Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is Hysterectomy Abused?

There is an interesting discussion running on the "Use and Abuse of Hysterectomy" at Dr. Bernstein's Biomedical Discussion Blog. In the first of this series there were 112 comments.

To read the initial post, go here.

Drone Attacks to Continue in Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Jan 27: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that the United States would continue drone strikes at suspected terrorist targets inside Fata and has conveyed its decision to the government of Pakistan.

Mr Gates told a US Senate panel that the Pentagon could send two more brigades to Afghanistan by late spring and a third by late summer. A US Army combat brigade typically comprises about 3,500 soldiers.

Mr Gates, who also served in the Bush administration as defence secretary, said that fighting Al Qaeda in its refuge inside Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan was an important objective also of the Obama administration.

The issue of US drone attacks in Fata was raised by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin, who recalled that last week the Pakistan Foreign Ministry had issued a statement calling US missile strikes on Pakistani territory counter-productive and requested that they be discontinued.

“What’s your reaction to that?” Senator Levin asked.“I think that the strikes that are being undertaken are -- well, let me just say both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue them,” Secretary Gates said.

“Has that decision been transmitted to the Pakistan government?” Senator Levin asked. “Yes, sir,” said Mr Gates.

The secretary was testifying before the committee which oversees US defence efforts at home and abroad. It was his first hearing since President Obama took office and lawmakers were eager to hear details about how the new president planned to bolster operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama has indicated he wants to shift more military resources from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Secretary Gates told the panel that Afghanistan was America’s “greatest military challenge” and that more US troops were needed to improve security in dangerous areas of that country.

But he also acknowledged that there’s “no purely military solution”. Yet, the US has to send enough troops to “provide a baseline level of security” in some of the most dangerous areas.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost the presidency to Mr Obama, urged the new US administration to share its perception of the Afghan war with the people.

“The American people must understand this is a hard, long slog we’re in, in Afghanistan,” he said.

Senator McCain said he did not see a “game-changing” strategy in Afghanistan similar to the “Anbar awakening” of Sunni Muslims in Iraq who rose up against insurgents with US backing.

Other lawmakers pointed out that the new administration and the new Congress were both facing contradictory budgetary pressures generated by a mounting federal deficit and the need to finance two wars.

Secretary Gates conceded that the US faced “hard choices” and that the war spending might hurt its programmes for developing new weapons.“We may have to invest more in the future-oriented programme of one service and less in that of another, particularly when both programmes were conceived with the same threat in mind,” Mr Gates told the panel.

Senators McCain and Levin both said changes in the Pentagon’s acquisition of weapons would be a top priority for the committee.

Even as spending to ease the credit crisis and stimulate the economy has driven the deficit to more than $1 trillion, the US has about 177,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary Gates said the Obama administration’s “highest priority” was to train and expand the Afghan army and police, which would give the US an “exit ticket” from the conflict.

While the troop build-up in Afghanistan is dependent on how quickly the administration draws down forces in Iraq, Mr Gates warned that the US could not expedite pullout from Iraq.

Read it here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Marriage in Decline

All over the industrialized world, marriage is in decline. Cohabitation, which has waxed as marriage has waned, is a much less stable and more varied relational form than marriage. Because of its relative instability and variability, cohabitation presents public-policy and fact-finding challenges that formal marriage does not. Formal marriage is also associated with a range of health, wealth and happiness benefits to adult partners and their children. Because formal marriage and childbearing within such unions offer public advantages that informal unions do not, public policies designed to encourage individuals to delay childbearing until marriage are desirable. So are policies that encourage couples who have marital understandings to formalize their unions through ceremonial marriage. In order to effectively design such policies, however, we need to understand why formal marriage is in decline. This paper critically examines current economic and cultural explanations for these phenomena and analyzes the public policy implications of these explanations. It concludes that well-designed policies that promote the socioeconomic conditions in which successful marriage flourishes, reduce economic disincentives to marry, and offer clear dividing lines between formal marriage and cohabitation are all supported by the evidence. These policies do not have the capacity to bring back the world in which marriage and marital child-bearing were almost universal, but they may have the capacity to make a difference at the margins. They do not appear to hold any potential for causing harm and they may also promote other improvements in family relationships and functioning.

Read it here.

China Largest Number of Internet Users

The global number of internet users passed one billion in December with China overtaking America, according to research firm comScore.

The actual number of users is probably much higher as comScore's figures are based only on the number of internet users aged 15 and above working from home or work computers. They did not take into account traffic from public computers such as internet cafes or access from mobile phones.

The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 41 percent of the one billion global internet users, followed by Europe (28 percent), North America (18 percent), Latin America (seven percent) and the Middle East and Africa (five percent).

China had the largest population of internet users with nearly 180 million people going online in December, followed by the United States with 163 million, Japan with 60 million, Germany and Britain with nearly 37 million each and France with 34 million.

India was next with 32 million Internet users followed by Russia (29 million), Brazil (28 million), South Korea (27 million), Canada (22 million) and Italy (21 million).

"Surpassing one billion global users is a significant landmark in the history of the internet," comScore chief executive Magid Abraham said. "The second billion will be online before we know it, and the third billion will arrive even faster than that," he said.

Read it all here.

Anglican Primates Meet Early February

The Primates of the Anglican Communion will meet for the next of their regular meetings at the Helnan Palestine Hotel Alexandria Egypt, between 1st – 5th February.

The meeting will be chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and hosted by the President Bishop of Jerusalem & the Middle East & Bishop in Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, The Most Revd Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis. The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Revd Canon Kenneth Kearon will act as the meeting’s secretary.
Primates’ Meetings are held in private session. As is customary it is expected that a communiqué will be issued at the close of the meeting.

Briefings will be held for any press attending. However media not at the meeting will be able to access the briefings as podcasts on line on the Anglican Communion website Those podcasts will be made available as soon as possible after the conclusion of each briefing. For details of press arrangements including accreditation click here.
It is expected that all Provinces will be represented at the forth-coming meeting, except the Church of Pakistan and the Church of South India, where in each case the Moderator cannot attend due to a previously booked engagement.

When the primacy is vacant, it is usual for the province to nominate the Dean of the Province or the Senior Bishop to represent that province. This will happen in a number of provinces on this occasion.


The Primates' Meeting was established in 1978 by Archbishop Donald Coggan (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) as an opportunity for “leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation” and has met regularly since.

There have been five meetings since 2002:
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 14-19 February, 2007.
Newry, Northern Ireland, 20-25 February, 2005.
London, England,15-16 October 2003.
Gramado, Brazil, 19-25 May 2003.
Canterbury, England, April 10-16, 2002.

Global Taxes?

CNBC is an “industry partner” of the World Economic Forum this week.

CNBC is a subsidiary of General Electric, whose GE Capital is receiving a $139-billion taxpayer-financed loan guarantee as part of the Wall Street bailout. CNBC’s sister networks are NBC and MSNBC.

Other “industry partners” of the WEF include Reuters, the British-based news agency. A Reuters story about the meeting that starts on Wednesday sounds like a press release from the organization, hailing its “achievements” over time but failing to note that Reuters is a sponsor of this year’s event.

CNBC is advertising a “No Way Back – the Road to Recovery” debate hosted at the conference by CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo. One of the participants is Steve Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and co-founder of the Chinese-funded and partly owned Blackstone Group.

Representing Chinese economic dominance in what Henry Kissinger has labeled a “New World Order,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is speaking to a special session of the conference on its first day.

The event’s corporate sponsors, which pay about half a million dollars each to participate, include several failing institutions that have received tens of billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers. They include Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Morgan Stanley. These entities are termed “Strategic Partners” of the World Economic Forum.

But will CNBC highlight this kind of extravagant spending when the cable business network is helping sponsor the event?

In a major embarrassment, the WEF has released a report, “The Future of the Global Financial System,” which acknowledges “intellectual stewardship and guidance” provided by a steering committee co-chaired by John Thain, the former Merrill Lynch & Co. chief executive officer who was recently ousted from Bank of America in a scandal. Thain oversaw the disastrous sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America and was criticized for lavish spending on office decorations, including a $1,405 waste basket and $87,784 rug.

The other co-chair of the committee was David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group, who has been quoted as saying that China holds the key to the world economy’s future. One report notes that Rubenstein says Carlyle “was an early investor in the Chinese marketplace,” that its China office “has hired many native-born Chinese, and the company is seeking to build its buyout and growth-capital businesses there.”

“The Global Agenda 2009” report says that “sovereign states do not adequately address problems reaching across borders” and that “international taxation” may be needed to generate the “additional resources” for “global governance.”

Read it all here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

9,000 Year Old City Found in Pakistan

An archaeological site dating back about 5,500 years and believed to be older than Mohenjodaro has been found in Pakistan's southern Sindh province. A team of 22 archaeologists found some semi-precious and precious stones and utensils made of clay, copper and other metals during an excavation at the site in Lakhian Jo Daro in Sukkur district yesterday.

"At present, we can say that it (the site) is older than Mohenjodaro," Ghulam Mustafa Shar, the director of the Lakhian Jo Daro project, told Dawn newspaper. The find is said to be of the Kot Diji era, experts said.

Shar said the remains of a "faience" or tin-glazed pottery factory had been found at the site. It is believed to be of the era of mirror factories in Italy that date back to some 9,000 years.

A painting has also been found at the site and the discovery of more such items could establish the site as 9,000 years old, like the remains found at Mehargarh in Balochistan and Jericho in Palestine, Shar said.

Read it all here.

This is part of the Afro-Asiatic Civilization that extended from West Central Africa to the Indus River Valley between 12,000 and 8,000 years ago.

Obama's Social Engineering

Barack Obama’s wholesale support for the LGBT community is front and center on his agenda. Barely day 2 of his administration and the insanity begins. America’s social and moral fabric is being assaulted as never before. The consequences of these policies will have devastating effects on America’s future and all our freedoms. Madness, sheer madness!

Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

For more.

Pope Responds to Neo-Nazi Bishop

It was not the gas chamber or the Todessteige which had the most profound effect on me that day, but a film showing an interview with an American soldier who helped to liberate the camp. The terror in his eyes as he recounted the horrific scenes is forever fixed in my mind, and towards the end of the interview he burst into tears, as did I and my friends who were watching.

I do not need exact figures or statistics to understand the scale of the atrocities which occurred under the Nazis, because at Mauthausen-Gusen I felt it – not only proof of the Holocaust but proof of indescribable evil. An eminent historian once told me that he has never yet heard a convincing argument for why the Holocaust happened, and for me the only answer can be that evil was at work. As a religion that values above anything else the sanctity of human life, Christians of all denominations cannot forget what happened in these camps, and pray that such things may never happen again.

At the end of a day of frantic blogging and media reaction, I reflect on what exactly the Pope has achieved. At the risk of another fierce media backlash he has made it possible for more separated brethren to come back to the mother church. The views of Bishop Richard Williamson are shocking and unacceptable, but they are not shared by the majority of the Society of St. Pius X.

I was particularly moved by the words of a Jewish reader who posted on Ruth Gledhill's blog, whose wife's great uncle was saved from a Nazi camp by Marcel Lefebvre's Father. Whilst his excommunication has been lifted, it is very unlikely that Williamson will again function in the Roman Catholic Church as a priest or a bishop, and he and his small number of followers may not even choose to return.

I do expect there to be an announcement from Rome regarding Williamson in the near future, for his views and his investigation in Germany for Holocaust denial cannot and must not go unnoticed.

To echo the words of my brother seminarian Athanasius, Pope Benedict's "master plan for unity" seems to be gathering pace, and we wait prayerfully to see what his next move will be.

Read it here.

Watch the full Swedish TV investigation into the Society of St Pius X, presented by Ali Fegan.

German prosecutors are preparing a case against Bishop Richard Williamson, who was speaking to Fegan at Zaitzkofen, a village in Bavaria where the society has a seminary. You may read about the case here.

Niger Journalist in Prison For Reporting Corruption

SOURCE: Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Accra(MFWA/IFEX) - Boussada Ben Ali, managing editor of "L'Action", an independent Niamey-based newspaper, was arrested on 23 January 2009 and held at the Criminal Investigation Department of the police following acomplaint lodged against him by the minister of finance and economic planning, Mahamane Ali Lamine Zein.

Ben Ali was remanded in prison custody by the Niamey Tribunal on 26 January and is to reappear in court for judgment today, 27 January.

MFWA's correspondent reported that the editor was remanded for allegedly "divulging information likely to undermine public order." The charge stems from an article he published in the 13 January edition of "L'Action" which openly questioned the finance minister about procedure in the awarding of a contract for the procurement of medical equipment. The same article also reported that the minister had diverted about FCFA127 billion (approx.US$256.5 million) from an oil agreement between Niger and China.

On 17 January, Ben Ali was summoned by the High Council for Communications - Niger's media regulatory body - to view a video on the matter that the regulatory body said was evidence against his claim. He was then ordered to retract the story about the minister, but he refused.

For further information, contact Jeannette Quarcoopome, Media Foundationfor West Africa, 30 Duade Street, Kokomlemle, P.O. Box LG 730, Legon,Ghana, tel: +233 21 2424 70, fax: +233 21 2210 84,, Internet:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trouble Already with Guantanamo "Grads"

Mohammed al-Awfi
formerly at

Two Saudis formerly jailed at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have joined Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, and authorities here worry that two other ex-Guantánamo inmates may have strayed back to militancy because they have recently disappeared from their homes.

The revelations illustrate the difficulties faced both by President Obama, who has pledged to shutter the facility for terror suspects, and the Saudi government, which is trying to reform its own radical jihadis, many of whom were imprisoned at Guantánamo before being released back to the kingdom.

The two Saudis working with Al Qaeda in Yemen, in addition to the two missing ex-Guantánamo detainees, participated in a Saudi rehabilitation program to counter violent ideology and reintegrate militants into society, says Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman.

Further complicating Saudi efforts is a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Yemen that is drawing Saudis to fill its ranks, say terrorism experts. The group's upswing was underscored by its September attack on the US Embassy in Yemen that killed 16 people. The embassy was threatened Monday when a phone caller said it was the target of an imminent Al Qaeda attack, reported the Associated Press.

Last week, Al Qaeda in Yemen started to publish its magazine again and posted a video online declaring the Saudi and Yemeni Al Qaeda groups had united, according to, a website that analyzes extremist activity on the Internet.

Read it all here.

Pakistan Worst Violence Against Journalists

26 January 2009 - Journalist Aamir Wakil killed in Rawalpindi; Samaa TV studios attacked by protesters; RSF urges government to bring climate of violence under control

SOURCE: Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Paris(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges the Pakistani authorities to adopt energetic measures following the murder of a journalist and an attackon a privately-owned TV station in the past 48 hours. On 24 January 2009, Aamir Wakil, 40, a married man with four children, was murdered close to his home in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. On 26 January, an angry crowd ransacked the studios of Samaa TV in the southwestern city of Quetta.

The press freedom organisation offers its condolences to Wakil's family andcolleagues, including his brother Kamal Asfar, who is also a journalist.

"We strongly condemn Wakil's murder," Reporters Without Borders said."Although there is so far no evidence that it was linked to his work as ajournalist, we call for the deployment of additional resources for the investigation and the prosecution of those responsible. Similarly, the authorities must consider new measures to protect privately-owned media after the attack on Samaa TV in Quetta.

"The press freedom organisation added: "If the climate of violence is not quickly brought under control, the government will not be able to say it is doing everything possible to ensure that Pakistani journalists can work in a free and safe environment.

"Three journalists have been killed in Pakistan since the start of the year, while seven were killed last year, making it the deadliest country in the world for the media after Iraq.

Wakil, who worked for "Awami Inqilab" (The People's Revolution), a regional daily based in Kohat, south of Peshawar, was shot in the back, near the neck. "He was just a few metres from his home when he was killed," his brother, Asfar, told Reporters Without Borders.

"Aamir told me two hours before he was murdered that he had received threats from unidentified persons," Asfar said. "It was a targeted murder. I do not think the authorities did it. His killers were not government people."

Rawalpindi-based journalists told Reporters Without Borders that Wakil wasa "professional journalist" and that he had no rivals. Their comments contradicted initial claims by the police that Wakil's murder was linked to "personal disputes." The National Union of Journalists of Pakistan has begun its own investigation in an attempt to identify the motives.

The police officer in charge of the investigation said he had questioned a witness and was confident the killer would be arrested. The police are also investigating the murder of a young man in the same neighbourhood on the same day. The other victim was killed by two unidentified individuals who tried to take his money and mobile phone.

The 26 January attack on Samaa TV's premises in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, was carried out by a crowd that was angered by the murder of a local politician. Samaa TV's bureau chief told Reporters Without Borders that protesters fired shots and threw stones at the building, damaging a vehicle and equipment.

For further information, contact Vincent Brossel, RSF, 47, rue Vivienne,75002 Paris, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 70, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51,e-mail:, Internet:

Obama Igniting Culture War?

By Melanie Phillips, The Spectator

Interesting story in today’s Sunday Telegraph about what Obama’s first week in office tells us about the priorities and values of America’s new president. The Telegraph reports Republican uproar over one of Obama’s first acts, to lift restrictions on government funding for groups providing abortion services or counselling outside the United States. Abortion is possibly the most toxic and divisive issue in American politics, inspiring violent passions. Obama has said he wants to end the ‘culture wars’ in America; it is hard to think of a more effective way of igniting them. The reaction was immediate and brutal:

Family groups accused him of plotting the ‘infanticide’ of African children. Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, president of the American Values pressure group, said: ‘It is both sad and infuriating that in the same week President Obama extended new rights to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and began planning to release men whom we know have murdered Americans, he is preparing to sentence innocent children to death through abortion.’

A propos, a number of commentators have noticed the striking omission, in Obama’s inaugural speech, of any reference to the right to life in America’s foundational principles; his reference to the noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness
was a notable departure from the Declaration’s iconic commitment to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. The Telegraph also reports an immediate contradiction between what Obama proclaimed as a break with the bad old days of corruption and what he actually has done:

Having announced new ethics rules banning lobbyists serving in his administration, the president was immediately forced to make an exception for his deputy defence secretary William Lynn, who has lobbied for the defence industry giant Raytheon.

Not to mention his designated Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, who unaccountably ‘forgot’ to pay his taxes in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. NRO reports:

At Geithner’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, he did not give clear, direct answers to questions about his knowledge of mistakes in his 2001 and 2002 returns… After all, the senators said, Geithner worked for the International Monetary Fund during all of that time, and he signed for and accepted IMF reimbursement for paying self-employment taxes, even though he had not, in fact, paid them. As it turned out, Geithner had done the same thing in 2001 and 2002 that the IRS found he did in 2003 and 2004.

Oh dear. The idea that Obama is a centrist who wishes to end the culture wars is laughable. (Indeed, in such a war there is no centre ground: you are either on one side or the other).

The White House website sets out his agenda on ‘civil rights’, which includes expanding federal ‘hate crime’ legislation, ending racial profiling, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and supporting full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples, giving adoption rights to gay couples, and lifting the federal ban on needle exchange – a policy promoted by drug legalisers on the disingenuous grounds that this will reduce infection among drug users but which actually helps normalise drug abuse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Australian Cult Leader Destroying Lives

Read the original story exposing the bizarre cult

I have been inundated with phone calls and emails from people who have had dealings with the Chittering Valley retreat owner, who has convinced a core group of about 20 followers that they have repressed memories of being raped and raping others. Eight of Mr Meinck's former devotees, who left his group in the past year or so, gave a fascinating insight last week into the charismatic former monk's bizarre world.

Over several years, Mr Meinck has managed to build an incredible level of influence over ordinary, intelligent people. They turned to his alternative, meditation-based therapy to deal with depression, anxiety, self-esteem problems and traumatic pasts. And while there were benefits in the early days, they all say they have been greatly damaged by Mr Meinck's beliefs, which have built up since 2006, that people have personality "splits'' in which rapes occur, but are not remembered at the time.

The most heartbreaking phone calls have been from the families of people who are still involved in Mr Meinck's cult. Five separate families contacted The Sunday Times this week, telling of their frustration and despair at having lost relationships and contact with loved ones.

One man had not seen his daughter for a year and had not spoken to her properly for four years. He knew about her involvement with Mr Meinck, but not about the allegations of sexual abuse, which a dozen or so of the current followers have ``remembered'' happening in their families.

"I suppose she thinks I'm some kind of rapist now,'' he said. "No wonder she won't speak to me.''

Another mother told how she is working to repair the relationships between her husband and two sons, who were all accused - one by one - of abuse by her daughter. The family was torn apart by the allegations, which emerged in 2007.

"Her brothers didn't think their dad would have done this, but they did not want to disbelieve their sister about something like this,'' she said. "My husband was very angry that they didn't just believe him.'' Then they were accused, too.

Another mother, whose daughter is still involved in the cult, said she believed allegations against two of her former husbands and attended counselling with Mr Meinck for many months until the claims became too bizarre to fathom.

"About 12 months ago, she said that she had raped Matthew's wife on two occasions, violently, but didn't remember it,'' she said. "Then she said she'd remembered that she and my ex-husband raped me together and did terrible things to me. I said, `That's just not true. None of this is true'.'' She has not seen her daughter since. "I'm really fearful of where this group is going to go from here,'' she said.

Perhaps the most tragic tale is that of a farming family in the Wheatbelt, who I will call the Smiths. Readers from last week will remember "John'', a former cult member who considered committing suicide after being convinced by Mr Meinck that he had raped several women at the retreat. In the year prior to being accused, John reported his parents to the police, alleging a series of detailed sexual offences by his father and mother.

The police built a large file on the Smiths: John had followed his two sisters into the cult and all three had "remembered'' sordid rapes on the family farm. Even John's girlfriend believed the Smiths had assaulted her. The first the Smiths knew about the allegations was when detectives arrived at their door a few weeks before Christmas 2007. They were taken to the police station and placed before a video camera.

"That interview was so humiliating: I just couldn't believe they could say such a thing,'' Mrs Smith said. "We had to get a lawyer. The accusations were just so sick."

"They said the pair of us were involved, but my husband was the focus of most of it. "We lived with it all Christmas, thinking that we were both going to go to jail.''

Mrs Smith said the police quickly realised that the case was full of holes and took it no further, but the shame of being accused by three children remains. "I can't bring myself to say to friends, these kids actually accused us of doing these things,'' she said. "How could they possibly do that?''

For the Smiths, the nightmare continues. They are still concerned about "John'', who has reconciled with the family, but remains troubled by his experiences. Their two daughters, who each have children who are forbidden to see their grandparents, are still immersed in Mr Meinck's world. "It would be a couple of years since we've seen (the oldest daughter),'' she said. "Time trickles on. We drive past the house and I send my love inside to her. Every day I ask God to help them because it's been pretty hard to come to terms with and you have to ask for help from somewhere."

"You go on living, but part of you dies. Part of me has died, but I just keep hoping. I can see with "John'' that the light's still not back in his eyes and the girls, I'm just praying for them.

"It's unbelievable. It's made us physically and mentally drained, but I'm hoping that this year is the year.''

Matthew Meinck is leader of the bizarre cult.

Read it all here.

Iraq to Pay Reparatons to Kuwait Airways

IRAQ and its national airline will pay $US300 million ($457.32 million) in compensation to Kuwait Airways for Saddam Hussein's invasion of the emirate almost 20 years ago, a government spokesman said.

The payment is a final settlement that will end a row that has simmered since the seven-month occupation by Saddam's forces was ended by a US-led coalition in 1991.

"The Council of Ministers decided today to pay $US300 million to Kuwait Airways and the two parties agreed to put an end to the legal process," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The precise terms of the deal were agreed after discussions between the Emir of Kuwait and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at an economic summit of Arab states in the past week.

Kuwait Airways demanded $US1.2 billion ($1.83 billion) in reparations from Iraqi Airways for planes and equipment stolen during Saddam's 1990 invasion of the emirate.

The company used a Montreal court in August 2008 to stop 10 Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft ordered by Iraqi Airways from the Canadian company from being transferred, a decision that eventually prompted the settlement.

Read it all here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ms Obama Criticizes Ty

FIRST LADY Michelle Obama, who has described herself “first and foremost . . . Malia and Sasha’s mom,” has criticised a company that has made Beanie Babies dolls called after her daughers. The dolls are called Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia.

“We feel it is inappropriate to use young, private citizens for marketing purposes,” Ms Obama’s press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, said in a statement on Saturday.

Ty recently released the 12-inch dolls in their collection called TyGirlz. The dolls have soft brown skin and big eyes. Ty’s website shows Sweet Sasha wearing two pigtails and a pink and white dress, with Marvelous Malia doll wearing her hair to the right side and a blue-green shirt.

Read it all here.

Face of Evil in Belgium

Prosecutors have charged a 20-year-old man with murder over a savage knife attack on a creche in western Belgium that claimed the lives of two babies and a care worker.

The suspect was named in the Belgian media yesterday as Kim De Gelder, a 20-year-old unemployed loner who daubed his face with white paint and wore black eyeshadow before entering the creche in Dendermonde and stabbing children and staff. Prosecutors have revealed he used a 20cm-long (8 inches) knife during the attack and carried additional weapons in his backpack. They have charged the suspect, who has so far refused to co-operate during interrogation, with three counts of murder and 12 counts of attempted murder.

Two babies, aged nine months and six months, died from stab wounds in the horrific attack, which left 10 other children under the age of three with serious injuries. Care worker Marita Blindeman also died as she tried to defend the toddlers from De Gelder, who tricked his way into the “Land of Fables” creche in a town 30 kilometres from Brussels.

About 6,000 people marched silently through Dendermonde yesterday, laying bouquets of flowers and cuddly toys outside the nursery where the attack took place. Dendermonde’s mayor Piet Buyse said the nursery would never reopen. “It’s something very hard for the city, for the region . . . We are here just to show that we are all, with our hearts, with our thoughts, with our minds, with our souls, with them [the victims’ families] in grief,” he said.

The brutal murders have shocked Belgium. On Saturday De Morgen newspaper bore the headline “Cold, Bloodthirsty, Inhuman”, while the Gazet Van Antwerpen asked “Why?”.

Prosecutor Christian Du Four, who identified the suspect only as “Kim D”, said he lived alone some 20 kilometres from the scene of Friday’s attack in Dendermonde. He said the man had no previous criminal record and there is no record that he has been treated for any psychological condition. When arrested he was carrying a knife, a small axe, a fake pistol and was wearing body armour. Two more knives were found at the scene.

“We don’t know about his motive. He doesn’t say anything . . . he’s very passive,” said Mr Du Four, adding that the suspect would probably appear in court tomorrow. Local media dubbed the assailant the “Joker killer” because his face was painted white and his eyes blackened, like the criminal mastermind in the Batman films.

Read it all here.

Vatican: "Obama chose the worst"

VATICAN CITY – Vatican officials said Saturday they were disappointed by President Barack Obama's decision to end a ban on federal funding for international groups that perform abortions or provide information on them.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, urged Obama to listen to all voices in America without "the arrogance of those who, being in power, believe they can decide of life and death."

Fisichella said in an interview published Saturday in Corriere della Sera that "if this is one of President Obama's first acts, I have to say, in all due respect, that we're heading quickly toward disappointment."

Obama signed an executive order that ended the ban on Friday, reversing the policy of the Bush administration.

"This deals a harsh blow not only to us Catholics but to all the people across the world who fight against the slaughter of innocents that is carried out with the abortion," another top official with the Academy for Life, Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, told the ANSA news agency.

"Among the many good things that he could have done, Barack Obama instead chose the worst," he was quoted as saying Saturday.

Read it all here.

Anglican Church in North America Taking Applications

The process for applying to be recognized as a diocese, cluster or network of the Anglican Church in North America is now available.

Recognized dioceses, clusters and networks will be able to fully participate in the inaugural convention of the Anglican Church in North America this June in Bedford, Texas.

In many cases, existing groups of churches, already organized and under the authority of a bishop, will apply for recognition. Those forming new groups will need to begin the process of organizing themselves, selecting leadership and building a common life.

No parish or other body will be “assigned” to a diocese, cluster or network unilaterally. Instead, the process of organizing is built on the principles of “invitation” and “blessing.” All are invited to participate in the formation of a particular diocese, cluster or network. Those working to form new dioceses, clusters, or networks are asked to bless congregations which choose to remain in their existing structure rather than participate in a new group.

“This is an exciting time for those who have worked and prayed for so many years that we might have a united Anglican home in North America. May God guide all of us as we begin this work,” said Bishop Robert Duncan, archbishop-designate of the Anglican Church in North America.

A letter from Bishop Duncan introducing the application process is here (pdf).

The guidelines for the application process are here (pdf).

The Application for Recognition is here (pdf).

Cosmic Signs: Something is Happening!

There is “something new and interesting going on in the universe,” said Alan Kogut of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

A team led by Kogut detected the signal with a balloon-borne instrument named ARCADE (Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics, and Diffuse Emission).

In July 2006, the instrument was launched from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, and reached an altitude of about 120,000 feet (36,500 meters), where the atmosphere thins into the vacuum of space.

ARCADE’s mission was to search the sky for faint signs of heat from the first generation of stars, but instead they heard a roar from the distant reaches of the universe.

“The universe really threw us a curve,” Kogut said. “Instead of the faint signal we hoped to find, here was this booming noise six times louder than anyone had predicted.”

Detailed analysis of the signal ruled out primordial stars or any known radio sources, including gas in the outermost halo of our own galaxy.

Other radio galaxies also can’t account for the noise – there just aren’t enough of them.

“You’d have to pack them into the universe like sardines,” said study team member Dale Fixsen of the University of Maryland. “There wouldn’t be any space left between one galaxy and the next.”

The signal is measured to be six times brighter than the combined emission of all known radio sources in the universe.

For now, the origin of the signal remains a mystery.

Read it all here.

What Obama Should Do for Israel

Barry Cohen January 26, 2009
Article from: The Australian

I've not had the pleasure of meeting Israel's foreign affairs spokesman Yigal Palmor but he became my favourite diplomat after describing recent criticism of Israel as "unqualified bullshit". I wonder what he really thinks?

Since Israel decided that 60 rockets a day was more than any country should have to tolerate, the global media has accused Israel of every evil imaginable. They have been aided and abetted by, supposedly, non-political UN Relief and Works Agency officials who are more extreme in their anti-Israeli venom than Hamas terrorists.

The "bullshit" is exemplified by a Sydney Morning Herald headline from last week: "Israel kept UN aid out of Gaza." Israel has been accused of crimes against humanity for refusing to permit the passage of food, medical supplies, oil, electricity (used to make rockets) and other essentials required to destroy Israel.

The precedence, undoubtedly, was that set by Britain and the US during World War II. We all know how accommodating they were in ensuring Germany and Japan were well supplied with food and fuel.

There are times when one fears for one's sanity when listening to such rubbish. How many thousands more rockets must Israelis endure before they are permitted to defend themselves? What happens as the rockets become bigger and more accurate?

The few who concede Israel has the right to defend itself then argue that the rockets aren't very accurate. Some consolation if you have to run for air-raid shelters 60 times a day. Unlike Hamas, Israel protects its citizens by building air-raid shelters.

Imagine for a moment the reactions of the good burghers of Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney if rockets were fired into their neighbourhood. Contemplate what they would say to Kevin Rudd. "Wipe the bastards out" for openers. That has not been Israel's response. After 10,000 rockets over eight years, it has been remarkably restrained. However, when Hamas resumed attacks Israel decided enough was enough.

When three years ago Israel unilaterally handed Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Fatah had the opportunity, once again, to negotiate a permanent peace with Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state. Hamas preferred war, bloodshed and martyrdom. Having been democratically elected Hamas claimed a mandate. Israel, it appears, was expected to endorse the mandate that called for its own destruction.

To understand the minds of those Israel is dealing with, consider the statement of Hamas supremo, Khaled Meshaal. From the safety of Damascus, he described the recent war in which 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died, as an "unequivocal victory". And a defeat?

The word in vogue to describe Israel's destruction of rocket sites, weapons stores and Hamas terrorists has been "disproportionate": a word not much used during the London Blitz, which resulted in the deaths of 67,000 British civilians. Arthur Harris, commander-in-chief of bomber command, decided to "proportionally" flatten German cities: 600,000 German civilians died.
In the Pacific the US lost 1700 civilians, mostly at Pearl Harbor, while Australia lost 700, primarily in Darwin. The US response was to "proportionately" bomb Japanese cities killing 580,000 civilians. Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki remember it well.

Had Hamas decided not to deliberately place their civilian population, arms and combatants inside schools, hospitals and mosques, far fewer innocents would have been killed and injured.

What happens now? Hamas claims it will continue to bombard Israel while one Israeli soldier remains in Gaza, ignoring the fact that three years ago Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. The rocket attacks increased.

So where to now? The most oft repeated cliche regarding the Israel-Palestine dispute is that it's a very complex matter. I beg to differ. The Islamic world and the Palestinians in particular must accept that Israel will always exist. Not through the next truce or ceasefire but forever.

Israel's critics demand that it negotiate with Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah, to create a Palestinian state, conveniently forgetting that Israelis have tried repeatedly to do so without success. How do you negotiate with those who, at the end of the negotiations, say:"No matter what we agree to we will destroy you"?

It's a cliche to say that the Arabs can lose a hundred wars and survive while Israel cannot lose one. If the Palestinians are encouraged to believe that eventually they will triumph no one should be surprised that after each defeat they regroup, rearm and plan the next onslaught.

Yasser Arafat taught the Palestinians to believe that even if they lost a battle they would win the propaganda war. With their friends in the left-liberal media how could it have been otherwise?They must be convinced they can never destroy Israel.

Since its founding in 1948 Israel's proud boast has been that it has never asked any other country to fight its battles. It has had considerable support from the US but that support has not been one way. Israeli intelligence, military technology and scientific know-how has been Israel's payback. Israel is also the US's only reliable ally in the Middle East. It is almost certain that if Israel were under savage attack and in danger of going under, the US would come to its aid. There is, however, no formal agreement, pact or treaty to support that unstated undertaking. Which suggests the question, "Why not?"

The only way, to deter Israel's enemies is for the US to say unequivocally that it would never allow Israel to be destroyed. Most Westerners find it impossible to comprehend the mind of those Islamic fundamentalists who welcome death and martyrdom, particularly if it is achieved in an attempt to destroy Israel. On the assumption that not all Palestinians want to go to Paradise before the last possible moment, a declaration by the US and a formal agreement that it would intervene if Israel was under serious threat would have sane Palestinians looking for a peaceful solution. It's an idea the 44th President of the US might consider.


Read it here.

Tax Dollars Go to Left-Wing Groups

Washington, Jan 23 - The House Democrats’ trillion dollar spending bill, approved on January 21 by the Appropriations Committee and headed to the House floor next week for a vote, could open billions of taxpayer dollars to left-wing groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). ACORN has been accused of perpetrating voter registration fraud numerous times in the last several elections; is reportedly under federal investigation; and played a key role in the irresponsible schemes that caused a financial meltdown that has cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars since last fall.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republicans are asking a simple question: what does this have to do with job creation? Are Congressional Democrats really going to borrow money from our children and grandchildren to give handouts to ACORN in the name of economic “stimulus?”

Incredibly, the Democrats’ bill makes groups like ACORN eligible for a $4.19 billion pot of money for “neighborhood stabilization activities.” Funds for this purpose were authorized in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, signed into law in 2008. However, these funds were limited to state and local governments. Now House Democrats are taking the unprecedented step of making ACORN and other groups eligible for these funds:

“For a further additional amount for ‘Community Development Fund,’ $4,190,000,000, to be used for neighborhood stabilization activities related to emergency assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes as authorized under division B, title III of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Public Law 110–289), of which—

“(1) not less than $3,440,000,000 shall be allocated by a competition for which eligible entities shall be States, units of general local government, and nonprofit entities or consortia of nonprofit entities[.]”

“(2) up to $750,000,000 shall be awarded by competition to nonprofit entities or consortia of nonprofit entities to provide community stabilization assistance […]”

The House Democrats’ trillion dollar spending bill also includes $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. CDBG funds are given by the federal government to state and local governments which often contract with nonprofits for services related to the purpose of the grant.

ACORN knows how to secure CDBG funds. Audit reports filed by ACORN’s headquarters with the Office of Management and Budget show that ACORN spent $1,588,599 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program funds from FY 2003 through FY 2007. It is not clear from these records when or from what source the funds were awarded to ACORN. It is also not clear whether ACORN chapters or affiliates have received CDBG grants on their own.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) repeatedly urged President George W. Bush and other federal officials to withhold taxpayer funds from ACORN, including $17.2 million in federal grants awarded in December 2008 after numerous allegations of wrongdoing in connection with ACORN’s election activities were reported by the news media.

Leader Boehner also released a study of federal records in October 2008 listing tens of millions in federal grants received by ACORN. A new updated and more expansive study reveals that ACORN has actually received millions more than first thought. A review of the Federal Register and news releases issued by federal agencies showed that ACORN was awarded more than $53 million in taxpayer dollars. This amount does not reflect the millions more ACORN has received in federal block grant funds awarded to state and local agencies which passed them on to ACORN.

Read it here.

Pakistani Christians Acquitted of Blasphemy

ISTANBUL, January 23 (Compass Direct News) – Five Christians charged with “blasphemy” against Islam during April 2007 religious holidays were released on Monday (Jan. 19) after reconciliation meetings between Christian and Islamic leaders – the first verdict to have resulted from such efforts in Pakistan.

A Punjab court released Salamat Masih, 42, his 16-year-old son Rashid, and their relatives Ishfaq, Saba and Dao Masih after a judge acquitted them. Their acquittal and release came through out-of-court meetings between Muslim leaders and a Christian Non-Governmental Organization.

“This is a wonderful sign that has made history,” said Shahzad Kamran, a case worker for Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP), which negotiated with the Muslim leaders. “This case can set a precedent for future blasphemy cases against Christians.”

The reconciliation meetings between SLMP and local and national imams began last November. Rather than attempt to settle the matter in court, the legal advocacy group sought out Muslim leaders directly to persuade them that the accused were innocent; the Islamic clerics then compelled area Muslims to drop their charges.

The meetings took place between four Islamic clergymen, National Assembly Representative Mushtaq Ahmed and Sohail Johnson of the SLMP. Ahmed was unavailable for comment in spite of repeated attempts to contact him.

Johnson of SLMP took precautionary measures to keep from being exposed to violence, meeting with the imams in neutral locations away from mosques and Muslim parts of the city. The SLMP team managed to convince the Islamic clerics to release the Christians by persuading them that the alleged blasphemy grew from a misunderstanding.

“There is permission granted in Islamic law that if someone unintentionally commits an offense, it can be reconciled,” Johnson said. “[The cleric] said he would do it because he did not want to bring harm and injustice to the community.”

The Islamic clergymen agreed to issue a fatwa (religious edict) declaring the accused men innocent of blasphemy. The Muslim witnesses in the case withdrew their testimony on Jan. 13, and District Judge Sheik Salahudin acquitted the five men in a Toba Tek Singh court.

The legal advocates involved in the case said they would employ reconciliation in future cases of false blasphemy charges. They said that battling such cases in court can still free innocent people, but it does not help to solve sectarian strife that leads to violence and false charges.

But with reconciliation meetings, “the word of God has affected the hearts of the Muslims and changed their behavior,” Johnson said. “With our good behavior we can change the people.”

The SLMP’s Kamran said the imams declared the defendants innocent because they knew the men did not intentionally insult the Islamic religion. The situation likely escalated because it took place during an Islamic holiday, with the April 2007 Muslim celebration of Eid-e-Millad-ul-Nabi (Muhammad’s birthday) turning into mob violence after the spread of false rumors against Christians. Local Christian Ratan Masih was severely injured. Other Christians fled for fear of their lives, according to SLMP.

Approximately 2,000 Muslims attacked Christian Colony, a Christian neighborhood, stoning houses and torturing Christians, according to an SLMP report. Initially the mob violence began over a quarrel between Rashid Masih’s younger brother Daniel, 12, and a Muslim child named Sunny. In the course of the argument, a sticker fell off Sunny’s shirt that bore the words Yah Rasool Allah, a reference to Muhammad as God’s messenger.

A local resident, Mohammed Farsal, saw the sticker on the ground and accused the Christian children of blasphemy. Violence soon broke out, and police eventually arrested all five men on charges of insulting Islam.

Blasphemy charges against non-Muslims are not uncommon in Pakistan and are typically applied in cases of sectarian violence. Islamic leaders are often under community pressure to blame Christians in these situations.

Human rights lawyers hope this case sets a precedent for future blasphemy cases, with spurious charges of insulting Islam or its prophet becoming more difficult to press.

Other legal cases of blasphemy continue in Pakistan, including the arrest of Munir Masih and his wife Ruqiya Bibi for insulting Islam. They were granted bail yesterday in Kasur.

At the hearing, 20 local Muslims pressured the judge not to grant them bail, according to a report from the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement.

On Wednesday (Jan. 21), Hector Aleem from Islamabad was falsely accused of blasphemy, most likely as a backlash to his role as a human rights activist, the report said.

Christian lawmakers in the Muslim-majority country of 170 million hope to curb these legal abuses by abolishing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.


Tom Dupree's Radio Show

When many of the giant investment firms have gone down, Tom Dupree's group has continued to have steady success. Tom is a man of Christian conviction and prayer. I have no doubt that this helps steady and steer his boat in these rocky economic waters. Tom is also an advocate of fiscal responsibility and promotes that with his clients.

Listen to his radio show during the week and listen to the podcast from the Saturday show at Click on "shows", then click on "weekend shows", then click on the "Tom Dupree show". Each show remains available to listeners until the following Saturday.

This week you will hear a conversation between Tom Dupree and John Garen, the Chair of Economics at the University of Kentucky.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Speak for the Shministim

By Howard Zinn

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage. See that fresh-faced, bold young woman on the right? Her name is Raz Bar-David Varon. She’s an 18-year-old Israeli who just graduated from 12th grade. And as I write this, she’s sitting in jail in Tel Aviv because she refuses to join the Israeli army.

In my day we called them the “refuseniks,” and here in the U.S. they’re “conscientious objectors.” In Israel, they’re still in high school and they are the Shministim. Get used to that word because I’m going to ask you to know it, to say it, to use it. You see, Raz Bar-David Varon and another dozen or so Shministim have asked us in the U.S. for our help, and this is one request we shouldn’t refuse.

The Shministim — all about ages 17, 18, 19 and in the 12th grade — are taking a stand. They believe in a better, more peaceful future for themselves and for Israelis and Palestinians, and they are refusing to join the Israeli army. They’re in jail, holding strong against immense pressure from family, friends, and the Israeli government. They need our support and they need it today.

They have asked people like us to let the Israeli government know we are watching and that we support their courage. They’re hoping to receive hundreds of thousands of postcards to be delivered to the Israeli Ministry of Defense on December 18th, when they will hold a huge rally and press conference. They’re hoping to stand strong on the steps of this majestic building — and on the steps of history — representing not only the thousands of refusers who came before them, not only the many young people to whom they are an example of a better world, but also to represent us. They have asked you, me, and every person who strives for peace to be on those steps with them, on that day. I will be there.

Will you join me? It’s simple. Sign a letter now. And don’t stop there — ask your loved ones to join you. During this season of giving, signing a letter is the least we can give to the courageous among us.

Raz is a Shministit. Raz is Courage. And with our support of her, you and I are Shministim too.
Now go sign that letter.


Howard Zinn is an advisory board member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the American-based peace group that is organizing this letter-writing campaign on behalf of the Shministim. JVP joins a number of Israeli peace groups, including New Profile and Yesh Gvul, that have been supporting the Shministim. Zinn is a historian and author of many books, including A People’s History of the United States, and most recently, A People’s History of American Empire.

Obama's Mother Chose Life

A new TV ad by a pro-life Catholic group uses President Barack Obama’s own hardscrabble tale to steer young women away from abortion. The 41-second ad was first broadcast on BET during the inauguration. Sponsored by, the ad begins with a camera slowly zooming in on a fetus still in the womb.

These words appear on the screen: "This child's future is a broken home. He will be abandoned by his father. His single mother will struggle to raise him. Despite the hardships he will endure this child will become the 1st African-American President."

The ad ends with a photograph of President Obama and this message: "Life: Imagine the Potential."

"Our message is simple: Abortion is the enemy of hope,’’ says Brian Burch, executive director of “The purpose of our new ad is to spread a message of hope about the potential of every human life, including the life of" Obama. The ad comes amid heightened anxiety that Obama will abandon or reverse pro-life policies established by President George W. Bush.

Read about it here.

Obama Jabs at Republicans

WASHINGTON -- President Obama warned Republicans on Capitol Hill today that they need to quit listening to radio king Rush Limbaugh if they want to get along with Democrats and the new administration.

"You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package.

One White House official confirmed the comment but said he was simply trying to make a larger point about bipartisan efforts.

"There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats," the official said. "We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done."

That wasn't Obama's only jab at Republicans today.

In an exchange with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about the proposal, the president shot back: "I won," according to aides briefed on the meeting.

"I will trump you on that."

Not that Obama was gloating. He was just explaining that he aims to get his way on stimulus package and all other legislation, sources said, noting his unrivaled one-party control of both congressional chambers.

"We are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis that has to be dealt with and dealt with rapidly," Obama said during the meeting.

Republicans say the $825 billion price tag is too big a burden for a nation crippled by debt and that it doesn't do enough to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes.

"You know, I'm concerned about the size of the package. And I'm concerned about some of the spending that's in there, [about] ... how you can spend hundreds of millions on contraceptives," House GOP Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) later said.

Read it all here.

Plight of Christian Sisters in Pakistan

ISTANBUL, January 19 (Compass Direct News) – The ordeal of two teenage Christian sisters in Pakistan is over after Muslims allegedly abducted and raped them and forced them to convert to Islam, but they fear a future of societal rejection.

Parvisha Masih, 18, and Sanam Masih, 14, said three Muslim men kidnapped them last November, raping them several times during two weeks of captivity.

“We are happy to return to the family, but we are feeling ashamed because there is no respect for us in society now,” Parvisha Masih said. “We don’t want to go back to school and have to face our friends.”

They face a long legal battle that will inevitably bring them into contact with their captors – who have already assaulted their family in court.

“We feel very afraid, and we are still receiving threats,” Parvisha Masih told Compass. “We are worried about our family and about ourselves. I don’t ever want to see those men again.”

On Jan. 2 the sisters recorded statements concerning their alleged abduction, rape and forced conversion to Islam before a local magistrate in Gujranwala. Earlier, they gave statements in Karachi, where they had been taken by their captors some 840 miles to the south. Two First Incident Reports (FIRs) have been filed.

In Gujranwala, Muhammad Irfan, Muhammed Mehboob and Muhammed Rafique, Mehboob’s brother-in-law, are charged with kidnapping.

Irfan and Mehboob, suspected of involvement in a human trafficking ring, at first made contact with Parvisha Masih accidentally.

“Parvisha received a wrong number call and talked to Muhammad Irfan,” said Katherine Karamat, an investigative officer for the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).

“Some days later, Irfan called again and told her that he had a beauty salon, and if she wanted training he could arrange that for her.”

Eager to earn extra money for the family, Masih convinced her younger sister Sanam to join her in accepting the offer, according to CLAAS.

Irfan arranged to drive them to their first day of work in his car. At 10 a.m. on Nov. 12, Irfan and Mehboob picked the sisters up from their home.

“This is a common practice now,” said Michael Javaid, a Pakistani member of parliament based in Karachi. “They offer poor people from the villages a good job, and the parents are poor so they trust them, but then they bring these girls and sell them to other people.”

According to the sisters’ testimony, Irfan stopped the car after roughly half an hour to buy beverages. He offered them both a bottle of fruit juice that they drank, unaware that he had drugged it.

En route to Karachi, Irfan and Mehboob then drove the sisters to a motel in Mianwali, threatening them at gunpoint and telling them they would be killed if they tried to escape. The sisters reported that the men then raped them.

In the morning they were ushered back into the car and driven to the coastal city of Karachi, where they were held captive at Rafique’s house. Over the next five days, they said, the men raped them repeatedly.

Masih and Sanam then were taken to a madrassa (Islamic school), where a mufti issued certificates stating that the two had become Muslims. Parvisha Masih was renamed Sana, and her sister received the name Tayyaba.

Javaid and lawyers from CLAAS challenged these certificates, asserting that the sisters did not sign them.

“Anyone can get these papers by giving some kind of a bribe; [clerics] feel it is a service to Islam,” said Javaid. “They will issue a certificate without knowing the will of the person, whether this is a forcible conversion or not.”

Following their forced conversion at the madrassa, the Muslims took the sisters to the office of lawyers Nayer Zia-Ul-Din and Kokab Sahab-Ul-Din. Irfan explained to the lawyers that the sisters had converted to Islam and did not wish to return home to their Christian family, but instead wanted to stay at the government-run Dar-Ul-Aman shelter for women. Before leaving, Irfan told Masih and Sanam that they would be freed after the lawyers brought them to court the following day.

The lawyers told the sisters to sign blank sheets of paper, forging testimony from the pair that they planned to use to support their case, according to CLAAS. The attorneys told the sisters that they could stay with their family that night and took Masih and Sanam to their home, but no other family members were present.

After the sisters had fallen asleep, according to CLAAS, Sahab-Ul-Din took Parvisha Masih into a separate room and sexually abused her. Police found medication in Sahab-Ul-Din’s apartment indicating that the sisters were again drugged. Sanam said she woke up when she heard her older sister crying for help.

“I took the mobile of the lawyer and called 15 [the emergency police number in Pakistan],” she told Compass. “One lawyer had left; the other was with Parvisha.” She was able to escape the house and describe her location to authorities.

Police arrived at the scene shortly afterward, immediately referring Parvisha Masih to a hospital and arresting Sahab-Ul-Din, whom they took to the Ferozabad police station. The other lawyer, Zia-Ul-Din, had left but was later arrested at his home.

At the police station, Sanam called her father, Arif Masih, who rushed to Karachi to bring his daughters back home.

Assaulted in Court
The following day (Nov. 22), the sisters appeared before a magistrate to give testimony, accompanied by their father and other relatives. Defendants Zia-Ul-Din and Sahab-Ul-Din, both charged with rape, were also present. Upon learning that the sisters’ father was in the room, they located him and began to attack him.

“The magistrate was in his chambers, and so the lawyers attacked the father and relatives, beating them, even the women, there in the courtroom, which never happened before!” said Javaid. “All the police were called, the FHO [court police], the superintendant and deputy superintendant, and they took them to the lock-up for safety.”

Javaid said he plans to take a strong contingent of associates when they next appear in court to protect the sisters and deter another attack.

This is the second known case of its kind in recent months. Saba and Aneela Masih underwent a similar ordeal last July, and although 10-year-old Aneela has been returned to her family, her 13-year-old sister, forced to marry one of the men who kidnapped her, remains with her captors.

Christian girls from poor families make easy targets, and many cases go undocumented, Javaid told Compass. High legal fees often make it impossible for poor families to bring a case to court. Corrupt lawyers, easily swayed by bribes, often create further expense.

On top of this, a biased legal system that favors Muslims over Christians is particularly reluctant to pass judgments that would undermine conversion to Islam.

“Because both [Parvisha and Sanam Masih] are Christian and the accused were Muslim, to save their skin they made [the sisters] embrace Islam forcefully so they can marry them maybe or whatever they want,” said CLAAS lawyer Samson Joseph.

Hindu Nationalists: Bombings and Intimidation

The people behind the Malegaon blasts were organising an underground movement to promote Hindu nationalism and set up a Hindu state (Hindu Rashtra).

On Tuesday the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) presented evidence to the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) Court against 14 defendants involved in the attack that killed six people, wounding 70, in Malegaon, a city in Maharashtra, on 29 September 2008.

The 4,300-page charge sheet submitted by the Maharashtra ATS not only contained the counts of crimes against the accused, but also transcripts of conversations in which the latter discussed secret plans to “sow the seed for revolution.”

The document reported that the group held meetings in various cities of the country, including one in September 2007, attended by B.L. Sharma, a former member of parliament for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Based on transcripts from a video found on the laptop of self-styled religious leader Dayanand Pandey, police argued that the defendants were planning to set up a vast subversive group.

The transcripts also indicate that Sharma discussed when and how to recruit new members. The former BJP lawmaker is also said to have encourage the group in their plan, urging them to maintain secrecy, suggesting they might achieve their goals in a five-year period.

In the tape the group’s leader, Army Lieutenant Colonel P S Purohit, said that the “revolution should not be only in Maharashtra or Delhi. Until the web is fully spread across the country, we cannot implement this revolution.”

In the short run the group planned to carry out attacks to frighten the population and force non-Hindus to convert to Hinduism.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 12 February when the judicial custody of 11 of the 14 accused ends.

The Malegaon trial has become a major embarrassment for Hindu nationalist parties who had initially claimed that the two blasts in September were the work of Islamist or Maoist groups.
However, right from the start the trail of clues led to Hindu nationalist leaders.

When a 38-year-old man, who had become a Sadhu or Hindu ascetic in 2007, was arrested early in the investigation along with a Hindu woman, it became clear that Hindu nationalists were behind the attacks.

Read it all here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama: Pro-Lifers Keeping Score

Events around nation mark 36th anniversary of Roe abortion decision

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the annual March for Life drew thousands to Washington Jan. 22, the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion was marked around the country. At Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, on the eve of the Roe anniversary, students were encouraged to attend a Holy Hour for life from 10 to 11 p.m. before embarking on an overnight journey to Washington for the March for Life. The school "is very pro-life and since the mission of the school is education, our main focus on campus is educating students about the pro-life movement and how they can be pro-life," said Emily Espinola, Students for Life president, in a statement.

In New Hampshire, Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester said he looked proudly at the nation's progress toward victory over racism with the election of its first African-American president. He noted the beginning of a new administration "gives rise to an expectation" the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will come to an end and the needs of working-class and middle-class Americans will be addressed. He said change "is wonderfully manifest" in President Barack Obama, but the bishop urged change in "our nation's attitude toward human life, and there will be an end to abortion."

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Ugandan Inmates Challenge Death Penalty

Uganda's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by more than 400 inmates, on death row, to abolish death penalty. The judges of the Court upheld the punishment though ruling out that convicts should be executed within three year after sentencing.

On Monday, prisoners on Uganda's death row launched a legal challenge against capital punishment in the East African state.

The verdict comes close to fours years after the government appealed against an earlier constitutional court ruling that upheld that mandatory death sentences were unconstitutional, although overall, the court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty.

The 2005 judgment ruled unconstitutional the automatic nature of the death penalty in Uganda for murder and other offences amounted to inhuman punishment, also indicating that it did not provide the individuals concerned with an opportunity to mitigate their sentences.

The Constitutional Court has provided the government with a 2 year period to give effect to the judgment after which all death sentences will be set aside. The Court also ruled that any of the prisoners who have been on death row more than 3 years would be entitled to have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

In 2003, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative contested the constitutionality of the death penalty which they said was cruel and inhumane.

According to the Uganda Prisons Department, in August 2005 there were more than 550 prisoners on death row, 27 of whom are women. The number of people on death row has increased from 525 on 31 December 2004. They have been convicted for various criminal offences including murder, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, treason, and cowardice in action.

No death sentences have been carried out in Uganda since 1999, when 28 people were executed in a single day. South Africa, Cape Verde and Rwanda are some of the countries in Africa that have abolished the death penalty.

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Syriac Christians Vow to Protect Their Monastery

ISTANBUL, January 22 (Compass Direct News) – Syriac Christians in southeastern Turkey say a land dispute over the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery is part of a larger system of discrimination against the religious minority in this overwhelmingly Islamic country.

Muslim residents of southeastern Turkey dispute the boundary lines of an ancient Christian monastery dating to the fourth century as being unnecessarily large for the needs of a religious community. Islamic village leaders from Yayvantepe, Eglence and Candarli are attempting to confiscate one-third of the monastery’s property, claiming it was wrongfully appropriated and that they need it for their livestock.

Area Muslims also say the land in question is forest and thereby registered as land belonging to the State Treasury.

“Our land is being occupied by the monastery,” said Ismail Erlal, village leader of Yayvantepe, according to Cihan News Agency. “We make use of the forest there and pasture our animals; we won’t give up our rights.”

Among the most contentious issues are the monastery walls built around its perimeter, rebuilt 15 years ago. Village leaders complain in a lawsuit to obtain the land that the monastery has gone beyond its rightful bounds. In August the land survey office of Midyat said it had determined that 270 hectares of the monastery’s 760 hectares were government property, including land inside and outside the monastery’s walls.

A court in Mardin originally scheduled a hearing for Friday (Jan. 16) to determine the legal status of the monastery walls, but it was rescheduled to Feb. 11 to allow the court more time to examine the case. At the February hearing the court will determine if the 270 hectares of land belong to the government or the monastery.

Metropolitan Timotheos Samuel Aktas, leader of the monastery, answered in a report that the monastery has the right to leave its land uncultivated and has paid taxes on the property since 1937.

The state originally charged the monastery with being founded illegally, but it dropped those charges by canceling a hearing originally schedule for Dec. 24. Rudi Sumer, the attorney representing the monastery, said that the claim was groundless since the monastery has foundation status dating back to modern Turkey’s origins, not to mention centuries of existence beforehand.

The mayors of Yayvantepe, Eglence and Candarli also charged the monastery with attempting to proselytize young children (illegal in Turkey) and carrying out “anti-Turkish” activity.

Metropolitan Aktas said in a report that these claims were groundless and of the same provocative nature that has historically sparked violence against Turkey’s Christians.

“All the allegations are frivolous and vexatious, devoid of any logic or evidence, solely aimed with the malicious intent of rousing anti-Christian sentiments by the surrounding Muslim villages,” he said.

Mor Gabriel Monastery, founded in 397, is the most revered monastery for Syrian Orthodox Christians. It is inhabited by 15 nuns and two monks and is the seat of Metropolitan Bishop of Tur Abdin Diocese.

In recent decades the monastery has turned into a religious and social center for the country’s remaining Syriacs by offering schooling to children and teaching their ancient language of Syriac, a variant of the language spoken by Jesus.

“The monastery is everything for us,” said a Syrian Orthodox Christian who grew up in Turkey’s southeast. He added that many families in the area had named their children after Mor Gabriel. “Syriacs would give up everything for the monastery.”

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama to Draw Down US Forces in Iraq

Hot off his historic inauguration, President Barack Obama quickly turned his focus to drawing down troops in Iraq.

Iraq is willing to have the U.S. withdraw its troops and assume security for the country before the end of 2011, the departure date agreed to by former President George W. Bush, the Iraqi prime minister's spokesman said.

The president met Wednesday afternoon with close advisers on his first day in office to consider complex questions surrounding the practical implications and accompanying challenges of withdrawing from Iraq. Obama aims for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq by the summer of 2010.

Commander of Forces Gen. Ray Odierno joined the meeting via video conference. He talked about the situation in Iraq and said he will be presenting a plan. The military has been working for months to come up with withdrawal plans that would meet Obama's 16-month goal.

Others who joined the discussion with Obama included Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, who flew into D.C. especially for the meeting.

"The meeting was productive and I very much appreciated receiving assessments from these experienced and dedicated individuals," Obama said in a statement after the meeting. "During the discussion, I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq."

There are a range of options for withdrawal -- all with risks.

The most conservative of those options would be a withdrawal of forces by December 2011, which is what the U.S. agreement with the Iraqis calls for. But the risk there would be that the slower the drawdown, the slower the buildup of badly needed forces in Afghanistan.

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Guantanamo to Close

President Obama signed executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.

The orders, which are the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

And the orders bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.

But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

The new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other than the 19 techniques allowed for the military.

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Afghani Journalist Arrested

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has protested against the decision of the Afghan prosecutor general to continue the detention of journalist Nazari Paryani, head of news pages for the daily "Payman".

Paryani has been imprisoned at the remand jail in Kabul since 13 January 2009.

"The newspaper mistakenly published an article containing ambiguous judgments about religions, but Nazari Paryani had no direct responsibility for this," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Police raided the headquarters of the paper in Kabul on 13 January and arrested seven journalists, including Paryani, for the publication of a"blasphemous article" three days previously. Six journalists were released after a few hours but Paryani remained in custody.

Despite interventions by leaders of Afghanistan's National Union of Journalists, who were able to visit him in detention, the authorities refused on 20 January to free him on bail, although no charge had been laid against him. A delegation from Reporters Without Borders which happened to be in Kabul at the time also made representations on his behalf to the information ministry.

"Since 'Payman' has apologised, the journalist should be freed. Reading the published article, it is hard to understand the authorities' hounding of'Payman'," Reporters Without Borders said. "We are disturbed by the excessive politicisation of cases linked to the protection of the official religion," the organisation added.

Justice officials have also issued an arrest warrant against the paper'seditor, Syed Ahmad Hashemi, who is currently abroad.

Journalists in Kabul said the detention was aimed at pleasing the Ulemas council, whose president, Mullah Molavi Shinwari, released a statement the day after the article was published condemning the paper's 'Islamophobia'.

An employee at "Payman" was confused by almost identical headlines on an editorial written for the paper and a text written by a Bulgarian clairvoyant before her death and posted on the website The text contained some prophesies on Islam which were seen as insulting.

The paper carried an apology in the following day's edition, saying that "journalists on 'Payman' are all Muslims and have never insulted religious beliefs.

"The newspaper is critical of the government and regularly carries articles on corruption. Its editorial staff have been threatened on several occasions and the trade ministry recently summoned a journalist to his office to "seek an explanation" for an investigation.

A member of "Payman"'s management, Mahsa Taee, told Reporters Without Borders that "the newspaper is being held hostage by politics and by the government, which is behind this case. The media regulatory commissionusually rules on these press cases and should decide whether a case goes before the courts. But the prosecutor decided to intervene himself.

"For further information, contact Vincent Brossel, RSF, 47, rue Vivienne,75002 Paris, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 70, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51,e-mail:
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