Archive for January, 2009

The Truth is hard to swallow

January 21, 2009
Islam film Dutch MP to be charged

A Dutch court has ordered prosecutors to put a right-wing politician on trial for making anti-islamic statements.

Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders made a controversial film last year equating Islam with violence and has likened the koran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

“In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to… draw a clear line,” the court in Amsterdam said.

Mr Wilders said the judgement was an “attack on the freedom of expression”.

“Participation in the public debate has become a dangerous activity. If you give your opinion, you risk being prosecuted,” he said.

Not only he, but all Dutch citizens opposed to the “islamisation” of their country would be on trial, Mr Wilders warned.

“Who will stand up for our culture if I am silenced?” he added.

‘Incitement’

The three judges said that they had weighed Mr Wilders’s “one-sided generalisations” against his right to free speech, and ruled that he had gone beyond the normal leeway granted to politicians.

“The Amsterdam appeals court has ordered the prosecution of member of parliament Geert Wilders for inciting hatred and discrimination, based on comments by him in various media on muslims and their beliefs,” the court said in a statement.

“The court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting muslim worshippers because of comparisons between islam and Nazism made by Wilders,” it added.

The court’s ruling reverses a decision last year by the public prosecutor’s office, which said Mr Wilders’s comments had been made outside parliament as a contribution to the debate on Islam in Dutch society and that no criminal offence had been committed.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday that they could not appeal against the judgement and would open an investigation immediately.

Gerard Spong, a prominent lawyer who pushed for Mr Wilders’s prosecution, welcomed the court’s decision.

“This is a happy day for all followers of islam who do not want to be tossed on the garbage dump of Nazism,” he told reporters.

‘Fascist book’

In March 2008, Mr Wilders posted a film about the koran on the internet, prompting angry protests across the muslim World.

The opening scenes of Fitna – a koranic term sometimes translated as “strife” – show a copy of the  book followed by footage of the bomb attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, London in July 2005 and Madrid in March 2004.

Pictures appearing to show muslim demonstrators holding up placards saying “God bless Hitler” and “Freedom go to hell” also feature.

The film ends with the statement: “Stop islamisation. Defend our freedom.”

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said at the time that the film wrongly equated islam with violence and served “no purpose other than to offend”.

A year earlier, Mr Wilders described the koran as a “fascist book” and called for it to be banned in “the same way we ban Mein Kampf”, in a letter published in the De Volkskrant newspaper.

Mr Wilders has had police protection since Dutch director Theo Van Gogh was killed by a radical islamist in 2004.

Correspondents say his Freedom Party (PVV), which has nine MPs in the lower house of parliament, has built its popularity largely by tapping into the fear and resentment of muslim immigrants.

“At least the Nazis were Christians and Catholics”


North Korea says plutonium “weaponized” and off-limits

January 19, 2009

Sun Jan 18, 2009 1:17pm EST

BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea says it has “weaponized” enough plutonium for four to five nuclear weapons, a U.S. expert said on Saturday after talks in Pyongyang.

North Korea has made a series of demands as well as offers of cooperation over its nuclear program as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama prepares to enter the White House.

The North’s leader Kim Jong-il appears to have given up handling many day-to-day tasks after suffering a stroke and this may explain the North’s hardening stance, Selig Harrison, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a policy institute in Washington D.C., said.

Harrison said senior North Korean officials had told him this week that 30.8 kg (68 pounds) of plutonium their government had listed as part of a preliminary disarmament agreement had been “weaponized” — incorporated into warheards or other arms.

He said all the four senior Pyongyang officials he met, including Li Gun, the Foreign Ministry official in charge of dealings with Washington, said plutonium was now out of bounds of inspections intended to advance the now-stalled six-party disarmament talks.

“All of those I met said that North Korea has already weaponized the 30.8 kg of plutonium listed in its formal declaration and that the weapons cannot be inspected,” Harrison told a news conference in the Chinese capital after returning from five days in Pyongyang, his eleventh visit to the isolated North since 1972.

“That means North Korea has four or five nuclear weapons, depending on the grade of plutonium, the specific weapons design and desired explosive yield.”

The North Korean claims could not be verified, Harrison said, but they underscored a hardening of the state’s position even as it made offers of cooperation to Obama.

The Pyongyang officials were vague about what weaponization meant, but it appeared most likely the plutonium would be fitted in missile warheads, Harrison said.

North Korea has delayed implementing a nuclear disarmament agreement struck at the six-party talks in Beijing, unwilling to accept verification rules demanded by the other countries in the talks and saying they have not abided by their energy aid vows.

“The prospects for the six-party talks, on the basis of my assessment, are very gloomy,” said Harrison.

The talks bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia. They intensified after the North held its first nuclear test explosion in October 2006.

“INTIMATE FRIENDS”

“My view is that change in the leadership situation has strengthened the hardliners in the National Defense Commission, who are now in control of the nuclear disarmament negotiations more directly,” Harrison said.

But he said he was told North Korea wanted friendly relations with the United States.

He cited North Korea’s Foreign Minister Pak Ui-son as saying: “If the Obama administration takes its first steps correctly and makes a political decision to change its DPRK policy, the DPRK and the United States can become intimate friends.”

North Korea is formally called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Harrison said North Korea wanted construction of two unfinished light-water nuclear energy reactors in return for dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear plant.

It also says verification of its nuclear activities hinges on the United States and South Korea agreeing to open any nuclear weapons activities in the South to similar probing.

Harrison said the North’s Li Gun told him: “We are not in a position to say when we will abandon nuclear weapons. That depends on when we believe there is no U.S. nuclear threat.”

Besides Li and Pak, the officials he met were Vice President of the Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong-tae, spokesman of the National Defense Commission Ri Chan-bok.

North Korea’s state media also said earlier on Saturday Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear ambitions as long as a U.S. nuclear threat persisted.

North Korea’s army said on Saturday it would assume an “all-out confrontational posture” against the South and wipe out the conservative government in Seoul for refusing to cooperate.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s top Asia adviser had predicted earlier this week that North Korea might try to raise the stakes in order to increase its leverage after Obama takes office on Tuesday.

Last-ditch efforts by the Bush administration to win North Korea’s agreement on a system to verify its nuclear history and disarmament progress ended in stalemate at the end of 2008.

Harrison said some of North Korea’s demands may be bluster but it would be much harder for Pyongyang to step back from the claim that its plutonium is now housed in weapons.

“So they’ve raised the bar and said ‘We are a nuclear weapons state now. Deal with us on that basis’,” Harrison said.

Predictions:

  1. nokor will continue to threaten nations to pay up or risk nuclear annihilation. Victims to include South Korea, Japan and the USA.
  2. nokor will sell sell portable nukes or “dirty” atom bombs to rogue states. These will be used to strike Israel and the United States.
  3. nokor’s actions will cause global chaos and death of millions of people.

Circuit City to Shut Down

January 17, 2009
January 17, 2009

Circuit City Stores, a bellwether American retailer, said Friday that it would go out of business, stripping the nation of its second-largest consumer electronics chain.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in November but had hoped to emerge in a slimmed-down form, said instead that it would liquidate all its stores and assets.

Most of the chain’s 34,000 store employees will be laid off. Closing sales will begin as early as Saturday and will last until the merchandise is gone or about the end of March.

Just last week, Circuit City, with 567 stores, was in talks with two potential buyers, but it was unable to reach an agreement with its creditors and lenders.

“We are extremely disappointed by this outcome,” said James A. Marcum, acting president and chief executive of Circuit City Stores. He called the liquidation “the only possible path” for the 60-year-old company.

The demise of Circuit City, while not surprising given its declining sales, is part of a radical shift taking place in retailing. Weak chains — unable to weather the freeze-up in consumer spending and choked by tight credit markets — are closing.

The downturn comes after years of growth, when retailers — responding to a flood of demand from consumers spending borrowed money — opened thousands of stores. Now that the housing downturn and economic crisis have turned off the credit spigot and sent frightened consumers into hiding, it is becoming evident that many of those stores are not needed.

“We are incredibly over-stored in many sectors,” said Stacey Widlitz, an analyst with Pali Research. “If you don’t have the balance sheet to really weather the storm for a couple of years, then that’s it.”

Last year, a raft of retailers, including Boscov’s, Sharper Image, Mervyns, Linens ’n Things, Whitehall Jewelers and Steve & Barry’s, filed for bankruptcy protection. This week, Goody’s Family Clothing and Gottschalks also filed.

Many more retailers are expected to follow suit as they run out of working capital or are unable to refinance their debt.

Emerging from bankruptcy is harder than ever because of changes in the bankruptcy code and trouble in the credit markets, which are largely refusing to put new money into troubled companies.

Wall Street analysts said in November that the prospects of long-term survival for Circuit City were bleak. Months of declining sales sent the company over the edge, although its problems go back a decade. They include buying cheap real estate leases in inferior locations and laying off the company’s most experienced sales staff. The latter saved money, but at the price of employee morale and countless customers.

“They basically destroyed all their customer loyalty among all their best customers in one fell swoop,” said Britt Beemer, chief executive and founder of America’s Research Group.

“That was really the beginning of the end.”

The disappearance of the national chain means that in many markets consumers are running out of places to buy electronics, though shoppers are not the only ones being affected. The loss of Circuit City will probably be felt throughout the supply line as electronics manufacturers find themselves less able to negotiate prices.

The biggest electronics retailer left is Best Buy. Circuit City’s liquidation sales are likely to put pressure on Best Buy in the short run, but retailing analysts say the company will ultimately emerge with more market share.

“Even accounting for a softer economy,” said David A. Schick, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, “the business will go to specialty players in the sector and it will also go to mass merchant discounters.”

Analysts say they believe the biggest winner will not be Best Buy, but Wal-Mart.

Ms. Widlitz said consumers who shopped at Circuit City were more likely to defect to Wal-Mart than to Best Buy, especially at a time when Wal-Mart has aggressively built up its stable of name-brand electronics at low prices.

“This is perfect timing for them,” Ms. Widlitz said.

Key hamas leader killed in Gaza

January 15, 2009

One of the top Hamas leaders in Gaza has been killed in an air strike, Hamas and Israeli officials have said.

Said Siyam, the Hamas interior minister, was killed in an air raid on his brother’s home near Gaza City.

Earlier, Israeli troops and tanks moved closer into the heart of Gaza City, prompting fierce gun battles with fighters from Hamas.

The UN’s relief agency, Unrwa, said part of its HQ in Gaza caught fire after being hit by Israeli shells.

Senior figure

As interior minister, Mr Siyam controlled thousands of Hamas security troops in Gaza and was said to be widely feared.

His son and brother were also killed in the strike, along with two other Hamas officials – the interior ministry’s security director Saleh Abu Sharkh and the local leader of the Hamas militia, Mahmoud Abu Watfah.

Mr Siyam is one of the most senior Hamas leaders killed in the 20-day Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.

He became a member of the “collective leadership” of the militant group in 2004 after Sheikh Yassin and Abdel-Aziz Rantissi were assassinated by Israel.

His death came at the end of a day of fierce clashes which also saw the UN compound in Gaza City shelled by Israeli troops.

Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack.

About 700 people were sheltering in the compound at the time, he said, and the fire burnt through stocks of food and medicine, approaching five full fuel tanks.

Mr Olmert met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and apologised for the attack, but said Palestinian fighters had been firing from the UN site.

“It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologise for it,” he said.

“I don’t think it should have happened and I’m very sorry.”

The coastal enclave came under heavy fire from the east in the early morning as soldiers and tanks pushed into Gaza City.

Witnesses said they saw soldiers on foot marching behind bulldozers and tanks.

The advancing troops came under fire from fighters from Hamas and other Palestinian factions positioned on rooftops and balconies, said the BBC’s Rushdi Abualouf.

The building where he lives in the Gaza City suburb of Tel al-Hawa was surrounded by Israeli tanks at one point, he said, and several shells hit the lower floors.

Columns of thick smoke rose into the sky over Gaza.

A total of 1,083 people in Gaza have now been killed since the Israeli operation began, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said on Thursday – 70 higher than the previous day’s figure. Nearly a third of the dead are children, Gaza medics said.

Thirteen Israelis – including three civilians – have died.

Reports said at least 15 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel since the early morning, injuring eight people in Beersheba.

Speaking to the media after meeting Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv, Mr Ban repeated previous calls for an immediate ceasefire, and said the suffering in Gaza was a “dire humanitarian crisis” that had reached an “unbearable point”.

In other developments:

  • The UK Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown says the British government “utterly” condemns the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Fierce criticism also came from the French foreign ministry
  • Two hospitals in Gaza City are hit by shellfire: the al-Quds hospital in Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood, scene of heavy fighting, and a Red Crescent hospital, the Red Cross says
  • The Shurouq tower block in Gaza City, which houses the offices of the Reuters news agency and several other media organisations, is hit by an explosion, injuring a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel
  • Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, said the meeting was convened because of what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people

‘Detailed vision’

Meanwhile, Hamas and Israeli negotiators were said to be making progress towards a ceasefire agreement as they held separate meetings with Egyptian mediators in Cairo.

Egypt has been leading efforts to broker a ceasefire that could include a peacekeeping force being deployed along its border with Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons.

On Wednesday, Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said his movement had presented Egyptian negotiators with a “detailed vision” of how to bring about a ceasefire.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has said any ceasefire agreement would have to include a halt to Israeli attacks, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and the opening of border crossings to end the blockade of Gaza.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said there was “momentum” to the talks.

“Ultimately we want to see a long-term sustainable quiet in the south, a quiet that’s going to be based on the total absence of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and an internationally supported mechanism that will prevent Hamas from rearming,” Mr Regev said.

Israel launched its offensive on the Gaza Strip on 27 December and has refused to allow international journalists to enter Gaza without supervision, making it to independently confirm casualty figures.

The offensive has provoked widespread international condemnation at the cost in civilian casualties and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave.

Yeeeehaaaa!!!

Israelis United on War as Censure Rises Abroad

January 13, 2009
January 13, 2009

JERUSALEM — To Israel’s critics abroad, the picture could not be clearer: Israel’s war in Gaza is a wildly disproportionate response to the rockets of Hamas, causing untold human suffering and bombing an already isolated and impoverished population into the Stone Age, and it must be stopped.

Yet here in Israel very few, at least among the Jewish population, see it that way.

Since Israeli warplanes opened the assault on Gaza 17 days ago, about 900 Palestinians have been reported killed, many of them civilians. Red Cross workers were denied access to scores of dead and wounded Gazans, and a civilian crowd near a United Nations school was hit, with at least 40 people killed.

But voices of dissent in this country have been rare. And while tens of thousands have poured into the streets of world capitals demonstrating against the Israeli military operation, antiwar rallies here have struggled to draw 1,000 participants. The Peace Now organization has received many messages from supporters telling it to stay out of the streets on this one.

As the editorial page of The Jerusalem Post put it on Monday, the world must be wondering, do Israelis really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?

The answer is yes.

“It is very frustrating for us not to be understood,” remarked Yoel Esteron, editor of a daily business newspaper called Calcalist. “Almost 100 percent of Israelis feel that the world is hypocritical. Where was the world when our cities were rocketed for eight years and our soldier was kidnapped? Why should we care about the world’s view now?”

Israel, which is sometimes a fractured, bickering society, has turned in the past couple of weeks into a paradigm of unity and mutual support. Flags are flying high. Celebrities are visiting schoolchildren in at-risk areas, soldiers are praising the equipment and camaraderie of their army units, and neighbors are worried about families whose fathers are on reserve duty. Ask people anywhere how they feel about the army’s barring journalists from entering Gaza and the response is: let the army do its job.

Israelis deeply believe, rightly or wrongly, that their military works harder than most to spare civilians, holding their fire in many more cases than using it.

Because Hamas booby-traps schools, apartment buildings and the zoo, and its fighters hide among civilians, it is Hamas that is viewed here as responsible for the civilian toll. Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and gets help and inspiration from Iran, so that what looks to the world like a disproportionate war of choice is seen by many here as an obligatory war for existence.

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, standing in front of a house that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.

“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”

It is true that there are voices of concern here that the war may be outliving its value. Worries over the risk to Israeli troops and over even steeper civilian casualties as the ground war escalates have produced calls to declare victory and pull out.

For many of the 1.4 million Israelis who are Arabs, the war has produced a very different feeling, a mix of anger and despair. The largest demonstration against the war so far, with some 6,000 participants, was organized by an Arab political party. But that is still distinctly a minority view. Polls have shown nearly 90 percent support for the war thus far, and street interviews confirm that Israelis not only favor it but do so quite strongly. The country’s leaders, while seeking an arrangement to stop Hamas’s ability to rearm, do not want a face-saving agreement. They want one that works, or else they want to continue the war until Hamas has lost either its rockets or its will to fire them.

Boaz Gaon, a playwright and peace activist, said he found it deeply depressing how the Israeli public had embraced the military’s arguments in explaining the deaths of civilians. But he was livid at Hamas, both for what it had done to its own people and civilians in the south, and for its impact on the Israeli left.

“Hamas has pushed Israeli thinking back 30 years,” he said. “It has killed the peace camp.”

Moshe Halbertal, a left-leaning professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, helped write the army’s ethics code. He said he knew from personal experience how much laborious discussion went into deciding when it was acceptable to shoot at a legitimate target if civilians were nearby, adding that there had been several events in this war in which he suspected that the wrong decision had been made.

For example, Israel killed a top Hamas ideologue, Nizar Rayyan, during the first week of the war and at the same time killed his four wives and at least nine of his children. Looking back at it, Mr. Halbertal disapproves, assuming that the decision was made consciously, even if Mr. Rayyan purposely hid among his family to protect himself, as it appears he did. Yet almost no one here publicly questioned the decision to drop a bomb on his house and kill civilians; all the sentiment in Israel was how satisfying and just it was to kill a man whose ideology and activity had been so virulent and destructive.

But Mr. Halbertal takes quite seriously the threat that Hamas poses to Israel’s existence, and that issue affects him in his judgments of the war.

“Rockets from Hamas could eventually reach all of Israel,” he said. “This is not a fantasy. It is a real problem. So there is a gap between actual images on the screen and the geopolitical situation.

“You have Al Jazeera standing at Shifa Hospital and the wounded are coming in,” he continued, referring to an Arab news outlet. “So you have this great Goliath crushing these poor people, and they are perceived as victims. But from the Israeli perspective, Hamas and Hezbollah are really the spearhead of a whole larger threat that is invisible. Israelis feel like the tiny David faced with an immense Muslim Goliath. The question is: who is the David here?”

The war, of course, is portrayed differently here and abroad. What Israelis see on the front pages of their newspapers and on their evening broadcasts is not what the rest of the world is reading and seeing. Israeli news focuses on Israeli suffering — the continuing rocket attacks on Israel, the wounded Israeli soldiers with pictures from Gaza coming later. On a day last week when the foreign news media focused on Red Cross allegations of possible war crimes, Israeli news outlets played down the story.

But the Israeli news media are not so much determining the national agenda as reflecting it. Even the left and what was long called the peace camp consider this conflict almost entirely the responsibility of Hamas, and thus a moral and just struggle.

“By this stage in the first and second Lebanon wars, there were much larger street demonstrations, vigils and op-ed pieces,” said Janet Aviad, a former sociologist and peace activist. “But in this case, the entire Israeli public is angry at the immoral behavior of Hamas.”

The writer A.B. Yehoshua, who opposes Israel’s occupation and promotes a Palestinian state, has been trying to explain the war to foreigners.

“ ‘Imagine,’ I tell a French reporter, ‘that every two days a missile falls in the Champs-Élysées and only the glass windows of the shops break and five people suffer from shock,’ ” Mr. Yehoshua told a reporter from Yediot Aharonot, a Tel Aviv newspaper. “ ‘What would you say? Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you send missiles at Belgium if it were responsible for missiles on your grand boulevard?’ ”

What a sight!!!

January 11, 2009

AP Photo

A building used to hide weapons to kill innocent Israelis minding their own business is destroyed in the Gaza strip.

Reign of Rockets

January 10, 2009

Diplomatic Pouch : Hamas’ reign of rockets

By Barry Rubin

Posted date: January 10, 2009

Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has unilaterally decided to restart its shooting war with Israel.Why is Hamas acting in this manner? The answer can be found in the group’s goals, strategy and methods.

Hamas is an extremist group that uses terrorism as its main strategy. Backed by Iran, it has repeatedly and deliberately launched attacks aimed at Israeli civilians and then openly glorified the resulting murders as a great achievement. In its children’s television programs, Hamas indoctrinates Gaza’s young people to believe that terrorism is glorious and should be their career of choice.

These tactics are no accident. They serve Hamas’ goal of destroying Israel. Given this goal and the organization’s methods, the international community should be applying diplomatic pressure and sanctions against Hamas in order to damage its ability to conduct a war of terrorism.

Like all countries, Israel has the right and duty to protect its citizens. In doing so, however, Israel also wishes to avoid civilian casualties on the other side. Regrettably, as the experience of other democratic countries engaged in self-defense has shown, this is not always possible. But Israel does everything possible, even at times risking its own soldiers’ lives, to avoid such an outcome, targeting only those who are attacking it with weapons.

The best way to avoid suffering on all sides, of course, is to make peace, or to follow internationally recognized laws regarding warfare. By refusing to do any of these things, Hamas is responsible for the casualties and suffering on both sides.

It should be remembered that Israel left the Gaza Strip three years ago and dismantled all its settlements there, hoping thereby to encourage progress toward peace. Israel gave the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to improve the lives of their people and to use their governance of Gaza as a confidence-building measure, a model of how a two-state solution could work.

Instead, Hamas followed up its election victory and coalition agreement with Fatah by staging a violent coup. It turned abandoned Israeli settlements into terrorist bases used for attacking Israel. Hamas daily broadcasts its hatred of Jews and approval of terrorism; it calls for endless warfare to annihilate Israel.

One element in the Israeli response has been temporary border closings and denial of certain materials used by Hamas in its war effort. Such steps were never intended as punishment of the population, but only as leverage to ensure that Hamas’ attacks ceased. When Hamas stopped the violence, the situation returned to normal.

Israel continues to supply the needs of Gaza’s residents. But no country can be expected to deliver resources used for war against its citizens or to continue normal commerce with those who are waging a war of annihilation against it. It is unprecedented in history for any country facing daily attack to supply the fuel, power and raw materials used against itself.

Israel knows that the people of the Gaza Strip are not its enemies. They, too, are victimized by Hamas’ dictatorship, which is imposing a state of war on them, increasing restrictions on their lives, banning opposition movements, and driving out the Christian minority.

Israel has never wanted a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza and will continue to supply food, medicine, electricity and gas to its residents, if possible. This supply depends solely on Hamas and its actions.

In fact, a central element in Hamas’ war strategy is the cynical exploitation of civilians as human shields. Hamas terrorists deliberately fire from areas populated by civilians, in violation of international law. They want to stop Israel from defending itself, knowing that we will refrain from retaliating in order to protect innocent civilians. When Israel is forced to respond, and civilians are inadvertently hurt, Hamas uses this in its propaganda, accusing Israel of acting in an inhumane way. These claims should be exposed and rejected.

Now, with Hamas terminating the calm and renewing open warfare, Israel faces an intolerable situation. Its citizens are the daily target of increasingly longer-range rockets and mortar bombs. Their most basic rights of working for their livelihoods, living in their homes, and sending their children to school, are infringed upon. This situation must not be allowed to continue.

Finally it should be recognized that Hamas is a major factor blocking peace, preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state living alongside its neighbors. Not only does it try to destroy Palestinian elements seeking a negotiated solution to the conflict, it is also part of the radical forces wishing to overthrow more moderate regimes in the region and institute ruthless dictatorships which will launch new wars.

Hamas and its allies are ensuring that higher living standards, more human rights and an end to violence aren’t happening in the Middle East.

If the attacks against Israel and its citizens continue, Israel will have to respond appropriately. Given the facts of the situation, it should enjoy broad international support in doing so. While insisting on exercising its right of self-defense, Israel’s intentions are peaceful. However, a precedent is being established in which ever-stronger terrorist forces wage increasingly bloody wars, knowing that the international community is unable and unwilling to stop them.

Frugal Kitchen

January 9, 2009

The frugal kitchen

This year’s keyword is “tipid” (in English, frugal). Gone are the devil-may-care days of buying. Around the world, everyone is searching for means to cut corners, and reusing and recycling whenever possible. In keeping with the needs of the times, we start the year with tips on saving money while serving nutritious meals.

1. Buy in bulk. Avoid buying little packets or sachets of ingredients, especially the ones you often use. Retailers make a bundle by repacking spices, beans, dried fish, and noodles in small retail plastic packets. You can save thousands of pesos a year by buying supplies by the kilo or ¼ kilo in shops outside the supermarkets.

2. Get your vegetables from wet markets.

Supermarket vegetable suppliers often go through two or three levels of middlemen and add on interest for the 30-day checks they get paid with.

3. At wet markets, cheaper is not always a better bargain.

Often, vendors offer mounds of vegetables for P 5 or P 10 at the end of their vending day. Before you get tempted, inspect the veggies for overripe or wilted spots. You may be better off buying good-quality, select veggies at a stall that sells by the kilo.

4. While at the market, make sure the food items are stacked in your basket properly.

Tough stuff like potatoes, onions, garlic, and shellfish should be at the bottom of the basket; tender ones like tomatoes, tofu, fish, and meat should be on top.

5. Upon reaching home, immediately take everything out of the basket.

Place fish and meat in the freezer and sort out the vegetables and other purchases. Every minute counts. The veggies could turn yellow and wilt; the fish and meats could spoil.

6. Fruits and vegetables with skin like apples, oranges, melon, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumber, upo, zucchini, and radish should be washed in water with a little detergent.

Dry them before packing and storing in the fridge. This process removes dirt, mud, E. coli, Salmonella, and whatever preservatives the vendors used on their displayed products.

7. Fish should be gutted, patted dry, packed in plastic bags with the air squeezed out, and then frozen.

If there’s a lot of fish, they should be packed in twos or threes to facilitate thawing when you finally need to cook them. Large fish that has to be cooked in slices should be gutted and partially frozen to make slicing easier. The slices or fillets can then be packed and stored individually.

8. Meats should likewise be packed and stored in small quantities.

Pork chops and steaks should be packed individually or in layers separated by plastic films.

9. Eggs should be washed with detergent and rinsed before storing in the fridge.

Most of the eggs sold in the Philippines are soiled with chicken coop refuse, which contains Salmonella. Unwashed eggs could contaminate your hands, which transfer the Salmonella to everything else you touch, including food.

10. Make your menu depend on what’s in season.

For example, do not insist on making tortang talong (eggplant omelet) when eggplants are sold at P 70 per kilo. Be inspired and challenged by what you have in the fridge and freezer.

11. Be practical and use substitutes when following recipes.

No one will send you to jail if you use kalabasa instead of potatoes in making a stew. You could even win praises for being innovative. When I am out of bean sprouts, I use shoestring kalabasa for ukoy and lumpia.

12. It’s okay to serve instant mami from cellophane packs as long as it is made more nutritious with vegetables, herbs, and meat, even leftovers. Top with fried garlic and hardboiled egg, and you have a meal.

13. Save time and energy; double the volume of a recipe; freeze half.

This is what I do with recipes of adobo, mechado, stews, dinuguan, bopis, menudo, kaldereta, and other dishes that need a lot of time and effort to cook. Mark the packs well so you know what you’re pulling out of the fridge. It will need only a couple of minutes in the microwave and it’s ready to serve.

14. When eating out, I automatically ask the waiter to pack half of my order to take home.

This practice is so acceptable these days that economists on the pages of the most prestigious newspapers in the United States regularly advise it. The beef, pork, or chicken portion taken home could be recycled into chop suey, omelet, or added to fried rice.

15. Buy cheaper cuts of meat, and learn recipes especially suited for them.

There are hundreds of pesos to be saved monthly by serving brisket instead of sirloin, pork neck in lieu of pork chop and liempo.

16. Serve more vegetables, either in meat dishes or on their own.

Vegetables not only stretch your kitchen budget; they also make the family healthier. Mince them into the meatballs, add them into lumpia, stuff them in shawarma, or layer them like lasagna in a cheesy casserole.

17. Think twice before buying convenience ingredients like frozen mixed vegetables.

You can save a lot of money by starting from scratch, mixing diced carrots, corn and peas yourself.

18. Learn to use dried peas.

A kilo of dried green peas (gisantes) costs P 30/kilo. When soaked and boiled, it swells to become three kilos of protein. That’s P 10 per kilo! Use gisantes instead of, or in addition to, potatoes in menudo and corned beef. Mashed boiled gisantes can also be used instead of mung beans in ginisang munggo.

19. Dried beans are great for health and wealth.

Whether white, black, red or black eyed, they swell to three times their size and weight after soaking and boiling. Cook with the cheaper, less tender cuts of beef and pork. Or simmer with leftover lechon head, bones, skin, and feet.

20. Canned sardines can be a mom’s best friend.

I normally stock several 155-gram cans of local sardines in three variants distinguishable by the color of their paper labels: white, red, and green. White is in natural oil, red is in tomato sauce with chili, and green is in tomato sauce without chili.

The first dish I learned was plain ginisang sardinas which is canned sardines sautéed in garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Later, I learned to add shredded pechay or mustasa leaves. Then someone taught me to stir in a beaten egg shortly before the burner is turned off. A Chinese relative says she adds fried tokwa (tofu) cubes and tausi (salted black beans) plus a dash of sesame oil for an Oriental touch. There are thousands of sardine recipes and other frugal tips which we will share with our readers in future columns.

Saving money chinese style

January 8, 2009

Some are responding by joining the kou kou zu and limiting their spending – keeping money in the bank for the rainy day that few until now had forecast.

China’s newly frugal youths

Amid the global economic downturn, young people in China are defying government initiatives to boost spending and coming up with novel ways to save money.

Back in July 2008, Wang Chao, a 28-year-old office worker from Shanghai, told the BBC he spent 2,000 yuan (then about $290; £150) in a single day on trainers, clothes and gadgets.

But when last month his company cut salaries by half, Wang said he was forced to cut back on luxuries and swap restaurant meals for homemade packed lunches.

“My monthly income has been cut by 50%. I have had to reduce my living costs, though I’m still able to eat well.”

Blogs and popular internet forums are full of stories and advice from young people looking to stretch their money further.

This is despite the government’s allocation of some $586m-worth of funds to encourage spending to keep China’s economic growth around what it believes is the minimum necessary to maintain social stability.

‘Stingy group’

The young savers, or the “kou kou zu” (“stingy group”), come from the generation born around the 1980s; now 20- and 30-somethings who have been regularly accused of being spoilt and lacking financial awareness.

In large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, young white collar workers were well-known for their ability to overspend. A recent Shanghai government survey revealed that office workers in the city spent an average of 2,500 yuan per month – a disposable income beyond the grasp of most Chinese.By contrast, the kou kou zu are eschewing restaurants for school and company canteens; taxis and public transport for bicycles; and high street shops for online ones. It remains a grassroots movement, but it appears to be growing.

Zhang Yan, a “kou kou” from Fujian province, said learning to spend wisely had been more than just a reaction to the global recession.

She told the China Daily newspaper: “This is not just a response to the crisis – it’s something you can benefit from your whole life. Plus, it is environmentally friendly and represents a healthy and positive life attitude.”

In 2006, Ms Zhang set up an online accounting system – http://www.qian8ao.com – to help others like herself to balance their budgets.

More than just an accounting system, the website allows users to discuss money matters, comment on posts about cost-cutting homemade dishes, and remind each other to record their expenses.

Other websites promoting money-saving campaigns have become increasingly popular.

Wang Hao, a 24-year-old Beijing-based photojournalist, has recently been posting on his blog on how to live on 100 yuan a week.

At the last count his blog – blog.soufun.com/whblog – had received some 185,700 hits.

The Chinese social networking websites Douban and Kaixin Wang have also seen the emergence of similarly themed groups.

Feeling the pinch

Some analysts suggest that such measures are an indication of a loss of consumer confidence, which could ultimately exacerbate the problems affecting China’s slowing economy.

Until recently, China’s rapid economic growth meant it avoided the main affects of the global economic downturn.

World Bank predictions place China’s growth at 7.5% this year, compared to around 9% just a few months ago, before the global financial crisis hit.

Wang Chao told the BBC that despite the gloomy outlook he feels fortunate.

hamas guides Israel to kill palestinians

January 7, 2009


A victim of hamas evil tactic of firing from civilian filled sites to have them killed by Israeli return fire to manipulate world opinion and hatred against the Israelis. This is so old-school. Is the world being fooled? Yes!!! It still works!! Just look at all the demonstrators!!

GAZA — Israeli mortar shells killed as many as 40 Palestinians, among them women and children, outside a United Nations school in Gaza on Tuesday where they were taking refuge in the 11th day of the conflict. The Israeli military contended that Hamas fighters had fired mortars from the school compound, and United Nations officials called for an independent inquiry into the episode.

The rising civilian death toll in crowded Gaza heightened international urgency to end the combat. American and European diplomats said it was highly likely that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel would travel to Egypt on Wednesday to discuss a cease-fire. Israel has said it will not end the operation until it has crushed Hamas’s ability to fire rockets into its civilian areas.

Meanwhile, Hamas continued to fire rockets, despite the large numbers of Israeli troops on the fourth day of the ground operation in Gaza. One rocket reached farther than ever into Israeli territory, only 20 miles from Tel Aviv, and wounded an infant.

With another day of gory news reports inflaming the Arab world, Israel contended that the deaths at the school, at the Jabaliya refugee camp north of Gaza City, demonstrated Hamas’s callousness toward the lives of Palestinian civilians.

Here is the old, evil and disgusting tactic used by hamas to fool the world into hating Israel:

The Israeli Defense Forces said that their troops had fired several mortar shells near the school in response to mortar fire from the school compound.

“They shot back to save their own lives,” said Ilan Tal, an Israeli military spokesman and a brigadier general in the reserves. Among the dead, the military said in a statement, were “Hamas terrorist operatives and a mortar battery cell.”

The military identified two Hamas operatives, Imad Abu Asker and Hassan Abu Asker, as having been killed.

A young witness from Jabaliya, Ibrahim Amen, 16, said that he had seen one of the militants, whom he identified as Abu Khaled Abu Asker, in the area of the school right before the attack.

Ibrahim said he saw the militant after he answered calls for volunteers to pile sand around the camp “to help protect the resistance fighters.” Ibrahim went to pile sand near the school with his brother, Iyad, 20, who was then injured by the Israeli mortar fire.

United Nations officials were unable to immediately determine the accuracy of the Israeli military’s statements.

Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which offers assistance to registered Palestinian refugees and runs the school, said his organization was calling for an independent inquiry.

“Anyone on either side of the confrontation lines found to have violated international humanitarian law must be brought to justice,” Mr. Gunness said.

The night before, the United Nations said, three Palestinian men were killed in an Israeli attack on another United Nations school for refugees in Gaza.

“These attacks by Israeli military forces which endanger U.N. facilities acting as places of refuge are totally unacceptable and must not be repeated,” the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said in a statement. “Equally unacceptable are any actions by militants which endanger the Palestinian civilian population.”

Speaking to reporters at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday, hours before the strike at the Jabaliya school compound, John Ging, the chief of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, called the Gaza violence a “horrific tragedy” and a result of “political failure.”

“There is no safe haven,” he said.

United Nations officials initially put the Jabaliya death toll at 30 and said 55 were wounded, with several in critical condition. Palestinian hospital officials said 40 people had been killed, among them 10 children and 5 women.

The death toll in Gaza reached around 640 on Tuesday, according to Palestinian health officials. The United Nations has estimated that about one-fourth of those killed were civilians, though there have been no reliable and current figures in recent days.

International efforts to halt the violence appeared to be moving into a higher gear.

At the United Nations, the Security Council held a high-level meeting attended by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and many foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Gaza. Mr. Abbas and other senior Arab officials supported a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire, which was introduced by Libya.

But some members of the Security Council, including the United States, withheld support for any resolution because of efforts in the Middle East to achieve a cease-fire.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt said at a news conference in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France that the Israelis and the Palestinians should accept a cease-fire to give Cairo time to continue its efforts toward a durable long-term solution.

Israeli and American officials insist that a cease-fire would have to await guarantees that no more weapons would be smuggled into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt; a possible mechanism for that is the stationing of international observers along the border with Egypt.

“We must find a way to prevent arms and explosives from entering Gaza,” the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, told the Security Council. “When this ends, there must be new arrangements in place, not a return to the status quo ante.”

President-elect Barack Obama broke his silence about the Gaza fighting on Tuesday, telling reporters, “The loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern for me.”

Israeli losses have also risen since the ground invasion began on Saturday. The military said that three of its soldiers were killed late Monday night when an Israeli tank shell was mistakenly fired at a building they occupied.

A fourth soldier was also killed Monday night, very possibly also by an Israeli tank shell, the military said. Two soldiers, including one on Tuesday, have been killed in clashes with Hamas.

Before the Israeli ground campaign began, three Israeli civilians and a soldier were killed by rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

Hamas’s deepest rocket fire into Israel was a Katyusha-type rocket that on Tuesday slammed into the Israeli town of Gadera, more than 25 miles north of the Gaza border. The rocket landed between houses, and a baby was injured slightly, the Israeli authorities said.

The location was significant for Israelis, since Gadera is considered part of central Israel. The thousands of rockets fired out of Gaza in recent years have all landed in the south.

Israeli ground forces continued to fight Hamas operatives in northern Gaza.

The Israeli forces were surrounding Gaza City and, residents said, were east of Khan Yunis in the south.

In Al-Nasir, a district of Gaza City, families fleeing the fighting in the north poured into a United Nations boys’ school. Thirty members of the extended al-Sultan family from Beit Lahiya, including more than 20 children, huddled in one small classroom.

Ayisha al-Sultan, 36, who is married to a heart surgeon, said she had left behind a comfortable villa where each of her five children has a separate room.

“Now look at us,” she said. “At night we covered the floor tiles with paper for the kids to sleep on. We took off our jackets and covered them.”

International relief agencies warned that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was becoming increasingly dire. Three-quarters of the 1.5 million residents are currently without power, and hundreds of thousands are without running water, international agencies have said.

Venezuela Expels Envoy

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez expelled the Israeli ambassador on Wednesday to protest Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, bringing relations between Venezuela and Israel to their lowest point since 2006, when both nations withdrew their envoys in a dispute over Israel’s military campaign in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Mr. Chávez stopped short of breaking off diplomatic ties but described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide.”