PMQs LIVE: Who is Asking the Questions Today
33 minutes ago
I am not a sheep, I have my own mind
I have had enough of being told what and how to think
Whilst we are still allowed the remnants of free speech,
I will speak out.
I also reserve the right to discuss music, geekery, sport and Doctor Who
"More than £320,000 of taxpayers' money has been spent on flat-screen televisions, hi-fis and DVD players for Whitehall departments, it has been reported.comes as no surprise to me as again you can see that this Labour government uses a George Orwell novel as an inspiration, this time Animal Farm rather than the more usual 1984.
The Tories said today the figures, released in Parliamentary answers, were an 'insult' to the recession-hit public.
The biggest spender was Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which ran up an £87,000 bill for stereo equipment, DVD players and flat-screen televisions over the past three years.
The second biggest bill was at the Treasury, which spent £42,000 on televisions, £25,000 on DVD players and £9,600 on hi-fis - despite Treasury Minister Yvette Cooper's claims to be leading a 'war on waste' across government.
Other departments, including the Prime Minister's office, claimed the information could only be made available 'at disproportionate cost'. "
"It is true that we had ten years of record growth when I was prime minister. I have, unfortunately, come to the conclusion that it was luck."
"More than 400 people have been killed by Ugandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo in attacks since Christmas day, aid agency Caritas says.
The head of Caritas in DR Congo told the BBC some 20,000 people had fled to the mountains from the rebels, who have denied carrying out the attacks.
An eyewitness told the BBC that five people in Faradje had their lips cut off by Lord's Resistance Army fighters.
They were told that it was a warning not to speak ill of the rebels."
"The victims had been hacked to death and forced into fires, he said.
"All villages were burned by rebels... we don't know where exactly the population is because all the villages are empty," he told the BBC.
"We have almost 6,500 displaced who are refugees in the parishes of the Catholic Church around the city of Dungu, more than 20,000 people displaced are running to the mountains," he said.
Those who were hiding in the bush and forest were mainly the young, as the LRA tends to kidnap children and recruit them as fighters, he said.
An eyewitness in Faradje said the people who had their lips cut off were being treated for their injuries.
Many thousands of Congolese villagers fled their homes after LRA attacks near Dungu in October.
Countries from Uganda to the Central African Republic have suffered 20 years of terror inflicted by the LRA.
Tens of thousands of children have been abducted to be fighters and sex slaves.
Uganda's government said the joint offensive had destroyed some 70% of the LRA camps in DR Congo."
"I believe Tony Blair is an out-and-out rascal, terminally untrustworthy and close to being unhinged. I said from the start that there was something wrong in his head, and each passing year convinces me more strongly that this man is a pathological confidence-trickster. To the extent that he even believes what he says, he is delusional. To the extent that he does not, he is an actor whose first invention — himself — has been his only interesting role."
"Cuba's unique approach to diplomacy through medical aid, its military exploits and its five decade stand-off with the United States."I doubt that it will cover the murdering both ordered and in person by Che Guevara or the imprisoning of "social deviants" (including homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses) by Fidel Castro.
"the devastating blow delivered by the small group of hijackers who flew airliners into the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September, 2001."Oh they were hijackers were they? Just hijackers, not murdering terrorists who used planes to kill, maim and destroy?
"Fire chiefs will have to put at least one woman on each fire engine to meet diversity guidelines.
New targets say that at least 15 per cent of those in operational roles should be female.
That means they will fill one of the five or six places for crew on each engine.
Officials at the Local Government Association, which is pressing the quotas on fire authorities, said that an increased number of women firemen is necessary 'to meet the needs of local people'.
At present fewer than one in ten firemen are women even in the brigades with the highest proportion of females in operational jobs. Those with the least women employ proportions of around 3 per cent.
In an attempt to address this, local councillors who are appointed to serve on the fire authorities will be asked to sign up to the 'diversity charter'.
One of the pledges they are expected to make is to 'work to achieve recruitment targets of at least 15 per cent for women in operational roles'.
They are also asked to work towards minority ethnic representation at the same level as that in the working age population of the area.
At present just over 3 per cent of firemen are from ethnic minority groups.
Anthony Duggan, head of fire services at the Local Government Association, said: 'The fire service needs to be representative of the area it serves. It is important that the fire service attracts more women and ethnic minorities so that it can work more effectively in partnership with local authorities and other organisations to meet the needs of local people.'
Mr Duggan called for a 'culture change' and said that asking authority members to sign the diversity charter 'will show that those who are making the strategic decisions are serious about getting a greater mix of people working in the service'."
"It is important that the fire service attracts more women and ethnic minorities so that it can work more effectively in partnership with local authorities and other organisations to meet the needs of local people.'"I am sorry but I don't understand how women's needs if their house is on fire differs from men's needs. I also don't understand how a Muslim's needs, a Hindu's needs, a Jew's needs, a Catholic's needs and so on and so on differ from a Anglican's needs. This is the sort of PC multi-cultural crap that has destroyed this country over the past few decades and it has to stop. It is pernicious, it is dangerous, it is divisive and it might be actually evil.
"According to the bill, approved in its second reading and awaiting a third reading before the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the Palestinian constitution demands, courts will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures in line with Sharia Law.And the BBC and Channel 4 will still side with the moderate Palestinians against the evil Israelis.
Such punishments include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign government "against Palestinian interests" and engage in any activity that can "hurt Palestinian morale."
According to the report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer 40 lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes. Thieves caught red-handed would lose their right hand."
"A major tunnel bringing fuel into Gaza from Egypt was among three destroyed, Palestinians say. But Israel says its jets bombed more than 40 tunnels."The BBC do have the good grace to then report the Israeli side of the story that is somewhat more believable
"Israel accuses Palestinian militants of using the tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza."
"Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital."So reports The Chicago Tribune in a long piece, do take a read. One thought, if Barack Obama he is so keen on building relations with the Muslim world then may I suggest he tries to make his speech in Mecca. Of course if Barack Obama is allowed to make a speech in Mecca then it may be because many Muslims still regard him as a Muslim; after all his stepfather, father, grandfather and great-grandfather were Muslims, so he is deemed a Muslim by birth and thus a member of the Ummah. Parts of the Muslim world argue that if Barack Obama had truly converted to Christianity then why did he never change his names from the Islamic first and middle names - Barack (blessing) and Hussein (beautiful) to baptismal Christian names?
"harshly censured Hamas today (27 Dec), placing responsibility for the current situation on Hamas. At a noon press conference broadcast on Egyptian television, he said that Egypt had repeatedly cautioned against continuing the situation and that whoever did not listen (Hamas) should assume responsibility and not blame others. He added that Israel had publicly warned that continued rocket fire would lead to military action. Prime Minister Olmert said just two days ago in an Al Arabiya TV interview that if Hamas did not stop the rocket fire, Israel would respond militarily. The Egyptian foreign minister added angrily that right before Foreign Minister Livnis arrival in Egypt on Thursday, 60 rockets were fired, meant to foil Egypts efforts to achieve quiet."
"Egyptian border guards have opened fire on Palestinians who breached the border to escape Israel's assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
An Egyptian security official said there were at least five breaches along the nine-mile border and hundreds of Palestinian residents were pouring in.
At least 300 Egyptian border guards have been rushed to the area to reseal the border, the official added on condition on anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
A resident of the Gaza Strip side of the border, Fida Kishta, said that Egyptian border guards opened fire to drive back the Palestinians."
"Egypt on Sunday blamed Hamas for not letting hundreds of Palestinians wounded by Israeli air strikes leave the Gaza Strip for treatment, with dozens of empty ambulances waiting on the border.
More than 270 Palestinians have been killed and 600 wounded since Israel began hammering the Gaza Strip with air strikes on Saturday, but no wounded have yet left via Rafah, the Hamas-ruled territory's only Arab border crossing.
"No one has come in, we don't know why they're closed on the other side," a senior border security official told AFP. Several plane- and truck-loads of aid are also waiting to be allowed into the Gaza Strip, a security official said.
"The wounded are barred from crossing" into Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in Cairo, blaming "those who control Gaza. We are waiting for the wounded to cross."
In the divided town of Rafah, the road leading to the border crossing was lined with 20 riot police vehicles, an AFP correspondent reported, with 40 ambulances and several pick-ups full of medicine waiting to cross into Gaza.
"We are preparing a list of casualties. There are just so many dead and injured," Dr Mouneer al-Borsh from the Hamas-run health ministry told AFP at the border."
"I think that this does have a political point. If audiences are really are reacting in the way the Sunday Times describes it then that it says something, surely, about public opinion?"
"Bad news Gordon but tonight when Graham Norton made a joke about you and the audience laughed approvingly it struck me - you are now officially a figure of fun!
The joke was about a picture of you and your wife looking glum at the Queen and Prince Phillip's 60th anniversary service."What happened to him?
Did he get his dream job and discover he's shit at it"
That and a gag about the missing data disks, and a piss take of Alistair Darling -hello Darling, ... Darling, "you're a fucking idiot Darling, you're sacked"
Hatred is bearable for a government, Mrs Thatcher thrived on it. What kills a government is derision, it killed Major's government and it will kill Gordon Brown's. Trust me it will get worse, Graham Norton today, Jonathan Ross tomorrow and it will spread."
"The IDF released a list of some of the targets hit: the Hamas headquarters and training camp in Tel Zatar; the "Palestinian Prisoner Tower" in Gaza City that was turned into a Hamas operations center and armory; the Hamas police academy, which was bombed during a graduation ceremony, killing 70-80 people; training camps in southern and central Gaza; the former office of Yasser Arafat in Gaza City that is now used by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh; and the Izzadin Kassam Brigades headquarters in the northern Gaza Strip.
Throughout the initial stages of the air operation, the IDF Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration transmitted messages to civilians in Gaza to stay away from Kassam launch sites and Hamas buildings and infrastructure. "
"AS a convoy of blue-and-white United Nations trucks loaded with food waited last night for Israeli permission to enter Gaza, Jindiya Abu Amra and her 12-year-old daughter went scrounging for the wild grass their family now lives on.
“We had one meal today - khobbeizeh,” said Abu Amra, 43, showing the leaves of a plant that grows along the streets of Gaza. “Every day, I wake up and start looking for wood and plastic to burn for fuel and I beg. When I find nothing, we eat this grass.”
Abu Amra and her unemployed husband have seven daughters and a son. Their tiny breeze-block house has had no furniture since they burnt the last cupboard for heat.
“I can’t remember seeing a fruit,” said Rabab, 12, who goes with her mother most mornings to scavenge. She is dressed in a tracksuit top and holed jeans, and her feet are bare.
Conditions for most of the 1.5m Gazans have deteriorated dramatically in the past month, since a truce between Israel and Hamas, the ruling Islamist party, broke down.
Israel says it will open the borders again when Hamas stops launching rockets at southern Israel. Hamas says it will crack down on the rocket launchers when Israel opens the borders.
Israel controls the borders and allows in humanitarian supplies only sporadically. Families had electricity for six hours a day last week. Cooking gas was available only through the illegal tunnels that run into Egypt, and by last week had jumped in price from 80 shekels per canister (£14) to 380 shekels (£66). "
"We are doing this because we want to ensure better flow of information"
The words of the Kenyan government, explaining why "The Kenyan government has barred unapproved contacts between the media and President-elect Barack Obama's
Family members will be required to receive permission from the government before making any public statements about their famous relative, according to the Nairobi Star.
"We are doing this because we want to ensure better flow of information," Athman Said, an under-secretary in the Ministry of Heritage, told the Obama family in Kogelo.
"The government has decided that you should inform its officers who will be based here if you want to address the media."
Journalists wishing to speak with the family must first be approved by the government. "
"I regularly read the Koran, practically every day"Not my words but those of Tony Blair as reported by Earth Times. The report continues:
"As well as that, one is interested in other religions. One's motivation is greater. I regularly read the Koran, practically every day," Blair told the interviewer. He said the Prophet Mohammed had been "an enormously civilizing force."
But when asked if he planned to convert to Islam, he smiled and said, "No, let's not start on that," Die Zeit reported. "
"President-elect Barack Obama has been interviewed for two hours by four federal investigators about the scandal surrounding the alleged sale of his Senate seat by Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. "I am sure nothing will come of this as nothing must be allowed to stop the progress of the Obamamessiah to the position of ultimate power. Of course the BBC seem not to have noticed this news story, I am sure there would be wall to waal coverage if the FBI were interviewing George W. Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin or indeed any Republican of any level.
"A rocket apparently fired by Palestinians on Friday struck a house in the Gaza Strip, killing two Palestinian sisters aged five and 13, Palestinian medics said.Oddly the BBC seem not to have reported this story, presumably as it doesn't fit with their evil Israelis killing defenceless Palestinians narrative.
Hamas police said they were investigating the cause of the blast in Beit Lahiya village in northern Gaza, which medics said seemed to be due to a rocket aimed at Israel that had misfired.
Gaza militants frequently fire rockets at Israel from the same area."
"Claus, of course, is just an alias. He's really Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, on the southern cost of Turkey. The EU (foolishly) isn't admitting Turkey to the Union, so Claus needs a visa and a work permit to run his Christmas delivery service in the UK.
Claus would have to be vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau in order to work with young people. Since that can take up to three months, he's way too late for this year anyway.... And if the elves are paid, then they need to be registered under Pay as You Earn, and Claus would have to sign them on to the new Personal Accounts pension scheme and make sure that the right amount of National Insurance was paid, so he'd need a good accountant.
Because he drops presents (and himself) down chimneys, he is covered by the Working at Heights regulations. He would need training on how to use a ladder, or would have to hire a cherry-picker (with professionally qualified operator) or erect scaffolding. This might require road closures for health and safety reasons.
The fact that Claus uses reindeer to draw his sleigh would of course bring him under animal welfare regulations. The sleigh itself must qualify as an aircraft, and as such has to be licensed by and have a certificate of airworthiness from the Civil Aviation Authority. If the presents that Claus drops off have their origin outside he EU – Lapland, say – then VAT and customs forms have to be filled out, and some tariff duties may be payable."
"But I must say my favourite gift today was learning that Harold Pinter, a loathsome apologist for oh so many of the most vile mass murderers of modern times has finally dropped dead.
Good riddance and a pox on anyone who mourns his passing."
"A council spokesman said: "It would be inappropriate to comment on any investigation, or to confirm whether any particular issue is being investigated.
"However, Aberdeen City Council can confirm that it does not open or read the content of the e-mail correspondence of councillors or staff. In the course of an investigation, the council can look at the titles of e-mails and the titles of any attachments, for a specified time period. "
"The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has declared the term ‘gender equality’, used in Section 7(a) of the National Commission for Status of Women Ordinance of 2000, ‘vague and un-Islamic’ and called for its repeal.
In its review of laws report for 2008, which is yet to be presented to the government, the CII said that instead of using ‘ambiguous’ terms, Islamic principles of equity and justice should be implemented in letter and spirit in gender-related matters.
The council, which had opposed the constitution of the NCSW, further recommended that the commission’s recommendations in Section 7(b) of the ordinance should be “in consonance with established Islamic laws”.
The council declared that the repeated use of term ‘gender equality’ as an ultimate target by the commission was ‘impractical thinking’.
It explained that the concept of ‘gender equality’ was impracticable because of ‘distinct differences’ in anatomy and physical and mental capabilities. The CII described the term as ‘absurd and un-Islamic’.
The council further stated that the composition of the NCSW was objectionable under Section 3 of the law. It recommended that women members of the commission should have knowledge of Islamic teachings."
"An academic study claims that an extra 45,000 babies were born to mothers who left school at 16 in the year after the "unprecedented" increase in the value of child benefits introduced by Labour.
Some women told researchers they had stopped using contraception.
The more generous welfare system is being credited with contributing to an increase in the overall UK birth rate, which is now at its highest level since 1974.
The report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes: "We have shown that more generous Government support coincided with an increase in births among the group most affected by the [welfare] reforms.
"We have also provided supporting evidence of a decline in use of contraception among the group affected.
"Our results indicate a sizeable response in childbearing among the group affected by the reform."
For couples who both left school at 16, the reforms meant an increase in benefits of 45 per cent, from £39 a week to £56.76. This is a rise almost twice as much as the handouts for which a couple who went on to sixth form college would be eligible, which increased by 25 per cent to £37.27 a week.
The researchers then looked at fertility rates both before the reforms were announced and after, for a sample of 101,330 women aged between 20 and 45.
They found a large increase in the first year after the benefits were made more generous, particularly among women who had left school as soon as possible.
The results show a 15 per cent increase in the probability of having a baby in the "low education group", equivalent to an extra 45,000 births compared with 670,000 across Britain as a whole."
"2. To continue this con, the leader, known only as 'Mr Brown' decided to get some of the subjects onside. He invited them into a special club, known as the 'public sector' where pensions would be gold plated and they would be rewarded simply for encouraging membership the Scheme. Tomorrow's children would pay for today's rewards, an exact copy of the great original Ponzi ideology. To keep all in order, Mr Brown exponentially added to the numbers of these 'public servants.'Cynical? Maybe but there is more than a grain of truth to the developing meme of Gordon Brown's lust for controlling everything.
...but this is not over. Mr Brown is still at large and it is feared the last part of his scheme may still be to come. Allegedly, Brown is unhappy that some money still remains outside of the scheme. He plans a final assault on the Pound Sterling. This paper currency has been in circulation for hundreds of years and is an unsuspecting victim of the Scheme. Interest rates will again be dropped, a 'run on the pound' will lead to hyper-inflation and the remaining money outside of The Scheme will have become worthless. Everything and everyone will be subservient to Mr Brown."
"They (the polls) show that between May and October, double-digit Conservative leads became the norm, rising to a 28% lead in MORI's September poll."Not that we would know it as Poll Watch mysteriously disappeared for these months.
Now that the polls have come back to their party's benefit, Poll Watch is back - I wonder why...
"However, as the credit crunch developed into a ferocious international firestorm the trend in the polls changed and by December Labour found itself a relatively healthier 1% to 5% behind the Conservatives. "
"'Gavin and Stacey' star Joanna Page wants a baby."
"However, Matthew Horne - who plays Joanna's onscreen husband Gavin - didn't share her fascination with the tiny cast members.
The 30-year-old actor added to Britain's Hello! magazine: "Gavin is more traditional than I am, and I am sure if the show continues the couple will go down that route. I'm coming round to the idea of getting married... But children I will never have.""
"The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization lacks missiles to "defend" itself from Israeli aircraft, former President Jimmy Carter claimed upon returning from a trip last week to Lebanon.Jimmy Carter never happier than when he is shilling for his Arab friends and trying his best to destroy Israel.
"The general showed us a graph of the many flights of Israeli planes over all parts of Lebanon, averaging about a dozen each day. Neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese Armed Forces have any anti-aircraft weapons for defense," wrote Carter in a first-person report posted on his Carter Center website.
Carter was recounting how upon his trip to the region, Italian General Claudio Graziano, chief of the UNIFIL international forces deployed in southern Lebanon, brought him on a tour of the Israeli-Lebanese border.
"At one site near the border, two different Israeli tanks came about 70 yards from us to observe our group," Carter wrote, before claiming Hezbollah lacks anti-aircraft weapons for "defense" against Israeli over flights. "
"The police officers who arrested Conservative frontbench MP Damian Green were wearing sound recording equipment, the Metropolitan Police has said.
Police said a tape recording was made "without his knowledge" but with the "best of intentions" to provide an accurate record of the arrest."
"He will be delivering a spiritual message and his broadcast will also feature a message of seasonal goodwill."Here's an extract:
"If Christ was on earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over"I wonder which countries Mr Ahmadinejad has in mind as "warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies"; somehow I think he is thinking of the USA, UK and of course Israel rather than China or Russia or Iran (via its proxies) or any other Islamic country.
"I would like to begin by thanking Dean John Coatsworth and Professor Richard Bulliet for their work in organizing this event and for their commitment to the School of International and Public Affairs and its role -- (interrupted by cheers, applause) -- and for its role in training future leaders in world affairs. If today proves anything, it will be that there is an enormous amount of work ahead of us. This is just one of many events on Iran that will run throughout the academic year, all to help us better understand this critical and complex nation in today's geopolitics.
Before speaking directly to the current president of Iran, I have a few critically important points to emphasize. First, in 2003 the World Leaders Forum has advanced Columbia's long-standing tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas or our weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naivety about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open our public forum to their voices; to hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.
Second, to those who believe that this event should never have happened, that it is inappropriate for the university to conduct such an event, I want to say that I understand your perspective and respect it as reasonable. The scope of free speech in academic freedom should itself always be open to further debate. As one of the more famous quotations about free speech goes, it is an experiment as all life is an experiment. I want to say, however, as forcefully as I can that this is the right thing to do, and indeed it is required by the existing norms of free speech, the American university and Columbia itself.
Third, to those among us who experience hurt and pain as a result of this day, I say on behalf of all of us that we are sorry and wish to do what we can to alleviate it.
Fourth, to be clear on another matter, this event has nothing whatsoever to do with any rights of the speaker, but only with our rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves. We do it in the great tradition of openness that has defined this nation for many decades now. We need to understand the world we live in, neither neglecting its glories nor shrinking from its threats and dangers. It is inconsistent with the idea that one should know thine enemy -- I'm sorry -- it is consistent with the idea that one should know thine enemies, to have the intellectual and emotional courage to confront the mind of evil, and to prepare ourselves to act with the right temperament. In the moment, the arguments for free speech will never seem to match the power of the arguments against, but what we must remember is that this is precisely because free speech asks us to exercise extraordinary self-restraint against the very natural but often counterproductive impulses that lead us to retreat from engagement with ideas we dislike and fear. In this lies the genius of the American idea of free speech.
Lastly, in universities we have a deep and almost single-minded commitment to pursue the truth. We do not have access to the levers of power, we cannot make war or peace, we can only make minds, and to do this, we must have the most fulsome freedom of inquiry.
Let me now turn to Mr. Ahmadinejad.
First, on the brutal crackdown on scholars, journalists and human rights advocates. Over the past two weeks, your government has released Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Parnaz Azima and just two days ago, Kian Tajbakhsh, a graduate of Columbia with a PhD in Urban Planning. While our community is relieved to learn of his release on bail, Dr. Tajbakhsh remains in Tehran under house arrest, and he still does not know whether he will be charged with a crime or allowed to leave the country.
Let me say this for the record, I call on the president today to ensure that Kian will be free to travel out of Iran as he wishes. (Applause.) Let me also report today that we are extending an offer to Kian to join our faculty as a visiting professor in Urban Planning here at his alma mater in our Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and we hope he will be able to join us next semester. (Applause.)
The arrest and imprisonment of these Iranian Americans for no good reason is not only unjustified, it runs completely counter to the very values that allow today's speaker to even appear on this campus, but at least they are alive.
According to Amnesty International, 210 people have been executing In Iran so far this year, 21 of them on the morning of September 5th alone. This annual total includes at two children, further proof, as Human Rights Watch puts it, that Iran leads the world in executing minors.
There is more. Iran hanged up 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more democratic society. Many of these executions were carried out in public view, a violation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. These executions and others have coincided with a wider crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a so-called "soft revolution." This has included jailing and forced retirement of scholars. As Dr. Esfandiari said in a broadcast interview since her release, she was held in solitary confinement for 105 days because the government believes that the United States is planning a velvet revolution in Iran.
In this very room, last year we learned something about velvet revolutions from Vaclav Havel, and we will likely hear the same from our World Leaders Forum speaker this evening, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. Both of their extraordinary stories remind us that there are not enough prisons to prevent an entire society that wants its freedom from achieving it.
We at this university have not been shy to protest the challenge -- and challenge the failures of our own government to live by our values, and we won't be shy about criticizing yours. Let's then be clear at the beginning. Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator. And so I ask you -- (applause) -- and so I ask you, why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country? Why, in a letter last week to the secretary-general of the U.N., did Akbar Ganji, Iran's leading political dissident, and over 300 public intellectuals, writers and Noble Laureates express such grave concern that your inflamed dispute with the West is distracting the world's attention from the intolerable conditions in your regime within Iran, in particular the use of the press law to ban writers for criticizing the ruling system? Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?
In our country, you are interviewed by our press and asked to speak here today. And while my colleagues at the law school -- Michael Dorf, one of my colleagues, spoke to Radio Free Europe, viewers in Iran a short while ago on the tenants of freedom of speech in this country -- I propose further that you let me lead a delegation of students and faculty from Columbia to address your universities about free speech with the same freedom we afford you today. (Applause.)
Secondly, the denial of the Holocaust. In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as "a fabricated legend." One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers. For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda.
When you have come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. You should know -- (applause) -- please -- you should know that Columbia is the world center of Jewish studies -- us a world center, and now in partnership with the -- Institute of Holocaust Studies.
Since the 1930s, we provided an intellectual home for countless Holocaust refugees and survivors and their children and grandchildren. The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history. Because of this, and for many other reasons, your absurd comments about the debate over the Holocaust both defy historical truth and make all of us who continue to fear humanity's capacity for evil shudder at this closure of memory, which is always virtue's first line of defense. Will you cease this outrage?
The destruction of Israel. Twelve days ago you said that the state of Israel cannot continue its life. This echoed a number of inflammatory statements you have delivered in the past two years, including in October 2005, when you said that Israel "should be wiped off the map", quote-unquote. Columbia has over 800 alumni currently living in Israel. As an institution, we have deep ties with our colleagues there. I have personally spoken -- personally, I have spoken out in most forceful terms against proposals to boycott Israeli scholars (in/and ?) universities, saying that such boycotts might as well include Columbia. (Applause.)
More than 400 -- more than 400 -- more than 400 college and university presidents in this country have joined in that statement.
My question then is, do you plan on wiping us off the map too? (Applause.)
Funding terrorism: According to reports of the Council on Foreign Relations, it's well-documented that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that funds such violent groups as Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran helped organize in the 1980s, Palestinian Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While your predecessor government was instrumental in providing the U.S. with intelligence and base support in the 2001 campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, your government is now undermining American troops in Iraq by funding, arming and providing safe transit to insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces. There are a number of reports that you also link your government with Syria's efforts to destabilize the fledgling Lebanese government through violence and political assassination.
My question is this: Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and the civil society of the region?
The proxy war against the United States troops in Iraq -- in a briefing before the National Press Club earlier this month, General David Petraeus reported that arms supplies from Iran, including 240- millimeter rockets and explosively formed projectiles, are contributing to, quote, "a sophistication of attacks that would by no means be possible without Iranian support." A number of Columbia graduates and current students are among the brave members of our military who are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They, like other Americans with sons, daughters, fathers, husbands and wives serving in combat, rightly see your government as the enemy.
Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi'a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?
And finally Iran's nuclear program and international sanctions: This week, the United Nations Security Council is contemplating expanding sanctions for a third time, because of your government's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program. You continue to defy this world body by claiming a right to develop a peaceful nuclear power, but this hardly withstands scrutiny when you continue to issue military threats to neighbors. Last week, French President Sarkozy made clear his lost patience with your stall tactics, and even Russia and China have shown concern.
Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification, in defiance of agreements that you have made with the U.N. nuclear agency? And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions, and threaten to engulf the world in nuclear annihilation? (Applause.)
Let me close with a comment. Frankly -- I close with this comment frankly and in all candor, Mr. President. I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately I am told by experts on your country that this only further undermines your position in Iran, with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.
A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country, as at one of the meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party's defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more. (Applause.)
I am only a professor, who is also a university president.
And today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better. Thank you. "
"Obama team probe of Obama team finds no Obama team impropriety"
"The Barack Obama presidential transition office today finally released its own report on its own internal investigation of its own contacts with legally challenged Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And you'll be comforted to know the Obama folks found no impropriety whatsoever by Obama folks."
"The Barack Obama presidential transition office today finally released its own report on its own internal investigation of its own contacts with legally challenged Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And you'll be comforted to know the Obama folks found no impropriety whatsoever by Obama folks.
So go back to wrapping holiday presents or pretending you're working at your desk and checking out Obama's important abs. All is well with the coming World of Change.
Speaking of tidy packages, the five-page report was not released in the morning as things are when public attention is desired.
It was released at 4:30 Eastern time to provide minimal exam time before the network news. But that's probably a coincidence. (A complete text of the memo is available on the jump, along with a news video; just click the "Read more" line below.)
According to the report by Greg Craig, an incoming White House attorney, Obama personnel had numerous contacts with the governor's office but no one ever suspected that Blagojevich, who's been under federal investigation for three years now, was doing anything wrong.
Craig said the feds have interviewed Obama's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who inherited Blagojevich's 5th District House seat, and Valerie Jarrett, a newly named White House aide, as part of the governor's investigation. Emanuel did suggest some names but there was never any bargaining.
None of these Obama-Blagojevich contacts is a shock. It would be surprising if an exiting senator's office was not in touch with a nominating governor's office of the same party on his/her successor, although Obama promised immediately after Nov. 4 he would not be involved.
But given the *$%# excerpts read aloud two weeks ago by Chicago U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald apparently showing the governor demanding money for state business, aid and the "golden" revenue opportunity of peddling a Senate nomination, the media world was curious to know what did Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a longtime political pal of Blagojevich, say on those wiretaps."
"A ComRes survey for The Independent puts the Conservatives up two points on 39 per cent and Labour on 34 per cent, down two, with the Liberal Democrats on 16 per cent, down one point.The UK electoral system is inherently biased in favour of the Labour party; Labour voting constituencies tend to be smaller than Conservative ones, so a Labour vote is worth more than a Conservative one.
It confirms the findings of a YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph at the weekend, which put the gap between the two main parties at seven points, and also showed a fall in support for the Government over the last month.
Due to the complexities of the voting system, if the ComRes poll was duplicated at a General Election, Labour would remain the largest party but 30 seats short of an overall majority."
"Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist, said that the temporary cut in VAT would not significantly influence shoppers' behaviour.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Mr Blanchard said he did not think the cut was "a good idea". "
"A London-based think tank has revealed that the co-founder of a Muslim communal organization whose spokespeople are used by mainstream media outlets has glorified terrorism and attacks on Israel.
The Center for Social Cohesion (CSC) reported that last week Asghar Bukhari, co-founder and spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC UK), said on the social networking site Facebook that any Muslim who died fighting Israel was a martyr.
Responding to comments by another contributor on a discussion entitled 'Has Europe come to terms with Islam?', Bukhari said, "Muslims who fight against the occupation of their lands are mujahadeen and are blessed by Allah. And any Muslim who fights against Israel and dies is a martyr and will be granted paradise."
The Muslim leader went on to justify jihadism, saying, "The concept of jihad is a beautiful thing, and logical to those with a sincere heart. It tells the human being to stand up and fight against those who bring evil and oppression on this earth, and by standing up - roll back that oppression until the people are free from it."
He continued, "There is no greater oppressor on this earth then [sic] the Zionists, who murder little children for sport. Any public attack on Islam... is not going to be tolerated by men like me. I have dealt with these Zionists before, a veneer of reason below which lies a crooked mind plotting and planning to extend their hatred against us."
In 2006, The Observer newspaper revealed that Bukhari had given money to the convicted Holocaust denier David Irving.
In an e-mail to Irving, Bukhari wrote, "You may feel like you are on your own, but rest assured, many people are with you in your fight for the truth."
The National Union of Students (NUS) has banned MPAC UK from campuses for being anti-Semitic. However, mainstream media organizations such as the BBC and Sky continue to use MPAC spokespeople, and Bukhari in particular.
CSC called into question the media outlets' use of MPAC UK and their portrayal of it as a mainstream Muslim organization.
"The leadership of MPAC UK has been shown before to have expressed opinions which border on glorification of terrorism," said Robin Simcox, a CSC researcher.
"Concern has previously been expressed to the BBC and other media about their continuing use of Bukhari and his organization. Despite this, they are regularly treated by the BBC and other mainstream media as representative of mainstream Muslim opinion," Simcox said.
"Bukhari's incitement and likely illegal public comments should be a matter of grave concern to broadcasters and others who have repeatedly given him and his organization a platform," Simcox added.
The think tank has reported the incident to the police. "
"Britain could face regular blackouts within seven years if the Government does not intervene in the energy market to ensure that more power stations are built, the head of National Grid says today.I confidently predict blackouts well before 2015, my best guess would be the winter of 2010/11.
In an interview with The Times, Steve Holliday, chief executive of the company that operates the power and gas transmission network, said that Britain was facing an acute shortage of generating capacity because a string of ageing nuclear and coal-fired plants were due to be retired from service.
The warning came after Ofgem, the energy industry regulator, said on Friday that it was to consider fresh incentives to encourage the development of renewable energy schemes in Britain.
Mr Holliday said that National Grid’s own analysis indicated that, under a business-as-usual scenario, Britain would fail to attract enough investment in new plants and would lack sufficient generating capacity to meet peak demand around 2015. "
"the Bank knew "crazy borrowing" was taking place and the price of houses and other assets was rising unsustainably.Just remind me who decided that the Bank of England would be responsible for setting interest rates and giving them few other control mechanisms... Was it by any chance Gordon Brown? Should he not be held responsible?
But the Bank thought this problem was less serious than it turned out to be....
The Bank relies too much on interest rates to control the economy, he added.
In the interview with BBC business editor Robert Peston, he said interest rates were "a blunt instrument", because they affected the whole economy."
"The wind farm industry has been forced to admit that the environmental benefit of wind power in reducing carbon emissions is only half as big as it had previously claimed."
"Some pundits say ‘patriot’ Mr Brown may call an election on April 23, St George’s Day..."
"Emergency state loans given to the poorest people in the UK could cease to be interest free, under changes being considered by ministers.If this had been suggested by the last Conservative government or more recently by a Conservative think-tank then the full fury of the BBC and its left-wing friends would have been turned on the proposers of such a vile policy. However this is a policy being considered by the BBC's friends and so before opponents of the scheme are allowed a voice, the Labour/BBC alliance are allowed their unbiased say
The social fund currently extends £500m a year in interest-free loans to some 1.2 million benefit claimants.
But the government says in future some loans could be run by credit unions, who it says typically charge annual rates ranging from 12.68% to 26.8%. "
"The BBC's political correspondent Jo Coburn said the reforms were designed to ensure that interest-free loans were not offered to people who did not really need them. "
"Tata Consultancy Services, part of Asian conglomerate Tata Group which produces the world's cheapest car, will sponsor Ferrari from next season.
"For the first time an Indian brand will appear on a Ferrari," Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo said."
"Ministers are discussing a £667m loans package to help Jaguar and the UK motor industry, a Labour peer has claimed.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said on Friday there was "no promise of support" for the car maker, despite action to shore up the US motor sector.
But manufacturing expert Lord Bhattacharyya told the Financial Times he expected the government to arrange the loans "fairly soon".
Unions say tens of thousands of jobs are at risk without government help.
Lord Bhattacharyya, who is said to be close to both Mr Brown and Ratan Tata, chairman of Jaguar Land Rover's owner the Tata group, said Britain should follow America's lead. "
"An oilseed rape crop in Somerset is to be destroyed after an inspection by the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs discovered the seeds were contaminated with genetically modified material"
"I fear there is one reason above all why Mr Brown continues to get away with it, and it brings us back to the archbishop. It is because too many people are taken in by his son-of-the-manse act, and the "fact" that he has a "moral compass". Mr Brown is an exceptionally immoral prime minister, in fact. It is not moral to expropriate vast amounts of money from decent, hard-working people who probably don't vote for you and instead give it to less deserving ones who probably do. It is not moral to inflict upon the economy the damage this inevitably causes – suppressing the creation of wealth by ensuring resources are wasted rather than properly invested.
It is also not moral, when your policies have caused (and will for some time continue to cause) exceptional hardship to businesses and individuals to shrug off all responsibility for the pain, and to ring-fence your own clientele to ensure that they, unlike the private sector, do not have to endure such unpleasantness. Above all – and this was directly the point the archbishop made – it is not moral to beggar generations of Britons to come in order to create the illusion that the Government is putting matters right now: for as one of Mr Brown's predecessors, Lord Callaghan, once forcefully pointed out, you can't spend your way out of recession."
"A magistrate has resigned after 26 years, publicly denouncing the justice system as a "farce", after becoming tired of sending criminals to prison - only to see them walking the streets a few weeks later having been released early.
In a highly critical resignation speech which he planned to deliver in open court, he said that the magistrates system built up over hundreds of years was being increasingly undermined by Government interference.
"Twenty five years ago I thought I was playing a significant role, keeping the peace and reducing crime on the streets, now I don't think I am.," he said
He condemned the increasing "straitjacket" of centrally imposed sentencing guidelines and said that the police were increasingly meting out justice "behind closed doors" by issuing cautions in criminal cases which would once have been placed before the courts.
But he said that his fellow magistrates' greatest frustration was the way in which criminals were increasingly being released long before they have finished their sentences. Dr Soper first spoke out two years ago after seeing one criminal he had sent to jail for six months a few weeks earlier walking the streets, warning that freeing inmates with tags at the "whim" of governors was making a "mockery" of sentences.
In his resignation speech he called for magistrates to be involved in early release decisions because they had considered the sentence "very hard".
"For many years we have had the farce of automatic release after half the sentence, now they often get out after only a quarter and the sentencing court has no input into that decision and I think it should," he said.
"A total of 304 of the country's most dangerous criminals, jailed since January 1997, served less than ten years despite being handed the maximum term, the Ministry of Justice has admitted.
It means courts set a minimum tariff of less than ten years for most and the Parole Board, which decides if a lifer if safe to return to the community, released them.
Murder carries a mandatory life term but very serious forms of other crimes, such as rape, manslaughter and armed robbery, can carry a discretionary life sentence.
Figures in 2006 showed some lifers were being released before even serving five years."
"Children look on as they carry a goat in their vehicle on the eve of Eid al-Adha in Mumbai, India, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008. Muslims worldwide are celebrating Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, commemorating God's provision of a ram to substitute for Abraham's impending sacrifice of his son, where able Muslims offer either a goat, sheep, cow, buffalo, or camel during the feast rituals. "
"He attacked the Conservatives for having "no idea" of how to deal with the problems facing the economy.
And he blamed international factors for the slump in Britain, insisting the country had been "the victim of a global downturn".
He said it was "unfortunate" that the UK had been "unable to avoid being affected" by events elsewhere.
"We face problems, many of which we have no control over," he said.
The PM also hit back at commentators who had written him off earlier this year amid low poll ratings and internal strife in the Labour Party.
"In my view what 2008 has taught us is that the public has less interest in the minutiae, the trivia of everyday events, of the personalities and the conflicts, in Westminster," he said.
"What they really want are governments that can actually get on with the job and do what they intend to do, and that's give real help to families and businesses.""