Friday, July 31, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/31/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/31/2009The latest figures released by the Commerce Department reveal that the current recession in the United States is — surprise! — twice as bad as previously estimated.

In other news, an opinion poll in Denmark shows that a comfortable majority of Danes oppose Multiculturalism.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Gaia, Insubria, JD, Sean O’Brian, TB, The Lurker from Tulsa, Tuan Jim, TV, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Arizona: Desperate State May Sell Capitol Buildings, Others
Bailed-Out Banks’ Bonuses in ‘08 Spark Outcry
Few of Oklahoma’s Worst Bridges Get Stimulus Money
How Many Control Tentacles Will Obama Have Before People Wake Up?
Recession Worse Than Prior Estimates, Revisions Show
“The Nicest Terrorist I Ever Met”
Good Enough for You — Not Good Enough for Congress?
House Votes to Add $2 Billion to ‘Cash for Clunkers’
Jihad, USA
New Photos Released From Flyover Blunder
Obamacare Called ‘Euthanasia Bill’
Obama’s 32 Czars
Police Called on Retirees at Senator’s Office
Revenge of the ‘Shoe Bomber’
Senate Dems Blame Media for August Health Deadline
Speaker Will Keep ‘Villains’ Money
Tamiflu Does Have Side Effects, Admits Top Doctor, As Children Suffer Nightmares and Nausea
Tulsa: Sand Springs Man Shoots Self During Police Standoff
Will Hawaii Destroy Obama’s Birth Certificate?
Code Blue! How Canada Care Nearly Killed My Kid
Evictions at Notorious ‘525’
Ontario Human Rights Commission Puts Its Bias on Display
Vancouver Surrenders to the Bike Anarchists
Europe and the EU
Denmark: No to Multicultural Society
European Court of Human Rights: No Violation of Freedom of Expression
Finland: Freight Vessel of Finnish Shipping Line Targeted by Mystery Pirates in Swedish Waters
German Court Finds Boss of Outlawed PKK Terror Group Guilty
Germany: Pensioner Enters Jehovah’s Witness Church With Machine Gun
Irish MEPs Criticise Liberals’ Support for Abortion
Italy: ‘Not OK’ To Call Rival a Cretin
Italy: ‘Swindled’ Tourists Refuse Freebie
Italy: ‘Anti-Semitic’ Graffiti Daubed on Student Travel Agency Branches
Italy: Ruling Coalition Partner Eyes ‘Dialect Exam’ For Teachers
Law of Unintended Consequences
Skype Could be Cut Off for Good Over Dispute
UK: Criminals on Probation Commit a Murder a Week
UK: Girl, 15, ‘Forced to Marry Illegal Immigrant Who Then Raped Her and Assaulted Her Little Sister’
UK: How the Class War Backfired and Put Social Mobility Into Retreat
UK: Health and Safety Row Over Man Who Died in 18in of Water…
UK: I’m Not Particularly Bright, Admits Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth
UK: Mother, 40, Thrown in Police Cells After Lying Pupils Made Up Assault Following Bullying Confrontation
UK: Pupils Suspended More Than 83,000 Times for Teacher Attacks
We Want Pan-European Politics, Not a Bureaucratic and Undemocratic EU
Bosnia ‘A Haven for Islamist Terrorists’
North Africa
Algeria: Convoy Attacked, 17 Soldiers Killed
Egypt: Over 100-Year-Old Cairo Zoo to Stay Put
New Revelations in ‘Torture’ Case
Tunisia: Record Cereal Harvest in El Kef Region
Israel and the Palestinians
Fatah Conference, Hamas Blocks Gaza Delegates
Mitchell Meets Netanyahu, Progress Made
Netanyahu Urges Anti-Hamas Insurrection in Gaza
UK Funding Political Activity in Israel
Middle East
82 Lawmakers Write Obama, Urging Recognition of Armenian Genocide
NBC’s “The Wanted” Delivers the Goods
Turkey: USD 18 Bln ‘Mysterious’ Cash Inflow Causes Debate
Turkey: Trip in the City Threatened by Dam
Turkey: Smoking Ban Violates Human Rights, Bar Owners Claim
South Asia
Afghanistan: Ferrero (PRC), Condemns ‘Yes’ From PD and IDV
Afghanistan: Ferrero; Troops Home, Talks With Taliban
India: Orissa, Hindu Nationalist Party Opposed to “Peace and Harmony” Day
Muslim Star Claims Housing Bias
Pakistan: Sharia is Still the Law of Reference in the Districts of North-West Frontier
US General May Ask for More Troops for Afghan War
Will Krakatoa Rock the World Again?
Far East
Beijing Asks the World to Accept Its Version of Events in Xinjiang
China Concerned About Abortions
N.Korea Must Free S. Korean Fishermen Now
NK Captures S. Korean Fishing Boat in East Sea
Tibet: Excuse for Eternal Silence
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Vietnam Vet, Boatperson Get it Right
NZ: Smacking Rate Way Down on Decades Past
Sub-Saharan Africa
Amnesty Condemns “Illegal Killings” By Nigerian Forces
Nigeria Row Over Militant Killing
Latin America
Senator Asks Clinton to Explain Honduran Policy
Venezuela Says it is Ready to Pay Holcim
14 Migrants Forced Back to Libya
Finland: Immigrant Workers Are First to Suffer From Reduced Employment Opportunities in Recession
Greece: Police Remove Migrants From Athens Squats
Ireland Lags Behind in Reuniting Refugee Families
Lampedusa Migrant Centres May Close, Maroni
Large Boat Rescued in Strait of Sicily
Turkish Rescue Ship of Immigrants in Piombino Port
Culture Wars
Gay Lobby Mangles Meaning of Marriage
Selective Multiculturalism

Financial Crisis

Arizona: Desperate State May Sell Capitol Buildings, Others

Legislators are considering selling the House and Senate buildings where they’ve conducted state business for more than 50 years.

Dozens of other state properties also may be sold as the state government faces its worst financial crisis in a generation, if not ever. The plan isn’t to liquidate state assets, though.

Instead, officials hope to sell the properties and then lease them back over several years before assuming ownership again. The complex financial transaction would allow government services to continue without interruption while giving the state a fast infusion of as much as $735 million, according to Capitol projections.

For investors, the arrangement means long-term lease payments from a stable source.

Once any deals are approved, money could begin flowing into state coffers in as little as 90 days.

The plan has bipartisan backing, but that doesn’t make the prospect of paying rent for buildings once owned free and clear by taxpayers any easier to swallow.


Earlier this month, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed such sale/leaseback provisions along with most of the rest of a fiscal 2010 state budget plan sent to her by the Legislature.

But the provisions are expected to return as part of a GOP-led legislative budget proposal surfacing this week. Although Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman called sale/leaseback deals “one of the governor’s least favorite options,” he conceded the likelihood that they’ll play a key role in any plan to close a state shortfall estimated at $3.4 billion.

The state may have little choice. Reserves already have been drained, easier fiscal gimmicks are virtually tapped out, and there’s no political will for spending cuts of the size and scope needed to close the deficit…

[Return to headlines]

Bailed-Out Banks’ Bonuses in ‘08 Spark Outcry

Citigroup Inc., one of the biggest recipients of government bailout money, gave employees $5.33 billion in bonuses for 2008, New York’s attorney general said Thursday in a report detailing the payouts by nine big banks.

The report from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office focused on 2008 bonuses paid to the initial nine banks that received loans under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program last fall. Cuomo has joined other government officials in criticizing the banks for paying out big bonuses while accepting taxpayer money.

Citigroup, which is now one-third owned by the government as a result of the bailout, gave 738 employees bonuses of at least $1 million, even after it lost $18.7 billion during the year, Cuomo’s office said.

The New York-based bank received $45 billion in government money and guarantees to protect it against hundreds of billions of dollars in potential losses from risky investments.

“There is no clear rhyme or reason to the way banks compensate and reward their employees,” Cuomo said in the report, noting banks have not in recent years actually tied pay to performance as they claim when describing their compensation programs. Cuomo added that when banks’ performance deteriorated significantly, “they were bailed out by taxpayers and their employees were still paid well.”

Bank of America Corp., which also received $45 billion in TARP money, paid $3.3 billion in bonuses, with 172 employees receiving at least $1 million. Merrill Lynch, which Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America acquired during the credit crisis, paid out $3.6 billion.

Bank of America earned $2.56 billion in 2008, while Merrill lost $30.48 billion. Cuomo’s office said Merrill Lynch doled out 696 bonuses of at least $1 million for 2008.

Bank of America has been sharply criticized for its acquisition of Merrill Lynch because of mounting losses at the Wall Street bank and the size of bonuses Merrill paid its employees. Of the $45 billion in bailout funds Bank of America received, $20 billion was to support the acquisition of Merrill. Neither Bank of America nor Citigroup have repaid their TARP loans.

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on the report. A spokesman for Citigroup did not return repeated calls for comment.

Banks have said they needed to pay their top-performing employees to prevent them from defecting to competitors. Companies that accepted TARP money have faced intense government scrutiny and must now comply with restrictions on compensation, including bonuses…

[Return to headlines]

Few of Oklahoma’s Worst Bridges Get Stimulus Money

OKLAHOMA CITY — Very few of Oklahoma’s nearly 7,000 obsolete or structurally deficient bridges are slated for replacement or renovation using federal stimulus money, partly because of a requirement that stimulus projects start quickly, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Of the 6,773 bridges statewide, 63 are slated to be replaced using some of the $465 million Oklahoma received in federal stimulus funds for transportation infrastructure repairs. Only 53 other bridges, only some considered structurally deficient — will be rehabilitated using stimulus funds.

President Barack Obama used the nation’s deteriorating bridges as a selling point to pass the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But bridges haven’t turned out to be a big focus of its implementation. The stimulus was designed to boost the economy by employing workers on “shovel ready” infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges. In Oklahoma, most of the stimulus money is going toward projects like highway pavement overlays.

“Stuff that was ready to go — the plans were ready, the utilities were out of the way,” state Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said. “We wanted to move very quickly. After all, stimulus funds were meant to create jobs as quickly as possible.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved about $104 million in stimulus spending on bridge replacement, improvement and construction projects in the state, or 26 percent of the stimulus money it received. But another $300 million, or 74 percent, has been approved for road repaving and widening, according to DOT figures.

Terri Angier, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said federal requirements to spend the money quickly made it difficult to funnel money into extensive bridge repairs that can involve years of planning and construction.

The state received its share of the road and bridge stimulus money on March 2 and federal guidelines required $163 million of the money to be under contract within 120 days.

Ridley said the state obligated $200 million on a variety of projects in just 16 days and led the nation in the percentage of stimulus money spent on road and bridge improvements.

Less than five months after receiving the money, $386 million is already under contract — 82 percent of the total, Ridley said.

“We moved rather quickly. We were definitely ahead of the curve,” Ridley said.

So far, 136 road and bridge projects have been funded with stimulus money.

Improving bridges has been a legislative priority since a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, The Road Information Program, reported in 2002 that Oklahoma had the highest percentage of deficient bridges in the nation, with one-third of the state’s bridges 20 feet or longer in need of repair or replacement.

Since then, the state has replaced or rehabilitated hundreds of bridges, including 314 from 2006 through last year, Ridley said. And the state plans to replace or rehabilitate another 110 bridges by the end of 2009, he said.

“Long term we’ll certainly have a much better system,” Ridley said.

The largest amount of Oklahoma’s stimulus money — $75 million — will go toward improvements to part of Interstate 244 in Tulsa. The I-244 project on Tulsa’s Inner Dispersal Loop will replace the pavement along three miles of the roadway near downtown Tulsa and will re-deck more than 40 bridges. About 62,000 vehicles use the corridor daily.

Stimulus money has been spent on projects across the state including a $7 million resurfacing project along a seven-mile stretch of I-44 in Oklahoma City, a $5 million, 11-mile resurfacing project along U.S. 69 in Pittsburg County and a $4 million, two-mile project along Oklahoma Highway 3 in Pushmataha County.

           — Hat tip: The Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

How Many Control Tentacles Will Obama Have Before People Wake Up?

When you talk of style and substance of this administration it is a government of numerous czars. It reflects a worldview of socialism, internationalism and communism. It demonizes individual and corporate freedom while bypassing government accountability through and with congress in many cases.

Let’s see now. Here are just some of the numerous extensions of Obama’s control hammer…WHO ARE ACCOUNTABLE ONLY TO HIM.

Energy czar Urban czar InfoTech czar Faith-based czar Health reform czar New TARP czar Stimulus accountability czar Non-proliferation czar Terrorism czar Regulatory czar Drug czar Guantanamo closure czar Pay czar A U.S. border czar Car czar Economic czar Intelligence czar Great Lakes czar Cyber czar Copyright czar Climate czar Housing czar Mortgage czar Iran czar Middle East czar Afghanistan and Pakistan czar Education czar AIDS czar Green jobs czar

It just keeps unfolding so that the growing dictatorship can expand its power, force and follow through. After all, things like congress and “the people” are just in the way of leadership and change. They don’t know what is good for America and the world. They must be told! These are tough times and it calls for tough enforcement!

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Recession Worse Than Prior Estimates, Revisions Show

The first 12 months of the U.S. recession saw the economy shrink more than twice as much as previously estimated, reflecting even bigger declines in consumer spending and housing, revised figures showed.

The world’s largest economy contracted 1.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the last three months of 2008, compared with the 0.8 percent drop previously on the books, the Commerce Department said today in Washington.

“The current downturn beginning in 2008 is more pronounced,” Steven Landefeld, director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, said in a press briefing this week. The revisions were in line with past experience in which initial figures tended to underestimate the severity of contractions during their early stages, he said.

The updated statistics also showed that Americans earned more over the last 10 years and socked away a larger share of that cash in savings. The report signals the process of repairing tattered balance sheets following the biggest drop in household wealth on record may be further along than anticipated…

[Return to headlines]


“The Nicest Terrorist I Ever Met”

Friends, Colleagues and Pakistani Jailers Describe N. Carolina Terror Suspect as Kind, Devoted Muslim

A federal indictment unsealed this week says Boyd, 39, is a radicalized Muslim convert who went by the nickname Saifullah — “Sword of God” — and was putting together a team of extremists to wage “violent jihad” overseas. He was arrested Monday along with two of his sons — Zakariya, 20, and Dylan, 22 — and four other men.

The indictment charges that Boyd and his sons traveled to Israel in July 2007 to meet with two of the other defendants but returned home “having failed in their attempt at violent jihad.”

But the man described in the 14-page indictment is not the Daniel Patrick Boyd friends and neighbors in and around the Raleigh suburb of Willow Spring knew: the devoted Muslim who fasted during the holy month of Ramadan and prayed toward Mecca five times a day; the son of a Marine whose pickup was emblazoned with a “Support our Troops” bumper sticker; the friendly drywall contractor who waved at neighbors, and chatted about gardening and fishing.

“If he’s a terrorist, he’s the nicest terrorist I ever met in my life,” said Willow Spring land surveyor Charles Casale, who helped his neighbor plant a vegetable garden. “I don’t think he is.”


Hours after the arrests, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent an internal bulletin to law enforcement officials around the country saying the case marks a worrisome trend of would-be terrorists who go overseas for training or indoctrination, come back to the United States, and may spend years quietly waiting to put their skills to use.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Good Enough for You — Not Good Enough for Congress?

If the socialized healthcare plan President Obama has been pushing, and Congress seems close to passing, is good enough for all of America, why isn’t it good enough for members of Congress?

Why is it the “vastly improved,” “cost-effective” healthcare “reform” package the left has been trying to pry open our clenched teeth to deliver for years is something we should all buy into while our elected officials in D.C. get an opt out from the get-go?

It’s simple. Congress’ Cadillac plan provides them easy access to their choice of doctors, the full array of diagnostic tests, prescription coverage, and all the bells and whistles our system of medical care offers. In short, with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) they get all the benefits that a fully comprehensive health insurance plan provides. In fact, the FEHB offers “Federal employees, retirees and their survivors … the widest selection of health plans in the country.”

Meanwhile, the liberals are salivating because they’re thinking they’re this close to passing the “Goodbye Grandpa” health plan they’ve been trying for years to force in an esophageal cramdown. Now they believe it will finally, finally happen.

But the lack of access, rationed, age-dependant bargain basement health insurance we’re being told is for our own good isn’t good enough for members of Congress.

That’s why Louisiana Congressman John Fleming is sponsoring a bill saying if the public health plan is so wonderful then members of Congress should sign up for the new plan they’re touting and forego their Cadillac plan.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

House Votes to Add $2 Billion to ‘Cash for Clunkers’

The U.S. House approved an emergency measure to add $2 billion to the “cash for clunkers” automobile purchase program after a burst of demand exhausted most of the initial $1 billion in less than a week.

President Barack Obama said he was “very pleased with the progress the House has made.” The administration is “working with Congress to ensure the program can continue,” he told reporters at the White House.

The Senate will try to act on the bill next week, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Named the Car Allowance Rebate System, the program provides credits of as much as $4,500 for the purchase of a new car when turning in an older vehicle to be scrapped. Lawmakers had expected the first $1 billion to generate about 250,000 vehicle sales and last until about Nov. 1.

“Consumers have spoken with their wallets, and are saying they like this program,” said Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The House voted 316-109 to transfer money to the program from an Energy Department fund for loans to innovative energy projects that wasn’t to be distributed until next year.

The auto program will continue without interruption, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today.


Some Republicans, such as Representative Jeff Flake, of Arizona, said the program is being administered badly and picks economic winners and losers.

“Why are we deciding to aid this sector and not another?” Flake said during the House debate.

Demand kindled by the clunkers program may push U.S. auto sales to a 2009 high in July, possibly signaling a bottom in the market’s worst slump since at least 1976. Sales have run at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of fewer than 10 million units since December. That pace trails last year’s total of 13.2 million and the 16.8 million average from 2000 through 2007.

The Michigan congressional delegation led today’s efforts for action, saying they had the Obama administration’s support.

“The administration worked overnight literally to identify a source for these funds,” Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview. “They are not only on board, they are enthusiastically leading this effort.”

[Return to headlines]

Jihad, USA

GEORGETOWN, S.C. — They don’t look like al-Qaida terrorists. Their photos in the local newspaper look menacing enough — but more like a crew that might knock over a convenience store or an ATM at a gas station. Their apprehension this week by FBI agents in Raleigh, N.C., has their neighbors here talking about “homegrown jihadis” and has prompted the O-Team Department of Homeland Security to warn about “American extremists” once again.

The seven men were arrested Monday, the same day President Barack Obama tendered his much-acclaimed invitation to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley to sit down over a beer and talk about the serious problem of racism in America. The president, who claimed that the police behaved “stupidly” in detaining the professor, apparently considers “racism” to be a more serious problem than Americans being recruited to commit acts of terror.

Our nation’s chief executive, consumed with preparations for his “beer summit,” was as mute about the “North Carolina Seven” — all charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists overseas — as he was about the fraudulent elections in Iran. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to alarm the public about a real and present danger — or because he was involved so personally in choosing just the right brews for himself and his guests. For those who care, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that POTUS prefers Bud Light; professor Gates is a fan of Jamaican Red Stripe; and Sgt. Crowley tips back with Blue Moon. One can only ponder what this revelation will mean for sales of these suds.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New Photos Released From Flyover Blunder

The Pentagon also released the flight manifest

Responding to dozens of requests from the public, the Defense Department has released 146 more photos from the infamous Air Force One flyover that struck fear in thousands of unsuspecting New Yorkers in April.

The photos are posted right on the Pentagon’s Website, defense officials said today. The Pentagon also released a heavily redacted flight manifest.

The April 27 photo-op caused quite a fright in Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, as many people who had lived through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks thought the city was again under siege. Workers poured out of office buildings as the planes buzzed the city near the Financial District.

Local officials in New York and New Jersey had not been informed of the photo-op, which cost some $328,000, and the lack of communication and needless worry caused by the incident led to the resignation of Louis Caldera, the Obama official behind the stunt…

[Return to headlines]

Obamacare Called ‘Euthanasia Bill’

Critic: ‘Reflects regime worse than China’s one-child policy’

The proposed Obamacare national health insurance plan would dictate medications, treatments and mental health services, choose for you the coverages you are allowed to have and operate with real-time access to individuals’ bank accounts, according to a new analysis of the hundreds of pages of plans.

And it’s worse, a critic said, than China’s mandatory one-child policy.

“In the same way that the bill pushes elderly or the sick toward euthanasia, it is a pill that would cause economic suicide,” said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. “It’s a euthanasia bill for America.”


Under Section 1401, a Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research would be set up, creating a bureaucracy through which federal employees could determine whether any treatment is “comparatively effective” for any individual based on the cost, likely success and probably the years left in life.

It also, according to Staver, “covers abortions, transsexual surgeries, encourages counseling as to how many children you should have, whether you should increase the interval between children.”

The plan would allow, in Section 1401, for the collection of information about individuals’ health records, both “published and unpublished,” and will recommend policies to allow for public access to data.

“It reflects a repressive regime worse than China’s one-child policy,” Staver told WND. “It’s going down the road for a government that manages the most intimate matters of your life regarding health and safety.”


Nina May, founder of Renaissance Women, added to the arguments. She cited a 1948 Hitchcock movie about murder where the victim’s body is hidden in plain sight.

“The health care bill that Obama proposes has this theme at its core and has in its crosshairs, the Baby Boomer engine that is pulling the derailed economy as it takes its final lap toward retirement. In less than two years, Baby Boomers will begin retiring in multitudes, expecting to reclaim the hard earned money they have been paying into Social Security. But this Health Care Bill, HR3200, has other plans for them,” she wrote.

“Those 65 and older will be required to undergo mandatory ‘end of life’ counseling to determine if they are worthy to continue to not only live, but take much needed resources from those who are younger and more worthy to receive them. Counselors will be trained to discuss how to end life sooner, how to decline nutrition and hydration, how to go into hospice, etc.,” she said.

“This will not be done without coercion. For those who have amassed assets enough to take care of themselves in their old age will have these assets confiscated in the name of fiscal responsibility, because by this time, every citizen will be entered into a national database under the guise of improved efficiency. This database will be run by a type of ‘star chamber,’ appointed by the president, that will determine whether or not you deserve the much needed operation your personal doctor thinks you need,” she said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama’s 32 Czars

“The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States.” — Sen. Barack Obama, March 31, 2008

To say President Obama failed to follow through on this promise is an understatement. By appointing a virtual army of “czars” — each wholly unaccountable to Congress yet tasked with spearheading major policy efforts for the White House — in his first six months, the president has embarked on an end-run around the legislative branch of historic proportions.

To be sure, the appointment of a few special officers to play a constructive role in a given administration is nothing new. What is new is the elevation of so many czars, with so much authority on endless policy fronts. Vesting such broad authority in the hands of people not subjected to Senate confirmation and congressional oversight poses a grave threat to our system of checks and balances.

At last count, there were at least 32 active czars that we knew of, meaning the current administration has more czars than Imperial Russia.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Police Called on Retirees at Senator’s Office

Police were called on a group of retirees who refused to leave Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s West Los Angeles office until she talked to them about health care reform.

Los Angeles police Sergeant Rich Brunson said Thursday that police lured the group of seven outside somehow, then locked the building’s doors behind them.

Brunson had said earlier that eight people were being taken into custody, but corrected himself after getting new details from officers on the scene.

A spokeswoman for the 55- to 87-year-old activists said they arrived at Feinstein’s office around noon and remained in her conference room more than six hours.

Feinstein spokesman Gil Duran says staff offered the retirees an in-person meeting with the senator during a Los Angeles visit next week but that they demanded to speak with her immediately…

[Return to headlines]

Revenge of the ‘Shoe Bomber’

The terrorist sues to resume his jihad from prison. The Obama administration caves in.

Last May at the National Archives, President Barack Obama warned that “more mistakes would occur” if Congress continued to politicize terrorist detention policy and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. “[I]f we refuse to deal with those issues today,” he predicted, “then I guarantee you, they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future.”

On June 17, at the Administrative Maximum (ADX) penitentiary in Florence, Colo., one of those albatrosses, inmate number 24079-038, began his day with a whole new range of possibilities. Eight days earlier, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver filed notice in federal court that the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) which applied to that prisoner—Richard C. Reid, a.k.a. the “Shoe Bomber”—were being allowed to expire. SAMs are security directives, renewable yearly, issued by the attorney general when “there is a substantial risk that a prisoner’s communications, correspondence or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury” to others.

Reid was arrested in 2001 for attempting to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami with 197 passengers and crew on board. Why had Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to renew his security measures, kept in place since 2002?

[Return to headlines]

Senate Dems Blame Media for August Health Deadline

Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday blamed Capitol Hill media for setting an August deadline for health reform and Republicans for blocking the bill’s progress.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also acknowledged that critics will “pour it on” during the coming August recess and they plan to respond in kind.

Reid said reporters created a fictitious deadline of a successful vote by the August recess, and downplayed the fact that the chamber won’t meet that mark.

“That is a deadline that you created,” Reid told a group of about 75 reporters. “It’s not like we don’t have a product. Significant progress has been made … The mere fact that this wasn’t done by last Friday or by five o’clock doesn’t mean we’re not going to get a quality product.”

Sens. Michael Enzi (Wyo.), ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, took stances Thursday against supporting any healthcare bill before the August recess — a move Reid blamed on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“The only problem with getting a bipartisan bill is the Republican leadership in the Senate,” Reid said.

Saying the current medical system is “chronically ill,” Durbin took aim at the insurance lobby, which he said will “pour it on” during August…

[Return to headlines]

Speaker Will Keep ‘Villains’ Money

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called health insurers “the villains” in the unfolding story of the health care overhaul on Thursday, ratcheting up an anti-insurer theme trotted out by President Obama earlier this month and encouraged by other Democratic leaders in Congress.

Nancy Pelosi at a news conference on health care legislation last week. (Getty Images/ Brendan Hoffman)

“It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people that they insure,” MSNBC’s Luke Russert quoted her as saying. “They are the villains in this.”

Pelosi, of course, has accepted campaign contributions from said villains this year and in the past, as have most of her Democratic colleagues. Pelosi’s campaign committee, for example, took $2,500 from AFLAC’s political action committee on April 13. But she’s not giving the money back just because she thinks the sources are immoral and villainous.

“As the Speaker’s opposition to the health insurance companies being in charge of American’s health care shows, there is no link between political contributions and positions on policy,” said her spokesman Brendan Daly.

Besides, a quick look at her records suggests that health insurers make up a fraction of the money she accepts from the broader insurance industry and place her fairly low on the list of recipients — particularly given her longtime spot atop the Democratic Party — according to a study released earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Pelosi ranked 55th among members of the 111th Congress in contributions from health insurers since the 1989-1990 election cycle, according to CRP, having taken in $186,750 (less than $20,000 per two-year cycle).

The real trick — as Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., has shown — is to turn your entire enemies list into your fundraising pool…

[Return to headlines]

Tamiflu Does Have Side Effects, Admits Top Doctor, As Children Suffer Nightmares and Nausea

The government’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson has said Tamiflu should still be given to children, despite more than half of young recipients who take the drug suffering side effects such as nausea and nightmares.

The drug being used to fight swine flu can also produce stomach pain, diarrhoea and sleeping problems.

Researchers in two studies reported that many children found concentration difficult after taking the drug — which could affect their performance in school tests and exams.

The findings will cause deep concern among parents and raise the question of whether the powerful anti-viral should be handed out so widely when the vast majority of swine flu cases involve only a mild illness.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tulsa: Sand Springs Man Shoots Self During Police Standoff

TULSA, OK — Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputies bust their fourth meth lab this week. Thursday’s ended with the suspect shooting himself in the head. And, neighbors say they can’t believe this was all going on right next door.

Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office deputies descended on the 4800 block of West 41st Street with sirens blaring.

“They went through my backyard and they were everywhere,” said Cheryl Jason.

Deputies blocked off the street, staked out the front yard and waved away neighbors.

“He told me to stay as far to the west of my house as I could stay,” said Cheryl Jason. “I thought, oh crap, they’re going to shoot. They’re shooting over there. That’s what I thought.”

Deputies responded after the woman who lives in the home reported that her husband was cooking meth. Five deputies went inside and found the suspect, hiding in a closet. They say when he was spotted, he pointed a gun at them.

The deputies say when they retreated, the suspect shot himself in the head. Paramedics responded and 30-year-old Cory Len Smith was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Deputies say the house was filled with fumes and hazmat teams went in and came back out with the makings of a meth lab.

Neighbors were shocked, but not unaware.

“He asked me if I noticed any smells and I said, ‘Oh yeah, about once a week. Sometimes more,’“ said Cheryl Jason. “There’s been a couple of explosions like twice in the last week.”

Cheryl Jason says she didn’t put it together until the cops showed up. And then, her thoughts went to two young children whom she says live in that house.

“We’ve all been sick with headaches every day. And, it infuriates me to think somebody could move into a neighborhood with small children in their home and cook drugs,” said Cheryl Jason.

One Tulsa County Sheriff’s Captain told The News On 6 that the meth problem is so widespread that no matter where you live, it is a possibility. He advises anyone who smells or hears anything that doesn’t seem right to contact law enforcement.

           — Hat tip: The Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Will Hawaii Destroy Obama’s Birth Certificate?

Investigator cites procedural changes that could allow it

The state of Hawaii has made a series of procedural changes that would allow officials to destroy President Obama’s original long-form birth certificate, concealing its contents forever.

The warning comes in a report by an investigator commissioned by a retired CIA officer.

The report was posted online by the Western Center for Journalism, which withheld the name of the officer.

“We know from a document posted on June 10, 2009, on the Department of Hawaiian Homelands website that, up until very recently, either the original paper Certificates of Live Birth and/or scanned images of those paper certificates were maintained by the Dept of Health, and copies of them were provided to confirm claims of Hawaiian ancestry,” said a newly posted update to the report.

“But if in June 2009 the Department of Hawaiian Homelands has decided that it will no longer require the original Certificate of Live Birth as proof for special privileges and the Department of Health spokesman says firmly that they will no longer provide copies of these original certificates, is it possible that, in the midst of the controversy over where Barack Obama was born, the Hawaiian state govt has destroyed the original paper certificate of live birth?” continued the investigator’s report.

“This seems almost incredible to me, but the authorities have been so deceptive and evasive on this issue, that it cannot be dismissed as impossible,” the report concluded.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Code Blue! How Canada Care Nearly Killed My Kid

“Code Blue, intensive care unit,” “Code Blue, intensive care unit!”

When the Code-Blue alarm sounded over the hospital’s loudspeaker system, my husband and I knew it sounded for our daughter. It was 11 p.m. The hallways of the British Columbia hospital were dark. Only one emergency operating theatre was in use. She was in it. The skeletal staff came running. Resuscitation carts were rushed toward the theatre.

My own heart nearly stopped, because she is my heart.

To follow Dr. David Gratzer’s plainspoken definition (the good doctor is a Canada-care whistleblower), Code Blue is “the term used when a patient’s heart stops and hospital staff must leap into action to save him.” My then 12-year-old had stopped breathing on the operating table and was being revived.


It took a free American practitioner, in private practice, to deconstruct for me what had transpired on that fateful day.

The subpar care Nicky had received entailed the ongoing administration of morphine. Morphine, especially in a young child, depresses the respiratory system. Administered following hours on morphine, the general anesthetic acted cumulatively to stop her breathing.

Why is this episode typical of a day in the life of a patient interned in a state-run health care system?

As one wag warned: “Power will intoxicate the best hearts, as wine the strongest heads. No man is wise enough, nor good enough to be trusted with unlimited power.” (Except for Obama, naturally.)

The license to exercise near-unlimited power goes hand-in-glove with an indifferent, cruel and invasive bureaucracy.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Evictions at Notorious ‘525’

Officials shut down troubled building

SASKATOON — One of the city’s notorious apartment buildings will be vacated today after health and fire officials declared it was in a state of disrepair, a decline the landlord blames on unwanted squatters who intimidated tenants and dealt drugs from the decrepit top floor.

“This place has become worse than a Third World country,” said building owner Ken Tsang, 67, on a tour of 525 20th St. West, a squalid brownstone building sandwiched between a pawn shop and a convenience store.

“I am the victim here,” he said. “Intruders have taken over. This is lawless. I want everybody to know it’s not my fault.”

The 20-suite flop house, where suites rent for $370 a month, has become a haven for reckless inebriation, abuse and violence. Between 1998 and 2000, a man was beaten to death in the building and five other people died, many from mixing lethal cocktails of hairspray, antifreeze or anything else to get a cheap fix.

More recently, a person living with AIDS was found dead on his toilet, while a drunk man plunged to his death onto the sidewalk of 20th Street from the third-floor balcony, residents said. Police have keys to the building and respond to about 15 to 20 calls per month, mostly to assist medical personnel, said spokesperson Const. TishaRae Stonehouse.

Three health inspectors and two police officers walked the narrow, windowless halls of the building on Thursday afternoon, informing the remaining tenants they had to leave, asking if they had somewhere to go and putting notices on doors that the suites on the third floor were “unsanitary and unfit for occupation.”

The tenants were handed eviction notices at the end of June, giving them a month’s warning to leave because repairs need to be made.

“I have concerns about the cleanliness of the building and problems associated with the declining maintenance,” said Dave Harder, the fire inspector in charge of the area.

The fire department has issued an order to repair the common areas and the rented suites under the property maintenance and nuisance abatement bylaw.

Some of the problems with the apartment complex include a leaky roof, leading to the development of mould; garbage and junk that needs to be cleaned off the floors, including hypodermic syringes; and issues with electrical wiring, where some fixtures have been removed and live wires are exposed, Harder said.

The building’s third floor has been taken over by unwanted squatters in recent months — many of them gang members and drug dealers — who set up shop after moving in and kicking older tenants out, Tsang said.

It has become a revolving door for drunks and indigents looking for a fix. The most common occurrence is for people on the street to follow residents into the building and knock on doors until they find someone willing to let them in, or they gain access through the steel rear fire escape.

Dozens of syringes litter the bare floor and countertops of a run-down one-bedroom suite on the top floor that contains only an old television, a bare mattress and a broken-down blue bicycle.

Most of the building’s windows are broken. Its walls are covered in gang graffiti and other markings, and the ceiling tiles are torn apart, with yellow stains indicating water damage. Most of the naked 40-watt light bulbs in the hallways are broken, fire alarms are ripped out and wooden doors to the shoebox suites are kicked in.

“You fix today, it’s damaged again tomorrow,” Tsang said.

On the second floor, Tsang is confronted by a tenant upset with having to leave his home of the last 10 months.

“It’s your fault,” says the 47-year-old man.

“Whatever. You’ve been drinking,” Tsang retorts.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m sober or I’ve been drinking, the truth is still the truth,” the tenant says.

Many of the tenants have few places to turn, the man said. He was lucky a friend was willing to store his belongings in a house while he lives in a tent for the summer.

“These people don’t have places to go. Where are they going to go?” he said. “I’m too old to be living on the damn street.”

Acting fire marshal Luc Durand says that in such a situation, the fire department will help the tenants get relocated. They will try to contact family and friends, call mobile crisis or try to track down a social worker.

“We normally try to do everything we can because we don’t want to see people on the street if they don’t have to be, but we don’t want to see people in a house that’s below standards, either.”

Tsang, a former mayoral candidate who has owned the building since 1971, when he bought it for $60,000, laughs off the suggestion that the building’s demise has been his fault. He called the police on many occasions, but says the building was “swarmed” by gang members who refused to leave.

“You cannot challenge them,” he said of the unwanted people who moved into the building. “They can kill you.”

Around the neighbourhood, business owners, civic leaders and residents are quietly celebrating the temporary closure of the problem building and hold out hope the same crowd won’t return if the problems are fixed.

“You just say ‘525’ and the ambulance guys, the police, they know it. Everybody knows it,” said Dave Smith, the owner of The Signsmith, located four doors down.

“It’s a nuisance. Who needs those kind of people hanging around?”

As for the building’s future, Tsang has put it on the market for $875,000 and doesn’t plan to make the necessary repairs to have the building reopened in the short-term. For now, he’ll continue to live on the main floor with his family in the space formerly used for the Oriental House restaurant.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Ontario Human Rights Commission Puts Its Bias on Display

As if more proof were needed of how out-of-control Canada’s human-rights commissions have become, and what a threat they pose to impartial justice, along comes the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling last month against Michael Shaw, a white Toronto police officer.

In the spring of 2005, Constable Shaw was patrolling the Bridal Path — a singularly wealthy Toronto neighbourhood composed of large mansions on sprawling multi-acre estates. Ronald Phipps, a black man, was criss-crossing a street, delivering letters in substitute for the regular mail carrier, who was away.

Even though Mr. Phipps was wearing a Canada Post uniform and carrying two official mail satchels, the officer thought his behaviour was unusual. For instance, Mr. Phipps returned to a home at which he had already delivered mail, and retrieved it.

So the officer followed Mr. Phipps for a short distance, then asked him for some identification. He ran his name through police computers, thanked him for his co-operation and sent him on his way. He also verified Mr. Phipps’ identity with a regular letter-carrier he knew in the area, a carrier who happened to be white.

From this series of events, Mr. Phipps gleaned that he had been racially profiled. He filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and, in June, adjudicator Kaye Joachim determined that the fact that Mr. Phipps “was an African-Canadian in an affluent neighbourhood was a factor, a significant factor, and probably the predominant factor, whether consciously or unconsciously, in Const. Shaw’s actions.” She found the officer guilty of discrimination.

Mr. Phipps admits that Const. Shaw never insulted him. He was not detained, not even briefly, nor was he arrested. He was asked for ID, thanked for producing it and permitted to go about his business. He was not tasered or struck with a club. No racial slurs were hurled at him.

He claims that since the incident he has been teased mercilessly by his co-workers. But that is their misbehaviour, not Const. Shaw’s.

He claims that since the incident, he has had trouble sleeping, has lost weight and is having difficulty fulfilling his second job as a personal trainer — all because a police officer asked him to produce some ID four years ago.

“This was always broader than Const. Shaw,” he told the Toronto Star (a newspaper that has made a self-parodic fetish of splashing this — and other insubstantial accusations of racism — on its front page). His comments make him sound like someone with a bigger cause in mind from the start, someone who may just have been waiting for a chance to lodge a complaint.

The most disturbing aspect of the case is the way the adjudicator, Ms. Joachim, has damaged the ancient concepts of the guilty mind and reasonable doubt.

While he could find no evidence that Const. Shaw knowingly discriminated against Mr. Phipps, the adjudicator said no evidence of intent was needed. Whether “consciously or unconsciously,” the policeman had offended Mr. Phipps by his actions; he had caused the letter-carrier to feel discriminated against and that was enough.

Guilt, now, apparently is solely in the mind of the complainant. No one needs to prove you had intent to discriminate, that you had a guilty mind. The minute a rights charge is levelled, it is up to you to establish your innocence.

And forget about “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Ms. Joachim found that “on the balance of probabilities,” Const. Shaw was guilty.

While a rights tribunal does not purport to be a real court, both are in the business of fact-finding, and the adjudication of rights and wrongs — and so must both be judged on that basis. Ms. Joachim’s assertion is similar to a Crown prosecutor arguing (and a judge accepting) the notion that a black man, or an aboriginal, immigrant or poor person, should be convicted of such-and-such a crime, even in the absence of conclusive evidence, because he is probably guilty.

Rights commissions were set up to be simple forums for settling discrimination complaints. They were never intended to be taxpayer-funded cudgels with which activists and grievers may beat their enemies without the expense of a court case, and without the need to follow the normal rules of due process.

As this case helps demonstrate, Canada’s human-rights commissions are horribly biased — far more biased than the people they accuse of bigotry — and need to be disbanded.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Vancouver Surrenders to the Bike Anarchists

The cops in Vancouver have surrendered the streets to Critical Mass.

“Police took the unusual step this week of warning motorists away from the city’s downtown core Friday in an effort to ease tensions generated by a planned “Critical Mass” bike ride”, reports the Vancouver Sun. “Police say the ride has grown so large they have given up trying to rein in participants, even those breaking rules, such as riding without a helmet or blocking traffic.”

This is insanity.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy cycling. Last night, I rode my bike along the Vancouver seawall for an hour and a half, just for kicks. It was fun, and probably necessary for my health, to compensate for sitting down at my desk for eight hours at work.

As for the people who take part, I can count quite a few of my friends amongst the Critical Mass contingent. They have a great time. Families take their kids to this thing. Riding around the most beautiful city in Canada amongst thousands of fellow enthusiasts sounds positively energizing. Nothing to argue about there.

But what I don’t like is Critical Mass’ hypocrisy. Their slogan, “we are traffic”, is simply false. Ordinary traffic stops at stop signs and red lights. Traffic doesn’t block other traffic in all four directions for up to an hour while their cohort makes its way along arterial transportation connectors like the entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge.

“Corking” is the opposite of traffic. In my language, we call it a roadblock.

The double-think is especially odd, since some of the statements on what appears to be the local Critical Mass blog are so darn positive about keeping relations with drivers on an even keel: “This is not an us vs car drivers ride. Those stuck in car traffic are our friends and we need to be polite and respectful of them as we increase the traffic by putting more people on the roads.”

It’s all the more disappointing because Critical Mass reportedly has an agenda I’d love to be able to get behind: promoting sustainable transportation, healthy habits, affordable urban living and protection of the environment. Fantastic stuff. But the day I got corked, I lost all sympathy for this movement.

When they quit causing traffic jams and instigating road rage, I’ll be happy to ride with Critical Mass. Until then, I’m perfectly happy to hop on my bike and ride alone.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Denmark: No to Multicultural Society

Many people in Denmark want immigrants to drop their own culture for traditional Danish values

More than half of those who answered a nationwide poll say that immigrants and their offspring should adjust to Danish society and customs instead of preserving those of their native countries.

The Jyllands-Posten/Rambøll poll surveyed 944 random adults, with 58 percent stating that immigrants ought to conform to the Danish lifestyle.

The results, however, do not indicate whether any minorities were part of the respondent group, and 33 percent of those polled said that immigrants and their children should not be forced to give up their traditions and customs.

Political researcher Hans Jørgen Nielsen said he believes the results show that people in this country prefer a homogeneous society.

‘We’re convinced of the idea that people should be integrated and contribute to the social welfare system,’ said Nielsen. ‘If you don’t contribute — and, moreover, keep to yourself — then there’s a problem.’

Yet Mehdi Mozaffari, professor of Islamic Studies at Aarhus University, said that Denmark is already more or less a multicultural society.

‘But it’s a bit of an abstract discussion when it comes to what the whole idea of multiculturalism means,’ said Mozaffari. ‘Is it about splitting up boys and girls at the swimming hall because of religious considerations or requiring Halal meat in school cafeterias?’

He said Danes were primarily concerned with preserving their basic values regarding free speech, equality and social welfare.

‘Beyond that I’d have to say that Denmark is in many ways a more tolerant country than the self-proclaimed, multicultural Sweden,’ said Mozaffari. ‘There’s a lot more control over how people should behave there than there is here.’

Immigration Ministry figures show that 401,771 immigrants and 124,265 of their descendants live legally in Denmark.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

European Court of Human Rights: No Violation of Freedom of Expression

573 16.07.2009

Press release issued by the Registrar


The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment1 in the case of Féret v. Belgium (application no. 15615/07). The Court held by 4 votes to 3 that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the conviction of the applicant, chairman of the political party “Front National”, for publicly inciting discrimination or hatred, following complaints concerning leaflets distributed by that party during election campaigns. (The judgment is available only in French.)

1. Principal facts…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Finland: Freight Vessel of Finnish Shipping Line Targeted by Mystery Pirates in Swedish Waters

Identity of rubber boat pirates remains shrouded in mystery

It was reported on Thursday that nearly a week earlier, in the early hours of Friday last week, a freight vessel operated by a Finnish shipping line had been attacked by pirates in Swedish territorial waters.

The attackers, who spoke English, tied the members of the crew of the Arctic Sea and beat them. They also searched the vessel thoroughly before leaving the ship at about noon on the same day.

Swedish police investigating the case are at a loss to come up with a motive for the attack, or who may have been responsible. Suspicions were raised by the fact that that the act of piracy was not reported until several days after the alleged events took place.

The head of the investigation, Ingemar Isaksson of the Swedish police, believes that a hijacking did indeed occur, and that the shipping line and the crew were reluctant to approach Swedish authorities, because the pirates claimed to be police officers looking for drugs. Swedish authorities say that there is no suspicion that the ship would be carrying illegal substances.

Reporting the incident was also delayed because the attackers damaged the ship’s communications equipment.

The vessel, which is just under 100 metres in length, is operated by a Finnish shipping line, but it sails under the flag of Malta.

All of the members of the crew are Russian citizens, Isaksson says.

The attack took place between the islands of Öland and Gotland off the east coast of Sweden. Between eight and ten men, who were masked and dressed in black, approached the ship in a fast rubber boat.

Police do not know what the hijackers might actually have been looking for, and Isaksson could not say if the attackers took anything from the ship.

At least three members of the crew were injured in the attack, Isaksson says. One suffered broken teeth, and two or three others sustained bruises.

“I have never heard of anything like it”, Isaksson says.

Swedish police had not made direct contact with the ship by Thursday evening. They had spoken to the Finnish shipping line and the Finnish police.

Lars Henriksson of the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) says that the shipping line filed a criminal complaint about a suspected hijacking to the Finnish police.

The case was transferred to the Swedish police for investigation, because the incident took place in Swedish territorial waters. Henriksson says that the only Finnish connections with the case are that the ship is operated by a Finnish shipping line, and that it began its voyage from the Finnish port of Pietarsaari.

After the incident, the ship continued on its way to the Algerian port of Bejaia, where it is taking a load of sawn timber. Swedish police say that on Thursday evening, the ship was somewhere in the Bay of Biscay.

Swedish authorities now want to contact the ship, in order to ascertain more of the details of the events. The Swedish Coast Guard is looking for witnesses from possible other vessels in the area at the time of the incident. The police want to know where the hijackers’ boat came from and where it went.

Police are investigating the case as a hijacking, which is punishable by four years’ imprisonment.

The Swedish police did not learn about the events until Tuesday, when they were told about it by the Swedish Coast Guard. Isaksson says that the ship’s crew first reported the event to the shipping line, which informed the Finnish police, and the Russian Embassy in Finland.

The Finnish News Agency (STT) reports that the shipping line did not report the case to the police until Monday. The company first investigated the case itself by interviewing all members of the crew.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

German Court Finds Boss of Outlawed PKK Terror Group Guilty

The former head of the German arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been sentenced to three years and nine months in prison by the Dusseldorf High Regional Court.

Hueseyin A. was found guilty of being the ring leader of the PKK in Germany — which is considered a terrorist organization in the European Union — from mid 2007 until April last year.

The Kurdish Turk had been living in Germany under the alias Hueseyin Colak, the court said.

Federal prosecutors in the three-month case had been seeking a four-year term for the 48-year-old.

Hueseyin A. was also found to have threatened to kill a 21-year-old Kurd unless she aborted a child fathered by a Stuttgart PKK official.

He was arrested in the western German city of Detmold in July last year. The PKK has been outlawed in Germany as a criminal gang because of its violence against renegade former members.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Germany: Pensioner Enters Jehovah’s Witness Church With Machine Gun

An 82-year-old man who entered a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses armed with a submachine gun, three magazines, a Samurai sword and a knife has been arrested, Bielefeld police reported on Friday.

Some 81 members of the church were gathered in their Kingdom Hall on Dunlopstraße in the city’s Sennestadt district when a congregation member noticed the masked elderly man enter the vestibule waving the machine gun around 8:45 pm on Thursday.

The witness quietly informed the congregation and directed them to escape the building via emergency exit, a police statement said.

Meanwhile the man entered and left the hall before attempting to return to his vehicle, an Opel Astra parked some 50 metres away, waving his gun along the way.

But before he could leave the scene, two of the congregation members overcame the man from behind. Police arrived shortly thereafter to arrest him.

Police in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia are investigating the man’s motives, the statement said.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Irish MEPs Criticise Liberals’ Support for Abortion

IRISH MEPS in the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats (ALDE) group at the European Parliament have criticised two of their colleagues for supporting a petition asking the EU to make abortion available in Ireland. They have also reiterated that the Lisbon Treaty cannot introduce abortion to Ireland in a move to prevent unwarranted public fears arising from the pro-abortion petition ahead of the October 2nd referendum.

“Either they don’t know what is in the EU treaties or they are engaging in publicity-seeking stupidity,” said Fianna Fáil MEP Brian Crowley yesterday when asked about two Liberal colleagues’ support for the abortion petition.

“The EU can’t put any pressure on Ireland about its abortion laws with or without the Lisbon Treaty. This is a matter for member states,” he said.

The Make Noise For Free Choice campaign was launched by Swedish MP and president of Liberal Women, Birgitta Ohlsson in June and has so far gathered just 3,947 signatures. However, the petition has attracted public support from two of the most prominent female MEPs in the ALDE group, Sarah Ludford from Britain and Sophie in’t Veld from the Netherlands.

The petition, which can be viewed at, says that a “cornerstone of the EU is to work for gender equality and health” and “women who lack the access to free, legal and safe abortions in the EU-countries such as Ireland, Malta and Poland, can no longer be ignored”.

“Nowhere in the world should a woman be forced to use a hanger, eat washing powder or see a quack doctor to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, when safe abortion methods are available . .. . the governments of these countries must be put under pressure,” says the petition, which adds that the union should work to make the right to an abortion a “human right”.

The petition says it aims to make use of a “citizens’ initiative” clause contained in the Lisbon Treaty.

This stipulates that if one million signatures can be collected from European citizens on a particular issue, the European Commission must consider proposing European legislation.

“We are therefore starting this citizens’ initiative to make free, legal and safe abortions a human right in the European Union,” says the petition.

This move to link Lisbon with abortion has caused grave concern among the three Fianna Fáil MEPs, who recently joined the Liberals and Independent Marian Harkin, who sits with the ALDE group in the European Parliament.

“I was annoyed about this because the MEPs should have known better. This is likely to cause confusion for the public,” Ms Harkin told The Irish Times yesterday when asked about the two Liberal MEPs’ position.

“She was jolly cross with me,” said Ms Ludford, who added that she had every right to campaign for abortion to be made available all over Europe noting that anti-abortion campaigners often campaigned at EU level.

But she said the petition was wrong to imply that the Lisbon Treaty could force changes in Irish abortion law as this remained a national competence.

“I understand that mischief will be made about this and I want it to be made clear that anything I say should not be linked to the Yes campaign in Ireland,” said Ms Ludford, who is a strong supporter of the Lisbon Treaty.

Pat “the Cope” Gallagher, head of Fianna Fail’s delegation at the parliament, said the commission had no power to legislate in matters relating to abortion and nor did any other EU institution.

He added that the Liberal group had written to Fianna Fáil stating very clearly that it would “fully respect the position of our party on policies that relate to socio-ethical issues”.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Not OK’ To Call Rival a Cretin

Court ruling contradicts landmark F- word stance

(ANSA) — Rome, July 28 — It is not OK to call a political rival a cretin, Italy’s top court ruled Tuesday.

The Cassation Court, whose rulings set precedents, rejected the contention of a Sicilian town councillor that such expressions have become a standard part of political cut-and-thrust.

Upholding a 300 euro fine for slander, the appeals court said arguing that such language was permissible in the political sphere meant “accepting the thesis that there is an area of discourse where offensive terms have become so desensitised as to lose their criminal significance”.

This was “an unacceptable assertion of inequality before the law,” the judges said.

The ruling was an apparent contradiction of a 2007 sentence by the same court which brought the F-word in from the cold.

In that landmark ruling, which gained headlines abroad, the court cleared an Abruzzo town councillor who told the mayor to “f*** off” during a stormy town meeting The expression was now “common usage” and no longer constituted a crime, it said.

The court, which has a record of flip-flopping, has since been inconsistent on insulting language.

In March, for instance, it said it was OK to say “Who the f*** do you think you are?” to a boss as an “instinctive” reaction to being reprimanded.

A few months after its historic 2007 F-word ruling it changed tack by saying bosses couldn’t tell employees they were “doing f***-all”.

A similar case last May saw the court take another view, saying mayors could use the word to swear at contractors.

But last July it said bosses must not swear at their staff in a case where a Sicilian company director accused an employee of not understanding “a f***ing thing”.

The 2007 ruling was not the first time the Cassation judges courted controversy with verdicts changing the official line on offensive language.

In 2006 they said it was OK to hurl abuse at someone provided the other side gave as good as it got.

The court said a woman was entitled to call an acquaintance a “bastard, fool, a cretin and a drug addict” because the insults had been “mutual”.

“There was justification for the offence,” said the judges.

It was the second case on “mutual insults” to make its way to the supreme court that year.

In March, judges acquitted a woman who called an immigrant co-worker a ‘bloody n**ger’.

Upholding an earlier ruling, they said the woman’s reaction was justified because the man had “cursed” her family and her insult was an “equivalent” response.

Historically, in Italy, insulting language has been criminally liable because of the offence to a person’s ‘honour’.


The often contradictory rulings of Italy’s supreme court are constant fodder for the national media and some cases have sparked international outcries.

The court’s most notorious decision came in a highly publicized ‘jeans rape’ case in 1999, in which it decided that a woman who removes tight jeans, even under threat, is complicit in rape.

In another divisive ruling, the court said that bottom-patting was all right provided it was a “sudden and isolated act”.

Both rulings were later reversed.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Swindled’ Tourists Refuse Freebie

Tourism ministry offered to pay for return stay in Italy

(ANSA) — Rome, July 30 — Two Japanese tourists who were landed with a 700-euro bill in a Rome restaurant earlier this month on Thursday turned down an offer to return to Italy as guests of the Italian tourism ministry.

Yasuyuki Yamada, 35, and his fiancee thanked Tourism Minister Michela Vittoria Brambilla for her offer of an all-expenses paid stay to make up for the astronomical restaurant bill but said it was “a useless way to spend Italian tax payers’ money”.

Speaking to ANSA from his hometown of Tsukuba, 70 km from Tokyo, Yamada said his trip to Italy, apart from his experience at Rome’s Il Passetto restaurant, had been “great”.

“I offer my thanks, but I have no intention of accepting, even if a formal invitation arrives. That’s my decision,” he said.

But Yamada said he would like to come back to Italy “at his own expense”.

“People who swindle you exist all over the world,” he added.

Yamada and his fiancee received a bill for 579 euros plus a 115-euro service charge after eating at the historic restaurant near Piazza Navona where VIPs such as Grace Kelly, Leonardo DiCaprio and Harrison Ford have dined in the past.

The restaurant defended itself by saying the couple had ordered “super-exclusive food, like 12 oysters and lobster”.

A few weeks earlier, another Japanese couple were stung for 352 euros at the same restaurant for five slices of prosciutto, two pasta first courses, a shared fish course, four porcini mushrooms, wine and coffee.

In both cases the tourists reported the restaurant to the police.

It was shut down by health inspectors after the second incident but is due to reopen.

Brambilla issued an open letter to all Japanese tourists last week urging them to visit Italy and saying she was “terribly sorry” for the 700-euro restaurant bill, which she said was an “isolated incident”.

She invited Yamada and his fiancee to return to Rome as guests of her ministry so they could “verify the top level of our hospitality and the best we have to offer tourists”.

Brambilla’s letter was partly in response to a recent report in Japan’s second-biggest daily that the number of Japanese tourists who choose Italy for their holidays was in “rapid decline” above all because of “low quality services” and “illegal prices” including inflated restaurant bills.

According to the Asahi Shimbun report, the number of Japanese tourists visiting Italy this year will be in the neighborhood of one million, a far cry from 2.17 million in 1997.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Anti-Semitic’ Graffiti Daubed on Student Travel Agency Branches

Rome, 30 July (AKI) — Anti-Israel graffiti was found on the walls of branches of Italy’s student travel agency CTS located throughout the Italian capital Rome on Thursday. It is believed the culprits — who allegedly belong to a self-proclaimed anti-racism group — wanted to protest the agency’s recent promotion of travel to Israel.

The graffiti ‘artists’ wrote messages such as “Boycott Israel, reject Apartheid,” “Solidarity with the Palestinian people” and other messages opposing what they called “Zionist tourism”.

CTS had recently begun an Internet video campaign with Israeli airline El Al as well as Israel’s tourism ministry entitled “The beauty of Israel”.

The video ad shows four Italian youths filmed while travelling through different parts of the country.

The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno condemned what he called the “anti-Semitic” slogans.

“I would like to express my solidarity to the State of Israel and the Jewish community of Rome for the despicable anti-Semitic slogans that calls for the boycott of tourism in Israel,” said Alemanno.

The four CTS branches targeted by the anti-Israel graffiti were located in the Roman neighbourhoods of Monteverde, Cecchignola, Centocelle and Quadraro.

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

Italy: Ruling Coalition Partner Eyes ‘Dialect Exam’ For Teachers

The so-called ‘Padania’, is a recent political construct and an alternative geographical name for northern Italy used by the anti-immigrant Northern League party. The Northern League is currently part of Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom ruling coalition.

Rome, 29 July (AKI) — A proposal for teachers to learn the dialect of the region where they are working has sparked controversy within Italy’s governing coalition. The conservative government’s junior coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League has proposed that teachers should be hired only after passing an exam which tests their knowledge of the local history, traditions and dialect where they are teaching.

A move by the Northern League to include their proposals in an education reform bill was however blocked on Tuesday by the president of the Italian lower house of parliament’s culture commission, Valentina Aprea, following a heated discussion amongst the commission’s members.

Following the discussion, Aprea, a member of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling People of Freedom Party, referred the Northern League’s proposal to the lower house of parliament’s conference of chief party whips.

A Northern League MP, Paola Goisis, backed her party’s proposed test, claiming too many southerner teachers are emigrating to the north of Italy, and said the proposal aims to “equalise” the number of teachers from northern Italy.

“It is inconceivable that the majority of teachers in the north comes from the south of the country,” said Goisis.

Rebutting concerns that the Northern League’s proposed test would mean end to the selection of teachers based on their credentials for the job, she said: “College degrees do not guarantee homogeneity and are often bought.”

“They therefore do not provide a guarantee of a teacher’s suitability for a post,” said Goisis.

However, Italy’s speaker in the lower house of parliament, Gianfranco Fini, from the People of Freedom party, assured that the education bill would follow Italy’s constitution.

The opposition Democrat party’s chief representative on the lower house of parliament’s culture commission, Manuela Ghizzoni, also slammed the Northern League’s proposal.

“It is just the latest attempt to pass unconstitutional legislation that discriminates against individuals on the basis of where they come from,” Ghizzoni stated.

Some of the dialects spoken in the north of Italy include Lombard, Ligurian, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Piedmontese and Venetian, among many others.

The Northern League uses the name ‘Padania’ for northern Italy.

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

Law of Unintended Consequences

There’s a detailed double page spread in the Evening Standard tonight about the case of Deborah Dark, a grandmother wanted in France under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The case relates to 21 kg of cannabis that was found in her car at the French border back in 1988 (21 years ago). Some of the details of her case are pretty shocking.

This is a classic case of the ‘dangerous unintended consequences’ of EU legislation.

The EAW was designed to facilitate extradition between member states for serious crimes, but is now routinely used for offences which were never discussed when it first came off the books.

The EAW was bulldozed through in September 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.. The justification for it was that new rules were needed to tackle cross-border organised crime such as terrorism, in the uncertain new world.

The press release from Antonio Vitorino, then EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, said at the time, “The European Commission is calling for greater harmonisation and closer cooperation in combating terrorism and crime.” Vitorino is quoted saying “Terrorist acts are committed by international gangs with bases in several countries, exploiting loopholes in the law created by the geographical limits on investigators and often enjoying substantial financial and legal treatment between states”.

In a debate in the House of Commons in December 2002 on the Extradition Bill ,which implemented the EU Framework Decision on the EAW, the Home Office Minister John Denham said:

“In future, cases within the EU should take about three months, as opposed to nine to twelve months at the moment. The current timetable for bringing serious criminals to justice does a great disservice to the victims of crime… The European Arrest Warrant means that serious criminals accused of fiscal offences will no longer be able to hide within the EU.”

There are a couple of instances where the EAW has been used to expedite the extradition of terror suspects across the EU and ensure they stand trial. But there is increasing evidence to suggest the legislation is taking on something of a life of its own.

According to an article in European Voice today, a report issued in May has revealed that while some member states examine each arrest warrant request to check if the crime is serious enough to transfer a suspect to another member state, other EU countries consider such a check superfluous.

The extradition of people like Deborah Dark was not what was intended when Ministers were thinking of ways to tackle serious and organised crime. But that’s little consolation — the EAW hangs over her head, even though she has already been aquitted by two different courts.

And so she becomes another sad example of what happens when knee-jerk EU legislation goes wrong.

The Evening Standard article ends on a pessimistic note, with the recognition that because this is EU law, it will be a complete nightmare to overturn.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Skype Could be Cut Off for Good Over Dispute

Skype might have to shut down because of a dispute over the core technology used to make the internet telephone system work.

EBay, which paid $2.6 billion (£1.6 billion) for the voice-over-the-internet system in 2005, is facing a court battle with the original founders of the company who retained the rights to the technology at the heart of the system.

EBay admitted in a regulatory filing that it might have to close down the company. It said it was trying to develop alternative software but if that did not work, or if eBay lost the right to the original software: “Skype would be severely and adversely affected and the continued operation of Skype’s business as currently conducted would likely not be possible.”

The dispute also threatens eBay’s plan to spin off Skype, scheduled for next year.

Earlier this year, Skype filed a claim in London against Swedish company Joltid, which is controlled by Skype co-founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. Skype is seeking resolution on a dispute over a software licensing agreement between the parties that Joltid was seeking to terminate.

“In particular, Joltid has alleged that Skype should not possess, use or modify certain software source code and that, by doing so, and by disclosing such code in certain US patent cases pursuant to orders from US courts, Skype has breached the license agreement,” eBay said in the filing.

Joltid brought a counterclaim, reiterating that it held the rights to the peer-to-peer technology and that Skype was in violation of the original agreement.

A court hearing has been set for June 2010 in London…

[Return to headlines]

UK: Criminals on Probation Commit a Murder a Week

Criminals under the care of the probation service have committed almost a murder a week over the past two years, according to figures today.

Offenders under supervision have been convicted of more than a thousand serious further crimes, including almost one hundred murders.

The report by the Ministry of Justice comes weeks after Dano Sonnex was convicted of the sadistic killing of two French students in New Cross, southeast London. He had been released from prison to be supervised by the London probation service but a series of errors left him free to roam.

The figures show that there were 1,034 convictions for serious further offences committed between 2007 and 2009.

The total includes 94 murder convictions, 105 rapes, 43 arson attacks, 57 kidnaps and 762 other serious violent or sex crimes for which the maximum sentence is 10 years or more.

However, year on year, the number of such convictions in England and Wales has fallen. Convictions fell from 672 in 2007-8 to 362 in 2008-2009 including murders down from 66 to 28, rapes down from 62 to 43 and arson attacks from 32 to 11.

The figures were disclosed in the offender management caseload annual report which provides a snapshot of the make-up of the prison and probation system, including sentence length, crimes committed and details of the jail population.

A record number of lifers, foreign nationals and Muslims are in jails in England and Wales. The total jail population is 83,865, a rise of more than four per cent on last year with the biggest proportionate increase being offenders given life and indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPP).

England and Wales has 153 prisoners per 100,000 population, the seventh highest in the EU and the second highest after Spain, which has 155 per 100,000, excluding the states who joined after 2004.

More than 11,000 prisoners are serving life and IPP sentences including a record 4,581 murderers given the mandatory life sentence, a further 4,461 given IPPs and another 2,341 given life for serious crimes other than murder such as rape and manslaughter.

The number of foreign nationals in jails increased by four per cent to 11,500 or one in seven of the total prison population. Jamaicans comprise the largest number of foreign nationals with 1,176 in jail, followed by 1,002 Nigerians, 657 from the Irish Republic and 454 from China.

The number of Muslim inmates in jails has more than doubled in a decade to reach a record 9,795 last year. On current trends, the figure will top ten thousand this year. One of the major reasons for the surge in the Muslim prison population is because the Asian community is growing and has a younger population compared with other ethnic groups.

More than 4,000 of the Muslims in jail are Asian or Asian British and 3,500 are black or Black British.

The religious breakdown of the prison population shows there are 366 pagans behind bars, 340 Rastafarians and six members of the Nation of Islam. While Paganism is recognised as a religion by the Prison Service, it does not recognise Rastafarianism or the Nation of Islam.

Today’s report also shows how many offenders return to a life of crime despite previous convictions or cautions. Only 13 per cent of the prison population had no previous convictions and almost one third of the jail population had fifteen or more previous convictions or cautions for offences compared. In 2002 a quarter of the jail population had previous convictions or cautions.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Girl, 15, ‘Forced to Marry Illegal Immigrant Who Then Raped Her and Assaulted Her Little Sister’

Police are hunting a suspected illegal immigrant accused of raping a 15-year-old schoolgirl who had been forced to marry him.

The Bangladeshi, in his 40s, is also wanted over claims that he sexually assaulted the girl’s 12-year-old sister.

He disappeared after the elder girl, now aged 17, contacted the Metropolitan Police on June 26 because she feared she was now being forced into a second marriage.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: How the Class War Backfired and Put Social Mobility Into Retreat

Universities are bullied, exams dumbed down- and still children cannot escape their schools for losers, says Jeff Randall

To make progress in Britain’s most exclusive and powerful club, there is no substitute for family connections. Its composition reflects an egregious blend of nepotism and mutual back-scratching. The extent to which blood ties and marriages of influence determine who sits where at the top table makes the selection committee of White’s resemble a thrusting meritocracy.

I’m referring, as you no doubt guessed, to the Labour Cabinet, which includes the Miliband brothers, Edward and David; the husband-and-wife team, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, daughter of Prospect’s former general secretary; Harriet Harman, the niece of Lord Longford (a former Labour leader of the House of Lords) and the spouse of the party’s treasurer, Jack Dromey; Douglas Alexander, sibling of Wendy, the former leader of Labour in Scotland; Hillary Benn, son of Tony, who served as Harold Wilson’s industry secretary and Jim Callaghan’s energy secretary; and Peter Mandelson, grandson of Herbert Morrison, Clement’s Attlee’s deputy prime minister.

All of which presents an awkward challenge to an obvious conclusion in the report on social mobility from Alan Milburn, the latest in a long line of Labour campaigners to arrive at the startling revelation that life isn’t fair: “Background and social network should not be the critical factors in determining or allocating… opportunities.”

As the product of a council estate and a comprehensive school, Mr Milburn does, at least, bring the credibility of personal experience to his crusade. He has made the journey from disadvantage to distinction.

The same cannot be said of Lord Mandelson (grammar school and Oxford) who jumped on the social mobility bandwagon this week, dishing out yet another of those predictable speeches about “widening access” to Britain’s premier universities. This, it seems, is a policy issue that a depressed and deflated administration still regards as working in its favour — a vote-grabber. It’s hard to see why. After 12 years in office, and an unimaginable amount of taxpayer’s money blown on dysfunctional schools and counter-productive welfare programmes, Labour’s triumph for the faithful is a decline in social mobility.

Yes, it’s going backwards. Mr Milburn’s report confirms: “Social mobility has slowed down in our country. Birth, not worth, has become more and more a determinant of people’s life chances.” How so?

A report published this week by the Centre for Policy Studies shows that Britain’s poorest five million households are now paying a bigger slice of the tax cake and receiving a smaller slice from the benefits box than they were before 1997. For the organised poor, those who work for low wages but aspire to something better, this reversal must be particularly galling. For many of them, the comprehensive system, which sits at the heart of Labour’s redistributive philosophy, has been a disaster: a dead end.

As a percentage of Cambridge university’s undergraduate population, there are fewer state-school students today than there were in 1980. It’s true, of course, that entry to Oxbridge is only one measure — and a very narrow one — of the social ladders that can help those from humble backgrounds make their way into the professions, business and the media. Unfortunately, the picture at Britain’s other leading universities is barely brighter. Comprehensives are failing to produce anything like their share of winners.

The 20 Russell Group universities (including Oxbridge), plus a handful of other well-established institutions, make up the elite of Britain’s higher education system. These are targeted by many employers who believe, rightly, that some degrees from new universities are worthless. I was shown a list recently by a global media company that comprised two dozen British universities in three groups — gold, silver and bronze. The company’s human resources team prefers not to look beyond these for graduate recruitment. Experience tells them that trawling all 125 British universities for fresh talent is, sadly, a waste of time.

If all things were equal privately educated pupils would account for about 7 per cent of each university’s intake, because that is the percentage of young people who do not attend state schools. The reality is very different. Setting aside Oxbridge, in 2007-08 the new intake at no fewer than seven other Russell Group universities had a penetration by those taught at fee-paying schools of more than four times that level, ie 28 per cent or above. At Bristol it was 38.5 per cent, Nottingham 30.5 per cent, and Newcastle 28.9 per cent.

Dig a little deeper and you will find that the story is even worse. Of those who do arrive at the best universities from state schools, a hugely disproportionate amount come from England’s 164 grammar schools. This is not because, as Gordon Brown once suggested, the best universities are elitist. They are simply defending standards. As even Lord Mandelson has recognised, his party’s class warriors are guilty of confusing “excellence and privilege”.

No matter which way progressive educationalists spin it, the horror before them is unavoidable. Despite abolishing grammar schools, dumbing down GCSEs and A-levels (to create the illusion of rising standards in state schools), attacking private schools through the pernicious Charity Commission, rebranding dozens of polytechnics and technical colleges as universities, and bullying our best universities into accepting state-school students with below-par grades, social mobility is in retreat.

It should not be the role of our world-class universities to be tools of social engineering. In an increasingly global market for tertiary education, they cannot afford to debase their entry requirements. Anyway, as Mr Milburn points out, the damage to many of those at the bottom of the pile comes long before they can even spell UCAS, much less know what it stands for. Attainment at 16 is, according to his report, the “key to children’s future life chances”.

It’s easy to blame teachers, but who today, other than saintly souls, would want to work at a sink-estate school where obscurantist thugs run amok, threatening and perpetrating violence? Research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers revealed that nearly 40 per cent of teachers had been confronted by an aggressive parent or guardian, and about a quarter had been attacked by a student. Order has been lost, in part because too many expulsions by headmasters are over-ruled by appeal panels.

For the Conservative Party, hoping to rediscover the way back to Downing Street, reform of Britain’s state-funded education system is an open goal. The ball is inside the six-yard box; all David Cameron needs to do is smash it in the net. He will not have a better opportunity to win over traditional Labour voters than by showing them how he can help their children escape from schools for losers. If he lacks the will to admit that grammar schools did more for working-class children than a thousand free school meals, he should at least promise to reintroduce with unambiguous rigour the standards, discipline and ambition that grammars delivered for people like me.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Health and Safety Row Over Man Who Died in 18in of Water…

…as 999 teams were told it was too risky to rescue him

Police, firemen and paramedics refused to go to the aid of an accident victim who was drowning in just 18 inches of water… because they believed it was too dangerous.

A senior fire officer banned his men from using ropes and ladders to climb down a 15ft bank to the victim after carrying out a ‘risk assessment’.

Acting on advice, ten police officers who attended the emergency also failed to rescue father-of-three Karl Malton, 32, as he lay face down in the shallow water.

His body lay there for three hours after a decision was made to send for a ‘water rescue team’ based more than 50 miles away.

When relatives arrived at the scene, they found emergency workers standing around drinking tea.

An inquest into Mr Malton’s death yesterday heard that officers no longer have to swim or receive life-saving training.

Last night Mr Malton’s father Peter branded the emergency services’ response to the tragic accident as ‘unacceptable’.

The case has prompted fresh controversy over how health and safety restrictions are preventing the emergency services from fulfilling their most basic duties.

The issue flared up two years ago after another inquest heard how two police community support officers stood by while a ten-year-old boy drowned in a pond in Wigan.

Yesterday’s inquest in Spalding, Lincolnshire, heard that Mr Malton, a mechanic, was hit by a car as he walked

along an unlit country road near his home in Crowland just after 11pm on May 13 last year.

The driver pulled up and dialled 999 but was told to stay in his car and not try to find the victim.

Paramedic Sonya Lawrence arrived within 14 minutes but began to search on the nearside of the car, although it was damaged on the offside.

Another 19 minutes later a second ambulance crew arrived and found Mr Malton, who had been thrown unconscious into the dyke

by the collision. He was lying face down in the water and appeared to be dead. Paramedic Fergus White climbed over a barrier before deciding it was too dangerous to go down the bank.

‘If we had access to him we would have carried out resuscitation but we had no access,’ he said. ‘The bank was very steep and unstable.’

Mr White admitted that he could not be ‘100 per cent sure’ that Mr Malton was dead. After a further 28 minutes a team of firemen arrived and set up ladders and ropes on the bankside but were ordered to stop by senior officer Edward Holliday.

Mr Holliday said: ‘I made the assessment that it would be inadvisable to enter the dyke until a properly trained and prepared crew arrived.’

He called in a water rescue team from Lincoln, more than 50 miles away. Mr Malton’s body was finally recovered using a boat at 2.18am, more than three hours after the crash.

A post-mortem examination revealed that he had drowned but could not determine how long he had been in the water before dying.

The inquest was told he would have been dead within ten minutes of entering the water.

Deputy Boston coroner Paul Cooper recorded a verdict of accidental death .

Mr Malton’s father Peter said in a statement: ‘Irrespective of the coroner’s verdict about the actual cause and timing of my son’s death the fact remains that he was lying at the bottom of a ditch for three hours.

‘Whether he was dead or alive at the time does not alter the distress caused to the family.’

The family are now preparing a civil action for damages, while police, fire and ambulance services are all reviewing their procedures as a result of the tragedy.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: I’m Not Particularly Bright, Admits Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth

Under-fire Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth today suggested that he was the victim of social prejudice because of his accent and moustache.

Mr Ainsworth, a former factory worker from Coventry, admitted he was not an intellectual, but he insisted he was qualified to run the Ministry of Defence.

The Defence Secretary hit back following criticism over his handling over the Afghanistan conflict and compensation for wounded soldiers.

Mr Ainsworth, who was previously a junior minister in the Department, has also faced claims that he was over-promoted by Gordon Brown in the last reshuffle.

His extraordinary comments during a candid interview in which he also admitted that Labour had not done enough to support the Armed Forces during the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

Mr Ainsworth said: “I speak with a Midlands accent. I drop my aitches. I suffer with an asthmatic-related condition that means I speak with a gravelly voice. I have a moustache that some people appear to take offence to. I don’t know what motivates these people.”

Asked if he was qualified to run the MoD, he said: “I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I don’t pretend to be able to write a great thesis or doctorate — I have no pretensions in that direction.

“But I’ll tell you what I do have, I have a good feel for ordinary people, for politics, and those are my strengths. I understand, I hope instinctively, where many of our Armed Forces come from.”

Mr Ainsworth is the latest in a long line of Labour MPs to claim to have suffered prejudice or admitted they were not up to the job.

The former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith famously claimed she was being treated harshly during the expenses scandal because she was a woman.

After her resignation, she subsequently admitted that she didn’t think she was up to the job.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott repeatedly claimed he was subjected to snobbery because of his working class roots.

Gordon Brown’s security minister Lord West once claimed that he was just a ‘simple sailor’ after making a slip up about the detention of terror suspects and Home Secretary Alan Johnson has described himself as a ‘hack’.

Despite his lack of experience in military service, Mr Ainsworth insisted he could bring a “unique dimension” to the job of Defence Secretary.

He told the Telegraph: “I don’t try to second guess decisions that are quite properly taken in the military chain of command. I don’t try to pretend I am cleverer than a general or the Chief of the Defence Staff.

“But I can bring something else, a knowledge and understanding of Parliament, and of civilian life.”

Mr Ainsworth went on to admit that servicemen and women had been justified in their anger at the lack of interest in their work from ministers and the public.

But he insisted there had been improvements in how the Government — and the public — recognised and supported the Forces.

He said. “People were pretty cheesed off with the attitude not only of the Government, but of the British public.

“They were out there in Iraq, they were out there in Afghanistan, they were doing hard yards and putting their lives on the line — and nobody back here was nearly as interested as they ought to have been.”

Mr Ainsworth conceded that decisions taken to cut some defence programmes in earlier years could now be seen as mistakes.

In 2004, Gordon Brown’s Treasury imposed a significant cut in the Ministry of Defence’s budget for helicopters, which has contributed to a shortage of aircraft for British Forces in Afghanistan today.

“You can’t totally and utterly predict where the threat might be, where the need might be, years in advance,” Mr Ainsworth said.

“The defence budget has gone up but it has not gone up as fast as some other budgets.

His comments came after Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the retiring Army chief, gave warning that the defence budget was “under huge pressure”.

Read more:

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Mother, 40, Thrown in Police Cells After Lying Pupils Made Up Assault Following Bullying Confrontation

When Anisa Borsberry confronted a group of playground bullies she hoped it would finally bring an end to her 11-year-old daughter’s ordeal.

But the next day she found she herself was the victim… with the forces of law and order lined up against her.

Eight police officers in three patrol cars and a van descended on her home and arrested her.

The 40-year-old was marched out in handcuffs even though a claim that she had hit one of the bullies had already been withdrawn.

She then had her fingerprints and DNA taken and was thrown into a cell for more than five hours.

‘I was speechless when I heard what I was supposed to have done,’ she said yesterday. ‘I couldn’t understand why I was in this situation. I knew I had done nothing wrong and was totally innocent.

‘The children had already admitted lying but yet here were two statements they had made to the police after their parents had made a complaint.

‘When the police came to arrest me they dragged me outside where the whole street could see me. Eight officers went round the back of the house, I assume in case I tried to escape.

‘It was like a scene from a movie. The only thing that was missing was a police helicopter. ‘It was a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money.’

Last night police dropped the case and said they had launched an investigation into the arrest. Mrs Borsberry went to Lambton Primary School in Washington, Tyne and Wear, earlier this month after her daughter Taylor arrived home in floods of tears.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Pupils Suspended More Than 83,000 Times for Teacher Attacks

Children were suspended from school more than 83,000 times last year for attacking teachers and other pupils, official figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families showed.

In primary schools alone, pupils were excluded for a fixed period almost 18,000 times for these reasons, according to statistics published by the DCSF.

Physical assaults against classmates or teachers accounted for four in 10 suspensions in primary schools and a fifth of suspensions in secondary schools, the figures showed. Primary and secondary schools in England also excluded pupils for a fixed period 94,740 times for verbally abusing or threatening teachers and other children.

And 85,830 suspensions were for persistent disruptive behaviour, the figures showed.

Overall, the number of times primary school pupils were suspended in 2007/08 fell by 5.3 per cent this year to 43,290, and the number of times secondary school pupils were suspended fell by 10.8 per cent, to 324,180.

While suspensions in primary schools for attacking other pupils fell this year from 11,210 in 2006/07 to 10,690 in 2007/08, suspensions for attacking teachers rose, from 6,710 in 2006/07 to 7,090 in 2007/08.

It means that overall, there were 17,780 exclusions in primary schools last year for attacking teachers and other pupils.

In total, pupils of all ages were suspended for attacking teachers or other pupils 83,110 times.

The figures show that all state schools were forced to expel or “permanently exclude” pupils 8,130 times last year, a drop of 6.4 per cent.

Of those, primaries expelled pupils 960 times, and secondaries 7,000 times.

Children’s Minister Dawn Primarolo said the figures indicated that behaviour in schools is getting better.

She said: “It is time to put to bed the myth that behaviour is deteriorating with teachers powerless to act.

“The truth is that we have given teachers the powers they asked for to tackle bad discipline and today’s figures, as well as the trend over the last several years, show that the action we have taken is working in improving discipline in schools.”

The Government has introduced programmes to tackle bad behaviour, Ms Primarolo said, and are planning to toughen up home-school agreements — which will allow schools to force parents to act if their children are badly behaved.

The figures, released on Thursday, also show:

:: Twenty expulsions were for children aged four and under, and a further 70 were for five-year-olds.

:: In addition, five-year-olds were suspended 2,860 times, and four-year-olds were suspended 1,240 times.

:: A rise in the numbers of suspensions in secondary schools for drug and alcohol reasons (up to 8,140 last year from 7,840 in 2006/07).

:: Parents lodged 780 appeals against their child’s expulsion last year, a fall of 25 per cent on the year before. Of appeals found in favour of the parent, the pupil was reinstated in 35 per cent of cases.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

We Want Pan-European Politics, Not a Bureaucratic and Undemocratic EU

By Declan Ganley

“Unlike many in Brussels, we respect the judgement of European voters,” says Declan Ganley, the founder of Libertas, a pan-European party that contested European Parliament seats in all 27 EU countries and was widely credited with Ireland’s ‘No’ vote on the Lisbon treaty last year The announcement that Libertas candidates would be running for election right across the EU’s 27 member states in the European Parliament elections generated great attention among fellow pro-Europeans. For years, the many who support European integration but resent the bureaucratic and undemocratic behemoth of the EU have been faced with frustrating choices at the ballot box. There has, of course, been a plethora of parties that oppose the EU, but most have run on a nationalist and eurosceptic banner. It’s a standpoint that appals me and the many volunteers who have supported Libertas before, during and since last year’s Irish ‘No’ vote. Books have been written on the many positives European integration brings, but simply reiterating the four main freedoms — of movement, goods, services and capital — which have flourished during 50 years of peace and prosperity serve to neatly summarise its attributes.

Yet it’s hard to remember these incredible freedoms when faced with the ugly response of Europe’s political elites to the Irish electorate’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty. The utter contempt shown to voters has been staggering and time and time again we saw the Irish people insulted. From Germany’s Dublin ambassador Christian Pauls and his sly insinuations about how many voters came from rural communities to the unnamed official who referred to the Irish as ‘bastards’, we saw that these unelected officials did not just view elections as a problem to be negotiated; they were quite simply bewildered as to why you would ask European voters for anything other than their taxes. The people ‘do not understand’ the Lisbon treaty, just as they did not understand the Nice Treaty, and just as the French and the Dutch did not understand the Constitution. The workings of European government are apparently too complex to be understood by mere citizens: They can only be interpreted by the experts.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Bosnia ‘A Haven for Islamist Terrorists’

Belgrade, 30 July (AKI) — Bosnia has become a haven for Islamic terrorists who feel protected by local authorities and are planning terrorist acts in various countries, experts on terrorism said on Thursday. Dzevad Galijasevic, a Bosnian expert on terrorism, told Tanjug news agency that there was a “developed network of support for Islamic terrorists” in Bosnia.

“There are about 80 prominent names in the world of terrorism, protected by a new identity,” Galijasevic said.

Bosnia came under the spotlight this week after a convicted criminal and terror suspect of Tunisian origin, Karray Kamel bin Ali, known as Abu Hamza, escaped from a Bosnian jail.

“Bosnia is a base for Islamic terrorists who live here in safety, operate training camps and prepare cadres for attacks in third countries,” said Galijasevic.

Galijasevic, himself a Muslim, recently formed a team of experts to combat terrorism. The team includes a Croatian colleague, Domagoj Margetic, and Serbian expert Darko Trifunovic.

Thousands of militants like Bin Ali, came from Islamic countries to fight on the side of local Muslims in 1992-1995 civil war. But after the war, many married local women, acquired Bosnian citizenship and remained in the country under their own or assumed names, Galijasevic added.

He pointed out that Algerian militant Abu Mali, even worked in the Bosnian mission to the United Nations after the war under a Bosnian name, Safet Catovic.

Trifunovic, a Bosnian Serb, who also worked in the mission at the time, said he became suspicious of who Catovic really was because he spoke poor Bosnian. As a result, Trifunovic said he lost a job in the mission and moved to Belgrade.

But he said Abu Mali remained in the United States where he kept ties with terrorist groups and even operated terrorist training camps. Abu Mali allegedly commanded the “El Mujaheed” unit of Islamic fighters in Bosnia which allegedly committed some of the worst crimes against Serbs and Croats, but no one was ever prosecuted.

Individuals with Bosnian passports had been involved in almost all terrorist attacks this millennium, from the 2001 attack attack on World Trade Center in New York to the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Galijasevic pointed out

Abu Hamza failed to return to jail in central Bosnian city of Zenica on Monday, after a week’s leave, and both Galijasevic and Trifunovic agreed it was a big test for Bosnian authorities. They said the escape was well planned and organised, expressing doubt that he will be found.

Hamza had been sentenced in Tunis to 12 years for terrorist activities and served a seven years sentence in Bosnia for murder and racketeering. He was currently serving a four year sentence for assault and domestic violence.

“Most likely, the next time we hear about him will be when a new terrorist group is arrested somewhere in the world,” Trifunovic told Adnkronos International (AKI).

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

North Africa

Algeria: Convoy Attacked, 17 Soldiers Killed

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JULY 30 — At least 17 Algerian soldiers were killed and 23 injured in an attack carried out by a group of fundamentalists near Tipaza, a city 70km from Algiers, reports La Liberté. Other dailies have reported between 11 and 21 casualties. Several bombs exploded when a military convoy was passing the village of Damous and was followed by gunfire from both sides of the street lasting 20 minutes. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but according to Liberté, the ambush was carried out by Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. A similar attack on a military convoy killed 18 police officers on June 17 near Bordj Bou Arreridj, about 200km southeast of Algiers (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Over 100-Year-Old Cairo Zoo to Stay Put

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO — The historical Giza zoo, near the centre of Cairo, will stay where it was built over 120 years ago, confirmed the head of Islamic monuments of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Hisham El Leithy, speaking to ANSAmed. After speculation about moving the zoo to another area of the Egyptian capital, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has declared the zoological gardens an ‘archaeological site’, thereby restricting any intervention to the park. “A committee of archaeologists inspected the buildings in the garden, which were built during the time of the Viceroy Ismail who ruled Egypt between 1863 and 1879, and decided to declare it an archaeological monument,” explained Hawass, adding that two buildings inside of the zoo will be added to the roster of Islamic and Coptic antiquities, the “Japanese kiosk and Citadel Hill”. Among the other unique characteristics of the zoological gardens, one of the oldest in the world, is the iron suspension bridge built by French architect Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who also built the famous Parisian tower. The zoo, which is located on a 3 hectare surface, was built on the grounds of the summer residence of the royal family of King Farouk, known as the “Garden of Pleasures”, which they continued to use for about 50 years after the opening of the park. Viceroy Ismail wanted to open a zoo for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869, but do to a lack of time, he was forced to postpone the zoo’s opening until March 1 1891. Considered a giant exposition of African fauna, the zoo of Giza hosted over 20,000 animals at its height, belonging to 400 different species, including mostly migratory birds. Thousands of birds have made the zoological gardens a rest and feeding stop during their migrations between Europe, central Asia, and Africa. Starting in February of 2006, the number of birds began to reduce considerably following a bird flu outbreak. After the death of 83 birds, which were later diagnosed with H5N1, zoo veterinarians put down another 563 birds. In 1906, a museum with three large rooms was built in the gardens, which contains exhibits on birds, reptiles, fish, and other stuffed animals and skeletons coming from Egypt and other countries. The zoo is also a destination for scientists studying animal and bird behaviour and life cycles. Each year the zoo is visited by about 10 million people who pay a very low entrance cost of about 19 cents. Revenue, totalling about 1.68 billion dollars goes directly to the Finance Ministry and only a portion of this (about 750,000 dollars) is used to pay workers and maintain the animals, and is not able to cover all expenses. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

New Revelations in ‘Torture’ Case

An MI5 officer visited Morocco three times at the same time a UK resident says he was being tortured there as a terrorist suspect, it has emerged.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed is bringing test case claims against UK authorities which, he says, were complicit in his alleged torture.

The government says it did not know he was held in Morocco and Afghanistan before being taken to the US camp.

MI5 says its official did not know Mr Mohamed was in Morocco at the time.

The details emerged in a High Court judgement on Friday, which was an update on a ruling on the secret evidence in Mr Mohamed’s case, originally made last year.

Covert location

Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones took the unusual step of reissuing the judgement to include new material about the security services dealings with the case.

It emerged that “Witness B” — an MI5 official who had questioned Mr Mohamed previously when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 — had made three visits to Morocco, during the period Mr Mohamed said he was being held and tortured there.

The judgement says it was clear to the security service that by September 2002 he was being held in a covert location and they continued to supply information and questions.

But the judges said they were “unable to determine the significance (if any) of the visits of the MI5 official, known only as “Witness B”.

BBC home affairs correspondent Andy Tighe said MI5 maintained its official did not know Mr Mohamed was in Morocco at the time and the two men did not meet.

But legal charity Reprieve described it as a “strange coincidence”.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Record Cereal Harvest in El Kef Region

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JULY 29 — The cereal harvest in the El Kef governorate is expected to total two million quintals this season. So far 1.1 million have been harvested, according to official figures. This success is the result of an average production of 95 quintals per hectare this year. The only problem now is storage capacity, which stands at a total of 1 million quintals in the region.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Fatah Conference, Hamas Blocks Gaza Delegates

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, JULY 30 — Hamas did not authorise the participation of its leaders residing in Gaza in the 6th al-Fatah conference that will take place next week in Bethlehem (West Bank), confirmed Mahmud a-Zahar, a Hamas official in Gaza. “If al-Fatah wants them to participate,” said a-Zahar, “our prisoners must be released first,” meaning the Hamas militants who have been held by Mahmoud Abbas’ (Abu Mazen) PNA security forces over the past months. According to a-Zahar, there are about 1,000 prisoners. Palestinian press agency WAFA added that recently al-Fatah delegates from Syria, Lebanon, and Tunisia have been arriving to the West Bank. Among these is Muhammed ‘Abu Maher’ Ghneim, whose entrance, according to WAFA, was authorised in person by Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu, on a request by Mahmoud Abbas.. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mitchell Meets Netanyahu, Progress Made

(by Alessandro Logroscino). (ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JULY 28 — It’s too early to talk about an agreement, but the USA and Israel may have found some common ground on the difficult issue of the freeze on Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. Today Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell made this clear after his meeting with Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu, in which “good progress” was made, according to Mitchell. The meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, marks the end of Mitchell’s mission to reopen a broad dialogue in Syria and Jordan, as well as in Israel and the West Bank with the President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). America is putting diplomatic pressure on all burning issues of the region in these days including through Pentagon head Robert Gates. Gates visited Israel yesterday to try and develop a joint strategy against Iran’s nuclear programme, which Israel sees as an imminent threat. “Wéve made good progress” said Mitchell to the press before leaving Jerusalem. Netanyahu found the atmosphere of the meeting “very positive” and promised to do all he can to re-launch the peace process with the Palestinians and the Arab neighbouring states. Another meeting has been scheduled in August. Tomorrow Netanyahu will talk with US National Security Advisor James Jomes. The goal — Mitchell explained — remains the same: “to continue the discussions” on the necessary conditions to “move towards a comprehensive peace agreement which I have described as President Obama’s vision, but which I know Prime Minister Netanyahu and all peoples of this regions agree on.” One of these conditions is that Washington insists on a freeze on settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in line with the Road Map (2003, outlined by the USA, Russia, EU and UN). Netanyahu has so far opposed a total freeze, causing unusual frictions with its American strategic ally, but speculations in the Israeli press say that he may in the end give in on this point, at least for a 3-month period, in exchange for a start of the normalisation of relations with Israel by some Arab countries. And perhaps also in exchange for a tacit American agreement on the completion of some construction projects which have already started in existing settlements: projects which the settlement movements really want to carry out. In the government majority this movement has many friends. Yesterday the settlement movement encouraged Netanyahu in a demonstration not to give in, even calling Obama a “racist.” During his visit to Ramallah, Mitchell informed Abu Mazen that “there are still some differences of opinion on the settlement question” between the USA and Israel. The PNA president in turn warned that he will not accept possible compromises. He repeated that he will not return to any negotiations in the absence of a real freeze on settlements. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netanyahu Urges Anti-Hamas Insurrection in Gaza

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 29 — The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has urged Gaza Strip inhabitants to rise up against and topple the Hamas regime controlling the Palestinian territory. “Forcing women to wear the hijab head covering, the Hamas regime has shown that it cares little about Palestinians. If Palestinians could, they would oust the regime. I would like to tell them that it is within their power to do so,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by yesterday’s Y-Net website. Speaking at a ceremony for the promotion of officials on the National Security Council, the premier then said that “in the end, radical Islam will be defeated by the scientific revolution which is crossing the world, by the freedom of ideas and technology.” He concluded by saying that “It will take time, but it is inevitable. The only thing which might allow radical Islam to gain a foothold is if it manages to get its hands on a nuclear weapon.”(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK Funding Political Activity in Israel

Israel is up in arms over a declaration by a British government spokesman that the UK is funding political activity in Israel.

British spokesman Martin Day said in an interview in Dubai with Al-Arabiya television last week that the British government was “taking practical steps towards freezing settlement activities.”

“For instance,” Day said, “we finance projects aimed at halting settlement activities. One of these projects seeks to build new Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and save Palestinian houses from demolition.”

In addition, Day said in an Arabic interview, “we also finance organizations that monitor settlement activities.”

He further stated that “products from the settlements do not enjoy preferential custom duties that we offer to products coming from Israel. In light of this, we can say that we are taking effective and practical steps against settlement activities.”

The Foreign Ministry’s senior deputy director general, Rafi Barak, spoke with British Ambassador Tom Phillips two days ago and asked for an explanation. He met with the British envoy again on Wednesday to again discuss the matter and voice Israel’s displeasure.

Phillips, according to Barak, said he was looking into the matter.

Karen Kaufman, the British Embassy’s spokesman in Tel Aviv, said in response that the British government was “not involved in the actual construction of new Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.”

“The UK is spending £450,000 over 4 years to support projects in east Jerusalem and the West Bank that help Palestinians better understand and effectively use the Israeli planning laws to gain permission both retrospectively for existing homes, and prospectively for new homes on their side of the Green Line,” she said.

Yossi Levy, the ministry’s spokesman for the Hebrew press, characterized Day’s comments as the “height of chutzpah,” and said such activity was “unheard of.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, “We can’t recall any other case of a democratic country funding political activities inside another democratic country.”

Additionally, he said, this makes no sense from their point of view because any political activities they are backing will lose credibility in the eyes of the Israeli public when it is revealed that these activities are funded by a foreign government.

“How would the British feel if another country funded political activities of groups within the UK?” he asked.

Barak’s conversation with Phillips came fast on the heels of revelations that the British, Dutch and Spanish governments were funding Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO that recently published a report in which unnamed soldiers alleged IDF misconduct during Operation Cast Lead.

Following The Jerusalem Post’s revelations of the group’s funding, Ha’aretz reported earlier this week that Israel’s ambassador to Holland met with the director-general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry, complained about the Dutch embassy’s funding of Breaking the Silence, and urged the funding be terminated. According to this report, the Dutch Foreign Minister — considered a strong friend of Israel — was unaware of the funding and gave instructions to launch an internal investigation into the matter.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Middle East

82 Lawmakers Write Obama, Urging Recognition of Armenian Genocide

82 lawmakers from both parties wrote President Obama on Friday, urging him to recognize the Armenian genocide and focus on normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia.

The lawmakers — led by Reps. George Radanovich (R-Calif.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — asked the president to refocus himself on his campaign promise to recognize the genocide.

“We write to you with our concerns about Turkish backpedaling on the agreed upon roadmap to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia,” the lawmakers said in their letter.

“While the Government of Armenia remains committed to this roadmap and has long offered to establish ties with Turkey without preconditions, Turkey’s public statements and actions since April 24th stand in sharp contrast to this agreement and undermine U.S. policy that normalization take place without preconditions,” they added.

Schiff had introduced legislation earlier this year to officially label the killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as “genocide.”…

[Return to headlines]

NBC’s “The Wanted” Delivers the Goods

NBC aired a highly unusual show on July 20 called The Wanted, which has provoked a storm of controversy over its style, methods and content. Is it journalism, entertainment, infotainment, or To Catch a (Terrorist) Predator? It is, perhaps, a bit of all of the above. But most importantly, and the reasons for all the condemnation, is that it has given rare exposure to the terrorist mentality, it has shown positive benefits stemming from the war in Iraq, and it has highlighted media hypocrisy.


Too often, such as when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured and his mug shot shown, it became fodder for Saturday Night Live, and treated as a joke. Anyone who saw Mullah Krekar being interviewed on “The Wanted” was watching the mind and face of a terrorist, someone who is perfectly willing to kill for his twisted ideology. This was the best part of “The Wanted”—the interview with Mullah Krekar. The interview was conducted by several members of “The Wanted” team:

Question from “The Wanted” team: What kinds of weapons and tactics are acceptable for a Muslim to carry out Jihad? Mullah Krekar: From shoes to an atomic bomb. They are all defense, they are all weapons. If I can get Kalashnikov I will use Kalashnikov.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkey: USD 18 Bln ‘Mysterious’ Cash Inflow Causes Debate

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 29 — More than Usd 18 billion entered Turkey over the last eight months and officials have no idea where the cash came from, daily Vatan reported quoting data from the Central Bank. The inflows, measured under the “net errors and omissions” item in the Central Bank’s current-account balance, are equivalent to a quarter of the country’s exports over the same period, Vatan noted. Possible sources for the money include cash transactions over Turkey’s border with Iraq and Syria, money repatriated from abroad by Turkish companies, proceeds from gold sales and foreign currency brought to the country under a government tax amnesty, Bloomberg quoted Vatan as saying. According to Masum Turker, the leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and former minister, “the bulk of the inflow is from border trade with Iraq, Syria and Iran; the United States especially pumped cash into northern Iraq before the regional elections and exporters who sold goods there brought back the foreign currency, purchased Turkish Liras again and brought new goods and sold them back in northern Iraq.”. “As the banking system is not developed well there, the money is transferred from hand to hand. Thus, it is impossible to follow any transaction”, Turker added.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Trip in the City Threatened by Dam

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA — In order to bathe in the waters of the Tigris in the shadow of the majestic ruins of Hasankeyf, even women wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf wade in for a photo to be kept and treasured. Surrounded by the age-old ruins of this town in south-eastern Turkey, in the heart of the Mesopotamian tableland, its inhabitants are today celebrating its very survival. On July 7 the latest battle against the construction of the Ilisu dam, which would flood Hasankeyf under 135 metres of water and force 60,000 from their homes, came to an end. German, Austrian and Swiss banks pulled out of the project after Turkey was not able to satisfy criteria in the areas of environmental and archaeological impact, leading to the disappearance of foreign financing for a 1.2 billion-euro investment which was to have supplied Turkey with 2% of its energy needs. Despite the decision, result of a lengthy international campaign by environmental associations and such well-known figures as the Turkish Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk, the unyielding stance of Tayyip Erdogan’s government — which has said it has the means and money to go forward with the initiative despite what it calls Europe’s “anti-Turkish political decisions”, continues to keep Hasankeyf residents on pins and needles. However, they seem to be almost used to an uncertain future. The first time the project was discussed in 1954, many of those who now live there had not even been born. Since then, between ambitious plans and absurdly-long postponements, the Tigris has continued to flow slowly toward Iraq — along with the life of these Kurdish shepherds and farmers. When tourists arrive in the summer, the life of this remote rural area 30 kilometres from the border with Syria is transformed: there are not only the herds to take out into the pastureland but also sites to promote and cultural heritage to safeguard. As is the case with Ilyas, 26, who manages one of the ‘cardak’ — the picturesque places built on piles along the river’s banks in which one can eat grilled fish and dangle one’s feet into the river at the same time. “We have no idea as to what will happen. No one is telling us anything. That’s the way it’s always been,” he said. Hasankeyf inhabitants have never been kept informed on the decisions that could change their lives, as confirmed by the town’s mayor, Abdulvahap Kusen. The only thing that is certain is the will of the people. “None of us would ever agree to leave our own land,” said Ilyas. “And what else could we do? Leaving Hasankeyf, for us, would mean not having a future.” Criticism of the Ilisu dam project is also of a technical nature. “The dam would hold up for a maximum of 50 years,” said a state engineer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I am against the project, but if they decide to go forward with it I’ll be forced to work on it.” While awaiting new initiatives from the government — which says it is ready to get the works underway — the small Serat is trying to make a future for himself. In his “boutique” carved out of the rocks in the mountains he offers his stones, which he ensures the visitor are “precious”. He tells tourists that he is 13 years old, even if he seems about 8. He knows nothing about the threats from Ankara, and this may be the very reason he is so sure that by the end of summer he’ll be able to sell all the maps of the city which may soon disappear. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Smoking Ban Violates Human Rights, Bar Owners Claim

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 27 — A group of cafe owners has applied to the parliamentary Human Rights Commission, demanding that a recently introduced smoking ban, prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas, including cafes, bars and restaurants, be lifted because violates human rights, daily Today’s Zaman reports. The commission sent the application, which underlines that the smoking ban in Europe is far more “flexible” than in Turkey, to the relevant ministries. Resul Karatas, head of the Turkey Cafes, Coffeehouses and Bars Federation, said that their members are complaining that their business has contracted noticeably since the ban came into effect and were preparing to appeal to the Constitutional Court, demanding the ban to be annulled. “If it continues like this, we fear some 30,000 out of 100,000 current cafes and coffeehouses will have to shut their doors before the end of this year”, Karatas declared, adding that “many cafes had to dismiss employees over the past week”. Law number 4207, on the Prevention of the Harmful Effects of Tobacco and Tobacco Products, requires that all restaurants, coffeehouses, cafeterias and bars have an appropriate outdoor area if they wish to allow smoking. The ban levies a TL 69 fine (32 euros) on those who smoke in a forbidden zone and a hefty fine of up to TL 5,600 (2.654 euro) for operators who allow it to happen. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Ferrero (PRC), Condemns ‘Yes’ From PD and IDV

(AGI) — Rome, 29 Jul. — Paolo Ferrero, National secretary of the PRC-SE, made the following statements today: “The fact that the Berlusconi government, and in particular the minister la Russa, defend the Italian military mission in Afghanistan at all costs, is a particularly odious and irresponsible — though understandable fact. Especially given the militaristic and war-funding character of that government, which cannot wait to increase the number of troops and offensive weaponry held by the nation of Italy. Furthermore Avallino, voting in favour of the Chamber Commission, both the PD and the IDV, and particularly the latter, which pretended — exactly like Bossi’s Lega Nord — to be against the mission while voting for its refinancing. I see this as an embarrassing and unacceptable political attitude. If we were in Parliament we would have acted differently, voting against it in a clear and direct manner, without wavering or hesitation”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Afghanistan: Ferrero; Troops Home, Talks With Taliban

(AGI) — Rome, 30 Jul. — “Immediately after the unilateral retreat of our troops, which should be followed out by other involved States — from the EU nations to the United States — there should begin serious and immediate peace talks through pressure and mediation by the UN. That will also mean involving the Taliban in talks, seeing as peace has never been made purely amongst friendly nations. Peace is made with the enemy”.

The quote is from Paolo Ferrero, commenting on the phase of “the only possible and acceptable exit strategy that the Berlusconi government could and should adopt… With regards to permanence, the recently reinforced offensive pushed for by La Russa despite the unanimous vote to the contrary by all the parliamentary opposition, from the UDC to the PD until the IDV, despite the useless demagoguery of Di Pietro”. Ferrero is referring to the “immediate removal of our troops, committed to fighting an unacceptable, costly — in terms of both drama and grief for the family and soldiers — and useless war. Our soldiers were not sent to that region to bring peace, as demonstrated by the recurring offensive attempts by the Taliban in recent weeks”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

India: Orissa, Hindu Nationalist Party Opposed to “Peace and Harmony” Day

BJP leaders claim the celebration will spark “tensions and communal clashes.” Hindu intellectuals stress the need for “justice” and ensure compensation “to innocent victims.”

Kandhamal (AsiaNews) — The Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is opposed to the celebration of the day for “Peace and Harmony” in Orissa — August 23 2009 — one year exactly from the assassination of Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati, that sparked the anti-Christian pogrom.

Karendra Majhi, leader of the BJP in Baliguda — Kandhamal district — said that “holding a day of peace and harmony August 23 will serve only to foment communal tension” and warned of the danger of renewed fighting and violence.

Even Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu intellectual, activist and president of the World Council of Arya Samaj, is opposed to the day because “the International Day of Peace is celebrated September 21” and you can not merge the idea of peace with an event “that unleashed murders, rapes and all sorts of brutality against innocent victims”. He adds that it is now necessary to “do justice” and ensure “compensation and support for Christian victims of violence”.

“The work of assistance to refugees is not complete — continues the Swami (pictured with the interviewer) — compensation is inadequate and in many cases not even distributed. Our goal must be the rehabilitation of the widows of Kandhamal, ensuring that orphans receive a proper education because they are our future, and work to build a society of peace and harmony”.

In matters of religious freedom, the Hindu scholar confirms that “it is the most important human right” and includes “the freedom of choice and conversion.” “Even I have converted from the Brahmin Hindu religion … and now that I am Swami I do not have a particular religion. I am simply a human being”. “We need the richness and spirituality that are present in every religion — Swami Agnivesh concludes — to transform all humanity into one family. We must respond to the needs of those who are poorest of the poor, the voiceless”, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta always said.

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

Muslim Star Claims Housing Bias

A Bollywood actor has alleged he was refused a flat in an upmarket part of Mumbai because of his Muslim faith.

Emraan Hashmi says that a housing society in Pali hill, home to many Bollywood stars, blocked his purchase.

But a statement issued by the housing society says it has not taken any decision on whether to allow him to buy a flat in its apartment building.

Mr Hashmi says he has lodged a complaint with the Minorities Commission of Maharashtra.

He says the housing society in Pali hill refused to issue a certificate necessary to buy or rent a flat in Mumbai.

He has also demanded that the state government takes action against the housing society.


Mr Hashmi held a press conference on Friday in which he also said that housing societies in Mumbai are discriminating against Muslims.

“I had finalised a deal to buy a flat in Pali hill but the society refused to issue a No Objection Certificate because I am a Muslim,” he said.

His uncle, the film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, said that it was important to highlight the issue because discrimination by housing societies against Muslims was widespread.

Last year another Bollywood actor, Zulfi Sayed, also alleged that he was denied a flat in a suburb of Mumbai because he was Muslim.

Mumbai’s suburbs are dotted with multi-storey apartment buildings — each of which is run by a housing society. They have a lot of power, including the right to accept or refuse a tenant or a buyer.

They can also evict an existing member on the grounds of breaking the society’s rules.

Some Hindus have also claimed that they find it difficult to rent or buy a flat in exclusive Muslim suburbs or buildings.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Sharia is Still the Law of Reference in the Districts of North-West Frontier

Peshawar High Court reiterates that Islamic law remains operational in the districts of Malakand, Chitral, Upper Dir and Shangla in accordance with the agreement between the government and the Taliban. Meanwhile, on July 26 police arrested the head of the integralist movement Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — The people of Malakand Division in North-West Frontier Province, remain under the jurisdiction of Sharia. The confirmation comes from Qalandar Ali Khan, registrar of the High Court of Peshawar, who reiterated that in the territorial division all cases, including those pending, are subject to the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, the agreement that resulted from the pact between Islamabad and the Taliban in March, which attaches to the Darul Qaza and Darul-Darul Qaza Islamic courts, the administration of justice.

The maintenance of Sharia in the district has extinguished the feeble hope of many people in the region who had been calling for the restoration of a non-Islamic judicial system. After the offensive launched by Islamabad against the Taliban in May, much of the population expected a review of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009. Their hopes were further boosted by the July 26 arrest of Maulana Sufi Muhammad. The police ensured that the head of the fundamentalist movement Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad (TNSM), signatory of the agreement with the government, would be brought quickly to trial and this fact had been read by many as the signal of a possible change that would have influenced the revision of the Islamic judicial system.

Instead Ali Khan said the district judges (Zilla qazis) and regional judges (illaqa qazis) who manage the Nizam-e-Adl in Malakand are already at work and the government has also approved an increase in their number. So far the Islamic courts are also operating in the districts of Chitral, Upper Dir and Shangla while in parts of Swat Valley, Lower Dir and Buner military operations continue and the reorganization of the judiciary will be carried out only after the return of refugees.

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

US General May Ask for More Troops for Afghan War

The U.S. general put in charge of turning around the war in Afghanistan is likely to recommend significant changes in the campaign and may include a request for more U.S. forces that the White House is expected to resist.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s long-awaited reassessment of the war against Taliban insurgents aims for a transformation of the shaky relationship between U.S. forces and Afghan civilians as troops press a counterinsurgency strategy of clearing and holding populated areas, said officials apprised of the report’s contents.

The biggest change urged in McChrystal’s report is a “cultural shift” in how U.S. and foreign troops operate — ranging from how they live and travel among the Afghan population to where and how they fight, a senior military official in Kabul said Friday.

The latest draft of the assessment also urges speeding up the training of Afghan soldiers and police and nearly doubling their numbers to roughly 400,000, said a senior defense official in Washington, one of several uniformed and civilian officials who spoke on condition anonymity because the report has not been made public.

As McChrystal readies the assessment of the war, due in two weeks, numerous U.S. officials and outsiders aware of his thinking suggest that he will request in a companion report that more American troops, probably including marines, be added next year…

[Return to headlines]

Will Krakatoa Rock the World Again?

Last time, it killed thousands and changed the weather for five years, now it could be even deadlier…

Bright orange lava spews up into the air, dark smoke mingles with the clouds and the gloomy night takes on an ominous red glow.

Towering 1,200ft above the tropical stillness of the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, one of the most terrifying volcanoes the world has ever known has begun to stir once more.

Almost 126 years to the day since Krakatoa first showed signs of an imminent eruption, stunning pictures released this week prove that the remnant of this once-enormous volcano is bubbling, boiling and brimming over.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Far East

Beijing Asks the World to Accept Its Version of Events in Xinjiang

China formal protests with Tokyo over the presence of Uyghur leader Kadeer, even demanding cautionary anti- terrorism measures. Instead in Europe, China complains of incorrect versions of the protests of Urumqi. Experts: To avoid misunderstandings, why not accept a inquiry commission.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — China has called the Japanese ambassador in Beijing to protest the visit to Japan of Rebiya Kadeer, head of the Uyghur World Congress.

The Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei said that Beijing “asked the Japanese government to take immediate effective measures to prevent [the Kadeer] from carrying out anti-China separatist activities in Japan.” Sources of the Japanese Government responded that the woman has not been invited by the government, nor had dealings with it.

In Tokyo, Kadeer spoke of the Uyghurs cause, accusing Beijing of violence and persecution and met parliamentarians from the Liberal Democratic Party which is part of the ruling coalition. China says that the woman is a dangerous terrorist and separatist and organized violent protests that broke out on July 5 in Xinjiang.

Yesterday, the Kadeer also accused the Chinese authorities of being behind the overnight disappearance “of about 10 thousand people” from Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. Today Hou Hanmin, spokesman of the Xinjiang government, denied the allegations, insisting on the official figures of about 1,700 arrests for violent protests. Furthermore, the province has issued a list of 15 fugitive Uyghurs, wanted on charges of having had a “significant role” in the protests.

The Kadeer has also asked the Chinese authorities “to dialogue” and called on the international community to press Beijing to look for a peaceful solution to the problem of the Uyghurs, a minority in their own country and subject to systematic cultural and physical persecution.

Chinese diplomacy is working to mitigate the negative effect of the protests and the crackdown in place in Xinjiang. Ambassador Song Zhe, Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union, has written article in European Voice entitled “What Europe should understand about the violence in Urumqi”, in which he insists that the Uyghurs started the violent protests and that the police had to protect the safety of innocent citizens. Many comments on blog posts from China are cited as evidence in support of this version. But the fact that the internet was shut down across the region in the immediate aftermath of the protests is not explained. Song celebrates Beijing as an example of economic growth and tolerance and recalls the 23 thousand mosques that exist across the country. But the frequent prohibitions affecting Muslims in Xinjiang, with regard to their religion, language, culture are not mentioned.

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

China Concerned About Abortions

Authorities in China have highlighted inadequate knowledge of contraception and poor sex education as major factors in the high number of abortions there.

There are 13 million abortions each year, compared to 20 million births, according to newly published research.

Researchers believe the real figure could be even higher because there are many abortions at unregistered clinics.

Other countries have higher rates. They include Russia — which some years has more terminations than births.


Many pregnant women who have had their full quota of children have abortions to prevent unwanted births.

In its front-page story, China Daily said the high number of abortions was “cause for concern”, adding that many women who have abortions are single and aged between 20 and 29.


Although the number is high, China’s abortion rate of 24 per 1,000 woman of childbearing age, as the rate is usually calculated, is far from the top of the international list.

According to UN figures, Russia is highest with more than 50. The US has 15 and Spain just under 12.

China began restricting the number of children each couple can have in 1978. Officials say this has prevented 400 million extra births…

[Return to headlines]

N.Korea Must Free S. Korean Fishermen Now

A South Korean fishing boat carrying four crew strayed across the Northern Limit Line in the East Sea on Thursday morning. The 29-ton vessel, called “800 Yeonan,” was towed by a North Korean naval patrol boat to the port of Jangjon. In a message through an inter-Korean communication channel, South Korea immediately demanded the swift return of the fishermen and the vessel. North Korea responded later in the day saying the fishermen were “being investigated by relevant authorities.”

In the 56 years since the ceasefire, the maritime borders of the two sides have been separated by the NLL and a fishing restriction line. But unlike those on land, maritime borders do not have signs. That has led to numerous instances where navigational error or equipment malfunctions have caused vessels to stray across the line. In recent years, the two Koreas quickly sent back fishermen from each side after going through a simple examination.

More recently, North Korean fishing boats crossed over the NLL on July 5 and on June 30 amid thick fog, but the South notified the North and had its naval patrol boats take them back. On Feb. 8, 2008, 22 North Koreans drifted into waters off Yeonpyeong Island aboard inflatable boats, but they were all sent back via Panmunjom that same day after a routine examination.

On June 26, 2005, South Korean patrol boats discovered a North Korean fishing boat that had strayed across the NLL east of Baekryeong Island and gave the fishermen a compass so they could find their way back. In 2004, South Korea returned North Korean fishing boats and passengers on five different occasions after they crossed over the NLL in the West and East seas.

North Korea also returned South Korean fishermen and vessels after they crossed over the NLL. On Aug. 14, 2005, a South Korean squid-fishing vessel accidentally strayed 156 miles into the NLL, encroaching into North Korea’s exclusive economic zone. North Korean soldiers boarded the vessel to investigate the crew and even apologized for breaking the boat’s windows by firing warning shots and sent the six crew and ship back to the South. In April 2006, a South Korean fisherman crossed over into the North Korean side of the NLL, but was returned after five days.

The captain of the Yeonan reportedly contacted South Korean authorities in Sokcho just before being towed to North Korea and said, “We ran into a North Korean patrol boat while trying to fix a broken GPS. We are being investigated.” Judging from the comments, the fishermen appear to have accidentally strayed across the NLL. North Korea must quickly return the crew members and the vessel as has been the practice in recent years.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

NK Captures S. Korean Fishing Boat in East Sea

A South Korean fishing boat with four crew members was dragged to North Korea yesterday after crossing the inter-Korean border in the East Sea.

According to the South Korean military, the 29-ton boat 800 Yeonan-ho was seized by a North Korean patrol boat at 6:27 a.m. after straying into North Korean waters in the East Sea. The North Korean vessel dragged the fishing boat to the North Korean port of Changjon.

A Seoul official said a South Korean patrol vessel found an unidentified boat across the Northern Limit Line around 5:05 a.m. Authorities sought to confirm if it was a South Korean ship but received no reply.

After entering North Korean waters, the boat made wireless contact with a South Korean fisheries information bureau around 6:20 a.m., saying it discovered a North Korean patrol ship while returning to the South because of a malfunction in its global positioning system. Several minutes later, a South Korean naval vessel found the boat being dragged by the North Korean patrol ship.

The South Korean Navy dispatched two high-speed boats to the scene around 6:30 a.m. and sent a message to the North through an international maritime communication line. The North, however, failed to reply to the request for the immediate release of the crew and the boat.

In Seoul, the Unification Ministry also used an inter-Korean hotline to urge the North to send the boat and crew back.

Around 3 p.m., North Korea said their authorities were “investigating the situation,” ministry officials said. The North confirmed its detention of the South Korean vessel and said an investigation was underway.

The ministry said the South asked the North to provide further information about the fishing boat, to which the North agreed.

In 2005, a South Korean fishing boat strayed into North Korean waters before being repatriated after five days. Another met the same fate a year later and was returned after 18 days.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Tibet: Excuse for Eternal Silence

Sixty years ago last Tuesday, the Chinese invaded Tibet, which is now an autonomous region of the People’s Republic. These are delicate days for the PRC because of the Tibet anniversary and human rights, now an even more sensitive subject after the American Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, carefully avoided raising it with Chinese leaders. A further contribution to possible tension was yesterday’s incident not far from Tienanmen Square, in which three people were involved in a fire in their automobile. According to police, the three had come to Beijing to present a petition to the People’s Assembly.

The rights of Tibetans to independence, and the human rights of the Chinese people, may or may not be on the current Chinese security agenda, whatever the truth behind the Tienanmen incident, but those rights are “the” unresolved issue in relations between the People’s Republic and liberal western democracies. Apparently, it is not yet time for Hillary Clinton, or anyone else traveling to Beijing, to mention rights that the Communist regime systematically violates. Reasons of state prevail.

It is true that in its annual report on the world’s human rights, Washington says that the “promotion of human rights is an essential piece of our foreign policy.” But what are the reasons of state that prevent statesmen from reconciling them with the reasons of conscience? According to Giovanni Botero, who published his treatise “On the Reason of State” in 1589, the “reason” is simply the art of government and knowing what is necessary for the conservation, foundation and extension, of the state’s authority, inspired by the “practical virtue” of prudence. Botero was responding to the constraints of the Counter-Reformation, which had banned the works of Nicolò Machiavelli, the man who bent ethics to politics maintaining that the state had its own reasons, irreconcilable with morality or religion. Back then Botero wrote: “To derive some utility from their enemies captured in war, the Greeks and Romans enslaved them and used them to work the land, or for some other purpose; but the Chinese do not kill them, nor do they demand ransom for them; they do not put them in chains nor do they assign them to do anything else except serve in war on the frontiers farthest from their homeland, and in Chinese dress.”

Today, Beijing gives that same strategic explanation for its rule over Tibet. Reasons of security. Botero says elsewhere: “Prudence is a virtue whose office is to seek fitting means to achieve the end, and guile strives for the same end, but differs from prudence in this, that in the choice of means, prudence prefers the honest over the effective whereas guile takes account of interest alone.” For the same reason, liberal democracies never seem to find the time to discuss human rights. The world has changed since Botero’s day. What has not changed is human nature.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Vietnam Vet, Boatperson Get it Right

DAI Le and Charlie Lynn are shaping as the odd couple of NSW conservative politics.

Lynn is the only Vietnam War veteran serving in any Australian parliament, while Le is bidding to become the only former Vietnamese boatperson.

He’s a culture warrior in the Right faction of the Liberal Party, she spent years making documentaries for the ABC about the trials and tribulations of being a refugee.

But Le — a refugee herself, who arrived here in 1979 after four years in camps in The Philippines and Hong Kong — took on the western Sydney seat of Cabramatta for the Liberals at a by-election last year.

This, by itself, was enough to shock her colleagues at the ABC. But what really made them gag was that she achieved a 29 per cent swing and nearly snatched the seat from Labor.

Lynn, who left the army with the rank of major in 1986, was assigned to wrangle Le in Cabramatta by party heavies, who gave her no chance.

“We had no money, we had no time, but we had this outstanding candidate who was walking down the street with people actually coming to her and asking her for brochures — just connecting in a way I’d never seen before,” remembers Lynn.

“She’s one of those candidates that comes along once every political generation.”

Since the by-election last October, the duo has formed a formidable political partnership and The Weekend Australian can reveal that Lynn is working the numbers so Le could join him in the NSW upper house — if the feisty 41-year-old can be talked out of another tilt at Cabramatta at the state election in 2011.

“I was shocked to discover he belonged to the Right,” admits Le of the pair’s first meeting, barely three weeks out from the by-election.

“I don’t fully understand Left and Right, but I go by people and who they are to me and how we get along.

“We have the same loud personalities and infectious laugh. There’s a special connection, in terms of Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese refugees.

“There’s still a process of healing, and I would love to see some kind of a bridge between these communities in future.”

Le, who is married with a six-year-old son, makes no bones about the fact she thought long and hard before throwing in her lot with the Liberals.

“I wanted to confront my fear,” she says. “And my fear was that Australians of Asian background were not welcomed in the Liberal Party.

“It was my viewpoint, formed from working as a journalist. But I gathered that instead of me standing on the side criticising and condemning part of the party’s policies, I should challenge my own viewpoint and have a breakthrough in my perceptions of a party whose name represents freedom and liberty.”

While she is prepared to look at the Legislative Council option, Le stresses she remains “so fired up” for Cabramatta.

Lynn is not so sure.

“It would be a tragedy if she just missed out on Cabramatta and had to wait another four years for an opportunity to enter parliament,” he says.

“We should seriously look at giving her a place in the upper house. It’s going to be a hard road beause there’s a lot of people that have been long-term servants of the party with the same idea.

“I’d like to think maybe Dai is above all that. We have to reach out and change perceptions, particularly among the Asian community, and I think she’d do us proud.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

NZ: Smacking Rate Way Down on Decades Past

New Zealand parents have turned away from smacking their children frequently as the country prepares to vote on whether the practice should stay a criminal offence.

Four surveys of parents of 4-year-old children by Waikato University psychologists Jane and James Ritchie, from 1963 to 1997, found that about half of all parents throughout those four decades smacked their children at least once a week.

But a Weekend Herald-DigiPoll survey, which put the same questions this month to 200 parents of 4-year-olds, has found that just 9 per cent of mothers and 8 per cent of fathers now smack their children that often.

About two-thirds of both mothers and fathers still smack at least occasionally, despite the 2007 law promoted by Green MP Sue Bradford that banned using force against children for the purpose of “correction”.

But the number who never smack, which stayed below 10 per cent for four decades, has leaped to 39 per cent of mothers and 33 per cent of fathers.

Despite this, in line with other recent polls, a massive 85.4 per cent still plan to vote “No” on the referendum question, “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Only 10.8 per cent plan to vote “Yes”, with 3.8 per cent undecided.

More than 300,000 people signed a petition for the non-binding referendum after Labour and National combined to pass Ms Bradford’s amendment to the Crimes Act two years ago. Voting papers for the $9 million postal vote will go out from the end of next week and must be returned by August 21.

Prime Minister John Key has said that, regardless of the referendum vote, he would change the new law only if it was not working. He said last month that he was “satisfied that the law is working”.

He said yesterday in a written comment on the Herald poll: “I have given my assurance to Kiwi parents that I will move to change the law if it’s not working. I stand by that.

“I’m not going to pre-judge the outcome of the referendum — let voters have their say and then I’ll have a look at the result.”

Asked last month what he would do if the vote was strongly No, he said there was “every risk for a postal vote that there will be a very low turnout”.

However, the Herald poll has found that 78.5 per cent of the parents questioned plan to vote. Only 14 per cent say they will not vote, and 7 per cent are unsure….

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Amnesty Condemns “Illegal Killings” By Nigerian Forces

Amnesty International on Friday condemned “illegal killings” by the Nigerian security forces as they quelled an uprising by a radical Islamist sect.

The human rights organisation also called for an investigation into the killing on Thursday of the sect leader, Mohammed Yusuf, while in military custody.

“Anyone responsible for illegal killings should be brought to justice, including officials with chain-of-command responsibility who order or tolerate illegal killings by those under their command,” the statement said.

Despite the official denial of extra-judicial executions and torture, Amnesty said there were “consistent reports that the Nigeria Police Force executes detainees in custody, suspected armed robbers under arrest, people who refuse to pay bribes or people stopped during road checks.”

In December 2007, Amnesty accused the Nigerian government of carrying out secret executions of prisoners condemned to death for homicide and armed robbery.

“Secret executions have been taking place in Nigeria’s prisons, despite recent assurances by the government that Nigeria has not executed in years,” Amnesty said in a statement.

It also said that the military were also frequently involved in extra-judicial executions and other human rights violations, particularly in the oil-rich but volatile Niger Delta.

“The use of excessive force by the military when dealing with clashes is a frequent occurrence, often resulting in the death of bystanders,” the London-based rights organisation said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Nigeria Row Over Militant Killing

Nigerian Islamic sect leader Mohammed Yusuf was alive when he was captured, the commander of the operation against the militant group has told the BBC.

The comments by Col Ben Ahanotu appear to contradict police statements that Mr Yusuf, 39, was killed in a shootout as he was being detained.

Human rights campaigners have alleged Mr Yusuf was executed by the police.

Mr Yusuf’s Boko Haram group has been blamed for days of violent clashes with security forces in which hundreds died.

His bullet-riddled body was shown to journalists on Thursday just hours after police said they had captured him in the northern city of Maiduguri.

Col Ahanotu, the commander of the operation against the Boko Haram group, said he had personally captured Mr Yusuf and handed him over to the chief of police.

He said Mr Yusuf had been unarmed when caught, hiding in an empty building a short distance from his enclave, and that he gave himself up willingly.

“All I know is that in the attack, I was able to pick him up from his hide out and hand him over to police,” he told the BBC.

“I asked him why he did what he has done and his response was that he would explain to me later.”

Col Ahanotu said Mr Yusuf had a wound on his arm which had already been treated.

“But he was OK. As I got him alive, I handed him over to the authorities,” he said..

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Senator Asks Clinton to Explain Honduran Policy

A key U.S. senator asked the Obama administration on Thursday to explain in detail its policy on the Honduran political crisis, warning that otherwise Senate confirmation may be delayed for a U.S. diplomatic nominee for Latin America.

“The complexity of events that led up to the Honduran crisis has given rise to questions regarding U.S. policy,” Senator Richard Lugar, one of the Senate’s most respected voices on foreign policy, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The United States has refused to recognize the Honduran government led by Roberto Micheletti, which took over the Central American nation after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military on June 28.

Lugar told Clinton he shared her support for mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in the month-old dispute over whether Zelaya should be allowed to return to his post.

But he also appealed to the State Department to provide a detailed clarification of U.S. policy to “interested Members” — an apparent reference to several of his fellow Republicans, who charge Washington is trying to reinstate a left-wing government in Honduras.

Because of U.S. support for Zelaya, conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint has threatened to delay a Senate vote on the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, the senior diplomat in charge of Latin America at the State Department.

“I request that the Department provide interested Members a detailed clarification of the steps that it has taken, and intends to take, in response to the events that transpired in the run-up to and period after the forced removal of President Manuel Zelaya from Honduras,” Lugar wrote to Clinton…

[Return to headlines]

Venezuela Says it is Ready to Pay Holcim

Venezuela has agreed to make a $378 million (SFr410 million) payment for nationalising two European cement companies last year, including Switzerland’s Holcim. The world’s second-largest cement maker announced on Friday that it was selling its holdings in Panama and the Caribbean to joint venture partner Argos as a direct result of the takeover.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had forced Holcim to hand over 85 per cent of its Venezuelan subsidiary in June 2008 for a knockdown price of $552 million. The government then stalled on making any payments and cut off communication.

In March 2009 Holcim said it had lost its patience and would seek “substantially greater” compensation — the full-market price — at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington, DC.

On Thursday, Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela’s infrastructure minister, said the government would make initial payments worth 40 per cent of the bargain prices to Holcim and to Paris-based Lafarge, another cement maker that had its assets nationalised. That means Holcim would receive about $220 million.

The balance would be paid over the next four years, Cabello told state-run television. It was unclear when the first installment would be made.

Not convinced Holcim spokesman Peter Gysel told on Friday that the cement maker was still moving forward with its arbitration case in court. He said he could not provide more details while the suit was pending.

Gysel said he was not aware of any Venezuelan authorities who had approached Holcim about the payment and that the company had heard about the development through the news.

Holcim is arguing in court that Venezuela has broken a 1993 bilateral agreement with Switzerland that obliges each country to protect the investments of the others that are based in its territory.

In an earlier interview, a company spokesman said “time would tell” whether the South American country would participate in the international arbitration process.

As part of a sweeping campaign to nationalise key private-sector industries, Chavez announced he would seize corporations that deal in metals, oils and electricity. In December 2008, Mexico’s Cemex also begun international arbitration proceedings against Venezuela.

Jettisoning stakes The payments, if they occur, could bring a modicum of relief for Holcim, which has been languishing in the economic downturn. Operating profit for the first quarter of 2009 fell to SFr343 million ($316 million), down 53.5 per cent from SFr737 million for the same quarter last year.

Net income was down 80 per cent from the first quarter of 2008 to SFr74 million. Net sales totaled SFr4.52 billion, a drop of 18 per cent. Profits fell 54 per cent in 2008.

Chavez’s nationalisation campaign has further hobbled the cement maker. On Friday company officials said they would sell shares in businesses in Panama and the Caribbean to its joint-venture partner, Argos, for $157 million.

“As a consequence of the nationalisation of Holcim Venezuela, the long-term economics of supplying Holcim-produced clinker and cement to the grinding stations and terminals in Panama and the Caribbean is no longer viable,” the company said in a statement.

The holdings had contributed SFr107 million to Holcim coffers in 2008.

Holcim, founded in Switzerland in 1912, is the world’s second-largest cement maker after Lafarge. It employs 83,000 people and has production sites in more than 70 countries.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


14 Migrants Forced Back to Libya

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO, ITALY), JULY 29 — There has been another forced repulsion of immigrants by the Italian authorities. A customs police launch is on its way to Libya with 14 immigrants on board, including two women and one child, who were rescued around 35 miles south of the island of Lampedusa by the fishing boat Florio. According to a report by the air-sea operations command of Palermo’s customs police force, the non-EU citizens are to be handed over to the custody of a Libyan military unit which is already heading out from Tripoli. They will be on board one of the motor launches delivered to the Libyan authorities by Italy as part of the accord signed between the two governments. The transfer at sea should take place around 70 miles south of Lampedusa. The operations to rescue the immigrants, who were found adrift in the Sicily Channel after they had run out of fuel, were coordinated by the Maltese authorities, as the dinghy they were on was in waters under Valetta’s jurisdiction. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Finland: Immigrant Workers Are First to Suffer From Reduced Employment Opportunities in Recession

Deaconess Institute and congregations dream up work for people of foreign extraction

When times are good, immigrants find work even when their knowledge of the Finnish language is not that great.

When times are bad, they are the first ones to see their employment situation weaken.

In sectors suffering from labour shortages, such as the service and cleaning industries, there is work also for individuals with immigrant backgrounds, but the position of the long-term unemployed has nonetheless become more difficult.

Such are the observations made by the Helsinki employment agencies, according to which the increase in the number of lay-offs is evident also among workers with an immigrant background.

In Tampere, even persons who are still in their integration training have appeared as laid-off job seekers, which is a new phenomenon. These individuals have not been in Finland for very long.

The number of those who have arrived in the local Province of Pirkanmaa with a work permit has been nearly halved from last year’s figure, and for example some Chinese labourers stranded in the area without an extension to their labour permit have already returned to their country of origin.

Simultaneously brainstorming is taking place to create jobs for individuals of foreign extraction.

A fifth of this year’s Common Responsibility Campaign’s takings has been promised towards this purpose.

The campaign (known in Finnish as Yhteisvastuukeräys) is Finland’s largest annual fundraising drive, first launched in 1950 and organised by the Finnish Lutheran Church and its Church Resources Agency.

For example, the Helsinki Deaconess Institute’s new social enterprise Diakoniset kiinteistöpalvelut, which operates in the field of real estate services, has made an effort to recruit unemployed immigrants.

“In time the idea is to expand this activity significantly”, explains project manager Juha Leviäkangas.

“Some people claim that the Somalis will not work”, Leviäkangas says. His experiences, however, have been “extremely encouraging”.

The real estate services operation is a normal business activity, and the same working pace and results are required of the workers there as anywhere else.

Those employed will take on responsibilities and will get accustomed to normal working rhythms, Leviäkangas says, and in turn he criticises ‘endorsed hiring’ on government salary support schemes, where a person is given work, say, for six months, after which he or she is routinely made redundant.

“Such a method does not encourage workers to commit themselves.”

Diakoniset kiinteistöpalvelut has hired its workers “until further notice”.

Clients are being sought from various congregations, which own a large number of properties.

At a later stage the company plans to incorporate janitor functions and looking after the elderly, Leviäkangas explains.

The Kirkkonummi Congregation aims to use aid from the Common Responsibility Campaign to hire immigrants as youth camp and club workers.

In the city of Kouvola, plans are being drawn up for providing trainee positions for a couple of hundred immigrants.

In Helsinki, giving work to immigrants is currently merely being recommended, says head of communications Seppo Simola of the Parish Union of Helsinki.

But even without recommendation the Hietaniemi Cemetery has employed a number of individuals of South American extraction for more than a decade, explains foreman Ari Pipatti.

Around 1,200 people apply to work with the cemetery each year. Not more than a tenth of them can be taken on. Of those employed, around ten per cent are of foreign background.

The Alepa discount supermarket chain approaches similar figures.

It provides 8-month training courses for immigrants. Milele Kitenge (see photo) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the lucky ones to land a permanent job through this practice.

Summer jobs, too, have been in very short supply, with the Helsinki Employment and Economic Development Office reporting that the number of summer vacancies was half that of 2008.

In June there were just under 6,900 new vacancies open, while the number of unemployed jobseekers had risen from 19,500 to more than 25,000.

In the figures, roughly 16% of unemployed jobseekers are immigrants, but in fact there are more of them than this, for on being given Finnish citizenship through naturalisation they cease to be listed as immigrants.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Greece: Police Remove Migrants From Athens Squats

Force pushes ahead with crackdown

Police officers hold back a Somali migrant during an operation yesterday to evacuate a building in central Athens that had been taken over by squatters from the Horn of Africa. Authorities used tear gas to disperse the immigrants.

Police raided two derelict buildings in central Athens yesterday, evacuating dozens of illegal immigrants who had been living there in squalid conditions and detaining more than 30 who could not produce identification papers.

The raids are believed to signal the launch of a major crackdown by authorities on thousands of undocumented migrants squatting in abandoned buildings in the city’s historic center, coming just a few weeks after the eviction of around 600 migrants from the former Athens appeals court building on Socratous Street.

The owners of the two buildings raided yesterday were detained by police who said the suspects had been charging resident migrants 5 a day euros each for the privilege of sharing a filthy room with dozens of others.

Of the 139 illegal immigrants, chiefly Somalians, removed from the premises of the two buildings near central Koumoundourou Square yesterday, 31 were detained for lacking residence permits. One man who allegedly attacked an officer with a switchblade, without injuring him, was held for illegal possession of a weapon. The fate of the evacuated migrants, including 40 women and children, remained unclear.

After the clear-out, a police search of the premises of the two apartment blocks unearthed small quantities of drugs, fueling speculation that local drug dealers are using migrants to do their dirty work.

Police who entered the buildings yesterday following appeals by prefectural officials who described the sites as a public health risk are said to be planning raids on another 10 squats in the area in the next few days. There are believed to be hundreds of derelict apartment blocks being occupied by illegal immigrants in the greater Athens area alone.

Yesterday’s raids were criticized by leftist and human rights groups who also slammed government plans to round up illegal immigrants in disused military facilities which they dismissed as “concentration camps.” One of the planned reception centers is slated for Rio, in the Peloponnese, but the project has stalled due to opposition by local residents.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Ireland Lags Behind in Reuniting Refugee Families

IRELAND still lags behind most of Europe regarding refugee family reunification, according to a new report, while a top UN official warned against demonising immigrants during the recession.

A new report published by the Refugee Information Service (RIS) yesterday found that it takes between 24 and 30 months to process a family reunification case here, compared with the European average of between six and 12 months in countries such as Portugal, Denmark, Germany and Britain.

The report, which was written by the RIS head of policy and research, Catherine Kenny, also found that Ireland is the only country out of 12 EU nations surveyed which does not grant a right of appeal to refugees when their applications are refused.

Ms Kenny said there had been additional staff employed in the family reunification unit, but there was an urgent need for post-reunification services to help families who have spent months and years apart.

The report also calls for a processing time of six months for family reunification cases, and for the right to family reunification to be extended to people with leave to remain, following the provisions of the Government’s Civil Partnership Bill.

Launching the report, the former head of the Equality Authority Niall Crowley said other EU countries had shown best practice in family reunification and the plight of refugees here in times of recession cannot be ignored. That theme was reinforced elsewhere yesterday by the United Nations Secretary General’s special representative on international migration, Peter Sutherland.

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Lampedusa Migrant Centres May Close, Maroni

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, JULY 29 — Migrant centres on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa may be closed down at the end of the year thanks to a new government immigration policy, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Wednesday. There are currently two migrant facilities on the island, where landings have dropped significantly since Italy began a controversial ‘push-back’ policy in May. Under the policy, migrants are intercepted in the Mediterranean and immediately returned to Libya, the main stepping-off point on the North African coast. “Wéll make a decision at the end of the year,” Maroni said. “Things are going extremely well in terms of landings, the accord with Libya is working well and if things continue to go on like this all summer we could think about a different use for the structures,” he said. Since the policy came into effect more than 900 people have been sent back to Libya as part of an accord between the two countries. Under the accord, asylum seekers can present their claims from there. The push-back policy has been heavily criticised by the centre-left opposition in Italy, the Catholic Church, humanitarian organisations and the United Nations, who say Libya does not have a system in place to adequately deal with asylum claims. According to figures released by the Italian interior ministry earlier this year, around 37,000 people landed on Italian coasts in 2008 — a 75% increase on 2007. This is over half the total number of migrants who arrived in Europe by sea last year, which totalled around 67,000. (ANSAmed).

2009-07-29 19:28

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Large Boat Rescued in Strait of Sicily

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, JULY 29 — A large boat with several dozen migrants onboard was rescued in the Strait of Sicily about 35 miles south of Lampedusa by the motorised trawler ‘Flore’ from Mazara del Vallo (Sicily). The rescue operation was coordinated by the Maltese authorities, since the boat is located in waters under Malta’s jurisdiction for search and rescue missions. The migrants alerted authorities by sending an SOS using a satellite phone. Last night the presence of another large boat about 60 miles south of Lampedusa was signalled also with a satellite phone. However, the Coast Guard has not excluded that the signal received last night may be from the same boat that was rescued today.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkish Rescue Ship of Immigrants in Piombino Port

(ANSAmed) — PIOMBINO (LIVORNO), JULY 29 — The Pinar E, a Turkish merchant ship flying a Panama flag which rescued 144 migrants at sea in April (resulting in a dispute between Italy and Malta), has been in Piombino for the past five days due to a strike by the ship’s crew. The 13 Turkish sailors onboard decided to stop working on Saturday to protest against the alleged non-payment of the last two months’ salary, amounting to 55,000 dollars. Confirming that the merchant ship is the same one which took onboard the migrants found on two rafts adrift in the Strait of Sicily was Massimiliano Mezzani, the Piombino port authority commander. He said that it had been “the shipping company itself to confirm the fact, even though the ship’s captain is different. Some of the crew members may very well be the same ones who took part in the rescue. We can only say that, despite the harshness of the protest, the sailors are acting in a serious and collaborative manner.” The Pinar E arrived in Piombino on Thursday and was to have left on Saturday for Turkey, loaded with cargo from the Lucchini steelworks. The sailors’ protest has been handled since it began by the port authorities, border police and prefecture. After a meeting between the sailors and the shipping company in which no progress was made, with the company carrying out a raid in Piombino on Sunday, responsibility for negotiations was handed over to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the maritime agency Mixos. The talks are of a very delicate nature, but the ITF has expressed the hope that the stalemate can be broken by the end of the week. Onboard the ship the crew has enough supplies to last for about ten days.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Gay Lobby Mangles Meaning of Marriage

WITHOUT ANYONE emphasising or questioning the shift, Amnesty International has gone in recent years from being an organisation devoted to the rights of prisoners-of-conscience in foreign jurisdictions to a lobby group concentrating selectively on ideological issues within the immediate jurisdictions in which it operates. I often wonder what its founders would have thought about this. I wonder, too, if people who stuff cash into the boxes of Amnesty’s street collectors are aware of the implications of what has occurred.

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Selective Multiculturalism

Diversity. Tolerance. Multiculturalism. Anti-discrimination. These are the supposedly universal values that inform our secular cultural canon. The words sound nice. The problem is that they’re not actually “universal.” Western societies — Canada included — exhibit zero-tolerance attitudes toward the vilification of certain minority groups. But it’s no-holds-barred when it comes to bashing less politically fashionable constituencies.

In Glasgow, Scotland, for instance, an artist named Jane Clark — who is also a pastor at a radical Church— says her friends felt excluded from the Bible because it does not include positive messages about people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. So she put an open Bible in the Glasgow museum’s In His Own Image exhibit, and encouraged her followers to “write themselves into its pages.” Then she claimed to be “saddened” when so many of the defacing entries were predictably profane and highly sexual.

Such a stunt should be legally permitted in a society that honours free speech — despite the fact most religious Christians frown on homosexuality, and find it distasteful and even blasphemous to deface a Bible in this manner. If anything, Ms. Clark’s action should be ignored as the trite exercise in attention-getting it is: From Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ to Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, the desecration of Christian holy objects has become the avant-garde equivalent of dogs playing poker. But it is interesting to imagine what would happen if a gay activist invited all and sundry to pen their various same-sex musings into, say, a Koran. No doubt, riots would now be unfolding all over the Muslim world — as they did when Danish cartoonists drew pictures of the prophet Mohammed in 2005. More to the point, said activist would be denounced as a bigot and taken up before who knows what European human-rights star chamber.

Assuming she survived to plead her case, that is. “Courageous” activists such as Ms. Clark love to direct their snide gestures toward Christians because they know it’s safe. Those who take on other faiths, on the other hand, risk ending up dead like Theo van Gogh — or in lifelong hiding like Salman Rushdie.

But you don’t have to go overseas to see this double-standard at work. Consider the pro-Palestinian NGOs in Toronto who are protesting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

Since several fragments of the Scrolls were put on display last month at the ROM, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) and Palestine House have been trying to have the exhibition shut down. Some members have even marched around with placards outside the museum itself. Their latest ploy is to claim the Israel Antiquities Authority is not the artifacts’ lawful owner. The groups have asked Ottawa to seize the Scrolls and return them to the Palestinian Authority, which claims to be the rightful owner.

Thomas Woodley, director of the CJPME, contended that “by cultural heritage laws of today, the Palestinians would be caretakers,” an opinion echoed by Issam al Ahmed, executive director of Palestine House, who insists Israel forcibly acquired the Scrolls when it annexed East Jerusalem following the 1967 war.

These arguments are preposterous on so many levels it is difficult to know where to begin.

The Scrolls are written in Hebrew. They were hidden at least 700 years before the birth of Mohammed. Their conformity with the text of the known Hebrew bible is nearly 100%. Moreover, no people identified themselves as “Palestinian” until the term was popularized by Yasser Arafat and other modern Arab propagandists — so there is no reason the Scrolls could be the property of the Palestinian Authority.

Even the insistence that the Scrolls should be “returned” to the Palestinians because they possessed them in 1967 is rubbish: Jordan governed East Jerusalem at the time — and it kept self-identified Palestinians in refugee camps.

And yet left-wing Canadian groups and outlets have taken the CPJME campaign seriously. The popular site,for instance, has permitted CPJME to propagandize about the Dead Sea Scrolls on its website. And various newspapers — including even The New York Times—have reported on the controversy as if there were a legitimate question of fact surrounding the matter. As Geoffrey Clarfield explains on the pages following, the Dead Sea Scrolls are critical artifacts linking the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. To deny their Jewish character is akin to claiming that the oldest known ancient Koranic scripture and commentary should be regarded as the cultural property of Jews. Know anyone who wants to stand around downtown Toronto holding a placard arguing that?

Didn’t think so.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]