The freed Lockerbie bomber will today celebrate his birthday in a Libyan mansion – almost eight months after the ‘dying’ man was released from prison.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi is said to have made a ‘remarkable recovery’ after being allowed to return home from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds last year.
The prostate cancer sufferer will ‘quietly mark’ his 58th birthday in Tripoli with family, friends and Libyan government officials who will be ‘enjoying a dignified celebration and thanking God for his survival’.
Megrahi, left, with Colonel Gaddafi’s second son Saif
Doctors said former secret service agent Megrahi had only three months to live when he was freed by the Scottish authorities in August – however he has already survived almost five months longer than expected.
The Libyan recently refused to allow his medical records to be made public, fuelling claims that he may have exaggerated his illness.
But a diplomatic source said: ‘That’s clearly not the view here in Tripoli. He was in a very bad way in Britain and that was the reason for Brother Al-Megrahi’s prognosis.
Since returning to the love of family and friends he has made a remarkable recovery.’
The freed bomber has continued radiotherapy in Libya, where the government funds his accommodation, care and provides for his family.
‘Combined with alternative therapies, and a less stressful situation, it is little surprise that Brother Al-Megrahi has improved,’ the source added. ‘Clearly he is still very weak,
and spends all of his days housebound, but he is far better than can be expected.’
Members of the ruling Gaddafi family were said to be ‘certain to send their best wishes’ to Al-Megrahi.
Even a low-key celebration is likely to infuriate relatives of the 270 people killed when Al-Megrahi helped blow up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.
Megrahi was handed a minimum term of 27 years in jail for the attack – but served less than seven-and-a-half years of his sentence.
Susan Cohen, who lost her 20-year-old daughter Theodora in the atrocity, last night voiced her anger at the birthday celebrations.
Mrs Cohen, from New Jersey, said: ‘Megrahi should be marking his birthday – and all his birthdays – in prison. It’s appalling that such an act of terrorism should end up with this man celebrating his birthday in a mansion.’
But yesterday, Jim Swire, a retired GP from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, who lost his 23-year-old daughter in the attack, defended Megrahi’s release and countered accusations he was ‘faking’ a terminal illness.
Dr Swire said his survival could be explained by the benefits of returning home to his family or the treatment he has received in Libya.
Megrahi is viewed as a national hero by Libyans and some 30,000 well-wishers are said to have visited him since August. Many have also sent birthday wishes, as well as presents ranging from books to food. Queues of pilgrims still form outside his home.
Megrahi spends most of his time propped up in bed, working on an autobiography that he hopes will help clear his name.
His brother, Mohammed Ali, said: ‘He is greatly loved by Libyans. If God wills it he will remain with his people.’
On Wednesday morning at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility in Washington, DC, President Obama will announce that his administration will allow the lease sale to go forward for oil and gas exploration 50 miles off of the Virginia coast — the first new sales of offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic in more than two decades.
The Department of Interior will also allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware all the way South to the tip of Florida, to assess the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources. A White House official says that the president will also approve a lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, while canceling another lease sale in Alaska’s Bristol Bay because of environmental concerns. (Lease sales in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are essentially being suspended pending further scientific review.)
The official says that “To set America on a path to energy independence, the President believes we must leverage our diverse domestic resources by pursuing a comprehensive energy strategy.”
This includes setting high fuel efficiency standards, the clean energy investments in the stimulus bill, and the recent announcement of loan guarantees for new nuclear reactions. The move represents another step in President Obama’s evolution on the issue of offshore drilling.
In June 2008, then-Sen. Obama told reporters in Jacksonville, Florida, “when I’m president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida’s coasts. That’s how we can protect our coastline and still make the investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good.”
In July 2008, he said, of lifting moratoriums on offshore drilling, that “if there were real evidence that these steps would actually provide real, immediate relief at the pump and advance the long-term goal of energy independence, of course I’d be open to them. But so far there isn’t.”
But his Republican opponents — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and perhaps even more so, his running mate, then-Gov. Sarah Palin, with her “drill, baby, drill” chant — used the issue to paint Obama as a stubborn ideologue.
But by August, then-Sen. Obama signaled that he was willing to support legislation that included off-shore drilling as part of a bipartisan compromise.
“What I don’t want is for the best to be the enemy of the good,” he said at the time. “If we can come up with a genuine bipartisan compromise, in which I have to accept some things I don’t like and the Democrats have to accept some things they don’t like, when it’s actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, I’m open to that. What I will not do is support a plan that suggests that drilling is the answer to our energy problems.”
By September 2008, then-Sen. Obama was saying an energy strategy means “increasing domestic production and off-shore drilling.
As president earlier this year, he said in his State of the Union address that a sound energy policy “means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”
In addition to the moves allowing oil and gas exploration and drilling from Delaware to Florida, the Department of the Interior will continue lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, opening up two-thirds of the resources in this region should Congress lift the moratorium imposed upon it.
Philadelphia (AP) – A space where hundreds of Philadelphia charter school students have been eating their lunches during the school day as been doubling in its off-hours as nightclub, offering dancing and drinking despite an expired liquor license.
City and school officials are not happy about the arrangement between Club Damani and the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, which serves about 450 children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said in a letter to Harambee on Monday that “a school and a nightclub cannot coexist in the same space and (the arrangement) must cease immediately,” according to a school district statement.
As a charter school, Harambee receives about $3.5 million annually in public funds but operates independently of the district. Officials at Harambee, which is on spring break this week, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
A statement on the school’s Web site said recent media reports contain “slanderous and inaccurate allegations.”
“This attack on Harambee Charter School is a biased depiction of the true success story that Harambee truly is,” it said.
Officers with the state Bureau of Liquor Enforcement visited Club Damani on Saturday, a day after WPVI-TV first aired a report on the building’s double-life. The segment included footage of liquor bottles and a YouTube video promoting the club in which a man refers to marijuana use.
No alcohol was being served when authorities arrived, bureau Sgt. William La Torre said Tuesday. However, club officials told officers that alcohol had been served in the past and that they thought their license was current, La Torre said.
Club officials denied any drug use on the premises and said the YouTube video was part of a standup comedy routine, La Torre said. Still, officers urged them to be cautious about their clientele, he said.
“Basically, we said we need you to do what’s right for the kids,” La Torre said.
Liquor licenses can be denied to establishments within 300 feet of a school. In this case, the school moved into a building that already was licensed, state Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Francesca Chapman said Tuesday.
Harambee’s facility in West Philadelphia was once an Italian-American social club that had held a liquor license since 1936, Chapman said. The club transferred the license to the school-affiliated Harambee Institute in 2002, but Chapman said it expired in 2008.
Neighbors also are upset about the situation, said city Controller Alan Butkovitz. He said he has received complaints about discarded drug packaging and liquor bottles near the club.
Butkovitz revealed Tuesday that Harambee is one of 13 charter schools under investigation by his office for questionable financial practices.
La Torre said the enforcement bureau last received a complaint — which was noise related — about Club Damani in January 2008, when it was still licensed to serve alcohol.
The club’s phone number and Web site were not working Tuesday.
The city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections cited the club in February for lacking three necessary business permits, said Maura Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. The club has until April 10 to comply or it will be shut down, she said.
PARIS (Reuters) – Prominent Muslim scholars have recast a famous medieval fatwa on jihad, arguing the religious edict radical Islamists often cite to justify killing cannot be used in a globalized world that respects faith and civil rights.
A conference in Mardin in southeastern Turkey declared the fatwa by 14th century scholar Ibn Taymiyya rules out militant violence and the medieval Muslim division of the world into a “house of Islam” and “house of unbelief” no longer applies.
Osama bin Laden has quoted Ibn Taymiyya’s “Mardin fatwa” repeatedly in his calls for Muslims to overthrow the Saudi monarchy and wage jihad against the United States.
Referring to that historic document, the weekend conference said: “Anyone who seeks support from this fatwa for killing Muslims or non-Muslims has erred in his interpretation.
“It is not for a Muslim individual or a Muslim group to announce and declare war or engage in combative jihad … on their own,” said the declaration issued Sunday in Arabic and later provided to Reuters in English.
The declaration is the latest bid by mainstream scholars to use age-old Muslim texts to refute current-day religious arguments by Islamist groups. A leading Pakistani scholar issued a 600-page fatwa against terrorism in London early this month.
Another declaration in Dubai this month concerned peace in Somalia. Such fatwas may not convince militants, but could help keep undecided Muslims from supporting them, the scholars say.
The Mardin conference gathered 15 leading scholars from countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, Senegal, Kuwait, Iran, Morocco and Indonesia. Among them were Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah of Mauritania and Yemeni Sheikh Habib Ali al-Jifri.
RULE FOR MUSLIM RADICALS
Ibn Taymiyya’s Mardin fatwa is a classic text for militants who say it allows Muslims to declare other Muslims infidels and wage war on them. The scholars said this view had to be seen in its historic context of medieval Mongol raids on Muslim lands.
But the scholars said it was actually about overcoming the old view of a world divided into Muslim and non-Muslim spheres and reinterpreting Islam in changing political situations.
The emergence of civil states that guard religious, ethnic and national rights “has necessitated declaring the entire world a place of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between all religious, groups and factions,” their declaration said.
Aref Ali Nayed, a Libyan who heads the Dubai theological think-tank Kalam Research and Media, told the conference the great Muslim empires of the past were not a model for a globalized world where borders were increasingly irrelevant.
“We must not be obsessed with an Islam conceived of only geographically and politically,” he said.
“Living in the diaspora is often more conducive to healthy and sincere Muslim living. Empires and carved-out ‘Islamic states’ often make us complacent.”
Nayed said Muslims must also understand that “not all types of secularisms are anti-religious.” The United States has stayed religious despite its separation of church and state, but some “French Revolution-like secularisms” were anti-religious.
The declaration ended with a call to Muslim scholars for more research to explain the context of medieval fatwas on public issues and show “what is hoped to be gained from a sound and correct understanding of their respective legacies.”
Time and again during the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton gave a televised speech, old timers here in West Texas would say they could tell he was lying because his lips were moving. And looking back, it’s patently obvious that Clinton, the second President in American history to be impeached, had a problem with the truth.
And while we despised Clinton for things like the deaths his incompetence led to in Mogadishu (“Black Hawk Down”), we also learned to laugh at him, as if to admit we couldn’t expect any thing better from the man whom Ann Coulter labeled Arkansas’ “horny hick.”
But with President Barack Obama, the lies are not so easily shrugged off. And that’s not because we expect more from him than we did from Clinton—he is, after all, a Democrat—but because the lies Obama perpetuates place our nation at peril.
This was particularly evident via the falsehoods and the bait and switch tactics Obama employed to hide the ugly truth about healthcare reform when it was still in the proposal stages.
It was while Obama was still vying for the Democrat presidential nomination in 2008, that he railed against Hillary Clinton’s support of healthcare mandates on the grounds that they would force U.S. citizens to buy health insurance. Yet last week, he signed a bill into law that literally orders every American to get health insurance, whether they want it or not.
Then there were the endless speeches during his first year in office, where he promised the healthcare overall was going to be “deficit neutral.” While numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show that the recently passed legislation will not increase the deficit, much of that conclusion was based on accounting gimmicks. And given the CBO’s poor track record of estimating future entitlement costs, don’t be surprised when Obamacare’s costs exceed projections.
And remember Obama’s pledge that he would not increase taxes on any household making less than $250,000 a year? In the healthcare bill he just signed, there are seven new taxes which apply to everyone regardless of income.
Although these falsehoods and underhanded tactics are bad, they are nothing compared to the lies and rhetoric Obama has used since the healthcare legislation passed.
For example, while speaking at the University of Iowa on March 25, 2010, Obama mocked Republican criticism of the newly passed legislation. He laughed at Republican congressional leaders who’ve referred to the passage of the legislation as “Armageddon” and literally dared them to repeal it. Said Obama: “If these congressmen in Washington want to come here to Iowa and tell small business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest.”
But the truth is that just days after the passage of healthcare reform, businesses across the country realized that the cost of abiding by Obama’s new regulations will be quite high. AT & T reported the legislation will cost them $1 billion in “corporate losses” this year. It will cost the makers of John Deere tractors $150 million. It will cost “Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million.”
Sounds something like “Armageddon” to me.
But there’s more. In an attempt to shame critics like House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) into silence, Obama told Iowans that if the legislation is repealed it will drive up healthcare costs. Yet in reality, less than a week after healthcare reform was passed, wireless giant Verizon realized the legislation is going to force their operating expenses up to such an extent that they’ve “warned [their] employees about…new higher healthcare costs.”
In other words, implementing Obama’s healthcare reform is what’s going to drive costs up, while repealing it would keep costs where they are (or would allow the market to eventually drive them down).
And as if these lies weren’t enough, Obama upped the ante by intimating that senior citizens will be left without insurance if Republicans repeal the healthcare legislation. But the truth is that benefits for seniors, like plans covering prescription drugs, are greatly diminished under the new legislation. This explains why “the consulting firm Towers Watson estimates that the total [cost to businesses] for this year will reach nearly $14 billion, unless corporations cut retiree drug benefits when their labor contracts let them.”
It’s all smoke and mirrors. And the lies leading up to the passage of healthcare reform, as well as those now being used to shield it from criticism, have been shameless. They are intended to make us look one way while Obama goes another or to get us to sit down and shut up when we should be standing and shouting “Armageddon” from the rooftops.
I’m starting to get an old, familiar feeling every time Obama’s lips are moving.
Y ou probably missed it. But a new school of economics was unveiled last week shortly after health care reform passed the House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped to the podium in the House chamber and said the legislation will “unleash tremendous entrepreneurial power” and create millions of jobs. “Our economy needs something new, a jolt,” she said. And she and her Democratic colleagues had just delivered it.
Pelosi, author of the new departure in economic thinking, said we should now “imagine a society and an economy where a person could change jobs without losing health insurance, where they could be self-employed or start a small business.” With health care reform, “their entrepreneurial spirit will be unleashed.”
That’s not the half of it. While insuring 32 million more people, making insurance “more affordable for the middle class,” producing “a healthier America through prevention, through wellness and innovation,” and a whole lot more—in addition to all that, the legislation creates “4 million jobs in the life of the bill and [does]all that by saving the taxpayer $1.3 trillion.”
The proper response if you believe Pelosi even a little bit is, “Thank you, Nancy!” or perhaps simply, “Wow!” But restrain yourself. Pelosi has a gift for economic lunacy. This wouldn’t be especially worrisome, except Pelosi is second in line to the presidency and would be prime minister if we had a parliamentary system.
So far as I know, Pelosi is the first person in the universe to regard the lack of portability of health insurance as a deathblow to entrepreneurship. This idea is, to put it mildly, farfetched. Is there evidence that budding entrepreneurs have been deterred by the fear of losing health insurance for a spell? Don’t bet on it. Are future Michael Dells or Ted Turners or Pierre Omidyars suppressing their entrepreneurial juices because their doctor visits aren’t covered? Please.
Pelosi, as is the habit of Democrats, cited an uncheckable and probably imaginary case. “If they had a child with diabetes who was bipolar … they would be job-locked,” she insisted. Maybe so. But a job-locked entrepreneur? It’s surely overkill to revolutionize our entire health care system for the sake of that rare bird. Besides, there’s COBRA, the federal law that permits an employee who quits to stay insured for months.
The prospect of 4 million new jobs as a result of health care reform is also fanciful. It’s based on a study by two economists sponsored by the Center for American Progress (CAP), an advocacy group for liberal Democratic legislation. The study claims the reform legislation will modernize the health care system, generate administrative savings, slow the growth in insurance premiums, and allow businesses to hire between 250,000 and 400,000 employees a year for a decade. On the basis of this, Pelosi acts as if 4 million new jobs are a slam dunk. She actually appears to believe it.
The problem is the assumption about savings. Any savings from modernization are likely to be more than offset by medical breakthroughs that balloon the cost of care. The Beacon Hill Institute in Boston, using a less rosy scenario than CAP, reached the more realistic conclusion that health care reform will destroy 120,000 to 700,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
The CAP study echoes one of Obama’s cherished claims. Since his days as a presidential candidate, he’s been insisting reform will “bend” health spending downward. But this is more than a stretch. It’s a dream. History tells a different story. When free or subsidized health care is offered by the government (Medicare, Medicaid), the cost far exceeds initial (and later) projections. This has been the case for state as well as federal programs. Indeed, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. The one exception is the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which uniquely relies on free market competition. Pelosi, true to form, wants to replace that competition with price controls.
Pelosi is a faithful believer in the notion you can defy the laws of economic gravity and get more for less, once government steps in. Logic suggests otherwise. Health insurers will be forced to offer more benefits, including free preventive care, no annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and insurance for those with preexisting conditions. That’s just for starters. New taxes will be imposed on insurance companies and medical device manufacturers. A package of new benefits and tax hikes is hardly a recipe for cheaper premiums and lower overall health care costs.
Companies have already begun to figure out that their cost of doing business will rise, which means they won’t be hiring. Layoffs are more likely. Medtronic, which makes medical implements, said it might have to cut 1,000 jobs. It’s not only what businesses will pay for health insurance that is bound to increase. They’ll lose a tax break for providing drug coverage for retirees. And they’ll pay a higher Medicare tax for each employee.
There is one potential cost-cutting measure in the health reform legislation. High-cost, “Cadillac” insurance plans will face a 40 percent tax, which is certain to kill such plans and trim insurance costs.
But wait a minute. Pelosi didn’t like that tax. Four days after the reform bill passed, the Senate and House passed a second measure, dubbed “reconciliation.” Among other things, it delayed the 40 percent tax until 2018, a pretty good indication that the tax will never be levied.
Pelosi was in a joyful mood when reconciliation sailed through the House. It boosted health care spending, increased regulation, raised doctors’ fees, and added new taxes. Nonetheless, she asserted: “With this legislation in place, families will have access to even more affordable care” [emphasis added]. Her perverse school of economics had been vindicated again.
The Muslim women’s suicide attacks killed 39 on the Russian capital’s metro on Monday.
Investigators said they may have been among 30 women who trained as suicide bombers in Turkey.
Nine of the group are now thought to have died in attacks – and officials are racing to track down the others.
Said Buryatsky – dubbed the Russian Bin Laden – is thought to have trained the women from the war-torn Caucasus region. He was killed by security services last month.
‘Accomplice’ … photo of suspect
Investigators released a photo of a suspected male accomplice. A man is thought to have accompanied the bombers on a bus from the Caucasus. Mourners yesterday laid flowers at makeshift memorials on the metro.
Russian PM Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down the masterminds of the bombing “to the bottom of the sewers”.
(Reuters) – The Obama administration is expected to announce by Wednesday its updated plan for oil and natural gas drilling in U.S. waters, including whether to allow exploration for the first time along the U.S. East Coast.
The plan could pave the way for a significant new domestic source of energy, helping to reduce U.S. dependence on oil imports and boost supplies of natural gas used to displace coal in power plants as the country works to reduce emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
Last month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he wanted to release the updated drilling plan by the end of March.
Two industry sources said on Monday President Barack Obama was expected to give a speech about energy security on Wednesday, which could include his views on expansion of offshore drilling.
The Interior Department and White House declined comment on Monday on whether Obama would speak to the issue in a speech slated for mid-morning on Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The administration has been weighing the pros and cons of offshore drilling since it took office and put the brakes on a Bush-era proposal that called for drilling along the East Coast and off the coast of California.
For more than 20 years, drilling was banned in most offshore areas of the United States outside the Gulf of Mexico because of concerns spills could harm the environment.
Congress allowed the prohibition to expire in 2008 and former President George W. Bush lifted a drilling moratorium that year.
Environmental groups and some lawmakers continue to raise concerns about the impact increased drilling would have on coastal areas.
But Obama, who wants Congress to move a stalled climate change bill, has sought to reach out to Republicans by signaling he is open to allowing offshore drilling, providing coastlines are protected.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the U.S. Atlantic coast waters may hold 37 trillion cubic feet of gas and nearly 4 billion barrels of oil, while the Pacific Coast has 10.5 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.
To put that in context, the United States imports about 2 billion barrels of oil a year from OPEC nations and is expected to import 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from all sources this year, according to the Energy Department.
The administration’s plan is expected to spell out whether and when drilling will be allowed in 3 million acres off the Virginia coast.
The Bush administration had proposed leasing the Virginia tracts to energy companies and said the government would receive bids for the leases in November 2011.
However, a senior Interior official told an oil industry conference in January that drilling off Virginia’s coast would definitely be delayed past the original 2011 leasing date.
The proposed Virginia lease area, located about 50 miles from shore, may hold 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The possible delay in drilling off Virginia’s coast has been criticized by the state’s new governor, Republican Bob McDonnell, and two U.S. senators eager for the state to tap into the jobs and royalties that come with exploration.
A spokeswoman for McDonnell said his office has not been told the updated drilling plan would be announced on Wednesday.