potential buyers.

Still, some buyers, sellers and startups may see trading through these services as the way to go until the IPO market improves.

“At the very least, it’s going to be spring training for companies before they go public,” SecondMarket’s Silbert said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Zenster said...

Vodka Kills as Many Russians as a War, Says Report in the Lancet.

Soaring poverty and stress associated with the Soviet collapse, and the loss of jobs and security, have been blamed. The study highlighted a doubling of alcohol consumption in seven years between 1987 and 1994 to about 10.5 litres annually per person.

“Alcohol consumption is always connected with poverty. It’s been associated with social crisis. If we take our mortality statistics, it will be obvious that it’s parallel to our social crisis,” said Professor Zaridze, head of the Russian Cancer Research Centre.

Consumption has continued to rise sharply. A report in 2007 by Gennadi Onishchenko, the Chief Public Health Officer, said that Russians were drinking the equivalent of 15 litres of pure alcohol each year. His report said that almost 30,000 people died annually from alcohol poisioning and that at least 2.3 million people were alcoholics

So, one more time, exactly how is it that Putin's ... Russia — without free elections, with press restrictions, with its culture of autocratic rule, intimidation, assassination, and organized crime — is more likely to survive as a nation than most nations in Western Europe.

There's a reason why Russia's citizens are drinking themselves to death. It has everything to do with Putin and the sort of government he has installed in post-Soviet Russia.

Out of some 200 countries profiled by the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, Russia ranks an incredibly dismal № 147. Bracketed by
Bangladesh and Kenya on one side, with Syria and neighboring Belarus on the other, Russia's ranking places it amongst some of this world's most squalid failed nations.

Bangladesh?!? That flood ravaged Islamic hellhole is less corrupt than RUSSIA?

Putin bears direct responsibility for perpetuating the old Soviet kleptocracy in its new incarnation as Russia's thieving oligarchy. With the huge latitude he has in terms of power to change the political landscape, it is Soviet-style business as usual and the average Russian citizen knows it damn well.

Warding off Muslims who are crashing the gates doesn't do much good if those gates are rusting off of their hinges for want of a drop of oil and simple maintenance.