News Feed 20100720

» 106 Year-Old Becomes US Citizen
» Bon Jovi Islam
» BP Oil Spill: Failed Safety Device on Deepwater Horizon Rig Was Modified in China
» DC Declares War on States
» How to Get Humans on Mars: Make it a One-Way Trip
» ‘Journalists’ Plotted to Bury Stories About Rev. Wright
» Obama’s War on the Internet
» Thousands of Blogs Shut Down Over ‘Terrorist Material’
» UK/USA: David Cameron Agrees to Meet US Senators Over BP’s Role in Lockerbie Bomber Release
» UK/USA: Cameron Will Meet Senators Over Lockerbie Bomber
Europe and the EU
» Depressed People Really Do See a Gray World
» EU Looking to Reset Relations With Switzerland
» Football: France Under Shock, Ribery and Benzema Under Arrest
» Italy: Berlusconi’s Popularity Falls to New Low
» UK/USA: Cameron to Lobby Obama for New Series of Dallas
» UK/USA: Cameron: Don’t Fret About Relationship With US
» UK/USA: PM: I Will Stand Up to America
» UK: As a Gurkha is Disciplined for Beheading a Taliban: Thank God They Are on Our Side!
» UK: British is the New UN-British, Islam is the New British
» UK: Council Bans Residents From Cutting Their Grass — Because It’s Too Dangerous
» UK: The Burka Empowering Women? You Must be Mad, Minister
Israel and the Palestinians
» ‘Obama Pledges Big Movement’ On Carving Up Israel
Middle East
» Turkey in Cyprus vs. Israel in Gaza
» 20% Staff Cut Plan Sent to Putin
South Asia
» Bangladesh: Dhaka, Catholic Victim of Violence of Muslims Who Want to Steal His Land
» ‘BMWs’ Help Afghans Go AWOL From Texas Air Base
» Child Labour Used to Harvest Tobacco in Kazakhstan
» Pakistan Knows Where Osama is: Hillary
Sub-Saharan Africa
» Here’s What ‘Obama Money’ Is Doing for You — In Kenya!
Latin America
» Mexico: ‘Colombianization’ Of Mexico Nearly Complete
Culture Wars
» Amnesty Bill to be Blurred With Gay Marriage and ‘Freedom Rights’
» White Britons Unfairly Targeted for Hate Crimes
» Computers to Translate World’s ‘Lost’ Languages After Program Deciphers Ancient Text
» Music ‘Tones the Brain, ‘ Improves Learning


106 Year-Old Becomes US Citizen

[At the risk of sounding like some sort of heartless bastard, exactly what sort of contributions has Ignacia Moya managed to make during her fifty some years here in America? She arrived at almost the age of fifty years-old and still had not learned English with any proficiency some THIRTY years later. I am obliged to wonder just how much Medicare and social services she has sucked up during her “retirement” in America.

Far more disturbing are the politicians and public figures bestowing accolades upon this woman who, from all appearances, HAS BEEN AN ILLEGAL ALIEN FOR DECADES. — Z]

A 106-year-old woman has finally achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a US citizen. ‘Morning Express’ host Robin Meade follows the story of Chicago’s Ignacia Moya, who “Immigrated from Mexico in the 1960s, but she failed her civics test twenty years ago because her English wasn’t good enough.”

It wasn’t until recently that a U.S. congressman was able to get Moya a special waiver because she’s losing her eyesight and hearing. Footage shows Moya holding an American flag as she takes her oath of citizenship surrounded by her family. According to Meade, “She said that she’s hopes to vote in the November elections.”

[Try and guess which party she will be voting for. — Z]

           — Hat tip: Zenster [Return to headlines]

Bon Jovi Islam

By Andrew C. McCarthy

We’ve tried “radical Islam,” “extremist Islam,” “fundamentalist Islam,” and “sharia Islam.” Inevitably, political correctness gave us “political Islam.” Now, ironically, under the guise of correcting an even worse case of political correctness, comes what we might call “Bon Jovi Islam.” Its proponent, Sen. Joe Lieberman, is halfway there and livin’ on a prayer.

Sen. Lieberman’s Wall Street Journal essay “Who’s the Enemy in the War on Terror?” gets it halfway right. He is justifiably dismayed over the Obama administration’s whitewashing of the Islamist part of Islamist terror. The president, he elaborates, “rightly reaffirms that America remains a nation at war,” but self-defeatingly “refuses to identify our enemy.” For Lieberman, the administration’s preferred claim that we are at war with “violent extremism,” is absurd. Our foe, in truth, is a particular, identifiable component of the Muslim world.

All exactly right . . . except that Lieberman proceeds to do the very thing he accuses Obama of doing: miniaturizing the threat. The enemy, he pronounces, is “violent Islamist extremism.” He diagnoses its cause to be “a terrorist political ideology” that “exploits” what most Muslims, according to Lieberman, understand to be “the enormous difference between their faith” and this ideology’s tenets.

“Exploits” is a telling choice of words. Lieberman mines it from the Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy — the framework Obama has rejected because it dared utter the I-word. The senator recounts that President Bush identified the enemy as “the transnational terrorists [who] exploit the proud religion of Islam to serve a violent political vision.”

Yet the Bush administration didn’t always frame it that way. Bush officials were wont to say that those wily terrorists were “perverting” or “twisting” or outright “lying” about Muslim scripture in order to justify their atrocities. The apotheosis of this relentlessly optimistic vision came in 2008, when the dreamy side of the Bush house elbowed aside more clear-eyed critics and declared a jihad on “jihad” — the word. Admonishing us that we must no longer invoke “jihad” to describe jihadist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security rationalized that “many so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorist groups [so-called?] twist and exploit the tenets of Islam to justify violence.” As I countered at the time (and rehearse in my new book, The Grand Jihad):

The Koran . . . commands, in Sura 9:123 (to take just one of many examples), “O ye who believe, fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty unto him.” What part of that does DHS suppose needs to be “twisted” by terrorists in order to gull fellow Muslims into believing Islam commands Muslims to “fight those of the disbelievers who are near you, and let them find harshness in you”?

I was far from the only one who complained. Since then, “twist,” “pervert,” and “lie” have faded from government’s Islamophilic vocabulary. So we’re left with “exploit.” Except there’s a problem for Senator Lieberman: You can only exploit something that’s actually there. It only made sense for the Islamophiles to use “exploit” when they were also alleging that Islamist claims about Muslim doctrine were fabrications. But those claims are real. If, as Lieberman maintains, terrorists are able to “exploit . . . Islam to serve a violent political vision,” it is because Islamic doctrine does, in fact, support a violent political vision. This doesn’t mean there can’t be competing interpretations. Jihadists, however, are not making theirs up — it’s in the scriptures.

More significantly, violence is not the principal concern here, though it is certainly the immediate one. Our real challenge is that, violent or not, Islamic doctrine constitutes a political vision. That is, Islam is not a mere religion as we understand the concept in the West — a set of spiritual guidelines that are denied governing authority in what is a separate, secular realm. Mainstream Islam calls for a comprehensive political, economic, legal, and social theocracy. Its spiritual elements are only a small part of the system, and it rejects the concept of divisibility between mosque and state.

Nor is it only terrorists who construe Islam this way — not by a long shot. Islamists have the full-throated support of Islam’s most influential clerical and jurisprudential authorities. These include the leading faculty at Egypt’s al-Azhar University, the seat of learning for Sunnis, who compose the vast majority of the world’s Muslims. To be sure, there is a vibrant debate in the ummah about terrorism, as such. That, in reality, is a debate about tactics. There is broad consensus about the strategic goal: Non-terrorist Muslims substantially agree with the terrorists that Islam commands the establishment of sharia societies….

           — Hat tip: ESW [Return to headlines]

BP Oil Spill: Failed Safety Device on Deepwater Horizon Rig Was Modified in China

Blow-out preventer was sent to Far East at BP’s request rather than overhauled in US.

BP ordered the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, whose explosion led to the worst environmental disaster in US history, to overhaul a crucial piece of the rig’s safety equipment in China, the Observer has learnt. The blow-out preventer — the last line of defence against an out-of-control well — subsequently failed to activate and is at the centre of investigations into what caused the disaster.

Experts say that the practice of having such engineering work carried out in China, rather than the US, saves money and is common in the industry.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

DC Declares War on States

Among the limited duties of the US Government enumerated in the federal Constitution is Article. IV. Section. 4. “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion.” However, for several decades now, the federal government in Washington, D.C., has shown great ambition and propensity to engage in activities to which it was never authorized, and to ignore those responsibilities with which it is specifically charged. The responsibility of the federal government to protect each State against invasion is a classic example of the latter.

Can anyone deny that the states on the US southern border (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) are being invaded by an ongoing onslaught of illegal aliens (many of whom are violent and dangerous criminals)? Somewhere between 12 and 30 million illegals now reside in the US. The entire country is feeling the effects of this invasion, but the Border States are literally under siege. And not only does the federal government do nothing to protect the states against this invasion, it actively wars against states such as Arizona when they attempt to protect themselves. Yes, I am saying it: the Washington, D.C., lawsuit against the State of Arizona’s immigration laws should be regarded as an act of war against the State of Arizona in particular, and against the states general in principle.

Please consider what Arizona and the other Border States are dealing with. According to published reports:

  • In Los Angeles, 95% of all outstanding warrants for homicide in the first half of 2004 (which totaled 1,200 to 1,500) targeted illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) were for illegal aliens.
  • Some private reports state that 83% of warrants for murder in Phoenix and 86% of warrants for murder in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are for illegal aliens. These reports cannot be verified, of course, because the feds discourage law enforcement agencies from releasing such statistics.
  • At any given time, up to 75% of those on the most wanted list in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Albuquerque are illegal aliens.
  • 23% of all inmates in LA County detention centers are “deportable.”
  • LA police estimate that violent gangs, such as MS-13 and 18th Street Gang, are “overwhelmingly” composed of illegal aliens.

To read one very enlightening testimony given before Congress by an expert on illegal immigration containing some of the above information (and much more), go here.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

How to Get Humans on Mars: Make it a One-Way Trip

Landing humans on Mars is a completely achievable feat with current technology—if you are okay with the idea of a one-way ticket, points out physicist and Scientific American columnist Lawrence Krauss in an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times .

The problem today isn’t the launch capabilities or the guidance systems or the navigation. It is the energetic particles from the sun, which can rip apart DNA. Space travelers returning home from a Mars mission would soon die from this radiation poisoning, if they managed to survive the experience at all. A protective shield would simply be too massive to be practical; assuming no technological breakthroughs, the shield would weigh around 400 tons—much too massive for today’s heavy-lift vehicles.

Krauss notes that a one-way trip would be more sensible. (But like most scientists, Krauss thinks that robots can accomplish as much as humans can in terms of doing actual science in space.) We could send senior-citizen volunteers to the Red Planet, where they could spend their final months conducting experiments, laying the groundwork for future permanent settlements, and digging their own graves.

The idea of a one-way trip has been kicked around for years. I first became aware of it some 10 years ago, when SciAm editor George Musser (currently installing solar panels on his home) brought it up at one of our story meetings. As our resident Mars-ophile, George said he would go once and for all, without hesitation—and he was the only one on staff at the time who would. An informal poll of 12 others on staff this morning revealed two other yays, albeit with the general qualification of not having much to live for on Earth.

As news editor, I would certainly appreciate having a Mars bureau, even if for just a couple of months. Imagine the tweets during a voyage of possibly 200-plus days in an enclosed environment with the same small group. Day 65: Main toilet is broken—again! Day 110: I should have smuggled more beer on board. Day 175: I can’t believe I’m going to be buried with these people.

A round-trip Mars mission might be achievable, though—not with faster rockets, but with biomedical advances. Drugs that safely combat the effects of radiation poisoning seem to be the only way to make a voyage back home feasible, as Eugene N. Parker points out in an article in the March 2006 issue and in a Science Talk podcast interview.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

‘Journalists’ Plotted to Bury Stories About Rev. Wright

Documents reveal coordinated effort in 2008 by key members of establishment press

A number of mainstream journalists plotted during the 2008 presidential campaign to shut down coverage of the outrageous comments by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his close ties to then-candidate Barack Obama, according to a new report.

Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller reports obtaining records of exchanges on a listserv called Journolist, which includes several hundred liberal journalists, activists and like-minded professors.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s War on the Internet

The Ministry of Truth was how George Orwell described the mechanism used by government to control information in his seminal novel 1984. A recent trip to Europe has convinced me that the governments of the world have been rocked by the power of the internet and are seeking to gain control of it so that they will have a virtual monopoly on information that the public is able to access.

In Italy, Germany, and Britain the anonymous internet that most Americans are still familiar with is slowly being modified. If one goes into an internet café it is now legally required in most countries in the European Union to present a government issued form of identification.

When I used an internet connection at a Venice hotel, my passport was demanded as a precondition and the inner page, containing all my personal information, was scanned and a copy made for the Ministry of the Interior — which controls the police force. The copy is retained and linked to the transaction.

For home computers, the IP address of the service used is similarly recorded for identification purposes. All records of each and every internet usage, to include credit information and keystrokes that register everything that is written or sent, is accessible to the government authorities on demand, not through the action of a court or an independent authority.

That means that there is de facto no right to privacy and a government bureaucrat decides what can and cannot be “reviewed” by the authorities. Currently, the records are maintained for a period of six months but there is a drive to make the retention period even longer.


The real reason for controlling the internet is to restrict access to information, something every government seeks to do. If the American Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and Senator Lieberman have their way, new cybersecurity laws will enable Obama’s administration to take control of the internet in the event of a national crisis. How that national crisis might be defined would be up to the White House but there have been some precedents that suggest that the response would hardly be respectful of the Bill of Rights.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Thousands of Blogs Shut Down Over ‘Terrorist Material’

A web hosting company has said it shut down a blogging platform that was home to over 70,000 bloggers because a “link to terrorist material” and an al-Qaeda “hit list” was posted to the site.

BurstNet said also posted “bomb-making instructions”.

The company said it acted after receiving “a notice of a critical nature from law enforcement officials”.

But the move has angered bloggers who use the platform and say they were given no notice of the shutdown.

In response said its server had been “terminated without any notification or explanation.”

The site added that it is trying to resolve the situation.

BurstNet defended its position.

“The posted material, in addition to potentially inciting dangerous activities, specifically violated the BurstNet acceptable use policy” said the web host firm.

BurstNet also claimed that the site had a history of previous abuse.

The news blog reported that officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told BurstNet on 9 July that al-Qaeda materials had been found on Blogetery’s servers.

It also claimed that material allegedly found on the server included “the names of American citizens targeted for assassination by al-Qaeda” as well as messages from Osama bin Laden and other leaders of the terrorist organisation.

BurstNet’s chief technology officer, Joe Marr, said that the FBI sent a “Voluntary Emergency Disclosure of Information” request to the firm.

Sources have confirmed to the BBC that this was the case but FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the bureau does not comment on active investigations.

However he did say that the FBI had not asked for any websites to be shut down.

The FBI does not have the power to remove content from websites or to take them down. That can only be done with the authority of a judge.

Calls to BurstNet were not returned…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

UK/USA: David Cameron Agrees to Meet US Senators Over BP’s Role in Lockerbie Bomber Release

David Cameron has backed down and agreed to meet senior American senators who are demanding an inquiry into whether BP was involved in the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

The Prime Minister will meet the senators this evening to discuss their concerns over the potential role of the oil giant in the release last year of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds. Mr Cameron had initially refused to meet the senators from New York and New Jersey, where many of the victims of the Pan Am 103 attack lived. However, after arriving in Washington to a growing furore over the release of the terrorist, Downing Street aides said that the Prime Minister had found time in his schedule for the meeting.

Mr Cameron — who opposed the release of al-Megrahi by the Scottish Executive — is keen to avoid the issue overshadowing his first official visit to America as Prime Minister. The White House said yesterday that the issue is also expected to be raised during a meeting with President Barack Obama. Yesterday, four senators wrote to Downing Street asking for a formal meeting with Mr Cameron.

BP is facing accusations that it lobbied the previous Government to introduce a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya which paved the way for al-Megrahi’s controversial release. BP has large oil contracts in the north African country. The Prime Minister has said that he regards the Scottish Executive’s decision to release the terrorist as a “mistake”. US Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg, and Bob Menendez have requested the formal meeting with Mr Cameron this week.

“We value the historic and close friendship and alliance between our two countries,” the senators wrote. “Considering our many ties and common interests, we are certain you appreciate the considerable concern that we have that a terrorist convicted for the death of 270 people, most of them our countries’ citizens, continues to live in freedom and comfort eleven months after release because he was judged to be near death. We have read the reports of the correspondence between the former British government and the Scottish government with respect to negotiations with the Government of Libya, particularly whether the Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) would include Mr. al-Meghrahi. We have also been dismayed to hear from a BP representative that the company actively lobbied the previous government on behalf of the PTA, and media reports suggest BP even tried to address the release of this individual.”

The senators added: “Considering that you, likewise, raised concerns last year about the release, we hope to have the opportunity to speak to you about this matter, and what we can all do to provide greater transparency into the circumstances surrounding the release, address the injustice, and ensure that a similar mistake is not repeated.” Mr Schumer has called for a criminal inquiry into BP’s role.

In an article for today’s Wall Street Journal, Mr Cameron stresses his opposition to release of al-Megrahi. “On one issue in particular, Lockerbie, let me be absolutely clear there’s no daylight between us,” he wrote. “I have the deepest sympathies for the families of those killed in the bombing. Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was found guilty of murdering 270 people. They weren’t allowed to go home and die in their own bed with their relatives around them. I never saw the case for releasing him, and I think it was a very bad decision.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on BP’s potential role in the release of al-Megrahi next week. The Committee is expected to summon senior BP officials to provide evidence. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has already written to the committee setting out the background to the release.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK/USA: Cameron Will Meet Senators Over Lockerbie Bomber

  • Cameron to meet U.S. senators to discuss Lockerbie tonight
  • PM: There is ‘no daylight between Obama and I on al-Megrahi
  • David Miliband fuels row by declaring release to be ‘wrong’
  • Hillary Clinton says it is an ‘affront’ to justice and calls for a review

David Cameron will tonight meet senators to discuss the controversial release of the Lockerbie bomber as the international row about his return to Libya threatens to overshadow the Prime Minister’s first official trip to the U.S.

Former foreign secretary David Miliband this morning increased the pressure by becoming the first member of the last government to attack the decision to let out Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.. Mr Miliband, who had previously refused to comment on the move, declared: ‘It was clearly wrong because it was done on the basis he had less than three months to live and it’s now 11 months on.’

In a bid to head off the growing row, Mr Cameron has insisted that he and President Obama are entirely in agreement about the bomber’s release and repeated that he had always been against it while in opposition. ‘On one issue in particular, Lockerbie — let me be absolutely clear — there’s no daylight between us,’ he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. I have the deepest sympathies for the families of those killed in the bombing. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty of murdering 270 people. They weren’t allowed to go home and die in their own bed with their relatives around them. I never saw the case for releasing him, and I think it was a very bad decision.’ Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he added: ‘As leader of opposition, I couldn’t have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong.’

A request by a group of U.S. senators to meet the Prime Minister during the trip was initially turned down because of the tight schedule. But after a change of heart, he will now meet the four, who represent New York and New Jersey, at the British ambassador’s residence tonight. ‘The Prime Minister recognises the strength of feeling and knows how important it is to reassure the families of the victims. We are happy to see them face to face and find time in the diary,’ a spokesman said.

The Lockerbie case was contentious enough but it has now become embroiled with BP amid claims the oil giant — already under fire for the Gulf spill — lobbied the Government for al-Megrahi’s release. Democrat Charles Shumer is insisting BP should face a criminal investigation into its role in freeing al-Megrahi. He and victims’ relatives want the ‘blood money’ deal to be officially investigated.

Mr Schumer called on the U.S. Justice Department to step in. ‘Because BP has huge amounts of assets in America, we can bring this case here whether the British government likes it or not,’ he said.

He said the Justice Department should investigate whether BP violated the Foreign Corrupt Services Act, which makes it a crime for a company to give anything of value to a foreign government to influence its actions.

The White House has said talks between the two leaders are likely to touch on the issue of al-Megrahi’s release and BP’s role in it. Mr Cameron washed his hands of BP last night, saying the company would have to explain for itself any involvement in a prisoner transfer deal with Libya that helped pave the way for the decision to free al-Megrahi, who he calls the ‘ biggest mass-murderer in British history’.

But aides say the Prime Minister is determined to stand up for the beleaguered oil giant over the Gulf oil spill.

Mr Cameron will tell the President during White House talks that the firm needs certainty from the U.S. administration over the costs it will incur for the clean-up and compensation. But he went out of his way to point out that oil deals with Libya were done under the Labour government and that al-Megrahi was released by the SNP-led Scottish administration last year. Asked whether the oil giant had lobbied for al-Megrahi’s release, Mr Cameron said: ‘I have no idea what BP did, I am not responsible for BP.

‘All I know is as leader of the opposition-I couldn’t have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong.’

Mr Cameron will point out that al-Megrahi was released by the SNP on different grounds — his diagnosis with cancer. Mr Miliband, who is running for the Labour leadership, said: ‘The decision was made in accordance with our constitution and so it was a decision for the Scottish Minister to make.

‘Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds and, as I understand it, that depends on him having less than three months to live, so something has gone badly wrong.’

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a letter to senators, says America is urging the Scottish and British authorities to review the circumstances of the bomber’s release.

Laying bare the strength of feeling in the Obama administration, she wrote: ‘That al-Megrahi is living out his remaining days outside of Scottish custody is an affront to the victims’ families, the memories of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and to all of those who worked tirelessly to ensure justice was served…

‘To that end, we are encouraging the Scottish and British authorities to review again the underlying facts and circumstances leading to the release of al-Megrahi and to consider any new information that has come to light since his release.’

Foreign Secretary William Hague has already agreed to consider the senators’ concerns and to respond directly to Congress, although he wrote to Mrs Clinton this weekend to deny the suggestion BP was involved.

‘There is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of BP involvement in the Scottish executive’s decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds in 2009, nor any suggestion that the Scottish executive decided to release al-Megrahi in order to facilitate oil deals for BP,’ he said.

BP has confirmed it spoke to the previous government about the ‘negative impact on UK commercial interests’ caused by the slow progress on a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya but it denies any role in the al-Megrahi deal.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a public hearing about the issue for July 29, with which Mr Cameron has insisted the Government will ‘engage constructively’.

Al-Megrahi, 58, was released from a Scottish prison in September after just eight years when a doctor said he had cancer and would be dead in three months.

Dr Karol Sikora has now changed his mind and said he could live for another decade, sparking outrage.

Brian Flynn from Manhattan, whose brother J.P. was killed, said: ‘I think this is criminal. The British economy was in trouble. The Labour government was in trouble. And they chose to sell out to the Libyan government and to BP.’

Hypocrisy of U.S. oil firms who deal with Gaddafi

Politicians in Washington have been accused of hypocrisy for their criticism of Britain and BP over links to Libya. It turns out that American energy companies have been leading the charge when it comes to forging links with Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. Since Libya re-opened for business in 2005, US oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron have been piling in to stake their claim for Africa’s largest oil reserves.

More than 50 American energy companies, compared to just four from the UK, have signed contracts with Tripoli for oil exploration and invested tens of billions of pounds in the country. Experts said pursuing such an agenda while criticising British companies that do the same thing shows America wants to ‘have its cake and eat it’. Exxon, the world’s largest oil company, has set up a special subsidiary, Exxon Mobil Libya Ltd, to keeping business running smoothly. So keen is the petro-chemical giant to get on the right side of the authorities, it is even funding £18million of initiatives to educate impoverished children as part of a countrywide social responsibility drive.

All Western companies left Libya in the late 1980s after the U.S. and EU imposed trade sanctions on Gaddafi’s regime, which they said sponsored terrorism. The restrictions were lifted in 2005 and American energy companies have not looked back since, not least because Libya has proven crude-oil reserves of 39billion barrels and estimates potential reserves may be triple that amount. ‘American companies-have been piling in to Libya with the support of the U.S. government,’ said Phil Flynn, an oil analyst with Chicago-based PFG Best.

‘The US wants to have its cake and eat it — it wants it both ways. ‘Libya has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world right now and could well be a major player in the international oil market in the future.’ Exxon and Chevron have signed exploratory deals with Libya, while ConocoPhillips, Hess, Marathon and Occidental have invested small fortunes in the country and have begun production.

Relations between Washington and Tripoli improved further that year when Gaddafi agreed to pay £1.2billion to settle all the compensation claims related to the Lockerbie bombing.

By 2009, trade between the two nations reached £17billion. Fadel Gheit, a senior analyst at Oppenheimer & Co, said: ‘Since Libya was opened up to foreign investment in 2005, American companies have had the lion’s share of contracts and the biggest representation in the country.

‘There are 50 energy companies in the U.S. compared to four in the UK and all have been involved in Libya.’

An American oil industry veteran who worked in Libya for 19 years added: ‘Surely these senators were not and are not aware of what goes on in the outside world. Perhaps they don’t know that American oil companies and their associates are still very heavily involved in Libya.’

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Depressed People Really Do See a Gray World

The world really does look gray to depressed people, new research suggests.

Researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany had previously shown that people with depression have difficulty detecting black-and-white contrast differences.

In new research, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the team had 40 patients with major depression and 40 healthy individuals view a sequence of five black-and-white checkerboards of different contrasts. Meanwhile, the researchers measured the pattern electroretinogram, which is similar to anelectrocardiogram (ECG) of the retina of the eye.

The depressed patients had dramatically lower retinal responses to the varying black-and-white contrasts than healthy individuals. The results held regardless of whether patients were taking antidepressants.

“These data highlight the profound ways that depression alters one’s experience of the world,” said Dr. John Krystal, editor of the journal. “The poet William Cowper said that ‘variety’s the very spice of life,’ yet when people are depressed, they are less able to perceive contrasts in the visual world. This loss would seem to make the world a less pleasurable place.”

The study scientists, led by Dr. Ludger Tebartz van Elst, noted that although these findings are strong, they still need to be replicated in further studies.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

EU Looking to Reset Relations With Switzerland

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — With new institutions and powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is looking to reset its relations with Switzerland, currently governed by 120-odd agreements covering everything from wrist watches to borderless travelling.

“We examined the state of our bilateral relations … and looked at how to renew them in the future, based on sound legal and political foundations,” EU council president Herman Van Rompuy said at a joint press conference with the Swiss president, Doris Leuthard.

Mr Van Rompuy said the reset had to be based on Bern accepting the “evolution” of EU law, in contrast to the current situation, when nothing is adopted automatically by the Swiss side.

“The EU position is that this is not the way to continue. With 120 bilateral agreements in place, imagine the whole bureaucracy when you need to change one paragraph,” one EU official familiar with the talks told this website.

Some 60 “working groups” on specific issues covered by these agreements — ranging from the wrist watch industry to transport, border control and fight against fraud — currently meet twice a year, separately and with little exchange amongst each other.

Ms Leuthard, switching from English into German and French, said that Switzerland too recognises the need to simplify the complex architecture of bilateral agreements. She stressed, however, that the new legal basis had to be “clean, but in respect of our sovereignty.”

One offer made to the Swiss is a “European Economic Area Lite”, alluding to the current agreement with Norway, also a non-EU member who is fully integrated into the bloc’s internal market and border-free Schengen area, but who unlike Bern automatically adopts any change to the EU laws.

Yet in a country where direct democracy is so deeply rooted that almost every decision is taken by referendum, the idea to adopt such legal “automatism” is unacceptable.

Swiss voters already rejected in 1992 the country’s accession to the EEA, precisely out of fear of losing sovereignty to Brussels, which is often criticised for its democratic deficit.

“Switzerland is against adopting EU laws automatically, using the argument that it is a sovereign country. But the EU says that as long as we are part of the internal market, we have to play by the book,” Jean Russotto, a Brussels-based Swiss lawyer specialised in EU law and regulatory compliance told Euobserver.

Another taboo subject for the Swiss public is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which has the ultimate say if a country infringes EU law. If Switzerland adopted the legislation automatically, it could, in theory be taken to the Luxembourg court by the European Commission in cases of non-compliance.

“This would be a problem,” says Mr Russotto. “The no-vote in 1992 was strongly influenced by the perspective of ‘foreign judges’ having a say in the country. The situation has not changed very much since, although we’ve adopted a lot of EU aquis (legislation), but it was done by our own parliament, not automatically.”

A compromise solution could be found, however, as it is the case for Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland — which form the EEA. In their case, there is a special court based in Luxembourg and confusingly named the EFTA court after the European Free Trade Agreement which also includes Switzerland. The EFTA court, however, has no jurisdiction over the Alpine country. In an odd twist, the chief judge of the EFTA court, Carl Baudenbacher, is Swiss, but representing Liechtenstein.


On top of the existing differences over a potential over-arching agreement, a new actor on the EU side is likely to complicate negotiations: the European Parliament.

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU legislature has the power to strike down any international agreements negotiated by the EU commission.

It already put EU-US relations on freeze for while when it vetoed a deal on bank data transfers for anti-terrorism purposes, citing privacy concerns.

“We want to deepen our relationship with the European Parliament,” Ms Leuthard said. “It is very important to involve parliaments, because they decide ultimately on the agreements and their content,” she added.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Football: France Under Shock, Ribery and Benzema Under Arrest

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 20 — Two famous French football stars, Franck Ribery (who plays with Bayern Munich) and Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), were arrested this morning in Paris because of their involvement in an investigation into people who had sexual relations with a young prostitute from the Maghreb area when the girl was still under age (now she is 18).

Should they be found guilty of incitement of under age prostitution, the two players could face a 3 year jail sentence and a 45,000 euros fine.

During the same investigation, the Paris police arrested some other people, including one of Ribery’s agents and the brother-in-law of the Bayern player. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi’s Popularity Falls to New Low

Rome, 20 July (AKI) — Confidence in Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government has fallen to its lowest level since the billionaire politician was elected to a third term in April 2008.

Fifty-five percent of Italians say they don’t support the conservative government, while between 39 percent and 41 percent stood expressed a positive opinion, according Rome-based polling company IPR Marketing.

Berlusconi, 73, has seen his standing drop as high-ranking members of the government resign amid corruption scandals and Berlusconi wages a battle with a rival within his own party.

Since May, Berlusconi has accepted the resignation of two ministers and a deputy finance minister amid allegations of corruption. In April the premier engaged in a televised shouting match with Gianfranco Fini, 58, co-founder of the People of Liberty party.

Now a probe into a suspected illegal secret society formed to affect policy and judicial appointments has targeted Berlusconi allies.

In a weekend interview with left-leaning La Repubblica, finance minister Giulio Tremonti said the scandal may involve “a few rotten apples” or at most “a box of rotten apples” but “the tree is not rotten and the orchard is not rotten.”

The government is also facing tension from within his government and strong opposition from labour movements over an austerity bill to cut 25 billion euros of public spending.

The bill has passed the senate and Berlusconi aims to get it approved by the lower house by the end of July.

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

UK/USA: Cameron to Lobby Obama for New Series of Dallas

DAVID Cameron will today ask President Obama if there is any chance he could bring back Dallas.

As he embarks on his first official trip to Washington, the prime minister said Britain and the US had to be ‘realistic’ about the special relationship and what it could achieve on behalf of television viewers in both countries. As the two men meet in the Oval Office, a new series of Dallas, the possibility of a Friends movie and the American version of The Office will join Afghanistan, BP and the release of the Lockerbie bomber on the list of things that neither of them can do anything about.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mr Cameron insisted: “If there was to be a new series of Dallas Britain could exert a positive influence to ensure there were plenty of scenes involving JR and Cliff Barnes, rather than Sue Ellen’s drunken quivering or a repeat of the Patrick Duffy bathroom resurrection debacle.” He added: “We need to stop obsessing about our relationship with America and accept that they now make better television programmes than us. They may not have a David Attenborough, but we do not have a Stargate Bananaverse, a Desperate Old Tarts or a Crime Scene: Navy Crime.”

A White House spokesman said that while a new Dallas was always on the table, President Obama wanted reassurances from Mr Cameron that he would act against any British television programme that causes massive environmental damage on US soil.

He added: “After Little Britain USA we did have the USS Nimitz parked off Anglesey for a couple of weeks. And all we can say about our version of Life in Mars in comparison to yours is that at least ours wasn’t over-rated.” A British Embassy source in Washington said: “The Bush presidency gave Britain a golden opportunity to lobby for the return of Dallas, but all Tony Blair wanted to talk about was oil companies and Jesus, while Gordon Brown just sat there staring at the wall.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK/USA: Cameron: Don’t Fret About Relationship With US

David Cameron has warned Britain not to “fret incessantly” about the “special relationship” with America.

His words follow concerns that President Obama is more hostile towards the country than his predecessors. The “alliance” should not be characterised by “blind loyalty” and Britain was a “strong, self-confident country” not dependent on America, the Prime Minister said. He will meet Mr Obama at the White House today during his first official visit to America..

He is expected to spend about an hour in the Oval Office but will not be given an official dinner or special treatment granted to some previous prime ministers. There is a risk of the visit being overshadowed by the furore over BP following the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the company’s possible role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Several senior senators yesterday wrote to Downing Street demanding a meeting with Mr Cameron in Washington this week to discuss Lockerbie. The Prime Minister is expected to refuse the request.

In an article on relations between Britain and the US, Mr Cameron stressed that he was “unapologetically pro-American” and said he loved the country and “what it’s done for the world”. He also detailed his family’s close ties with America. But he said, in an article for The Wall Street Journal: “There are those who over-analyse the atmospherics around the relationship. They forensically compute the length of meetings; whether it’s a brush-by or a full bilateral; the number of mentions in a president’s speech; dissecting the location and grandeur of the final press conference — fretting even whether you’re standing up or sitting down together.”

Aides are keen to avoid a repeat of the fiasco when Gordon Brown visited New York last year. Officials made five requests to meet Mr Obama, who finally spent a few minutes with the then prime minister in the United Nations kitchen. The President is regarded as more sceptical towards Britain than his predecessors. At the height of the oil spill crisis, he referred to “British Petroleum” — leading to claims of stoking anti-British feeling. Mr Cameron hopes his visit will let him rebuild the relationship. He wrote that it was “rooted in strong foundations”, relating that his grandfather worked on Wall Street and his wife Sam, pregnant with their first child, was opening a shop in New York on Sept 11 2001.

But where there were “differences of emphasis”, he would pursue British interests. This afternoon he is expected to visit Congress and reiterate his dismay at the Scottish Executive’s decision to free the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds.

Mr Cameron said: “On one issue in particular, Lockerbie, let me be absolutely clear … I never saw the case for releasing [Abdel Baset al-Megrahi], and I think it was a very bad decision.”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK/USA: PM: I Will Stand Up to America

DAVID CAMERON vowed to stand up to America as he prepared for his first trip to Washington as PM.

But he admitted that Britain was the “junior partner” in the so-called special relationship with the USA. And he slammed predecessor Tony Blair for getting too chummy with former President George W Bush. Mr Cameron flies to America on Monday and will have his first White House meeting with President Obama the following day. The talks will take place against a backdrop of tensions over issues like the BP oil spill and the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Mr Cameron insisted he wanted the the two countries to remain key allies and said it was vital that the UK exerted as much influence as possible. He added: “I think it’s a special relationship. But we should always be conscious of the fact that we’re the junior partner in this relationship and America is a Pacific power as well as an Atlantic power. “I think that we should deal with things as they are, rather than trying to be too needy.” Of the Blair-Bush relationship, he said: “Blair was too much the new friend telling you everything you want to hear, rather than the best friend telling you what you need to hear.”

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent months. President Obama was accused of pursuing an anti-British agenda with his attacks on BP over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He also put himself at odds with Mr Cameron last month by warning against countries cutting their deficits too quickly during the economic crisis. And Senators in America have also called for an inquiry into the release of Libyan bomber al-Megrahi. He was freed on “compassionate grounds” nearly a year ago by the Scottish government because he was suffering from cancer. But US politicians have claimed the real reason he was released was so BP could strike an oil deal with Libya. Both BP and the UK have denied any such agreement took place.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK: As a Gurkha is Disciplined for Beheading a Taliban: Thank God They Are on Our Side!

Just picture the scene as a soldier returns from hunting an arch-enemy. Commanding officer: ‘Did you get him?’ Soldier: ‘Yes, sir.’ Commanding officer: ‘Are you sure?’ Soldier: ‘Yes, sir.’ Soldier reaches into rucksack and places severed head on table.

Commanding officer: ‘ ****!’ If it happened in a Hollywood movie, the audience would either laugh or applaud. But there was no laughter the other day when this happened for real in Babaji, Afghanistan, current posting for the 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles.

The precise circumstances will not be determined until an official report has been completed, but reliable military sources have confirmed that a Gurkha patrol was sent out with orders to track down a Taliban warlord described as a ‘high-value target’.

Having identified their target, a fierce battle ensued during which the warlord was killed. To prove that they had got their man, the Gurkhas attempted to remove the body for identification. Further enemy fire necessitated a fast exit minus corpse. So, an unnamed soldier drew his kukri — the standard-issue Gurkha knife — removed the man’s head and legged it.

Ten out of ten for initiative. Nought out of ten for diplomacy.


But the Army had better be careful before attempting to demonise this unnamed Gurkha in order to polish its own halo. If the man was trophy-hunting or disobeying orders, then that is one thing. If, however, he was simply following them too assiduously for liberal tastes, that is a different matter.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: British is the New UN-British, Islam is the New British

There’s a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There’s a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun;
And there’s Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done.

— “The Grave of the Hundred Head”, Rudyard Kipling

That was then. This is now. And now a Gurkha soldier from the 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, is facing charges for cutting off the head of a Taliban commander, took the head so it could be identified and left the body behind. From Kipling’s Grave of the Hundred Head, as retaliation for the killing of a single British soldier, we’ve gone over to the British government being horribly embarrassed because a Gurkha soldier beheaded the corpse of a Muslim terrorist, from a group that routinely beheads people while alive.

Why was this beheading such a terrible thing?

The incident is hugely embarrassing to the British Army, which is trying to build bridges with local Afghan communities who have spent decades under Taliban rule.

But who exactly are the Brits trying to build bridges with here, that they would be so worked up over a Taliban commander’s missing head? With the Taliban of course. Who did you think?


The entire thing is of course a charade, and has been for some time. All the efforts to win over the Taliban have really accomplished is to give them money to buy more weapons and recruit more fighters, via the 280 million dollar Peace and Reintegration Fund which attempts to bribe the Taliban into going back to civilian life. Meanwhile the Coalition of the Willing has been winning peace by providing payoffs to the Taliban in order to avoid attacks.

And so we go back to that lone Gurkha who hadn’t gone the message from the top on down that the war was unwinnable, and that Britain’s only hope lay in trying to bluff the Taliban into letting them leave with some dignity. Instead after three members of his unit were killed by Talib Hussein, a Taliban who had been posting as an Afghan soldier, instead of risking his life trying to drag the entire body of a Taliban commander back while under fire—he took the head. But that soldier was clearly operating in a different era. An era in which the lives of soldiers mattered more than showing respect to the body of an enemy terrorist.


How do we make sense of all this? Oh it’s rather simple. Being British is now Un-British. But being Un-British, is British. Still confused? Do try to keep up. David Cameron explained this himself before he was elected by people hoping for something besides Labor, only to discover that it was completely possible to vote for three different parties, and end up with Labor anyway.

“Many British Asians see a society that hardly inspires them to integrate. Indeed, they see aspects of modern Britain which are a threat to the values they hold dear — values which we should all hold dear. Asian families and communities are incredibly strong and cohesive, and have a sense of civic responsibility which puts the rest of us to shame. Not for the first time, I found myself thinking that it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more with the British Asian way of life, not the other way around.

This was David Cameron back in 2007, when he discovered that Muslims didn’t need to become more British, but Britons needed to become more Muslim.

And again…

“It’s another reminder that integration is a two-way street. If we want to remind ourselves of British values — hospitality, tolerance and generosity to name just three — there are plenty of British Muslims ready to show us what those things really mean.”

Which is the real idea here. Islam is the new British value system. The old British value system is Un-British. Burqas are in. A pint at the pub is out. The Union Jack is out. The Hezbollah and Hamas flags are in. Michael Savage is still un-British and banned from entering the country. On the other hand, Muslim clerics are still free to spew their hate and their disciples are free to jeer returning British soldiers. On the other hand the English Defence League confronting them, is most Un-British. And official events for the 7/7 bombings are of course most Un-British. Instead there was the launch of a multicultural “Preventing Hate” campaign. Because as we all know, there’s no better way to stop Islamic terrorism.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Council Bans Residents From Cutting Their Grass — Because It’s Too Dangerous

A council has banned houseproud families from cutting the grass outsides their homes — because it is too dangerous.

The bizarre ruling was made after penny-pinching council bosses stopped cutting the verges in Dudley in order to save money.

While they allowed the grass to grow unruly and wild, families have been living next to virtual forests of weeds, litter and poisonous plants.

But while the council aims to save £30,000 by the move, it has told people they cannot tackle the problem themselves in case they hurt themselves cutting the grass.

They even told residents of one street not to hire a contractor, at a cost £200, because they would be breaking health and safety rules.

In some areas the grass is now over a foot in length and people are worried the patches of dry, messy land could be a fire hazard in the hot summer weather.

The council decided in March to quit trimming grass verges across the borough to cut costs.

Initially residents said they were threatened with prosecution under health and safety laws if they dared to cut the grass themselves.

But the council later backed down and admitted they could not stop people from trimming the verges, although they urged them not to.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: The Burka Empowering Women? You Must be Mad, Minister

By Yasmin Alibhai-brown

These British apologists for the burka make me see red, whatever side of the political spectrum they come from.

They can be Left-wingers who’ll countenance no criticism, however valid, of hardline Muslims. They can be Right-wing libertarians who insist any woman has the right to wear whatever she chooses.

And, as we discovered this week, they can be members of the British Cabinet who ludicrously claim the burka actually empowers women.

Yes, Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, really did claim that the burka delivers its wearer blissful freedom. As a Muslim, you might expect me to agree with her, but I can’t. She is wrong. Her fatuous and ill-conceived defence of the burka rendered me apoplectic with fury.

Does she even understand the harm she does by sanctioning this perversion of our faith?…

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

‘Obama Pledges Big Movement’ On Carving Up Israel

Palestinians officials say they expect takeover of territory by end of year

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority expects “big movement” toward taking over most of the areas that would encompass a future Palestinian state by the end of the year, senior PA officials told WND.

The PA officials said the U.S. has been negotiating the borders of a future Palestinian state that would see Israel eventually withdraw from most of the West Bank and some areas of eastern Jerusalem with the exception of what are known as the three main settlement blocks — Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel.

While the PA does not believe it will see an actual Palestinian state by the end of the year, it expects in that time it will take over many more neighborhoods in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem that are normally controlled on the ground by Israel.

The PA said the expectation is based on pledges by the Obama administration.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Turkey in Cyprus vs. Israel in Gaza

In light of Ankara’s recent criticism of what it calls Israel’s “open-air jail” in Gaza, today’s date, which marks the anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, has special relevance.

Turkish policy toward Israel, historically warm and only a decade ago approaching full alliance, has cooled since Islamists took power in Ankara in 2002. Their hostility became explicit in January 2009, during the Israel-Hamas war. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan grandly condemned Israeli policies as “perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction” and even invoked God (“Allah will … punish those who transgress the rights of innocents”). His wife Emine Erdoðan hyperbolically condemned Israeli actions as so awful they “cannot be expressed in words.”

Their verbal assaults augured a further hostility that included insulting the Israeli president, helping sponsor the “Freedom Flotilla,” and recalling the Turkish ambassador.

This Turkish rage prompts a question: Is Israel in Gaza really worse than Turkey in Cyprus? A comparison finds this hardly to be so. Consider some contrasts:

* Turkey’s invasion of July-August 1974 involved the use of napalm and “spread terror” among Cypriot Greek villagers, according to Minority Rights Group International. In contrast, Israel’s “fierce battle” to take Gaza relied only on conventional weapons and entailed virtually no civilian casualties.

* The subsequent occupation of 37 percent of the island amounted to a “forced ethnic cleansing” according to William Mallinson in a just-published monograph from the University of Minnesota. In contrast, if one wishes to accuse the Israeli authorities of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, it was against their own people, the Jews, in 2005.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


20% Staff Cut Plan Sent to Putin

The federal government must cut its staff by 20 percent over the next three years and prohibit any further growth of the bureaucracy, according to a draft decree the Finance Ministry published Tuesday.

Starting April 1, 2011, the federal and regional offices of the executive branch should have 5 percent fewer officials than on July 1, 2010, according to a copy of the order posted on the ministry’s web site.

The reductions should rise to 10 percent from the base level on April 1, 2012, and then to 20 percent one year later. Half of the revenue savings from each state body would be returned to improve salaries, the order said.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has said that slashing the federal headcount by 20 percent could save the budget 37 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) per year, even after half of the revenue is returned.

The measure has strong support from the Kremlin. President Dmitry Medvedev backed the idea June 8, when he ordered the government to draft a concrete proposal. The reductions were also included in Medvedev’s budget plan for 2011-13, published June 29.

To take effect, the order would only require Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s signature and publication in Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

If approved, the order would bring the first post-Soviet cuts to Russia’s federal bureaucracy, which has swelled over the past decade. Analysts say the cutbacks could create political risks ahead of the 2012 presidential elections.

Regional governments should “make corresponding decisions,” the document said. The order does not mention the presidential administration.

The Finance Ministry did not offer a base number of officials, but Vedomosti has said 120,507 federal positions would fall under the order, suggesting cuts of 24,101 jobs by 2013.

After the job cuts are completed on April 1, 2013, government agencies must wait until Jan. 1, 2014, before making any new increases in their number of personnel.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Dhaka, Catholic Victim of Violence of Muslims Who Want to Steal His Land

For years Sunil Gomes had suffered pressure from Muslim neighbours. In 2009 they shot at his home and confiscated part of his garden. His older sister is terrified: “No one defends us because we are Catholics. Muslims can attack at any moment”.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Sunil Gomes, a family man and member of the Catholic parish of St. Lawrence in Dhaka, died June 28 last due to constant mental torture by Muslim neighbours who are trying to steal his land. The family members revealed the news only today and now they are afraid of being attacked by Muslims.

Sunil Gomes’s family has long been under pressure. Their Muslims neighbours have wanted to expel them from their property for over a year. October 8, 2009, a group of Muslims stormed into the Gomes house, threatened the family and took possession of half of the garden building a dividing wall. They also removed the plaque with the name of the Gomes family and a small cross and put in its place a plaque with the inscription “Allah Akbar”.

On 22 October, Muslims attacked the Gomes family again firing several gunshots at the house.

On June 28, because of the increasingly violent pressure, Sunil Gomes died. Rita Gomes (pictured), sister of Sunil, told AsiaNews: “We had just learned that during a court hearing regarding our land and that the Muslims are preparing to attack us to steal our home”.

“I am a lawyer — she continues — but I can not help my family. The National Commission of Human Rights has taken the defence of Muslims, the police are corrupt and refused to protect us. The main problem is that we are Catholics and nobody wants to help us”.

Rita Gomes added that only her younger sister and mother now remain in the house: “Our father is dead because the State failed to protect us. We’re afraid of being killed by Muslims who can attack us any time. Our only hope is Our Lady, I have asked all Christians to pray for our family”.

Seizures of land and houses are very common in Bangladesh. Usually the victims are members of ethnic and religious minorities.

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

‘BMWs’ Help Afghans Go AWOL From Texas Air Base

A loose network of Mexican-American women, some of whom may be illegal immigrants, have been responsible for helping numerous Afghan military deserters go AWOL from an Air Force Base in Texas, has learned.

Many of the Afghans, with the women’s assistance, have made their way to Canada; the whereabouts of others remain unknown. Some of the men have been schooled by the women in how to move around the U.S. without any documentation.

The Afghan deserters refer to the women as “BMWs” — Big Mexican Women — and they often are the first step in the Afghans’ journey from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to Canada, a diplomatic official told He requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly during an ongoing investigation by U.S. and international authorities into who helped the Afghans leave the Defense Language Institute’s English Language Center at Lackland.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Child Labour Used to Harvest Tobacco in Kazakhstan

Human Rights Watch denounces exploitation of child labour for tobacco harvests in Kazakhstan. Among the buyers of this tobacco, Philip Morris, which now calls for careful control on crops.

Astana (AsiaNews / Agencies) — “From 4 am to 10 — a girl of 12 tells officials at Human Rigths Watch (HRW) — we go to the fields to gather [tobacco leaves]. At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., we eat and thread [the leaves]. From 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. we gather again. Then thread until midnight, then sleep. Get up again at 4 a.m. And that goes on for a long time. “

Last autumn HRW interviewed dozens of field labourers in the district of Enbekshikazakh, about 120 km east of Almaty, the heart of tobacco cultivation. It has published the results in the pamphlet “ Hellish Work: Exploitation of Migrant Tobacco Workers in Kazakhstan”. >From the interviews and what HRW has seen emerges documented violations of the minimum wage and a lack of written contracts, forced labour, threats and “slave-like” treatment, long working hours in the sun and the widespread exploitation of children as young as 10. Lacking drinking water workers often drink in irrigation canals contaminated with pesticides.

The meagre salary, often given at the end of the harvest is proportional to the quantity of tobacco harvested, processed, dried, minus travel expenses and accommodation, amounting to a few hundred dollars for about 6 months work. So the families also bring their children with them, to have more arms. The interviewed child is Kyrgyz, who arrived along with hundreds of families without work. The harvest can last six months and the children miss school. The nicotine in tobacco can be absorbed by the skin during the harvest, with serious health problems for children.

Following the report, the Kazakh government officials have met with the leaders of HRW and have expressed their “concern”.

The report also revealed that all the tobacco in this area is purchased by Philip Morris Kazakhstan, a subsidiary of leading multinational Philip Morris International, which sells its products in 160 countries and has a turnover of approximately 90 billion dollars with brands like Marlboro, L & M, Chesterfield, Bond Street.

In recent days, the company wrote on its online site that “Philip Morris strongly opposes child labour.” Its spokesman Peter Nixon, reached by the media, said that now the company will strive to prevent the tobacco harvest in Kazakhstan, demanding that suppliers make written contracts with parents and that they are planning surprise inspections.

Jane Buchanan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, notes that “a company like Philip Morris certainly has the resources to stop these practices” and that in Central Asia and the problem of child labour is well known and “ companies should have policies to recognize and eliminate problems with human rights related to their supply “ of raw material.

Experts estimate that t 300 thousand to a million immigrants arrive in the country each year from former Soviet states, many to do farm work.

The migrants interviewed explained that when they arrive on the field, employers withdraw their passports, saying that they have to present them to police for visas. The passport is returned to the workers only the night before their departure. Without a visa or residence permit.

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

Pakistan Knows Where Osama is: Hillary

WASHINGTON: Some elements in the Pakistan government know the whereabouts of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, warning Islamabad against keeping a “poisonous” snake in its backyard.

Hillary also said the Pakistanis leadership during her visit to Islamabad has been told to take on every non-governmental armed force inside the country. She said Pakistan’s intelligence establishment must share with the US any information about movement of bin Laden and al-Qaida number two Ayman al-Zawahiri. “I want those guys. I will not be satisfied until we get them,” she said in interviews to American TV channels during her just concluded visit to Islamabad.

“…I assume somebody, somebody in this government, from top to bottom, does know where bin Laden is. And I’d like to know too So I think we’ve got to keep pressure on, which we are doing,” Hillary said. She said the US is getting closer to the fugitive.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Here’s What ‘Obama Money’ Is Doing for You — In Kenya!

3 Republican congressmen reveal Barack secretly spent $23 million

An investigation by three Republican congressmen has revealed the Obama administration has secretly spent $23 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars in Kenya to fund a “Yes” vote on a constitutional referendum scheduled for Aug. 4 that would increase access to abortions in Kenya and establish legal status for Islamic law tribunals.

Meanwhile, trusted sources in Kenya tell WND that the White House has used Vice President Joseph Biden’s trip to Kenya in June and the office of U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael E. Ranneberger to put out the message that passage of the referendum would enable the White House to open the floodgates to allow millions of dollars of additional U.S. government aid and private investment capital to flow into Kenya.


The proposed constitution would also give legal status to what are known as “Kadhi Courts,” constituting an Islamic judicial structure within the overall structure of the Kenyan legal structure, to resolve disputes between Muslims under Shariah, or Islamic law.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Mexico: ‘Colombianization’ Of Mexico Nearly Complete

For years drug experts, security officials, and political analysts have questioned the “Colombianization” of Mexico.

Mexico had already overtaken Colombia in terms of kidnappings. The public has long gotten accustomed to a censored press, threats to politicians, and grisly violence that includes decapitation and bodies hanging from highway overpasses. Now, it appears, Mexico has moved even closer to the kind of violence that plagued the South American nation in its darkest days.

A well-orchestrated car bomb exploded in Ciudad Juarez late Thursday, across from El Paso, Texas, killing at least three and sparking panic among the Mexican population. It is the first known use of a car bomb against authorities and the local population, and marks a troubling new level of violence as traffickers seeking to control the drug trade battle one another and Mexican authorities.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Amnesty Bill to be Blurred With Gay Marriage and ‘Freedom Rights’

Bill will make marriage a Federal and Government right and privilege, not with the States

A leak, who is very reliable, has revealed from behind closed doors the intentions from this progressive congress and Obama. There is a Bill in the Works that will blur the controversial, gay marriage issue with illegal alien rights and amnesty.

This administration and congress plans to hide behind ‘freedom’ and are obtaining huge support from the gay community, naturally in the name of freedom regarding this soon to be exposed Bill. You and I have just gotten a sneak peak as to the next ‘Rules for Radicals trick’ as it is unfolding.

What specifically do they have in mind?

The specific focus of this Bill will make marriage a Federal and Government right and privilege, not with the States. Once that is established, then the Illegal aliens (I.A.) who are married, gay or heterosexual, to have their marriage recognized in the U.S. would make their immigration status a non issue. Their marriage would be recognized in Mexico and the U.S. so how could they be ‘deemed’ illegal….hmmm tricky.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

White Britons Unfairly Targeted for Hate Crimes

WHITE Christians are unfairly targeted by police and prosecutors over alleged hate crimes compared with minority groups and other religions, a report said yesterday.

Think-tank Civitas said that hate crime legislation was restricting freedom of speech and had introduced a new blasphemy law into Britain by the back door.

The Civitas report said: “Some police forces and the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) seem to be interpreting statutes in favour of ethnic and religious minorities, and in a spirit hostile to members of the majority population, defined as ‘white’ or ‘Christian’.”

Civitas — the Institute for the Study of Civil Society — claimed there was “evidence of biased application of the law”.

It cited the case of a Muslim man who sprayed “Islam will dominate the world — Osama is on his way” and “Kill Gordon Brown” on a war memorial in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

He was prosecuted for criminal damage but not religious or race offences. The CPS argued that “defacing the memorial did not attach to any racial or religious group”.

But the report pointed out: “If a non-Muslim had defaced a Muslim building, the system would have thrown the book at him.”

This compared with Christian hoteliers Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, of Liverpool, who were prosecuted and then cleared of a religiously aggravated hate crime after a female Muslim guest complained that the pair had made abusive and offensive comments about her religious dress.

Civitas also questioned whether CPS decisions were being influenced by a staff association called the National Black Crown Prosecution Association, which “takes an interest in the impact of CPS decisions on members of ethnic minorities”.

Last night, a spokesman for the CPS said: “The trailing of the suggestion that the NBCPA may affect the CPS’s impartiality is without foundation.”

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]


Computers to Translate World’s ‘Lost’ Languages After Program Deciphers Ancient Text

Scientists have used a computer program to decipher a written language that is more than three thousand years old.

The program automatically translated the ancient written language of Ugaritic within just a few hours.

Scientists hope the breakthrough could help them decipher the few ancient languages that they have been unable to translate so far.

Ugaritic was last used around 1200 B.C. in western Syria and consists of dots on clay tablets. It was first discovered in 1920 but was not deciphered until 1932.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told the program that the language was related to another known language, in this case Hebrew.

The system is then able to make assumptions about the way different words are formed and whether they consist of a prefix and a suffix, for example.

Through repeated analysis, the program linked letters and words to map nearly all Ugaritic symbols to their Hebrew equivalents in a matter of hours.

The system looks for commonly used symbols in the two languages and gradually refines its mapping of the alphabet until it can go no further.

The Ugaritic alphabet has 30 letters, and the system correctly mapped 29 of them to their Hebrew counterparts.

Of the words that the two languages shared the program was able to correctly identify 60 per cent of them.

Science professor Regina Barzilay, who was leading the research, said: ‘Traditionally, decipherment has been viewed as a sort of scholarly detective game, and computers weren’t thought to be of much use.

‘Our aim is to bring to bear the full power of modern machine learning and statistics to this problem.’

Other researchers have expressed scepticism about the program and say that it is of little use because many of the undeciphered texts have no known ancestor to map against.

The program also assumes that the computer knows where one word begins and another ends, something which is not always the case.

But Professor Barzilay thinks the system can overcome this hurdle by scanning multiple languages at once and taking contextual information into account.

She said: ‘Each language has its own challenges. Most likely, a successful decipherment would require one to adjust the method for the peculiarities of a language.’

But she points out the decipherment of Ugaritic took years and relied on some happy coincidences — such as the discovery of an axe that had the word “axe” written on it in Ugaritic.

‘The output of our system would have made the process orders of magnitude shorter,’ she says.

The system could also improve the reliability of translation software like Google Translate, the researchers believe.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Music ‘Tones the Brain, ‘ Improves Learning

Learning to play a musical instrument changes the brain, leading to a slew of potential benefits, including improved learning and understanding of language, according to a recent review article.

Studies highlighted in the review suggest connections made between brain cells during musical training can aid in other forms of communication, such as speech, reading and understanding a foreign language.

“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness,” the researchers say.

The studies suggest society should “re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development,” and schools should consider boosting efforts to incorporate musical training into the curriculum, the researchers say.

The findings are published today in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Musical brains

A musician’s ear must be particularly attuned to musical sounds, timing and quality. Studies have shown such training leads to changes in the brain’s auditory system. For instance, pianists show more brain activity in their auditory cortex — the part of the brain responsible for processing sounds — than non-musicians in response to hearing piano notes.

Musicians also have larger brain volumes in areas important for playing a musical instrument, including motor and auditory regions, the researchers say.

These advantages of music training appear to cross over to our understanding of speech.

Music and speech have quite a bit in common. They both use pitch and timing to get information across, and both require memory and attention skills to process, the researchers say.

Studies show children with musical training have more neural activity in response to changes in pitch during speech than those without such training. An enhanced ability to detect changes in pitch might help musicians better judge emotion in speech or distinguish a statement from a question. Musically trained children have better vocabularies and reading abilities than children who don’t have this musical education.

The musically trained may also fare better when learning a foreign language. Musicians are better able to put together sound patterns into words for a foreign language, the researchers say.

Distinguishing speech from noise

Musicians can also better understand speech in a noisy environment, studies show, an ability likely due to the fact that they must learn to distinguish specific sounds within melodies.

Musical training might help children with certain learning disorders, such as dyslexia, who are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of background noise, according to the review article. “Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise,” the researchers say.

However, currently most studies looking at the beneficial effects of music training on skills such as language have involved those privileged enough to afford musical training. Also, it’s possible that some non-musicians opted to quit their training, because they didn’t experience the same benefits from it, the researchers say.

Studying the effects of music training in school-administered programs could help scientists better understand its brain benefits.

The review was written by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran of Northwestern University in Illinois.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]