Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/13/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/13/2009According to an economist at Texas A&M, the FDIC is preparing to oversee a large number of bank failures. The feds have been waiting until they have acquired enough staff to oversee the process.

In other news, Iran announced that it will hang 14 Sunni rebels tomorrow in a public park.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Gaia, Henrik, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, LN, Paul Green, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
China Criticises Dollar
Chuck Norris: “A Force of One: The Federal Reserve”
Economist: FDIC Gearing Up for Bank Closures
G8: Mubarak, Freeze African Debt and Reject Protectionism
History’s Engine and the Great Bear Wave
Italy: Arts and Culture Hit Hard by Global Crisis
John Boehner: Joe Biden’s Lying About Stimulus
Stephen King: China Takes Small Steps Towards Breaking the Sway of the US Dollar
Advice to Consumers Re: Healthcare Reform: ‘Be Wary’
Obama Orders Review of Alleged Slayings of Taliban in Bush Era
Europe and the EU
€400bn Energy Plan to Harness African Sun
BNP ‘Does Not Want All-White UK’
France: Marseilles Grand Mosque Seeks Financing
France: Sarkozy’s New Aircraft Named ‘Carla One’
Hungary: Fidesz Condemns Racist Violence Following Attack on Jew in Budapest
Italy: MP Matteo Salvini Stands Down
Italy: “Licentiousness Grave Act” Says Bishops’ Conference Secretary
Italy: Woman Says She Was “Paid” To Attend Berlusconi Party
Italy: Messina Strait Bridge, Construction to Begin in 2010
Italy: Japanese Tourists Complain About Restaurant ‘Rip-Off’
Netherlands: Battle Brewing Over Single-Sex Classes for Muslim Women
Poll Finds Hungarians Evenly Split on Magyar Gárda Ban
Spain: Half a Million Break-Ups With Express Divorce Law
Spain: No Yelling at Home, Citizens Against Prohibitions
Spain: In Land of Windmills Quixote Meets the Karma Sutra
Tourism: New Study, Spanish Fail, French Bottom of Class
UK Faces Even Bigger Terror Threat Than US, Warns Obama
UK: Across the Cultural Divide: For 13 Years They Lived Under the Threat of Death, Then Came the Cruellest Twist of All
UK: CBI Demands an Overhaul of Britain’s Energy Policy
UK: Church Accuses Government of Favouring Muslims
UK: Civil Servants Accused of Delaying Renewable Energy Incentives
UK: Fuel Bills Set to Soar to Pay for Green Energy Plan
UK: Judges Release Beast
UK: Make Your Home Greener or Pay Higher Council Tax, Government Says
UK: The BBC Became Too PC for Me, Says Veteran Sissons
UK: The Nazi King
UK: The BBC Needs to be Retuned
UK: TV Licence Rebel Seeks Trial by Jury
UK: Written Exams to be Replaced by Online Tests in Effort to Help ‘Exam-Phobic’ Pupils
Serbia-Israel: Culture, Science Cooperation Agreement Signed
North Africa
Egyptians Protest Award to Controversial Writer
Egypt: SIS Issues First Book for the Blind on National Heroes
Israel and the Palestinians
Analysis: Three Years Later, The Core Issues Remain Unsolved
Britain Imposes ‘Partial’ Arms Embargo on Israel
Israeli Army Presence in Palestine Decreased
Middle East
Ahmadinejad Slams Germany for Woman’s Courtroom Slaying
Iran to Hang 14 Sunni Rebels in City Park
Yemen: Six Condemned to Death for ‘Al-Qaeda’ Attacks
Far East
Book Review: Vietnam War’s True Victory
Freed Italian Hostage Spent Six Months Worrying His Al-Qaeda Captors Would Chop His Head Off
Australia — Pacific
‘Offensive’ Indian Students to Blame for Attacks: Magnate
Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa vs. The Arab World
Italy: Illegal Immigration Becomes a Crime
UK: Taxpayer Forks Out £81m a Year in Private Jets Sending Home Asylum Seekers
Culture Wars
UK: NHS Tells School Children of Their ‘Right’ To ‘An Orgasm a Day’
Swearing Can Make You Feel Better, Lessen Pain

Financial Crisis

China Criticises Dollar

Dai Bingguo, who is standing in for the Chinese president Hu Jintao at the G8 meetings, raised questions over the dominant role of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

The discussion, which took place between the leaders of five emerging economies and the G8 industrialised nations, including Barack Obama, caused concern among western leaders.

“We should have a better system for reserve currency issuance and regulation, so that we can maintain relative stability of major reserve currencies exchange rates and promote a diversified and rational international reserve currency system,” said Mr Dai, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

While he did not single out the dollar, Mr Dai was clearly calling for the world to diversify its reserve currency system and stabilise exchange rates among leading currencies.

China has made a series of attacks on the dollar in recent months, and went as far as to question Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, about the trustworthiness of the currency on her visit to China earlier this year.

A policy paper from the governor of the People’s Bank of China also laid out an alternative to the dollar in the form of a special international reserve currency administered by the International Monetary Fund.

China holds nearly $2 trillion (£1.23 trillion) of foreign debt, the bulk of which is denominated in dollars, and has expressed its displeasure at the US government’s huge deficits and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy. Beijing wants the US to feel obliged to sustain the value of China’s assets.

           — Hat tip: LN [Return to headlines]

Chuck Norris: “A Force of One: The Federal Reserve”

I agree with Judge Andrew Napolitano, who said last week, “We know more about the CIA than we do about the Federal Reserve.”

The Federal Reserve is the Freemasonry of government agencies. It is a virtual secret society unto themselves — a group of unelected brokers who hold the value of our dollar in the palms of their hands. This one agency, with its power to raise and lower interest rates, has exercised more control over the economy than other government body.

So with that type of single-handed power, why should we be surprised when the U.S. Senate blocked a bill last week to audit the Federal Reserve? Tis true! Rep. Ron Paul and more than half of the House cosponsored the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, HR 1207, which they hope to have hearings on soon. On the Senate side, however, Sens. Jim DeMint, Mike Crapo and David Vitter cosponsored S 604, companion legislation introduced by Bernie Sanders. But it was stopped cold before even being introduced on the floor on “procedural grounds.”

Could it really be a mere coincidence that the bill to audit the Federal Reserve was refused from even being introduced and that this agency remains the “quick convenience store-house of money” for the Obama administration’s borrowing and bailout monies?

Again, as Judge Napolitano said, “The Obama administration not only doesn’t want the Federal Reserve audited, it now wants to put the power to regulate all financial institutions — banks, insurance companies, brokerage houses — into the hands of this super secret bank. What are they afraid we might see if we get a chance to look at their books?”

As if there are not enough signs of the Fed’s inadequacy, two expert economists on the Federal Reserve specifically warned Congress last Thursday not to expand the power of the Fed to oversee and monitor public financial structures. Allan H. Meltzer, professor of economics at Carnegie-Mellon University and one of the central bank’s most prominent historians, having written a three-volume reference work on it, conveyed a series of U.S. financial collapses over the last three decades in which the Fed had either failed to take preventive action or made things worse.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Economist: FDIC Gearing Up for Bank Closures

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is gearing up to handle a large number of bank failures expected as a result of bad mortgages, both in residential and commercial real estate, an economist said Tuesday.

“They know they’re going to take down a large number of banks and they can’t do it until they’re staffed up,” said Mark Dotzour, chief economist and director of research for the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

Dotzour expects federal regulators to establish an agency, similar to the Resolution Trust Corp. that disposed of assets belonging to insolvent S&Ls in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“Once they start to sell [foreclosed real estate], we’ll find out what the market really is,” Dotzour told attendees at an economic summit hosted by a handful of real estate groups in Tampa, Fla.

Dotzour blamed federal intervention for the lack of commercial real estate investment activity in recent months, as well as the failure of businesses to make major decisions.

“Nobody knows what to do so they’re doing nothing,” Dotzour said at the luncheon meeting at the Intercontinental Tampa.

Government, in its quest to help the economy, is causing harm by propping up failing companies and regularly changing rules, he said.

“No one can predict what the government will do,” Dotzour said.

“People are frozen. It’s not that they don’t want to invest in the future, the rules are unclear,” he said.

He jokingly called the Federal Reserve “inksters” for routinely printing money to bail out big business, including banks that are still not making many loans.

The government’s role in a capitalistic society, he said, “is to make the rules and get off the dance floor.”

Businesses and individuals that can’t pay their bills should resolve their problems in bankruptcy court, not with money from the government, he said. It’s a process that has worked for decades, for generations.

“Everyone has a lesson to learn here, including you and me,” he said. “We have to live within our means.”

Dotzour expects foreclosure rates to continue to climb, real estate prices to fall more and cap rates to rise to at least 9 percent before leveling off.

In 2010 and 2011, interest rates will begin to rise, as will inflation. Once investors realize the market is at bottom, deals will begin to flow again, he said.

In the meantime, he compared the bad loans that remain on banks’ books to a smelly cat litter box and the feds keep throwing more litter on top to mask the smell. But they’ll eventually have to remove the organic material to fix the problem.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green [Return to headlines]

G8: Mubarak, Freeze African Debt and Reject Protectionism

(ANSAmed) — ROMA, JULY 10 — Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak invited the members of the G8 to temporarily freeze debt owed by African countries affected by the economic crisis and to reject protectionism. He made his appeal during today’s enlarged G8 meeting in L’Aquila. AFP reported that Mubarak also emphasised the need to “grant credit to African countries on advantageous terms” and to “explore ways to compensate for the deficit in development financing provided following the current crisis in the global economy”. He stated the need to “guarantee that assistance plans for major industrialised countries do not lead to the development of protectionist policies and do not increase imbalances in the international trade system”. Mubarak had already asked for the end of the Doha cycle (2001) relating to the liberalisation of global trade. Yesterday the G8 and emerging Countries confirmed that they will wrap up the negotiations by 2010. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

History’s Engine and the Great Bear Wave

I had the good fortune to attend a lecture given by Robert Prechter this weekend. Prechter is the originator of the fascinating neo-science of socionomics, about which I have previously written, and the purpose of his lecture was to update the Elliott Wave interpretations provided in his 2002 book entitled “Conquer the Crash.” His fundamental thesis is that the U.S. economy is now several years into a depression that will be an order of magnitude larger than the Great Depression of 1929.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Italy: Arts and Culture Hit Hard by Global Crisis

Rome, 10 July(AKI) — Italy’s museums and other cultural assets have been hard hit by the global economic crisis. A report published in the Italian daily, La Repubblica, on Friday said attendance at the country’s museums and cultural events was falling at an alarming rate.

“Soon, we will not be able to keep our museums open,” said the president of the national arts and culture organisation, Federculture, Roberto Grossi.

“Public investment is fundamental. Without it, less investment comes from private donors.”

“We propose the promotion of cultural planning and creative industries that are able to design a convenient system for private donors. It is not enough to have a large amount of Unesco cultural sites in our country if they are not managed well.”

Representatives from Federculture presented new information about museum attendance and use of national libraries at a meeting held on Thursday at Rome’s historic Ara Pacis monument.

Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemmano, and the director of cultural assets, Mario Resca, also attended the meeting.

The meeting was told that following a 20-year increase in attendance at cultural events and museums had peaked and the popularity of Italian cultural activities is decreasing at a rapid rate.

Italian family spending in this sector has fallen by 6.89 percent.

Cinema patronage fell in 2008 with the ticket sales falling by 4.9 percent, while entry to national museums fell as well by almost 4 percent.

Entrance to the world famous ruins of Pompeii has dropped by 12.3 percent and attendance at the Palace of Caserta outside Naples has fallen by 24.8 percent.

Italy’s top art museum, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, with an attendance of 1.5 million is only the 23rd on the list of most visited museums.

The famous art museum, the Louvre, in Paris is among the top ten with an attendance of around 8.5 million people.

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

John Boehner: Joe Biden’s Lying About Stimulus

Vice President Joe Biden is invading House Minority Leader John Boehner’s back yard tomorrow to tout the success of the stimulus package, but Boehner is redoubling his attacks, accusing the vice president of lying about the economy.

“I found it … interesting over the last couple of days to hear Vice President Biden and the president mention the fact that they didn’t realize how difficult an economic circumstance we were in,” Boehner said. “Now this is the greatest fabrication I have seen since I’ve been in Congress..”

“I’ve sat in meetings in the White House with the vice president and the president. There’s not one person that sat in those rooms that didn’t understand how serious our economic crisis was,” Boehner said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Stephen King: China Takes Small Steps Towards Breaking the Sway of the US Dollar

For nations sitting on piles of dollar assets, the fall in the dollar’s value is hardly good news

Reports of the US dollar’s death have, so far, been greatly exaggerated. It is still, by far, the most liquid currency in the world. The US has the deepest and most liquid capital markets in the world, despite all its sub-prime and banking difficulties. The dollar is used on one side of the vast majority of currency trades. If someone wants to swap out of Brazilian reals into, say, Korean won, it’s typically a two-step process — from reals into dollars and then from dollars into won. Central banks in the emerging world mostly hold their — in some cases, huge — foreign exchange reserves in the form of US dollars. It is, therefore, the international currency of choice. It remains the world’s reserve currency.

For the US, this makes life very easy. It can issue huge amounts of dollars knowing that people on the other side of the world will happily stash them away for a rainy day. That means the US can raise funds more cheaply in international capital markets than others can. US trade can be cheaply financed because the US doesn’t often have to pay of currency conversion costs. And it can happily run a large balance of payments current account deficit year-in, year-out, without any significant costs to the American people.

For the rest of the world, the dollar’s reserve currency status is a mixed blessing. While it’s useful for other countries to have access to an international medium of exchange and store of value, the dollar is ultimately under American control. Should there be a conflict between the interests of American voters and foreign creditors, the foreign creditors will probably lose out. Today, those creditors — many of which are emerging market governments and central banks — have built up trillions of dollars of holdings of US assets. Is their money safe? If not, what should they do about it?

When governments were happy to grant central banks independence in the pursuit of price stability, there were few reasons to worry. The credible pursuit of price stability kept domestic voters happy but, at the same time, enhanced reserve currency status. If other nations with no great record on the control of inflation could somehow tie their currencies to the dollar, they might be able to benefit indirectly from the aims of the Federal Reserve. And so it has proved. Although countries like China have been accused of tying their currencies to the dollar for purely mercantilist reasons, the truth is a bit more complex. For the People’s Bank of China, the link between the renminbi yuan and the dollar has been an important source of domestic monetary and financial stability.

With the onset of the credit crunch, the relationship between governments and central banks has begun to change. Quantitative easing works either by increasing the money supply or by increasing the velocity of circulation of money. Either way, the idea is to raise the value of output by boosting volume or price. In a closed economy, where there are no linkages with the rest of the world, the impact might be felt through an upward shift in inflation. In an open economy, the impact could just as easily be felt through a fall in the exchange rate. After all, if the supply of dollars is rising relative to other currencies, the value of the dollar should fall.

For all those nations sitting on piles of dollars, this is hardly good news. Having lent the US large amounts of money, they’re discovering that America’s credit status isn’t quite so impressive after all. If the additional dollars released into the US economy succeed only in pushing down the dollar’s value against other currencies, the US will, in effect, be defaulting to its foreign creditors. Ultimately, those creditors need their money back in their own currencies. A lower dollar will simply make those foreign creditors worse off and American exporters more competitive.

Not all Americans will benefit from a weaker dollar. It leaves the price of imported goods higher than might otherwise have been the case. That means, for example, higher oil prices.

And for those countries which prevent their currencies from falling against the dollar through even more foreign exchange intervention, the cost will be seen in the form of higher inflation.

Unconventional measures might seem like a magic trick, a “get out of jail free” card for countries with imploding credit systems, but they simply redistribute problems to other parts of the world. Whether the US government should worry about any of this is, of course, another matter.

Ultimately, it’s answerable to its voters, not to foreign creditors who, arguably, should have understood the risks a little better. Then again, people bought US assets because they felt that the American economic system had triumphed, a view which Americans themselves were hardly going to challenge. It’s only with the economic crisis that a division has opened up between the interests of America’s domestic and foreign stakeholders.

That’s why the dollar’s reserve currency status is under threat. If foreign holders of US assets are being treated as second-class citizens, they may have to re-think their strategy of holding dollars. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Should the dollar go into free-fall, foreign creditors would make enormous losses on their dollar holdings and the international financial system could implode, threatening a repeat of the instability seen in the early 1970s. A subtle approach is needed. The Chinese may already be taking the first, tentative, steps, as explained in a recent HSBC paper by Qu Hongbin, Zhi Ming Zhang and Steven Sun.

China holds over $1.2trn of dollar assets, most held as foreign exchange reserves, a result of controls on private-sector capital outflows.

These are a kind of dollar “trap”. If the renminbi rises against the dollar, the value of China’s reserves will fall in domestic currency terms. One way out of the trap is to ensure that when, eventually, the renminbi is untangled from the dollar, China will be benefiting from its own reserve currency status. This process will take many years. Most obviously, China’s capital markets are in their infancy.

However, China is already a major trading nation which, until now, has invoiced around 70 per cent of its annual trade in dollars. This is now beginning to change. Over the last few months, China has seen a blossoming of bilateral currency swap deals with, amongst others, Indonesia, Belarus and Argentina. These deals are worth a total of $650bn.

If similar deals proliferate around the world, China will increasingly be able to conduct trade with other nations — notably those in the emerging world — in its own currency and not in dollars. The dollar’s reserve currency status is not yet under threat, but China, for one, is already taking the first steps towards a new world which is no longer quite so dollar-dependent.

If successful, the US will eventually find that living beyond its means through the sale of dollars to countries elsewhere in the world will no longer be quite so pain-free.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Advice to Consumers Re: Healthcare Reform: ‘Be Wary’

A healthcare expert is skeptical of hospitals’ claims that they are going to save the government billions of dollars over the next ten years.


James Lansberry is vice president of Samaritan Ministries International. Lansberry, a supporter of patient-centered healthcare reform, says the Obama administration is going to be working overtime to get some of the stakeholders back to the table. He points out that while the American Hospital Association has not yet weighed in “vehemently” against the new plan, the American Medical Association has. “And the insurance companies are talking about…being against the new government option that’s coming out,” he adds.


Lansberry urges people to “be wary” when industry lobbyists say they are going to reduce costs, because “nobody gets hired by an industry to make their clients make less money.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama Orders Review of Alleged Slayings of Taliban in Bush Era

(CNN) — President Obama has ordered national security officials to look into allegations that the Bush administration resisted efforts to investigate a CIA-backed Afghan warlord over the killings of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in 2001.

“The indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention,” Obama told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview during the president’s visit to Ghana. The full interview will air 10 p.m. Monday.

“So what I’ve asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known, and we’ll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all of the facts gathered up,” Obama said.

The inquiry stems from the deaths of at least 1,000 Taliban prisoners who had surrendered to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in late 2001.

The fighters were in the custody of troops led by Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a prominent Afghan warlord who has served as chief of staff of the country’s post-Taliban army.

Dostum, a former communist union boss and militia leader who fought against the U.S.-backed mujahedeen in the 1980s, is known for switching sides as Afghanistan’s political conflict has evolved. When the United States invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, Dostum sided with the Americans and received military and CIA support to battle the Taliban.

The allegations against him first surfaced in a 2002 Newsweek report, which cited a confidential U.N. memo saying the prisoners died in cramped container trucks while being transported from their Konduz stronghold in northern Afghanistan to Sheberghan prison, west of Dostum’s stronghold at Mazar-e Sharif.

At the time, the Boston, Massachusetts-based group Physicians for Human Rights said it found a mass grave in nearby Dasht-e Leili, where witnesses said the bodies of Taliban prisoners were buried. The finding prompted U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Afghanistan, to support an investigation into the allegations.

But The New York Times, citing government officials and human rights organizations, reported Friday that the Bush administration “repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode.”

State Department officials recently have tried to derail Dostum’s reappointment as military chief of staff to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the newspaper reported, citing several senior officials who suggested the administration “might not be hostile to an inquiry.”

Dostum, a key ally of Karzai, was reportedly living in exile in Turkey until last month, when he was reinstated to his post as defense minister. He had left Afghanistan over allegations that he had kidnapped Akbar Bai, a former ally turned political rival.

When asked by CNN about whether Obama would support an investigation, the president replied, “I think that, you know, there are responsibilities that all nations have, even in war. And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.” Watch part of CNN’s exclusive interview with the president “

Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, on Sunday praised Obama “for ordering his national security team to collect all the facts in the Dasht-e-Leili massacre and apparent U.S. cover-up.”

“U.S. military and intelligence personnel were operating jointly and accepted the surrender of the prisoners jointly with General Dostum’s forces in northern Afghanistan,” Sirkin said earlier in the week.

“The Obama administration has a legal obligation to determine what U.S. officials knew, where U.S. personnel were, what involvement they had, and the actions of US allies during and after the massacre. These questions, nearly eight years later, remain unanswered.”

           — Hat tip: Henrik [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

€400bn Energy Plan to Harness African Sun

It’s decision day on a chain of solar generators across the desert that could supply a quarter of Europe’s power

The world’s most ambitious green energy project is about to take shape. It is a plan for a chain of mammoth sun-powered energy plants in the deserts of North Africa to supply power to Europe’s homes and factories by the end of the next decade.

In a few days’ time a consortium of 20 German firms will meet in Munich to hammer out plans for funding the giant €400bn (£343bn) project, named Desertec. The scheme is being backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and several German industry household names including Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and the energy companies RWE and E.ON. The Munich meeting will also involve Italian and Spanish energy concerns, as well as representatives from the Arab League and the Club of Rome think-tank.

Energy experts have calculated that Desertec could meet at least 15 per cent of Europe’s needs, and be up and running by 2019. By 2050, they estimate the contribution could be between 20 and 25 per cent. Although no host countries have been named, Desertec envisages a string of solar-thermal plants across North Africa’s desert. The plants would use mirrors to focus the sun’s rays, which would be used to heat water to power steam turbines. The process is cheaper and more efficient than the usual form of solar power, which uses photovoltaic cells to convert the sun’s rays into electricity.

The project also envisages setting up a new super grid of high-voltage transmission lines from the Mahgreb desert to Europe. Hans Müller-Steinhagen, of German Aerospace, has researched the project for the German government. He said that although the idea behind the scheme had been around for several years, investors had been deterred by the high costs of setting up the infrastructure.

Professor Müller-Steinhagen said that similar projects have been operating in the American West for years, but these had failed to gain the appropriate recognition. “Solar thermal power plants were built in California and Nevada, but people lost interest in them because fossil fuels became unbeatably cheap,” he said.

Until now, projects of Desertec’s scale have failed to get off the ground because of the huge problems involved in delivering electricity to consumers hundreds of miles away. The main stumbling block is that the further electricity is transported, the more is lost. However, Siemens claims that it has come up with a solution. Alfons Benziger, a spokesman for the engineering giant which has been involved in the construction of major hydro-power plants in India and China, said: “We have developed so-called high-voltage direct current energy transmission. This can transport energy over long distances without heavy losses. We use the process at the power plants in India and China.”

Andree Böhling, an energy expert for Greenpeace Germany, has heaped praise on Desertec: “The initiative is one of the most intelligent answers to the world’s environmental and industrial problems,” he said. Munich Re, meanwhile, which insures major insurance companies across the globe, was persuaded to invest in the project after seeing a steady rise in the number of claims the company had to meet as a result of climate-change-induced damage.

Yet Germany’s largest solar energy company, SolarWorld, argues that North Africa is too risky a location. “Building solar power plants in politically unstable countries opens you to the same kind of dependency as the situation with oil,” said Frank Asbeck, the firm’s managing director.

Other critics claim that by singling out comparatively poor North African countries as a location for a sophisticated European solar energy project amounts to a form of “solar imperialism”. Lars Josefsson, the head of the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, has also rejected the idea because of a potential risk of terrorist attacks. However Desertec supporters, including the German conservative politician Friedbert Pflüger, argue that a far greater threat is posed by the prospect of nuclear power plants being subjected to such attacks. He points out that a number of nuclear reactors are scheduled to be built in North Africa — Egypt alone plans to build five. Mr Pflüger claims that the risk of politically motivated Russian-style energy stoppages by host countries could be avoided if the solar grid has enough supply channels.

But he warns that politics is likely to be the main stumbling block. “It’s not Europe that will decide whether the desert can be used as an energy resource, but the countries of North Africa,” he said last week. “So far these countries have either not been involved in the dialogue at all or only at a very limited level.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

BNP ‘Does Not Want All-White UK’

British National Party leader Nick Griffin has said he no longer wants to see an all-white United Kingdom.

Mr Griffin, who is due to take up his seat as an MEP for the North West, said the idea of a UK without ethnic minorities was “simply not do-able”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Griffin said: “Nobody out there wants it or would pay for it.”

He said claims that he was a fascist were “smears” but said the European Union was “very close to fascism”.

Mr Griffin told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the BNP would put more money into voluntary repatriation programmes for members of ethnic minorities “who want to go back to their lands of ethnic origin”.

He added that Britain was overcrowded and “terribly unstable” as a result of its “multicultural experiment”.

The BNP leader also defended his view that the EU should sink boats carrying illegal immigrants.

Mr Griffin said: “What needs to be done as an example is to sink a couple of boats near the shores of Libya — throw them lifebelts so they can paddle back, so they understand they will never get to Europe.

“Because the alternative is accepting that Britain eventually is going to end up like Africa.”

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

France: Marseilles Grand Mosque Seeks Financing

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JULY 6 — The Grand Mosque of Marseilles, which is to be built by 2011, is looking for financing from Muslim countries. The director of the Association of the Great Mosque, which is managing the building of the mosque on the site of the ancient abattoirs in the 15th arrondissement of the city, has summoned consul generals from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Mauritania, the Comoros and Turkey, to whom they will present the project, in the hope of raising the 22 million euros necessary for the construction. Saudi Arabia had been expected to send a representative but in the end it didn’t due to the “scheduling difficulties”. According to the vice president of the Association of the Grand Mosque, Makhete Cissé, Morocco and the Comoros have already made a commitment to financing, but he did not specify how much had been promised whilst indicating that no country could contribute more than 20.25% of the entire budget. According to Abou Diarra, treasurer of the association, Algiers has already invested some 170 thousand euros to allow the association to function. As well as requesting financial assistance from Muslim countries, two appeals to the Muslim community and one to the people of Marseilles will be launched in September. The building permit request was made on May 15 and permission should be received in October at the latest, according to the treasurer. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: Sarkozy’s New Aircraft Named ‘Carla One’

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JULY 10 — French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s new Falcon 7X has been named the ‘Carla One’, in honour of the nation’s first lady. The information was published on the French weekly Le Point’s website, noting that it was the national Air Force which so named the aircraft, in honour of Carla Bruni. The aircraft was delivered in secret by Dassault last July 3, to the Villacoublay base, and is currently in a hangar so as not to be seen. The specialized publication, Air & Cosmos, has published exclusive photos of the new presidential aircraft. The images can currently be found online. The French Ministry of Defence purchased two Falcon 7Xs for government use. Each aircraft cost 50 million euros. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Hungary: Fidesz Condemns Racist Violence Following Attack on Jew in Budapest

The main opposition Fidesz party deeply condemns any violence targeted at people because of their origin or religion, Fidesz MP Zoltan Balog told MTI on Wednesday, referring to a recent attack on a young Jewish man in Budapest.

The attack happened in District 7 on the night of June 30, when three unidentified men beat their victim black and blue following his positive answer to a question if he was Jewish, head of parliament’s human rights committee Balog said.

“The police are responsible to ensure safety for each citizen. And each citizen that still retains his sobriety is responsible to fight the spread of violence,” the MP added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Italy: MP Matteo Salvini Stands Down

Northern League parliamentarian claims: “It’s nothing to do with the row. I’ve decided to opt for the European parliament”

MILAN — The Northern League’s Matteo Salvini has resigned from parliament. Mr Salvini, who has also been elected to the European parliament, was at the centre of a furious row on Tuesday after a video was circulated showing him singing an anti-Naples chant at the last Pontida festival: “What a smell: even dogs steer clear. The Neapolitans are here”.

DECISION BROUGHT FORWARD — Matteo Salvini’s announcement at the end of a controversy-fraught day brings forward a decision that the MP, also newly elected to the Strasbourg parliament, would have had to make in any case. Membership of the Italian parliament is incompatible with being an MEP. Mr Salvini is also the Northern League’s group leader on the municipal council in Milan. Over the telephone, Mr Salvini said: “My resignation from the Chamber of Deputies has absolutely nothing to do with today’s dispute. It relates to my desire to become an MEP. The deadline for making a decision expires today”.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: “Licentiousness Grave Act” Says Bishops’ Conference Secretary

Monsignor Crociata: “Not a private matter”. People of Freedom warns against manipulation but Christian Democrat UDC calls statement reasonable

ROME — Admittedly, Silvio Berlusconi is not mentioned explicitly. It is equally true, as the People of Freedom (PDL) points out in defence of its leader, that “this is a message valid for everyone”, not for one man. Yet this time, Famiglia Cristiana magazine is not the only Catholic entity to point the finger at “licentiousness” that cannot be considered a purely “private matter”. This time, the man censuring behaviour that brings to mind the prime minister’s female companions at Villa Certosa and Palazzo Grazioli is Mariano Crociata, the secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI). And he does so only a few days after the attack on “moral degradation” by the CEI president, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.

Monsignor Crociata was speaking at Le Ferriere, in the province of Latina, during a sermon to commemorate St Maria Goretti: “We are witnessing contempt for everything that speaks of modesty, sobriety and self-control. There is an absence of restraint or temperance in sexual behaviour and a flaunting of blithe, irresponsible licentiousness that evinces the word lechery; only thereafter, on the first occasion, to make appeals to the morality previously ridiculed in word and deed, for other ends of a political, economic or other nature”. Then comes the killer punch: “Let no one think that in this area there is no gravity in such behaviour, or that these are private matters, especially when minors are involved, an issue so grave it cries out to God for vengeance”.

Monsignor Crociata concluded: “What is at stake here is not the outdated moralism of another age. The very wellbeing of mankind is in jeopardy”. The reaction as the PDL closed ranks around its leader was immediate. Osvaldo Napoli said: “The words of the CEI secretary general attacking ‘blithe, irresponsible’ licentiousness are absolutely reasonable. If a footnote were to be added to the effect that ‘any reference to actual events or people is purely coincidental’, few would believe it. But that is precisely the case. A man of the Church condemns sin and seeks the redemption of sinners. Any other interpretation is an attempt to manipulate his argument for political ends. And as everyone knows, the bishops’ conference does not indulge in politics”. The UDC’s Luca Volonté takes a different view: “I hope that the CEI secretary’s words will be welcomed by those who have been complaining about the Church’s excessive silence over the moral crisis, as well as by the critics, the pundits and the moralisers. Monsignor Crociata’s words highlight the need for everyone to adhere to the most elementary rules of morality. It is not possible to envisage people who are licentious in private and decorous in public, particularly if they hold high office”.

Roberto Zuccolini

07 luglio 2009

English translation by Giles Watson

Article in Italian

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Woman Says She Was “Paid” To Attend Berlusconi Party

Rome, 7 July (AKI) — On the eve of the G8 meeting in Italy, another woman has emerged claiming she was paid to attend a party at Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s official residence in Rome in September 2008. However, in an interview with the Italian daily, La Repubblica, the woman, Maria Teresa de Nicolo, refused to answer any questions about whether there was any sexual activity at the party.

De Nicolo, a 37-year-old interior designer from the southern city of Bari, told the newspaper that she was invited by Gianpaolo Tarantini, a businessman who is being investigated by prosecutors over an alleged hospital kickbacks in Bari.

She said Tarantini paid her to attend the party and was reimbursed 1,000 euros and expenses for a trip to Rome.

“He (Tarantini) asked me to meet him in Rome — of course at his expense — to attend a party,” said De Nicolo.

“I did not know that it had anything to do with Berlusconi. And, when Gianpaolo told me, I was very pleased and even a bit curious.”

Tarantini, a businessman from Bari, is alleged to have hired young women to attend Berlusconi’s parties at his Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli, and his holiday home in Sardinia, Villa Certosa.

Prosecutors are currently questioning around 30 women as a part of a probe into the Bari-based businessman who is Berlusconi’s alleged ‘fixer’.

He is suspected of promoting prostitution and bribing officials in the health service to obtain public contracts for his company.

When asked about Berlusconi and his behaviour at the party, De Nicolo said that he was a very warm and relaxed host and also very polite.

“He is very formal when he dances. He does not touch where he’s not supposed to. He’s not an octopus like the other girls suggested in the newspapers this month.”

Patrizia D’Addario, a 42-year-old prostitute recently claimed she was paid to attend a dinner at Palazzo Grazioli in October last year and later spent the night with Berlusconi there in November in a bid for political favours.

In her interview published on Tuesday, De Nicolo refused to answer any questions regarding sexual activity at the party.

“Please do not ask me these kinds of questions,” she responded.

Despite some women have reportedly said concerning cocaine use at the parties hosted by Berlusconi, De Nicolo said that there were no drugs or more specifically cocaine at the party. She also said that she did not use cocaine.

The prime minister has strenuously denied claims of any sexual impropriety and referred to D’Addario’s allegations as “complete rubbish and falsehoods”.

Italian prosecutors are currently examining audio and video tapes and photos given to them by D’Addario to back up her claims.

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

Italy: Messina Strait Bridge, Construction to Begin in 2010

(ANSAmed) — ROME — During the last twelve months the Societa’ Stretto Messina “has met all conditions to resume activity on the construction of the bridge on the Strait of Messina, resolving many of the problems that were caused by the long period of inactivity on the project”, said Pietro Ciucci, the company managing director. Ciucci also added that the preliminary works should start in the first few months of 2010. “After yesterday’s request by the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Altero Matteoli, to resume activity as soon as possible, we have taken some fundamental steps that will enable us to start building even sooner than expected. To this end, the agreement we signed with the general contractor has been decisive, and it provides for the early identification of all preliminary work, which were already part of the agreement and are of great importance for the local road system, and which will start from the beginning of next year”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Japanese Tourists Complain About Restaurant ‘Rip-Off’

Rome, 7 July (AKI) — A Japanese couple on a visit to the Italian capital Rome claim they were charged 352 euros (490 dollars) for lunch at a restaurant that was forced to close for breaching regulations. According to the Italian daily, Il Messaggero, the tourists were overcharged for their meal, after another Japanese couple was forced to pay 695 euros (967 dollars) at the same restaurant.

News of the incident surfaced only a few days after the 149 year-old restaurant ‘Il Passetto’, near the historic Piazza Navona, was closed down by Italian authorities for breaches of sanitation and administrative irregularities

The owners of the restaurant, quoted by Italian daily Il Messaggero, rejected the claims as a “conspiracy”.

The Japanese couple said they were charged for five slices of ham, two pasta dishes, one with lobster and the other with mushrooms, and one fish dish served with wine, and one coffee.

News of the first Japanese couple was widely reported by Japanese newspapers and television, prompting many Japanese tourists still on vacation in Italy to report other complaints to police.

The Japanese couple said they were approached by a waiter that “very nicely” encouraged them to enter the restaurant. The same waiter, said the report, showed the dishes to the couple, starting with the fresh fish inside a refrigerator.

However, the waiter did not show the menu to the couple and they believed he had the “best intentions” in serving them, said the couple quoted by Il Messaggero.

The couple first received a bill for 293 euros (409 dollars) and handed over their credit card. When they received their credit card receipt, the bill had increased to 352 (490 dollars) euros, they said.

The couple asked the waiter for an explanation, who said the 59 euros were a tax on the final bill.

“We ask anyone who has been affected by this practice, to let us know,” said Mauro Cutrufo, Rome’s deputy mayor with responsibility for tourism.

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

Netherlands: Battle Brewing Over Single-Sex Classes for Muslim Women

Utrecht city councillor Marka Spit says she is going to ignore Dutch Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan’s plan to abolish segregated integration courses as of January 2009. Various Dutch media report that the two politicians, both members of the Labour Party (PvdA), disagree on whether segregated integration classes benefit or undermine the emancipation of Muslim women in the Netherlands.

Dutch law requires nearly all newcomers to the country, other than European immigrants, to take a combined Dutch language and integration course, either inside or outside the Netherlands. The requirement, however, also applies to immigrants who have already been living in the country for some time.

The idea behind offering separate courses for men and women is to attract Muslim women who would otherwise not — be allowed to — attend because of their faith. Marka Spit says women should, at the very least, be offered the option of following the course in a single-sex setting.

Only a third of all immigrants living in the central city of Utrecht are required to follow the course. Out of a total of 100 classes currently offered in the municipality, 15 are segregated: 12 for women only; three for men.

Mr van der Laan announced his plan to end segregated courses after reproaches from the Dutch parliament’s Lower House about the practice being in conflict with the basic principle that men and women are equal.


Integration is a sensitive issue in the Netherlands, especially since the country’s famed ‘tolerance’ appears to have declined in recent years, as evidenced by the growing popularity of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic Freedom Party (PVV).

Marka Spit told Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that the government restriction on single-sex classes obstructs emancipation.

“Our policy is to make as many people as possible acquainted with Dutch language and culture. Every new obstacle decreases the turnout. It would be a pity if certain groups were to stay away. The aim of the programme is to have people participate. That is also possible in a separate women’s class. Such a group could actually promote emancipation.”

Ms Spit is bothered by the minister’s suggestion that offering separate courses is associated with dependency and oppression. “Some women feel more comfortable asking questions in separate classes. It doesn’t mean that they will separate themselves from men entirely.”

Earlier, a ministerial investigation into the matter showed that 85 percent of Dutch municipalities agree with Mr van der Laan. Utrecht councillor Marka Spit, however, will not be complying with the policy.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Poll Finds Hungarians Evenly Split on Magyar Gárda Ban

Half of those asked in a recent survey welcomed a court decision banning the radical nationalist Hungarian Guard, one third of the respondents, however, thought that the police’s reaction to a subsequent pro-Guard demonstration was much too harsh, the national daily Nepszabadsag reported on Thursday.

The paper referred to a survey by pollster Median, and said that it was mostly young adults and voters of the main opposition Fidesz party that disapproved of the higher court’s legally binding decision to dissolve the paramilitary organisation.

One third of the total sample of 1,000 adults thought that the police was “too tough” during last Saturday’s demonstration against the ban in Budapest, while half of the respondents from the capital shared that opinion, Nepszabadsag said.

In its banning decision last Thursday, the court of appeals argued that the organisation had overstepped its rights as a cultural association and its black uniforms, regular military-style trainings and anti-Roma marches generated fear in the public and violated basic freedoms.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Spain: Half a Million Break-Ups With Express Divorce Law

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JULY 8 — Over half a million divorces have taken place in Spain since 2005, the year when the ‘express-divorce’ law came into effect, which was passed by the Zapatero government, according to figures published by the Institute for Family Policy (IPF). If the trend needed confirmation, in a few years, there will be a divorce for every new marriage, warns the IPF observatory. Since 2005 517,011 divorces have been registered, a 140% increase in four years with an annual average of over 121,900. The law has removed the separation period prior to the divorce, for which only 7% of couples who decided to legally end their marriage did so after a period of separation and reflection. The IPF reports that the number of divorcees is now 4.5% of the Spanish population, or 1.7 million people, with 2 million children with divorced parents. The president of the IPF, Eduardo Hertfelder, has asked the government to suspend the express divorce law and to “immediately set up a round table of experts to analyse the problem of break-ups and come up with alternative solutions”. The law on quick divorces was passed by the socialist executive in order to put a stop to cases of domestic violence, which leads to dozens of victims each year in Spain.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: No Yelling at Home, Citizens Against Prohibitions

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, JULY 9 — Yelling at home is prohibited in Badalona, in Pamplona it is forbidden to hang your clothes outside, Santiago de Compostela doesn’t allow women to walk around in Bikinis, while in Granada “any irritating activity” is strictly forbidden during the ‘siesta’, including rug beating and chair dragging. Public prohibitions and subjective rights are throwing punches in the various public ordinances that are emitted in the country, from north to south, with their aim of increasing civic awareness and curbing acts of vandalism, but the same measures are also heavily invading the citizens’ private sphere. The sanctions, in the large majority of the cases, are high fines which can reach up to 750 euros and which inexorably reach their targets. But how can one punish the banned behaviour without invading the person’s privacy? Many citizens’ associations have begun to ask this very question and protest against the measures, which they define as “cynic” instead of “civic”, according to what is reported in today’s edition of the newspaper ‘Publico’, and have begun to mobilise to stop the excessive prohibitions carried out by the cities. Limitations that have multiplied from Barcelona to Seville, passing from Saragossa and Valladolid and that, in some cases, the cities have been forced to revoke due to the impossibility of verifying if they are observed by the populace or not. This is the case in Girona, Catalonia, where the now famous ordinance obligating dog-owners to walk their dogs for 20 minutes per day was revoked. The measure was finally considered illogical even by the animal protection agencies, given the impossibility of local authorities to check if the ordinance was observed. In Barcelona, however, the Federation of Hotel Owners were ready to do battle, calling for fines aimed at tourists in Bikinis along the ‘Ramblas’, who are considered detrimental to the city’s image .. “It is not repression, it is putting an order to things. Things like this are not seen in Paris or London,” the president of the association, Jordi Clos, stated. In Saragossa, it was the Federation of Neighbourhood Associations to rebel against the public ‘Big Brother’, considering “a bottomless pit” most of the prohibitions imposed by the city. According to the president of the association, Miguel Angel Mallen “everything should be dropped, from the prohibition of spitting and urinating in the street, to that of putting flower pots on balconies.” Using the narrow streets of the city centre as a public toilet is an old Spanish bad habit and dies hard, Mallen observed, “the prohibition won’t work if there aren’t enough public latrines available.” The Federation also proposed, for example, the ban on putting up posters for the neighbourhood associations in public places, with fines of up to 300 euros. Granada, Andalusia, is the last city to add itself to the long list of civic persecution, with an ordinance approved with bi-partisan votes from the socialist and people’s parties and those against the Izquierda Unida, that states: “In general all irritating activity is prohibited between the hours of 3 and 5pm.” A measure which guarantees the observance of the long-standing and still sacred custom of the ‘siesta’, especially in the southern part of the peninsula, but due to its generality, leaves the door open for the application of fines. The fine oscillates between 1 and 750 euros, as appropriate to the kind of irritation caused. “Running the washing machine and proceeding with re-modelling work without the correct license are not the same thing,” assured city councilman for civil protection, Eduardo Moral. It is a fact that, while prohibitions and ordinances rained down, the same cannot be said for fines, due to the almost impossibility of verifying their observance on the part of local authorities. In Badalona, based on the measure that prohibits yelling at home which has been in vigour since last January 1, a maximum of 3 fines have been issued. And no more than a dozen have been issued in Pamplona since 2006, the year that the ordinance against hanging laundry outside came into effect. In the majority of cases, the cities explained, the deterrence factor produced by the city ordinance is sufficient. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: In Land of Windmills Quixote Meets the Karma Sutra

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — Madrid, JULY 10 — A comic-strip edition of Don Quixote for children with an ‘educational Karma Sutra’ slant. According to a statement issued by the country’s Partito Popolare, this is the nature of a publication that has been distributed to junior school pupils in Guadalajara, leading to high dudgeon at Castilla-La Mancha. In the land of the windmills, the solitary knight errant has fallen victim to political debate between the opposition PP and the socialist-led regional government. Falling victim to the set-to, the offending book has been withdrawn from schools and today sources within the education office committee of Castilla-La Mancha Council have, says conservative daily ABC, apologised if the distribution of the book “caused offence to anybody”. ‘Lanza en astillero’ (Pike in the Thatch) is a comic-book about Quixote, published in 2005 to mark the 4th centenary of Cervantes’ opus, with a foreword by no less than the Chairperson of Castilla-La Mancha Council, José Maria Marreda. It was issued to pupils in the fourth and fifth year of Alvarfañez de Minaya di Gadalajara Junior School on May 29 by the regional office for schools, led by Maria Angeles Moreno, to promote the reading of classical literature among young children. One particular cause for concern is one of the more entertaining scenes from Quixote, which comes in Chapter XVI, concerning the duel engaged between the forlorn aristocrat and buxom innkeeper, Maritormes, a fight to spare the knight from having sexual relations with her. According to accusations levelled by Marta Valdenebro, the leader of the PP of Guadalajara, the comic-book’s depiction of the scene is “highly erotic” and “obscene”. In other words, “more suited to a Karma Sutra than to an educational book for ten-year-olds”. >From the association Professionals for Ethics comes a description of the book as a “pornographic Quixote”, given that “it portrays explicit sex”. When some parents, joined by some teachers, reacted with surprise and indignation, the book was withdrawn. But this was not sufficient to put an end to the controversy, which by now had hit the local and national press. The PP is pressing for the resignation of the regional councillor, Moreno. An intervention by a councillor at Guadalajara Council, Mar Gutierres, saying that the PP’s view of the comic-book was “mistaken” proved to no avail. “It has nothing at all in common with the Karma Sutra or anything of the kind,” she told the EFE agency, “but is a faithful representation of the body to body set-to between Don Quixote and the inn-keeper’. Gutierres argued that, following the Popular Party line “you would have to ban children access to such classics as La Regenta or Celestina. This is literary content, works offered by schools with the objective of awakening students’ interest in literature”. Meanwhile, support for this counterblast has also come from the regional councillor for schools. But the controversy shows no sign of abating, played out as it is against a background of a fight over Education for Citizenship’, the civic education syllabus introduced by the Zapatero government as a compulsory school subject. The Popular Party has dug in its heels against this move and is flanked by the Catholic Church and Catholic parents’ associations. In the words of Fabian Fernandez de Alarcon, Secretary General of Professionals for Ethics: “Unfortunately, this type of content may appear in the forthcoming syllabus for Education in Citizenship, which is to be introduced to the fifth year from September on, including affective-emotional education, that is, matters that touch the pupils intimately and injure the rights of parents to their education”. Although that, as the sad-eyed knight-errant might say, is another story… (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tourism: New Study, Spanish Fail, French Bottom of Class

(ANSAmed) — Madrid, July 10 — Spanish tourists abroad scored very poorly, according to a new study, and were given a very low ranking because of their noisy behaviour, their arrogance and stinginess and their general inability with foreign languages. But the lowest place of all was awarded to the French, elected ‘least desired guests’ by every hotel manager questioned. These the results of a study carried out by TNS Infratest on behalf of tourism website Expedia, based on 40,000 surveys of hotel managers and tour operators in 27 countries. The scores, based on 9 different criteria ranging from politeness to generosity, see the French at the bottom of class, with Spanish and Greek as second and third from bottom, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese, British and Canadian tourists are favoured by professionals in the sector because of their politeness, tidiness, reserve and for not being prone to protests and complaints. German tourists ranked fourth on the list. The negative traits of Spanish tourists, always ranking very low on the behaviour list (and almost always sharing the honour with French and Italians) are noisiness, arrogance and lack of foreign languages. According to the study, French tourists ranked bottom of the list for foreign languages, generosity and tips and second-to-bottom for general attitude and manners. The inability to speak foreign languages is also a characteristic of Japanese tourists, but one that they easily compensate for with tidiness, good manners, moderation and general lack of complaints, for which hotel managers award them the gold medal. British tourists were awarded a silver medal for general behaviour, good manners, generosity, moderation and elegance but let themselves down by their habit of complaining. Over all, the lowest scores were all in the Mediterranean area, with French tourists winning first place among the least desired, followed by Spain and Greece, while at the top of the list are tourists from Japan, Great Britain and Canada. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK Faces Even Bigger Terror Threat Than US, Warns Obama

Britain faces a greater threat from terrorists than the United States does, Barack Obama said yesterday.

The President’s stark assessment came as it was revealed that four U.S. soldiers had been killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

Security chiefs have admitted that Britain’s fighting presence in the country makes it a more prominent terrorist target.

And Mr Obama made the same point yesterday, saying: ‘ The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much if not more of a stake in than we do.

‘The likelihood of a terrorist attack in London is at least as high, if not higher, than it is in the United States.’

Praising the ‘extraordinary efforts’ of British troops, he said: ‘The contribution of the British is critical. This is not an American mission.’

The President added that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had committed troops to Afghanistan not because they wanted to ‘put their young men and women in harm’s way’ but ‘because of a recognition that we’ve got a serious fight on our hands and we’ve got to deal with it smartly, but we’ve got to deal with it effectively’.

The four American soldiers were in the south of the country when they were killed on Saturday, the military said.

The loss of the troops was one of the biggest casualty tolls since the U.S. Marines launched Operation Strike of the Sword against the Taliban on July 2.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Across the Cultural Divide: For 13 Years They Lived Under the Threat of Death, Then Came the Cruellest Twist of All

Before he goes to sleep, Jack Briggs goes through his nightly ritual. First, he checks there is a knife within easy reach beside his bed and a baseball bat beneath it.

It has been the same routine ever since he ran away with his sweetheart, Zena, 17 years ago. She came from a Muslim family and was supposed to wed a cousin in an arranged marriage — not Jack, a white British man ten years her senior.

And so it was that, under threat of death, the couple fled their homes and have been in hiding ever since.

Now, for the first time, the Mail can reveal that the couple, who had battled not just prejudice but violence, have separated after the strain of so many years of clandestine existence finally proved too great. But remarkably, says Jack, that changes nothing. Their lives are still in danger.

‘The threat to me and Zena is still there, and I don’t think it will make a jot of difference when her family finds out that we have split up,’ he says. ‘In their eyes, the damage has been done.

‘It goes back to the whole honour-based culture. We have put a mark — a stain — on their family and it will never go away.

‘They believe it’s passed from generation to generation and the only way they can see how to lift it is through murder. It is terrible, but it is fact.’

For a couple whose extraordinary story has been likened to that of Romeo and Juliet, news that their marriage has broken down will come as a terrible shock to the legion of supporters who have followed their plight over the years.

They met and fell in love in 1992 in Leeds, when Zena was just 21. The British-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants, her father had decreed that she would marry a cousin when she came of age.

But then Jack came along (the couple met by chance when he was visiting his sister, who lived close to Zena) and from that moment on their lives would never be the same again.

Told that their relationship was a stain on the honour of Zena’s family, the couple were forced to go on the run amid a barrage of death threats.

These threats were taken so seriously by the police that they received protection from Special Branch, assumed numerous new identities and moved house no fewer than 30 times.

It is a terrible irony, then, that only when they stopped running did their relationship itself run into problems. Informed three years ago by detectives that there was no longer a ‘credible threat’ against them, Jack and Zena attempted to settle down.

But while Zena embraced the return to relative normality, Jack struggled to cope. A disagreement over a piece of furniture brought that fact into focus.

‘We’d been out and bought a wardrobe and then brought it back to our flat,’ explains 47-year-old Jack.

‘We had put a stain on Zena’s family’

‘Once we’d got it in, I picked up our bags and dumped them in the bottom of the wardrobe and shut the doors. That’s what we always did, just in case we needed to make a quick getaway.

‘But this time Zena stopped me, put her hand on my arm, and said: “No — we unpack the clothes now. This time we’re not going anywhere.”

‘The wardrobe represented putting down roots, something we’d never done before. And while Zena was happy to settle down, to nest, I wasn’t.

‘It made me realise that while we had both been through the same experience, it affected us differently.’

Put simply, Jack says he cannot just forget what happened to him — that he cannot move on.

From the beginning, he says, people failed to appreciate that it wasn’t just Zena’s life that was at risk, but his as well — and that while that risk has diminished it will never go away.

Further, he is determined that no one else in this country will have to suffer in the same way that he and Zena have had to, warning that the practice of forced marriages and so-called honour killings continues to be a real problem.

Political correctness, he adds, is all that keeps it out of the headlines.

‘People still think this happens only in the back streets of Bradford, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Birmingham and places like that,’ says Jack.

‘It doesn’t — it happens in the sort of leafy suburbs where people will be sitting reading this paper.

‘It touches those who weren’t fortunate to have a good education, as well as those who have degrees. It is out there and it is simply not going to go away on its own.’

Many, no doubt, will find it hard to believe that anyone in 21st-century Britain could be forced to live under such a threat.

Or, indeed, that anyone could be so twisted as to harm someone they supposedly love for simply exercising their freedom or choice in whom they marry.

But the details of Jack and Zena’s life highlight a problem that police admit may have cost hundreds of young women their lives over the years. It should be pointed out that Zena did not come from a troubled, dysfunctional family.

Rather, she was the much-loved third of five children who enjoyed a stable, materially comfortable childhood in Yorkshire.

‘She came from a warm, protective, caring family and she regarded them with love and affection,’ Jack explains. ‘The trouble was, that from birth she was meant to marry her cousin.’

At the age of 13, Zena was taken to her father’s birthplace in Pakistan where she was introduced to her cousin, Bilal, and informed that they would marry when she turned 21. Zena had very different ideas.

‘At home, we had to wear the Muslim headscarf and speak Urdu,’ she has explained. ‘But at the same time we had English friends, watched television and read magazines like Vogue.

‘If they found us we would end up in bin liners’

‘I had grown up watching Hollywood blockbusters and wanted to fall in love and to marry someone, not just have someone picked for me.’

And it was Jack with whom she would fall in love. Ten years older than her, with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a leather jacket, he cut an irresistibly romantic figure.

The unlikely pair hit it off, meeting in secret until Zena’s sister threatened to tell her father and his two brothers. She knew they would try to stop her seeing Jack, so in January 1993 they took the decision to run away.

The young lovers expected there to be a reaction — but imagined that after the initial furore the family would accept Jack. Instead, the reaction to a phone call on the night of their disappearance quickly awoke them to the grim reality of the situation.

‘I was expecting them to be angry — but nothing like it was,’ says Jack. ‘I spoke to a brother who said, very coldly, very calmly, that when they found us we would end up in several bin liners.

‘He said: “I am selling my cars, my company, and I am going to hire a bounty hunter — you are dead, you are walking corpses.”‘

Might the fact that Jack was at the time unemployed, older and not exactly ideal boyfriend material explain something of that reaction?

‘It wouldn’t have mattered if I had been the same caste, the same religion or whatever,’ he says.

‘I simply was not part of their plan for Zena. I could have been Asian and extremely wealthy and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Zena was meant to marry a cousin and that was that, simple as that. At the end of the day, it is nothing to do with religion and all about control.’

What happened next has come to be seen as a textbook example of the extraordinary lengths to which an aggrieved family will go to avenge the perceived ‘stain’ on their honour.

Today, Jack lectures police forces and other government agencies about these issues, but when he and Zena went on the run they were very much on their own.

First, Zena’s sister informed her that their father had suffered a heart attack and that she must come home.

Suspicious, the couple rang the local hospitals but were unable to find any record of his admission. They now believe the story was a ploy to lure them into an ambush.

After that, the direct threats began. Bricks were thrown through the windows of Jack’s mother’s house and her front door was kicked in. A gang of Asian men entered the property and one grabbed her by the throat.

He pointed towards one of his accomplices and said: ‘Look at this man because he is the man who is going to kill your son.’

Arrests were made, but no charges were brought. Jack’s mother was too scared to give evidence. By now the runaways were beginning to realise just what they had got themselves into.

Jack explains: ‘I spoke to a police officer, who said to me: “Don’t go back Jack, whatever you do, because they will smile in your face and slit your throat.”‘

What happened next is what Jack calls the pyramid system. First, word was passed around family and friends and then beyond to the wider community — to taxi drivers, restaurateurs, landlords.

Then, private detectives were employed to trace them through other channels. Several weeks after leaving Leeds, Jack and Zena registered with the Department of Social Security to claim benefits.

A couple of days later, they were summoned back to the social security office. They went, but quickly realised it had been a bogus call designed to lure them into the open. They fled to a nearby police station, but the nightmare continued.

Zena was arrested on a charge of theft, her family having alleged she had stolen £9,000 worth of jewellery.

‘We didn’t know it then, but getting the police to work for the family is a common tactic,’ said Jack.

‘Why bother looking for someone if you can get the police to bring them back home for you instead?’

Although Zena managed to convince officers of her innocence, the couple struggled to persuade anyone in authority to take them seriously.

‘It was considered to be a simple dispute between father and daughter that would be resolved among themselves,’ says Jack.

Given that he was so much older, one wonders if he ever felt a sense of guilt for what Zena went through as a result of their relationship.

‘I’d only feel guilty if I’d done something wrong,’ he says. ‘We were simply two people over the age of consent who met, fell in love and wanted to be together. It’s as simple as that — you don’t choose who you fall in love with.’

To demonstrate that love, the couple wed on March 12, 1993, on the Isle of Wight. It should have been the happiest day of their lives but Zena, ever hopeful, telephoned her family to tell them about the wedding. It would be the last time they ever spoke.

‘It was heartbreaking,’ he says. ‘I can still see her now sitting on that sofa, in tears, her father having told her that as far as he was concerned she had died on the day she left.’

Convinced that there was no way back, the couple set about creating a new life. They were given some help by the police — new identities, national insurance numbers, passports and NHS cards.

‘She is dead as far as her father is concerned’

But they were not given what in the witness protection scheme is known as a ‘legend’ (a fake past, to give people a credible back story). In practical terms this meant that finding work was next to impossible.

‘It meant we couldn’t give our academic qualifications or provide character or work references,’ Jack explains.

‘At one stage, we were told to ring up employers and tell them that all we could give was our name, address and NI number and that if they wanted more we could get a police officer to speak to them on our behalf.

‘Who on earth is going to employ you on that basis?’

Surviving on benefits, the couple rarely stayed in one place for more than a few months. The pressures of their lifestyle mounted and both suffered breakdowns.

In a bid to take some positives from their experience, in 1998 they published a book, Jack And Zena, which received widespread publicity.

Then in 2006, the police informed them that their inquiries suggested there was no longer any ‘credible threat’ to their safety.

Cautiously, they began to inform friends and acquaintances of who they really were and what their story was. Zena found a job in the fashion retail industry and began to regain her confidence. But Jack found moving on more difficult.

He admits that the experience of the past 17 years has ‘defined’ who is he today. But he wants to use his experience to help others who find themselves in the same situation.

For that reason he has set up the website and continues to lecture about their shared experiences. Zena, while supportive of these efforts, did not want to dwell on them any further.

‘Although Zena was supportive, I started to feel very much as though we had become like brother and sister,’ says Jack.

‘I became obsessed with campaigning and going out on the lecture circuit, while Zena found a job and was doing well.

‘We were virtually living separate lives and I decided that I was going to move out, get a place on my own and take it from there.

‘I think that for any couple who splits up it is incredibly sad, especially after such a long period of time and I know that a lot of people were shocked and devastated.’

The couple still keep in touch, and Jack says he has nothing but admiration for his soon-to-be ex-wife’s strength of character and determination.

‘It’s such a terrible shame we’ve separated, but I cannot tell you just how inspiring Zena has been not just to me but to so many women,’ he says.

‘She had the courage to stand up and to say: “No, I am not going to marry who you say — I have the freedom of choice to marry who I want.”‘

Now living on his own in the south of England, Jack is working to turn their story into a film, a process which he says is close to fruition.

‘Some of the actors they are suggesting to play me would make you laugh,’ he says with a shake of the head, declining to name them out of modesty.

‘I mean, look at me, I’m just an ordinary guy who found himself in an extraordinary situation and then had to deal with it. We did what anyone would have done.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: CBI Demands an Overhaul of Britain’s Energy Policy

Business group wants more clean coal and nuclear to end risky reliance on foreign gas

Business leaders are calling for a major shift in the Government’s energy policy to avoid a dirty and dangerous reliance on foreign-sourced gas in two decades’ time.

The current approach is both jeopardising the achievement of climate change targets and undermining future energy security, says a Confederation of British Industry report published today, just days before the launch of the Government’s Renewable Energy Strategy (RES).

Incentives focused on ramping up wind power will draw investment away from other low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear and clean coal, the report warns. And the need to keep the lights on will force utilities to build extra gas power stations to fill the short-term gap left by the decommissioning, from 201 5, of ageing infrastructure. The result, according to consultants at McKinsey, is that by 2030 the UK energy mix will be unduly reliant on imported gas and not in line with carbon emissions reduction targets.

To be sure of a more balanced mix of energy sources, the Government needs to cut its 2020 renewable target from 32 per cent to 25 per cent, push ahead with plans for nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS), and accelerate grid upgrades. And there is no time to waste because investment decisions made now will set the energy balance for decades to come.

John Cridland, the deputy director general of the CBI, said: “The RES is the last-chance saloon to get the UK on a sustainable energy path. Our concern is that the current path for investment will leave us with a mix that is not sufficiently de-carbonised and not sufficiently secure.”

The alternative suggested by the CBI sees a 2030 energy mix with 83 per cent from green sources — including 34 per cent from nuclear, 20 per cent from wind and 14 per cent from clean coal — compared with only 64 per cent green energy in the “business as usual” scenario, where 20 per cent is nuclear, 24 per cent wind and 8 per cent clean coal. Changing the balance will not cost more than the £150bn investment already predicted. Although it will require more reactors, they can fit on existing nuclear development sites.

The RES, due to be published on Wednesday, will set out how the UK will meet the target to produce 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources — which equates to more than 30 per cent of electricity — by 2020. It is expected to include strategies for meeting delays in the planning system and upgrades to the National Grid.

So far, short-term progress is not promising. At a local level, most English regions are not likely to meet their interim targets for renewables, the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) will say today. Just half of the plan envisaging more than 4,500 megawatts of capacity has been installed. And only London, which represents just 2 per cent of the total, is on track for 2010. Alongside the capital, the best-performing regions so far are the East Midlands and the South-east. At the bottom of the league are the North-west, East and South-west.

The BWEA says what is lacking is the political will to succeed. The top priority is to improve the planning system. Despite a target of 16 weeks per application, in reality wind-farm bids take an average of 14 months.

The regional survey’s findings highlight a more serious debate around the division of power between central and local government, says the BWEA. Although the targets are set at Westminster, planning decisions rest with Local Planning Authorities. Even the creation of the new Central Infrastructure Authority this year will only take on the biggest projects, when the majority of on-shore wind farms are below the threshold. As long as LPAs are making decisions, influenced by a “not in my back yard” culture, progress towards the targets will be slow, it says.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Church Accuses Government of Favouring Muslims

Church leaders have accused the Government of giving preferential treatment to the Muslim community because of “political correctness”.

Parishes are being starved of state funds to help the poor as a result of money being diverted to other faiths, senior clergy told the General Synod, which is meeting in York.

A report endorsed by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, claimed that the Government had become “unbalanced” in its approach to faith groups.

It argued that the determination of ministers to tackle Islamic extremism in the wake of the London bombings on July 7, 2005, had led to a preoccupation with Muslim communities at the expense of Christian groups.

Subsequently, the report said, churches are facing a challenge to maintain their presence in poor parts of the country.

The report’s co-author, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, said that the Church of England had applied to the Department of Communities and Local Government for money to “enable us to support parishes”.

“It seems as if political correctness by Government may defeat us,” he said, adding that the Church was ideally placed to help improve social cohesion.

Archbishop Sentamu, who wrote the foreword to the report, What Makes a Good City, told the Synod on Saturday that it was important that Bishop Lowe had “not been shy of saying things to the Government”.

“The Church has listened to his trumpet call,” he added.

The report says that there is a “great deal of inconsistency in the way individual [Government] ministers deal with religious groups”.

It continues: “Christian groups in particular have suffered irrational prejudice against their funding applications and a lack of understanding of the nature and sometimes fragility of the local church.

“There is a perception, perhaps justified, that it has been easier for Islamic groups to receive financial support than other faith groups.”

Bishop Lowe claims that there have been numerous examples of local authorities inviting consultation with local faith groups and failing to invite any Christians.

“There can be little doubt that the terrorism agenda has seriously unbalanced government relationships with the faith communities,” the report says.

“Ministers are left to pronounce from a position of ignorance at best, or prejudice at worst.

“Ministers and civil servants see their priorities focused on dealing with Islamic extremism and treating all the faith communities in an even handed way despite relative differences in size.”

Philip Giddings, chairman of the Church’s mission and public affairs division, expressed concern over the Government’s attitude to faith groups.

“We have a huge challenge in sharing our work and vision with political leaders who do not share the same values and faith,” he said.

“They are ignorant of it and we must shift the perception of the contribution made by the Church in building a better community.”

Bishop Lowe said that the Church was committed to providing welfare to some of the most deprived and impoverished areas of the country.

“We must not become a comfortable Church for a comfortable nation, but a church totally committed to its continued presence in uncomfortable England,” he said.

The Church published a report called Faithful Cities in 2006, which was critical of Labour’s social policies.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said at the time that whilst people had got richer over the previous two decades, the period had also seen “fear, racial tension and the tendency to treat neighbours as strangers”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Civil Servants Accused of Delaying Renewable Energy Incentives

Alan Simpson MP, adviser to Ed Miliband, says introduction of feed-in tariffs is being held up by officials who back nuclear power

Civil servants in Ed Miliband’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are trying to water down and delay the introduction of so-called feed-in tariffs designed to boost the deployment of renewable energies, according to one of Miliband’s advisers.

Writing last month to the energy minister Mike O’Brien, who has since left DECC, Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South, accuses civil servants of “delaying” and “frustrating” their introduction. In his letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, Simpson, appointed by Miliband this year to work on feed-in tariffs, wrote: “You asked me to play a role in ‘driving this through’. It is difficult to drive if I can’t even get in the car.”

Feed-in tariffs work by rewarding installers of renewable energy technologies such as biomass boilers or solar panels an above-market price for the electricity or heat they produce. They have been used with great success in countries such as Germany, which introduced a feed-in tariff in 1999; it has 250 times as much solar power installed as Britain and 10 times as much wind power.

Miliband has announced that a feed-in tariff for electricity will be introduced in April next year and for heat technologies a year later. Simpson thinks both should and could be brought in together, and has come up with a plan for doing so. He accuses civil servants of frustrating this by carrying out an “industrial boycott” of meetings with himself and representatives of the renewables industry.

Critics of DECC officials say they are transfixed by the arguments of the nuclear industry. Many of the big energy companies have lobbied the DECC against feed-in tariffs.

Simpson’s letter raises the issue of who governs in government since, he says, officials are obstructing the will of elected politicians, including Miliband. “Their ability to delay and frustrate is the government’s greatest achilles heel,” he says.

Instead, he suggests to O’Brien, “why don’t we set up meetings of our own and ban the civil servants from taking part?”

A DECC spokeswoman said Simpson’s fears were groundless and pointed out that on Wednesday Miliband will unveil a low-carbon transition plan.

But Philip Wolfe, head of the Renewable Energy Association, said the document would talk only about the electricity tariff for next year and not the heat tariff for 2011: “There is a lack of ambition. Delaying the heat tariff until a year later shows they are not pushing as hard as they need to.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Fuel Bills Set to Soar to Pay for Green Energy Plan

Government’s drive to cut carbon emissions will see huge rise in charges

Hundreds of thousands of new “green” jobs and a rise in household energy bills will be prefigured in the Government’s plans to turn Britain into a low-carbon economy.

As many as 400,000 new employment opportunities are expected in a massive expansion of renewable energy; as Britain strives to meet two demanding climate change targets: cutting the UK’s carbon emissions by 34 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 (Britain’s own pledge), and deriving 15 per cent of all energy from renewable sources by the same date (which may mean as much as 35 per cent of electricity, and is an EU commitment).

But with the opportunities come costs, and it is expected that the national switch to green energy supplies will add substantially to household energy bills.

According to Greenpeace, which has seen a draft of the Government’s plans which will be set out in detail this week, the estimated cost of meeting the renewable energy target will be £100bn. This is the amount of funding needed for new energy infrastructure, including 7,000 more wind turbines, which would translate to an additional cost to the consumer of 25 per cent on gas bills and 17 per cent on electricity bills.

Some estimates suggest that total gas and electricity bills, currently averaging about £1,150 per household annually, might rise by £200 or even more, with a consequent danger of forcing many more families into fuel poverty — which is likely to be addressed in the announcement.

The plans to be unveiled by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, will be the most far-reaching and extensive blueprint so far of how Britain can drastically switch its economy to a low carbon basis.

They will consist of a series of documents, headed by an Energy White Paper which will detail how the UK can meet the rolling “carbon budgets” demanded by the newly-established Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord (Adair) Turner.

They have been designed to force down CO2 emissions by 34 per cent in the next 11 years, and by at least 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050.

The White Paper will give CO2-cutting scenarios for all the main carbon-emitting sectors, from power generation and transport to homes and even agriculture.

It will be accompanied by three more major documents: the Renewable Energy Strategy, setting out the way to meeting the 15 per cent renewables target, the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, indicating green jobs and growth opportunities, and a Low Carbon Transport Strategy showing the way forward in cutting transport emissions.

There may also be documents dealing with nuclear energy — setting out the Government’s plans for where it intends to site new nuclear power stations in the UK, and the planning regime under which applications for new nuclear will be considered. There is also the idea of a “feed-in tariff” for small scale renewables, a guaranteed payment from the Government for companies or people who generate their own electricity and sell some of it back to the national grid.

However, Greenpeace believes the Government will not accept one of the major recommendations from Lord Turner’s Committee on Climate Change — that the electricity sector should be fully decarbonised by 2030. Instead, it believes the Government will only say that it envisages 50 per cent of electricity to be derived from low carbon sources by 2025.

The battle plan: Fighting for the future

The launch this week of strategies for a British low-carbon future will be the most detailed such blueprint. It will involve four substantial documents that are key to Britain’s fight against climate change and which will be launched simultaneously. They are:

*The Energy White Paper, which sets out the path for decarbonising the economy across all sectors;

*The Renewable Energy Strategy, which shows how the new and demanding targets for producing energy from renewable sources by 2020 can be met;

*The Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, which will detail how a low-carbon economy can offer opportunities for new jobs and economic growth;

*The Low Carbon Transport Strategy, which looks at how to cut carbon dioxide emissions from transport.

*In addition, there are likely to be announcements about consultations on feed-in tariffs and on renewable heat, a draft national policy statement on nuclear power and an announcement about the new Office of Renewable Energy Deployment.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Judges Release Beast

A NOTORIOUS paedophile was freed on bail yesterday to live at a SECRET address.

Sex beast John Bermingham, 43, even said “thank you” to the three judges who put him back on the streets.

The fiend was behind bars for allegedly breaching an order restricting his contact with women and kids.

But he is set to challenge the order, claiming it breaches HIS human rights. And his new address will be kept secret for HIS safety.

Evil Bermingham was jailed in 2002 for trying to rape an 11-year-old girl and carrying out a sex attack on an 18-year-old on the SAME DAY in Edinburgh.

His eldest victim, 26, was visited by cops over his release. She said: “I can’t believe he’s been granted bail. The police couldn’t understand it.”

Bermingham was freed on licence from his nine year sentence for the attacks, but cops got a Sexual Offences Prevention Order last November.

It banned him from public transport in the morning and afternoon when schoolkids are travelling. But in the same month he was remanded after being accused of using buses in Carronshore and Falkirk, Stirlingshire.

Appeal Court judges in Edinburgh agreed to release Bermingham since it could be a “considerable time” before his legal action begins.

But the Crown opposed the ruling by Lord Osborne, Lord Reed and Lord Brodie — warning Bermingham still poses a “risk” to the public.

Advocate Depute Dorothy Bain QC insisted his address must remain secret. She said there was a “history of difficulties” and “local unrest” over his past placements.

The move was last night slammed by furious Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken. He said: “We want prisoners in prison not in the community. Sex offenders’ so-called human rights are nothing compared to the rights of victims.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Make Your Home Greener or Pay Higher Council Tax, Government Says

Householders should face higher council tax and stamp duty if they refuse to make their homes greener, Government advisers say.

Those who do not have double glazing or insulation would be hammered under proposals drawn up by an environmental pressure group which will be considered by ministers.

They want the punishments to be brought in alongside ‘green mortgages’, under which homeowners can apply for loans to spend on energy-efficient equipment such as new boilers and even solar panels.

Green house: Solar panels help to create energy

Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband is expected to welcome the green mortgage plan, but will not make an announcement on the penalties until the autumn.

John Adams, who came up with controversial proposals for the UK Green Buildings Council, said the green loans idea would take off only if the ‘carrot and stick’ approach was employed.

The loans would be offered by the Government to fund environmentally friendly schemes such as double glazing, loft and cavity wall insulation, solar panels and wind turbines.

Mr Adams said householders who refused to take part in the scheme could face higher council tax rates and, when they sell, the threat of raised stamp duty which could put off prospective buyers.

Last night Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It is absolutely shocking that the Government is still threatening new bogus green taxes when taxpayers are already paying a fortune in higher prices for their electricity, gas and petrol thanks to ineffective global warming policies.

‘Over the years families have steadily improved the energy efficiency of their homes and most suitable homes now have features such as loft insulation and double glazing.

Considering plans: Ed Miliband

‘There is no evidence the public aren’t already deploying cost-effective efficiency measures. There is no need for these new taxes that will punish people already paying a heavy price for the Government’s clumsy and failing energy agenda.’

The green mortgage plan is part of a report to be issued tomorrow by Mr Adams, of Knauf Insulation, which provides loft and cavity wall insulation.

Mr Adams said: ‘The aim is to make the monthly repayments so small that they will be outstripped by the savings on energy bills — meaning householders will actually save money by taking the loans.’

For example, officials have calculated that a typical Victorian end of terrace house would spend £10,280 on energy-saving measures. This would lead to annual repayments of £514 a year, compared to energy savings of £802 — a profit of £288 a year.

The mortgages will be made available by high street banks in partnership with councils. The loans would be worth £10,000 to £15,000 and would be repayable over 25 years or so. If the house was sold, the charge would go to the new owner.

Ministers may also relax planning rules, which could see wind turbines on roofs even in conservation areas and on listed buildings.

Critics fear the plans could see the removal of period features such as Victorian sash windows, which are in fact energy efficient. Mr Miliband has already said he wants 7million homes to have undergone energy-efficient upgrades by 2020, and the rest by 2030.

While he is expected to back the main proposals behind the green mortgage plan, he will not announce until the autumn whether he will accept penalties based on stamp duty and council tax.

On Wednesday, Mr Miliband will announce a climate change action plan including moves making it easier for those with energy generating devices to sell electricity back to the National Grid.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: The BBC Became Too PC for Me, Says Veteran Sissons

Attack: Peter Sissons says the BBC is suffering from slipping editorial standards

Veteran newsreader Peter Sissons has launched a scathing attack on the slipping standards and incompetence at the BBC that prompted him to leave the corporation after 20 years.

In a frank and biting interview, Sissons lifted the lid on the political correctness that has seeped into the heart of the organisation.

And he revealed that the final straw came when his bosses tried to stop him raising the controversial subject of the Queen and the D-Day anniversary.

‘At today’s BBC, a complaint often heard from senior producers was they dared not reprimand their subordinates for basic journalistic mistakes — such as getting ages, dates, titles and even football scores wrong — it being politically incorrect to risk offending them,’ he said.

He described the newsroom as a ‘news-processing plant’ and explained that simple things, such as spelling and grammar, were no longer important in his former employer’s multimedia world.

The 66-year-old also pinpointed the exact moment he decided to leave BBC News as the day senior producers attempted to stop him asking Labour’s then deputy leader, Harriet Harman, why the Queen had not been invited to the D-Day commemorations in May.

The former presenter of the Six O’Clock News and more recently News Hour and BBC News 24 described how he was provided with questions viewers had emailed.

‘The most senior of the producers asked me directly what other issues I would raise with Miss Harman.

No problem, until I mentioned the last question I wanted to get in: why the Queen had not been invited to the 65th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. The response shocked me. It was suggested that it was not a topic worth raising because it was only a campaign being run by the Daily Mail.’

However, the topic had angered veterans and the campaign had gathered huge public support.

The presenter went ahead and asked the ‘obvious and important question’.

‘I drove out of Television Centre for the last time a month later, with not a pang of regret,’ he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

His withering attack did not stop there. He went on to address the corporation’s view on global warming. He claims it is ‘effectively BBC policy’ to ignore climate change sceptics.

He also referred to the furore over his choice of tie to announce the Queen Mother’s death in 2002.

He said the a senior executive told him to wear a burgundy tie instead of a black one. After ‘all hell broke loose’ the BBC said it had been Sissons’s own choice. They eventually came to his defence 24 hours later.

A spokesman for the BBC said: ‘We are grateful to Peter for his contribution to broadcasting. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything he has to say.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: The Nazi King

In December 1940, as war raged in Europe and Britain battled Hitler in lonely isolation, American journalist Fulton Oursler received an unexpected summons to the Bahamas. He had been invited to conduct a rare interview with the islands’ governor, the former King Edward VIII, officially known since his abdication four years earlier as His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor.

As an officer in the British Army as well as a dignitary of the British Empire and brother of King George VI, the Duke might have been expected to fly the flag for his embattled country. Instead he gave Oursler a eulogy to Hitler. The former British monarch told the journalist it would be tragic for the world if the Nazi dictator were overthrown. Hitler was not just the right and logical leader of the German people, the Duke insisted, he was also a great man.

As Oursler tried to grasp the enormity of what he was hearing the Duke asked him: “Do you suppose that your President would consider intervening as a mediator when and if the proper time arrives?”

The American understood that he was being asked to carry a message to President Roosevelt, with whom he was on good terms, but he was not certain what it was. As he was leaving the Duke’s aide-de-camp spelt it out.. He instructed Oursler: “Tell Mr Roosevelt that if he will make an offer of intervention for peace, that before anyone in England can oppose it, the Duke of Windsor will instantly issue a statement supporting it and that will start a revolution in England and force peace.”

Fortunately Roosevelt would have no truck with the Duke’s treacherous scheme. He had already placed Edward and his American-born wife, the former Wallis Simpson, under FBI surveillance when they paid a visit to Miami. Newly declassified FBI papers revealed in a documentary this week on Channel Five show the Americans’ scathing assessment of the royal figure who had once been the glamorous darling of the British Empire.

“The British government were anxious to get rid of the Duke of Windsor, first and foremost because of his fondness for Nazi ideology,” the 227-page report concludes. “The Duchess’s political views are deemed so obnoxious to the British government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: The BBC Needs to be Retuned

As the beleaguered corporation prepares to release its annual report tomorrow, Neil Midgley suggests how we might learn to love it again.

The A470, on the way from Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil, doesn’t look much like one of the UK’s creative hubs. Littered with roundabouts and struggling light industry, it could be any dismal British ring road. Yet behind one automatic barrier, in unmarked steel hangars, lie some of the BBC’s most closely-guarded secrets. In one, there’s the Tardis. In another, a garage for Daleks. Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures are all produced here. While just down the road, in equally inauspicious units, are Prince Arthur’s chambers and the dragon’s cave: Merlin, too, is made in Wales.

Between them, these BBC Wales productions employ hundreds of people. Such a spread of creative capital across the UK’s nations can only be a good thing. If it weren’t for the BBC, it’s almost inconceivable that any drama — let alone several of the most popular shows on British television — would be made this far outside the M25.

When Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director-general, presents the corporation’s annual report tomorrow, this is the kind of message that he will be trying to get across. Yet the clamour of bad publicity that surrounds the BBC

is so loud and so constant that its good deeds often go unnoticed.

Things started to go wrong for the corporation in the summer of 2007. The “Crowngate” affair, in which footage was presented to journalists that wrongly showed the Queen to be storming out of a photo shoot, led to the defenestration of Peter Fincham, BBC One’s controller. And following the rigged phone-ins that plagued all the major broadcasters that year, BBC editorial staff were spookily re-programmed in how to “safeguard trust”.

By the time last year’s annual report was published, Thompson and Sir Michael Lyons, the BBC Trust chairman, must have hoped that the worst was behind them. Jay Hunt had been installed as a new, dynamic and (best of all) journalistically experienced controller of BBC One. Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting was the only apparent threat to an easy future at TV Centre, and it dithered along with as much decisive vigour as Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

But then autumn came, and three men were to change the direction of BBC history: Russell Brand, Jonathan Ross and Stephen Carter. In October, Ross was a guest on a pre-recorded edition of Brand’s Saturday night Radio 2 show, in which the pair left a series of obscene and hurtful messages on the voicemail of Andrew Sachs, the Fawlty Towers actor. The programme was cleared for broadcast by Lesley Douglas, the station’s controller, without her listening to it. The crisis became the defining moment of Sir Michael’s chairmanship. It had been all very well for the Trust

to make stern noises about editorial procedures in its response to the controversy over the Queen, but once again those same procedures had failed in spectacular style.

Sir Michael convened a press conference. All that any journalist wanted to know was whether Ross — the BBC’s totemic overpaid star, at £6million a year — would be fired. Yet Sir Michael didn’t even address that question in his opening remarks. It became clear in his response to reporters’ questions that Ross was safe, yet Sir Michael was fidgety and seemed unusually anxious, repeatedly referring to Andrew Sachs as Jonathan Sacks (the Chief Rabbi). In

the event, Douglas and Brand lost their jobs

on Radio 2, and Ross was suspended from the BBC without pay for three months.

Sir Michael had good reason to be edgy. Though supposed to be the champion of licence-fee payers — who, anecdotally, were up in arms — he had, it seemed, gone native. BBC management’s terror at the cost of sacking Ross apparently won him over. It was a shame, given that the Trust has held BBC management’s feet to the fire over many important issues, such as a massive overspend on the BBC website and the corporation’s then-poor showing in the devolved nations.

Lord Carter of Barnes had, by the time of the Ross/Brand scandal, barely arrived at his new government office as Communications Minister, let alone taken a decision on the future of the licence fee. But sure enough, when his final Digital Britain report eventually arrived last month, it contained formal proposals to “top-slice” the BBC’s income and give £130million a year to fund regional news on ITV —that being

an obligation that the commercial network says it can no longer afford. Thompson has suggested this is an ideological issue, with some policymakers set on taking money from the BBC no matter what.

Certainly, the BBC has its opponents. BBC executives are grossly overpaid, say the critics, and yet still claim expenses for private jets to fly home from holiday if a crisis breaks. On-air talent is even more overpaid, they add, with the likes of Ross, Graham Norton and Sir Terry Wogan all trousering eye-watering sums. Some critics see Carol Thatcher’s shunting from BBC One, for comparing a black man to a golliwog, as “political correctness gone mad”. Nobody outside the BBC seems to like its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, which is seen as over-aggressive. And although the BBC has invented a supposed raison d’être as an enabler for the communications industry, that’s already hitting the buffers: the commercially shared version of the iPlayer fell foul of the competition authorities, and plans to share regional news resources with ITV seem to be an unworkable fig leaf.

Inside the BBC, meanwhile, staff labour under an ever greater “compliance” burden to ensure that editorial policy is followed. “Crowngate” sprang out of a BBC One press launch, whose preparation was criticised in the ensuing official report. Fast-forward to the latest such BBC One launch, which took place only last week and required more than 250 individual checks to satisfy the corporation’s new compliance rigour.

Tomorrow’s annual report necessarily looks back on the year just gone, but the BBC now faces an uncertain future. The switch-off of the analogue TV signal will gather pace later this year when the first big region, Granada, goes fully digital. In a world of almost limitless media choice, the BBC struggles harder and harder to reach every licence-fee payer. Yet to its credit, that mission is one that the corporation and its staff take very seriously.

BBC Three’s excellent show Being Human is one of precious few British TV dramas aimed at young adults. Challenging pieces such as the recent Iraq war drama Occupation, or the Irish-set film Five Minutes of Heaven, could never be funded by a purely commercial broadcaster. Try finding an equivalent to Newsnight on American network television. Or, indeed, equivalents to BBC Four gems such as Sacred Music or The Secret Life of the Motorway anywhere on American television. Radio 3, Teletubbies, Strictly Come Dancing, Countryfile: only the breadth of the BBC can generate such divergent pleasures.

But the system is out of balance: the BBC is too big, and its commercial competitors too small. Two years ago, the BBC’s licence-fee income was roughly the same as the UK’s total television advertising market. This year, there will be a billion-pound gap between those two figures in the BBC’s favour. Yet the Government still insists on the publicly-owned Channel 4 being funded largely from advertising.

Sir Michael protests that he will ensure the BBC is only as big as it needs to be. Yet it is an article of faith — for BBC management and, apparently, for Sir Michael — that, while new services can be launched, old ones can never be closed. The result is an ever thinner spreading of resources across ever more channels and websites, with hundreds of hours of unnecessary television created. This week alone: Home for Life, Real Rescues, What to Eat Now, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, As Seen on TV, Personal Affairs. It is hard to imagine Lord Reith spinning in his grave if fewer cookery or makeover shows were to appear on the BBC.

While there is nothing especially wrong with BBC Two as a channel, its budget — around £500 million a year — is the kind of cut that needs to be made to the BBC in order to put British broadcasting back in balance. The BBC would compete for fewer eyeballs, the money could be used to fund Channel 4 and, as a result, commercial broadcasters would have a fairer shake in the advertising market. If Sir Michael had the bravery to announce that kind of concession at tomorrow’s annual report, the BBC might once again regain the public affection that it uniquely deserves.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: TV Licence Rebel Seeks Trial by Jury

A retired engineer who is being taken to court by the BBC for refusing to pay for a television licence over its ‘biased reporting’ is hoping to persuade a jury that the corporation is acting illegally.

John Kelly has refused to pay the fee since 2002, arguing he does not have to as the BBC has breached its requirement for political balance when covering issues such as the European Union.

Mr Kelly, 70, from Exmouth, and a number of other leading campaigners against the mandatory payment, have so far escaped prosecution but, amid an upsurge in support from high-profile figures such as former BBC presenter Noel Edmonds and former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, a crackdown appears to have begun.

No action appeared to be underway against Mr Kelly until last February, when two inspectors visited his home.

Mr Kelly refused to let them in and when asked if he had a licence, he told the inspectors to “go away” and read his file.

He then received a summons to attend Exeter Magistrates Court later this month and faces a fine of up to £1,000.

He plans to apply for a trial by jury and intends to argue that the BBC is in breach of the law over its political coverage and that this means he is not required to pay.

He said: “I think the BBC wants to crackdown on some of us to discourage more people from refusing to pay. There is a growing groundswell of opinion against the Corporation in the wake of the Jonathan Ross scandal and other things like expenses. My summons is not a random thing.

“I have a file two inches thick. Every time they have written threatening me, I have replied giving my reasons.

“Why they have picked on me now, I suspect, is because last October Charles Moore wrote in the Spectator magazine that if the BBC was still employing Jonathan Ross he would not renew his licence.

“I wrote to him to tell him of my experiences and he mentioned me. I was then quoted in other newspapers.”

“Then it went a bit quiet until February.”

Former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, vice-president of the Freedom Association and a leading licence refusenik, said he and others planned to attend the court hearing to support Mr Kelly.

The BBC said it had prosecuted people who refused to pay on principle and said anyone who watched without paying for a licensed risked legal action.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Written Exams to be Replaced by Online Tests in Effort to Help ‘Exam-Phobic’ Pupils

Written exams are to be replaced by continual online testing to help pupils with ‘exam phobia’, a senior education figure has revealed.

Traditional GCSE and A-level exams could disappear within 10 to 15 years, according to Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment.

And instead of three-hour written exams, pupils would undergo computer assessment.

Lebus said the new age of testing was not ‘science fiction’ as exam boards were investing millions of pounds into developing the new technology.

‘The likelihood is that in the next 10 to 15 years it will change almost out of recognition in that by the end of that period of time you’ll be able to do exams more or less on demand, on screen,’ he told The Guardian.

‘You can make the learning more valid and the technology can enhance the way people engage in the subject. It’s very expensive, complex stuff to do. But it is achievable. It’s not a vision based on a sort of science-fiction type fantasy.’

Since 2002, Lebus, a former investment banker, has headed Cambridge Assessment — a department of Cambridge University and the umbrella organisation for international exam boards including OCR.

He said the new system would benefit pupils who were exam-phobic, but acknowledged that traditional written exams would continue to be available to those who preferred them.

‘There are some people obviously who get very frightened by exams or couldn’t for other reasons do them well,’ he said.

‘They would be well suited to an environment where there were no exams.’

The computerised world envisioned by Lebus would allow pupils to take tests at any point in their course, rather than at the end. Their progress would be monitored through completed tasks and tracked online.

Lebus said the new system could involve ‘adaptive’ testing based on each pupil’s ability. The computer programme would generate harder questions when pupils answered correctly and easier questions when they got things wrong. Adaptive tests are said to give a more accurate assessment of a student’s ability.

OCR has piloted a fully e-assessed GCSE in environmental and land-based science since 2007. This summer 1,800 candidates at 80 schools and colleges will sit the new course.

The plans follow in the footsteps of the education system in the US which favours multiple choice exams and computer marking. South Korea is also rapidly developing new e-assessment models, while Denmark is piloting the use of the internet during essay-based exams, seen as the equivalent of allowing calculators in maths exams.

But the move towards computerised testing has been criticised by some academics as creating an unfair system.

lan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: ‘Making judgments about performance isn’t easy. The best way of doing it is dispassionate assessment of students tackling the same tasks under the same conditions.’

Dylan Wiliam, a leading exam expert at the Institute of Education, University of London, said that instead of relieving pressure on exam-phobic students, the new system would mean pupils were constantly stressed.

‘There is no doubt that you could have a completely wired-up classroom where every keystroke will count towards an assessment,’ he said.

‘But that is too horrible to contemplate — the idea that students are under pressure all the time. We need a culture where kids can make mistakes without being penalised.’

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Too many people believe that the only legitimate examinations are the ones they took at school many years earlier. The world moves on and assessment should move on too.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Serbia-Israel: Culture, Science Cooperation Agreement Signed

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JULY 9 — Deputy Director for cultural and scientific cooperation in the Isreali Foreign Ministry Ariel Meckel and Serbian Asistant Foreign Minister Milovan Bozovic signed in Belgrade a program of cooperation in the education, science, culture, youth and sports sectors from 2009 to 2011, reports Tanjug news agency. The program is aimed at fostering cooperation between relevant institutions of the two countries, offers scholarships to Serbian and Israeli students and researchers, and envisages cooperation in the protection of cultural heritage. The program places emphasis on research and education on the Holocaust and the tragic fate of the Jewish community in Serbia in WWII. Meckel said the program will help foster bilateral cooperation in the education, science and culture sectors, as well as mutual understanding and friendship.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egyptians Protest Award to Controversial Writer

Author asserts he is Muslim, refutes apostasy accusations

The Minister of Culture’s award given to a controversial writer previously accused of apostasy has Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood up in arms, with several members launching a judicial and media campaign demanding the withdrawal of the award.

The Muslim Brotherhood lashed out at the Ministry of Culture and MPs from the group filed a complaint after secularist writer and thinker Sayed al-Qimni received the State Award of Merit in Social Sciences, the highest in Egypt.

The Egyptian government insists on provoking the people through repeatedly paying tribute to people who slander Islam, said Brotherhood MP Dr. Hamdi Hassan in the interpellation he directed at Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

Lawyer Nabih al-Wahsh filed a lawsuit demanding the withdrawal of the award from Qimni, alleging that he does not deserve it.

“His works deride Islam and he is skeptical about the message of Prophet Mohamed,” he told Al Arabiya. “Plus the prize is from state money and most Egyptians reject Qimni’s ideas. Thus, he does not deserve the prize.”

Wahsh added that the Egyptian constitution is based on Islamic law (Sharia), which Qimni allegedly doubts, and called for impeaching the Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni for approving the choice of Qimni.

Preacher Yusuf al-Badri, known for suing intellectuals, also lashed out at the Minister of Culture and filed a lawsuit for the revocation of the prize.

“He denies the existence of prophets Abraham and Moses and Prophet Mohamed’s battles,” he told Al Arabiya. “How could people who say this be given awards?”

The fundamentalist group al-Jamaa al-Islamiya issued a statement condemning awarding the prize to Qimni.

All Islamist and cultural circles are in shock after Qimni was awarded a prize he did not deserve, said Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, one of the group’s founders and member of the Consultative Assembly, Egypt’s lower house of parliament.

“The Minister of Culture should protect youth from vice and perversion,” he told Al Arabiya. “He should revive Egypt’s Muslim culture instead of encouraging secularists.”

The State Award of Merit is 200,000 Egyptian Pounds ($36,000) and every year disagreements arise about the deservedness of candidates.

Not an apostate

In response to the accusations leveled against, Qimni objected to being labeled an apostate and expressed his indifference towards these allegations.

“I am Muslim and I believe in Prophet Mohamed,” he told Al Arabiya. “Let them file whatever lawsuits they want to withdraw the award. The award did honor me; I honored it.”

Qimni accused those who filed lawsuits against him of seeking profit and not attempting to understand Islam correctly.

“My writings make Islam simpler and explain it to people. Those who sue me and accuse me of apostasy do this for a living and will go bankrupt if they stop it.”

Qimni has advocated for crossing out Article 2 of the constitution which states that Islamic law (sharia) is the main source of legislation in Egypt. He initially refused the prize in a statement of support to secularism.


Although there were many objections to Qimni’s candidacy for the award from inside the arbitration committee, he received 37 votes out of 48 which qualified him for the award, Salah Eissa, Editor-in-Chief of the Ministry of Culture’s al-Qahira (Cairo) newspaper and member of the committee explained.

“It is normal to have disagreements about prizes,” Eissa told Al Arabiya. “People differ regarding who deserves them best. I personally voted for him. I find Qimni a hard worker and a diligent thinker.”

Eissa added that the State Award of Merit is usually given to creative intellectuals who conduct thorough research in their fields regardless of the ideas they promote.

“Many of the committee members who voted for Qimni do not agree with his ideas. Giving him the prize is not necessarily an endorsement of everything he says.”

Eissa labeled those who hurl accusation at Qimni “intellectually bankrupt” and stressed that no authority has the right to call someone an apostate.

Al-Azhar’s Center for Islamic Research had called for banning Qimni’s book Rab Haza al-Zaman (A God of this Age) because it contained apostasy but the court ruled in favor of Qimni.

“Islam forbids accusing people of apostasy and there is nothing in Qimni’s writings or ideas that demonstrate he is an apostate.”

Prominent writer Gamal al-Ghitani, member of the Supreme Council of Culture, refused to comment on the accusations against Qimni.

“I will not comment on these allegations and I have my own reasons,” he told Al Arabiya.

Sayed al-Qimni has always stirred controversy in Egypt for arguing that Islam is a political system rather than a religion and his harsh criticism of political Islam earned him many death threats.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Egypt: SIS Issues First Book for the Blind on National Heroes

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, July 9 — Under the patronage of Egypt’s First Lady Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, the State Information Service (SIS) issued on Wedensday its first ever book for the blind on national leaders. The book will shed light on the history of those great people who enriched the political, social and cultural life of Egypt, said SIS chief Ambassador Ismail Khayrat. It will help introduce the young to those outstanding historical figures who sacrificed everything in their life to serve the nation, he said, noting that the book will focus on seven of the national heroes: Mohamed Korayem, Omar Makram, Ahmed Orabi, Moustafa Kamel, Saad Zaghloul, Safiya Zaghloul and Moustafa el-Nahas. The book is only the beginning in a series of SIS publications serving the blind, he said. The plan to issue this series as part of the national campaign Reading for All, he also said. The title of the 2009 edition of the “Reading for All Festival” is “Egypt for Peace”. The festival is sponsored by Mrs Mubarak. The summer activities of the Festival focus on the reading for children and the importance of the parents’ role in encouraging their children to read. The campaign also continues last year’s two initiatives: the opening of park bookshops across the country to sell to the public the latest publications of the Family Library and the “One Million Books” initiative to make available books for free for public libraries’ frequent visitors. On June 7, 1991, the first celebration of the festival was held in Cairo for three months covering all cities and villages across Egypt. (ANSAmed) ..

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Analysis: Three Years Later, The Core Issues Remain Unsolved

by Jonathan Spyer

Three years have passed since the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out this week that the cease-fire which ended the war on August 14, 2006, remains fragile. The core issues which triggered the fighting remain unresolved. Since the guns fell silent, both sides have been busy seeking to learn the lessons of their successes and failures, on the assumption that another round is at some stage inevitable.

For Israel, the war served as a wake-up call that a new chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict had begun.

In the two decades prior to 2006, the main focus of the IDF ground forces had been on counter-insurgency in the West Bank and Gaza. The result was that the IDF’s war-fighting capabilities grew rusty.

The reports of the committee headed by Judge Eliyahu Winograd were harshly critical of the performance of both the political and military leaderships during the war. Winograd noted a failure to understand and internalize the requirements of war, as opposed to those of low-intensity operations. His reports were critical of the setting of unrealistic goals by the political leadership, the pursuit of goals in an unsuitable way (for example through excessive reliance on air power and illogical and half-hearted use of ground forces), and the lack of readiness of some IDF units.

The result, he concluded, was that the war represented a “great and grave missed opportunity” for Israel…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Britain Imposes ‘Partial’ Arms Embargo on Israel

London, 13 July (AKI) — Britain has imposed a partial arms embargo on Israel following the Gaza offensive in which 1,400 Palestinians died in December 2008 and January 2009, Israeli media said on Monday. Under the embargo, Britain will not supply replacement parts and equipment for the Saar 4.5 class gunships used during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead earlier this year.

Israeli daily Haaretz said Britain’s foreign office stated the decision followed pressure by members of the British parliament and human rights organisations.

However, of 182 licences for arms exports, it decided to cancel five of them, all related to the Saar ships.

“…we consistently urge Israel to act with restraint and supported the EU (European Union) presidency statement that called the Israeli actions during operation Cast Lead ‘disproportionate,’“ said a statement by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, quoted by Haaretz.

“Future decisions will take into account what has happened in the recent conflict. We do not grant export licenses where there is a clear risk that arms will be used for external aggression or internal repression.”

Britain has claimed security agreements between both countries were violated following the Gaza war, the daily said. The agreements specified how the British-built equipment would be used.

According to Haaretz, the embargo is not expected to have any impact on the Israeli navy’s operational capability, it has political significance and could encourage other countries to stop their defence exports to the Jewish state.

The daily claimed that the country most likely to follow Britain’s example was Belgium, which sells Israel equipment used to disperse demonstrations.

More than 1,400 Palestinians died in the Gaza conflict, and another 5,000 were injured, the United Nations said.

More than 900 of the dead were civilians, including 300 children and 115 women.

However, Israel claimed the Palestinian death toll was 1,166 of whom 295 were civilians.

More than 3,000 Gazan homes were destroyed and some 20,000 damaged in Israeli attacks which reduced entire neighbourhoods of Gaza to rubble.

Thirteen Israelis died in three weeks of fighting, including three civilians. The three week-offensive ended when Israel and Hamas unilaterally declared ceasefires on 18 January.

The stated aim of the Israeli offensive was to end cross-border rocket attacks by militants from the Islamist Hamas movement and other Palestinian factions.

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

Israeli Army Presence in Palestine Decreased

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 25 — The Israeli army has agreed to decrease the number of troops in the four main Palestinian cities of the West Bank, where, from now on, security services of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) will have full freedom of action, 24 hours a day. At the same time, the Israeli army has reserved the right to intervene and enter the cities to foil an attack. The four cities are Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho and Qalqilia. The decision, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources, was made after yesterday’s meeting in Bethlehem between Israeli high officials and the PNA. The announcement confirms the ongoing attenuation of Israeli military pressure in the West Bank and the progressive shift of responsibility for security issues from Israeli to Palestinian forces, which will still have to operate in coordination with the Israelis.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Ahmadinejad Slams Germany for Woman’s Courtroom Slaying

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed Germany for the murder of a pregnant Egyptian woman in a Dresden courtroom, state media reported late Sunday.

“The judge, the jury and the German government are responsible in this case,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on the website of a state broadcaster.

The official IRNA news agency also quoted him as blaming US President Barack Obama and other international leaders for “not reacting” to the murder of Marwa al-Sherbini.

“We have not seen any reaction from (Barack) Obama, other European leaders or the secretary general of the UN. We ask them to condemn Germany,” Ahmadinejad said. “When there is a small incident in a country which is opposing them, they adopt resolutions against it, but they do not respect the minimum rights of people in their own countries.”

Sherbini was stabbed at least 18 times in the courtroom in front of her husband and three-year-old son on July 1 by a Russian-born German man who has since been charged with her murder.

On Saturday, around 150 Iranian Islamist students pelted eggs at the German embassy in Tehran and chanted “Death to Germany! Death to Europe!”.

On Friday, Iran had summoned Herbert Honsowitz, Berlin’s ambassador to Tehran, and protested against the murder and urged Berlin to step up efforts to protect the rights of the minorities there.

Muslim groups have dubbed Sherbini’s death as the “veil murder” and her killing drew thousands of mourners at her funeral Monday in Alexandria, Egypt.

Sherbini’s husband, geneticist Elwi Ali Okaz, is in a critical condition in a hospital after he too was stabbed by the assailant and also shot in the leg by confused police who took him for the attacker.

The unemployed 28-year-old attacker, identified only as Alex W., was in court appealing against an earlier conviction and fine for calling Sherbini a “terrorist” for wearing the Islamic headscarf during a dispute.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Iran to Hang 14 Sunni Rebels in City Park

Families of rebels invited to watch executions

Iran will hang 14 members of a Sunni rebel group in public on Tuesday, including a brother of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi, amid arrests of members of the main opposition group over the post election unrest, Iranian news agencies reported Monday.

Predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran says Jundollah (God’s Soldiers) is part of the Sunni Islamist al-Qaeda network and backed by the United States, Tehran’s arch foe.

The semi-offical Fars News Agency quoted a local judiciary statement as inviting families of the group’s victims and other people to come and watch the executions at 6:30 a.m. (0200 GMT) in a park in the southeastern city of Zahedan.

Al Arabiya reported on May 29 that Jundollah had claimed a mosque bombing the previous day in Zahedan which killed 25 people.

Fars did not mention the bombing but said those sentenced to hang were convicted of mohareb, or waging war against God, and of killing innocent people.

It named one of the men sentenced to death as Abdolhamid Rigi, brother of Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi. Fars reported on June 6 that two members of Jundollah, including a man it also named as Abdolhamid Rigi, were hanged in Zahedan.

A week earlier, three people convicted of involvement in the mosque bombing were hung in public. Media reported that clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of a Sunni cleric in the city and six people died in an arson attack.

Jundollah says it fights for the rights of minority Sunnis in officially Shiite Muslim Iran. Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, where most people are minority Sunni Muslims and ethnic Baluchis.

Seven arrested

On Monday Iran arrested seven members of the main opposition group over post-election unrest.

“These people profited from the troubles after the June 12 presidential election to provoke people and wage their counter-revolutionary activities,” said Ali Eftekari, deputy prosecutor in the northern province of Qazvin where they were arrested.

“These young people had links with the hypocrites based in Iraq,” he said, using the Iranian official term for the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI).

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran and other cities last month to protest at the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which his rivals charge was rigged.

Eftekari said the arrested militants played a major role in the unrest in Tehran and incited people to join demonstratins in Qazin.

Founded in 1965 with the aim of overthrowing the U.S.-backed shah and then the Islamic regime, the PMOI has in the past operated an armed group inside Iran.

It was the armed wing of the France-based National Council of Resistance of Iran but renounced violence in June 2001.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Yemen: Six Condemned to Death for ‘Al-Qaeda’ Attacks

Sanaa, 13 July (AKI) — Six people accused of terrorism in Yemen were sentenced to death on Monday. According to the Arab TV network Al-Arabiya, the six were Yemeni nationals who were among 16 terror suspects, including four Syrians and a Saudi.

The other 10 were given custodial sentences from eight to 15 years.

The group was accused of being part of an Al-Qaeda cell which had carried out a number of violent attacks.

The cell was reportedly responsible for 13 attacks, including an attack on the United States embassy in the country’s capital, Sanaa, in which 10 people were killed in September 2008.

Monday’s sentences were announced amid media reports that said security at foreign embassies had been stepped up in Sanaa amid fears of new terror attacks.

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

Far East

Book Review: Vietnam War’s True Victory

Reviewed by Rear Adm. Jeremiah Denton

Thirty-six years ago this month, after the North Vietnamese suffered utter destruction of their military complex from Linebacker II air operations and the blockade of all North Vietnam ports, the Democratic Congress passed a bill prohibiting any further U.S. aid to South Vietnam. The bill’s passage was the death sentence to the nation we had vowed to protect from communism..

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Freed Italian Hostage Spent Six Months Worrying His Al-Qaeda Captors Would Chop His Head Off

Al-Qaeda-linked militants freed an Italian Red Cross worker from six months of jungle captivity in the southern Philippines this morning.

Eugenio Vagni, 62, said he was treated well by his captors but constantly feared being beheaded.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen handed him over to a provincial vice governor shortly after midnight near Maimbung township on southern Jolo Island, officials said.

Vagni appeared to be in good health but tired and thinner. He embraced military officers at a Jolo military camp, muttering ‘Thank you’ repeatedly, said marine Col. Eugenio Clemen.

He was later flown back to Manila, where he was reunited with family and friends.

In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI felt relieved that the abduction was over and took Vagni’s release as a ‘sign of hope and of faith’, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.

Vagni lost about 44lbs. He said was fed mostly rice and fish by his captors, who treated him well, calling him ‘Apo’, a local term of respect for the elderly.

The militants helped treat his cholera and carried his backpack when he got tired, but that did not ease his constant fear of being beheaded.

Vagni told ABS-CBN network that he often imagined seeing ‘my head in a big basket’.

TV footage showed Vagni, who has grown a beard, smiling and waving to well-wishers.

‘I’m very elated that the ordeal is over for Vagni,’ said Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the Philippine Red Cross.

‘It’s been six months of constant fear of gunbattles, of being ordered around, of being held away from his wife and children.’

Vagni’s brother, Francesco, told reporters in Italy that ‘there were moments that I believed he would never come back’. The two brothers spoke by phone, ANSA reported.

The aid worker, who suffers from hypertension and a hernia, was kidnapped along with two Red Cross colleagues after inspecting a Jolo jail water project January 15.

Mr Vagni hugs wife Kwan (left) and daughter Leticia upon his arrival at the Villamor Air Base

The Swiss and the Filipino hostages had been freed earlier, but the Abu Sayyaf held on to Vagni for months, entering into on-and-off negotiations for his release while government troops tried to rescue him.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with Italian state TV that no ransom had been paid for Vagni’s release.

But the government negotiator, Sulu Vice Gov. Lady Ann Sahidulla, said she gave 50,000 pesos ($1,042) to the militants ‘for cigarettes’.

She said she agreed to release two arrested wives of Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad, handing one of them to him personally Sunday, because there was no evidence linking them to any crime. The military arrested the women last week on suspicion they were supporting the Abu Sayyaf.

Sahidullah said it was not a ‘prisoner swap’, adding that one of the wives helped her persuade Parad to free Vagni, telling him many militants and troops had died due to the abductions.

‘Skillful negotiations and incessant pressure by relentless operations … won the release of Vagni,’ Philippine marine spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

He said offensives against the Abu Sayyaf will continue in Jolo, an impoverished, mostly Muslim region 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters, is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations because its bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings of hostages have rattled the southern Philippines for decades. The group is suspected of receiving funds and training from al-Qaeda.

The militants have turned to kidnappings in recent years, raising concerns among Philippine and U.S. security officials that ransom payments could revive the group, which has been weakened by years of U.S.-backed offensives.

During a meeting with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Manila, Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta said he was satisfied with the campaign waged jointly by Washington and Manila against terrorists, Arroyo’s security adviser Norberto Gonzales said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

‘Offensive’ Indian Students to Blame for Attacks: Magnate

One of Australia’s most prominent Indian-born businessmen has launched an astonishing attack on bashed students from his homeland, claiming they provoked the assaults by being drunk and “making merry”.

Vikas Rambal, a Perth-based fertiliser tycoon and major cricket sponsor, also said that Australians only ever attacked anyone they found “too offensive”.

His comments have been slammed as “nonsense” by groups in Australia.

The attacks on Indian students, which have mainly occurred in Melbourne, have caused a huge public outcry in India and have seen assurances given by Kevin Rudd to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh that they were being properly investigated.

Mr Rambal, whose company Perdaman Industries plans to build a $3.5 billion urea plant in Collie, south of Perth, told students at his former university in the central Indian city of Nagpur on Thursday that Indian students had provoked the attacks on themselves.

“Who would want anything to do with a person who, although he has been sent to study, manages to earn a few hundred dollars driving taxis and spends them drinking or making merry in the worst possible ways,” he said.

“The Australians never attack anyone unless they find the person too offensive,” he said in comments reported by the Times of India, the country’s largest-selling English-language newspaper.

Federation of Indian Students of Australia president Amit Meghani said Mr Rambal had no idea of the reality of life for an Indian student in this country.

“I’d like him to spend a couple of weeks as a student, living five people to a room, going to a university with no computers, and walk home late at night not carrying a mobile phone,” Mr Meghani said.

“Then he can see how things work out.”

Many Australians had backed the students’ plight, “because safety is a big concern”.

“(Mr Rambal) can see the statistics, because the statistics don’t profile the criminal, they profile the victim, which is totally unacceptable,” Mr Meghani said.

“Speaking in Hindi, is that provoking enough. Carrying a mobile phone for emergencies. Is that provoking enough. Carrying a laptop for educational purposes. Is that provoking enough.

“Other people are carrying laptops and mobile phones, but the police are telling only us not to do all these things,” Mr Meghani said, in reference to advice given by Victorian police commissioner SImon Overland.

WA Ethnic Communities Council president Ramdas Sankaran, a Malaysian-born Indian, said Mr Rambal’s comments were “nonsense”.

“I really find it astonishing that someone would say that,” he said.

“Given that Australian authorities themselves accept what has happened, why blame the victim. The realities are various minorities are being attacked.”

Mr Rambal’s comments seemed like “playing to the gallery”, and talking up his Australian credentials, Mr Sankaran said.

“At the end of the day, people have different ways of demonstrating the way they fit into a society,” he said.

Mr Rambal moved to WA from India in 2000, and was a substantial shareholder and managing director of Burrup Fertiliser, which built one of the world’s largest ammonia plants on the Burrup Peninsula.

However, after a falling out in 2006 with major shareholder and fellow Perth-domiciled Indian businessman Pankaj Oswal — a saga which went to the WA Supreme Court — he left with a rumoured $350 million for his share of the company.

Mr Rambal was instrumental in bringing one of WA’s favourite cricketing sons, Tom Moody, back to the state as coach in 2007.

Moody had a highly-successful stint in charge of Sri Lanka and WA was able to beat off bids from around the world.

When WA finished second in the domestic Twenty20 competition in 2007-08, qualifying for the lucrative international Champions League, the team was to be known as the Rambal Warriors for the duration of the competition, after Mr Rambal secured naming rights sponsorship.

However, the tournament was aborted following last year’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Last year, Mr Rambal was in talks to buy then-struggling Indian Premier League franchise Deccan Chargers for up to US$250 million, but he pulled out soon after.

The Adam Gilchrist-led Chargers went on to win this year’s IPL in South Africa.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa vs. The Arab World

Why does Obama treat the two so differently?

Speaking in Ghana on Saturday President Obama lectured Africans on local repression, corruption, brutality, good governance and accountability. The startling contrast to his June speech in Cairo was revealing. Stroking Muslim and Arab nations has become the hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy.

In Egypt, he chose not to utter the words “terrorism” or “genocide.” In Egypt, there was nothing “brutal” he could conjure up, no “corruption” and no “repression”.

In Ghana, with a 70% Christian population, he mentioned “good governance” seven times and added direct calls upon his audience to “make change from the bottom up.” He praised “people taking control of their destiny” and pressed “young people” to “hold your leaders accountable.”

He made no such calls for action by the people of Arab states—despite the fact that not a single Arab country is “free,” according to the latest Freedom House global survey.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Italy: Illegal Immigration Becomes a Crime

Rome, 2 July (AKI) — Italy’s upper house of parliament on Thursday voted into law a controversial security bill making illegal immigration a punishable offence. The law also allows citizen anti-crime patrols in towns and cities and triples the amount of time illegal immigrants can be detained in holding centres from two to six months.

Senators backed the bill by 157 to 124 votes with three abstentions and relied on confidence votes in both houses of parliament to pass the law. The lower house Chamber of Deputies had already approved the security bill in May.

The measures, especially the criminalisation of would-be immigrants, have drawn criticism from rights groups including Amnesty international, as well as Italy’s centre-left opposition and the Catholic Church.

Under the provisions, people entering Italy without permission face fines of up to 10,000 euros and immediate expulsion. Anyone renting housing to an illegal immigrant faces up to three years in prison. Critics also allege the citizen-patrols would amount to vigilante groups who are likely to harass foreigners.

“The law won’t help defend Italian citizens from crime and “seriously violates the civil rights of immigrants whose work is indispensable to keep thousands of businesses going,” said leading centre-left Democratic Party senator, Anna Finocchiaro.

But the ruling conservative People of Freedom party’s chief whip in the Senate, Maurizio Gasparri said the government “is proud” of achieving an objective which helps fulfil promises to “combat crime”.

“This legislation introduces harsher punishments to ensure more security — this is what Italian citizens want,” he said.

Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni, from the government’s junior coalition party the anti-immigrant Northern League, said he was “very satisfied” by the new security law.

“The security legislation completes completes more than a year’s work on security issues with the introduction of crucial norms on in key areas including the fight against illegal immigration and the mafia and security in our cities,” he said.

Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi won elections in April 2008 on an anti-crime platform, vowing to curb illegal immigration which, according to surveys, many Italian associate with a growing security problem in their towns and cities.

Italy in May began returning to Libya migrants rescued or intercepted at sea in international waters, triggering criticism from the Vatican and the United Nations Refugee Agency or UNHCR. The repatriations followed a deal Italy struck with Libya last year to combat people trafficking in the Mediterranean.

The Italian government rejected UNHCR’s request to readmit to the country some of the African migrants who have been sent back to Libya, arguing that they are likely to be fleeing persecution, and are in need of international protection. But the request was turned down.

Under the deal with Libya, those migrants who manage to reach Italian shores are held in detention centres to establish their identity and evaluate possible asylum claims.

The Italian government argued it was necessary to increase the length of time migrants can be detained in holding centres to allow for their proper identification. Some 36,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea in 2008, with around 30,000 landing on the islet of Lampedusa which lies between Sicily and North Africa.

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

UK: Taxpayer Forks Out £81m a Year in Private Jets Sending Home Asylum Seekers

The cost to the taxpayer of hiring private jets to fly deportees out of the country shot up by more than two thirds last year, new figures showed today.

Private charters cost the UK Borders Agency more than £8.2 million, up from £4.8million in the previous year.

The spending on chartered aircraft meant bills for private flights amounted to almost a third of the cost of deportations, which reached almost £27 million.

The full cost of deporting illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers over the past four years has now topped £81million.

Rising costs: Asylum seekers, such as these in Calais, have cost the British taxpayer £81m over the past four years in private jets to send them home

Opposition politicians called for ministers to explain the fast-rising costs of private flights and described the bills as ‘shocking’.

The price of deportation flights has been rising at a time of deep concern over the way Whitehall is using money on removing illegal immigrants.

Last week the Daily Mail revealed that Britain is to spend £1 million on building a jail in Nigeria to accommodate prisoners who might otherwise use human rights law to fight deportation from this country, pleading jails in their home country are too badly built and run.

But the Home Office said private flights were only used for deportation when scheduled airlines were unavailable.

Pete Wishart, Home Affairs spokesman for the Scottish National Party, said: ‘These figures are shocking, and the UK Government must explain why the number of chartered flights has soared.

‘Nobody would dispute there is a need for removals, but it is not clear why the Border Agency believes that chartering private jets is the best use of taxpayers money.’

Appalling conditions: Prisoners behind bars in Nigeria where Britain is spending £1m to build a jail

Opinion has been running high in Scotland over deportation following the case of a woman and her four-year-old son sent back to Ivory Coast, but instantly returned to Britain after being refused entry. The failed deportation attempt cost taxpayers £70,000.

Mr Wishart said the workings of the Borders Agency were ‘chaotic and costly’.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Anyone who is in the UK illegally is expected to leave and the UK Border Agency will not hesitate to enforce their removal where necessary.

‘We only use charter flights after careful consideration and when it is economical and efficient to do so. Their use ensures that we can remove people to locations where scheduled flights are not readily available.

‘In 2008 they played a part in enabling us to deport a record number of foreign criminals — nearly 5,400.’

However the Home Office has still failed to repatriate nearly two out of three of 1,000 foreign criminal mistakenly released from prison without being assessed for deportation three years ago. Some of the 1,000 are killers or sex attackers, and 87 have yet to be tracked down.

Meanwhile a report today reveals that Britain’s population will pass 70 million in two decade’s time because neither of the two major political parties will do enough to cut immigration.

A Tory government would bring down annual net immigration — the number of additional people in the country thanks to migration — by 27 per cent, the Migrationwatch think tank said.

Labour’s policies, centred on its points-based system intended to allow in mainly highly-qualified migrants, would cut net immigration by eight per cent, the report found.

Neither cut would bring projected population levels by 2029 under 70 million — the level that Labour’s Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has said he will not allow.

The report said: ‘The official forecast is that, in the absence of major policy changes, we will reach this point in 20 years time with nearly all the increase in England.

‘To avoid the UK population hitting 70 million — nine million more than today — net migration needs to be reduced from 237,000, the 2007 figure, to 50,000, and held there. This is a 75 per cent reduction.’

Migrationwatch chairman Sir Andrew Green said both parties were trying to con the public.

‘According to Government figures, we can expect almost another 10 million people in England in 20 years time of which seven million will be due to immigration — equivalent to seven cities the size of Birmingham,’ he said.

‘Current Labour policy won’t begin to address this. The Conservatives are barely better: despite their rhetoric, they have a lightweight policy that sounds tough but won’t deliver.

‘Until the main parties decide to be honest about an issue crucial to the future of our society and until they get real about the measures needed, extremist groups will continue to have a ball,’ Sir Andrew added.

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said a Cameron government would ‘decide the actual number each year according to the state of the economy and the ability of public services to cope.’

Mr Woolas said: ‘There are lies, damn lies, statistics and immigration statistics. Our new points-based system will help to ensure we will not meet the 70 million figure. Migrationwatch’s figures do not take into account the real world which is exactly what we do with our flexible system.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: NHS Tells School Children of Their ‘Right’ To ‘An Orgasm a Day’

NHS guidance is advising school pupils that they have a “right” to an enjoyable sex life and that regular sex can be good for their cardiovascular health.

The advice appears in leaflets circulated to parents, teachers and youth workers and is meant to update sex education by telling students about the benefits of enjoyable sex.


Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington College, which recently introduced classes in emotional wellbeing, said the leaflets were “deplorable”.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Swearing Can Make You Feel Better, Lessen Pain

LONDON (Reuters) — Cut your finger? Hurt your leg? Start swearing. It might lessen the pain.

Researchers from the school of psychology at Britain’s Keele University have found swearing can make you feel better as it can have a “pain-lessening effect,” according to a study published in the journal NeuroReport.

Colleagues Richard Stephens, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston, set out to establish if there was any link between swearing and physical pain.

“Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon,” says Stephens.

“It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists.”

Their study involved 64 volunteers who were each asked to put their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice.

They then repeated the experiment using a more commonplace word that they would use to describe a table.

The researchers found the volunteers were able to keep their hands in the ice water for a longer when swearing, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

Stephens said it was not clear how or why this link existed but it could be because swearing may increase aggression.

“What is clear is that swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too, which may explain why the centuries-old practice of cursing developed and still persists today,” he said.

[Return to headlines]

2 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/13/2009

  1. Re: Poll Finds Hungarians Evenly Split on Magyar Gárda Ban

    “…the national daily Nepszabadsag reported.”

    Please note that Népszabadság is the country’s acknowledged left-wing rag. A proper mouthpiece of the incumbent post-communist government. Ask anyone: they’ll confirm. Just thought you should know.

    Whatever Népszabadság comes out with should be taken with a pinch of salt the size of the rock of Gibraltar.

  2. This article from the same site, is a lot more juicy.

    A former minister of the current government advocates the denial of universal sufferage. And robbing half a million Europeans of their vote. Uproar? Outrage? Nope. Silence. As per usual.

    Following the other week’s ban of the Hungarian Guard which denied Free Assembly, the country which coined the political phrase and technique of Salami Slicing lives up to its reputation. As the incumbent socialist government favours dealing with their most immediate threat (the Nationalist movement) not by out-voting them… but out-lawing them!

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