News Feed 20101116

Financial Crisis
» Barroso ‘Extremely Disappointed’ Over Budget Collapse
» Dow Drops 179 Points to 11,023.50 After Global Worries
» EU in Talks With IMF as Irish Bailout Looms
» Euro Under Siege as Now Portugal Hits Panic Button
» Greek Deficit Much Bigger Than Estimate
» Ireland’s Debt Crisis Could Kill the European Union Stone Dead, EU President Warns
» Irish Debt Woes Make German Banks Uneasy
» “Death to America!” a Declaration of War by Traitors?
» Amid Airport Anger, GOP Takes Aim at Screening
» Cartoonist Ted Rall to Appear at Communist Bookstore
» Conservative Group Calls on Justice Dept. To Investigate Muslim Prayers on Capitol Hill
» NASA Develops Puncture-Proof Space Tyre
» Obama’s Labor Secretary to Honor Communist
» Rangel Violated Numerous House Ethics Rules, Panel Finds
» Replace Humiliation With Respect
» State Warning to TSA: Stop Breaking the Law
» U.S. Left: Onward Muslim Soldiers
» Muslim ‘Parallel Society’ Within Canada a Threat: Report
Europe and the EU
» Carl Bildt Slams EU President Over Turkey
» Chechen Exile Murder Trial Begins in Vienna
» Claim: Danish Authorities Aware of US Monitoring Programme
» Four Ministers Set to Resign From Italian Government
» France: Sarkozy Appoints Right-Wing Cabinet With Eye on 2012
» Germany: ‘Naked’ Scanners Fooled by Creased Clothing
» Italy: Keats-Shelley House to Offer Taste of England
» Italy: Silvio Berlusconi Dealt Another Blow as Four Ministers Resign
» Italy: Berlusconi Wants Confidence Vote or Elections — But Only for Chamber of Deputies
» Jihadist Online Chat Rooms Also Have Contributors From Finland
» Local Liberal Too ‘UN-Swedish’ For Top Post
» Sweden: Neo-Nazi Site Charged Over Reader Comment
» UK Muslim Mob Threatens to Fly Black Flag of Islam Over Downing Street, White House for Jailed Cleric’s Release
» UK Still Cheerleader of Turkey’s EU Bid
» UK: ‘Disgusted’ Mother Turns in 14 Yr Old Daughter Who Vandalised War Memorial
» UK: ‘Criminal in Police Uniform’: Sergeant Who Helped Run Brother’s Drug Gang Jailed for 11 Years
» UK: Early Learning Centre Bans Toy Pig From Farmyard Set for Fear of Offending Muslims (But Keeps Sty and Oink Noise) By Louise Eccles
» UK: Hush Money: Multi-Million Pound Payouts to Silence British Terror Suspects Held in Guantanamo
» UK: Islamist Sympathisers Admit They Are Losing Ground in Government
» UK: More Than a Dozen Terror Suspects to Get Millions of Pounds Compensation
» UK: Middle Class Voters Are Liars and Hypocrites Says Top Labour MP in Astonishing Rant
» UK: Toy Pig Pulled From Farm Set on Religious Grounds
» UK: Two Jailed for Life for ‘Sickeningly Violent’ Murder of a Shopkeeper Who Refused to Meekly Abandon His Property
» UK: Toy Pig Removed From Farm Set to Avoid Offending Muslim and Jewish Parents
» UK: Westminster on Mumbai-Style Terror Attack Alert After Al Qaeda Threat
» World’s Oldest Copper Age Settlement Found
North Africa
» Egypt: Fresh Tensions Between Copts and Muslims in South
» Egypt: Mob Burns Christian Homes
» Muslims Set Fire to Coptic Christian Homes in Southern Egypt, Officials Say
Middle East
» A Weak State Incubates Terror
» Germans Held in Iran Accused of Espionage
» NATO Summit: Clash With Turkey Over Missile Shield
» Pilgrimage: How Much Does it Cost to be a Good Muslim?
» Saudi Arabia: Country Dealing With Gold Smuggling
» Syria: Assad Family 40 Years in Power, Now Hezbollah Issue
» Hollywood to Slander Russia Internationally
South Asia
» Pakistan: Bishop of Islamabad, Asia Bibi Case “A Disgrace” — A Campaign by AsiaNews
» Pakistan: US Earmarks $500mln for Post-Flood Reconstruction
Far East
» Asteroid Dust Successfully Returned by Japanese Space Probe
» Chinese Brain-Imaging Device a Suspected Copy of U.S. Device
» Obama Delivers Only Hot Air
Australia — Pacific
» UK Too Full of Immigrants, Says Pauline Hanson
» Australia: Population Boom Inevitable, PM Told Josh Gordon
» California Court Upholds in-State Tuition for Some Immigrants
» U.N.: Lower Barriers to Legal Immigration
» UK: What About My Right to a Family Life, Says Father of Girl Killed by Iraqi Criminal We Can’t Throw Out
Culture Wars
» Spain: Transsexuals Excluded From Work, 80% Prostitute

Financial Crisis

Barroso ‘Extremely Disappointed’ Over Budget Collapse

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has expressed his “extreme disappointment” over the failure of member states and MEPs to agree to the bloc’s 2011 budget, and warned of the negative impact of this breakdown.

“I’m extremely disappointed that talks between the Council and the European Parliament on the 2011 budget have broken down,” Mr Barroso said in a statement on Tuesday (16 November).

Mr Barroso said Britain and the Netherlands ‘have shot themselves in the foot’ (Photo: European Commission)


Comment article

Without specifically naming Britain and the Netherlands, who were the most reluctant to give in to the MEPs demands, Mr Barroso said that “a small number of member states were not prepared to negotiate in a European spirit” and that a solution had been possible in the late hours of Monday night.

“Those who think they have won a victory over ‘Brussels’ have shot themselves in the foot. They should know that they have dealt a blow to people all over Europe and in the developing world,” the Portuguese politician said, in reference to EU subsidies paid to farmers, businesses, regions and humanitarian assistance abroad.

The commission has now to come up with a new draft, with the parliament and member states each presenting their opinion and then talks will start all over again, a process “likely to take several months,” according to EU budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski.

Meanwhile, the EU will now employ a system of provisional budgets funded each month up with up to one twelth of the total 2010 figure.

Diplomats on Monday night pointed out that this will certainly cause “no drama” and that even for new projects, such as the European External Action Service or the three new financial supervisory authorities, there will be enough money left over.

Neither will the safety net for troubled eurozone countries be affected, a spokeswoman for Mr Barroso said Tuesday during a press conference. Pressure has mounted in recent days on the Irish government to ask help from the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), as its borrowing costs on the markets are reaching record highs every day.

“There is no impact of the absence of the budget for 2011 on the possible activation of the EFSM,” the spokeswoman said.

Mr Lewandowski, however, maintains that the month-to-month budget scheme will jeopardise investments in poorer regions — under EU’s cohesion policy — which need longer term planning and require co-funding from the public or private sector.

Poland, one of the big beneficiaries of cohesion policy, is the native country of Mr Lewandowski, himself a former MEP.

Speaking to the EUobserver, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament said that the uphill battle against reticent member states was not about money, but about “going back to the original formula of EU’s founding fathers, who based the European budget on ‘own resources’,” he said, employing the term used in Brussels jargon for giving the bloc its own fundraising powers.

“This is an opportunity to open a discussion about the financing system of the EU — it should be direct financed by citizens, so that they can have a direct influence on EU policies,” he argued.

Debt crises such as the Greek and the Irish ones could be averted, Mr Verhofstadt argued, if the current system of national contributions and rebates was abolished.

He dismissed British sovereignty concerns when it comes to taxation, arguing: “EU taxes exist already, on agricultural imports and part of the value added tax (VAT).”

In the Belgian politican’s view, to talk about EU taxes at times of budget austerity in member states was not inappropriate, since the European Parliament was not asking “for extra taxes,” but to replace some national taxes.

Mr Verhofstadt said that the group of reluctant countries has dropped from 12 mid-October to 3-4 on Monday night, “all the others were willing to start a discussion on it.”

Meanwhile, speaking at a breakfast event in Brussels, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy came to the defence of member states and pointed to the “political courage” governments have to muster when introducing painful austerity measures, despite street protests and “rising populism.”

He spoke of the Lisbon Treaty as offering “new tools” on monetary stability, jobs and growth, but said that while discussions in Brussels are important, “the most difficult political work has to be done in the member states themselves.”

“The choice is not between the ‘intergovernmental’ or the ‘community method’,” he said, referring to the two visions of how Europe should operate: on a national government-to-government basis or through EU-level institutions, “but between a co-ordinated EU position or nothing at all.”

When asked about the 2011 budget, Mr Van Rompuy said that “in the end, compromise will be found.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Dow Drops 179 Points to 11,023.50 After Global Worries

The Dow Jones industrial average briefly fell below 11,000 for the first time since early October.

Stocks were down for the seventh consecutive day after worries about Europe’s debt crisis and possible moves by authorities in Asia to slow fast-paced growth there swept the world’s markets on Tuesday.

[Return to headlines]

EU in Talks With IMF as Irish Bailout Looms

(BRUSSELS) — The European Union on Tuesday signalled that the IMF could be called in to help the bloc resolve a banking crisis in Ireland that has revived fears for the future of the euro.

The EU’s executive commission is holding talks with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to resolve the Irish banking crisis, European economic affairs chief Olli Rehn said.

“The Irish sovereign (debt) is funded well until the middle of next year,” Rehn told reporters ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers to discuss a way out of the crisis in Ireland.

“At the same time the commission together with the ECB and IMF and the Irish authorities are working in order to resolve the serious problems of the Irish banking sector,” he said.

“I expect the Eurogroup (of finance ministers) to support this project.”

Rehn insisted that the current turmoil does not constitute “a matter of the survival of the euro, this is a matter of a very serious problem in the banking sector of Ireland.”

But earlier in the day the president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, warned that the 27-nation bloc’s very future could indeed be at stake.

“If we don’t survive with the eurozone we will not survive with the European Union,” he said.

Finance ministers stepping into the talks expressed willingness to bail out Ireland but insisted Dublin had still made no request for assistance.

“If Ireland needs help we will help,” said French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde. “We have a mechanism in place, it’s a mechanical problem.”

But “Ireland hasn’t asked for help,” she added, echoing comments from other officials.

The IMF earlier this year rushed to rescue Europe from a fiscal crisis, joining the EU in establishing a 110-billion-euro (150-billion-dollar) fund for financially ailing Greece in May.

Rehn however brushed aside comparisons to fiscal troubles in fellow eurozone countries Portugal and Spain and sought to ease fears of contagion through the rest of the single currency area

“Ireland is a very different case,” Rehn said.

In Madrid, Economy Minister Elena Salgado insisted there was no reason why Spain should be affected by alarm on financial markets about the state of Irish and Portuguese finances.

“The situation in Spain is and will continue to be completely different,” she said, although the Spanish government had to pay a much higher interest rate to borrow money in a bond sale on Tuesday.

There is concern that any contagion to Spain would take the crisis to a new level since the Spanish economy is the fifth biggest in the EU.

Bond yields for Ireland, Portugal and Greece all remain high, suggesting a persistent lack of confidence on the part of investors.

The current drama has also weighed on the euro and on share prices in Europe, where markets fell hard on Tuesday.

Twenty-four of the EU’s 27 states are currently running deficits way above the EU limits of three percent of output.

At least one state indicated to AFP that it was fed up offering bailout assistance — Iceland and Latvia also benefit from its taxpayers’ solidarity — and suggested the outcome of talks in Brussels was not a foregone conclusion.

Austrian Finance Minister Josef Proell said his government would withold its December installment of 190 million euros in aid to Greece, saying Athens had not met its commitments to the European Union.

The urgency this time is due to massive debt write-downs arising from an Irish property crash. Ireland’s public deficit this year is set to pass 30 percent of GDP, 10 times the permitted EU limit and double last year’s Greek deficit.

A source at the Luxembourg-based 440-billion-euro European Financial Stability Fund set up by eurozone leaders to prevent the Greek crisis from spreading said there was nothing to prevent money being pumped into Dublin purely to stabilise its banks.

“Ten billion (euros) of the money for Greece was for its banking sector. The percentage is a matter for political decision,” he stressed when asked by AFP if it could run to 100 percent.

Experts say Dublin will need about 70 billion euros. Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker, the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund have all said they are ready to act as soon as possible if asked.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Euro Under Siege as Now Portugal Hits Panic Button

The euro is facing an unprecedented crisis after another country indicated on Monday night that it was at a “high risk” of requiring an international bail-out.

Portugal became the latest European nation to admit it was on the brink of seeking help from Brussels after Ireland confirmed it had begun preliminary talks over its debt problems.

Greece also disclosed that its economic problems are even worse than previously thought.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, raised the spectre of the euro collapsing as she warned: “If the euro fails, then Europe fails.”

European finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Tuesday to begin discussions over a new European stability plan that is expected to result in billions of pounds being offered to Ireland, Portugal and possibly even Spain.

David Cameron said he was thankful that Britain had not joined the euro, but indicated his displeasure that taxpayers in this country face a pounds 7 billion pound liability in any bail-out package.

The veteran Conservative MP Peter Tapsell warned that the “potential knock-on effect” of the Irish crisis “could pose as great a threat to the world economy as did Lehman Brothers, AIG and Goldman Sachs in September 2008”.

Ireland has resisted growing international pressure to accept EU financial assistance amid concerns that this would lead to a surrender of political and economic sovereignty.

However, the German government is expected to signal that Ireland may have to accept a pounds 77 billion pound bail-out, along with a loss of economic and political independence, as the price of preserving the euro.

Mrs Merkel said that the single currency was “the glue that holds Europe together”.

Her words came as fellow eurozone members Portugal and Spain rounded on Ireland. They fear that international concerns over the euro will lead to so-called market contagion spreading to them.

Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, the Portuguese finance minister, said: “There is a risk of contagion. The risk is high because we are not facing only a national problem. It is the problems of Greece, Portugal and Ireland. This has to do with the eurozone and the stability of the eurozone, and that is why contagion in this framework is more likely.”


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Greek Deficit Much Bigger Than Estimate

Greece’s goal of reducing its gargantuan debt received a fresh blow today when the EU statistics agency announced that the country’s 2009 budget deficit was much worse than first thought.

Six months after Athens received €110bn (£93bn) in emergency loans from EU nations and the International Monetary Fund to prop up its near-bankrupt economy, Eurostat revealed that Greece’s budget deficit reached 15.4% of GDP last year, substantially higher than its previous estimate of 13.6%.

In April, Eurostat had estimated the debt-to-GDP ratio would reach 115.1%. The revised data meant that Greece’s debt ratio has eclipsed those of every other EU state, officials said. By the end of 2009, its debt is projected to account for 126.8% of GDP.

Greece’s poor bookkeeping was blamed for the budget black holes.

As a team of visiting inspectors from the IMF, the European commission and the European Central Bank arrived in Athens, there was widespread acceptance that the new figures would throw out the fiscal and structural reform programme the socialist government has agreed to in return for the loans, the biggest bailout in history.

“We will face a profound strategic issue of how to repay €70bn-€80bn when redemption of the rescue loans comes,” a senior government aide told the Guardian. “There will have to be some disguised rescheduling of the time frame in which we repay the money.”


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Ireland’s Debt Crisis Could Kill the European Union Stone Dead, EU President Warns

The debt crisis facing Ireland, Greece and Portugal could threaten the future of the whole European Union, EU President Herman Van Rompuy warned today.

‘We must all work together in order to survive with the eurozone, because if we do not survive with the eurozone, we will not survive with the European Union,’ said Mr Van Rompuy.

He spoke out as finance ministers tried to keep Ireland’s market turmoil from triggering a domino effect that could topple other vulnerable nations and rock the region’s currency union.

Only months after saving Greece from bankruptcy in May, the 16-country eurozone has been shaken by concerns that Ireland will be unable to sustain the cost of its banks’ failure.

European nations are worried the tension is making borrowing more expensive for countries like Portugal and Spain, threatening to push them to the brink of default.

Stifling the contagion — a market panic that jumps from one weak country to the next — is the priority.

Behind Ireland stands Portugal, one of the eurozone’s smaller member with 1.8 per cent of its economy but one that is considered by some to have done less than the Irish to bring debt and deficits back under control.

Next comes Spain, with a proportionally smaller debt burden but a dead-in-the-water economy that is so big — 11.7 per cent of eurozone output — that it could present a much larger challenge if it needs help.

Rates on Irish bonds rose again today as investors’ expectations ebbed for an early decision on an Irish bailout — which would be expected to guarantee they will get paid back on their holdings.

The yield on 10-year Irish treasuries rose to 8.16 per cent from Monday’s closing yield of 7.94 per cent.

Ireland’s minister for European affairs, Dick Roche, concedes that Irish banks are having trouble drumming up operating cash, but insists no bailout agreement is in store.

He suggested that others in the EU were panicking over how to manage Ireland’s £49 billion bank-bailout bill and its deficit, which is forecast to reach a staggering 32 per cent of GDP this year, a record for post-war Europe.

‘I would hope that after the meeting this afternoon and tomorrow there would be more logic introduced to this. There’s no reason why we should trigger an IMF or an EU-type bailout,’ Roche said.

‘There is a problem with liquidity in banks, but I don’t think the appropriate response to that would be for European finance ministers to panic.’

Analysts suggested that Ireland should cut a deal now with EU colleagues and not wait until next year, when the country could rapidly reach the edge of bankruptcy.

Ireland says it has sufficient cash to fund government services through June 2011, and has postponed returning to the bond market until early 2011 in hopes that the interest rate demanded by investors will have fallen by then.

Ireland has already nationalised three banks — Anglo Irish, Irish Nationwide and the Educational Building Society — and has taken major stakes in Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland.

Allied Irish is expected to fall under majority state control within weeks.

David McWilliams, a former Irish Central Bank economist and prominent commentator, said Ireland’s only card worth playing in this week’s Brussels meetings was to admit defeat and stress that Ireland’s problems were Europe’s responsibility, thanks to the euro currency.

McWilliams said Ireland should agree to let the European Central Bank — which has full-time observers inside the Department of Finance in Dublin — take ‘direct responsibility for the Irish banks, over and above the Irish government.’

That would keep the Irish banks from contaminating the bond market, easing the market turmoil for everyone.

‘We need finally to be honest and say to our European colleagues that our banks are bust,’ he said.

‘No matter how much we bluff, that problem’s not going to go away — and our problem is your problem. You have got to help us, because your problem could transfer from Ireland, Portugal and Greece to Spain and Italy.

‘Although it’s not pleasant, we’ve got to defend ourselves. We’ve got to say we’re in this euro together, so what are you going to do for us?’

The rise in yields across highly-indebted European nations has pushed the EU back into the depths of crisis management, after policymakers had spent their recent gatherings focusing on crisis prevention.

‘This is a time for cool heads,’ Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, a spokesman for the EU’s Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, said of the finance ministers meeting.

‘This is a time for political determination and this is a time for serious implementation of decisions that have been taken.’

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro published Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou insisted his country won’t default on its £253billion in debt because doing so would be a ‘catastrophe’ for Greece, Europe and the euro.

On Monday, Greece said this year’s deficit would likely reach 9.4 per cent, well above the 8.1 per cent level it forecast earlier this year when it received a £93 billion bailout from European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

Portugal, which is struggling with high budget deficits, also saw itself forced to deny rumours that it would seek financial assistance.

‘Portugal has made no official or informal contacts with a view to seeking European aid,’ Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos said in an interview Monday with financial newspaper Jornal de Negocios.

But he added that ‘if Ireland’s situation deteriorates’ the market pressure on Portugal would increase.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Irish Debt Woes Make German Banks Uneasy

British and German banks, which hold a combined 288 billion dollars worth of Irish debt, are looking on with increasing unease as Ireland’s debt crisis worsens. EU finance ministers are in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the plight with many saying a bailout is unavoidable.

It is being described as a day of reckoning for Ireland. On Tuesday, European Union finance ministers are gathering in Brussels for their regular monthly meeting — and the first item on the agenda is sure to be the state of Dublin’s finances.

As worries over the country’s debt have spread in the past week, the country has come under increasing pressure from the European Central Bank and other countries belonging to the European common currency zone to apply for aid from the €750 billion fund established earlier this year to prop up the euro. Ireland, however, continues to insist that, for the moment, no help is needed.

“I would hope after the (EU finance ministers’ meeting) this afternoon and tomorrow there would be more logic introduced into this,” Dick Roche, Ireland’s European affairs minister, reiterated to BBC Radio on Tuesday morning. “There is no reason why we should trigger an IMF or an EU-type bailout.”

Roche did say that Irish banks did face serious liquidity problems. But, he added, “I don’t think the appropriate response to that would be for the European finance ministers to panic.”

British and German banks are certain to be watching the developments in Brussels closely. According to data provided by Germany’s largest financial institutions in the summer as part of the Europe-wide banking stress tests, they hold some $138 billion in Irish debt, with Hypo Real Estate, the crippled German lender, leading the way with a portfolio worth €10.3 billion, according to a report in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Tuesday. British banks have total holdings of Irish debt worth $150 billion.

Chain Reaction

Ireland has repeatedly insisted that it will have no trouble covering expenditures through next April at least. But the country has, for the moment, ceased selling sovereign bonds given the extremely high — and rising — interest rates it would have to pay on those bonds. And there is growing concern that the increased focus on Ireland will lead to a crisis in other countries as well, primarily in Portugal and Spain.

On Monday, Bank of Spain Governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez made a plea to Dublin that it take action to calm investors’ nerves. “It’s not up to me to make a decision on Ireland,” he said according to Reuters. “It’s Ireland that should take the decision at the right moment.” Portuguese Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira told the Financial Times on Monday that his country might have to seek help because the return of European debt worries has meant renewed attention on his own country’s stretched finances.

Several media reports have indicated that Ireland has already entered into negotiations on a bailout deal should one become necessary. Citing EU sources, Reuters has reported that an amount between €45 billion and €90 billion ($63-123 billion) is under discussion, with the ultimate amount dependent on how much help Irish banks might need.

Both Ireland and Greece have accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of having triggered the most recent manifestation of Europe’s ongoing debt crisis. Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in late October to a mechanism for sovereign debt restructuring which would require private investors to bear some of the risk for investing in heavily indebted countries like Greece and Ireland. The hope is that such a mechanism would take effect after the €750 billion euro backstop, established early this year, expires in 2013.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]


“Death to America!” a Declaration of War by Traitors?

In the question of whether Islam is at war with the West, The Propagandist has always taken a consistent line: No. A religion cannot be at war with anything. We are not fighting Islam. We are fighting Islamism (or jihadism, if you prefer) and its adherents; those religious fanatics who would use intimidation, everyday violence and terror to maintain an oppressive shariah law in Islamic nations and build the same medieval foundation outside the heart of the Islamic world — over the ashes of a beaten civilization, if need be.

But new footage from Mecca showing tens of thousands of Hajj pilgrims chanting “Death to America! Death to Israel” draws attention to the scale of a horrifying problem. Muslims from all over the world go to Mecca to fulfill their religious duty. They are supposed to be taking part in a spiritual journey, not an expedited course in radicalization and political indoctrination.

No one can claim that these chants are somehow “taken out of context”. They are what they are. When you call for a nation’s death, that is the equivalent of declaring war upon it. And when every Hajj pilgrim makes this declaration, it becomes exceedingly difficult to sort out the terror-minded psychopaths from ordinary Muslims who just want to live decent lives, do good things for their local communities and generally make the world a better place — and not be at war with their friends and neighbors.

There is no modern-day equivalent to this ceremony for any other major monotheistic religion anywhere in the world. We simply do not see the Pope telling his audience of thousands to chant “Death to (name a country that deserves to fall into the sea)”. We don’t see it in Judaism. There are no calls for genocidal conquest made by the head rabbi of Jerusalem. And of course, even if the Pope or the top rabbi actually uttered such instructions, they would be condemned by their followers and the wider, largely secular public immediately as genocidal madmen.

There are equivalents to these sorts of chants. Think of Hitler’s speeches at Nazi rallies. Going back much further in time, it’s possible to imagine that certain death-worshipping cultures like the Aztecs, where the elites codified torture and cannibalism as a necessary parts of their society, might have also called outright for the deaths of nations at rallies outside their great temples. We would rightly recoil if these sorts of gatherings if they existed today. And that’s the point. That’s what the Hajj pilgrimage of Mecca has turned into.

The soft bigotry of low expectations has undermined what ought to be a deafening shout of condemnation from all over the world. “How can we criticize a religious ceremony?” asks the naive observer. “It is their culture — to threaten war and genocide. All religious and cultural practices are legitimate. If we make an exception, we risk chaos, perhaps even religious war.”

Yet any such rationalization that fails to distinguish between religious practices upholding the values of life, justice and peace and those calling explicitly to make war in most treasonous fashion is simply foolish. And it is apparent that not just a mere handful of deluded false prophets have taken up that religious war. Fully tens of thousands of jihadist terrorists and a far larger pool of financiers and propagandists have already declared war upon us. And let us be clear, here, for those who do not live in the USA or Israel: the only reason other countries like the UK, Canada, Germany, Italy and a host of other countries get left out of the chants is for brevity’s sake. They are all “Infidel” nations in the eyes of the Islamists.


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Amid Airport Anger, GOP Takes Aim at Screening

Did you know that the nation’s airports are not required to have Transportation Security Administration screeners checking passengers at security checkpoints? The 2001 law creating the TSA gave airports the right to opt out of the TSA program in favor of private screeners after a two-year period. Now, with the TSA engulfed in controversy and hated by millions of weary and sometimes humiliated travelers, Rep. John Mica, the Republican who will soon be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is reminding airports that they have a choice.

Mica, one of the authors of the original TSA bill, has recently written to the heads of more than 150 airports nationwide suggesting they opt out of TSA screening. “When the TSA was established, it was never envisioned that it would become a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy which was soon to grow to 67,000 employees,” Mica writes. “As TSA has grown larger, more impersonal, and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision provided by law.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Cartoonist Ted Rall to Appear at Communist Bookstore

The communist book shop known as Revolution Books in New York City recently hosted a party and celebration for a 91-page book called Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America. The book is officially published by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a Maoist cult that follows the rants of Bob Avakian, a former comrade of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in the Students for a Democratic Society. This coming Thursday, November 18, Revolution Books is hosting nationally syndicated cartoonist/columnist Ted Rall, a recent guest on the MSNBC television network who is going to read from his new book, The Anti-American Manifesto.

Interestingly, recent visitors to Revolution Books in New York City found a large pencil drawing of Cornel West, a Marxist academic and a member of Obama’s Black Advisory Council during his 2008 presidential run. The drawing was being auctioned off to benefit the communist bookstore. West had debated Carl Dix of the RCP at an event sponsored by Revolution Books. A DVD is now available of the debate and is titled, “The ascendancy of Obama and the Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation.”

According to the DVD, “Proceeds from this historic evening went to Revolution Books NYC and the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, which provides subsidized subscriptions of Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature to prisoners.”

As stated, the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund provides copies of the RCP newspaper to criminals in prison. To understand the impact, consider this letter from a prisoner posted on the website:

“The recent issue #213 that was a special issue on Israel was excellent in its portrayal of the Imperialist attack dog known as the state of Israel. Most people don’t make the connection that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, how it is oppressing the Palestinians is the same treatment all oppressed people get worldwide, of course on different levels.”

When there were indications that copies of the communist paper were being held back from the criminal population, the ACLU went into action, threatening a lawsuit against prison officials.

This program is supposed to guarantee that once the criminals get out of prison, they will be committed communists.

[Return to headlines]

Conservative Group Calls on Justice Dept. To Investigate Muslim Prayers on Capitol Hill

A conservative advocacy group on Friday called on the Justice Department to investigate a weekly prayer session on Capitol Hill that Muslims with terrorist ties have been participating in since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, issued the demand one day after revealed that notorious Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was among the controversial figures who has attended the weekly Friday Jummah prayers hosted by the Congressional Muslims Staff Association during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

The group held prayers informally for about eight years before gaining official status in 2006 under the sponsorship of Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims currently serving in Congress.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

NASA Develops Puncture-Proof Space Tyre

Anyone who’s ever had a puncture far from home knows how frustrating it can be. Imagine then, how annoying popping a tyre on the moon could be.

That’s why NASA has teamed up with tyre producer Goodyear to develop a model that won’t go flat. Conventional pneumatic tyres are unsuitable, because they can puncture and the extreme temperatures and solar radiation can degrade the rubber.

The new airless Spring Tyre improves on the wire-mesh designs employed on the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) driven by astronauts on Apollo missions 15 to 17 (1971 and 1972). It is made of 800 weight-bearing springs and is designed to carry loads 10 times heavier and 100 times further than LRV tyres could manage across the bumpy surface of the moon.

The Spring Tyre won an R&D 100 award for innovation in Orlando, Florida, last week.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Labor Secretary to Honor Communist

Group will give its highest journalism prize to People’s World writer

NEW YORK — A labor group affiliated with the nation’s largest union is giving its highest prize for journalism to a writer from the official newspaper of the Communist Party USA.

President Obama’s labor secretary, Hilda Solis, will be on hand for the awards dinner this week to lead a special session on how to respond to “expected” attacks from the new Republican-led House.

The International Labor Communications Association, or ILCA, a national coalition of labor organizers, is bestowing its media award to John Wojcik, the labor editor for People’s World, the official Communist Party USA publication.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Rangel Violated Numerous House Ethics Rules, Panel Finds

A House ethics panel has found that Representative Charles B. Rangel committed multiple ethical violations. He had been accused of bringing dishonor to Congress by accepting rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer, failing to pay taxes on a rental income from his Dominican villa and raising charitable donations from companies and corporate executives who had business before the committee he led.

[Return to headlines]

Replace Humiliation With Respect

Franklin Raff spotlights successful interview system in Israeli airports

We should emulate El Al, the national airline of Israel.

El Al (according to Global Traveler magazine in 2008, for instance) is the world’s most secure airline. This is both despite, and because, her planes are assuredly the highest value terrorist targets in the air.

Though El Al incorporates many of the same screening techniques to which we have become accustomed (and more than a few more “behind the scenes” processes and procedures, ever-changing as El Al anticipates and adapts to new threats), the “security experience” for El Al passengers is quite different from that of other airlines. For those of us who might qualify for an imaginary “do fly” list, at least, the difference is this:

The El Al security experience is comfortingly intimate, as opposed to humiliating.


El Al, you see, is not focused on detecting nail clippers, marlinspikes or silverware.

It is focused, like a laser, on detecting terrorists.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

State Warning to TSA: Stop Breaking the Law

‘We won’t be able to walk across street without going through checkpoints’

New Jersey state lawmakers today demanded that Congress review the Transportation Security Administration’s new “enhanced” security screening of airline passengers that involves either an X-ray scan revealing a virtually nude image or a full-body pat-down that touches private parts.

And just as state Sen. Michael Doherty and others in Trenton announced resolutions calling on Congress to review the TSA procedures and complaints from travelers, a former top TSA official admitted on a Fox News Channel appearance what many passengers already knew: The procedures are legally questionable.

Mo McGowan was asked if the government could find a reasonable compromise that could detect terrorists without molesting adults and children.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

U.S. Left: Onward Muslim Soldiers

When I think of modern America, conjured up is an image of a boxer who, while sometimes bobbing, weaving, blocking, and occasionally directing a blow with his right, intermittently hits himself in the head with his left. I also might then imagine how the other man in the ring would laugh upon witnessing the spectacle of an opponent who, inexplicably, does half his job for him. The latest hard left thrown in our masochistic, self-flagellating land is the reaction to the Oklahoma constitutional amendment forbidding judges from using international or Sharia law when making decisions. First, and not surprisingly, a lawsuit was filed. The plaintiff was executive director of the Oklahoma CAIR chapter Muneer Awad, who claimed that the amendment’s targeting of Sharia violates First Amendment rights. This prompted U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange to block the measure by issuing a temporary restraining order that will remain in effect until a November 22 hearing. So, as is the modern American way, this issue will be hashed out in the courts. More interesting, however, are the diverging reactions in the courts of public and pundit opinion. While most Americans are cheering the 70 percent of Oklahomans who passed the amendment, the left-wing media’s and fogosphere’s reaction is as predictable as the lawsuit: They are leveling accusations of bigotry against the good residents of the Sooner State. For example, Michael Stone at writes, “The law is an embarrassing absurdity that reflects an unflattering portrait of ignorance and bigotry on the part of many Oklahoma voters.” And pulls no punches, stating right in a headline, “Anti-Sharia law in Oklahoma has smell of bigotry.”

Now, since people become inured to their own odor, there’s some question as to what the Left is actually smelling. And I sense the smell of hypocrisy.

It’s not that it might take industrial-grade chutzpah for the set that preaches the separation of church and state to complain about an amendment banning the use of religious law in government courts. After all, opponents of the law could say that they don’t oppose any such blanket prohibition, just the targeting of a certain religion.

And I don’t buy it for a second. Leftists are the ones who for years have used the Establishment Clause as a pretext to relentlessly attack Christianity and strip longstanding Christian symbols and sentiments from the public sphere while remaining deafeningly silent about Islam’s inroads into it. For instance, in October of this year, Christian students at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, high school were told they may no longer pray before athletic practice and competition; in July, students from an Arizona Christian School were ordered by a police officer to stop praying outside the Supreme Court building during a school trip; and in June, four Christians were arrested five blocks from the Dearborn Arab International Festival for distributing the Gospel of John. They were, writes Janet Levy at American Thinker, “[led] away in handcuffs to shouts of ‘Allah hu Akbar’ from Muslim bystanders.” The official charge was disorderly conduct. I think the de facto one was “evangelizing while Christian.”

At the same time, a red Persian rug is rolled out for Muslim practices. Excelsior Middle School in Discovery Bay, California, adopted an Islamic immersion course in which seventh-grade students had to take on Muslim names, recite Islamic prayers, and celebrate Ramadan. The ACLU doesn’t seem to object, either, and the courts find it palatable under the umbrella of multiculturalism.


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]


Muslim ‘Parallel Society’ Within Canada a Threat: Report

Islamists aim to build a “parallel society” in Canada that risks undermining its democracy and multiculturalism and becoming a “catalyst for violence,” warned a national security report published Monday.

The newly declassified document obtained by the National Post says Islamic hardliners are calling on Muslims living in Western countries to segregate themselves and adhere only to Shariah law.

“Even if the use of violence is not outwardly expressed, the creation of isolated communities can spawn groups that are exclusivist and potentially open to messages in which violence is advocated,” warns the report posted on the newspaper’s website.

“At a minimum, the existence of such mini-societies undermines the resilience and the fostering of a cohesive Canadian nation.”

The report was written by the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre which collates threat information from Canada’s spy service, federal police, military, foreign affairs department and other agencies.

According to the National Post, it was circulated internally after a Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Toronto last year on establishing an Islamic caliphate. “By definition, their world views clash with secular ones. A competition for the hearts and minds of the diaspora Muslims has hence begun,” the report concludes.

It notes that Islamist hardliners while promoting the synchronization of state laws with religious beliefs “are careful to couch their policies in terms of Western freedoms.”

They see the movement as “the peaceful advocacy of minority rights,” it said.

But the report also notes the Dutch Intelligence Service has labeled the movement as “sinister” and one which “could gradually harm social cohesion and solidarity and could harm certain fundamental human rights.”

As well, it cites examples in Denmark in which Muslims bypassed the court system to administer their own form of justice, in one case beating a man accused of assaulting a young boy.

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Carl Bildt Slams EU President Over Turkey

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt roundly criticised European Union President Herman Van Rompuy on Tuesday for omitting to name Turkey in discussions over EU enlargement.

“To talk about enlargement policy and only name the western Balkans, and in a number of speeches forget Turkey, is a little strange and raises questions.

And it’s not a good thing,” Bildt told Swedish public radio, referring in particular to a speech by Van Rompuy in Berlin last week.

In a blog entry posted on November 10th — a day after the speech given in connection with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall — Bildt said Van Rompuy’s “silence on Turkey is as significant as it is remarkable.”

“He is the European Council’s chairman and must represent the policy the European Union decided on,” he continued.

Sweden, and Bildt in particular, is a strong supporter of Turkey’s entry into the European Union.

Turkey began accession talks in 2005, but has since only succeeded in closing one of 35 chapters that need to be negotiated, with 18 blocked either by the EU as a whole, by the Greek Cypriot-led government, or by France.

When asked on Tuesday about the fact that that Van Rompuy had never visited Turkey nor met with Turkish officials, Bildt said “I expect it is on his agenda to have such a meeting.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Chechen Exile Murder Trial Begins in Vienna

A trial involving the spectacular murder of a Chechen exile begins Tuesday in Vienna. Austrian investigators believe it was a contract killing which may be linked to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is alleged to have a network of ruthless agents across Europe.

The room in the Berlin apartment has a dark wooden table and oil paintings on the wall. Water is being heated in a samovar. Men with serious expressions come in, embrace each other and sit down to drink tea.

The apartment is home to the translator Ekkehard Maass. The 51-year-old was a dissident in the former East Germany and now runs the German-Caucasian Society. It’s a meeting point for Chechen exiles, people who have fled the violence in the Caucasus region and emigrated to the West.

When exiles meet for tea these days, two names are frequently mentioned: Ramzan Kadyrov and Umar Israilov. Israilov, a Chechen exile, was murdered in Vienna on Jan. 13, 2009. Kadyrov, the feared 34-year-old president of Chechnya, a man who likes to pose for photographs with a tiger or holding a gold-plated pistol, was allegedly behind the murder. Both Chechen exiles and Austrian investigators believe that it was a contract killing. Israilov had accused Kadyrov of torture and had brought a case against him before the European Court of Human Rights.

The trial of the suspected killers opens in Vienna on Tuesday. The spectacular murder is likely to be followed by an equally spectacular trial, in which prosecutors will seek to shed light on the exact circumstances of the crime, and on a “military intelligence service” that terrorism experts in Vienna believe Kadyrov developed in Europe. Kadyrov is currently being investigated, although charges have not been brought yet. He denies all involvement in the murder case.

Living in Fear

German investigators are also interested in the Chechen president’s activities. His agents have been spotted in Germany, where about 6,000 Chechens live. Some 500 of them are believed to be tied to extremist groups. German intelligence officials find it difficult to get a clear picture of the milieu. The distinctions among freedom fighters, terrorists and ordinary criminals are complicated. In addition, some Chechens owe their asylum status to their cooperation with German intelligence, and the lines are sometimes blurred between informants and troublemakers.

One thing is clear, however: Chechens in Germany live in fear of Kadyrov, who has unscrupulous bodyguards. Chechen exiles have frequently told German authorities about Kadyrov’s influence in Berlin. The president is apparently determined to convince exiles to return home, if necessary with rough measures. He allegedly has middlemen and agents that he uses specifically for this purpose.

The award-winning Chechen poet Apti Bisultanov was one of the exiles who received an unwanted visit from Kadyrov’s men in Berlin. Apparently two former members of the Chechen government were working as agents for Kadyrov in Berlin: the brothers Umar and Magomed Khanbiyev. A witness told Viennese authorities about a conversation he had had with Umar Khanbiyev in Berlin. The Chechen agent apparently told the witness that a major campaign was underway to bring Chechens home, and that Kadyrov was behind it. According to the agent, Kadyrov had a team of six agents working in Europe. They had been provided with Russian visas and were apparently staying in a Berlin hotel.

Kadyrov’s agents, say Chechens in Berlin, try to entice exiles to return home with promises of jobs. Apparently the agents have also threatened violence against the exiles’ families at home in Chechnya. In the case of Bisultanov, Kadyrov’s men and Russian officials worked hand in hand. Russia had demanded his extradition and was trying to torpedo his application for asylum, but was unsuccessful on both counts.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Claim: Danish Authorities Aware of US Monitoring Programme

Former security officer said police received reports of surveillance activity

The former head of a company providing security services for the US Embassy in Denmark says law enforcement authorities were aware the embassy was monitoring individuals it considered suspicious, possibly in violation of Danish law.

Frank Rosendahl, the former managing director of the United International Investigative Service (UIIS), told Politiken newspaper that a six-member team was responsible for collecting information for the embassy’s Regional Security Assistant Officer.

He added that the team usually operated near areas they were supposed to monitor. However, during one surveillance operation in March 2000, one of the team members was caught speeding by a police camera while following another car.

Although Rosendahl had instructed the employee to pay for his own speeding ticket, he sent copies of his observation reports to the police in order to prove he had grounds for speeding.

The police forwarded the reports to the US Embassy, which then passed them on to Rosendahl, who chose to fire the man for having the “wrong attitude”.

The man declined to reveal his identify, but acknowledged to Politiken that the car chase was not “particularly wise”.

“This is not something we can document. But according to the process of elimination, it is clear that the information ends up with the police,” Rosendahl said.

Another former member of the team, who chose to remain anonymous, supported Rosendahl’s claims and said that to his knowledge, the police were aware of the surveillance programme.

Rosendahl added that he was never given any instruction as to how far the guards were allowed to go in order to monitor people it found suspicious.

“I was in a bit of a legal vacuum, in which it was left up to me to set the boundaries for what was morally justifiable,” he said.

The revelations come after the former members of domestic intelligence agency PET last week denied any knowledge of surveillance activities in Denmark, following the allegations in Norway and Sweden that the US embassies there have been conducting illegal surveillance programmes.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Four Ministers Set to Resign From Italian Government

Four ministers are set to resign from the Italian government on Monday in a move that confirms a break with the coalition but will not automatically topple Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

The four — Europe Minister Andrea Ronchi, Deputy Economic Development Minister Adolfo Urso and two junior ministers — are supporters of speaker of parliament Gianfranco Fini, a former ally of Berlusconi turned rival.

“We propose a new government, a new majority, a new agenda for reform… Berlusconi is holing himself up in his palace like in a bunker,” Urso said in an interview on the news channel SkyTG24 ahead of the announcement.

“We need to open a new political chapter,” he added.

Antonio Buonfiglio, a junior minister for agriculture, said: “We will hand in our letters of… resignation from the government by 1:00 p.m.”

Buonfiglio said the decision was “irrevocable.”

Fini called on Berlusconi to resign earlier this month and threatened to pull ministers loyal to him out of the government if he did not.

Berlusconi has fought back, vowing to hold confidence votes in parliament and to fight off his rivals in parliamentary elections if needed.

Italy’s main political forces agreed this weekend that any confidence vote in parliament would only come after lawmakers approve a budget for 2011 at a tricky time for heavily-indebted Italy on international financial markets.

Debate on the budget is set to start on Tuesday in the lower house but final approval by the upper house may come only later in November or in December and the centre-left opposition says it fears “time-wasting tactics” by Berlusconi.

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

France: Sarkozy Appoints Right-Wing Cabinet With Eye on 2012

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon emerged at the head of a more right-wing government, his status enhanced Monday, as President Nicolas Sarkozy regrouped for a possible 2012 re-election bid.

Despite months of intrigue in the run-up to the reshuffle, Sarkozy retained his big hitters, while shifting in favor of a loyal team more likely to fall in behind his government’s deficit-cutting austerity agenda.

And for many observers, the prime minister returned in a far stronger position, ready to work more as a partner of Sarkozy than his assistant.

Under a strengthened Fillon, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux remained in their jobs, while several other Sarkozy loyalists were promoted or saw their responsibilities widened.

Meanwhile, center-right Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo — the number two figure in the outgoing government and until recently a frontrunner to become prime minister himself — announced he was stepping down.

Popular Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a former Socialist minister, was replaced by Gaullist Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, and right-wing former Prime Minister Alain Juppe returned to take over defense.

But in an early sign of splits in Sarkozy’s support base, the outgoing defense minister, center-right leader Herve Morin, denounced the new cabinet line-up as a right-wing “campaign team” in which he had no place.

“France needs pluralism, and democracy needs balance. Since April 2010 the head of state has not agreed with this proposition, and so for my part I can’t remain in government,” said Morin, who is mulling running against Sarkozy.

The new cabinet will also be less ethnically diverse, with the loss of Urban Development Minister Fadela Amara, who is of North African descent, and Sports Minister Rama Yade, who was born in Senegal.

There are 31 ministers in the new team, down from 37 before.

The outgoing head of Sarkozy’s UMP party, Xavier Bertrand, was named labor minister, replacing fellow Sarkozy loyalist Eric Woerth, who has been implicated in a long-running party funding scandal.

Fillon vowed to boost France’s anemic recovery and cut unemployment, and praised what he boasted was the commitment of Sarkozy and his right-wing parliamentary majority to stick by unpopular but necessary reforms.

Socialist leader Martine Aubry slammed the reshuffle as a “blunt refusal” to address the concerns of the French electorate, after two months in which hundreds of thousands have protested against Sarkozy’s pension reforms.

“The French were anxiously expecting a change of policy,” she said. “Tonight, it’s clear — they were ignored.”

Limited reshuffle

Analyst Roland Cayrol of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris school in Paris said the limited nature of the reshuffle, and in particular Sarkozy’s failure to replace Fillon, showed the weakness of the formerly all-powerful “omnipresident.”

“There was a reshuffle simply because the president wanted to change the prime minister to show he was entering the closing straight with a second wind, with change … and he ended up choosing the same man,” he marveled.

Several French newspapers also argued that Fillon’s reappointment showed not just his rising stock, but Sarkozy’s relative weakness.

“The president’s wishes, as hyper as he might be, are no longer orders,” noted the regional daily La Montagne.

Sarkozy had first signaled in March he planned to reshuffle his cabinet, and there has been mounting political tension since he confirmed this in June, as Fillon jostled with several other candidates for his job.

The government pushed on, forcing through an unpopular hike in the pension age, but its leader plumbed new depths of unpopularity and many see the reshuffle as Sarkozy’s last chance to regain momentum before 2012.

A new poll, conducted by Viavoice for the left-wing daily Liberation just before the reshuffle began, showed Sarkozy’s popularity flat lining at its historically low level. Fillon beat him by 20 percentage points.

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

Germany: ‘Naked’ Scanners Fooled by Creased Clothing

Controversial “naked” body scanners currently being tested at Hamburg’s airport are constantly malfunctioning due to folds in passengers’ clothing, broadcaster NDR reported on Tuesday.

The public radio station said the trial of the body imaging security scanners has been plagued by serious problems. The units, which have been in use since September, are apparently unable to tell the difference between foreign objects and such things like pleated clothing.

The scanners use millimetre-wave technology to produce outline images of bodies, with each scan lasting less than three seconds.

While some passengers are being asked to remove thicker clothes such as jumpers, NDR reported that the devices are regularly malfunctioning due to creases in lighter clothes such as blouses and skirts.

Although use of the scanners remains optional, every passenger must now also be patted down and pass through a metal detector, whether or not they have been scanned.

The extra security checks are causing delays, resulting in longer lines and irritated passengers.

New software due to be installed to solve at least part of the problem is not yet ready for use, NDR reported.

The scanners has previously been criticised by civil liberties campaigners the world over, mostly due to fears of how the images would be stored.

Plans to fast-track tests of the controversial body scanners were announced in January following the foiled “underwear bomb” attack in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. The trial period is due to run until the end of March 2011.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Italy: Keats-Shelley House to Offer Taste of England

Visitors to Rome foundation will be able to order tea

(ANSA) — Rome, November 15 — Visitors to Rome’s Keats-Shelley House, memorial to two of the most famous poets of English Romanticism, will be offered a “real taste” of England next time they come round.

Curators to the house, where John Keats briefly lived when he came to Rome in 1821, are preparing to open a small cafe’ so whoever visits will be able to sip a cup of English tea and treat themselves to a piece of carrot cake or banana bread.

“We didn’t want to do the usual Rome cafe’ fare such as espresso and cornetto (croissant),” Sarah Morgan, Assistant Curator to the museum, told ANSA.

Sometime in 2011 the memorial will also swing open up the doors to its terrace so visitors will be able to sip their tea while enjoying the spectacular view of the adjoining Spanish Steps and Bernini’s ‘Barcaccia’ Fountain in the piazza.

The Memorial has been home to the collections of both Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley since the early 1900s when a group of American literati in Rome decided to heed an appeal by poet Robert Underwood Johnson to save the house.

With its display cases of letters, clothes worn by the poets and a reliquary with locks of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s hair, it now celebrates the time when Italy was home to Byron, Shelley and Keats.

Keats had travelled to Italy in search of a cure to tuberculosis, the disease that had killed both his parents.

The poet died in 1822, aged 25, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome where he still lies.

Unlike the other Romantic poets, Keats did not write anything in Italy.

Byron and Shelley, on the other hand, were both inspired by Italy. Byron lived here from 1816 to 1824 before going to Greece where he died of a fever, Shelley in 1816 after his elopement with Mary Godwin and her sister, and from 1818 to 1822, when he drowned in a storm off the Tuscan coastal resort of Viareggio, aged 29.

The foundation is entirely self-funded, revenue mainly coming from rent paid by an Italian shoe shop on the ground floor and from visitors, many of whom are Italian school groups.

A small gift shop is a recent addition and it will soon be selling umbrellas with the house’s ceiling motif on the inside, wrapping paper, notepads, postcards, glittery bouncing rubber balls, and tote bags.

By Christmas, the store will also have greeting cards with a quote from Keats. The collection of memorabilia and original pieces continues to grow as curators are keenly on the lookout for possible acquisitions.

The Memorial managed to pick up the first edition of Shelley’s ‘Hellas’, published in 1822, the first English edition of ‘Adonais’ published in Cambridge in 1829 as well as a two-page Jorge Luis Borges manuscript entitled ‘John Keats 1795-1821’ at a recent auction in London by Sotheby’s. “This was actually the very first time we ever had money to buy things,” said Morgan.

She was particularly pleased about the acquisition of Hellas, which was to be the last work published by Shelley in April 1822, three months before he drowned.

The copy of ‘Hellas’ picked up by the Memorial is particularly precious as it still has its original wrappers, printed label and bookseller’s label. Shelley’s elegy for Keats, ‘Adonais’, was written in 1821 and first published in Italy.

The first English edition was privately printed, in a run of 500 copies, by a group of admirers of Keats and Shelley. The Borges manuscript, which dates from the early 1950s, contains the author’s notes on Keats in preparation for his essay ‘El ruiseñor de Keats’ (Keats’s ‘Nightingale’), which first appeared in ‘La Nación’ on 9 December 1951, and was reprinted the following year in his collection of essays ‘Other Inquisitions’. Morgan said curators had also considered bidding on a first edition of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and followed the auction on-line as it happened.

“It was exciting,” said Morgan who stressed that curators decided to withdraw from the auction because the 80,000 pound starting price was too steep.

She explained that it was thought best to wait for better opportunities in the future.

“We really like to pick what we’re keen to have. And what if a new letter of Keats appears on the market? We want to be ready for that,” she confided.

photos: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during her 2009 visit to the Memorial.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Silvio Berlusconi Dealt Another Blow as Four Ministers Resign

Silvio Berlusconi’s opponents hammered another nail into his crisis-hit coalition on Monday when four ministers loyal to his main rival resigned from the government, making early elections more likely.

The four were supporters of Gianfranco Fini, an ally of Mr Berlusconi until the pair had a spectacular falling-out during the summer.

The resignations hastened a looming showdown between the prime minister and Mr Fini, a former fascist turned moderate seen as a potential successor to Mr Berlusconi, whose term in office is meant to run until 2013.

“With the withdrawal of Fini’s government members, the betrayal has begun,” said Maurizio Sacconi, the welfare minister and a Berlusconi loyalist.

Mr Fini, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, had called on Mr Berlusconi to resign earlier this month, pledging to withdraw his ministers if he did not.

When Mr Berlusconi defiantly refused to stand down, claiming that 60 per cent of Italians still supported him despite recent polls showing that his party would only win 26 per cent of votes, Mr Fini made good on his threat.

The resignations of the four — including Andrea Ronchi, the Europe minister — will not topple the government but they do make its long-term survival unlikely.

They said they wanted to establish “a new government, a new majority, a new agenda for reform” and accused Mr Berlusconi, 74, of “holing himself up in his palace (as if it’s) a bunker.”

Mr Fini has set up his own political party, Future and Freedom for Italy, which could merge with two moderate opposition parties, the Unione di Centro and the Alleanza per l’Italia, to forge a new centre-Right bloc.

Mr Berlusconi faces a key confidence vote before the end of the year over the approval of Italy’s 2011 budget.

If he loses the vote, he would have to resign, opening up the possibility of early elections, probably in the Spring, or the formation of a national unity government.

His approval ratings have plummeted, the economy is in the doldrums and he faces awkward questions over his relationship with a teenage Moroccan belly dancer, on whose behalf he allegedly lobbied in May when she was accused of stealing.

Having risen from obscurity to national fame in the last two weeks, Karima El Mahroug, 18, is busy cashing in on her new-found celebrity.

On Saturday night she was paid a reported 2,000 euros (£1,700) for a 20-minute appearance at a Milan nightclub called Karma, where she sat on a mock golden throne, drinking Champagne and blowing kisses at guests.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Wants Confidence Vote or Elections — But Only for Chamber of Deputies

Prime minister confident of green light. “The government will go on”. Attack on RAI and newspapers

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi is confident that the government will win a confidence vote in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. If the vote should go wrong in the lower chamber, where the numbers are currently less favourable, elections will be held, but only for the Chamber of Deputies. On the day after his letter to the leaders of both houses setting out his intention to demand a vote of confidence after approval of the budget, Silvio Berlusconi spoke by telephone to the People of Freedom (PDL) convention in Milan. “We will continue to govern with a vote of confidence from the Senate and which I think will also be given by the Chamber of Deputies. And if confidence is voted but not in the lower chamber then we’ll go to the polls for the Chamber of Deputies and see what the Italian people decide”. In the wake of the crisis on the Centre-right caused by the rift with Gianfranco Fini’s supporters, Mr Berlusconi renewed his attacked on his adversaries: “There are professional politicians who are able to aspire to be prime minister, or president, only by behind-the-scenes compromises. But that’s not democracy; it’s just an inter-party carve-up”. There was time for an attack on the RAI (“It’s a disgrace to have public broadcasting of this nature”) and the newspapers (“Don’t read them. They describe a situation that doesn’t exist and has nothing to do with the electorate. They describe party-dictated positions. The truth is that voters exist and 60% of them are with me”). On the day of the Centre-left primaries, Mr Berlusconi gave the PDL’s official support to Letizia Moratti in the race for the mayorship of Milan. “Every best wish to Letizia Moratti”.

BOSSI — “I reckon Berlusconi wants an election. That’s why he’s lowered stakes. I’d be raising them”, said Umberto Bossi, referring to a possible vote for only one of the two chambers instead of the whole Parliament. “Fini told me that he has no problem with Berlusconi as prime minister and I take him at his word”.

FINI SUPPORTERS — Whatever the case, the final showdown will not take place until the stability budget has been approved. But Mr Berlusconi’s move to ask first the Senate and then the Chamber of Deputies for a vote of confidence, with the option of an election for either only, provoked a harsh reaction from Mr Fini’s supporters as well as the anger of the Democratic Party (PD). “The possible dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies if the vote of confidence is unfavourable is sleight of hand. Its only objective is to reassure those senators who are ready to back a responsible course of action that would avoid yet another election campaign in Italy”, said the Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI) group leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Italo Bocchino. “We remain convinced that a decision in the interests of Italy would be expedient, with the government’s resignation and the start of a virtuous process calling all political forces to take responsibility towards Italians”, he concluded.

MINISTERS — Some government ministers took a different view. On RTL 102.5 radio, public administration minister Renato Brunetta, said: “This government will get a third severe budget approved, with or without a vote of confidence. The accounts are in place. Italy has been saved from the great crisis”. Mr Brunetta went on to say that the budget “allocates resources for schools, universities and productivity and trims back the cuts, particularly with regard to social action by municipalities. It’s a budget for hard times that meets the country’s needs”. Addressing the opposition without referring to it, he added: “Could the honourable gentlemen do any better? Do they want to go back to pork-barrel budgets? Let them say so: we want to go back to the sickly mess of governments coming together and breaking up”. The education minister Mariastella Gelmini, said: “The continuing attacks on Mr Berlusconi, which aim to forget about the past 15 years of the country’s history, actually invigorate the prime minister. If the government falls, the only other option is to go to the country. You can’t say there’s an interim government when those who won the election go into opposition and the losers are running the country”.

LETTER TO FINI AND SCHIFANI — Mr Berlusconi had outlined his next moves in a letter to the leaders of the two chambers, Renato Schifani and Gianfranco Fini. The prime ministers expressed his intention to deliver “communications in the Senate on the political situation, including the announced withdrawal of Future and Liberty for Italy [FLI] from the government over which I preside, immediately after the definitive approval of the stability budget and the national accounts. These last requirements are imperative to a positive stabilisation of Italy’s economic and financial profile, as several sources, some of great authority, have underlined. In connection with the communications, the government intends to verify whether a relationship of confidence still obtains in the Senate and immediately afterwards, in the Chamber of Deputies”.

NAPOLITANO — This is a significant step for the executive, and one appreciated by the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. According to the head of state, it is a good thing that “the government and all the political forces” should agree on the need to give priority to approval of the budget and then tackle the “political crisis”, in compliance with the presidential invitation. “After all, a similar solution was adopted in late 1994”.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Jihadist Online Chat Rooms Also Have Contributors From Finland

Finnish help in maintaining hard-line Islamic web pages

Finns have been found to be among participants in international jihadist pages on the internet, says Timo Kilpeläinen of the Finnish Security Police (SUPO).

The discussions have taken place on pages where people sharing a hard-line Islamist ideology can network, spread propaganda, and strengthen their radical resolve.

“These include pages of al-Qaeda and al-Shabbab”, Kilpeläinen says.

Finns taking part in the discussions use the pages for the purpose of strengthening their ideological resolve. “They also seek social support for their thoughts”, Kilpeläinen says.

SUPO also knows of cases in which help in maintaining international jihadist web pages has come from Finland. There are no indications of terror sites in Finnish.

Taking part in the discussions are both native-born Finns and foreigners living in Finland.

There is no evidence that anyone from Finland would have been inspired by the content of any of the web pages to travel abroad to fight.

“The web pages are a catalyst, but going to fight often requires personal contact as well.”

The exact number of Finns taking part in jihadist discussion boards is not known.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Local Liberal Too ‘UN-Swedish’ For Top Post

A local Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) politician from suburban Stockholm is accusing her party colleagues of racism after being told she was unfit for a leadership post because she was “un-Swedish.”

“I was told I had a certain temper, that I had a strong voice, that I was different,” Sepideh Erfani told The Local.

“I wasn’t appropriate for the post because I was too un-Swedish. I was shocked.”

The comments by party colleagues about Erfani’s Swedishness came in connection with discussions about who among members of the Liberal Party’s local chapter in Haninge south of Stockholm should be given a number of leadership posts on the local council.

During a meeting to discuss the matter last Saturday, Erfani complained that four of the six posts allotted to the Liberal Party had gone to members of the party’s internal nominating committee.

“It was a clear conflict of interest,” she explained.

As the number two name on the local party list, Erfani felt she was a valid candidate for the post of vice-chair of the council’s social affairs committee.

But following the critique, her name was removed from consideration. When she pressed her colleagues for an explanation, one of the reasons cited was that she was “un-Swedish.”

“I felt like I’d been punished for speaking my mind,” she said.

“When I pressed them, no one in the room denied that I’d been called un-Swedish.”

Erfani singled out Peter Olevik Dunder, who occupies the top spot on the local party list, for questioning her Swedishness.

“During discussions he said, ‘you know, we can’t have someone who is so un-Swedish representing the party,’“ she explained.

Erfani’s version of events was confirmed by Mikael Trolin, chair of the Liberal’s local chapter in Haninge, who said he was told that she was ultimately left out of consideration because she was “too bombastic.”

“She’s simply too un-Swedish. I don’t know if they mean that she has a weird accent or that she gestures too much with her hands or what it can be,” he told Sveriges Radio (SR).

According to Trolin, it was Dunder who used the term “un-Swedish” in conversations about Erfani.

Erfani added that she has heard Dunder describe her in the same way on previous occasions, although he had refrained from calling her “un-Swedish” specifically to her face.

Attempts by The Local to reach Dunder for comment on Monday were unsuccessful. However, speaking with SR, he acknowledged that he and Erfani have had a “difference of opinion” on many issues, although he denied ever calling her “un-Swedish.”

“She and I have had many conversations over the years on a range of subjects, but I don’t think I ever said that exactly,” Dunder told SR.

Erfani lamented what she saw as a “dictatorial” approach to politics by her Liberal Party colleagues in Haninge and their seeming unwillingness to consider different points of view.

“If I wanted to be in a dictatorship, I would have stayed in Iran,” she said.

“What am I, an elected official or a robot?”

Erfani emphasised, however, she has no plans to leave the party after the incident, and that her complaint is directed only at the Liberal’s local chapter in Haninge, rather than the party as a whole.

“How they handled this was unacceptable,” she said.

She added that the matter is set to be discussed with county-level officials from the Liberal Party.

“We’ll see where the conversation leads,” Erfani said.

David Landes

+46 8 656 6518

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

Sweden: Neo-Nazi Site Charged Over Reader Comment

Charges have been filed against the publisher of a website affiliated with a Swedish neo-Nazi magazine for allowing a reader comment with racial slurs to remain on the site.

The site is the online version of Nationellt Motstånd (‘National Resistance’), a quarterly print magazine put out by the Swedish Resistance Movement (Svenska motståndsrörelsen), one of Sweden’s most active neo-Nazi groups.

The comment in question, entitled “Immigrants create racist roadblocks”, accompanies an article published in April 2010 about a highly publicized case in which a 78-year-old woman died from injuries sustained from being pushed by a 23-year-old man in a shopping centre parking lot in Landskrona in southern Sweden.

The 23-year-old came from a family of immigrants and his arrest led to heightened ethnic tensions in the town, prompting another right-wing extremist group, the National Democrats, to call a public meeting in the town square to “protest against anti-Swedishness”.

The article, published on April 15th, 2010, told of how star defence attorney Leif Silbersky was set to defend the 23-year-old in his upcoming trial.

The following day, a racially charged comment was published beneath the article which referred to immigrants as “****ing parasites” and encouraged people to “hit back” rather than “back up” when challenged.

The commenter added that he or she feels “satisfaction” every time “I can ‘lay’ my hands” on what he or she refers to as a “kulturberikare”, an increasingly common term of derision used in far-right circles in reference to immigrants.

The term, literally translated as “culture enricher”, is a play by the far-right on arguments in support of multiculturalism which often cite “cultural enrichment” as a positive aspect of diversity.

“This is about Sweden and the Swedes’ survival,” the commenter wrote.

Because ‘Nationellt Motstånd’ reviews reader comments before publishing them, the comment falls under the jurisdiction of Sweden’s libel laws.

Following a preliminary investigation launched in May, Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern — JK), concluded that the comment amounts to agitation against ethnic groups (hets mot folkgrupp), and has filed charges against the site’s publisher, 26-year-old Emil Hagberg for violating Sweden’s press freedom laws.

When reached by The Local, Hagberg declined to comment on the charges, claiming statements made by him and his colleagues at ‘Nationellt Motstånd’ are too often “misinterpreted” in the media.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

UK Muslim Mob Threatens to Fly Black Flag of Islam Over Downing Street, White House for Jailed Cleric’s Release

London, Nov.16 (ANI): Hate-filled Muslim extremists have vowed to fly the black flag of Islam above Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister, and the White House, the official residence of the US President, in protest over the imprisonment of cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed in Lebanon.

Omar Bakri Mohammed is currently serving a life sentence for training and fundraising for al-Qaida.

Bakri has been banned from Britain since 2006.

The Daily Express quoted Abu Saalihah, a student of Bakri’s, as saying: “We will not rest until the black flag of Islam is flown over the White House and 10 Downing Street.”

The demonstration took place outside the Lebanese embassy in London.

Preacher Anjem Choudhary, 43, who organised the demonstration, said: “Lebanon is a very divided country. There is a very real chance that Sunni Muslims in that country will do everything they can to free Omar Bakri, even physically.”

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

UK Still Cheerleader of Turkey’s EU Bid

Britain has not “downed the pom-poms” for Turkey’s bid to become a European Union member, the country’s state minister for EU affairs said, following reports that Turkey had lost its principal supporters in the bloc.

“[The new coalition government in Britain is] the strongest supporter of Turkey’s accession to the European Union and proud to be a leading advocate for Turkey in the EU,” David Lidington, British minister for Europe, wrote in the Financial Times.

Earlier last week, the British daily said the progress of Turkish-EU accession talks had stalled in the five years since the EU unanimously voted to begin negotiations, with opponents of Turkey’s entry to the bloc using every trick in the book to delay it.

“Opponents hope that Turkish public enthusiasm for the EU will ebb away as the delays drag on. Sadly, this is possible. Support for joining the EU has fallen in Turkey, and some of the country’s main cheerleaders, such as the U.K. and Spain, have downed their pom-poms,” he wrote following the EU’s latest progress report published last Tuesday.

However, Lidington insisted that Britain is still one of the “main cheerleaders” of Turkey’s accession bid and that the country’s position could not be clearer since the coalition government came into power.

“U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron visited Turkey in July where he launched a new dynamic in relations between our two countries. Support for Turkey’s EU accession is at the heart of the U.K.-Turkey strategic partnership he signed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” he said.

“Mr. Cameron was clear: he was there “to make the case for Turkey’s membership of the EU. And to fight for it.” And it is not just the U.K. cheerleading for Turkey — on Nov. 9 the Italian and Turkish foreign ministers published an article in Italy’s La Repubblica in support of Turkey’s EU ambitions,” Lidington wrote, recalling Cameron’s strong-worded speech in Turkey.

While acknowledging that the latest EU progress report highlighted Turkey’s shortcomings in protecting religious and ethnic minorities, press freedoms and the rights of women, Lidington noted the report also describes the far-reaching reforms and real progress Turkey has made over the last year on judicial reform, the role of the military and fundamental rights.

“These reforms demonstrate Turkey’s steady commitment to its EU accession. There are obstacles ahead. But we believe Turkey can achieve its full European goal with that steady commitment and determination to take forward reform. We will continue to make the argument for Turkey’s EU membership,” he said.

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

UK: ‘Disgusted’ Mother Turns in 14 Yr Old Daughter Who Vandalised War Memorial

A schoolgirl who was shopped to police by her own disgusted mother after the teenager vandalised a city’s cenotaph has admitted the offence in court.

The 14-year-old sprayed obscene pink graffiti on the memorial in Wolverhampton, which so outraged passing war heroes on their way to a function that they were moved to tears.

The teenager admitted daubing the cenotaph with a lewd drawing of a penis and the slogans ‘I love Luke x’ and ‘Spar’s’.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Criminal in Police Uniform’: Sergeant Who Helped Run Brother’s Drug Gang Jailed for 11 Years

A crooked police officer who took over his ‘enforcer’ brother’s drug gang was caught with a stash of machine guns, ammunition and cash hidden at his home.

Sergeant Salim Razaq, 33, who had a reputation as a dedicated officer, had already been picked out for promotion.

But his brother Hafiz — known as ‘Big Haf’ or ‘The Enforcer’ — was the feared ‘muscle’ for a local cocaine ring.

When Hafiz was locked up on remand accused of kidnapping a rival in a vicious turf war, his policeman brother plotted to help intimidate a key prosecution witness and hid a deadly cache of weapons and ammunition for him.

Today Razaq was jailed for 11 and a half years at Liverpool Crown Court after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice, possession of firearms and ammunition as well as misconduct in a public office.

Tonight senior police chiefs in Lancashire said they were dismayed Razaq, a trusted officer, could have betrayed the force.

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Cooke said: ‘Salim Razaq was nothing short of a criminal in a police uniform and I am appalled by the fact that a police officer was involved at the level he was in this criminality.’

Judge Henry Globe QC, told the disgraced officer: ‘Your actions have brought potential discredit to the police force.

‘It amounts to a breach of trust, a dereliction of duty and it amounts to extremely serious and persistent criminal offending whilst ostensibly, supposedly upholding criminal justice in your capacity as a serving police officer.

‘The guns were being kept by you to return to gangs who kill, maim, intimidate and terrorise.

Those who provide a safe hiding place for weapons and ammunition make a significant and distinctive contribution to the use of firearms on the streets and elsewhere. A significant and lengthy sentence is justified.’

The court heard Razaq, who was stationed in Nelson, Lancashire, was regarded as a promising young officer, while his brother was becoming notorious as an enforcer for the Deepdale drugs gang in nearby Preston.

His gang was involved in a feud with the rival Fishwick mob, and in April 2007 suspected associate Mohammed Beg, 22, was snatched from his BMW by a masked gang, held captive for three hours and tortured and beaten.

Hafiz, 25, was arrested and sent to prison charged with kidnapping from where his calls to his brother Salim were secretly taped discussing money laundering, witness intimidation and a ‘tick list’ of drug deals.


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

UK: Early Learning Centre Bans Toy Pig From Farmyard Set for Fear of Offending Muslims (But Keeps Sty and Oink Noise) By Louise Eccles

A children’s shop has removed toy pigs from farmyard sets in case they offend Muslims and Jews.

The Early Learning Centre ditched the pig from its HappyLand Goosefeather Farm toy set after it upset some customers.

One mother realised the pig was missing from the set she bought for her daughter’s birthday when she found a pig sty and a button that made oinking noises, but no pig.

The interactive set, which also has a chicken, a horse, a cow and a sheep, makes the animal noises when buttons are pressed.

When the mother complained, she was told in an email: ‘Previously the pig was part of the Goosefeather Farm. However due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm.’

In some religions, pigs are seen as unclean.

Last night, the retailer did a U-turn and agreed to bring back the pigs after disappointed families complained at such a move driven by political correctness.

The angry mother, named only as Caroline, told The Sun newspaper: ‘This is political correctness gone loopy. Surely if someone has an issue with a toy they don’t agree with then they don’t buy it.’

On an internet chatroom, another mother said: ‘I’m a Muslim and it doesn’t bother me. It is just another animal. What is the store going to do next? Ban the Peppa Pig cartoon? Ban books with pigs in?’

The set, which costs £25 and is suitable for toddlers aged 18 months, also includes a dog, a farmer on a tractor, a farmer’s wife and a farmhouse.

A spokesman for the Early Learning Centre said: ‘We have taken the decision to reinstate the pigs and will no longer sell the set in international markets where it might be an issue.’

Customers have been told they can apply for their missing pigs through the store’s website.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Hush Money: Multi-Million Pound Payouts to Silence British Terror Suspects Held in Guantanamo

Terrorist suspects freed from Guantanamo Bay are to be paid off to silence their claims that UK spies were complicit in torturing them.

At least one former detainee will receive more than £1million in hush money from ministers desperate to stop the cases reaching court.

One of the largest payouts will go to Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who claims MI5 and MI6 fed questions to his CIA-backed torturers.

In return for the cash, the detainees will drop the civil cases for damages that had threatened to lift the lid on the activities of the intelligence agencies after 9/11.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke will today announce the out-of-court settlements that follow secret talks mediated by two independent QCs.

The deal clears the way for work to start on an independent inquiry into alleged British complicity in torture. David Cameron has put Sir Peter Gibson, the senior judge and Intelligence Services Commissioner, in charge of the inquiry.

The exact payouts will remain secret but ITV News revealed that the total runs into millions of pounds.

Ministers decided to act after a court ruled in the spring that more than half a million secret documents on the treatment of the detainees would have to be produced if their cases ever reached court.

Security sources say the publication of those documents would have seriously damaged intelligence relations with the U.S., which was embarrassed by the details of Mr Mohamed’s treatment that emerged at the High Court earlier this year.

Mr Cameron announced in July that he would seek to come to terms with the detainees because vetting the secret documents would take huge amounts of time for MI5 and MI6.

‘It was already costing £10million a year and more than 100 security agents were working on it,’ a source told the Mail last night.

Security chiefs in Whitehall were also concerned that if they fought the court cases and lost, taxpayers would have to shoulder payments for damages and legal fees that could be in excess of £50million.

The former detainees due to receive the money include British citizens and residents of the UK, some of whom entered the country as asylum seekers.

Those to receive settlements include Bisher Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga.

One allegation is that the British government knew they were being illegally transferred to Guantanamo Bay but failed to prevent it.

The High Court has been informed of the deal. Government sources said that the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee would be given a chance to scrutinise the terms of the deal.

The National Audit Office has also been briefed on the situation so that they can assess whether public money has been well spent.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said last night: ‘The Prime Minister set out clearly in his statement to the House on 6 July that we need to deal with the totally unsatisfactory situation where for the past few years, the reputation of our security services has been overshadowed by allegations about their involvement in the treatment of detainees held by other countries.

‘The Government will lay a written ministerial statement, updating the House on progress, tomorrow morning.’

The Prime Minister promised compensation if the inquiry discovered that the UK had been complicit in torture.

All relevant files would have been made available to the judge, but documents from foreign intelligence services were not under the remit of the inquiry.

Critics believed that any investigation which was not held in public risked covering up the truth.

Mr Cameron’s offer of ‘mediation’ to help any of the complainants settle their civil cases also raised suspicions that the government wanted to close down the cases before further damaging allegations were made about the security services.

Government officials argued that the decision to pay off the detainees was politically brave but the right one.

‘We could have kicked this into the long grass for five years, but we’ve grasped the nettle,’ one said.TODAY’S POLL Do you think the compensation payout to Guantanamo victims is fair? Yes No VOTE POLL RESULTS Close All polls Click to view yesterday’s poll results They argue that it would have been impossible to hold the Gibson inquiry with the threat of legal action hanging over the probe. But now that the detainees have agreed to drop their civil claims, intelligence officers will be freer to tell the truth about their involvement with the detainees.

Representatives of the detainees did not immediately respond but they would not have settled unless they were satisfied that their claims of maltreatment will be properly examined by Sir Peter.

Security sources also disputed the claims that the payments were ‘hush money’, stressing that the demand for secrecy about the terms of the deal came as much from the detainees as the government.

Last week George W. Bush claimed in his memoirs that information obtained by

waterboarding Al Qaeda suspects had helped prevent attacks on Canary Wharf and Heathrow.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Islamist Sympathisers Admit They Are Losing Ground in Government

Over the last few months, I and others monitoring Islamism’s influence inside the British state have started to believe that the tide is turning. Last week one of British Islamism’s most important fellow-travellers, a man called Bob Lambert, appeared to confirm my view.

When Lambert was head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit, he exemplified a view shared by some others in the security establishment: that we can anoint “good Islamists” and use them as a bulwark against the “bad Islamists.”

The showpiece for this approach is the North London Central Mosque, also known as the Finsbury Park Mosque. The mosque, formerly home to Abu Hamza and a centre of terrorist recruitment, was closed after a police raid in 2003. On its reopening, in a deal brokered by Lambert, it was essentially gifted to an Islamist group, the Muslim Association of Britain. The new leadership were certainly more moderate than Abu Hamza — not terribly hard — but they have close links with another designated terrorist organisation, Hamas.

Last week, in an article for the al-Jazeera website, Lambert defended a decision by some of his other Islamist allies, such as the East London Mosque, to host meetings with the terrorist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. At first reading, I merely enjoyed Lambert’s piece as a rare full bingo card of all the techniques from the I-Spy Book of Advanced Islamist Rhetoric (lofty pseudo-academic tone? Check. Calling anyone who disagrees with you a “neo-con”? Check. Wilfully misrepresenting what they actually said? Check. Labelling as “speculative” any facts you don’t like? Check.)

But then I noticed, buried near the end, Lambert’s significant admission that “the weight of think-tank and media opinion appears to have discouraged the Government from adopting and promoting the Finsbury Park model.” Hurrah! The trustees of Finsbury Park include Mohammed Sawalha, described by the BBC’s Panorama as a former senior figure in Hamas who “is said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from his perch in London. The mosque’sspokesman, Azzam Tamimi, has justified suicide bombings against civilians (but only Israeli ones, so that’s all right, then.)

Lambert’s policy was a tamer version of the securocrats’ disastrous pre-9/11 misjudgment, the so-called “compact of security,” when they allowed Hamza and other al-Qaeda sympathisers openly to use London as a base in the touching belief that it would somehow count in our favour with Osama bin Laden. At Finsbury Park, Lambert legitimised fringe minority radicals as authentic, mainstream voices. Glad he knows he’s been rumbled.

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

UK: More Than a Dozen Terror Suspects to Get Millions of Pounds Compensation

Sixteen terror suspects who were allegedly tortured at the behest of the United States are being paid millions of pounds from the taxpayer in return for their silence over British involvement.

At least one former Guantanamo Bay detainee will receive more than £1million in hush money from ministers desperate to stop the cases reaching court.

One of the largest payouts will go to Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who claims MI5 and MI6 fed questions to his CIA-backed torturers.

The Government refused to confirm or deny reports that the total compensation was £5 million or £10 million.

The cash is being handed over in secret deals without any evidence being shown to the public that Britain condoned or was complicit in what happened.

In return for the cash, the detainees will drop the civil cases for damages that had threatened to lift the lid on the activities of the intelligence agencies after 9/11.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Middle Class Voters Are Liars and Hypocrites Says Top Labour MP in Astonishing Rant

A Labour frontbencher has launched an astonishing attack on middle-class voters, branding them liars, racists, drunkards and even paedophiles.

Eric Joyce, the party’s Northern Ireland spokesman, condemned the public for attacking lying politicians when they themselves may be ‘living lies’ at home.

In his rant, Mr Joyce condemned ‘articulate and intelligent’ parents for putting the interests of their own children over those of the poor.

He accused parents of hypocrisy for condemning drug use while drinking too much and said that MPs were right to appeal to the worst instincts of voters, including racism.

Mr Joyce even condemned attitudes to the danger of paedophiles, pointing out that most sex offenders target young victims within their own families.

He delivered his outburst in an article called Liar, Know Thyself for the website Labour Uncut.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Toy Pig Pulled From Farm Set on Religious Grounds

A retailer withdrew a toy pig from a children’s farm set to avoid the risk of causing offence on religious grounds, it emerged today.

A mother who bought the Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) HappyLand Goosefeather Farm for her daughter’s first birthday contacted the store after finding that the pig was missing, the Sun newspaper reported.

The £25 set contained a model of a cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog but no pig, despite there being a sty and a button which generated an “oink”.

But ELC chiefs have since decided to reintroduce the pig, with parents who have bought the set invited to get the toy from the company’s website.

The mother, named only as Caroline, posted about her experience in a forum on parenting website Netmums.

She wrote: “Checked the box and discovered that there isnt a piggy. Went online, nope no piggy. So I emailed ELC and the response that I had makes my blood boil…(The ELC wrote) ‘Previously the pig was part of the Goosefeather farm however due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm.”‘

Caroline added: “This is political correctness gone loopy. On what basis did they remove it?

“This is as bad as no more ‘baa baa black sheep’ or other such things. Stuff like this is just insipid, it worms its way into every aspect of our lives and we just let it happen. Surely if someone has issue with a toy that they don’t agree with, then don’t buy it!”

A mother called Chouli responded: “Does it have a disclaimer on it, though? ‘Pig sold seperately (sic)’? Perhaps they keep a stash of them in the back somewhere in brown paper bags?”

And another named Safiyyah said: “I’m Muslim and it doesn’t bother me. It’s just another animal.

“What are the store going to do next? Ban the Peppa Pig cartoon? Stop selling books with pigs in? This is a multi-cultural country.”

The ELC later said it had decided to reinstate the pig.

A spokeswoman said: “ELC is a truly global brand, which means we need to be aware of the full range of customer expectations and cultural differences. The decision to remove the pig from our Goosefeather Farm set was taken in reaction to customer feedback in some parts of the world.

“We recognise that pigs are familiar farm animals, especially for our UK customers. Taking on board all the customer feedback, we have taken the decision to reinstate the pig and to no longer sell the set in those international markets where it might create an issue.

“Any customers who have bought Goosefeather Farm in the last few months will be able to order a pig free of charge to complete their set via our website in the coming weeks.”

           — Hat tip: McR [Return to headlines]

UK: Two Jailed for Life for ‘Sickeningly Violent’ Murder of a Shopkeeper Who Refused to Meekly Abandon His Property

Two men were jailed for life today for the ‘sickeningly violent’ murder of a shopkeeper who was battered to death with wine bottles from his shelves during a botched robbery.

Gurmail Singh, 63, was attacked for just a few pounds, some sweets, alcohol and cigarettes during a raid at his shop in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in February.

Muawaz Khalid, 20, was told he must spend at least 21 years in prison by a judge at Bradford Crown Court. Nabeel Shafi, 18, who protested his innocence as he was led from the dock, was given a 20-year minimum term.

The judge, Mr Justice Henriques, said: ‘This was a most violent and sickening attack by at least two of you on a lone shopkeeper late at night.

‘It is to be regretted that no defendant at any time during the eight-week trial showed the slightest remorse.’

The judge said the victim’s skull had been shattered into little pieces’ by the force of the blows.

‘One blow would have disabled him, seven blows took his life away,’ he said.

‘If Gurmail Singh had abandoned his property and money and said “take what you want boys”, he would not have lost his life. He was too brave for that.

‘There may have been mental or physical suffering inflicted on the victim before death, in the sense this was a sickeningly violent and unnecessarily savage assault on a man in his 60s.’

The court was told Mr Singh died as a result of a ‘robbery gone wrong’.

He ‘did not meekly hand over his property, his hard-earned money’ to a gang of robbers who targeted his shop, the court was told.

The jury heard how members of the public came to Mr Singh’s aid. One man trapped two members of the gang inside by holding the door shut but they got out of a back door after desperate attempts to smash their way out of the front, prosecutors said.

Both were tackled by other members of the public but managed to free themselves and get away, the court was told.


           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

UK: Toy Pig Removed From Farm Set to Avoid Offending Muslim and Jewish Parents

The pig was missing rom the Early Learning Centre’s HappyLand Goosefeather Farm, which costs about £25, when a mother bought it as a present for her daughter’s first birthday, the Sun newspaper reported.

The set did contain a model of a cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog but no pig, the newspaper said, despite there being a sty and a button which generated an “oink”.

The mother, named only as Caroline, called the firm to complain and was told in an email that the pig had been removed in case it upset Muslim or Jewish parents.

Both the religions ban the eating of pork because they consider the pig an unclean animal.

The Sun reported that the email said: “Previously the pig was part of the Goosefeather Farm. However due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm.”

The issue came to light on internet forum Netmums, on which Caroline posted: “This is political correctness gone loopy.

“This is as bad as no more ‘baa baa black sheep’ or other such things. Stuff like this is just insipid, it worms its way into every aspect of our lives and we just let it happen.

“Surely if someone has an issue with a toy they don’t agree with, then don’t buy it.”

One mother called Chouli responded: “Does it have a disclaimer on it, though? ‘Pig sold seperately’? Perhaps they keep a stash of them in the back somewhere in brown paper bags?”

Another mother named Safiyyah said: “I’m Muslim and it doesn’t bother me. It’s just another animal.

“What are the store going to do next? Ban the Peppa Pig cartoon? Stop selling books with pigs in? This is a multi-cultural country.”

ELC said: “The decision to remove the pig was taken in reaction to customer feedback in some parts of the world.”

However, after The Sun contacted the firm, it said: “We have taken the decision to reinstate the pig and to no longer sell the set in international markets where it might create an issue.

“Any customers who have bought Goosefeather Farm in the last few months will be able to order a pig free of charge via our website.”

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

UK: Westminster on Mumbai-Style Terror Attack Alert After Al Qaeda Threat

MPs have been told to prepare themselves for a Mumbai-style terrorist attack on the Palace of Westminster.

Politicians and staff in the Houses of Parliament have been instructed to try to evacuate the buildings if there is a terrorist raid rather than barricading themselves in their offices.

The contingency planning comes after it emerged that Al Qaeda gunmen had planned to emulate the Mumbai attacks on European and American soil.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


World’s Oldest Copper Age Settlement Found

A “sensational” discovery of 75-century-old copper tools in Serbia is compelling scientists to reconsider existing theories about where and when man began using metal. Belgrade — axes, hammers, hooks and needles — were found interspersed with other artefacts from a settlement that burned down some 7,000 years ago at Plocnik, near Prokuplje and 200 km south of Belgrade.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Fresh Tensions Between Copts and Muslims in South

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, NOVEMBER 16 — There are further tensions between young Muslims and Copts in a village in the province of Qena in Upper Egypt, around 700 kilometres south of Cairo.

The press agency Mena says that security forces have put an end to the violence in the village of Al Nawahed, which was provoked by the alleged abuse of a Muslim girl by a young Christian. Around ten Coptic homes, including that of the father of the young man said to be at the root of the tension between the two communities, were set on fire by young Muslims, according to the satellite television channel Al Jazeera, which says that police this morning enforced a curfew after arresting a number of young people, both Muslims and Copts.

On January 7 this year, in Nagaa Hamadi, in the same province of Qena, six Copts and a policeman were killed as they came out of a Coptic Christmas mass. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Egypt: Mob Burns Christian Homes

Cairo, 16 Nov. (AKI) — A group of Islamic radicals set fire to 10 houses belonging to Christians in a village approximately 500 kilometres south of Cairo, less than a month after Al-Qaeda said it would target the northern African country’s religious minority.

Local security forces said the assailants would have caused far more damage had they not been arrested.

Following an October attack on a Baghdad church that killed at least 58 people, Al-Qaeda said it would target Christians in the Middle East and northern Africa and singled out those in Egypt.

Attacks on Christians have increased despite announcements of support by Muslim leaders.

Coptic Christians make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million.

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

Muslims Set Fire to Coptic Christian Homes in Southern Egypt, Officials Say

Muslims set fire overnight to at least 10 houses belonging to Coptic Christians in a village in southern Egypt over rumours that a Christian resident had an affair with a Muslim girl, security officials said Tuesday.

The officials said security forces sealed off the village of al-Nawahid in Qena province, some 290 miles (465 kilometres) south of Cairo, to prevent the violence from spreading to neighbouring towns. They said several people were arrested.

The attacks started after locals spotted a young Copt and a Muslim girl together at night inside the village cemetery, the officials said. They added that both were put under police custody as authorities investigate.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The village was calm by nightfall, after religious leaders from both communities persuaded their followers to end the confrontation. Residents called on police to withdraw.

Clashes between Christians and Muslims occasionally occur in southern Egypt, mostly over land or disputes over church construction. But sectarian tensions have also been on the rise recently in the capital.

Last year in Qena, a Coptic man was accused of kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl. The alleged assault led to widespread protests by the Muslim community and increased tensions between the two religious groups, which culminated in the murder of six Copts and one Muslim security guard at a church on Jan. 6.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Copts and Muslims generally live in peace, though tension and violence occasionally flare.

Human rights groups say attacks on Copts are on the rise, underscoring the government’s failure to address chronic sectarian strains in a society where religious radicalism is gaining ground.

The government insists Christians enjoy the same rights as Muslims.

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]

Middle East

A Weak State Incubates Terror

By Jonathan Spyer

The revelations last week of a sophisticated plot emanating from the Yemen-based al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula organization have belatedly refocused attention on this most backward and poverty stricken of Arab states. The sending of explosive packages to synagogues in Chicago is only the latest act of international terror to have emerged from Yemen in the last year.

Yemen today exemplifies the central malaise of the Arab world in particularly acute form. Throughout the Arabic-speaking world, failed development, a political culture in which extremist Islamist ideology thrives and Iranian interference and subversion from outside serve to create a breeding ground for political violence to grow and proliferate.

Only in areas where strong and shrewd (though unrepresentative) state regimes exist — such as Egypt, Jordan and, in a more problematic way, Saudi Arabia — is the lid uneasily kept on this boiling cauldron.

Yemen is one of the weakest of Arab state regimes.

As a result, regional forces of subversion have linked up with local Islamists and are turning the country into a hub of instability — playing host today to no fewer than three separate armed insurgencies.

Yemen is the poorest Arab country; 40 percent of its people live on less than $2 a day. The country’s steadily depleting oil reserves are unable to generate sufficient income for the government to maintain the tribal patronage system on which it depends. Gas exports are failing to make up the shortfall. Yemen’s water supplies are also dwindling.

The regime of President Ali Saleh is autocratic, inefficient and largely ineffectual. Its economic policies have failed to develop the country. It rules in name only over large areas of the country.

Poverty, illiteracy, extremism and discontent are salient aspects of today’s reality in Yemen…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Germans Held in Iran Accused of Espionage

Two Germans arrested in Iran last month as they tried to interview the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery came for “espionage,” an Iranian justice official claimed on Tuesday.

“These two Germans came to Iran claiming to be tourists,” said Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the justice department chief of East Azerbaijan province in the northwest of the country, quoted by Fars news agency.

“But the work of these two tourists in Iran and Tabriz and the way they reported in Tabriz shows that they came for espionage,” he said.

“In fact these two came here for espionage and, thank God, they were identified and arrested … The evidence for espionage was in their hands when arrested and they were planning a smear campaign against the Islamic Republic.”

Sharifi said “the crime of espionage for the two Germans who came to Iran to make smear campaign and for espionage has been proved.”

On Monday, Iranian state-run television showed blurred footage of the two German men “confessing” that they had been “tricked” into coming to Iran. According to the Farsi voiceover of the footage, the two detainees pointed fingers at Mina Ahadi, an Iranian human rights activist living in exile in Germany.

Ahadi, founder of the Germany-based International Committees against Execution and Stoning, has launched a global campaign to halt the impending execution of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani by stoning.

“I did not have any information about this case, but Ms Ahadi knew about it. She sent me to Iran and has gained propaganda value from my arrest. I will sue Ms Ahadi when I am back in Germany,” one of the detainees was quoted as saying.

“I accept that I made a mistake. Since I had no information on the case, I was tricked by Ms Ahadi,” the other German was quoted as saying.

But Ahadi on Tuesday rejected the accusations, telling news agency AFP: “I did not send them to Iran. I spoke to them about the risks and helped them make contacts.”

“I do not think the journalists were mistreated physically. That’s what I suspect. But they were certainly under psychological pressure,” she said. “They have been in prison for a month … no contact with their family, no phone contact, only once have German diplomats visited these journalists. They are under pressure.”

The two Germans, who were arrested in Tabriz on October 10, have not been identified. It was unclear where the footage, in which the two men were shown close-up and looking healthy, had been shot.

The television report said the pair were arrested at the office of Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s lawyer while trying to interview her son and after taking pictures of Tabriz prison, were the woman is held.

The Germans, who entered the country on tourist visas, reportedly work for the Axel Springer media group in Germany. Foreign reporters need special press visas to be able to work in Iran.

“We are following the news. But for the moment we have no specific information about it,” the German Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, adding the detained Germans have had “intensive consular assistance.”

Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s case, revealed last summer by human rights associations, has triggered an international outcry. She was initially given death sentences by two different courts in Tabriz in separate trials in 2006. A sentence to hang for her involvement in the murder of her husband was commuted to a 10-year jail term by an appeals court in 2007.

But a second sentence, to die by stoning on a charge of adultery levelled over several relationships, notably with the man convicted of her husband’s murder, was upheld by a different appeals court the same year.

Iran’s judiciary says a final decision is yet to be made about the case and that it is now focusing on the murder conviction of the mother of two rather than adultery charges.

“Her case is currently undergoing legal process in Tehran and if it is finalised and the order is given for the sentence to be carried out, the sentence will be carried out,” Sharifi said.

“Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is currently being held in Tabriz prison and is in perfect health,” said the justice official.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

NATO Summit: Clash With Turkey Over Missile Shield

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, NOVEMBER 15 — Turkey’s objection to indicate the names of the enemies against which NATO countries should defend themselves from with the new missile shield could thwart the most expected and ambitious plan of the NATO summit that will take place on Thursday and Friday in Lisbon. NATO sources in Brussels report that “Turkey does not want to list Iran and Syria, while France is not budging on this point”. NATO and the USA want to deploy a missile interception system to prevent the threat posed by the launch of short and medium range missiles from the Middle East, especially from Iran, whose nuclear programmes are deemed a growing threat, or by other ‘rogue’ states. The plan, which provides for the use of US resources in the NATO architecture, replaces the missile shield which the USA’s Bush Administration wanted to set up on its own in the Czech Republic and in Poland. The new shield would instead involve all 28 countries allied with NATO, which could link up with each other at the ‘modest’ cost of 200 million euros. The whole system would also be able to dialogue with Russia. However Turkey still has to decide if and how to join the NATO project. Aside from objecting to naming Iran in the final document of the Lisbon summit, Ankara is requesting that its territory be fully (instead of partially) covered by the new programme. The sources reported that “Turkey does not want Iran and Syria to be mentioned, but it demands weapons, patriots in particular, capable of defending it from the threat of Iran, at NATO’s expense”.

US diplomacy is pressing Turkey to reach a compromise that will not jeopardise the ambitious project. Diplomatic sources reported that “The Americans accepted Turkey’s request not to cite the names of the enemies, but they do not intend to give in on total coverage at NATO’s expense. But that is not enough for France”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Pilgrimage: How Much Does it Cost to be a Good Muslim?

(ANSAmed) — ROMA, NOVEMBER 15 — How much does it cost to be a good Muslim? With the arrival of the month of Hajj (the pilgrimage that sees millions of believers head, from all corners of the world, to the Mecca to live the experience that every Islamic believer should carry out at least once in a lifetime), shopkeepers and entrepreneurs of the Holy places of Islam start to get excited. In effects many rely on this incredible flow of people to adjust the accounts of shops and companies that experience a boost during this time of the year. According to figures published by Saudi media, an all inclusive two week pilgrimage can cost from 3,000 to almost 30,000 euros, according to whether one chooses a low cost or ‘VIP’ solution. Excluding certain fixed costs, such as visas and health insurance (vaccination against meningitis and influenza are a must, but are free of charge in certain health centres for those who go to the Mecca), the figure is impacted by the number of days spent in the Holy places, the type of lodging and transport, and the distance from the country of origin.

One can choose between a shared room in Mina or Al Aziziya or a double room in a five star hotel in the area of Markaziya, to which one must add the cost of public transport or private transport that connects the two cities of Mecca and Medina.

Those arriving from distant countries must also deal with the cost of air fares, part of the budget that some States are making an effort to limit. The government of New Delhi, through the Hajj Committee of India, reached an agreement with the Ministry of Civil Aviation to grant special prices to Muslim believers departing for Saudi Arabia. The same is being done by the government of Jakarta which a few months ago announced to the local press that, as stated by minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali, there would be an 80 dollar cut on the government’s “all inclusive” package, which changed from “3,422 dollars last year to 3,342 dollars this year”, without there being a lowering of service levels.

With great expectations the shopkeepers of Medina are not going to be caught unprepared: spurred by the encouraging signals that hint at a market recovery after the dark period of 2009, they are getting organised to attract pilgrims into their shops, even granting commissions to the bus drivers who carry the faithful. And there is more: Hajj also offers the chance to exalt tourist attractions offered by the Gulf Country. The authorities are also aware of this, and want to support the sector by sponsoring various locations in the area. As of this year the pilgrims will be met by a novelty, which was strongly wanted by the Saudi authorities: a radio will provide assistance in eight languages (including English, French and Farsi), offering information and directions. The radio also has another characteristic: once the period of pilgrimage is over, it will stop broadcasting until the next one. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Country Dealing With Gold Smuggling

(ANSAmed) — ROME, NOVEMBER 15 — While raw gold enters into Saudi Arabia tax-free, a 6% tax is applied to refined gold. This difference, according to the University of King Abdulaziz Economics Professor, Khaled Al Bassam, cited by Assharq Al Awsat, is the reason behind smuggling, a phenomenon which was unknown until a short while ago in the country. Most smuggling operations, according to the professor, are conducted through the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, where the precious metal is imported and then illegally exported to Saudi Arabia. Smuggling, according to Khaled Al Bassam, does not have much of an effect on the price, which is determined by the obvious greed of the merchants, who are concerned with making profits at all costs.

Under the pretext of restructuring, many goldsmith’s workshops in Saudi Arabia have moved abroad. The real reasons behind this migration are the tax on refined gold and the cheaper working conditions outside of the country, especially low labour costs. “Other countries,” underlined Khaled Al Bassam, “do not place limits on the quantity of raw gold that a merchant wants to import.” The President of the Gold and Jewellery Committee of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, Jameel Al Farsi, was quite direct in saying that it is better for the smaller companies that do not create added value and benefits for the country and themselves to leave the country. Due to the lack of specialised labour, gold factories in Saudi Arabia must provide more training for the workers, underlined Al Farsi. If they are not able to do this, their activity should then be limited to simply importing refined gold. In the city of Jeddah there are four gold factories and 320 workshops where most of the processing of this precious metal takes place. Al Farsi also said that “precise figures do not exist” on smuggling, but there is a suspicion that the quantity of refined gold smuggled into the country is high. Despite a low level of raw gold production and the existence of only one gold mine (there is speculation about the existence of others that have not been discovered yet), Saudi Arabia is considered to be one of the largest consumers of refined gold. Gold prices, explained Al Farsi, are linked to several factors such as the dollar (and its oscillating exchange rate, which pushes big investors towards gold) and large-scale speculation in Europe.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Syria: Assad Family 40 Years in Power, Now Hezbollah Issue

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT — Seven regional conflicts, an exhausting armed insurrection, a dangerous coup attempt, a delicate leadership replacement attempt and an infinite succession of external pressures failed in 40 years to brush away the Syrian dynasty of the al-Assad family, which celebrates the ascent of its best known representative, Hafiz, president up to the year 2000 and father of the current rai’s Bashar, who has been in charge for the past decade. The latest storm survived by the al-Assad family is the one unleashed against Damascus by the accusations of the USA, France and Saudi Arabia, which blame it of being involved in the homicide in Beirut of the former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.

Since autumn of 2008, Syria has been implicitly absolved and the pointed finger of the western powers has shifted towards Lebanon’s Hezbollah, his allies in the fight against Israel. The UN’s Special Tribunal (Tsl), charged with identifying the authors of the 14 February 2005 attack, is about to issue an indictment against certain Hezbollah managers in order, according to the pro-Iranian Shiite movement, to delegitimize its resistance activities against Israel. But Syria, which has been Iran’s close strategic ally for thirty years, distanced itself from Hezbollah’s position, stating that in the event that “the indictment is based on irrefutable evidence, nobody will be able to challenge it”. It is the umpteenth test of the pragmatism of the Assad family, which is accustomed to rhetoric and political balancing acts in a Middle East that appears to be once more on the brink of a precipice. To the east, neighbouring Iraq appears to be anything but stabilised, while in its ‘backyard’, Lebanon, there are the marks of a “civil insurrection” threatened by Hezbollah, which is however forced to await the results of a timely “Saudi/Syrian plan” aimed at defusing the time-bomb they made themselves. On 16 November 1970 Hafiz al-Assad assumed control of Syria through a “corrective movement” whose events are celebrated every year in every corner of the Country. Since then, Assad the father managed to ferry the Country through the Arab/Israeli War (1973-74), Lebanon’s civil conflict (1975-90), Israel’s invasion of Lebanon (1982), the armed insurrection of the Muslim Brothers (1976-82), the Iran/Iraq War (1980-88), the coup attempt by his brother Rifaat (1984), the fall of the USSR and the Gulf War (1991). Having assured succession in power by his second son Bashar (his first son Basil died during a mysterious accident), a sick Assad died in June 2000 with a single major regret: having failed to win back the Golan Heights, which had been occupied by Israel back in 1967. The task of returning Syrian fishermen to the shores of the Lake of Tiberias now lays on the shoulders of 44-year-old Bashar, who has already been put to the test by tough regional challenges: the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (2003-2009), the war between Israel and Hezbollah (2006), but above all by the political offensive launched as of 2004 by George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac, at the time respectively presidents of the USA and France, who were determined to weaken the Assad family (if not actually dethrone them) starting from the soft Lebanese flank.

Relying on the alliance with Iran and the recent friendship with Turkey, over the past 18 months Syria run by the Assad family has found reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and is again playing a leading role in ‘its’ Lebanon. In effects with the blessings of Washington and Paris. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Hollywood to Slander Russia Internationally

Hollywood is reportedly preparing an ideological operation against Russia. The goodie of the new “epic movie” is going to be Georgia’s sitting President Mikhail Saakashvili. The making of new Russophobic lampoons has become possible because of Russia’s ideological inactivity. If the situation is not going to change for the better, this “artifact” may become another victory of Mishiko the Fearless.

Any country and its people may face a variety of dangers throughout its existence: natural disasters, epidemics, riots and so on and so forth. War can be one of them. A war against a whole country can be waged not only militarily, but also peacefully. An attack conducted with the use of weapons of ideological destruction, or a political attack, can cause as much damage as common bombings.

Russia has always been lucky when it comes to the number of ideological adversaries. She has been lucky at it at all times and all eras. Now the country will have to deal with another anti-Russian ideological operation. Online publications report that Hollywood is currently working on a movie titled “Five Days in August”. The movie is being made on the order from Georgian producers. The main characters in the new film are: aggressive Russia, heroic Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and the helpless Georgian people who suffer from the attacks of Russian planes, helicopters and Kalashnikovs.

It seems that it was not the Georgian producers, who ordered the film of lies and slander. Most likely, it was vice versa: Hollywood followed orders from adequate special services to push Georgian producers towards ordering the film. It’s not much big of a deal, though: it is neither fighters for truth nor respectable movie makers who work on this piece of lies.

Why do they need to have another ideological nonsense about Russia? There is no simple answer to this question. One question prompts several answers.

First of all, the West needs to improve the authority of Mr. Saakashvili. The Georgians may eventually become very disappointed in their reckless president. The viewers either know nothing about him, or they have forgotten how Mikhail Saakashvili was hiding from the imaginary Russian air raid or how he was chewing his tie in front of TV cameras.

Second of all, the USA and the whole “civilized West” are very concerned about Russia’s positive activities on the international arena. A way to restrict her independence in international affairs is to portray Russia as a state that is always guilty and that always tries to justify its wrong-doings.”

The fabricated version of the real events of August 2008 is exhausted. The war has been forgotten. Why not stirring up the lies again? Many people tend to trust their eyes rather than their mind.

So, in March of 2011, millions of cinema-goers will have a chance to experience the horror of Russia’s “large-scale, brutal and mean” attack against the “small, noble and peaceful” Georgia.

Most likely, Russia will begin to expose the lies in the film. However, as we say in Russia “a first word matters a lot more than a second.” Many will perceive Russia’s reaction to the film as a series of awkward excuses.

Ideological operations bring material results in combination with political profit. Needless to say that investors will not turn their heads to an aggressive country.

There is another question. Why do anti-Russian forces attack our country so easily and delightfully? There are three answers to it.

First. Russian politicians fatally underestimate the significance of ideology in the modern world. They tend to think that the truth will find its way to the masses itself. Russia has heard too many Western tales about the life of Soviet people dominated by Soviet ideology. As a result, Russia has virtually declined ideology. The West hasn’t. Now we have Russia ideologically disarmed, whereas the West is armed ideologically very well. The West uses this weapon of spiritual destruction — ideology — on a regular basis. Russian politicians have something to think about here.

Second. Many years of experience confirmed: the authors of the movie will not carry any responsibility for any fiction about Russia. They can be sure that their product will entail no action on Russia’s part.

Third answer. Political adventurers of the whole world know that Russia may take inconsistent actions in response to vile insinuations from other countries. Russia said many times to the whole world that it would defeat any aggressor. As for slanderers — personified or corporate — Russia said that it would use toughest diplomatic, political and economic sanctions against them.

The attack conducted by Georgian troops against Russian peacemakers and Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia should have ended with complete destruction of the Georgian army, the storm of Tbilisi and a severe sentence for Mikhail Saakashvili.

If that had happened, would the international community have been concerned too much? It does it all the time anyway. It is not ruled out that the international community would have understood Russia’s toughest measures against the aggressor a lot better than Russia’s minimum punishment for Georgia. The truth about five days in August would have probably reached the West if the aggressor had been defeated, rather than forced to peace.

What if Georgia’s supporters would have provided military help to the country? The West provided that help anyway as it shipped military hardware and instructors to Georgia. That was all the West could do — they had to deal with more important things in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Does this all sound too radical? This is politics. Politics is communication, as Aristotle said. There are two special points, where politics disappears: complete agreement and complete inability to cooperate (war). If there is complete content, there is no point of communication. If it is impossible to communicate, people develop hostilities to each other.

Politics exists between these two extreme points. Saakashvili took communication with South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the point of war. War has its own laws. A war ends when one of the parties is destroyed, and the winner obtains the right to handle the way of the defeated enemy.

Half-measures only suspend a war — they do not cancel it for good. Incomplete wars continue in other forms — most likely in the form of ideological attacks against the winner. Aggressors must be destroyed to their capitulation.

It should be as clear as day to all politicians harboring aggressive plans. The nations (armies, first and foremost) should know it. If they unleash a war against another country, they must be prepared to lose everything: life, freedom, honor and well-being.

Half-measures build grounds for various speculations, and this is what Russia reaps right now because Russia has not punished the aggressor (Georgia) accordingly.

There is another aspect to this story. There is evil, ambitious and stupid Saakashbili, but there are also the people of Georgia, with whom Russia has been friendly for many years. They say that every nation has the rulers that it deserves, but I do not think that it is true. I’m talking about friendship, about the truth of life.

Maybe some people in Russia have good friends in Georgia. I would not say, though, that the Georgians have warm feelings towards Russians. Many years ago, many Soviet citizens used to spend their holidays in Georgia. Did the Georgians treat the Russians, especially blonde women, with respect? No. The Georgians look at all other nationalities from above, except for other Georgians. They can be even arrogant and disdainful to people of other nationalities.

If Hollywood releases the above-mentioned film, Russia should entirely and completely boycott that “work of art.”

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

South Asia

Pakistan: Bishop of Islamabad, Asia Bibi Case “A Disgrace” — A Campaign by AsiaNews

Mgr. Rufin Anthony the blasphemy law “must be repealed; it does not fit with 21st century world “ Petitions to save Asia Bibi and repeal the blasphemy law in Pakistan, Italy, USA, India, France. Within hours, the AsiaNews site received over 500 signatures. Even cloistered monasteries prayfor Asia Bibi. A text to send to President Asif Zardari.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — “It’s really a shame”, says Msgr. Rufin Anthony, Catholic bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi in comments to AsiaNews about the death sentence against Asia Bibi (see photo), the woman convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab state. The prelate stresses that the law is abused and manipulated for petty reasons and it is time to repeal it to make Pakistan a modern country.

“In the villages — the bishop says — there is a lot of meanness. I asked a woman about the characteristics of her [Asia Bibi] village. She replied immediately: Malice, envy, apathy and brutality. Here is the full picture. Can this justify the killing of a good person? The answer is no! I think that the blasphemy law should be repealed, is not at all suited to the world of the 21st century”.

Already, a year ago, the Justice and Peace Commission in Pakistan had asked for the abolition of the blasphemy law, collecting more than 75 000 signatures from Christians and Muslims. AsiaNews had helped to spread their campaign in Italy and at the European Parliament (see dossier Save Christians and Pakistan from the blasphemy law).

These days, after the ruling against Asia Bibi, many nongovernmental organizations in the country are gathering signatures for the same reason. In a few days more than 40 thousand signatures have invaded government offices calling for the liberation of women.

Aid to the Church in Need has also launched a signature campaign in France and Italy. Other groups in India and the United States have launched campaigns against the blasphemy laws.

AsiaNews launched its campaign yesterday urging its readers to “do something”, and in a few hours collected more than 500 signatures from Italy, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, India, Great Britain, ….

Among the first to sign up, were Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, the famous Egyptian scholar on Islam, Phil Lawler, editor of U.S. Catholic, Kenneth Lewis, president of International Christian News, David Cantagalli, editor. There are also several messages from cloistered monasteries, praying for Bibi Asia and Pakistan.

As reported yesterday, the campaign asks you to save Bibi Asia and Pakistan, by sending an e-mail to , or directly to President Asif Zardari to this address: .

Some readers have asked for a basic text to be sent as a message to President Zardari. Here it is:

To Mr Asif Ali Zardari,

The President of Pakistan

Mr. President,

Asia Bibi’s death sentence is not just a sentence, it is a State crime.

Therefore I hope you will not permit that, not only because of your sense of Justice but also because it is badly affecting the reputation of your country.

Please intervene as soon as possible to reduce the pains Asia Bibi and her family are suffering.

Moreover the constant deliberate persecution of Pakistani Christians through the law on blasphemy is offending the Almighty God more than any human being.



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

Pakistan: US Earmarks $500mln for Post-Flood Reconstruction

Rome, 15 Nov. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — The United States will commit 500 million dollars to help Pakistan rebuild after the catastrophic flooding that hit much of the country in July and August, US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke announced on Monday.

“As a demonstration of our sustained commitment to expanding our partnership with Pakistan, and in close consultation with our Congress, the US will commit up to $500 million of the first year of Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds,” Holbrooke said.

He was speaking at the Pakistan Development Forum in the capital, Islamabad.

Holbrooke was referring to a 1.5 billion dollar annual development budget already promised to Pakistan under a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Dick Lugar of Indiana.

Holbrooke said the money would benefit victims recovering from the flooding which killed nearly 2,000 people , displaced millions and devastated agriculture and infrastructure.

The funds for rebuilding came on top of the 500 million dollars already provided by the United States for flood relief, he added. Pakistan’s military has been spearheading efforts to help the flood victims.

The administration of US president Barack Obama is working closely with the US Congress and Pakistan’s leadership to determine how these funds can best be deployed so that they are aligned with Pakistani priorities.

Rebuilding agriculture in areas worst affected by the flooding, infrastructure projects and the rebuilding of schools are expected to be high priorities.

The World Bank had assessed the funding and said it was satisfied controls were in place to minimise corruption and make sure the aid reached the people and projects that most needed it, Holbrooke said.

The US is also committed to supporting Pakistan’s long-term economic stabilisation programme. “The Government of Pakistan’s plans to move forward on macro-economic reforms mark a significant step toward self-sufficiency,” said Holbrooke.

“However, Pakistan needs to continue its work with the International Monetary Fund and the development banks to expand the tax base and develop sustainable energy policies critical to Pakistan’s future and economic growth.”

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

Far East

Asteroid Dust Successfully Returned by Japanese Space Probe

A Japanese spacecraft that touched down on a space rock during a billion-mile mission successfully returned the first ever samples from the surface of an asteroid, Japan’s space agency said today (Nov. 16).

The samples are in the form of tiny dust grains collected directly from the asteroid Itokawa in 2005 by Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft, which returned to Earth in June. It was a 1.25 billion-mile (2 billion-kilometer) trip that took seven years to complete. [Photo of the asteroid samples]

The dust was found inside a sample return capsule that landed in Australia and was flown back to Japan for analysis.

“About 1,500 grains were identified as rocky particles, and most of them were judged to be of extraterrestrial origin, and definitely from Asteroid Itokawa,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said in a statement.

JAXA scientists have known there were particles of material in the Hayabusa sample return capsule since July. But they were unsure if those particles were actually pieces of an asteroid, cosmic dust or contamination from Earth.

Now, they said, it is clear. The Hayabusa spacecraft collected samples of an asteroid.

“Being able to retrieve material from a celestial body beyond Earth was more than we had hoped for,” Hayabusa project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi told Japan’s Mainichi Daily News. “When the capsule returned, I said, ‘Just having it return is like a dream,’ so I don’t know how to express this, which was beyond my dreams.”

This graphic shows how the Hayabusa asteroid mission worked. Itokawa is a silicon-rich asteroid about 1,755 feet (535 meters) long at its longest side. It takes about 556 days to complete one orbit around the sun.

JAXA scientists used a scanning electron microscope to study the asteroid samples collected by Hayabusa. They found signs of minerals such as olivine, pyroxene and others, which matched remote-sensing observations taken by Hayabusa when it visited asteroid Itokawa.

Most of the particles are about 10 micrometers in size, roughly 1/10th the width of a human hair. They were found in one of two compartments inside the Hayabusa sample return capsule and must be handled delicately, JAXA officials said.

“JAXA is developing the necessary handling techniques and preparing the associated equipment for the initial (but more detailed) analyses of these ultra-minute particles,” they added.

The fact that the Hayabusa spacecraft returned asteroid samples is the ultimate vindication for Japan’s mission team.

JAXA launched Hayabusa (Japanese for “Falcon”) in 2003. The spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Itokawa in 2005 while the asteroid was 180 million miles (nearly 290 million km) from Earth — almost twice the distance between our planet and the sun.

But Hayabusa experienced several crippling problems during the mission, including a fuel leak, communications breakdowns and malfunctions with its ion engines. The setbacks added an extra three years to Hayabusa’s mission.

The probe was supposed to drop a lander on Itokawa, but the lander missed the asteroid’s surface. Attempts to fire a projectile at the asteroid to kick up dust to be collected also failed.

Ultimately, JAXA directed Hayabusa to directly land twice on asteroid Itokawa in attempts to force some samples into its return capsule.

The Hayabusa spacecraft returned to Earth on June 13. Most of the craft burned up in Earth’s atmosphere as planned during re-entry. Its sample return capsule, which was equipped with a heat shield and parachute, was ejected to make its own successful landing in the Australian outback and was later recovered.

“I’m filled with emotion and I can’t believe it,” Kawaguchi said. “A long period of hard work has paid off.”

With the mission’s success, JAXA has already begun planning a follow-up mission — called Hayabusa 2 — which would send a $200 million spacecraft to visit a carbon-rich asteroid. That mission is slated to launch in 2014, arrive at the asteroid in 2018 and return samples to Earth by 2020, JAXA officials have said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Chinese Brain-Imaging Device a Suspected Copy of U.S. Device

A Chinese team’s brain imaging device has come under question from developers of a U.S. device who say it’s a near duplicate of theirs, LiveScience has learned. An article on the Chinese device was published in the prestigious journal Science, and the U.S. researchers are preparing a formal letter to the journal in response.

According to the report appearing in the Nov. 4 online edition of Science, the Chinese imaging device used a diamond knife to shave ribbons off a centimeter-size mouse brain and imaged the slices during the process. That allowed the Chinese team to create a 3-D map of the brain that revealed details as small as the axons and dendrites — the circuitry that transmits signals between brain cells — as a step in the race to map the connections in the brain.

LiveScience contacted Yoonsuck Choe, director of the Brain Networks Laboratory at Texas A&M University, for comment on the Chinese device the day the paper was published, and the inquiry by the website immediately set off alarms.

Choe’s lab, which had developed its own knife-edge scanning microscope, or KESM, said today (Nov. 15) it will not officially comment in detail because it is preparing an official “Letter of Science” submission to formally alert the editors of the journal.

The U.S. researchers have already contacted the journal with their concerns, and a Science representative told LiveScience that the matter is being taken seriously.

Choe said he suspects the Chinese researchers copied the KESM design to create their own version of the brain imaging device. Due to LiveScience’s early involvement in the controversy, the website has been able to reconstruct some background on how the U.S. brain imaging device could have been copied.

How it went down

Choe’s lab started the development of its KESM almost a decade ago. The main architect behind the instrument was Bruce McCormick (1928-2007), a computer scientist at Texas A&M University.

The Chinese group in question hails from the Britton Chance Center for Biomedical Photonics at Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics—Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in China.

Choe possesses an e-mail that shows the same Chinese lab previously asking the main engineering contractor for Choe’s lab, Micro Star Technologies, for a custom-made diamond knife. The knife forms a key part of the KESM, along with commercially available components such as the camera.

Micro Star Technologies refused the Chinese request.

Now made in China

Despite Micro Star’s refusal, Choe said he believes the Chinese team may have gotten enough information about KESM from detailed online technical reports and a Journal of Microscopy article to manufacture a nearly exact replica.

The Chinese researchers, led by Qingming Luo, named their device the Micro-Optical Sectioning Tomography, or MOST. They did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview from LiveScience at the time they announced the device.

Initial e-mail requests for comment by the Chinese team were not returned.

Choe said technical specs and details for MOST make the device an almost perfect replica of KESM. The Chinese researchers gave only passing mention to the U.S. team in the Science article.

Suspicions first arose when LiveScience contacted Sebastian Seung, a computational neuroscientist at MIT. He leads a collaborative effort to speed up the mapping of the brain’s wiring diagrams, known as connectomes.

“I just looked at it briefly, but it doesn’t seem novel,” Seung said in an e-mail on the morning of Nov. 4. “Isn’t it equivalent to this?”

“This” referred to the KESM developed by Choe’s lab. Seung then suggested contacting Choe.

A tale of two labs

Choe and his colleagues e-mailed their concerns to Science on the night of Nov. 4, along with the technical information and publication references to support those concerns.

The journal confirmed to LiveScience that it had received the concerns of Choe’s lab and that the Science editorial department would take them seriously.

“It’s so preliminary right now and we don’t have the facts — we weren’t involved with [what] happened between these researchers,” said Kathleen Wren, Science press package director, in a phone interview Nov. 5. “Certainly our editorial department will evaluate this, and the next step is to make sure they have all the relevant facts.”

The Science editors eventually responded on Nov. 12 by telling Choe’s Texas A&M group that it could either contact the Chinese researchers directly or write a formal “Letter of Science” for publication in the journal. The U.S. researchers are currently preparing their official letter to the journal.

“Science is a self-correcting enterprise, and the publication of letters to the editor, technical comments, and other responses to original research, including other research papers, are a routine part of the scientific process,” Wren said in an e-mail to LiveScience.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

Obama Delivers Only Hot Air

By Donald Kirk

SEOUL — Theodore Roosevelt, a great American president with a clearly imperialist agenda, uttered one of the most famous lines in US history in 1901 when he advised a crowd, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. These days, US President Barack Obama seems to have gotten that aphorism reversed. He speaks a lot but doesn’t seem to be carrying a big stick.

That was the impression he gave after winding up his 11-day Asian odyssey in Japan at a tepid weekend gathering of Pacific rim leaders banded together in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping, otherwise known as APEC. It was as though his whirlwind tour had reached a crescendo at the Group of 20 confab in Seoul on Friday and, having no more to say, he just couldn’t stop talking.”

Obama, as the world has come to recognize, speaks quite well; he mingles homey expressions and sardonic remarks in response to journalists’ skeptical questions. “Instead of hitting home runs, we’re hitting singles,” he remarked, taking a phrase from American baseball that Koreans and Japanese and Taiwanese at least might understand even if it seemed a little esoteric to the Chinese, Indians and others in attendance. The measures taken were “not revolutionary”, he said, in another spasm of rhetoric. “It’s evolutionary progress.”

Unfortunately, it was hard to see all that much progress in the blizzard of words that piled up in several days of negotiations that did more to suggest and highlight problems and differences than to do much about them.

The frustrations were most evident on Saturday and Sunday in Yokohama, where Obama wound up his travels at the APEC summit. By the time the meeting ended, skepticism if not cynicism had become the motif of the mission after reading statements that were skillfully crafted to say a lot but actually did not say all that much.

The final APEC statement was a masterpiece of obfuscation in which the group assured the few who might still be interested of its commitment “to maintaining open markets and fighting protectionism”. Moreover, it said, “We reaffirm our common resolve to support the recovery in a collaborative and coordinated way.”

Then there was China’s President Hu Jintao, as skilled as anyone at the table in parrying demands for China to place a realistic value on its currency and stop dumping cheap goods on world markets, notably the United States.

Unlike Obama, who specifically cited China’s habit of depreciating the value of its currency by large infusions of funds, Hu in Yokohama said simply that the danger of protection was rising “notably” around the region. He did not have to name the United States as the villain though lesser officials have not hesitated to do so.

And, in a bow to all the talk about “global imbalances”, a code term for inequitable exchange rates, Hu said that the recovery from economic crisis had not been “firmly established”. Nor, he said, was it “balanced”.

By the time Obama and Hu got to confront one another across the table yet again at APEC, the day after the windup of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Seoul, Obama had already lost the major battles of the whole trip. It was here that his Asian odyssey reached a crescendo of excitement, and then disappointment.

First there was the disappointment of the failure to come to terms on a South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement that was completed in the waning months of the presidency of George W Bush but still needs ratification by the US Congress.

US Special Trade Representative Ron Kirk said after a long lunch discussion between Obama and South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak that US officials still were not happy about differences over the huge disparity in market access for the American motor vehicle industry. “It became apparent that we weren’t going to resolve all of these in the remaining hours,” he said, so Obama and Lee “wisely made the decision” to go on with the talks over the coming weeks.

Korean experts were shocked, as were many foreign observers. “It’s a big disappointment we didn’t get the FTA,” said Jang Ha-sung, dean of business at Korea University. “Korea has done much for its own share.”

Jang said he had “no idea” on what issues the deal was stuck, and “they’re not revealing” the reasons, but US manufacturers cite a long list of standards, requirements and taxes that discourage US imports.

As for the G-20 summit, Jang was sympathized with the Chinese view. While Obama and others say China’s central bank is intervening to maintain the Chinese yuan at an artificially low rate, he noted that the dollar is going down in value partly as a result of the Federal Reserve Bank’s decision to buy US$600 billion in Treasury bonds over the next seven months.

“Overall, the hard currency issue has surfaced” at the summit, he said, but “the US view might be a problem.”

Lee Chang-choon, a former Korean ambassador to a number of countries, was still more critical. “Obama has been losing clout” since the congressional elections in which the Republicans won an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. “He is counting down to his last days.”

Lee laughed at plans by his president to ballyhoo the summit as a great event in modern Korean history. “The Lee government is making a continued press campaign,” he said. “They are so eager to celebrate the success of G-20. We are living in a very strange period.”

Chosun Ilbo, Korea’s biggest-selling newspaper, adopted a skeptical view as well. “Concrete agreements have been put off,” said the paper. “For Korea as the host, the results leave something to be desired.”

The paper, in an editorial, questioned the G-20’s real future. “It remains to be seen whether the G-20 will truly become the world’s top economic decision-making body,” it said, “because consensus about the economic crisis and a sense of urgency among G-20 countries are diminishing.”

While no one was paying much attention, the deliberations of the APEC leaders did bring new initials to the fore.

Look out for FTAAP. That stands for “Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific”, though how to pronounce it as one word will be a problem. F-TAP, as someone noted, has a ring about it that won’t sound great on the evening news.

The idea, as APEC potentates all agreed, was to have one vast “free trade area” that will unite the eastern with the western rims of the Pacific. Think of it. Chile and Mexico and El Salvador and Honduras, not to mention the US and Canada, all enjoying free trade with China and Japan and India and points in between.

“Now is the time for APEC to translate FTAAP from as aspirational to a more concrete vision,” they decided in Yokohama. “We instruct APEC to take concrete steps toward realization of an FTAAP.”

It might be a few years, or decades, too soon to expect that one to get very far, but leaders in Yokohama did go home with one comforting thought. Most of them privately agreed that the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations is dead — that is, the grand illusion of breaking down trade barriers that everyone meeting at Doha nine years ago hoped to turn into reality will not do so.

As an Australian banker on the APEC Business Advisory Council remarked, “We’ve moved past Doha.”

But to where? Here’s another set of initials mooted at Yokohama — TPP for Trans-Pacific Partnership. That was one that even President Lee, basking in the glory of having hosted G-20, could endorse. Its future was not clear, he said, but South Korea might just sign on.

Could TPP serve as a substitute for KORUS — the Korea-US free trade pact — and perhaps a device for curing global imbalances?

Optimism was not exactly rife, but be prepared to hearing those initials a lot in the next few years of “currency wars” — a term that no self-respecting leader uses but which in reality may continue to rage unabated after all the talking is done.

Donald Kirk, a long-time journalist in Asia, is author of the newly published Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine.

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

Australia — Pacific

UK Too Full of Immigrants, Says Pauline Hanson

PAULINE Hanson has abandoned plans to move to Britain, after discovering it’s not the racially pure utopia she was hoping for.

After returning a fortnight ago from an extended holiday in Europe, the former One Nation leader has reportedly said she’s back in Australia for good and considering yet another return to politics.

“I love England but so many people want to leave there because it’s overrun with immigrants and refugees,” Ms Hanson said.

“France is becoming filled with Muslims and the French and English are losing their way of life because they’re controlled by foreigners in the European Union.

“Problems are worse over there than they are in Australia and Australia is still the best place in the world to live, but the same sorts of awful things are happening here too. Residents of Commonwealth countries who want to live here are discriminated against in favour of others.”

Ms Hanson, 56, spent two months touring countries including England, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania and France.

In February, Ms Hanson told Woman’s Day magazine she was selling her home and property at Coleyville, south-west of Brisbane, and moving to Britain, partly because she was disappointed by the way Australia had changed.

Ms Hanson reportedly said she wouldn’t rule out a return to politics.

“I still haven’t got politics out of my system,” she said.

“I get asked constantly, ‘Are you going back into politics?’ — even by people who recognised me overseas.”

It was “difficult to say” whether she would sell her Coleyville house, but she said she would move “very soon, possibly interstate”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]


Australia: Population Boom Inevitable, PM Told Josh Gordon

JULIA GILLARD’s election pitch to avoid a “big Australia” is to be abandoned after a Treasury warning that strong future immigration is “probably inescapable”.

In another policy retreat, the government’s population review has been delayed and “recalibrated” to focus on skills shortages and regional growth, rather than nominating population targets.

During the election campaign in August, Ms Gillard said Australia should not “hurtle” towards a big population. At the time, she said a Treasury projection that Australia would have a population of 36 million people by 2050 was excessive. “I don’t support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say … a 36 million-strong Australia,” she said.

However, a Treasury briefing sent to Ms Gillard after the campaign suggests she could have no choice. The briefing warns that the prediction of 36 million people “factors in a significant reduction” in migration, from a recent peak of 300,000 to an annual average of 180,000.

It concludes that even if annual net migration was lowered to an unrealistically low 60,000 per annum, Australia’s population would still reach 29 million by 2050.

“Given the powerful global forces driving the Australian economy, net immigration figures well in excess of that low number are probably inescapable,” the briefing says.

“Strong population growth is not necessarily unsustainable. It need not adversely affect the environment, the liveability of cities, infrastructure and service delivery, provided the right plans and policies are put in place now in anticipation of it.”

A senior Labor source said business groups had been pressuring the government to adopt a default position “where the issue of specific targets is not addressed”.

“I believe the government has accepted the reality that it is not prepared to cut migration to the extent needed to significantly reduce population growth,” the source said.

Population Minister Tony Burke has indicated the government might miss an April 2011 deadline for its population review, blaming the extended caretaker period while a new government was being formed.

“I don’t want to give a commitment that we’ll be able to get to that [April] time frame,” Mr Burke said.

Days before the election was called in July, Mr Burke appointed three population panels to provide advice on demographic change and liveability, productivity and prosperity, and sustainable development.

Treasury’s budget update released last week predicted that unemployment will fall to 4.5 per cent by June 2011, heightening concerns that skills shortages could re-emerge as a key issue.

Asked if it was prudent to be talking about immigration cuts at such a time, Treasurer Wayne Swan said the government had refocused the migration program on skills.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

California Court Upholds in-State Tuition for Some Immigrants

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court weighed in Monday on the politically charged immigration fray when it ruled that illegal immigrants are entitled to the same tuition breaks offered to in-state high school students to attend public colleges and universities.

While the ruling applies only to California, the case was closely watched nationally because nine other states, including New York and Texas, have similar laws.

Republican congressmen Lamar S. Smith of Texas and Steve King of Iowa filed a so-called friends of the court brief urging that illegal immigrants be denied the reduced rate. The politicians and others argued that federal legislation l

The lawsuit considered by the court was part of a broader legal assault led by immigration legal scholar Kris Kobach, who has filed numerous cases across the country seeking to restrict the rights of illegal immigrants.

He represented a group of U.S. students who filed the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the California law.

Kobach said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A unanimous state Supreme Court, led by politically conservative Justice Ming Chin, said the California provision was constitutional because U.S. residents also had access to the reduced rates.

The California Legislature passed the controversial measure in 2001 that allowed any student, regardless of immigration status, who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated to qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities. In-state tuition saves each state college student about $11,000 a year and each University of California student about $23,000 a year.

A state appellate court ruled in 2008 the law was unconstitutional after a group of out-of-state students who are U.S. citizens filed a lawsuit. The suit alleged the measure violated federal prohibitions barring illegal immigrants from receiving post-secondary benefits not available to U.S. citizens based on state residency.

However, the state Supreme Court noted the California law says nothing about state residency, a distinction that foes of the plan said shouldn’t matter. Kobach said the federal legislation was meant to prohibit exactly what the California Supreme Court allowed for illegal immigrants on Monday.

“It presents a rather incomprehensible reading of the federal statute,” Kobach said.

The Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which supports numerous political efforts, said the spirit of federal law was to deny tuition breaks to illegal immigrants.

Foundation attorney Ralph Kasarda, who submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said California was not in sync with the federal mandate against showing favoritism to illegal immigrants.

“California’s policy is also atrocious financial stewardship,” he said.

The state law also requires illegal immigrants who apply for the in-state tuition to swear they will attempt to become U.S. citizens. The applicants are still barred from receiving federal financial aid.

“Through their hard work and perseverance, these students have earned the opportunity to attend UC,” said University of California president Mark G. Yudof. “Their accomplishments should not be disregarded or their futures jeopardized.”

Kobach also failed to invalidate a similar law in Kansas. His lawsuit in Nebraska is pending…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

U.N.: Lower Barriers to Legal Immigration

NEW YORK, Nov. 11 (UPI) — The head of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights says nations should expand opportunities for legal immigration.

“Although states have legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration controls, such concerns do not trump the obligations of the state to respect the internationally guaranteed rights of all persons,” said Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

Pillay addressed the issue of discrimination and prejudice against migrants this week at a five-day forum on migration and development in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The international meeting began Monday.

Pillay said nation states must halt criminalization of international migrants, an estimated 214 million people globally, and lower barriers preventing legal immigration.

“The principle of non-discrimination is fundamental in international human rights law and runs across all international human rights instruments inspired by the Universal Declaration (of Human Rights), notable the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” she said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman [Return to headlines]

UK: What About My Right to a Family Life, Says Father of Girl Killed by Iraqi Criminal We Can’t Throw Out

The father of a girl fatally injured in a hit-and-run crash pleaded with judges yesterday to deport the failed asylum seeker who was at the wheel.

Paul Houston handed a court an emotional letter spelling out the heartbreak caused by banned driver Aso Mohammed Ibrahim.

Ibrahim, a serial criminal, ran off leaving Mr Houston’s 12-year-old daughter Amy lying conscious but badly hurt beneath his car. She was just yards from her mother’s home.


For seven years Ibrahim — a 33-year-old father of two — used human rights laws to remain in the country, claiming his right to life and to family life trumped attempts to return him to his native Iraq.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Spain: Transsexuals Excluded From Work, 80% Prostitute

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, NOVEMBER 15 — Transsexuals are still the most discriminated people in Spain, to the point that, since they are kept out of jobs, 80% are forced to prostitute themselves. Such is the result of a report drawn up by the University of Malaga following a proposal by the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals (Felgtb), which was presented today. Presenting the results of the report, Federation spokesperson Mar Cambrolle’ stated that “In any profession there are gays or lesbians, but no transsexuals”. It has been estimated that in Spain there are 20 to 30,000 transsexuals, for which, in most cases, “the only way out is prostitution, which is not a free option or a voluntary choice”, according to Cambrolle’. Even in terms of health assistance, only the Communities of Andalusia, Catalonia and Madrid have specific units, whereas in others, such as in Asturias or Estremadura, transsexuals “are transferred to other units”, and in the remaining Regions “there is no specific assistance”, according to the Felgtb spokesperson.

As for education, the report highlights the transsexual’s difficulty in passing the first stages of education because they are often “targets of jokes and misunderstandings” that lead them to quit school. The coordinator of the report, Juan Manuel Dominguez, explained that the gathering of information, through forms, will continue in the next months, and will end up in a report that will offer an overall picture of the situation across all of Spain. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]