Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/25/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/25/2009An intriguing fake kidnapping occurred in Toronto over the weekend. A devout young Muslim reported that he was being followed, and then his empty vehicle was found, and his family reported him kidnapped. But the police were dubious — there was no real evidence of a kidnapping — and they later found the young man in the vicinity of a mosque in a nearby Ontario community. It seems the fellow had a spot of legal trouble, and may have been looking for a way out of his difficulties…

In other news, part of the “stimulus” money has been used to fund a study of the sex drive of methamphetamine-using rats.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Diana West, Fausta, Gaia, Insubria, JCPA, JD, KGS, Paul Green, Sean O’Brian, Steen, TB, Tuan Jim, TV, Vlad Tepes, Zenster, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
– – – – – – – –

Financial Crisis
Calling Corporations Evil Doesn’t Exonerate Democrat Leaders
New U.K. Tax Sends Hedge Funds Fleeing
Rhode Island to Shut Down Government Periodically
Sex-Study ‘Stimulus’
A Nation Deceived
Does Government-Run Health Care Work? Ask Vets
Emergent Church Movement Now Thanking Allah
New Seattle Charity Aims to Help Military Sexual-Trauma Victims
Obama: Boys From Brazil Better Than U.S.
Obama Now Interrogator in Chief?
‘Profanity-Laced Screaming Match’ At White House
Republicans Have Obama Playing Defense
Stakelbeck: Video Report With Exclusive Details on Carolina Jihadist
The Great Escape From Responsibility
The Government Takes Taxpayers for a Ride
Time for the Elderly to Check Out?
US Army Spends $117m on Soldiers’ Psychological Resilience
Yale: Betraying Nathan Hale, Embracing the Muslim Brotherhood
Toronto: Daylight Kidnapping Stumps Police
Toronto: No Kidnapping, ‘Abducted’ Man Charged With Mischief
Europe and the EU
Denmark: Minister: Copenhagen Has Failed
EU: Car Safety System May Become Mandatory
Explosion in Plastics Plant in Slovakia
Germany: Brandenburg Bans Motorcycle Gang
Germany Not Likely to Achieve Co2 Reduction Targets
Greenland: Lomborg: No Need to Toe Climate Line
Italian National Anthem: Berlusconi, “ Difficult to Replace”
Italy: Tax Evasion Reaches €5.1 Bln in Early 2009
Italy: Police Seize €500 Mln Euros in Mafia Assets
Italy: Soccer: Muslims Slam Mourinho Ramadan Remark
Netherlands to Lower Child Support Abroad
Netherlands: Integration Courses Not Reaching Target Group
Netherlands: Six-Fold Murderer Regularly Out of Jail on Leave
Overseas Student Surge Hits 110,000: And All But a Tenth Decide They’ll Stay in Britain
Spain: Lay Military Honours in Armed Forces Regulations
Spain: Inquiry Into Barajas Black Out, One Year After Tragedy
Spain: First Lawsuit for Homophobia by Company
Swedish Tabloid Reported for Racial Agitation
Switzerland: Geneva Still Fuming Over Libyan Apology
True Finns Politician Faces Defamation Charges
UK Author Apologizes for Qur’an Offense
UK: ‘Secret Agenda to Score Adoptions’
UK: British, Libyan Leaders Spoke of Bomber’s Release Weeks Ago
UK: By Jingo, We’re Short of Ships, Men and Money
UK: CCTV Cameras: If They Do Not Stop Crime or Catch Criminals, What Are They For?
UK: Error Leaves Children Unprotected Under 1984 Video Recordings Act
UK: Foreign GPs Who Commute to Britain: £100-an-Hour Poles and Lithuanians Fly in for Shifts Our Doctors Won’t Do
UK: Police ‘Steal’ Valuables From Cars in a Lesson for Drivers
UK: Shortage of NHS Midwives is Barrier to Safety of Mothers and Babies
UK: Two Thirds of Jails Are Overcrowded
UK’s Payments to EU Jump by 60 Per Cent
When the Blood Starts Flowing, Where Will the Wilders Voters be?
Kosovo: Seven Injured in Ethnic Clashes
North Africa
Call for Libya to Pay IRA Victims
Fate of Swiss Expatriates in Libya Was Ominous for Al-Megrahi Case
Libya: Italian Villages Discussed Today in Tripoli
Lockerbie: Libyan Press Baffled by the West’s Reaction
‘Obama’ Dates Best-Sellers in Egypt for Ramadan
Sicilian Fishing Boat Impounded by Tunisian Patrol Boat
Israel and the Palestinians
Israel Removes Outpost in Lebanon-Disputed Terrain
Israeli Firm Reports Success for Swine Flu Vaccine
Jonathan Spyer: Al-Qaida-Style Islamism Comes to Gaza
Lieberman Attacks Haaretz, Bends the Truth
Lieberman Damns Norway’s Honouring Pro-Nazi Author
Palestinian Police ‘Directing Traffic in Israel’s Capital’
Middle East
Archaeology: Turkey: Ancient People Also Complained About Taxes
Auto: New Ford Transit to be Produced Only in Turkey
Death of a Libel Tourist
New Developments in Iran’s Missile Capabilities: Implications Beyond the Middle East
Palestinian Intellectual on the Arab World’s Double Standard
Saudi’s Turki to US: Forget Oil Independence
Top Iran Reform Figures on Trial
Op-Ed Hints Mossad Snatched Russian Ship
Trade: Russia Removes Barriers to Turkish Exporters
Chechen Rebels Order Separatist Leader Death — Website
South Asia
How to Lose a War
India: CRPF Note Warns of N-E Division Plot
Indonesia: Police Question Saudi Suspect Over Jakarta Attacks
Punjab: Christian Victims of the Massacres in Gojra Reported by Police
Thailand: Car Bomb Wounds 42 in Thai South: Army
UK ‘Rejects’ Malaya Deaths Appeal
Far East
Beijing Vows Rain Will Not Fall on Its Parade
North Korea: Reporters’ Arrest Raised Risk for Aid Groups: Activists
Australia — Pacific
Fiji Water: So Cool, So Fresh, So Bad for the Environment?
Lawyer Lashes DOCS Workers
Sub-Saharan Africa
Lubna Hussein: ‘I’M Not Afraid of Being Flogged. It Doesn’t Hurt. But it is Insulting’
Magistrate Peter Reardon Sent Terror Case Hate Mail
Latin America
Mexican Politicians Seek the Lost Island of Bermeja
Textbook Sparks Furore in Mexico
U.S. Limits Visas in Honduras, Stepping Up Pressure
Deal With Libya Works Well, Frattini Says
EU to Table New Immigration Rules in September
Italian Coastguard Rescues 57 Would-be Immigrants
Italy: Illegals Held for Up to 6 Months, Protests
More Iraqi Refugees to Arrive Soon in Hannover
Culture Wars
Healthcare Struggle is About Freedom
‘Christians’ Celebrating Ramadan?

Financial Crisis

Calling Corporations Evil Doesn’t Exonerate Democrat Leaders

In the latest example of liberal democrats targeting “evil” corporations, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) had this to say about insurance companies:

“…Of course, they’ve been immoral all along. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening, and the public has to know. They have had a good thing going for a long time at the expense of the American people and the health of our country.”

While Pelosi bashes these “immoral villains,” she fails to mention that her political action committee and her personal campaign have — since 2008 — accepted over $200,000 in donations from the “immoral villains” who represent the insurance industry. Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md) doubled-down on Pelosi by raking in more than $400,000 from that industry over the last two cycles.

It’s almost as if Pelosi and Hoyer were acting “Un-American.”

That type of hypocrisy would be akin to the same Democrat “leadership” vilifying the CEOs of the car companies for using their own corporate jets to fly into Washington for hearings on the bailout and then months later, ordering a fleet of corporate jets for their own pampered use. Luckily for all of us, that type of blatant sanctimonious behavior is still only the stuff of fiction.

While the Democrat leadership quotes from a partisan thesaurus, I would like to cite several (of countless) examples of immoral behavior which might resonate more clearly and realistically with the millions of employees (and constituents) from those Democrat-defined evil corporations. Such as:

Bulletpoint:Trial lawyers who reap billions in settlements from the health industry while exponentially raising the costs of health care for all of us.

Bulletpoint:Teachers unions, which continually put their self-preservation before the needs of America’s children.

Bulletpoint:Unions such as the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which helped to bankrupt the auto industry and the state of California, respectively, with the SEIU warranting special attention for dispatching violent thugs at town hall meetings.

Oh, but wait a minute. As trial lawyers, teachers unions, and the UAW and the SEIU contribute almost exclusively to the Democrats, there is no way their immoral, villainous tactics can be “evil” as defined by Pelosi, Obama, and Reid.

They should spare us the sanctimony. Americans are more and more anxious to hit the elected-official “reset” button.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

New U.K. Tax Sends Hedge Funds Fleeing

A stream of hedge-fund managers and other financial-services professionals are quitting the U.K., following plans to raise top personal tax rates to 51%.

Lawyers estimate hedge funds managing close to $15 billion have moved to Switzerland in the past year, with more possibly to come. David Butler, founder of professional-services firm Kinetic Partners, said his company had advised 23 hedge funds on leaving the U.K. in the 15 months to April. An additional 15 are close to quitting the U.K., he said.

“In the past, managers would say they’d move some operations or dip their toe in the water,” Mr. Butler said. “Now that’s changed.”

Hedge fund Amplitude Capital took its $735 million in assets under management to Switzerland at the start of this year. In May, Odey Asset Management threatened to move.

All the hedge funds that have left the U.K. for Switzerland are concerned about tighter European Union regulations, as well as a new top rate of income tax announced by the U.K. government.

Starting next April, individuals in the U.K. who earn more than £150,000, or about $247,000, a year will pay tax at 51%, including national insurance. They will also be taxed heavily on pension payments.

Private-equity manager Guy Hands, founder of Terra Firma, decided to quit London for Guernsey. “He has no intention of returning in the foreseeable future,” a spokesman for Mr. Hands said.

Jon Moulton, founder of private-equity firm Alchemy Partners, said he had no plans to leave his home in Kent, but confirmed that he owned a house in Guernsey and introduced Mr. Hands to his house. Mr. Moulton said he “may very well one day retreat to an environment of lower taxes, no [members of European Parliament] and where the most powerful posts in government are filled by election.”

Richard Jordan, a partner at law firm Thomas Eggar, said: “I would say that 40% of my work involves advising people on ways to leave the country. We have reached a tipping point, in terms of hostility to the U.K. tax system.”

One of his clients has just received a dividend of £2.5 million from his business. “He said to me, I’m going to be start being charged £1.3 million on a payment like that. It’s time I thought about leaving,” Mr. Jordan said.

Recent research by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested that married bankers earning £250,000 a year in the U.K. would retain less of their income after 51% tax than their counterparts in Paris, Frankfurt, Singapore and Dubai.

Matthew Feargrieve, London-based partner at offshore law firm Mourant du Feu & Jeune said the combination of higher taxes and prospective EU rule tightening was potent. The Swiss cantons of Zug and Zurich plan U.K. shows designed to lure businesses from London.

Swiss cantons are prepared to agree to ultralow tax rates with people bringing business to the country. Even without discounts, Zug’s tax charge is just 14%.

Fiona Sheffield, a partner in the hedge-funds tax practice at accounting firm Ernst & Young, said in June: “We have had most of the 250 hedge-fund managers we provide services for talking about the pros and cons of leaving the U.K. for Switzerland.”

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

Rhode Island to Shut Down Government Periodically

Rhode Island will shut down its state government for 12 days and hopes to trim millions of dollars in funding for local governments under a plan Gov. Don Carcieri outlined Monday to balance a budget hammered by surging unemployment and plummeting tax revenue…

The shutdown will force 81 percent of the roughly 13,550-member state work force, excluding its college system, to stay home a dozen days without pay before the start of the new fiscal year in July.

The closures come as the worst recession in decades has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in tax collections and pushed unemployment to 12.7 percent, the second-highest jobless rate in the nation behind Michigan.

[Return to headlines]

Sex-Study ‘Stimulus’

by Geoff Earle

The stimulus package is living up to its provocative name by funding a bacchanalia of behavioral sex research, a Post analysis reveals.

The next fiscal year is set to be one of the friskiest ever in the nation’s science labs, as researchers probe the ins and outs of sex patterns among humans and even some of our four-legged friends.

Among the most titillating grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health are studies that would:

  • Examine “barriers to correct condom use” at Indiana University, at a cost of $221,000.
  • Study “hookups” among adolescents at Syracuse University. Study’s cost: $219,000.
  • Evaluate “drug use as a sex enhancer” in an analysis of “high-risk community sex networks” at the University of Illinois, Chicago. That study will cost $123,000.
  • Study how methamphetamine, thought to produce an “insatiable need” for sex among users, “enhances the motivation for female rat sexual behavior.” Some $28,000 has been awarded for the University of Maryland at Baltimore study.

[Return to headlines]


A Nation Deceived

Now comes AKA’s page declaring that he is 52 years old. For those who are mathematically challenged, that means his birth would have occurred sometime in 1957, not 1961. It seems that his actual age is a matter of some speculation among his own supporters.

Why is his actual birth year relevant?

If Obama was born in Hawaii, and we don’t know that he was until we see the actual document issued at the time of his birth; if he was born in 1957; he was born when Hawaii was still a territory of the United States; which, like his dual citizenship, would make him ineligible to the office he holds.


On page 26 of AKA’s book, Dreams from My Father, (Three Rivers Press; New York, NY; 1995, 2004), he writes,

“I discovered this article, folded away among my birth certificate and old vaccination forms, when I was in high school.”

Re-read that sentence very carefully … “my birth certificate … when I was in high school.”

If this is not but more of the fabrications of AKA, he is not speaking of the laser-printed Certification of Live Birth that he and worshippers have been passing around as his birth certificate; that his White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, falsely claims is his “birth certificate.” Rather, AKA is speaking of that document issued at the time of his birth; whenever that was.

Now, pray tell, if AKA has his original birth certificate, issued at the time of his birth, why would he go to the Department of Health, Hawaii, and request a Certification of Live Birth of the laser-printed variety issued after 2001?

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Does Government-Run Health Care Work? Ask Vets

Anybody who still thinks it’s a good idea to give the federal government total control over health care should consider the case of Philip E. Cushman, a Portland, Ore., resident and decorated ex-Marine whose back was broken when a fellow serviceman accidentally dropped a sandbag on top of him when their unit was under attack in Vietnam.

For the past two decades, Cushman has been unsuccessfully trying to get the Veterans’ Administration to hand over some $100,000 it owes him for his service-related disability.

Finally, in an Aug. 12 landmark decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that Cushman’s statutorily mandated, non-discretionary, service-related disability benefits are protected property under the U.S. Constitution. The court also found that the VA illegally altered Cushman’s medical records to avoid having to pay his claim.

Gordon Erspamer, a Walnut Creek, Calif., attorney whose law firm represented Cushman pro bono, told me that somebody at the VA added language implying that the septuagenarian — who has endured four back operations and has a steel rod implanted in his spine — could work, provided he was “not doing heavy bending or lifting.” The VA then gave the Social Security Administration the altered document, so Cushman was denied Social Security disability benefits as well. “It was a double whammy,” Erspamer said.

Two years ago, Social Security backed down when Cushman’s lawyers proved that the VA document had a forged entry. But not the VA. “The VA refused to readjudicate his claim, even though the only record suggesting he could work was that entry. The VA fights everything,” Erspamer explained. “It’s a very bewildering, adversarial system.

Unfortunately, Cushman is not the only disabled vet who’s been getting the bum’s rush from the government. The number of backlogged cases at the VA is expected to hit the one million mark this year for the first time ever. Cushman’s attorneys also discovered that, while it takes the VA just 4.6 hours on average to decide a compensation claim, it takes the agency five years to actually settle the claim. And even after stalling for five years, the VA’s cumulative error rate is 90 percent!

“Three thousand veterans die every year while their appeals are pending,” Erspamer said. And as death extinguishes their disability claims, their families get nothing.

Meanwhile, the same bureaucrats at the VA who are stiffing disabled veterans raked in $24 million in bonuses over a two-year period, according to a blistering report released Friday by the VA’s own inspector general. The IG report blasted the federal agency for nepotism, improperly authorized payments to employees’ families and friends, and “inappropriate personal relationships” between high-level VA officials.

Even though the federal appeals court agreed with him, all Cushman won was the right to a new hearing before the Board of Veterans Appeals — without the tainted evidence. There’s still no guarantee the board will rule in his favor. “He’ll probably die before it’s done,” Erspamer said.

Other vets have told me the same thing. The VA’s integrated single-payer system, which the Wall Street Journal describes as a “liberal Shangri-la,” sounds great on paper. But if you’re a disabled vet like Cushman, getting the VA to do its job often becomes a never-ending nightmare.

And if the federal government treats its own military veterans — who were disabled fighting for their country — in such a shoddy and disrespectful fashion, do you really think it’ll do any better when you get sick?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Emergent Church Movement Now Thanking Allah

‘Islamic Antichrist’ author attacks church commitment to Ramadan

Leaders of the “emergent church” movement within evangelical Christianity are “observing” the Muslim month of Ramadan, writes the author of the bestselling new book, “The Islamic Antichrist,” which contends that the Beast of Revelation is most likely to emerge from within the Muslim world.

“This year, a group of “Emergent Christians,” led by one of the United States’ most influential pastors, Brian Mclaren have announced they will actually be ‘observing’ the Muslim holy month, along with a Muslim ‘partner,’“ writes Joel Richardson in a WND commentary today. “Ramadan is the month that Muslims thank Allah, their god, for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, their prophet. On Mclaren’s personal blog, he recently announced his intentions: ‘We, as Christians, humbly seek to join Muslims in this observance of Ramadan as a God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.’“

Richardson questions whether such an “observance” is actually tantamount to an endorsement of Islam.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

New Seattle Charity Aims to Help Military Sexual-Trauma Victims

“This is not a ‘woman’ problem,” said Mountjoy-Pepka. A little more than half of military sexual-trauma victims are men, mostly because they make up a majority of veterans, according to the VA.

“If you’re a male in the military and you’re a macho guy and you’re raped, your shame is compounded and multiplied,” she said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama: Boys From Brazil Better Than U.S.

President blocks oil drilling at home, funds exploration abroad

A controversy developed when it was revealed the Obama administration is willing to spend billions of dollars to fund offshore drilling in Brazil while blocking U.S. development of oil and natural gas resources by continuing environmental objections to opening U.S. offshore drilling, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports.

Underlying the controversy was the disclosure that Obama-supporter and billionaire hedge-fund manager George Soros bought a $811 million stake in Petroleo Brasileiro SA in the second quarter, making the Brazilian state-controlled oil company his investment fund’s largest holding.

The sparks began flying when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page: “So why is it that during these tough times, when we have great needs at home, the Obama White House is prepared to send more than two billion of your hard-earned tax dollars to Brazil so that the nation’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, can drill off shore and create jobs developing its own resources?”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama Now Interrogator in Chief?

Approves creation of special White House unit for questioning terrorism suspects

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has moved more forcefully than ever to abandon Bush administration interrogation policies, approving creation of a special White House unit for questioning terrorism suspects, as Attorney General Eric Holder weighs a Justice Department recommendation to reopen and pursue prisoner abuse cases.

A senior administration official told The Associated Press Monday that Obama has approved establishment of the new unit, to be known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which will be overseen by the National Security Council. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the program has not yet been officially announced.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

‘Profanity-Laced Screaming Match’ At White House

Report: Panetta furious over Justice plan to open criminal probe of CIA interrogations

A “profanity-laced screaming match” at the White House involving CIA Director Leon Panetta, and the expected release today of another damning internal investigation, has administration officials worrying about the direction of its newly-appoint intelligence team, current and former senior intelligence officials tell ABC

Amid reports that Panetta had threatened to quit just seven months after taking over at the spy agency, other insiders tell that senior White House staff members are already discussing a possible shake-up of top national security officials.

“You can expect a larger than normal turnover in the next year,” a senior adviser to Obama on intelligence matters told

Since 9/11, the CIA has had five directors or acting directors.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Republicans Have Obama Playing Defense

The GOP strategy of principled opposition is winning over independents.

Republicans are discovering just how effective an opposition party can be in Washington. Their strategy is simply to aggressively and relentlessly oppose the liberal agenda of the president and the Democratic Congress. As a result, Barack Obama’s agenda is in jeopardy, and the president is disconcerted, less popular and on the defensive.

Republican opposition isn’t the only reason for this. Mr. Obama did himself no favors by pushing policies far more liberal than voters wanted. But the decision by Republicans to be combative rather than accommodating has played an indispensable role.

What the GOP has done best has been to make and win arguments. This is the key to successful opposition. Seeking compromise, being conciliatory, pretending bipartisanship exists when it doesn’t all play into the hands of the majority. These tactics are a ticket to permanent minority status. By making the case against Mr. Obama’s policies, Republicans have given themselves a chance to again win favor with voters.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck: Video Report With Exclusive Details on Carolina Jihadist

My CBN report featuring exclusive new details about the alleged ringleader of an Islamic terrorist cell outside Raleigh, North Carolina aired today.

You can watch it at the link above.

I interviewed neighbors and co-workers of the cell’s accused ringleader, Daniel Boyd, and also spoke to Raleigh-area Muslims.

In the process, I was able to uncover important new details about Boyd that have yet to be reported elsewhere.

[Return to headlines]

The Great Escape From Responsibility

Many of the issues of our times are hard to understand without understanding the vision of the world that they are part of. Whether the particular issue is education, economics or medical care, the preferred explanation tends to be an external explanation — that is, something outside the control of the individuals directly involved.

Education is usually discussed in terms of the money spent on it, the teaching methods used, class sizes or the way the whole system is organized. Students are discussed largely as passive recipients of good or bad education.

But education is not something that can be given to anybody. It is something that students either acquire or fail to acquire. Personal responsibility may be ignored or downplayed in this “non-judgmental” age, but it remains a major factor, nevertheless.

After many students go through a dozen years in the public schools, at a total cost of $100,000 or more per student — and emerge semi-literate and with little understanding of the society in which they live, much less the larger world and its history — most discussions of what is wrong leave out the fact that many such students may have chosen to use school as a place to fool around, act up, organize gangs or even peddle drugs.

The great escape of our times is escape from personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s own behavior. Differences in infant mortality rates provoke pious editorials on a need for more prenatal care to be provided by the government for those unable to afford it. In other words, the explanation is automatically assumed to be external to the mothers involved, and the solution is assumed to be something that “we” can do for “them.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Government Takes Taxpayers for a Ride

The CARS program, universally known as “Cash-for Clunkers,” ended last night at 8 p.m. We hope its death is permanent this time. If you were one of the lucky few who cashed in on CARS, congratulations. Its quick demise is still good news for you if you are living in today’s American economy. It may be one of the worst government programs ever invented, given that it was designed to un-stimulate the United States economy. As The Washington Examiner’s Chris Stirewalt wryly observed: “Who knew that free money would be so popular?”

To destroy a perfectly good and functioning car is an act of economic sabotage. No rational person does so voluntarily. But CARS subsidized the destruction of such cars with $3 billion in taxpayers’ money, hoping to improve the environment, and create a short-term burst of activity for automotive dealers. The environmental gain has been modest, to put it kindly. Although the Department of Transportation has been miserly in distributing complete information about the program, compiled statistics directly from dealers in early August, before Congress threw in an extra $2 billion.

Edmunds’ estimates, based on sales to that point, were far less sanguine than those contemporaneously offered by DOT. They suggest that CARS participants upgraded their fuel efficiency by 51 percent — from an average 16.1 mpg for traded clunkers to an average of 24.3 mpg for their new cars. The final numbers are not in as we write, but CARS is expected to subsidize perhaps 750,000 new purchases, and destroy the same number of clunkers. This means that overall cars improved the fuel efficiency of America’s collective 251-million-car fleet of vehicles by — at most — 0.023 percent.

In other words, if Americans were getting an average of 20 miles to the gallon before CARS, they are getting 20.0046 mpg after it.

The real gain in efficiency due to CARS is definitely smaller than that. Many CARS purchasers would have bought new vehicles anyway without the program. The benefit to the environment diminishes even further when you factor in the amount of energy that went into producing all of the new cars that have been purchased. And so a negligible gain in fuel efficiency came at a cost of $3 billion to taxpayers, plus the program’s cost to the economy. Edmunds estimated the average value of traded clunkers at $1,475, which suggests that $1.l billion worth of capital was destroyed. It isn’t much, but at a time when jobs are in scarce supply and investors are running for cover, should taxpayers be forced to pay to take value out of the economy?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Time for the Elderly to Check Out?

Many years ago I ran into this TV program I believed to be for children. I remember watching this young dinosaur pushing his elderly grandma in a wheel chair. It seems the old grandma’s time had come for her to check in at the tar pit and apparently it was his duty to dump her. I never watched it again and I only saw it for a short segment. I never forgot that scenario but it came to my mind when I read about the portion of Obama’s health plan including “end of life” voluntary death counseling and Obama himself recommending maybe grandma should take a pain pill rather than have expensive surgery. Or did Obama see the movie on Family T.V. that I saw in 2001 about how the Eskimo elderly when they get to old to be productive, the whole family escorts them to an iceberg where they float out to sea and have “death with dignity?” He is happy to set sail before he starts embarrassing himself. The old man says as he floats off, “If there is a change in policy in the next couple of weeks, be sure to track me down.”

British psychologist John Rawlings Rees, head of the Tavistock Institute in the 1930s and 40s once bragged he could create a psychological environment that forced people to let go of even firmly entrenched beliefs using “controlled stress” experiments. [1] The “doctors” Hitler used for Eugenics were brought to the U.S. by universities to perfect their methods and marketing schemes. In November 2002 Oregon’s then Governor John Kitzhaber declared a Human Rights day acknowledging and apologizing to the 2,600 Oregonians who were sterilized by the state between 1917 — 1981. The German people were like we are today — Constitutional illiterates unfamiliar with the laws and our God-given rights. Hitler could only dream of TV marketing, spy websites and national DNA databases kick started by the feds revealing facts that make some individuals less useful to society.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

US Army Spends $117m on Soldiers’ Psychological Resilience

A scheme to build the emotional resilience of American soldiers has been established as rates of suicide and depression rise.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Yale: Betraying Nathan Hale, Embracing the Muslim Brotherhood

by Diana West

When Nathan Hale, Yale Class of 1773, was caught in New York gathering intelligence on the British, he was hanged as a rebel spy. His very famous last words are said to have been: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” He was 21 years old. Notably, his statue by Bela Lyon Pratt, which stands on Yale’s Old Campus, was a gift of Yale alumni 141 years after Hale’s death — testament to the reverence sucessive generations of Americans at Yale felt for him.

In a description of the statue of Nathan Hale, there is this suddenly pertinent fact about this 1914 gift from Yale alumni…

           — Hat tip: Diana West [Return to headlines]


Toronto: Daylight Kidnapping Stumps Police

There is still no sign of University of Toronto student Furqan Muhammad-Haroon, after he was reported abducted in the city’s east end on Saturday afternoon.

The 22-year-old was kidnapped while driving his green Mazda MPV van near Midland Avenue and Ellesmere Road at about 3:30 p.m., police said.

His parents flew to Toronto from Dubai and begged for his safe return at a news conference on Monday.

“Please come forward if you know anything about my boy, my son,” said Haroon Muhammad, who was accompanied by his wife at the news conference. “Please help us. We want him back.”

It is alleged that three men, one with a gun, forced Muhammad-Haroon’s car off the road. Police are treating the case as an abduction.

Muhammad-Haroon, an electrical engineering student, had withdrawn $2,000 and called a friend on his cellphone to say that he thought he was being followed. That was the last time anyone heard from him. Police found the vehicle a short while later.

“At this point, we have nothing further. We still have no idea … where the victim is,” Toronto police spokeswoman Const. Wendy Drummond said.

It’s not the first time a member of the Muslim organization Islamic Foundation of Toronto has gone missing, CBC News has learned. Last November, 22-year-old Abu-Ubaida Atieque, also an engineering student at the University of Toronto, went missing near Neilson Road and Ellesmere Road. His fate remains unknown.

Police haven’t said whether the two cases are linked. But Imam Yusuf Badat said he’s concerned by the disappearances.

“The community is in a state of shock and at the same time saddened at the disappearance of these two youngsters,” he said.

Police will now go through Muhammad-Haroon’s activities in the last day or two and try “to ascertain where he was, who he was with, and then speak with those people,” Drummond said. “The investigation unfolds from there.”

Muhammad-Haroon was on his way to the airport to take a trip overseas.

There was no information about a ransom demand or why Muhammad-Haroon was targeted by the three men.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Toronto: No Kidnapping, ‘Abducted’ Man Charged With Mischief

In a Saturday afternoon phone call with a friend, Furqan Muhammad-Haroon told a harrowing tale.

The 22-year-old Scarborough engineering student, speaking from behind the wheel of his Mazda van, said he was being tailed by three men, one of whom had a gun.

His van was found soon after. Its keys were inside, while Mr. Muhammad-Haroon was not. Also missing was the thousands of dollars in cash he’d withdrawn in preparation for a trip to the United Arab Emirates that evening.

Police began an investigation into what was initially described as an abduction, but the case took puzzling turns early on.

Mr. Muhammad-Haroon had recently been charged with stealing a green plastic recycling bin stuffed with hard drives and other computer equipment from the office of his former employer, IBM Canada.

Teary-eyed family held a press conference on Monday, appealing for information in the abduction of their son, who had no criminal record.

Still, police remained tight-lipped. They had nothing to support the claim of abduction, and were said to be growing doubtful about the incident.

Tuesday evening, Toronto police announced that Mr. Muhammad-Haroon had been found safe in St. Catharines, Ont.

A police source said the devout Muslim was located near a mosque, although Ezeldin Ebadalla, past president of the local Masjid Al-Noor Mosque, said he had not heard of Mr. Muhammad-Haroon.

Police now say the abduction was a hoax, and have charged Mr. Muhammad-Haroon with mischief.

“Ah, that changes things,” Shahzad Siddiqui, a lawyer who had been speaking on behalf of the family, said last night when told of the charge. Mr. Siddiqui was asked earlier in the day whether the theft charge and disappearance were related. “We don’t know if it’s unrelated or not,” he said.

Mr. Muhammad-Haroon is to appear in a Scarborough court Wednesday on his mischief charge, and in Newmarket next month on the theft charge.

His uncharacteristic disappearance had stirred alarm among relatives and friends, who described him as a model student.

“If there is some hoax or some kind of extenuating circumstance, it would be very difficult for the family to accept that,” friend Firaaz Azeez said earlier in the day. Told last night of Mr. Muhammad-Haroon’s discovery, Mr. Azeez was relieved.

“That’s incredible news. … I’m elated and happy he’s safe,” he said. “In terms of how we got here, obviously there’s a lot to be said in the next few days.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Denmark: Minister: Copenhagen Has Failed

The Justice Minister is criticising Copenhagen for bad youth policies after the weekend’s unrest.

After a weekend of unrest in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen, Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen has criticised Copenhagen Council for failing to address youth issues.

The criticism comes following Saturday night’s unrest, during which small groups of youths attacked police officers in Nørrebro.

“It’s the Council’s job to carry out crime prevention work, something that I feel has seriously failed in Copenhagen. When someone tries to take over a street — as they did on Saturday night — there’s only one way forward: a harsh policy — the zero tolerance method,” says Mikkelsen.

Projects fail While Mikkelsen supports the police decision to act firmly, he says that Copenhagen Council efforts in Nørrebro do not seem to have helped.

“Copenhagen Council has a lot of projects. There are a lot of well-meaning people, but no results. What may be lacking is a firmer hand that gets hold of these young people and makes sure that they go to their schools and jobs,” Mikkelsen says.

Embarrassing Copenhagen’s Mayor for Social Affairs Mikkel Warming (Unity) says Mikkelsen’s statement is embarrassing and an attempt to shirk his responsibility.

“Isn’t it almost embarrassing to shirk responsibility in this fashion? The Conservatives have had the Justice Ministry and been in government for eight years. The result is that we have shootings in the streets. That is not something we had eight years ago. And not just in Copenhagen — but across the country. Also in Vollsmose — but there’s also a Conservative mayor there,” says Warming.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU: Car Safety System May Become Mandatory

Failure of voluntary approach prompts European Commission to consider forcing EU states and car companies to introduce system.

The European Commission today warned that it is considering introducing legislation to ensure that a new in-car safety system is put in place across the EU, because national governments are taking too long to implement the system voluntarily.

The Commission said that, unless “significant progress” by the end of the year, it would consider regulating to oblige member states to carry out the technical work needed to introduce the eCall system, which would automatically contact emergency services when a car has an accident.

The EU’s executive also said it was also considering legislating to make the technology a standard, rather than an optional, feature in new cars.

“If the eCall roll out does not accelerate, the Commission stands ready to set out clear rules obliging governments, industry and emergency services to respond,” said Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for information society and media.

The Commission had wanted national governments to complete the necessary technical work so that the system could be rolled out by the end of this year. However, eCall is currently not operational anywhere in the EU.

That is in part because countries that support the system want the system to be introduced in a harmonised fashion across the Union. The majority of EU member states have signed a memorandum in support of rolling out the technology. However, six countries — Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia, Malta and the UK — have refused to do so, citing cost concerns.

National governments need to upgrade call centres used by their emergency services before eCall can function.

European car manufacturers have pledged to offer the eCall technology as an optional feature in new cars, once other technical work is completed.

Reding cited concern for lives as a reason for pressing member states to act, saying that “Europeans should not have to wait any longer for a system that could save lives just because their governments fail to act”.

The Commission believes the system, which would, for example, automatically supply information on the location and direction of the car and a description of the vehicle, could save 2,500 lives a year when fully deployed across the EU. It also believes it would reduce the number of severe injuries suffered by 10-15%.

There were more than 1.2 million accidents on Europe’s roads in 2008, causing 39,000 deaths and more than 1.7 million injuries.

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

Explosion in Plastics Plant in Slovakia

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Officials say an explosion in the office of a plant manufacturing plastic doors and windows left five people injured including two with serious injuries.

A spokesman for firefighters from the town of Nitra says they have ruled out a gas explosion as the cause of the accident Tuesday at the Euromont plant in nearby Topolcany, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) northeast of Bratislava.

The spokesman, Viliam Pansky, says firefighters suspect an explosive booby trap may have been placed inside the office building.

No further details were immediately available.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany: Brandenburg Bans Motorcycle Gang

The eastern German state of Brandenburg has outlawed a biker gang active in various criminal dealings. Interior minister Joerg Schoenbohm says the federal government should consider a national ban of such groups.

The interior ministry of Brandenburg in eastern Germany banned the small motorcycle gang “Chicanos MC Barnim” on Monday. According to a press statement by the ministry, the move was part of a “forceful zero tolerance strategy” against rocker crime.

“This ban is a clear signal that we will counter this rocker trouble with all means legally at our disposal,” said interior minister Joerg Schoenbohm. “The formation and expansion of criminal associations will not be tolerated.”

Schoenbohm said the rocker scene would be well advised to take this “sign of our resolve” very seriously.

Weapons instead of motorcycles

The gang, based in Eberswalde near Berlin, was founded in February 2009 and has 14 members. Police officials in Frankfurt/Oder searched members’ apartments and the club house. Extensive documents and objects were seized, the ministry said. Authorities have also banned the organization’s website.

Local media report that hardly any of the members even had a motorcycle. But the police did find an array of weapons: Samurai swords, cudgels, brass knuckles and pistols. These were used to exert influence in the bouncer and drug scene in the region.

Motorcycle gangs have been rivaling each other across Germany for a number of years. But police authorities said the degree of violence in Berlin and Brandenburg has escalated in the past few months. Rocker gangs are competing for greater influence and more money in drug traffic and prostitution, as well as in the bouncer scene.

“The criminal activities of rocker gangs include offences which tend to occur behind closed doors, such as money laundering, blackmail, forging, arson or violation of narcotics and weapons laws,” Schoenbohm said.

There has been a series of attacks and shootings in Brandenburg and Berlin in the past few weeks as a result of gang wars between the Bandidos and their arch rivals, the Hells Angels. Earlier this month, a gang member in Berlin who had switched from the Hells Angels to join the Bandidos was murdered.

A national ban?

The ministry said it hoped to use the findings from this case to take action against rocker gangs together with other states and the federal government.

Schoenbohm has called for a national ban of gangs such as the Hells Angels or the Bandidos. However, the federal interior minister can only implement such a ban if the states concerned file a common petition. Schoenbohm said he and his counterpart in Berlin, Ehrhart Koerting, had agreed on a collective course of action in the matter.

“If we have the opportunity for success together, then we will do so,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany Not Likely to Achieve Co2 Reduction Targets

Germany may be a world leader in the production of renewable energies, but a study commissioned by Greenpeace predicts the country won’t make its ambitious 2020 target of a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Germany will not meet its government’s targets to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, a new study states. The report, by Aachen-based engineering and consulting firm EUtech, commissioned by the environmental group Greenpeace, says that Germany will not reach the 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions the government has set as its official target. In fact, the study predicts that the decline will be less than 30 percent.

The study says that in implementing the German government’s 2007 climate-protection package, many measures were excluded or watered down thanks to the efforts of lobby groups. Neither an environmentally focused car-tax reform nor far-reaching mandatory renovations on older homes were implemented. A strict prohibition on certain types of electric heating was not put in place either. Additionally, the dismal effort at building offshore wind farms also weighed against the country’s ability to meet the goal, according to EUtech’s calculations.

With total emissions of carbon dioxide in the power industry rising unexpectedly to 385 million metric tons, experts are calling for a radical restructuring of energy production. This would include better usage of renewable energies, the dismantling of gas-fired power plants and the use of combined heat-and-power cogeneration plants, where excess heat produced by a thermal power plant is captured and used, thereby increasing the plant’s efficiency by a potential 30 percent. And it’s not just the environment that would benefit — such measures would also mean savings for consumers by 2020, the study notes.

‘A CO2-Free Germany by 2050’?

The incoming head of Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Jochen Flasbarth, is calling for the next government to improve climate protection laws. The aim of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 could serve as a global model, Flasbarth told SPIEGEL. He said the steps already taken by the government would only “suffice for a reduction of 35 percent.”

One must assume, he added, that some of the measures currently being undertaken would prove ineffective and that a buffer would be needed in order to achieve the final goal. “New climate legislation should include a further 10 percent reduction in CO2,” Flasbarth said, adding that the ultimate goal should be a “CO2-free Germany by 2050.”

Flasbarth is focusing his attention on transportation measures. He said anyone who rejects the idea of a general speed limit on autobahns (indeed, you can still drive at any speed on parts of some German motorways) needs to come up with other ways of reducing CO2. “Our cars are heavy and gas guzzling because they are designed not to go out of control at speeds of 180 kilometers per hour,” noted the UBA chief-to-be. Flasbarth will take the helm of the Environment Agency on Sept. 1.

“We need a plan (to replace these cars) with more efficient, lighter cars,” he said. Flasbarth also argued that Germany’s federal roadways plan should be modified to take climate change into consideration and to give priority to public transportation. “We need to abandon some of our highway construction projects,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Greenland: Lomborg: No Need to Toe Climate Line

Greenland should continue to place development over efforts to prevent climate change, according to the Sceptical Environmentalist

Greenland should stand firm on its demand that development should come before greenhouse gas reductions, even if it goes against official Danish policy, according to climate expert Bjørn Lomborg.

Greenland’s climate dilemma differs in reality no different from the rest of the world, according to Lomborg, who gained the nickname ‘the Sceptical Environmentalist’ after publishing a book of the same name in 2001.

‘This is a classic dilemma. People would like to come up with the solutions, but they don’t want to pay. This isn’t something specific to Greenland,’ said Lomborg speaking in Nuuk on Thursday.

Greenland’s government has indicated that it wants to be included in a new climate protocol, but the country would also like to be able to exploit its oil and mineral wealth and develop other industries that have a high level of greenhouse gas emissions.

‘You are honest about it than many other nations, if you have these concerns,’ Lomborg said. ‘For many countries have only to sign an agreement, then they just avoid doing anything,’ Lomborg said.

Political promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions were not the answer to the world’s climate problems, according to Lomborg. He argued that there was better value for money if countries spent money on research and development of non-CO2 emitting energy sources.

Greenland could be an example to other countries when it comes to stand firm on the demand that countries be permitted to develop, according to Lomborg

‘Greenland could benefit by standing up and saying that it is just expressing what everyone else wants to but isn’t or won’t during negotiations. We cannot agree to it because it costs us a lot now and it makes infinitely little good,’ Lomborg said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italian National Anthem: Berlusconi, “ Difficult to Replace”

(AGI) — Rome, 18 Aug. — “The national anthem written by Mameli accompanied the birth of our nation and its consolidation.

Replacing it would be a very complicated matter,” said Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in an interview with Alfonso Signorini published in the current issue of the weekly magazine Chi, on newsstands tomorrow. Berlusconi therefore has taken a stand on the issue of the national anthem brought to the fore by Umberto Bossi. “But we must also try to understand Umberto Bossi opinions. I feel a brotherly affection for the man, his opinions are a sort of trying to please his people and his party. Mameli’s anthem is connected with moments of joy, excitement, celebration of the national spirit. Replacing it would be no easy task. Undoubtedly ‘Va Pensiero’ is a very beautiful aria, one of the indisputable masterpieces of Giuseppe Verdi, but it refers to the Jewish populace who were imprisoned in Babylon.”

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

Italy: Tax Evasion Reaches €5.1 Bln in Early 2009

Rome, 18 August (AKI) — Italians evaded taxes totalling more than 5.1 billion euros in the first half of 2009, according to figures released by the country’s tax authority on Tuesday. Of the total, an estimated 3.3 billion euros was unpaid between January and June and one third of that amount was illegally stashed in offshore tax havens.

Italians dodged a further 1.8 billion euros in taxes through scams involving fake companies and invoices, the authority said.

Tax dodgers hid 1.1 billion euros in offshore accounts, while they invested 1.6 billion euros in foreign-owned firms operating in Italy.

The tax authority seized 396 million euros of securities and cash during checks on the movement of capital, in collaboration with the Italian customs authority.

Over 600 million euros of unpaid taxes were traced to individuals who have claimed to reside in foreign tax havens.

The tax authority is probing “several hundred thousand” such Italians. They include sports personalities, actors and singers.

“We have reported 3,557 suspects, 17 percent more than over the same period last year,” the tax authority said.

The tax authority is poised to probe the offshore accounts of up to 170,000 wealthy Italians suspected of illegally hoarding billions of euros abroad, much of it in neighbouring Switzerland but also in Leichenstein, the authority’s head, Attilio Befera, said last week.

Hundreds of thousands of beach resorts, restaurants, bars, nightspots and sports clubs are also under investigation after spot checks signalled massive suspected tax evasion.

In the popular Adriatic coastal town and disco capital of Rimini, just 34 of 50 local bathing resorts declared annual earnings of 10,000 euros or more.

Italy’s tax authority in June opened an inquiry into allegations that members of late Fiat chairman and industrialist Gianni Agnelli’s family have illegally hidden between one and two billion euros of assets in Switzerland.

The Italian parliament in late June approved tighter rules on assets held in tax havens and stiffer penalties for undeclared assets held in offshore accounts.

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

Italy: Police Seize €500 Mln Euros in Mafia Assets

Rome, 19 August (AKI) — Italian tax police seized nearly half a billion euros worth of assets generated by organised crime activities and money laundering in the first half of 2009. According to figures released by police on Wednesday, tax authorities seized more than 475 million euros worth of assets, as well as 431 kilogrammes of illicit drugs.

The tax police also arrested 141 people, while another 533 others are under investigation.

“The results were achieved as a result of co-ordinated and persistent action and analysis of criminal activities and economic and financial activities, carried out in collaboration by several departments and a number of national and international institutions,” the tax police said in a statement.

“Using the latest advanced computer applications they are able to have at their disposal a geographical map of criminal organisations, to identify areas of influence of mafia groups in the region.”

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

Italy: Soccer: Muslims Slam Mourinho Ramadan Remark

(ANSAmed) — ROME, AUGUST 25 — Italian Muslims today chided Inter Milan coach José Mourinho for suggesting midfielder Sulley Muntari suffered against Bari Saturday because he was dehydrated from observing Ramadan. “I think Mourinho should talk a bit less,” said Mohamed Nour Dachan, head of one of Italy’s main Muslim associations, UCOII. “There’s no reason why a player who is religiously observant should perform less,” said the UCOII chief, who claimed the faith of Christian, Jewish or Muslim players would boost their performances by making them more “tranquil”. Muntari was substituted after 30 minutes through Italian champion Inter’s lacklustre 1-1 home draw with newly promoted Bari. In a postmatch interview Mourinho hinted that the Ghanaian might have been suffering unduly from the heat because of a Ramadan ban on daylight drinking. The month-long religious fast, which has just started, requires Muslims to fast from dawn to dusk. Mourinho explained: “Muntari had some problems related to Ramadan — perhaps with this heat it’s not good for him to be doing this (fasting)”. Much of Italy is currently experiencing temperatures of 30-35 degrees. Dawn is around 6.30am and sundown not until 8pm, meaning a Muslim has to fast for more than 13 hours. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Netherlands to Lower Child Support Abroad

Youth and family minister Rouvoet wants to lower child support for families living outside the European Union. The move will mostly affect Dutch nationals whose children live in Morocco and Turkey. The Dutch cabinet will deliberate on Friday about the proposal by minister André Rouvoet, who belongs to the orthodox Christian party ChristenUnie.

Earlier this year a majority in the Dutch parliament already approved a motion to lower child support outside the European Union. It was reasoned that child support is unreasonably high compared to the cost of living in some countries.

All parents who are in the Dutch social security system are entitled to child support. If the children live outside the home, because they are handicapped or go to school abroad, the child support is usually doubled.

Five parties in the Dutch parliament said earlier this year that they want to end what they called “the export of child support”. Together they are just short of a majority in parliament. Cutting child support abroad is difficult however because international treaties would have to be changed.

According to Christian Democrat member of parliament Mirjam Sterk, minister Rouvoet’s proposal is a step in the right direction. Sterk wants to do away with child support abroad altogether. She pointed to the many Polish fathers who work in the Netherlands and receive Dutch child support for their children back in Poland, where the cost of life is much lower. “We don’t see how this is reasonable,” Sterk said.

Other parties point to cases of fraud involving child support. The anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) called child support fraud by Moroccans and Turks “a scandal of the first order”.

In 2008 the Netherlands paid 14.8 million euros in child support for 14,458 Dutch children living abroad. Many of them live in Morocco (5,375) or Turkey (2,497). Out of 239 cases that were investigated in Morocco and Turkey last year 84 were judged fraudulent. In most cases parents lied about their children attending school in the country of origin.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Integration Courses Not Reaching Target Group

Not enough newcomers to the Netherlands are attending the obligatory social integration course, Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan has said in a statement to the media.

The minister wants 50,000 people to embark on the courses this year, but current trends point to a number of no more than 35,000. Mr Van der Laan says this is a worrying development. He is planning to call local authorities to account next month for the way they implement the integration courses.

Everyone who is under an obligation to attend the course should receive an invitation soon, and people willing to take the course voluntarily should be targeted directly, Minister Van der Laan said. The integration course system was set up to prevent newcomers from remaining isolated from Dutch society and help them become familiar with rules and customs in the country.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Six-Fold Murderer Regularly Out of Jail on Leave

A murder convict serving a life sentence has repeatedly been allowed out of jail on supervised leave, the Justice Ministry has confirmed.

The man was sentenced for the shooting and killing in 1983 of six people in a Delft café, including a 12-year-old girl.

The rule states that life prisoners not be allowed out of prison on leave. The current case, however, is different because the man had been transferred to a psychiatric clinic. Convicts who are ordered to serve their term in such a clinic are entitled to regular supervised leave.

Two years ago the Justice Ministry stripped the man of this right, but he successfully appealed. He has since started a family.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Overseas Student Surge Hits 110,000: And All But a Tenth Decide They’ll Stay in Britain

An explosion in the number of non-EU students allowed to stay in the UK is adding 100,000 to the population every year, figures show.

It is by far the biggest factor in the boom in net migration from outside the European Union — the only immigration route over which the Government has any control.

The number of foreign students granted permission to stay for a year or more has trebled to 110,000 a year since Labour came to power.

But annually only 10,000 go home — a ratio of 11 arrivals for every departure.

This suggests that many are not leaving once they have finished their courses.

The figures will also fuel suspicion that ministers have granted huge numbers of visas to fund the controversial expansion of higher education.

Foreign students pay up to £20,000 in tuition fees — compared to £3,000 for those from the UK.

Despite turning away a record number of UK students last year and thousands struggling to win a place through clearing after last week’s A-level results, universities are still recruiting heavily for overseas candidates.

There is no bar on the number of international students they can take, but they face financial penalties if they exceed strict Government quotas for UK students.

Opponents warned yesterday that many foreign students may have attended ‘bogus colleges’.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘It looks as if the student visa system is an open door for people who really want to come and live in Britain.

‘We want to encourage legitimate students to our universities, but it really is time the system was tightened up so it can’t be abused any more.’

Fewer 7-year-olds master basic maths… and boys are still way behind girls across the board

Previously it was thought that the number of work permits handed out to foreign nationals had the biggest effect on the growth of the population, which stands at 61million.

But the figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2007, 18,000 more non-EU workers left Britain than arrived.

Instead, population increase was down to a net influx of 41,000 given visas to get married or join a family member already living here, and the 100,000 net increase in those granted a visa for ‘formal study’.

If the same number of students left as arrived each year, the non-EU population would be increasing by 29,000, compared to the current level of 129,000.

Non-EU nationals are the only group over which ministers have control, because migrants from within Europe have the right of free movement.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas admitted in March that student visas were the Achilles heel of the immigration system.

Tony Millns, of teaching association English UK, recently told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee that there could be ‘tens of thousands’ of bogus students claiming to be at non-existent colleges, often based in a single room above a shop.

The committee’s Labour chairman, Keith Vaz, accused ministers of an ‘unacceptable and unbelievable’ failure to act despite knowing about the problem of bogus colleges for more than a decade.

The MPs also said that such colleges can hoodwink the Home Office because they are almost always informed of inspections in advance. This gives them time to assemble classrooms full of ‘students’ and ‘lecturers.’

Last year UK universities accepted 30,240 students from outside the EU, up from 28,225 in 2007.

Twenty per cent came from China, 8.9 per cent from France, 5.5 per cent from India and 4.3 per cent from Pakistan.

Deputy chief executive of the UK Border Agency, Jonathan Sedgwick, said: ‘The tough new student tier of the Points Based System ensures that only genuine foreign students can travel to the UK.

‘No institution can bring students into the country unless we are satisfied they are genuine — this includes approval by an accredited body, and assessment of their premises, courses and teaching staff.

‘We will look to remove any foreign students who are not genuinely in the UK to study.’

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

Spain: Lay Military Honours in Armed Forces Regulations

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 20 — The minister of defence will change regulations for military honours in the laic sense to adapt them to the Constitution of 1978, which ratified the non-sectarianism of the Spanish state. According to what was reported in today’s edition of El Pais, quoting ministerial sources, the draft of the regulation which integrates the previous reform of 1984, will convert participation in religious-castrensian rites to a voluntary basis. In particular, the third added disposition provides for that “when commissions, escorts or guards are designated to participate in celebrations of a religious character with the tradition of castrensian participation, the right of freedom of religion will be respected and, as a consequence, participation in these ceremonies will be voluntary”. The only ceremonies that will have mandatory participation will be those of funerals for members of the armed forces killed in active service. Even if, for the first time, the regulations will allow for funerals to include a Catholic mass “as well as the service from another religion”, adhered to by the defunct. This is because the Spanish armed forces have begun to register a significant number of Muslim soldiers, especially in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves in Morocco. The reform also introduces a tribute of military funerary honours to ex-presidents of the government and “other especially relevant people” and to civilians “with special ties to the armed forces”. The new measures do not provide for changes in the ceremony for military honours. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Inquiry Into Barajas Black Out, One Year After Tragedy

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 17 — The Infrastructures Ministry has ordered an investigation into the black out that took place on Saturday evening which left Terminal 4 at the Barajas airport in Madrid in darkness for an hour, without setting off the backup electrical system, causing serious inconvenience. The black out which, according to sources from the AENA airport management company quoted today by the press, was caused by a power surge in one of the electrical local plants, paralysed all services including the electric underground train that links T4 with satellite terminals for over an hour. The air traffic control tower was not however affected as it was the only area where the auxiliary system kicked in. Several flights were delayed and several hundreds of passengers left without their luggage, because baggage carousels were not working. The incident took place on the eve of the anniversary of the tragedy of the MD-82 Spanair flight which crashed into the runway on August 20 last year killing 154 passengers. The accident investigation commission has publicly recommended to all international civil aviation organisations that the TOWS, the alarm system for inadequate configuration for takeoff, be used as the main system by aeroplanes instead of being auxiliary. If this had been the case, according to the report, the alarm would have prevented the Spanair from taking off a year ago. In February, the investigation commission approved a recommendation to obligate the Boeing Company to include specific instructions on how to identify the origin and solution of failure consistent with heating in RAT sensor in the maintenance manual.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: First Lawsuit for Homophobia by Company

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 17 — Division 33 of the Barcelona High Court has granted permission for a complaint to proceed against a company accused of homophobic and discriminatory behaviour towards two gay employees, the first of its kind in Spain. The defendants, according to legal sources cited by the Efe press agency, are two managers at the Austrian logistics and transport multinational, Gartner KG, who are accused by two gay employees of subjecting them to harrassment and unjust treatment, as well as violating their privacy, after calling the two workers “sick” and needing to be sacked, in an email from the company’s head office. In recognising the crime, the judge, Silvia Lopez Mejia, accepted the complaint presented by the Catalan legal firm which is representing the two employees in the case against the two managers and the company. “To say that a work colleague is homosexual is not slander, to call him sick and call for his dismissal is” said the magistrate in the order to proceed. One of the two defendants denied the “discriminatory treatment” of the former workers. “If I were homophobic I would not have stayed in Barcelona for ten years” said the manager to Efe, adding that he had many gay friends and could prove, as the company would, that “the accusations are inappropriate” and that the two workers deserved to be sacked from Gartner KG over “their unprofessional attitude”. This is the first lawsuit for homophobic slander in Spain, as Antonio Poveda, the president of the State Federation for Lesbians, Gay men, transexuals and bisexuals noted. “Even if it can’t be seen” in society and in the workplace, “discrimination exists” against homosexuals.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Swedish Tabloid Reported for Racial Agitation

Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet has been reported to the Chancellor of Justice (JK) after publishing an article forwarding claims about the alleged organ harvesting of dead Palestinians by Israeli defence forces.

“Is that true? I am perplexed,” Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet’s culture editor, said after being informed by the The Local of the report on Tuesday.

“I think it is a shame that whenever solidarity is shown for the Palestinians and criticism is directed again Israel, someone cries anti-Semitism.”

“One has to have the right to ask questions,” Linderborg replied when asked if she or the newspaper regretted publishing the article.

Nils Funcke, one of Sweden’s leading experts on legislation pertaining to freedom of speech, said he expected the Chancellor of Justice to reject the case.

“The article can hardly be construed as racial agitation. There is no ethnic group targeted; the article focuses on the Israeli army, and Israel is not made up solely of Jews,” Funcke told The Local.

Even had the article concentrated on a single ethnic group, Funcke did not believe it would be considered “agitation” under the law.

“It was more a description of events and certainly did not agitate against a particular group.”

Funcke add that charges set forth by Israeli politicians to the effect that Aftonbladet’s article followed in a long tradition of “blood libels” against Jews would not hold up under legal scrutiny.

The Chancellor of Justice is a government official charged with representing the Swedish government in various legal matters as the government’s ombudsman.

The Chancellor, currently Göran Lambertz, is appointed by the government and is the only prosecutor with the power to take legal action in cases concerning freedom of speech and the press.

The charge of racial agitation (hets mot folkgrupp) is defined in Swedish law as a crime involving the public dissemination of statements which threaten or express contempt for one or more identified ethnic groups.

In a written request submitted on August 23rd, the Chancellor is asked to consider whether the Aftonbladet article, which puts forward claims accusing the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) of involvement in the illegal human organ trade, constitutes racial agitation.

“We will examine the case. We are able to reject fairly quickly most reports we get concerning newspaper articles. I don’t really know how it’s going to go in this case but it will be looked into. Whether it will be sent out for consultation or decided on immediately I don’t know as I am on holiday right now,” Lambertz told news agency TT.

The article, penned by Swedish photographer Donald Boström, has sparked outrage in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and scores of ministers and commentators calling it a “blood libel” smacking of anti-Semitic accusations against Jews.

The article is in three parts and Boström links previous allegations of organ harvesting made by individual Palestinians to a New York-based crime suspect, Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, recently accused of attempting to facilitate the sale of a kidney from a donor in Israel.

In a further twist to the saga, the Palestinian families on which Boström based his claims appeared to distance themselves from the allegations in an article in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The newspaper cites Ibrahim Ghanem, a relative of Bilal Ahmed Ghanem, the young Palestinian at the centre of the Aftonbladet story, who says that the family never told Boström that Israel had stolen his organs.

“Maybe the journalist reached that conclusion on the basis of the stitches he saw on the body,” Ghanem told the newspaper.

“But as far as the family is concerned, we don’t know if organs were removed from the body because we never performed our own autopsy. All we know is that Bilal’s teeth were missing.”

Åsa Linderborg told The Local on Tuesday that Donald Boström is responsible for his own sources but added that staff from Aftonbladet had met the family concerned over the weekend and, she claims, had gained confirmation of the allegations.

In response to pressure from the Israeli government to condemn the newspaper Sweden’s prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, and foreign minister Carl Bildt, have emphasized that it is not the government’s role to comment on the content of newspapers.

Reinfeldt underlined in a statement on Monday that to act would be in contravention of the Swedish constitution.

He also rejected the suggestion that the row could undermine his country’s work in the Middle East peace process as the current holders of the EU presidency.

“Political ambitions always risk being used as an excuse to break off contacts or efforts, but I have no reason to believe that (is what is happening) at this point in time and I hope it won’t go down that route,” he said.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Geneva Still Fuming Over Libyan Apology

Passions are still running high in Geneva over President Hans-Rudolf Merz’s apology to Libya for the “unjustified” 2008 arrest of one of Moammar Gaddafi’s sons. went to find out what people in Geneva feel about the agreement to end a year-long standoff that has frozen Swiss-Libyan business ties and left two Swiss businessmen marooned in Tripoli.

“Humiliation”, “scandal” and “shocking” are some of the more common words and phrases still being heard on the streets of Geneva just three days after the Swiss president’s visit to Libya.

“I think it’s scandalous; Merz should never have done that, especially as he went of his own initiative,” said Line Rennwald, a political science student at Geneva University.

Postman Ernesto Codorello also felt the Swiss president should never have apologised to the Libyans.

“We should have brought criminal proceedings against the Libyan authorities for detaining the two Swiss, who did nothing. The Libyans are the criminals and they should be the ones to apologise.”

“I don’t think he did something very good for Swiss citizens,” said student Lucien Salmon. “Switzerland is going to find itself increasingly isolated.”

Relations between the countries have been strained since July 2008 when Hannibal Gaddafi and his pregnant wife were arrested in Geneva, charged with assaulting two domestic employees.

The couple were freed after two days in custody on bail of SFr500,000 ($470,000) and the charges were later dropped, when the employees withdrew their complaint and were compensation.

However, Libya responded by suspending oil deliveries to Switzerland, withdrawing assets worth an estimated $5 billion (SFr5.3 billion) from Swiss banks, ending bilateral cooperation programmes and placing restrictions on Swiss companies.

On August 20 the Swiss finance ministry said the two countries would set up an independent arbitration panel to look into the circumstances surrounding the arrest, and that Switzerland was “prepared to apologise for the unjustified and unnecessary arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi and his family by the Geneva police”.

“Merz doesn’t speak very good French and got it mixed up,” said an elderly lady in the Parc des Bastions. “He gave them our apologies, while regrets were sufficient.”

Up in arms The media and politicians have criticized Merz for returning without the businessmen, and with only a verbal pledge that they would be allowed out by September 1. On that day Libya will be marking the 40th anniversary of Gaddafi’s coming to power, and is expecting to grant amnesties to a number of prisoners.

In a poll in the Tribune de Genève newspaper, 80 per cent of the 4,000 respondents said Merz was wrong to apologise to Libya.

Geneva’s regional government — which is responsible for policing under Switzerland’s decentralized system — has rebuffed the federal president’s deal with Libya and stands by the canton’s police force and “independent” judiciary.

On Monday cantonal president David Hiler said the regional government was “up in arms” and “shocked by the improvised nature of the agreement reached with Libya”.

Hiler said Switzerland did not have to combine apologies with independent arbitration, which does not conform with Swiss law.

He added he was pleased to see that cabinet members, lawyers, the media and the general public shared their concerns.

“Merz shouldn’t have interfered in Geneva cantonal affairs,” said banker Eddy Baumann. “And he took an initiative which was not his right as he didn’t ask cabinet colleagues. Just because you are president doesn’t give you all the rights.”

Surprise Lawyer Christian Ferrazino, the former mayor of Geneva, also said he was surprised by Merz’s way of working.

“He violated government collegiality. It’s surprising that a president can act in such an non-collective manner when you know that the foreign ministry has been working on this for a year,” he said.

Signing an agreement indicating that the canton had acted in an unjustified manner was already recognizing its guilt before the court’s verdict, the lawyer said.

“Not only is Merz not a very good negotiator, but he’s apparently a very bad lawyer. It’s worrying as he is in a position to take decisions on behalf of our country,” said Ferranzino.

Despite the general tone of disapproval, a number of people felt Switzerland had been left with no other solution but to apologise.

“Basically Merz had no choice. Although it hurts to kneel before a dictatorial country like Libya, we didn’t have much choice as there were two hostages,” said Geneva banker A.B. (name withheld).

“Switzerland is not a superpower. If it were part of the European Union it could’ve done something with the pressure of its allies, but we want to be alone so we have to adopt a strategy of apologising,” said Geneva University student Alexandre Ferrara.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

True Finns Politician Faces Defamation Charges

Controversial Helsinki politician Jussi Halla-aho went on trial on Tuesday, accused of incitement of hatred against an ethnic group and defamation of religion.

In March, Deputy Prosecutor General Jorma Kalske charged the city councilman over allegedly racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments made on his blog in June 2008. Halla-aho, who was elected to the Helsinki City Council as an independent candidate on the ticket of the right-wing populist True Finns party, denies breaking any laws.

On Tuesday morning, Halla-aho appeared without a lawyer at Helsinki District Court, where he pled innocent to the charges.

Kalske is seeking a suspended prison sentence or fines.

Halla-aho had planned to run for European Parliament, but party chair Timo Soini successfully ran in his place after the charges were laid.

Halla-aho holds a doctoral degree in linguistics from the University of Helsinki.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

UK Author Apologizes for Qur’an Offense

CAIRO — Famed British novelist Sebastian Faulks apologized on Monday, August 24, for any offence he has caused Muslims with his remarks about the Noble Qur’an, insisting he was misquoted.

“I unreservedly apologize to anyone who does feel offended by comments offered in another context,” Faulks told The Guardian.

“[I offer] a simple but unqualified apology to my Muslim friends and readers for anything that has come out sounding crude or intolerant.”

This came a day after his interview with the Sunday Times stirred controversy after he reportedly described the Qur’an as a “depressing book”.

“It’s just the rantings of a schizophrenic,” Faulks said in the interview.

“It’s very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.”

Faulks, who said he read the Qur’an to help him write his latest novel which will be published next month, also claimed the Qur’an has “no ethical dimension” like the New Testament and “no new plan for life.”

But speaking to The Guardian Monday, the famed novelist insists that his answers during the Sunday Times interview were “overstated” and taken out of context “to make a silly season scandal.”

“If such an overstatement is taken out of its heavily nuanced context, then pulled out of the printed article and highlighted, it can have a badly distorting effect.”

He said that after reading the Qur’an and several histories of Islam as part of his research, he “ended with a high regard for Islam, which seems to me more spiritually demanding than Judaism or Christianity.”


The apology came amid angry reactions from leaders of Britain’s more than to two million Muslims.

“This is a book which Muslims believe in,” Dr. Ghaysuddin Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute, an organization is committed to Muslims’ engagement in political, academic and public-relations arenas, told the UK Express.

He said that while Faulks is “entitled to his views” he should have taken into consideration that Qur’an is the holy book for more than 1.5 billion people.

Ajmal Masroor, an imam and spokesman for the Islamic Society of Britain, regretted increasing anti-Islam offenses by leading intellectuals in Britain.

“Attacks on Islam are nothing new.”

Just last year, Ian McEwan, one of Britain’s few leading contemporary writers, launched a scathing attack on what he described as Islamism.

He made his bitter attack in defense of fellow novelist Martin Amis, who made a similar criticism late last year.

Masroor warned that said statements ran the risk of stirring religious hatred against Muslims.

“People don’t seem to understand the consequences of saying things like this could be quite severe,” he said.

“History tells us it can encourage hatred.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Secret Agenda to Score Adoptions’

The revealing of the names of those responsible for the killing of Baby P reminded us yet again of the failure of Haringey social workers to avert the child’s death. What a shocking contrast this provides to the behaviour of East Sussex social workers in the case I reported a month ago, which led to their seizure and putting out for adoption of a girl, now seven years old, from a respectable middle-class home, to the anguish of both her parents and the little girl herself.

The chief reason offered by the social workers for abducting the girl two years ago was that her home had been left in an appalling mess after a raid by RSPCA officials and 18 policemen. They ransacked the premises looking for non-existent guns, and released into the house a pack of dogs kept in kennels outside by her father, a professional dog-breeder. The parents were arrested for protesting at what was happening (the mother suffering a miscarriage while in police custody) and the social workers were summoned to remove their daughter.

Everything about this case is bizarre, not least the apparent complicity of social workers, lawyers and the courts in determining that the child should not be returned to her parents, as she wishes, but rather, after two years in foster care, sent for adoption.

I have now been able to read through many papers relating to the case, including the judgments resulting from the 74 hearings in which the parents attempted to get their daughter back. What stands out is the startling contrast between the two totally different versions of the case given by the social workers and the courts on one hand and, on the other, that presented by the parents themselves and by many who knew them. The latter include their GP, who recently wrote that he had never “encountered such a case of appalling injustice”.

The most impressive document was a report by an independent social worker, based on many interviews with those involved, including the child herself and the chief social worker in charge of her. In measured terms, this made mincemeat of the council’s case. Nothing about it is more suspicious than the contrast between descriptions of the “clean and tidy” home reported by those who knew the family well and the mess allegedly found by the policemen who burst into it mob-handed on the day in question.

The report found an equally glaring contrast between the social workers’ insistence that the child was quite happy to have been removed from her parents, and the abundant evidence, observed at first-hand, that the little girl had an extremely good relationship with her parents and wants nothing more than to be reunited with them. The courts seem to have totally ignored this report, whose author last month expressed astonishment that the child had not been returned home.

What has also come to light is a remarkable judgment by Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Wall in the Appeal Court last year, in another case which also involved the apparently ruthless determination of East Sussex social workers to send a child for adoption. The judges were fiercely critical. The social workers’ conduct, said Lord Justice Thorpe, could only reinforce the suspicions of those who believe “councils have a secret agenda to establish a high score of children they have placed for adoption”.

Lord Justice Wall described East Sussex’s conduct as “disgraceful — not a word I use lightly” and also as “about the worst I have ever encountered in a career now spanning nearly 40 years”. “The social workers in question,” he said, appeared “not only to have been inadequately managed, they do not appear to have been properly trained”. As for the barrister who represented East Sussex (and who also appeared in most of the hearings in the “dog-breeder” case), Lord Justice Wall said “her attitude came across, to me at least, as — in effect — so what?” She had demonstrated, he said, “profound misunderstanding” of the council’s legal position vis à vis adoption. He ordered his comments to be circulated to family courts and adoption agencies across the land.

Though the circumstances are different, anyone reading the documents could not fail to be struck by how many of the judges’ comments are relevant to the case I reported. The same council’s social workers have again pushed for a child to be adopted in a way which prompts the family’s GP to say “the destruction of this once happy family is, in my opinion, evil”. And that barrister who was involved in both cases is now — a family court judge…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: British, Libyan Leaders Spoke of Bomber’s Release Weeks Ago

Suspicions that the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber had more to do with politics than with compassion grew Sunday with the disclosure that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi discussed the release in a face-to-face meeting six weeks earlier.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in L’Aquila, Italy, in early July. At that meeting, Mr. Brown said, “I stressed that, should the Scottish executive decide that Megrahi can return to Libya, this should be a purely private family occasion” and not a public celebration.

The disclosure that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s release was in the works long before Thursday’s decision by a Scottish court to set him free belied repeated claims by Mr. Brown’s government over the weekend that there was no behind-the-scenes deal between the two governments.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: By Jingo, We’re Short of Ships, Men and Money

Now that Bernard Gray’s report on defence procurement has been leaked to The Sunday Times, I suppose that it will be published. That will certainly be embarrassing for Bob Ainsworth, the Secretary of State for Defence, and for Gordon Brown. Those parts of the report that were reported were absolutely damning, yet every word of Mr Gray’s criticism seems to be completely justified.

Mr Gray is an experienced businessman, and has been a special adviser to Labour defence ministers; he knows what he’s talking about; his report was originally commissioned by John Hutton, who resigned as Defence Secretary only in June.

It is, therefore, a report by a well-informed insider, competent to make defence judgments.

The Prime Minister, and the current Defence Secretary, hoped to stop the report being published; that, if anything, gives further weight to its criticisms. The Ministry of Defence has a glib explanation for preferring secrecy: “This report is currently in draft format and we are working hard with him on the issues he has identified.” However, even that apology confirms that the MoD itself regards Bernard Gray as a significant authority.

Mr Gray has made a dry comment on this attempt to avoid publication. “The vested interests will not welcome these changes and may seek to undermine them.” He might well have added that vested ministers may seek to protect their own skins.

When one reads the essence of the report, it contains a devastating critique of the management of defence planning and procurement, extending over several ministers and the 11-year period since the last defence review was published in 1998.

In that year, soon after Labour had come to power, people still expected there to be a peace dividend that would follow the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union. They did not expect British troops to be involved in two major wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, with rising casualties. It is the job of defence planners to prepare for unforeseen events; the plans of 1998 have indeed been overtaken, but not replaced by any strategic response to what has actually occurred.

Mr Gray observes that the MoD has “a substantially overheated equipment programme, with too many types of equipment being ordered for too large a range of tasks at too high a specification”. He states that present projects are over budget by £35 billion and will arrive five years later than expected. He asks: “How can it be that it takes 20 years to buy a ship, or aircraft, or tank? Why does it always seem to cost at least twice what was thought? Even worse, at the end of the wait, why does it never quite seem to do what it is supposed to?”

I do not doubt that Mr Gray is speaking the truth, however inconvenient that may be for the Labour Government. There seem to be three collisions in the core debate over defence planning. The first is the collision between the wars started in the Blair-Brown regime and Mr Brown’s refusal as Chancellor to spend money on fighting them. That has already cost solders’ lives in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Soldiers have been killed because their equipment is inadequate or out-of-date. In particular, our Forces have had to rely on too few helicopters and on inadequately protected armoured vehicles, including the Snatch Land Rovers. That was true of the soldiers exposed in moving to and from the Basra Palace three years ago, and it is still true of soldiers patrolling in Helmand province now. Many good soldiers have been killed or injured because Mr Blair as Prime Minister sent them to war, then Mr Brown as Chancellor refused the cash to buy the best equipment.

The second collision is also financial. The Opposition accepts that defence will need more money, but, as Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, has observed: “Labour has created a defence black hole which is not only impacting on current operations in Afghanistan but threatens to provide an ongoing defence crisis for years to come.”

This is jingoism in reverse: “We don’t want to fight but by jingo, if we do, we’re short of ships, and short of men, and short of money too.” An incoming opposition may well cope with the immediate funding crisis, or with the longer-term procurement costs; it will be very hard to cope with both at once.

The third collision is the traditional issue of inter-Service rivalry. We are at present fighting a tough infantry war of mobile patrolling against insurgents. In this war, more and better helicopters and armoured vehicles are the key to rapid response and reduction in casualties. Yet the MoD seems more concerned to find huge funds for two aircraft carriers and a replacement for Trident. This would give priority for expenditure on weapons systems we are unlikely to use rather than the weapon systems we are actually using in combat in Afghanistan.

In 1838 the great Duke of Wellington opposed intervention in Afghanistan that was to lead to the first Afghan War and the appalling catastrophe of the 1842 retreat from Kabul. He warned that: “When the military successes end the political difficulties will begin.” More often than not Britain’s historic losses in Afghanistan have occurred when we were trying to withdraw, not when we were trying to intervene.

There does not seem to be any exit plan for Afghanistan, except that we may stay for 20-40 years. There can, therefore, be no strategic plan based on the Afghan commitment, since there is no coherent strategy for staying or leaving in the Afghan theatre of war. This is not a Government that knows what it wants to do in defence matters. Bob Ainsworth has no idea; Gordon Brown is in a fog of indecision.

This is less than fair to Britain’s brave soldiers and their families. It is also incompetent. We have had to wait far too long for the Government to get a grip on the strategy and supply of the Afghan War.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: CCTV Cameras: If They Do Not Stop Crime or Catch Criminals, What Are They For?

Yet there is plenty of evidence that people are not safer because of the presence of CCTV: studies have argued convincingly that money is better invested in improved street lighting and more uniformed police patrols. If the efficacy of cameras as a crime prevention tool is at least questionable, they must, surely, be useful in helping to apprehend crooks? It turns out that they do not fulfil even that basic function. Det Chief Inspector Mike Neville of Scotland Yard says that in London just one crime is solved a year by every 1,000 CCTV cameras. CCTV played a role in capturing just eight out of 269 suspected robbers across London in one month, many of whom might have thought twice about committing a crime had there been a policeman about.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Error Leaves Children Unprotected Under 1984 Video Recordings Act

People selling adult videos, including pornography, to children are to escape prosecution after the discovery of a Whitehall blunder that means that the 1984 law regulating the video industry was never enacted.

The disclosure that for 25 years the Act governing the classification and sale of videos, video games and now DVDs was never brought into force is a big embarrassment to both Conservative and Labour governments.

It also leaves the industry in disarray with the classification system designed to protect the under-18s from violent and explicit material no longer officially in operation.

Lavinia Carey, director-general of the British Video Association, which represents 90 per cent of the industry, said: “What a ludicrous situation to find ourselves in after all this time.”

olice and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are to be told to stop bringing any prosecutions until the Government brings in emergency legislation to re-enact the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Until then people will be able to sell videos, including violent and pornographic ones, to under-18s without fear of prosecution.

The video industry was stunned by the Government’s admission that the Act was not properly enacted 25 years ago. Officials in the Home Office had failed to notify the European Commission of the existence of the Act as they were required to do so under an EU directive.

The mistake was not spotted on two subsequent occasions, in 1993 and 1994. It was finally discovered during plans to update the law and introduce a new video-game classification system.

Barbara Follett, Minister for Culture and Tourism, said last night: “Unfortunately, the discovery of this omission means that, a quarter of a century later, the Video Recordings Act is no longer enforceable against individuals in United Kingdom courts.” In a letter to representatives of the video industry, Ms Follett said: “As the then British Government did not notify the European Commission of the VRA’s classification and labelling requirements, they cannot now be enforced against individuals in UK courts.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that it had received legal advice that people who had previously been prosecuted and convicted would be unable to overturn their convictions or seek compensation.

The Act was passed when Leon Brittan was Conservative Home Secretary and then amended under Michael Howard’s period at the Home Office. A Home Office spokesman said that it was likely the error had occurred because the European Directive was new at the time the Act was passed.

“The important thing is that we close this loophole as quickly as possible,” a spokeswoman said. No one should see this as a green light to act unlawfully. We will continue to prosecute breaches vigorously once this technical loophole is closed,” a spokeswoman said.

The British Video Association said that it is urging members to continue submitting work to the British Board of Film Classification and to continue labelling them under the system.

The Association represents 90 per cent of the industry with an annual turnover of over £2 billion and selling 250 million videos a year.

Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Culture Secretary, said: “Much of the problem would have been avoided if they had sorted out the classification of video games earlier, as we and many others in the industry have been urging them to do.”

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

UK: Foreign GPs Who Commute to Britain: £100-an-Hour Poles and Lithuanians Fly in for Shifts Our Doctors Won’t Do

The huge extent to which the NHS needs foreign doctors to treat patients out of hours is revealed today.

A third of primary care trusts are flying in GPs from as far away as Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Switzerland because of a shortage of doctors in Britain willing to work in the evenings and at weekends.

The stand-ins earn up to £100 an hour, and one trust paid Polish and German doctors a total of £267,000 in a year, a Daily Mail investigation has found.

It raises fresh concerns that British patients are being treated by exhausted doctors without a perfect command of English.

Yesterday the Royal College of GPs and the General Medical Council called for a ‘radical review’ of out-of-hours care so that the NHS no longer has to rely on help from abroad.

The figures come months after an investigation was launched into the conduct of a German doctor after two patients died on his first shift in Britain.

Daniel Ubani had just three hours sleep after travelling from Germany before he went on duty in Cambridgeshire.

One third of GPs would not take swine flu vaccine over safety fears

The Nigerian-born doctor injected 70-year-old kidney patient David Gray with ten

times the maximum recommended dose of morphine, and an 86-year-old woman died of a heart attack after Ubani failed to send her to hospital.

The NHS is having to rely on doctors from overseas because a lucrative new contract for British GPs has resulted in more than 90 per cent opting out of responsibility for their patients in the evenings and at weekends.

Despite doing less, their pay has soared by 50 per cent to an average of almost £108,000.

Responsibility for out-of-hours cover has now passed to primary care trusts.

The rules state that foreign doctors need to have basic GP training, but recent experience is not always necessary.

Their qualifications are checked by the General Medical Council and the local PCT, but no checks are in place to ensure that they are not exhausted after working long hours in their home country.

Our investigation revealed that more than a third of the 152 primary care trusts (PCTs) in England have flown in foreign GPs in the last year. Of the 146 trusts who responded, 51 have used overseas GPs in the last 12 months.

The figure has trebled since 2008 when just one in ten primary care trusts were flying in GPs from abroad. However, it is impossible to know the exact number of GPs travelling to the UK as many primary care trusts do not keep a record of their nationality.

Halton and St Helens PCT spent the most on foreign GPs for the second year running. Between 2008-9, it paid nine Polish and two German doctors a total of £267,000 for shifts in the UK.

South Staffordshire PCT spent £13,585 on three foreign GPs who provided more than 205 hours of cover between 2008-9 on an hourly rate of £66.10, and Medway PCT spent £12,000 on foreign cover.

Many of the trusts employ the same European locums regularly. East of England Ambulance Trust, which covers Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex, employs two Italian and three German GPs for five shifts a month on average, while Leicestershire and Rutland PCT regularly employs three EU doctors.

Campaigners fear the use of foreign doctors is putting patients’ lives at risk.

Michael Summers of the Patients’ Association said: ‘The problem is that these PCTs send the work to agencies saying we need this number of doctors, we don’t really care where you get them, and they get any old Tom, Dick or Harry to do the job for £1,000 a weekend.

‘Patients’ lives are likely to be put at risk if we do not establish the level of expertise and medical training of these doctors arriving from all over the world.’

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: ‘The Government completely botched reform of the GP contract and failed to develop an adequate out-of-hours care system.

‘Relying on doctors being flown in for a weekend shift is not a sustainable way to cover up ministers’ mistakes.’

Calling for a ‘radical review’ of out-of-hours care, Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘I am particularly worried about the use of doctors from Europe flying in to provide out-of-hours care and then flying back to their home countries to provide services there.

‘It’s not good for patients here or in their home countries.

‘Doctors from Europe who come to the UK to work in out of hours services must prove they are of the same quality as our home-grown doctors. We are not convinced there are appropriate checks in place to ensure they are.’

Finlay Scott, chief executive of the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, said the current system ‘does not guarantee the level of patient safety that we want’.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The NHS has always used professionals trained abroad because until recently we did not train enough for our own needs.

‘Now the need to use overseas doctors is declining.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Police ‘Steal’ Valuables From Cars in a Lesson for Drivers

Police are removing valuables from unlocked cars to shock motorists into being more careful. Officers in London are taking everything from handbags to satnavs, and leaving a note telling drivers their property is at a local police station. The scheme is being tried out in Richmond, south west London, which has a disproportionately high level of thefts from cars — up 40 per cent in a year.

Police from the area’s Safer Neighbourhood teams are being told to look out for cars with open windows or doors. If they find valuables on display they will try to find the owner nearby, but if they cannot they will take the goods to Twickenham police station.

Drivers who leave their car unlocked but with nothing on display will get a letter telling them to be more careful. The project has the backing of Richmond council, which agreed to it after a surge in thefts to between April and July, a fifth of which were from unlocked cars. David Williams, the council’s cabinet member for community safety, said: ‘We have the lowest level of crime per head of any borough.

‘However, one problem we have got is too many thefts from motor vehicles. The main reason for this is sheer thoughtlessness and carelessness by car owners.’ He said most people who had their things taken from their cars by police were ‘relieved’ and found it helpful. Luke Bosdet, a spokesman for the AA, was cautious about the project.

‘Not everyone will react well to having to go to the police station to retrieve their property.

‘However, if they are stupid enough to leave items in an unlocked car then a gentle reminder is perhaps what they need,’ he said.

Last month, it was revealed that Police and Community Officers — known as Blunkett Bobbies — in Hove, East Sussex, were wandering uninvited into properties during a burglary crackdown.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Shortage of NHS Midwives is Barrier to Safety of Mothers and Babies

A lack of maternity staff and poor communication within the NHS are significant barriers to improving the safety of care for mothers and babies, an independent report suggests today.

The Government has promised choice in where and how all women in Britain give birth, and one-to-one care from a named midwife by the end of this year.

Despite the best efforts of doctors and midwives, pledges to improve care for mothers and newborn babies could be threatened by a shortage of staff and poor NHS management, the report by the King’s Fund, the health think-tank, suggests.

Problems recruiting and keeping doctors and midwives were the biggest concern among frontline NHS staff who gathered at four regional events held in London and the North of England, according to the report.

Participants from London pointed out that 25 per cent of births in Britain take place within the boundaries of the M25 and the number is rising.

They added that often midwives in the capital, who have a full-time job at one trust, work shifts at a second, leading to concerns that many staff are exhausted.

The report quoted one midwife in London as saying: “There is a relentless need for beds day and night.” Another added: “We have a workforce who do an awful lot of overtime and it is uncontrolled.”

Teams from Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East argued that safety was compromised by staff shortages, a problem that was made worse by the introduction of the European working time directive, which limits doctors to a 48-hour working week from this month.

In one unit in Wigan, 17 out of 112 midwives had taken maternity leave at the same time and in other areas trusts were forced to use agency staff to address shortfalls, or had difficulty replacing experienced staff when they retired or left.

The number of births in Britain has increased by 16 per cent since 2001, meaning that the NHS cannot offer women a choice of a home birth or promise continuity of care from midwives in many areas, medical leaders said.

The report added that according to local trusts the solution was to make better use of existing resources, stronger leadership and more effective teamworking.

The Royal College of Midwives said that 5,000 extra midwives are needed but the Government has promised only 3,400 extra full-time posts by 2012.

Frances Day-Stirk, the director of learning at the college, said that she was not surprised by the findings in the report.

“There is no doubt that midwifery numbers need to increase, because the stress of working ever harder to provide good quality services has a major impact on retaining midwives and bringing new ones into the profession,” she said.

“The problems in the system are apparent and it is encouraging to see solutions emerging from the report.”

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, said: “Careful resource allocation is important and, as the King’s Fund report demonstrates, in a time of financial difficulty, many trusts are looking at innovative ways to ensure that money is well spent.

“You can pour money into the system, however, what is fundamental is not what you buy but how you go about planning your services when funds are tight.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Two Thirds of Jails Are Overcrowded

Two thirds of jails in England and Wales are overcrowded as the prison service struggles to deal with a record number of offenders behind bars.

The numbers of lifers and foreign national inmates are at unprecedented levels, more offenders are being jailed for longer and a record number of former prisoners are being recalled after breaking the terms of their release.

As a result, 20 jails are holding more than 1,000 inmates and some have hundreds more inmates than they were built to hold. Almost a quarter of prisoners are being held two to a cell designed for one person.

Overall, there are 8,865 more inmates in the 135 jails in England and Wales than the system is designed to hold.

Figures published today show that Shrewsbury jail is the most overcrowded prison in England and Wales, followed by Swansea and Dorchester in Dorset.

Shrewsbury is at 179 per cent of its normal capacity, holding 316 inmates when the official level providing “decent” standards is 177. Wandsworth is the biggest prison, with more than 1,600 inmates in a jail with spaces for 1,107.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that pressure on public spending meant that ministers could no longer be complacent about overcrowding in jails.

She said that investment in prevention, treatment for addicts and mental health care would pay dividends. “After ten years of lurching from crisis to crisis it must be time for a co-ordindated effort across government departments and authoritative leadership,” Ms Lyon said.

Last month nine prisons were so full they reached their absolute capacity — beyond which they are unsafe.

At the start of this month the prison population hit a record, passing the 84,000 mark for the first time, and the numbers have continued to increase. Last Friday there were 84,139 inmates in jails across the country, even though around 2,500 are released every month to ease overcrowding.

The latest annual figures show that in 2008 the jail population rose by 3,500 or 4 per cent, with the biggest increase being among those serving life and indefinite sentences for public protection.

The number of foreign nationals in prison increased by 4 per cent to 11,500 and the number of offenders recalled to jail rose by 1 per cent to 11,840.

The Ministry of Justice said that the courts were jailing more offenders and imposing longer sentences.

The Government has embarked on what is claimed to be the biggest prison building programme in Western Europe. Eight new prisons holding more than 5,400 inmates are planned plus five holding 1,500 each.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We will always provide enough prison places for serious and persistent offenders.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK’s Payments to EU Jump by 60 Per Cent

Britain’s payments to the European Union will soar by almost 60 per cent next year, according to figures “buried” in government documents.

The Treasury statistics show that the UK’s net contribution to the EU will increase from £4.1 billion this year to £6.4 billion in 2010/11.

The revelation will fuel the political debate over whether Britain benefits from being in the EU, after more than a quarter of UK voters in this year’s European elections backed parties which want to take Britain out of the EU.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

When the Blood Starts Flowing, Where Will the Wilders Voters be?

Do the many supporters of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders fully realise the dangers of a divided society? When people feel rejected, they will start to display hostile behaviour.

By Ian Buruma

The usual percentage of people voting for extreme-right parties in Western European countries — whether out of protest or out of conviction — is around 15 percent. Twenty percent is considered high. In the Netherlands opinion polls suggest that 40 percent of Dutch people agrees with the ideas of Geert Wilders. Agreeing with him doesn’t necessarily mean that they will vote for him, but it is a serious phenomenon.

It seems too simple to say that Wilders’ popularity is based solely on the behaviour of Moroccan youth, as some have suggested. This doesn’t explain, for instance, why radical populists get high scores in other European countries. It may be that the British, Swiss, Danes and Austrians have their own versions of the loitering Moroccan youth in the Netherlands, but it is striking how many people who say they are afraid of non-Western immigrants seem to live in villages that hardly have any…

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Seven Injured in Ethnic Clashes

Mitrovica, 25 August (AKI) — Seven people were injured on Tuesday in clashes between local Serbs and Albanians in the divided northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica.

Groups of Serbs and Albanians threw stones at each other at a construction site in the predominantly Serbian Brdjani neighbourhood in northern Mitrovica, where some 100 Serbs reportedly gathered to protest the rebuilding of Albanian houses, officials told local media.

International police used teargas to break up the conflict and the situation in Brdjani was reported to be calm but tense after the clashes.

Bajram Redzepi, mayor of southern Mitrovica, called on the European Union’s EULEX law-enforcing mission to provide a safe environment to enable Albanians to return to Brdjani.

Several people including a French soldier were injured in conflict there over the same issue in February.

The 2,500-strong EULEX police, customs and judicial mission was deployed in Kosovo last December to replace the United Nations administration (UNMIK).

Mitrovica has been a divided city for the past ten years, with the southern part controlled by Albanians and the north by Serbs.

Serbs oppose the return of Albanians to Brdjani unless their co-nationals are allowed to return to their homes in southern Mitrovica.

Kosovo declared independence last year with the support of western powers, but Belgrade is continuing its diplomatic battle to retain the control of the province.

Most of the remaining 100,000 Serbs lives in Kosovo’s northern area, which is under Serb administration.

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

North Africa

Call for Libya to Pay IRA Victims

Relatives of IRA terrorist victims have renewed their calls for compensation from Libya following the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

During the Troubles, Libya supplied guns and explosives to the IRA, and the families want the country to face up to its responsibilities.

They are calling on the Libyan leader to demonstrate the same compassion shown to Abdelbaset Ali Al Megrahi.

The terminally-ill bomber was released from a Scottish prison last week.

‘Diplomacy hindered’

Families of victims killed by Libyan weapons believe their hand has been strengthened by Megrahi’s release, which has caused a political and diplomatic row on both sides of the Atlantic.

He was freed by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds and returned home to Libya, where he was given a hero’s welcome.

Lawyer Jason McCue, who represents the victims’ families, said the scenes had taken Libya “back in diplomatic years” and argued the country needed to demonstrate it could maintain good relations with international trading partners.

“There is no simpler and easier way to do that than to compensate those victims of IRA bombs that utilised donated Libyan Semtex [plastic explosive],” he said.

Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son, Tim, was killed in the IRA attack in Warrington in 1993, agreed that Libya should now publicly recognise the pain it had caused so many in the UK.

He has called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to support the families in their quest.

‘Same compassion’

Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who is hoping to travel to Libya with some of the relatives in the autumn, said the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi should show the same compassion as the Scottish government.

Libya was once a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, including support for the IRA, but the country and its leader have come in from the cold.

In 2003, it took responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which claimed 270 lives, mostly American. It also abandoned efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Five years later, Col Gaddafi reached a final compensation agreement with the US over Lockerbie and other bombings.

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

Fate of Swiss Expatriates in Libya Was Ominous for Al-Megrahi Case

British and other Western expatriates living in Libya were warned in April that they faced serious repercussions if the Lockerbie bomber died in his Scottish prison.

“Word went out that there could be reprisals . . . . We were told not to go into the centre of Tripoli,” said one of the thousands of Westerners who are helping to develop Libya’s oil and gas fields. “Everybody went ‘eek!’. It’s so unpredictable here. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It could be something or it could be nothing.”

The expats were not told what the reprisals might be were Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi to die in Scotland, but the tale of a Swiss citizen called Max Goeldi may be instructive. Mr Goeldi has spent much of the past year holed up in Switzerland’s largely deserted embassy, unable to leave Libya and too frightened to set foot on the streets of Tripoli.

A visit yesterday by The Times to the high-walled embassy in a quiet residential street in the Libyan capital was interrupted at the door when two unsmiling men in a white car pulled up and asked our translator what we were doing. He fled. The men drove off when the embassy’s sole diplomat opened the gate, but the latter politely refused requests to see Mr Goeldi.

Mr Goeldi’s story — and that of the Swiss in Libya in general — demonstrates what the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi can do if angered by countries that covet its oil, gas and lucrative development contracts.

In July 2008 Swiss police arrested Colonel Gaddafi’s son Hannibal and pregnant daughter-in-law in a Geneva hotel suite after receiving reports that they had abused their two servants. Hannibal Gaddafi, 33, and his wife, Aline, spent two nights in custody and left Switzerland after being released on bail.

The Gaddafi family were furious and reprisals were swift. Two days later Mr Goeldi, a director of the Swiss engineering company ABB, was arrested at his Tripoli home, as was Rachid Hamdani, another Swiss citizen. Both were imprisoned for alleged breaches of immigration rules. They were released ten days later but banned from leaving Libya. The Swiss media described them as hostages and Mr Goeldi sought refuge in the Swiss Embassy. In the past year Libya has imposed trade sanctions, stopped Swiss flights to Tripoli, withdrawn more than $5 billion from Swiss banks and cut the crude oil exports that provide half of Switzerland’s oil.

The new Swiss Ambassador was denied a visa. Sources said that Mr Goeldi was left almost alone in the embassy, with ABB employees bringing him food. The diplomat who spoke to The Times apparently returned only recently to Tripoli, but he refused to say anything.

Last September Hannibal Gaddafi’s servants withdrew their complaint after agreeing a financial settlement but Swiss diplomatic efforts to placate Libya bore no fruit. In April Hannibal Gaddafi, his wife and the Libyan state filed a civil lawsuit against the Geneva authorities in a Geneva court.

Last Thursday, as al-Megrahi was returning from Scotland, President Merz of Switzerland flew to Tripoli and delivered an “official and public apology for the unjustified and unnecessary arrests”. He promised to have Hannibal Gaddafi’s arrest investigated by an arbitration panel. Libya promised to restore normal relations. Mr Goeldi and Mr Hamdani should soon be on their way home.

Libyan newspapers proclaimed a double triumph — and the humiliated Swiss Government was, as with Scotland’s, excoriated at home. “In this crisis Switzerland loses more than honour. The country has slowly taken stock of its powerlessness,” said the Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

Expats who have been finding it difficult to get their visas renewed hope that, with al-Megrahi’s release, the wheels of bureaucracy will turn more easily.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Libya: Italian Villages Discussed Today in Tripoli

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, AUGUST 25 — The architecture of the rural centres built in Libya in the colonial era, between 1934 and 1940, will be the topic of the conference which will be held tonight in Tripoli at the Italian cultural institute. Vittoria Capresi, writer of a book on Italian architecture in Libya, will tell her story to an audience of Libyans and Italians. The villages, all built following a precise plan that always included a church, are often in a state of decay. The Libyan communities in fact have in many cases “disfigured” these vestiges of a much-hated period: the period of Italian domination. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Lockerbie: Libyan Press Baffled by the West’s Reaction

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, AUGUST 24 — Libya’s press, first and foremost the government Jana press agency, is dumbfounded by international dismay at the welcome given by the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi to Al Megrahi and his family upon his return to Libya. The only person to have been found guilty in connection with the Lockerbie bombing, Al Megrahi, returned to his country of birth on Thursday to be greeted by a hero’s welcome at Tripoli’s Maitiga Airport. In the opinion of the Libyan public, Al Meghrai is in fact innocent and the victim of a miscarriage of justice, as he has himself often claimed. The Jana press agency quotes France’s AFP as the first to have stressed the enthusiasm with which the man was welcomed by the country’s leader and to have published his message of thanks to the Scots government, “which saw itself able to take the decision to release Megrahi”. The news was soon picked up by Al Jazeera, which highlighted the phrase in which the Libyan leader praised the “courage” shown by the Scots in taking their decision. Soon after, it was the BBC that pointed out the Colonel’s choice of words, alongside Reuters, CNN, Al Hura, the Novostni News Agency, the Middle East News Agency and Lebanon’s al Jadid Television Channel, all of which focussed on the colonel’s words concerning “Scotland’s bravery” and “the triumphal welcome given to the Bulgarian nurses accused of injecting hundreds of babies with the HIV virus while working in Libya”. One of Libya’s most popular papers, Al Shames, opened once again this morning with the banner title ‘Foreign Press Highlights Gaddafi’s Thanks to Great Britain”. The story continues on page three, which is entirely given over to reporting the treatment given the story by the various foreign papers. Apart from Al Shames, other dailies are no longer running the Al Megrahi story, but are dedicating their front pages to the arrival at the port of Tripoli of the oil tanker Iermuk, which was purchased from South Korea in 2008 by the head of National Maritime Transport, Hannibal Gheddafi, son of the Leader. Along side the Iermuk, which features in many huge photo spreads, the coming days should see the arrivals of the “Al Intessar” (Victory), the second oil tanker purchased by the leader’s son in recent months, to mark the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Al Fatah revolution. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

‘Obama’ Dates Best-Sellers in Egypt for Ramadan

( Egyptian fruit sellers, in keeping with the custom to name dates during the month of Ramadan, have named their best dates U.S. President Barack Obama, in light of his popularity in the Muslim country.

“We love Obama and so we named our best dates for him,” fruit seller Atif Hashim told the Associated Press in Cairo, where President Obama delivered his address to the Muslim world in June.

Other high quality dates were the “Abutrika” variety named after a local soccer star and the “Columbo” dates named for a 1970s American TV series popular in Egypt. The best dates sell for around $5 a kilogram.

In Egypt, naming the best date for the U.S. president is a departure from previous years, when the worst dates were usually named for George W. Bush. This year, Hashim named his poor dates for Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

During the month of Ramadan, which began Saturday, Muslims traditionally fast during the day. Many have a tradition to break the fast with dates and milk. Egypt produces 1.1 million tons of dates a year, the most of any country.

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

Sicilian Fishing Boat Impounded by Tunisian Patrol Boat

(ANSAmed) — MAZARA DEL VALLO (TRAPANI), AUGUST 25 — A fishing boat of the fleet of Mazara del Vallo (Trapani), the ‘Chiaraluna’, with seven crew members on board (three Italians and four Tunisians), was seized this morning by a Tunisian military patrol boat in the south of the Strait of Sicily. The boat, the Italian embassy in Tunis confirmed, is now in the port of Sfax. In March this year the ‘Chiaraluna’ was confiscated by the Libyan authorities around 40 miles north of the African coast, with six Tunisians and four Italians on board. The mayor of Mazara, Nicola Cristaldi, spoke of a possible mistake of the skipper. “According to the first information I have received” he said “ the skipper of our fishing boat has made a mistake, entering that area due to malfunctioning instruments. I trust that the good relations between Italy and Tunisia will lead to a happy end to this affair.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel Removes Outpost in Lebanon-Disputed Terrain

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, AUGUST 17 — Over the night the Israeli army removed an observation post on the hills of Kfar Shuba, occupied by Israel but to which Lebanon claims territorial rights, as reported by the Lebanese agency NNA. The agency said that an Israeli army unit had also lifted the cement barriers put up over the past few weeks as a protective measure for the outpost, set up in July. A month ago, dozens of Lebanese had protested against the Israeli post, removing part of the barbed wire around it. The hills of Kfar Shuba are a small piece of land along the border with Syria which the Israeli state has occupied since 1967, along with the Syrian Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms. The Lebanese side of the Kfar Shuba hills and the Shebaa Farms are in the eastern section of the area under the UN mission in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL). A week ago, the Israeli army reinforced the barbed wire on the tops of the Kfar Shuba hills, perhaps in view of today’s dismantling of the observation post, located further downhill on the Lebanese side. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israeli Firm Reports Success for Swine Flu Vaccine

The Israeli biotech firm BiondVax reports it has successfully tested a swine flu vaccine. The results are based on work with rats, and the company warns there is no evidence yet as to whether it will work on people. Nevertheless, investors raced to buy the stock on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange before trading was suspended Tuesday.

BiondVax said the tests, conducted on five rats, were based on a sample of a dead strain of the swine flu taken from human beings.

The biotech firm is based in Rehovot, in the Weizmann Science Park. Its offices said they have been swamped with phone calls from individuals, institutions and media, and its president Dr. Ron Babekoff was not available for comment.

The company’s website states that its core operations are a multi-season intranasal flu vaccine using an innovative scientific approach, with the aim of activating the human immune system “in a long-lasting and effective manner against known and future strains of the influenza virus.”

Shares of BiondVax soared more than 1,200 percent this year, sharing a stock market boom among Israeli biotech firms.

The D-Pharm company, which develops drugs to treat brain disorders, began trading shares this month and they immediately jumped 60 percent. Its most advanced product is for patients who have suffered an acute stroke.

The Rehovot-based Bio View firm has gained 500 percent this year. It is developing a non-invasive diagnostic test for the early detection of lung cancer.

Shares of Biotech company BioCancell Therapeutics Ltd., which is developing drugs against cancer, have also risen 500 percent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently granted its drug “orphan drug status,” meaning that the product is protected from competition for seven years.

Bio Light Israel, which has received approval for laser-based therapy for treating glaucoma, has seen its shares go up 1,000 percent since the beginning of the year.

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

Jonathan Spyer: Al-Qaida-Style Islamism Comes to Gaza

Quiet has now returned to the Gaza Strip after the weekend violence which claimed the lives of 28 people. The last of the funerals of the Jund Ansar Allah fighters killed in the suppression of the organization by Hamas authorities has taken place. This episode demonstrated the tight hold which Hamas maintains on the Gaza Strip.

The weekend’s events also highlight an important but little discussed phenomenon taking place in the Strip, and to a lesser extent in the West Bank — namely, the growth of al-Qaida-style Salafi Islamism among a segment of the Palestinian population. Jund Ansar Allah did not emerge suddenly, or in a vacuum, and its defeat does not mark the final word on this matter.

Who are the Salafis? Salafiyya is an extreme trend within Sunni Islam…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Lieberman Attacks Haaretz, Bends the Truth

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, AUGUST 24 — Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has accused the country’s daily paper Haaretz of “falsifying facts” in its opposition to his policies. According to military radio, the leader of Israel Beitenu (radical right-wing) has today sent a letter of protest to the newspaper’s editors. Lieberman maintains that a story published by Haaretz according to which Israel had considered cancelling the imminent visit by Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt in a gesture of protest at the publication by that country’s Aftonbladet daily of an article damaging the name of the Israeli armed forces. According to Lieberman, Haaretz has been systematically publishing stories aimed at “discrediting him”. There has been an immediate reaction from Haaretz: it confirms that the foreign minister has over recent days weighed up the idea of whether or not to cancel Bildt’s visit. Meanwhile a mocking caricature of Lieberman has appeared in today’s edition of Haaretz. It shows the minister (together with his deputy Dany Ayalon) busily perusing a map of Sweden and Norway. Lieberman asks: “Shouldn’t there be a dam somewhere around here?”. The cartoonist is alluding to a proposal made by Lieberman some years ago to threaten to bomb Egypt’s Aswan Dam to dissuade that country from launching attacks from Sinai. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Lieberman Damns Norway’s Honouring Pro-Nazi Author

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, AUGUST 24 — Having started a row with the Swedish government for its refusal to condemn the publication of an article considered damaging to the reputation of the Israeli army, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has now showered bitter criticisms on Norway. The new controversy has blown up around Oslo’s decision to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of writer Knut Hamsun (Hunger), Nobel Prize winner for literature who was also an active supporter of the pro-Nazi Vidkun Quisling regime. Lieberman also censured the fact that during the ‘Durban-2’ conference against racism, which took place in Geneva last April, the Norwegian representative “was one of the few not to walk out of the auditorium when Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad spoke”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Palestinian Police ‘Directing Traffic in Israel’s Capital’

Move would mark major escalation of Arab activities in Jerusalem

Palestinian Authority security forces directed traffic several times this month in the eastern sections of Jerusalem, according to multiple witnesses speaking to WND.

The moves, if verified, would mark a major escalation in PA activities in Jerusalem.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas three times this month quietly visited Beir Hanina, a largely Arab town in eastern Jerusalem. Each time, his convoy passed through French Hill, a northeastern Jerusalem community that is largely Jewish.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Archaeology: Turkey: Ancient People Also Complained About Taxes

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, AUGUST 11 — Inscriptions revealing complaints about high taxes from 1,700 years ago have been found during the excavation of the ancient city of Rhodiapolis in Antalya’s Kumluca district, daily Today’s Zaman reports. “In addition to many historical artifacts, we uncovered some relics concerning the social life of the people during the excavation”, Nevzat Cevik, head of the archaeology department in Akdeniz University, said, adding that “ we found a tablet written by a messenger describing that the people was complaining of high taxes; the tablet was sent to the emperor to request a discount”. “When we consider that people wanted sales tax and income tax rates to be lowered, we can infer that toward the A.D. third century the people of Rhodiapolis could not pay their taxes”, the scientist said. Noting that the people of Rhodiapolis wanted Roman Emperor Septimius Severus to lower taxes, Kizgut declared that “The emperor gave the green light and promised the messenger that taxes would be lowered. Upon his return to Rhodiapolis, the messenger informed the leader with great joy and in his honor, an inscribed stele was erected in the agora”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Auto: New Ford Transit to be Produced Only in Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, AUGUST 25 — Ford Otosan’s factory in Kocaeli’s Gebze district, an industrial region near Istanbul, will be the only facility in the world to produce the new Ford Transit, daily Hurriyet reports. “A completely revamped Ford Transit vehicle will be revealed to consumers by 2012”, Nuri Otay, deputy chief executive officer of the unit, said. “The company will spend an estimated 1 million euros on the investment”, Otay noted, adding that “Ford Otosan expects global demand for Transit vans to reach 750,000 units by 2015”. As the factory steps up Ford Transit production, it will stop producing the Connect which will be picked up within the next two to three years by Romania and the United States. The Turkish unit of Ford Motor Company is not the only carmaker that has decided to shift gears. Korean automotive company Hyundai has also decided to move the production line of its i20 model to Turkey, citing high demand from Turkish customers during the past seven months despite the global turmoil. The move will require an investment of $75 million. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Death of a Libel Tourist

By Rachel Ehrenfeld & Millard Burr

Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz died in Jeddah last Saturday. The 60-year-old former owner of the Saudi National Commercial Bank and banker for the Royal family also owned a charity, the Muwafaq (blessed relief) Foundation that funded al-Qaeda and Hamas, to name but a few. He should be remembered not only because of his involvement with the shady Bank for Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) aka “banks for crooks and criminals” and the illegal purchase of the First American Bank in Washington, DC, in the early 1990s, but mostly because inadvertently he led Americans to better protect their free speech rights.

Using British libel laws that allow foreigners to sue other foreigners in British courts, a practice known as libel tourism, Mahfouz became a serial suer. The gay and drug addicted Saudi , sometimes together with his sons, sued more than 40 writers and publishers — mostly Americans — because he did not like their criticism. Singlehandedly, on behalf of his royal masters Mahfouz made libel tourism a multimillion-dollar industry for the British Bar, and London the “Libel Capital” of the world.

Many will miss him. In Riyadh, the billionaire will be missed by the ruling members of the royal family who once used his National Commercial Bank as their own piggy bank, and often used him and his family members as fronts for their business and to fund their favorite organizations and terrorist groups. Likewise, those shady characters who run the Saudi-funded Muslim World League, the International Islamic Relief Agency, and the Rabita Trust of Pakistan will miss him.

Georgetown alum (1968) Prince Turki bin Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.K. and the U.S. and director of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Department from 1977 until ten days before 9/11, and overseer of Saudi financial aid to the jihad in Afghanistan, will have lost an old friend.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green [Return to headlines]

New Developments in Iran’s Missile Capabilities: Implications Beyond the Middle East

by Uzi Rubin

  • Iran is vigorously pursuing several missile and space programs at an almost feverish pace with impressive achievements. The Iranians have upgraded their ballistic missiles to become satellite launchers. To orbit a satellite is a very complicated project. There are missile stages, and a careful guidance and control system to insert the satellite into a stable, desired trajectory. They took the Shahab, extended it a bit, added more propellant, and now they have the Safir space launch vehicle. Moreover, the Iranians built a two-stage satellite launcher, instead of the usual three stage rockets for space-lift vehicles. This is incomparable to anything we know — an impressive engineering achievement.
  • In spite of the Missile Technology Control Regime and in the face of sanctions, Iran has succeeded in acquiring the needed infrastructure and to raise a cadre of proficient scientists and engineers backed by academic and research institutes. Iranian missile technology is moving ahead of the level developed by the North Koreans.
  • The solid-propellant Sejil missile signifies a breakthrough. This missile already poses a threat to a number of European Union countries. Based on its demonstrated achievements in solid propulsion and staging, Iran will face no significant hurdle in upscaling the Sejil into a compact, survivable intermediate-range ballistic missile. A range of 3,600 km. will be sufficient to put most of the EU under threat.
  • Contrary to an initial report by U.S. and Russian scientists for the EastWest Institute, with the Sejil, Iran has demonstrated its proficiency in using solid-fuel rockets that have much shorter preparation times than do older liquid-fuel missiles. The West must already prepare for the period in the not-too-distant future when Iran deploys nuclear warheads on its missile forces, which can be dispersed in mountainous regions of Iran and will not be easy to find…

           — Hat tip: JCPA [Return to headlines]

Palestinian Intellectual on the Arab World’s Double Standard

In a recent article titled “Why Do We Condemn Only the [Israeli] Occupation?” Palestinian intellectual Ahmad Abu Matar, who resides in Sweden, criticized the hypocrisy and double standard which, in his opinion, prevail in the Arab and Islamic world. Abu Matar argued that the reaction to crimes in the Arab and Muslim world often depends on the identity of the criminal: Misdeeds perpetrated by a foreign force, such as Israel, tend to be harshly condemned, while those perpetrated by Arabs and Muslims against their fellow Arabs and Muslims are generally greeted with indifference, and in some cases even condoned.

Following are excerpts from the article: [1]

“The Arab Mentality is Flawed and Inconsistent When It Comes to Judging Actions and Deeds”

“The Arab mentality is flawed and inconsistent when it comes to judging actions and deeds. Logical and objective [judgment] requires that identical deeds be judged identically, regardless of who is responsible for them. A good deed merits praise, whatever the identity, religion or nationality of the one responsible, whereas a bad deed deserves condemnation, whatever the identity, religion or nationality of the one responsible.

“But the Arabs and Muslims, in their mentality and practices, ignore or violate this maxim, despite the Islamic teaching that ‘he who remains silent in the face of [a distortion of] the truth is a dumb devil’…

“Following are some of the main issues in which [this problem is evident]…

           — Hat tip: TV [Return to headlines]

Saudi’s Turki to US: Forget Oil Independence

by Diana West

Turki al-Faisal is extremely upset with talk, just talk, of US oil independence, even from the vassal-in-chief. Today, in Foreign Policy, the Saudi inveighs against such “demagoguery.”

It’s an amusing read, actually, and quite revealing of the depth of fear even the lip-serviced prospect of American Independence from Saudi Arabia inspires in the desert chieftains.

He writes…

           — Hat tip: Diana West [Return to headlines]

Top Iran Reform Figures on Trial

The trial has begun in Iran of a number of senior opposition figures following June’s disputed presidential election.

The defendants, who include former ministers in the 1997-2005 Khatami government, are accused of conspiring with foreign powers to organise unrest.

Two leading economists are also on trial, Saeed Leylaz and Kian Tajbaksh.

It is the fourth such trial since the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative, sparked pro-reform street protests.

BBC Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne — who was expelled after the elections — says the trial looks like a public denunciation of President Mohammed Khatami’s time in power, with the government trying to frighten the opposition into silence.

Hardliners are currently also pressing for the arrest of the two leading opposition candidates in the election, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

The court proceedings are open only to Iranian news agencies and have been denounced as “show trials” by opposition leaders.

The 20 people in the dock on Tuesday included former Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, former Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh and former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, reports said.

The leading reformist Saeed Hajjarian, a former city councillor and a close aide to former president, Mr Khatami, was also in court.

A statement was read out for him by another defendant, apparently for health reasons, saying sorry for “major mistakes” he had made in his analysis of the election.

“I apologise to the great Iranian nation… and resign from the Islamic Iran Participation Front (the main opposition party, also known as Mosharekat) and announce my complete adherence to the constitution and… to the supreme leader,” he was quoted saying.

Opposition groups alleged widespread vote-rigging in the June election, which Mr Ahmadinejad won by a landslide.

Post-election protests saw the largest mass demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 revolution, which brought to power the current Islamic system of government.

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


Op-Ed Hints Mossad Snatched Russian Ship

Russian and Ukrainian media spreading rumors over their analysis of disappearance and subsequent finding of cargo ship, which was allegedly carrying sawdust, despite reports that it was transporting missiles to Iran

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Trade: Russia Removes Barriers to Turkish Exporters

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, AUGUST 19 — Russia has cancelled a regulation against Turkish exporters, a move to restore trade between the two countries, a Turkish minister was quoted as saying by Anatolia news agency. “Russian authorities annulled the regulation on full inspection of Turkish goods at customs gates”, Turkish State Minister, Hayati Yazici, said. Russia adopted strict procedures against Turkish exporters in August 2008. Exports to Russia fell by 58% this year due to global economic crisis and Russia’s customs practices. The problem was solved at Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Turkey early this month. Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, met Putin on 6 August and the two countries inked a deal to lift restrictions on trade. Yazici said Turkey and Russia would continue previous practices on trade. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Chechen Rebels Order Separatist Leader Death — Website

MOSCOW, Aug 25 (Reuters) — Chechen rebels called on Tuesday for prominent separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev to be killed, saying he had abandoned Islam by recognising the legitimacy of the restive region’s Kremlin-backed government.

Zakayev, who lives in London, represents the moderate wing of the separatist movement and has clashed with radical Islamist insurgents in Russia’s southern republic of Chechnya.

Islamist rebel website said Zakayav had recognised the authority of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of the region.

“Public remarks show that he (Zakayev) has fallen away from Islam,” the website said, adding that Doku Umarov, Chechnya’s most wanted separatist leader, was behind the order.

“The court has ruled that the killing of this apostate is a duty for Muslims.” It did not say what court had issued the ruling.

Zakayev, 50, fought Russia as a senior rebel commander in two wars with Moscow in 1994-2000. After Russia regained control of the province, he fled to Europe and acted as an official rebel envoy until 2007.

Russia has tried to extradite Zakayev for 13 alleged crimes including kidnapping and murder, but a British court rejected the request in 2003, causing a diplomatic row.

Kadyrov said last month that he would welcome Zakayev’s return and possibly offer him a job in the regional culture ministry. But there were no indications Russia was ready to drop charges against him.

Kadyrov faces strong criticism from human rights bodies after kidnappings and killings of human rights and charity activists in Chechnya. He denies any link to the killings.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia

How to Lose a War

Earlier this summer, The New York Times reported, Barack Obama gathered a group of historians for dinner at the White House. The president expressed concern that Afghanistan could hijack his presidency just as Vietnam overtook the stewardship of Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ pursued a grand domestic agenda — civil rights and the Great Society — yet failure in Vietnam defined his presidency.

Military analyst Harry G. Summers identified two reasons why the US abandoned the fight in Vietnam: 1. There was no society-wide commitment to victory. American leaders had not psychologically mobilized the home front behind the war, refusing to ask Congress for a declaration of war; 2. The US failed to go after North Vietnam for most of the war, focusing instead on its Viet Cong proxies.

These fundamental errors are being repeated in the struggle against Islamist extremism.

People in Europe and America do not grasp why their troops are fighting in Afghanistan. On Iran, Western leaders have not only avoided a head-on confrontation with the mullahs, but are even seeking to appease their Hizbullah and Hamas proxies.

In fairness, Obama has tried to explain that Afghanistan is not a war of choice, but of necessity. “Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans.”

In fact, the situation in Afghanistan is muddled. The surviving Arab terrorists responsible for 9/11 — including Ayman Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden — have found refuge inside Pakistan. The Taliban are actually a loose confederation of religious fanatics (whose leader, Mullah Omar, also survives), Pashtun xenophobes, drug lords and tribal chiefs. The war is being waged on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and Pakistan has its own Taliban. In this context, Afghan election results — due today — are unlikely to herald a new dawn.

The war is not going well. So America has revised its strategy. The focus is not on killing the enemy, but on avoiding civilian casualties while creating conditions necessary for society-building. Unfortunately, there are insufficient troops on the ground to accomplish this goal. Most of the country is too unsafe for aid agency personnel to operate.

Washington has invested $30 billion in Afghanistan since 9/11 and now has 57,000 military personnel on the ground. Britain has committed to 9,000. In theory, there are 42 nations in the anti-Taliban coalition, but whereas the US has suffered 796 combat deaths and Britain 206, the combined loses of Germany, France and Spain amount to 87. No wonder support for the war in Britain is stagnating at 46 percent, while fully 65% of Americans expect the US will eventually have to withdraw without achieving its goals.

BRITAIN’S unconscionable release on humanitarian grounds of terminally ill Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the December 21, 1988, Lockerbie bombing, could pave the way for billions of dollars in oil contracts between Tripoli and London. But what message does the Brown government’s decision to play footsie with Muammar Gaddafi — while hiding behind the Scottish justice secretary — send to Britons already feeling cynical about staying the course in Afghanistan?

This sordid episode, moreover, does nothing to illuminate who really blew Pan Am flight 103 out of the sky.

In 2000, a man named Ahmad Behbahani, claiming to be a defecting Iranian intelligence operative, told CBS’s 60 Minutes that Iran was behind Lockerbie; and that the motive for the attack was retaliation for the accidental downing in July 1988 of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes, killing all 290 passengers. Behbahani spoke of an operation involving the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and a group of Libyans trained and funded by Iran.

If patience is running thin on Afghanistan, and there is no stomach to stop Iran, the reasons are obvious. From Lockerbie to Afghanistan, Western decision-makers have compartmentalized Islamist violence — rather than defined it as a strategic menace to the Western values of tolerance and liberty.

The lesson of Vietnam is that wars become unwinnable when leaders fail to identify their true enemies, leaving their societies unmobilized, confused and lacking in motivation.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

India: CRPF Note Warns of N-E Division Plot

Separate homeland plan for Muslims, Centre told

A confidential report sent by a security agency to the Centre says insurgent groups supported by Bangladesh were working on a long-term plan to create a separate homeland for Muslims in the North-Eastern region.

Intelligence reports have already pointed out that such groups are already coming up with posters and banners demanding homeland in areas dominated by the Muslims, mostly from suspected Bangladeshis.

After effecting a significant change in the demographic profile of a number of districts in the North-East by facilitating illegal infiltration of Bangladeshis, the insurgent outfits in the region are now working on a long-term agenda for creating an exclusive homeland for Muslims.

A confidential report from a key para-military force fighting insurgency in the North-East to the Union Home Ministry has classified insurgency in the region into three categories — ethnic/extortionist, terrorist and secessionist groups.

The secessionists, according to the CRPF report, essentially comprise Islamic fundamental groups who also provide logistics support to the ethnic and terrorist groups in order to strengthen its influence in the region. “The insurgency situation in the North-East is dominated by what can be termed sub-national aspirations of groups within existing territorial divisions,” states the report, adding that the rest of the insurgent groups have ethnic aspirations.

Concerns about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the North-East were raised by many Chief Ministers at the CMs’ conference on security, which was recently held in Delhi. Expressing fears over the increasing influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into his State, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said. “The decadal population growth rate between 1991 and 2001 as recorded in the 2001 census was 64.41 per cent — the highest in the country. Further, it is striking that the number of masjids and madrasas has increased from 27 to 28 in 2007 and 2008 in the State.”

Rio added, “During the same period (1991-2001), several areas in Dimapur and Wokha districts bordering Assam recorded exceptionally high rates of population growth. It is a fact that the silent and unchecked influx of illegal migrants in the district has played a crucial role in this abnormal growth and is slowly resulting in a change in the demographic profile of the inhabitants in certain parts of the State.”

Rio further said that such demographic changes required urgent attention as they would add to the tensions already prevailing in a volatile insurgency situation. The Nagaland CM also expressed apprehension over the involvement of Muslims in the NSCN (IM) for extortion and the community’s involvement with HuJI and other terror groups.

“There is strong possibility of Islamic extremists establishing ‘sleeper cells’ in Nagaland by taking advantage of their contacts inside the State. Another possible scenario is that these Islamic extremist elements may either develop differences with the NSCN (IM) and form a rogue terrorist group or set up a new organisation with links to other Muslim extremist groups to further their own agenda,” the Nagaland CM had told the conference chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Similar apprehensions were also raised by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Arunachal Pradesh CM Dorjee Khandu, Tripura CM Manik Sarkar and Meghalaya CM DD Lapang.

As per the report by the Central Reserve Police Force, the number of insurgent groups in the North-East has surpassed the total number of such outfits at the national level and Islamists have infiltrated most of the groups.

With 43 active outfits in the small State of Manipur, it has exceeded the figures of active insurgent outfits reported for secessionist activities in Jammu and Kashmir.

While Assam has 38 active insurgent groups, Tripura has 32 similar organisations.

While both Meghalaya and Mizoram have six outfits each, Nagaland has four and Arunachal Pradesh has one insurgent group. In Manipur, Assam and Tripura, the terrorist groups have outnumbered the districts, highlights the report.

Inputs with the Centre also suggest that the groups have serious differences in terms of ideological positions, but there are various levels of operational understanding between them. The two main Naga outfits coordinate among various outfits in the region. The NSCN (K) has a functional understanding with ULFA and UNLF and the NSCN (IM) has similar arrangement with the PLA, ULFA and operational understanding with National Democratic Front of Bodoland and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and NLFT. Most of these arrangements are for logistics such as training, movement, arms procurement and not direct operational intervention.

Despite the overall decline in insurgent activities, the spatial spread has not revealed any significant change. Active insurgent outfits — like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Isaac-Muivah and Khaplang factions of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and National Liberation Front of Tripura — represent the maximum levels of violent insurgent activities.

The year 2008 witnessed more violent incidents and deaths than the preceding year. According to the data available, 480 civilians and 742 insurgents were killed in 1,646 violent incidents in the North-East. Fifty-three security force personnel were killed in action and more than 1,000 arms were recovered from various terror groups.

In 2007, the region witnessed 1,490 violent incidents, in which 498 civilians and 503 insurgents were killed. During the period, 79 security personnel were also killed.

However, the number of bomb blasts decreased to 45 from a significant 83 explosions in 2007…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Police Question Saudi Suspect Over Jakarta Attacks

Jakarta, 25 August (AKI/Jakarta Post) — After a week of questioning, Indonesian police have named a Saudi man suspected of financing the July bomb attacks that ripped through the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in the country’s capital, Jakarta. The suspect, Ali Muhammad bin Abdullah alias Al Khalil “Ali”, was arrested in Kuningan, West Java, on 13 August.

Police on Monday also reaffirmed their belief that most of the funding for previous terror attacks came from the Middle East.

They also said they were hunting for several men of Middle Eastern origin who had allegedly played similar roles to Ali.

“We have arrested a Saudi citizen by the name of Al Khalil Ali and will question him [further] over the funding related to the recent bombings,” national police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri told a media conference.

However, Bambang refused to elaborate further on the funding process or details of Ali’s role in the recent bombings.

“The answers to those questions will be given immediately along with a new most wanted list,” he said.

Iwan Herdiansyah, an Indonesian national, was recently arrested on similar charges.

However, he was released because police could not find any proof of his involvement in any terrorist activity.

A source close to the police claimed Ali was an international courier who had channelled funding from foreign donors mainly in Arab countries.

“In an early questioning session Ali admitted he was tasked to prepare [funds] for the arrival of a well-known radical Arab cleric. Since then police were keen to find out what else he knew,” Bambang said.

Besides questioning Ali, he said police were pursuing several other people of Middle Eastern origin who had fled after learning of Ali’s arrest.

Excluding Ali, police have named nine suspects to date in the investigations of the July bombings, five of whom are now dead.

These include one of Asia’s most wanted criminals, terror suspect Noordin M. Top.

Noordin, allegedly linked to the Islamist terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, was believed to have masterminded the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2003 JW Marriott bombing in Jakarta, and the 2004 Australian embassy bombing, as well as the latest JW Marriott — Ritz-Carlton attacks.

Noordin’s wife Arina Rahma, her mother Astuti and two of Arina’s children were still under police protection, police said.

Police confiscated around 500 kilogrammes of bomb materials and a car from a rented house in the Nusaphala housing complex in Bekasi.

According to police, the bombs were made specifically for an attack on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s private residence in Cikeas, West Java.

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

Punjab: Christian Victims of the Massacres in Gojra Reported by Police

Police claim they were involved in the violence, in which eight Christians were burned alive. Survivors accuse the police of inaction. Activist for human rights: the counter-charge motivated by police “revenge”, they want to cover the real culprits. An Anglican bishop among the suspects.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) — From persecuted victims to under suspects. That is the fate of a group of Christians from Gojra, Punjab, attacked on August 3 by a mob of thousands of angry Muslims. Fundamentalists burned houses and burnt alive eight people and now police officers accused of failing to assist, have denounced the victims of the violence.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the Christians accused the police of not intervening to stop the assailants. In the days that preceded the attack, the police had received reports of possible violence by Islamic extremists, but did not take any action to avert the tragedy.

In response, officers in Gojra have in turn reported 29 Christians and 100 unidentified persons, for alleged “involvement” in the violence.

Among the Christian personalities targeted by police are also the Anglican Bishop John Samuel of the Church of Pakistan of Faisalabad and Finyas Paul Randhawa, a representative of the city council.

Outraged, human rights activists have called the decision by the police a “revenge” attack against the victims of violence. “We condemn outright this move by police” dennounces Atif Jamil, director of a local NGO. “It is a revenge move by agents and district administration against the Christian victims of the accidents in Gojra”.

The activist adds that these accusations are “baseless”, made with the sole purpose of “covering the responsibilities of the police and undermining the case against the culprits.” He stresses that “the involvement in the case of Bishop John Samuel, a Christian religious leader, is wrong because none of our religious leaders were involved in the violence.”

Atif Jamil further denounces the “ambiguous” behaviour of the government, which on one hand “started the process of reconstruction in Gojra” but in the other “threatens” the local Christian community, who still bears the “scars” of the violence they suffered.

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

Thailand: Car Bomb Wounds 42 in Thai South: Army

NARATHIWAT, Thailand — A powerful car bomb ripped through a restaurant packed with government officials in Thailand’s troubled Muslim-majority south Tuesday, wounding at least 42 people, the army said.

The blast was one of the most serious for months in the kingdom’s insurgency-plagued provinces bordering Malaysia where a bloody separatist rebellion has been raging for more than five years.

The 50-kilogramme (110-pound) device was hidden inside a stolen Toyota pick-up truck and exploded during the busy lunch hour in the centre of Narathiwat, the main town in the province of the same name, officials said.

“It’s very horrible. We had intelligence that militants would mount a large-scale attack,” Lieutenant General Pichet Wisaichorn, the southern region army commander, told reporters.

He said that seven of the 42 people injured in the blast were in a critical condition. Most of the wounded were Buddhist government officials, who are often targeted by the Islamist militants in the region.

Police and rescue workers were rushing the wounded to hospital and the local government chief was among those injured, a policeman said on condition of anonymity.

The timing of the attack just after the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan was “very interesting”, said Sunai Phasuk, an analyst for Human Rights Watch in Thailand.

“We are in the holy month of Ramadan and the bomb went off clearly to harm the non-Muslim population,” he told AFP.

“It shows the insurgents are avoiding causing collateral damage to their fellow Muslims, because they would come after the end of fasting.”

He said this Ramadan was “marked with violence from day one”. Over the weekend, eight people, including two soldiers and three security volunteers, were killed by suspected insurgents.

“It seems they use Ramadan to symbolise the cleansing of non-Malay Muslims,” Sunai added.

More than 3,700 people have been killed and thousands more injured since the insurgency erupted in 2004, led by shadowy insurgents who have never publicly stated their goals.

The south has seen a recent upsurge in attacks, many of which involve shootings of Buddhists and Muslims alike. There have also been gruesome killings such as crucifixions and beheadings.

Gunmen stormed a mosque in Narathiwat province in June, killing 11 people as they held evening prayers. The army blamed separatist militants but villagers said security forces were responsible.

While there were no immediate reports of deaths in Tuesday’s attack, it was the biggest bomb attack in the south since twin blasts killed one person and wounded 70 in Narathiwat in November.

Thailand’s four southernmost provinces made up an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until the region was annexed by predominantly Buddhist Thailand in 1902, sparking decades of tension.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK ‘Rejects’ Malaya Deaths Appeal

The UK government has rejected appeals for a public enquiry into the killings by UK soldiers in its colony of Malaya, lawyers for a witness told the BBC.

The killing of 24 unarmed men occurred in a village 61 years ago.

Lawyers acting for the last surviving adult witness to the attack in Batang Kali had lodged an appeal with the UK’s foreign office and defence ministry.

Britain was fighting an insurrection in its then-colony of Malaya, part of what is now Malaysia.

After months of deliberation, the appeal has been turned down, the witnesses’s lawyers said.

The 24 male villagers were killed in December 1948 by members of a battalion of the Scots Guards after they raided a village looking for communist insurgents.

There has never been an independent investigation into the events — villagers claimed the men were innocent and wrongly targeted.

An army enquiry in the immediate aftermath of the deaths reportedly cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing.

This is the latest effort to force the British government to set up a public enquiry. There were campaigns in 1970 and the mid-1990s.

The Batang Kali killings came at the beginning of a 12-year war between Malayan and British forces and a communist insurgency.

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

Far East

Beijing Vows Rain Will Not Fall on Its Parade

Beijing has declared its weather-fighting forces will ensure no rain falls on October’s National Day parade, which will mark the 60th year of Communist Party rule.

Zhang Qiang, the deputy head of the city’s “Weather Modification” office, told state media that anti-rain rockets would be ready for the celebration. President Hu Jintao will oversee an enormous military parade on Tiananmen Square.

“From weather records for the National Day in Beijing in the past three decades, we see a 30 per cent chance of rainfall, mostly drizzle,” said Guo Hu, head of the Beijing meteorological bureau.

Before the Olympic Games last year, Beijing fired 1,104 anti-rain rockets from 21 sites around the capital to ward off an approaching rain belt. The rockets “seed” clouds with chemicals such as silver iodide in order to disperse them.

Whether or not the rockets work is still a matter of debate. Mr Zhang said the rockets could disperse some clouds but not prevent a large storm.

[Comments from JD: If it does rain, then the people will be told “It is not raining. The weather is fine.”]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

North Korea: Reporters’ Arrest Raised Risk for Aid Groups: Activists

SEOUL, Aug 25, 2009 (AFP) — The arrest of two US TV journalists who crossed illegally from China into North Korea heightened the risks for groups which help refugees from the North, an activist said Tuesday.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee were reporting on the plight of North Korean women who had fled or were trafficked across the border into northeast China.

They were arrested by North Korean border guards on March 17 and sentenced to 12 years in a labour camp, but were pardoned after former president Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang early this month.

However, their trip had lasting repercussions, according to Tim Peters and another activist.

Peters, a Seoul-based missionary whose Catacombs network assists North Korean refugees in China, said the arrests had triggered “unwanted attention” towards other aid workers in the region.

He told AFP any reporting trip which focused attention on the North’s rights record was useful, but questioned the way the assignment was conducted.

Ling and Lee have admitted briefly crossing the Tumen River border into North Korea, according to Ling’s sister Lisa.

Peters said the plight of North Korean women trafficked into northeast China, and of the children they bear, had already been well documented and filmed.

“I can’t imagine what could possibly be the benefit of such a risky border crossing,” he told AFP.

Acknowledging he may not be aware of all the facts, Peters also questioned why the reporting team had not left documents and video footage in a safe place before making the crossing.

He said the arrests had attracted greater Chinese scrutiny of aid networks helping refugees and had heightened the risks of such operations.

“When the risks go up, that has the effect of discouraging people who potentially would get involved.”

China has an agreement with North Korea to deport refugees, a practice criticised by rights groups who say they can face harsh punishment on their return to North Korea.

Before their arrest the journalists from California-based Current TV had filmed footage including scenes at orphanages in northeast China.

When they were seized their cameraman Mitch Koss escaped back into China but was detained by security officials there before being deported.

Another activist who acted as a guide to the reporters told AFP he believed the confiscation of Koss’s film and of other material led Chinese authorities to him.

South Korean pastor Lee Chan-Woo, 71, said police on March 19 raided his home in China, confiscating computer files and documents before arresting him.

Lee said the documents contained information on other South Koreans who had sheltered refugees and had assisted North Korean children whose mothers had been deported to the North.

“While being grilled, I learned the video footage (of the US TV crew) had been confiscated,” Lee said.

The confiscation of TV footage and still photos must have given Chinese authorities a clue about his identity, he said.

The pastor, who works for South Korea’s Durihana mission, said Chinese police traced and shut down five secret homes for 25 North Korean children and launched a hunt for other South Korean activists.

He said new homes were found for the children but he himself was fined and deported.

Paul Song, Laura Ling’s brother-in-law, told the Wall Street Journal he could not comment on what information may have been seized from the reporting team.

He said Ling and Lee would be running an editorial this week on the circumstances surrounding their arrest and detention. “I would urge people to withhold any judgments until they hear all the facts.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Fiji Water: So Cool, So Fresh, So Bad for the Environment?

The story of Fiji Water, as detailed in a startling investigative piece in Mother Jones magazine this month, seems familiar. Leafing through the story, I found myself trying to remember where I’d read this tale before; like an old melody at the back of my brain, it hovered, just beyond memory.

Suddenly it came to me: it’s Dole, it’s United Fruit, it’s West Indies Sugar Corporation, it’s the old, old story. A company located in a lush, tropical location with a totalitarian government that welcomes foreign interests with deep pockets. It doesn’t tax them, gives them access to the country’s most precious natural resources, and stands by with heavy artillery in hand, protecting them while they strip the country.

Meanwhile, the country’s citizens struggle with terrible poverty, hunger and squalid conditions. The only part of the story that Fiji Water has not yet repeated is the inevitable depletion of the resource — in this case, a 17-mile-long aquifer to which Fiji Water has “near-exclusive access” — and the subsequent abandonment of the country.

What makes this story so difficult to swallow is how eagerly the U.S. seems to have embraced Fiji’s co-owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick. On this side of the Pacific, the pair cheerfully line the pockets of any political figure in sight (they supported both McCain and Obama in the past election) while selling Fiji’s best, cleanest water at a huge profit. On the other side of the ocean, the people of Fiji suffer under terrible water conditions that have led to outbreaks of typhoid and parasitic infections.

It appears that America adores the Resnicks: Lynda brags that she knows “everyone in the world, every mogul, every movie star.” These relationships have proven handy, as the Resnicks have reaped $1.5 million a year in water subsidies for their almond, pistachio and pomegranate crops in the U.S.

These agricultural water subsidies must be viewed in context: the stress from travelling to pollinate the almond “monoculture” crops like the ones the Resnicks grow, along with the pesticides they sell, are considered to be some of the major reasons that bees are succumbing to colony collapse disorder. And the Resnicks control an enormous amount of California water infrastructure that was built by public funds. They have a 48 percent interest in the Kern Water Bank, which was meant to collect water from aqueducts and the Kern River and to redistribute this water in times of drought.

FrequentlySometimesNeverVoteThe Resnicks and their Paramount Farms and Paramount Citrus could use the water to irrigate their fields (which are already subsidized by the government), or they could sell it to municipalities. According to critics, the Resnicks are “trying to ‘game’ the water market the way Enron gamed the energy market.”

So the Resnicks are not known for their even-handedness with politicians or water, and their practices in the U.S. are not the greenest of all possible greens. In fact, they could share responsibility for many of our environmental woes. They could have a hand in California’s future water shortages, during which they could profit gloriously. All the while, they are loudly and proudly marketing Fiji Water as the most environmentally friendly bottled water company in the world.

This, of course, is not saying much. Bottled water is notorious for its position in top five lists of “what not to do” for the planet. One day, future civilizations will look back on this decade and wonder in disbelief why it was that we pumped water out of one part of the planet, encased it in plastic, then encased it again for shipping, and spent many many non-renewable resources to bring it to another part of the planet where clean water was already plentiful. It’s patently ridiculous.

The story is disturbing because of the truths it tells us about ourselves and our society. It’s not just the water thing. It’s the marketing. Lynda Resnick has been repeatedly described as a marketing genius for her ability to transform Fiji Water into a must-have accessory for environmentally-conscious celebrities and politicians, despite its heavy use of plastic and questionable commitment to environmentally sustainable practices. And oh, we are drinking the marketing at far greater rates than we are drinking the water. Our celebrities both enormous (Obama, Paris, and their ilk) and minor (the geekarati at the SXSW festival) can’t live without it. So neither can we. Whatever celebrities sell us? YUM. Damn the consequences.

It’s troubling, at the end of the story, that the company is not, as Anna Lenzer writes in her follow-up to the story (after Fiji Water spokesman Rob Six defended his company) doing anything about the military junta now controlling Fiji. “A UN official . . . in a recent commentary . . . singled out Fiji Water as the one company with enough leverage to force the junta to budge.”

The commentary, by the way, was titled “Why Obama should stop drinking Fiji water.”

           — Hat tip: Zenster [Return to headlines]

Lawyer Lashes DOCS Workers

A WALGETT lawyer has described NSW Department of Community Services caseworkers and solicitors seeking to have children removed from their Aboriginal parents as “rottweilers in a chook pen”.

DOCS has been accused of unfairly targeting Aboriginal families, with about 40 children taken from their parents in the past 18 months, eliciting fears from the northern NSW Aboriginal community about a new wave of stolen generations.

Parents claim they are not abusing or neglecting their children and the lifestyle choices of some to live in makeshift corrugated-iron camps are no reason to take them away.

Solicitor Wal Browne yesterday stopped short of saying the removals represented a new stolen generation, but said DOCS needed more thorough investigations before disrupting families. “It’s like letting a rottweiler into the chook pen — no one seems to pull it back,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any proper review of cases as they go on.”

Mr Browne said he did not doubt that some children needed to be removed for their safety, but many cases were based on little more than “hearsay”.

He criticised legislation allowing evidence to be given anonymously, and said solicitors appearing for DOCS were often “ill equipped”.

“The rules of evidence don’t apply in DOCS matters, so what you get is an affidavit saying ‘DOCS has received a report that x-y-z’ and you can’t test how strong that is and you can’t cross-examine the people because you don’t even know who the people are because it is anonymous reporting.

“What seems to be particularly inappropriate here is that some of the evidence doesn’t even come in affidavit form; it just comes as verbal evidence at the last moment.”

He said DOCS needed more in-house solicitors, who generally had a more “global” view and knew how to act “professionally and dispassionately”.

A spokeswoman for DOCS said: “The way that matters are conducted before the Children’s Court is at the discretion of the Children’s Court magistrate.

“If there are concerns, the Children’s Court magistrate would raise this with Community Services.”

Deputy Ombudsman for NSW Steven Kinmond, who is investigating some of the families’ cases, was also reluctant to refer to the removals as a stolen generation, saying with more than $1 billion spent to boost the child protection system it was “inevitable” that more Aboriginal children would be placed in care.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Lubna Hussein: ‘I’M Not Afraid of Being Flogged. It Doesn’t Hurt. But it is Insulting’

Lubna Hussein could receive 40 lashes if found guilty on Tuesday of being indecently dressed — by wearing trousers. In her first major interview, she tells James Copnall in Khartoum why she is determined to fight on, whatever danger she faces

Sitting in the restaurant where her ordeal began, Lubna Hussein looks at the offending item of clothing that caused all the trouble and laughs softly. “In Sudan, women who wear trousers must be flogged!” she says, her eyes widening at the thought. The former journalist faces up to 40 lashes and an unlimited fine if she is convicted of breaching Article 152 of Sudanese criminal law, which prohibits dressing indecently in public.

What exactly constitutes “indecent” is not clear. Last month Lubna was among a crowd listening to an Egyptian singer in a restaurant in a swish area of Khartoum when policemen surged in. They ordered Lubna and other women to stand up to check what they were wearing, and arrested all those who had trousers on. Lubna, who was wearing loose green slacks and a floral headscarf, was taken to the police station.

“There were 13 of us, and the only thing we had in common was that we were wearing trousers,” Lubna says. “Ten of the 13 women said they were guilty, and they got 10 lashes and a fine of 250 Sudanese pounds (about £65). One girl was only 13 or 14. She was so scared she urinated on herself.”

Lubna asked for a lawyer, so her case was delayed. Despite the risks, she is determined that her trial should go ahead. Before her initial hearing last Wednesday, she had 500 invitation cards printed, and sent out emails with the subject line: “Sudanese journalist Lubna invites you again to her flogging tomorrow.”

The court was flooded with women’s rights activists, politicians, diplomats and journalists, as well as well-wishers. During the hearing, Lubna announced that she would resign from her job as a public information officer with the United Nations, which would have provided her with immunity, to fight the case. The judge agreed, and adjourned the trial until Tuesday.

Lubna says she has no fear of the punishment she might face. “Afraid of what? No, I am not afraid, really,” she insists. “I think that flogging does not hurt, but it is an insult. Not for me, but for women, for human beings, and also for the government of Sudan. How can you tell the world that the government flogs the people? How can you do that?”

She is determined to face prosecution in order to change the law…

           — Hat tip: TV [Return to headlines]

Magistrate Peter Reardon Sent Terror Case Hate Mail

A MELBOURNE magistrate prevailing over the cases of five men accused of planning a terrorist attack on the Holsworthy army base has received hate mail from a purported Sydney Muslim cleric, labelling him and the courts an oppressor of Islam.

Peter Reardon yesterday read in open court parts of the letter sent to him by a person calling himself Sheik Haron and revealed he had also received emails from people quoting the Koran.

The hate mail came after Mr Reardon expressed frustration when two of the accused men refused to stand up for him during a court hearing earlier this month, saying their religion prohibited them standing for anyone but God.

Supporters of three of the men who are applying for bail at the Melbourne Magistrates Court have also not stood on request, although the accused have. Mr Reardon yesterday declared anyone in the public gallery who did not stand would be removed from court.

“In my view, the Muslim religion is being used as a guise to help make a political demonstration,” he said.

“There is no problem for Muslim people to stand up for a non-Muslim … It’s intended to make a political statement against the government, and by extension, the court system.

“In future, members of the public will be expected to stand upon my entry and leaving the court. They will be requested to leave the court immediately if they refuse to do so.”

Mr Reardon said he had received several emails since the filing hearings and a letter sent from a “Sheik Haron”, postmarked at the southwestern Sydney suburb of Liverpool on August 4.

He said the same letter was also sent to the Chief Magistrate, Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull, ASIO and the Australian Federal Police. It has been reported that members of the Australian Muslim community do not believe Sheik Haron is a real cleric and they are concerned he is stirring up anti-Islamic sentiment. His website talks of joining the jihad against Islam oppression.

Mr Reardon said the letter commented on his own conduct and stated that the Australian government oppressed other nations and that no Muslim should “stand for the oppressors”.

Counsel for Nayef El Sayed, who had refused to stand for the magistrate at earlier hearings, said his client had taken advice from a cleric at Preston Mosque and was now able to stand.

“At no time was he wanting to make a political statement,” lawyer Julian McMahon said of Mr Sayed, who faces one charge of conspiring to plan a terrorist attack.

The bail hearings earlier heard that the AFP was concerned that one of the accused men, Saney Edow Aweys, would commit criminal offences if granted bail.

“A common theme throughout the investigation is hatred of Australia and anyone who doesn’t follow Islam,” federal agent David Kinton told the court. He said Mr Aweys — who is charged with conspiring to prepare for a terrorist act, preparing to go to engage in conflict in Somalia and helping another man travel to Somalia to fight — had a “willingness” to be violent against non-Muslims.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Mexican Politicians Seek the Lost Island of Bermeja

The Mexican Congress has discussed various issues within the past few years. One of those issues is the whereabouts of the lost island of Bermeja. Mexican lawmakers have been seeking this island, but nobody can find it.

So why does this make a difference? It has to do with oil. The U.S. and Mexico are negotiating a new agreement on oil drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico. If Bermeja Island actually exists, that would push Mexico’s territorial waters out further, giving the country more of the western “Doughnut Hole,” a part of the Gulf believed to contain great oil reserves.

The problem for Mexico is the island has not been located.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Textbook Sparks Furore in Mexico

A row has erupted in Mexico after the government distributed a history textbook to primary schools which makes no mention of the Spanish conquest.

The chronology of the text neatly avoids the issue by ending before the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s.

Some opposition figures have seized on what they see as a calculated omission.

The arrival of the conquistadors resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people and the colonisation of Mexico.

On Monday, as 25 million children started the new school term, the government has found itself in the middle of a controversy it apparently did not see coming, says the BBC’s Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City.

The new history textbook, published and distributed free by the education ministry, omits what historians agree was one of the most important eras in the country’s history — the arrival of the Spanish led by Hernan Cortes in 1519 that led ultimately to colonisation until Mexico gained independence in 1821.

Some opposition politicians have accused the conservative government of President Felipe Calderon of deliberately discouraging a critical analysis of the conquest.

The government is even accused of being closer to the Spanish conquerors than to Mexico’s indigenous population.

The textbook was “an attack on the nation’s identity”, said the president of the culture committee of the chamber of deputies, Alfonso Suarez del Real, from the opposition PRD party.

But the country’s assistant education secretary, Fernando Gonzalez, said criticism was not warranted.

The Spanish conquest should and would be studied in depth by secondary school pupils, he said.

Mr Gonzalez added that the school history textbooks were “continually being improved”.

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

U.S. Limits Visas in Honduras, Stepping Up Pressure

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States said on Tuesday it will temporarily stop issuing many visas in Honduras, raising pressure on the government that took power in a June 28 coup to step down.

The State Department, which has repeatedly condemned the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, said that from Wednesday it would only provide visa services to potential immigrants and emergency cases at its embassy in Tegucigalpa.

The Obama administration has urged Honduran authorities to accept proposals put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, whose efforts to end the crisis have stalled over the de facto government’s refusal to allow Zelaya to return to power.

The San Jose accord brokered last month by the Nobel Peace Prize winner would have allowed Zelaya to return to office until elections are held by the end of November.

However, it would have required him to give up plans to hold a referendum on changing the constitution to extend presidential term limits, the issue that brought Zelaya into conflict with the country’s Supreme Court, Congress and army.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the visa decision was intended to reinforce an Organization of American States’ delegation that landed in Honduras on Monday to try to persuade the de facto government to accept the San Jose accord.

“In support of this mission and as a consequence of the de facto regime’s reluctance to sign the San Jose accord, the U.S. Department of State is conducting a full review of our visa policy in Honduras,” Kelly said in a written statement.

“As part of that review, we are suspending non-emergency, non-immigrant visa services in the consular section of our embassy in Honduras, effective August 26,” Kelly added. “We firmly believe a negotiated solution is the appropriate way forward and the San Jose Accord is the best solution.”…

           — Hat tip: Fausta [Return to headlines]


Deal With Libya Works Well, Frattini Says

(ANSAmed) — ROME, AUGUST 25 — “The agreement with Libya is working very well,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told ‘Radio Anch’iò regarding the government’s strategy against illegal arrivals on the Italian coasts. The patrol boats that Italy has given to Tripoli, the minister continued, “are patrolling that stretch of sea” and the Libyans “use them and have used them these months. In the past three months only a few hundred people” came on land “in Lampedusa, against last year’s 10-12 thousand.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

EU to Table New Immigration Rules in September

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Brussels is finalising fresh proposals on European Union immigration policy, including a potentially controversial system of re-distributing refugees and asylum seekers among the 27 member states to lighten the workload of the bloc’s border countries.

Both the re-location policy, which could see the transfer of people who land on the shores of Mediterranean countries to other EU states, and asylum policy reform, which could set quotas on the number of refugees for member states, are to be presented in September, Swedish immigration minister Tobias Billstroem has said, according to Agence France Presse.

The application of the proposed policies would be voluntary, the Swedish minister added.

Sweden, currently chairing the EU, is planning to organise a first discussion on immigration reform among foreign ministers by the end of October.

“This would only be a first step, as such a big problem cannot be solved in a single meeting,” Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said on Sunday (23 August) on the sidelines of a conference at the Italian seaside town of Rimini, according to Reuters.

Italy is one of the Mediterranean countries pressing hard for more help from other member states over immigration flows, along with fellow southern states Malta, Greece and Spain.

Franco Frattini, Italian foreign minister and the ex-EU commissioner responsible for immigration, complained at the Rimini event: “The EU has made many statements …but has not yet said just what should happen when a group of migrants reaches the borders of Europe.”

“All we Europeans, all 27 countries, must bear responsibility for these people,” Mr Frattini said.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 67,000 people crossed the Mediterranean last year to try to irregularly enter Europe, and some of them have died at sea.

The most recent tragedy happened late last week. Italian authorities on Thursday (20 August) found a boat carrying five Eritrean migrants who said 73 others had died during the crossing.

Last October, EU leaders formally backed the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, a set of political commitments in five areas — regular and irregular immigration, border controls, asylum policies and co-operation with countries of origin and of transit.

The European Commission is by 2012 expected to table its proposal on “a single asylum procedure comprising common guarantees …and a uniform status for refugees and the beneficiaries of subsidiary protection,” the pact states.

Greek refugee centre closed

At the same time that the EU presidency announced its plans, another European immigrant camp was criticised by refugee advocates for human rights abuses.

The UN High Commission for Refugees on Monday (24 August) called for the immediate closure of an immigrant reception centre on the north-eastern Greek island of Lesbos, accodring to Deutsche Presse Agentur.

The UN agency accused the centre of not meeting with European or Greek human rights standards, following the inspection of the over-populated camp.

Similar problems occurred in a camp in Pagani, where the reception centre does not have running water and only one toilet for every 100 people while many immigrants are forced to sleep on the ground and are only granted an hour’s outdoor recreation time every day.

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

Italian Coastguard Rescues 57 Would-be Immigrants

Rome — An Italian coastguard vessel on Tuesday took on board 57 would-be immigrants who were found floating in a rubber dinghy some 10 nautical miles south of the Mediterranean islet of Lampedusa. One of the rescued was immediately taken to Lampedusa to be treated for dehydration, the ANSA news agency said, citing officials.

The rest of the group, including four women, were expected to arrive in Porto Empedocle, Sicily later in the day.

The operation came just a few days after an incident in which dozens of migrants are believed to have died at sea. The incident has triggered a political row in Italy over policies implemented against illegal immigratrion by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government.

There are also concerns about cooperation between the Italian government and Libya on the matter.

Also on Tuesday, Interior Minister Franco Frattini, in a state radio interview, reiterated a call for the European Union to “do more,” to counter illegal immigration. He also defended the Italian government’s policies, including plans for Berlusconi to visit Libya on August 30.

Frattini has repeatedly said that Mediterranean EU members should not be left alone to bear the burden of illegal arrivals from the shores of North Africa. He has defended Italy’s controversial agreement with Libya aimed at deporting migrants found in international waters.

Last week five Eritreans who were rescued by an Italian coastguard patrol claimed that some 73 of their fellow travellers died at sea in the 20 days since their rubber dinghy left Libya.

The sighting of at least eight bodies floating in Libyan waters by patrols of the EU border agency appeared to give some credibility to the Eritreans’ claims.

However, Maltese officials said that when one of their patrol boats intercepted the five Eritreans earlier in the week, they were found in good health and turned down a rescue offer, saying they wanted to reach Italy.

Italy and Malta have reported a drastic reduction in the number of would-be immigrants landing on their shores from Africa following the coming into effect earlier this year of the Rome-Tripoli pact.

Under the agreement, Libya has committed to stepping up patrols along its shoreline, which is often used by the mostly African migrants as a springboard to reach Europe.

Italy also began deporting to Libya would-be immigrants intercepted in international waters.

United Nations officials, rights activists and the Vatican have criticized the Italian-Libyan accord, saying it violates the rights of political refugees trying to seek asylum.

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

Italy: Illegals Held for Up to 6 Months, Protests

(ANSAmed) — ROME, AUGUST 14 — A safety law that went into effect on August 8, which calls for an extension to the amount of time illegal immigrants can be held from two to six months, is fuelling a series of protests in immigration identification and deportation centres (CIE). Protests have occurred in the CIEs in Milan, Turin, Gradisca, and Lamezia Terme. An extension to six months is now allowed if the country to which the immigrant is to be repatriated does not cooperate or if there are delays in obtaining the necessary documents from the immigrant’s country of origin. A new development with severe effects not only for illegal immigrants (only a few of which normally are able to be identified due to little collaboration from their countries of origin and are often released with an order to leave the country within five days), but also for the CIEs, which are perpetually overcrowded and now risk severe repercussions due to the inevitable consequences of the implementation of the new crime of illegal immigration. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

More Iraqi Refugees to Arrive Soon in Hannover

Another 144 Iraqi refugees are on their way to Germany on Tuesday as part of a European Union’s plan to welcome some 10,000 asylum seekers from the country.

The flight, coming from Syria where many refugees have gathered, will be the eighth such transport organised by the International Organisation for Migration to arrive in Hannover.

The asylum seekers are mainly from Iraq’s threatened Christian religious minority, many of them single mothers and ailing refugees who have stayed in Syria and Jordan after fleeing Iraq.

The UN Refugee Agency has already brought 1,003 Iraqis to Germany, where they will receive three-year residency permits. The country has agreed to take on a total of 2,500 such refugees, the first of whom arrived in March.

Iraq was torn by insurgency and sectarian strife after US-led forces invaded in March 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein. About two million Iraqi refugees currently live in Jordan and Syria.

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

Culture Wars

Healthcare Struggle is About Freedom

President Obama took his case for what he now calls “health insurance reform” to the faith community. He made his pitch in a phone call, also broadcast over the Internet, to clergy who called in and logged on from around the nation. In his remarks, the President ticked off points of contention that dissenters have with his proposals — “government takeover of healthcare…government funding of abortion…death panels” — and dismissed these concerns as “fabrications.” In one swipe, Mr. Obama reduced his opposition to liars. And why, according to the President, are dissenters supposedly making all this stuff up? Because, he told his audience, they want to “discourage people from meeting…a core ethical and moral obligation…that we look out for one another…that I am my brother’s keeper…” So those whose fight for individual freedom are immoral and our moral champions are those who want to extend the heavy hand of government. Forgive me if sermons about morality are a little hard to swallow from a man who supports partial birth abortion, who just announced his intent to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. And who really wants to obstruct moral behavior? About 100,000 Americans participate in private, voluntary Christian communities that take care of their own healthcare independently of government and insurance companies. They are called health sharing ministries. These communities assess members “shares”, based on family size, which are paid monthly, in addition to annual dues. Those in the community who need care submit their claims to a central office, which sends members monthly bulletins informing them whose care their monthly payment will be covering. No government. No insurance companies. It’s health care with a true human face, operating in freedom, where those paying know who they are paying for and for what. In addition to sending funds to cover costs, they send notes and pray for the sick person whose costs they are covering. You wouldn’t think that communities that embody the very essence of personal responsibility and Christian love would need lobbyists for their protection. But they do. If Barack Obama has his way, they’ll be out of business. Part of the thousand page health care bill mandates that individuals buy insurance and that companies provide it, or pay a fine. These government mandates to buy and provide insurance would make health sharing ministries, where communities of individuals pool their personal funds to take care of each other, unviable. These ministries share pooled funds of around $80 million dollars annually to take care of each other, driven only by guidelines of biblical principles to “Bear one another’s burden, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” It’s crazy that Christian Americans have to lobby to be free in their own country. Health sharing ministries is one particularly beautiful example of how faithful Americans take care of themselves when allowed to be free. But there are many others. In thousands of homeless shelters around the country, charitable Americans provide complete health care for the homeless. There are 5000 crisis pregnancy centers, financed privately by charitable Americans that provide free care for pregnant women. Many creative ideas have been put forth on how American health care delivery can be dramatically improved if markets are allowed to work. John Mackey, chairman of Whole Foods, listed eight in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. In another Wall Street Journal column, a University of Chicago Business School professor explained how forward purchases of insurance could deal with the problem of pre-existing conditions. But, Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have slammed the door on all this. They only want to hear about more government. Not less. The problem isn’t that dissenting Americans are immoral. It’s that Democrat leadership has a problem with individual freedom.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


‘Christians’ Celebrating Ramadan?

As the Islamic observance of Ramadan begins this year, an increasing number of Christians will also be entering into 30 days of prayer and fasting. Across the world, a growing number of Christians have been joining the movement led by the 30-Days Prayer Network, which calls Christians to pray and fast for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. The focus of their prayers is the increase of the ongoing revival among Muslims converting to Christianity. In recent years, a historically unprecedented number of Muslims have come to Christ, many through divine dreams and visions. The 30-days website describes the genesis of this movement:

The origin of this international prayer network came about as a group of Christian leaders were praying during a meeting in the Middle East in April 1992. God put a burden on the hearts of these men and women to call as many Christians as possible to pray for the Muslim world.

But a smaller left-wing Christian sect, often referred to as “the emerging church,” is now also taking a very different approach. This year, a group of emergent Christians led by one of the United States most influential pastors, Brian McLaren, has announced that it will actually be “observing” the Muslim holy month, along with a Muslim “partner.” Ramadan is the month that Muslims thank Allah, their god, for revealing the Quran to Muhammad, their prophet. On McLaren’s personal blog, he recently announced his intentions: “We, as Christians, humbly seek to join Muslims in this observance of Ramadan as a God-honoring expression of peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.” But does such an interreligious observance go beyond mere “neighborliness” and cross the line of religious compromise and syncretism? Does observing the religious holy month of Ramadan create the impression of an endorsement of Islam?

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

4 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/25/2009

  1. Richardson questions whether such an “observance” is actually tantamount to an endorsement of Islam

    Actually, I think you’ll find that Christians observing ramadan and honouring allah is blasphemy.

  2. Given Brian McLaren’s reasoning, is it safe to presume he will extend an invitation to Muslims to join in Christmas and/or Easter?

  3. I find the article ‘When blood starts flowing, where will Wilders’ voters be?’ in NRC Handelsblad completely mystifying! Particularly this quotation, “It seems too simple to say that Wilders’ popularity is based solely on the behaviour of Moroccan youth, as some have suggested. This doesn’t explain, for instance, why radical populists get high scores in other European countries.”…

    Because I considered ‘European voters know what they don’t want’, from the very same newspaper immediately after the Euro-elections: to have been pretty much the most level-headed and authoratative piece on the rise of the European populist right ever written; I recommended it to everybody, they even used the same picture.

    Without wishing to be a racist scumbag, who is Ian Buruma the former article’s author, and why might his opinion differ so profoundly from Henryk M. Broder’s?

    I’m all confused…

Comments are closed.