Monthly archives: November, 2009

Swiss Slam Islam, Vote to Ban New Minarets


I just can’t wrap my head around this one.

The Swiss, who already guarantee freedom of religion in their constitution, passed a Constitutional ban on the construction of new minarets.

Somehow, some way, minarets were linked with political activism by the right wing in Switzerland.

From the New York Times:

In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly immigrants from other parts of Europe, like Kosovo and Turkey — that the minaret ban was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the justice minister, said the result “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies.”

While such concerns “have to be taken seriously,” she said in a statement, “The Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”

The primary purpose of a minaret is "to provide a vantage point from which the call to prayer (adhan) is made," according to Wikipedia. "Minarets also function as air conditioning mechanisms: as the sun heats the dome, air is drawn in through open windows then up and out of the minaret, thereby providing natural ventilation."

Swiss Anti-Minaret Campaign Poster

The secret to the success of this vote is the trashy campaign waged by the Swiss weird right. According to the NYTimes:

Campaign posters depicting a Swiss flag sprouting black, missile-shaped minarets alongside a woman shrouded in a niqab, a head-to-toe veil that shows only the eyes, starkly illustrated the determination of the right to play on deep-rooted fears that Muslim immigration would lead to an erosion of Swiss values.

In a recent televised debate, Ulrich Schlüer, a member of Parliament from the S.V.P., said minarets were a symbol of “the political will to take power” and establish Shariah, or religious law.

He also claimed that Switzerland already suffered from thousands of forced marriages.

Some analysis from Al Jazeera:

Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Bern, the Swiss capital, said: "There is concern in Switzerland undoubtedly about what is being seen as the spread of radical Islam, but the Muslim community here has always been regarded as fairly moderate.

"They were saying that they wanted to see this proposal defeated, so I’m sure it is a real shock to them that at the moment we are seeing that most of the people here have voted in favour of [the ban]."

After the official results were known, far-right politicians celebrated, while the government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture".

Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland’s justice minister, said the result "reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies".

"These concerns have to be taken seriously … However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies," she said.

Farhad Afshar, who heads the Co-ordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, said that "the most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote."

Supporters of the ban say minarets represent the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in the Swiss democracy.

"Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure – we don’t have that in Switzerland, and we do not want to introduce it," Ulrich Schlueer, co-president of the Initiative Committee to ban minarets, said.

Therefore, there’s no room for minarets in Switzerland."

But Switzerland’s Muslims have said that the referendum is fuelling [sic] anti-Islamic feeling in the country.

"The initiators have achieved something everyone wanted to prevent, and that is to influence and change the relations to Muslims and their social integration in a negative way," Taner Hatipoglu, the president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Zurich, said.

Muslims in Switzerland say they are frightened by the vote, and the apparent rise of anti-Islam hatred.

What would have happened if the Swiss had put a referendum on the ballot to ban the construction of new steeples for Christian churches? Imagine the outcry that would ensue if an anti-steeple initiative made it to ballot in the United States…

Is Your Family on Food Stamps Yet?

Food Stamps

The New York Times reports that one in eight Americans—that’s 12.5%—are currently on food stamps. That’s a lot of people. But consider this: one in four children in the United States are on food stamps.

Thats 25% of all the children in the Land of Plenty.

From the New York Times:

[Food stamp use] has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.

While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.

From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

Twenty thousand more people a day eating because of food stamps. According to an analysis by the New York Times, there are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps.

We’re not out of the woods yet.

The Bush Legacy continues.

AMERICAblog: This Week with George Stephanopoulos as Biased as Ever

From John Aravosis at AMERICAblog:

I’m watching ABC’s THIS WEEK with my mom, and the roundtable has Will, Cokie, Krugman, another big journalist (I forget his name), and this guy I don’t recognize. The unknown guy is making a lot of weird right-wing partisan comments, and I’m scratching my head trying to figure out who he is. Finally his name pops up on the screen: "Dan Senor, author." Hardly. Dan Senor is a former senior Bush administration official. As the only political hack on the panel, and a former Republican spokesman to boot, Senor should always be identified as such. Not to mention, where is the former Democratic official on the panel?

I stopped watching THIS WEEK during the last presidential campaign. I met and heard Cokie Roberts speak over a year ago at the Inland Press Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. Roberts’ big news flash was the latest bunch of poll results she had with her. That’s it. THIS WEEK likes to shape opinion, not report news.

They’re completely useless. I appreciate Mr. Aravosis keeping tabs on Stephanopoulos and company for us. He should earn battle pay for that.

Trying to pawn Dan Senor off as a mere "author" doesn’t surprise me.

Turn the channel.

Gregory Robinson Died a Hero at 14; Case Remains Unsolved

As I wrote last March, 14-year-old Gregory Robinson sounds like someone you would have admired.

Hearing gunshots, Robinson tried to protect a 10-month-old and a 4-year-old, and was shot dead. His murder remains unsolved, along with many others.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

The murder of 14-year-old Gregory Robinson, a Simeon Career Academy student who died shielding two younger children from bullets last March, remains unsolved.

This saddens the Rev. Don Smith of Holy Jerusalem Church, who doesn’t live far from where the murder took place, in the 1100 block of West 110th Place.

"I think some of these kids are so engrossed in video games, they don’t know reality," Smith said. "They think shooting is like a video game — [that] they shoot you, and three seconds later you get back up. It don’t work that way."

The murder of the Chicago Public Schools student — and many other homicides in the city that remain unsolved — was the reason Smith and a cadre of ministers and community groups hit the streets Saturday morning, ringing doorbells and passing out pamphlets asking for neighbors’ help in solving them.

Chicago Police spokesman Roderick Drew on Saturday could not immediately provide the number of unsolved murders in the city.

The South Side of Chicago is too dangerous still. There are about 100 community groups working in tandem with the Chicago Police Department to solve these murders. Dubbed Chain of Change, the project "organizes youth activists to individually and collectively strategize how to end violence by exposing its roots through the creation of media. Beyond media distributes video cameras to youth groups, who create short videos that challenge individuals to think about their own roles in this struggle."

Here is one of their video projects:

It’s a start. Another start.

And still the bullets fly.

Senate report: Bin Laden was ‘Within Our Grasp’ in December 2001

From the Associated Press:

Osama bin Laden was unquestionably within reach of U.S. troops in the mountains of Tora Bora when American military leaders made the crucial and costly decision not to pursue the terrorist leader with massive force, a Senate report says.

The report asserts that the failure to kill or capture bin Laden at his most vulnerable in December 2001 has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man. Bin Laden’s escape laid the foundation for today’s reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it says.

Staff members for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority prepared the report at the request of the chairman,Sen. John Kerry, as President Barack Obama prepares to boost U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Massachusetts senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate has long argued the Bush administration missed a chance to get the al-Qaida leader and top deputies when they were holed up in the forbidding mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan only three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Although limited to a review of military operations eight years old, the report could also be read as a cautionary note for those resisting an increased troop presence there now.

More pointedly, it seeks to affix a measure of blame for the state of the war today on military leaders underformer president George W. Bush, specifically Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary and his top military commander, Tommy Franks.

Here’s to what might have been.

And so it goes.

Charlie Weiss Again Snatches Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Unless Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick gets bizarre marching orders from above, today’s 45-38 loss to Stanford will serve as Charlie Weiss’ swan song. In a game full of spectacular offensive drives, Notre Dame’s defense collapsed time and time again to finally surrender the lead to Stanford’s resilient Hiesman-hopeful, Toby Gerhart.

From the Chicago Tribune:

The Irish ended up 45-38 losers to Stanford on a 4-yard touchdown run by Toby Gerhart in the final minute in a full-throttle race to test scoreboard capacity, blowing another double-digit lead and eradicating Weis’ slim hope to return and prolonging a miserable month.

The final score, really, was the only mystery here. Weis’ departure is expected within days, maybe hours, of the Irish’s early-morning return to South Bend, Ind., Sunday.

From the Sun-Times:

For all the media criticism of Weis, those attending his professorial weekly news conferences learned a lot about football. They learned that if an elite high school coach became an NFL offensive coordinator, his head would swim with Xs and Os. They also learned that an NFL offensive coordinator is just as overmatched coaching a team composed mainly of freshmen and sophomores.

That Weis spent so much time playing three-card Monte with young and inexperienced signal-callers heading into the 2007 season was the first sign of his failure to understand how to develop a young team. Instead of an identity, he gave them a split personality.

When his team needed a steady dose of Football 101, Weis delivered graduate-level courses. The program would never fully recover, and it would be a lack of fundamentals that would be largely responsible for where the Irish find themselves heading into today’s game at Stanford, which likely will be Weis’ last as ND’s coach.

Just when his teams learned how to block, they forgot how to tackle.

And a suggestion for ND’s next head coach from David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune:

An Irish change of the guard appears to be under way that, if governed correctly, will alter college football’s balance of power. As Charlie Weis coached what was believed to be his final regular-season game in an entertaining 45-38 loss Saturday night on the Farm, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops dodged rumors back in America’s heartland.

Bob Stoops at Notre Dame? With the schedule and talent in place, Stoops could promise his next recruiting class it will play in a national title game, and it wouldn’t sound like blarney.

What a tough year it was to be Irish.

On the off chance Notre Dame is offered a bowl bid, we can only hope and pray AD Swarbrick spares us all the embarrassment.

Ben Roethlisberger Likely To Sit Out Against Ravens

The bad news for Steelers fans from WTAE in Pittsburgh:

There’s word that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

According to, Roethlisberger has decided to sit out Sunday.

A report on indicated that Roethlisberger had yet to decide.WTAE Channel 4 Action News has called the Steelers for comment Saturday morning and will update this report when information becomes available.

I’ll be padding on extra black and gold Sunday for third string quarterback Dennis Dixon, who will likely get the start as Charlie Batch is still recovering from a wrist injury.

The Steelers and Ravens kick off Sunday night at 7:20 p.m. Central. The game will be televised on NBC.

Read more here.

Liberia: Poor Sanitation Killing Country’s Young


Nineteen-year-old Beauty Phillips clutches her emaciated baby tightly to her chest. At seven months, Inga suffers from malnutrition.

On this chaotic Friday morning in the Slipway Clinic registration room, over one hundred mothers, their crying infants wrapped in traditional lappa cloth, wait on narrow wooden benches for hours to be seen.

"She is always sickly," explains Phillips about Inga’s constant vomiting and diarrhoea. "I get my water from the community hand pump, and for my toilet I’m going to the waterside or common toilet. This is why I think my daughter is getting sick."

One out of nine Liberian children die before their fifth birthday, or 110 out of every 1,000 live births, according to the Liberia Demographic Health Survey in 2007. Thirty-nine percent of children are stunted or short for their age.

Malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia are the leading causes of death here.

The crowded slum of Slipway lies along the polluted, marshy shoreline of the Mensurado River, near the heart of downtown Monrovia.

Although Liberia Water and Sewer are trying to reconnect pipes destroyed during the decades-long civil war, most residents cannot afford to buy or access the water.

Private septic tanks overflow regularly, and burning trash lies in heaps among the sewage surrounding the marshy pit latrines.

Liberia’s population is estimated at 3.5 million. "Over three million Liberians have no access to safe sanitation facilities," says Muyatwa Sitali, communications officer with Oxfam UK, which spearheads Liberia’s water, sanitation and hygiene consortium.

"Most people have no choice but to defecate in the open, where both their lives and dignity are at risk," Sitali explains.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has implemented a free nationwide public health care policy for children under five years old, a crucial step towards her promise to provide universal health care for all Liberians.

Read more here.

Liberia Sued in London Court for US $20M Debt

From the Liberian Daily Observer:

Two Caribbean-registered funds have launched a legal case in London, the UK, against Liberia over a debt that dates back to 1978.

Hamsah Investment and Wall Capital Limited sued Liberia at a British High Court Wednesday for a summary judgment to enforce a 2002 New York judgment for over US$20 million against Liberia.

The US$20 million represents about 5% of Liberia’s total fiscal budget for the year. The Liberian Government, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is grappling with the challenges of post-war reconstruction and development amidst difficulties inherited from the civil war, and the effects of the recent global financial and economic crisis.

The New York Court rendered a default judgment against Liberia in 2002, at a time when the West African nation was embroiled in civil crisis.

The Liberian Government has swiftly reacted to the lawsuit by requesting a full trial and describing the plaintiffs as “vultures” that are after money from poor countries such as Liberia.

The troubling legal battle could pose serious setback to the country’s debt relief program under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), which was agreed upon during the Paris Club arrangement. Liberia’s total debt overhang last year was in the tune of US$5 billion.

Key line: "The US$20 million represents about 5% of Liberia’s total fiscal budget for the year."

White House Party-Crashers Met Obama; Secret Service is Sorry (Really…)

In a photo released by the White House, President Obama greeted Michaele and Tareq Salahi, right, at his first state dinner on Tuesday.

The Secret Service is sorry.

Really, really sorry.

Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the Virginia couple who crashed President Obama’s first state dinner, met President Obama.

From the New York Times:

President Obama and his wife, Michelle, had a face-to-face encounter with the couple who sneaked into a state dinner at the White House this week, White House officials acknowledged on Friday. The revelation underscored the seriousness of the security breach and prompted an abject apology from the Secret Service.

A White House spokesman said that the couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi of Virginia, met and shook hands with the president and the first lady in the receiving line in the Blue Room, as the Obamas greeted each of their 400 invited guests Tuesday night before moving to a tent on the South Lawn for dinner.

That disclosure coincided with a statement from the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, saying that his agency was “deeply concerned and embarrassed” by the events. Secret Service officials said the agency wanted to interview everyone connected with the episode, including the Salahis, and had not ruled out criminal charges.

“The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint, verifying that two individuals were on the guest list,” Mr. Sullivan said.

“Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely,” Mr. Sullivan said. “That failing is ours.”

Again, in our post-9/11-security-hyped world, this just blows me away. After all, the Secret Service didn’t take office for the first time last January.