Current Events

Palestinians’ Parliamentary Election

As The Associated Press reported on January 25, 2006, “Hamas made a stronger-than-expected showing in the Palestinians’ first parliamentary election in a decade Wednesday… The impressive results for Hamas, competing in its first election ever, reflected popular discontent with Fatah, the secular party that has led the Palestinian Authority since its creation 12 years ago and has been accused of widespread corruption and mismanagement.

“The election was the Palestinians’ first truly competitive vote, and officials hoped it would help cement democracy in the post-Yasser Arafat era. But it also gave unprecedented clout to Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction and is listed as a terror group by the United States and European Union [as well as Israel]… President Bush told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday that the United States will not deal with Hamas until it renounces its position calling for the destruction of Israel.”

On January 26, it became obvious that Hamas’ victory was much greater than first anticipated. Reuters reported:

“The Islamic militant Hamas group swept to victory over the long-dominant Fatah party on Thursday in Palestinian parliamentary polls, a political earthquake that could bury any hope for reviving peace talks with Israel soon.The shock outcome, acknowledged by Fatah ahead of official results, does not automatically unseat President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate elected last year after Yasser Arafat’s death. But he has said he might resign if unable to pursue a peace policy.”

In a related article, Reuters stated on January 26: “On the streets of the Jewish state, there was grave concern at the victory of the Hamas movement that carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings during a Palestinian uprising and is formally dedicated to destroying Israel.”

The Associated Press added on January 26: “Hamas supporters raised their flag over the Palestinian parliament and rushed into the building amid clashes with Fatah loyalists a day after winning parliamentary elections. The two camps threw stones at each other, breaking windows in the building, as Fatah supporters briefly tried to lower the green Hamas banners. The crowd of about 3,000 Hamas backers cheered and whistled as activists on the roof of the parliament raised the Hamas banner again… Acknowledging the Hamas victory, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his Cabinet ministers resigned hours before official results were released… Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, according to news reports, called the outcome a ‘very, very, very bad result.'”

France Willing to Use Nukes?

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 20:

“Chirac has never been a politician afraid to make his opinion felt… In a speech given at a nuclear submarine base in Brittany, Chirac said France would be willing to use nuclear weapons against any state which launched a terrorist attack against it… Chirac’s words certainly drew the world’s eyes to France — hardly an unwelcome result for the attention-loving president — and in Germany, a country where a lot of people are uncomfortable with nuclear power, not to mention nuclear weapons, commentators are hotly debating whether Chirac is showing mettle or hubris.”

The EUOberserver added: “Analysts point out that it is the first time the French leader has linked the possibility of the country’s nuclear response to a terrorist attack, arguing that it means a policy change. France and Britain are the only two EU countries holding an independent nuclear deterrent, while Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey, which is on the waiting list to join the bloc, are hosting US nuclear weapons on their territory.”

Der Stern reported on January 23 that German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with Chirac, and that she saw no reason to criticize him for his comments. Merkel met with Chirac in Versailles. She stated that it was a good place and that they had a good meeting.

Bin Laden Is Back

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 20:

“Like a B-horror movie comedy corpse that just won’t stay under the coffin lid, Osama Bin Laden popped up again on Thursday. After a 13 month silence, a taped video message was broadcast on the Qatari TV channel Al Jazeera. In the message bin Laden makes an appeal to the US public to push for a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and offers a ceasefire to Bush’s administration. The reply from the US government was a flat ‘no.’ We don’t negotiate with terrorists, it said. But if nothing else, this does prove that the al-Qaida leader is still alive, despite the fact that intelligence officials were assuming (or rather hoping) he was already dead. Assumed to be hiding in the mountainous area along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the video certainly begs the question of how is it possible the most powerful country in the world is UNABLE TO TRACK DOWN ONE MAN.”

Google Fights Bush

As it was reported on January 21 by Google News, “Google is resisting Bush Administration attempts to force it to hand over records about the behaviour of millions of people who use its search engine. The Justice Department wants data about every internet search during a one-week period. It claims the information is vital to restore online child protection laws the US Supreme Court struck down. But Google said the White House demands were too broad. It said to comply would give the impression it was willing to disclose personal information about those who use its services, ‘not a perception that Google can accept’. Civil liberties groups said the request highlighted the potential for governments to seize online databases and use them to spy on people… The Administration has issued similar subpoenas to other companies–Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL. Yahoo and AOL said they complied but no personal information was shared. Microsoft refused to say whether it received a subpoena.”

The article continued, highlighting the privacy issues, as well as the lack thereof, and the governmental surveillance involved in this case, which are somewhat reminiscent of George Orwell’s Big Brother-scenario, as vividly described in his novel, “1984”:

“Some experts said although the request was only for details of searches, not the people making them, it still raised serious privacy concerns. Google says it intends to ‘resist the Government’s efforts vigorously’. The case highlights how much information internet companies have on users. Internet service providers keep a record of every website a customer visits, and the destination, date and time of emails. Under a controversial directive passed before Christmas and designed to help police investigate terrorism, service providers will have to keep information for two years. Yaman Akdeniz, the director of the British organisation Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties, described the move as ‘disturbing’. ‘It is worrying to hear that Google are keeping that much data, when their users are not aware of this,’ Mr Akdeniz, a law lecturer at Leeds University, said. ‘The US Government appears to be on a fishing expedition. What people look for on a search engine is private. If you type in neo-Nazi or child porn, it doesn’t mean that you are committing a crime.'”

Bolivia’s First Indian President

CNN reported on January 20:

“In the ancient temple of a lost civilization far from the Government Palace, a barefoot Evo Morales will ask Andean gods for help and guidance Saturday on the eve of his inauguration as Bolivia’s first Indian president… There, Morales, a U.S. critic who won by a landslide on a leftist platform, will be blessed by Indian priests who consider themselves inheritors of this pre-Incan culture, which had no written language and disappeared mysteriously.”

Australia Soon Without a King?

The Associated Press reported on January 20, that “Most Australians believe their country should sever its constitutional ties with Britain if Prince Charles becomes king, according to a poll published Saturday. The poll published in The Weekend Australian found 46 percent of Australians believed Australia should become a republic, while 34 percent wanted the British monarch to remain Australia’s head of state. But if Charles, the first in line for the throne, replaced his mother Queen Elizabeth II, who turns 80 in April, support for a republic would rise to 52 percent and opposition would slide to 29 percent, the poll said… Australia is a former British colony, which was granted independence in 1901 but retained the British monarch as head of state as have other former colonies.”

47 Million Legal Abortions in the US Since 1973

A newsletter of the Baptist Press, published on, reported on January 24:

“In what can only be described as tragic, the United States likely experienced its 47 millionth legal abortion at some point in 2005, more than three decades after the Supreme Court issued its infamous 1973 Roe. v. Wade decision legalizing the killing of the unborn… Since 1975, the United States has witnessed more than 1 million abortions each year. Unless the nation’s laws are changed, the number of abortions post-Roe will pass 50 million in 2008.”

Iraq–A Thorn in the Flesh!

The Associated Press reported on January 24, 2006, about the turmoil and disarray at the Saddam Hussein trial. After the Presiding Judge resigned, “Judges in the trial of Saddam Hussein tried to remove a newly appointed chief judge Tuesday, a dispute that forced an abrupt postponement of the proceedings and deepened the turmoil in what was supposed to be a landmark in Iraq’s political progress.”

The article pointed out the difficulties in bringing peace to Iraq, even when involving a situation which was originally viewed to be an “open-and-shut case scenario”:

“U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped the trial would mark a political turning point for the violence-torn country, helping it deal with its past and look forward to a new political system. Instead, it has heightened divisions. Sunni Arabs sympathetic to the former leader, their patron, were heartened by Saddam’s outbursts during the hearings, which are televised nationwide. But Shiites and Kurds, who make up about 80 percent of Iraq’s estimated 27 million people and bore the brunt of Saddam’s oppression, found the relative freedom he has had in the courtroom an affront.”

US and European Human Rights Violations?

On January 24, AFP reported: “The US government rejected a Council of Europe report which said the United States had put more than 100 terror suspects through its secret ‘rendition’ program in Europe…On Tuesday the Marty-led probe for the Council of Europe issued an interim report which said European governments must have been aware that the United States was using their territory to transport or detain more than 100 terrorist suspects as part of its rendition policy.”

Der Spiegel Online added the following on January 25:

“A special investigator’s preliminary report to a European human rights watchdog on alleged CIA prisons and flights for terror suspects in Europe has produced no concrete evidence. And without greater cooperation from European governments there never will be… Speaking to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, Marty said it was likely… that European governments probably knew what was going on… For a high-level interim report, the sourcing was thin, too. For example, the charge that 100 people had been abducted was based on a quote from an interview with a single former CIA agent. That, however, could have more to do with the lack of cooperation the Swiss investigator has received from Washington and European governments. That lack of cooperation is the focus of several editorials in German papers on Wednesday.”

The magazine continued to point out:

“The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung says Marty ultimately has a thankless job. He is effectively an investigator without a mandate. The human rights watchdog the Council of Europe cannot set up an official inquiry and it cannot call witnesses or demand evidence from the governments of its 46-member countries, explains the paper. ‘Since the US government isn’t prepared to offer up information, official parliamentary inquiries by European states are the best way to uncover what happened,’ it comments…

“The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also admits Marty had his hands tied from the start. The paper even brings into question his role by placing his title of ‘investigator’ in quotation marks. Strasbourg is not the place to bring to light the activities of intelligence agencies…

“The left-wing Berliner Zeitung says the Marty report has ‘little weight’ and ‘at best shows that the investigation … is only at the beginning.’ The paper believes the report comes just at the right time for Germany, which is also caught up in an unrelated investigation into the activities of German intelligence agents in Iraq at the beginning of the war. The daily comments that Berlin might be more worried about the cooperation of Germany’s BND intelligence agency with the CIA in Europe than what happened in Baghdad a few years ago.”

Terrible US Environmental Standards

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 24:

“A nation-by-nation study of environmental standards [2006 Environmental Performance Index or EPI] puts the United States, the world’s biggest polluter in 28th place, behind most of Western Europe. The authors of the study by two US universities [Yale and Columbia] say they hope the American public and government will take note of their findings… “The lagging performance of the United States on environmental issues — particularly on energy and climate change — signals trouble not only for the American people, but for the whole world,’ said Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.”

Attacks on French Muslims and Jews Through Pig Soup

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 25 about a macabre and perhaps intentional attack by French right-wing groups on Muslims and Jews–by providing free pig soup to homeless people. It is also interesting that these “charitable” right-winged groups declare that the consumption of the pig–as the “food of the French ancestors”–preserves the “European identity”! The article explained:

“Soup doesn’t usually figure to be terribly high on the police list of peace-disturbing priorities. And one might think that charitable groups handing out hot soup to homeless people on a frigid winter’s day in Paris would engender a pat on the back rather than opprobrium. But the soup in question is made of pig parts, and Paris police don’t approve.

“For weeks now, groups associated with the far-right organization Bloc Identitaire have been handing out soup — which they are calling ‘identity soup’ — to the homeless across the country and in neighboring Belgium. But rather than altruistic charity, critics see blatant racism. Muslims and Jews are forbidden by their religions [both the Bible and the Koran] from eating pork — and excluding these groups, say many, is exactly the point of the handouts… ‘With pork in the soup, we return to our origins, our identity,’ Roger Bonnivard, head of homeless-support group Solidarity of the French and pork soup chef, told the Associated Press. ‘On every farm, you kill a pig and make a soup…. The pig is the food of our ancestors.’… ‘Identity soup’ is on its third winter in Paris, though this is the first year it has spread elsewhere. A number of local groups behind the liquid largesse are planning a so-called ‘great festive meal of European solidarity’ in Paris in February. The goal is to defend the European identity.”

No Holocaust?

As Der Spiegel Online reported on January 24, “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has followed up his calls for the destruction of Israel with plans to host a conference questioning the validity of the Holocaust. SPIEGEL ONLINE interviewed [highly competent and internationally recognized] German Holocaust historian Götz Aly.”

Aly explained in the magazine:

“Academics from all over the world have researched the Holocaust extremely thoroughly. The murder of the European Jews during the Second World War has been looked into more closely than any other aspect of the 20th century.”

Aly was asked about the actual numbers of those murdered by Germans at Auschwitz and other places, as well as the numbers of Germans killed during the British bombing of Dresden, and of those Sudeten Germans who died during their expulsion from Bohemia and Moravia. In response, Aly pointed out:

“Until 1989 there was an official sign in the former camp stating that four million people were killed in Auschwitz alone. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a result of work which I, and others, carried out, this figure was amended. Approximately a million people were murdered in Auschwitz. It was important to make this correction, but it doesn’t change anything about the nature of the death camps… The murder of the Sinti and Roma comes to mind. It has got to the point where even the German Resistance Memorial Center, under the academic auspices of Peter Steinbach, claims that 500,000 people from these groups were killed by the Nazis. That is a massive exaggeration. Another example is that it took almost 50 years in Germany, for it to be generally accepted that the German army committed terrible crimes during the war in eastern and southern Europe. It took decades for West and East Germany to reduce the number of people killed during the British bombing of Dresden from over 300,000 to a more realistic 30,000 to 40,000. And still, up until 10 years ago, the Sudeten German Association claimed that more than 400,000 Germans were killed when the Sudeten Germans were expelled from Bohemia and Moravia. On the Czech side, officials twisted the facts just as much, by speaking of a few thousand suicides. In the meantime the German-Czech Historians Commission has determined that between 15,000 and 40,000 people died during these expulsions.”

When asked whether it is meaningful to have laws making it a crime to deny the Holocaust (as is the case, for instance, in Germany), Aly replied:

“As an historian I regard laws which forbid someone from denying anything as complete nonsense. In the same way that I believe that the law in Turkey which says the Armenian genocide never happened, is absurd. Laws against denying the Holocaust don’t do anything anyway. You are always going to have a few crazy people who ignore the facts.”

Aly also commented on the real danger of the proposed Iranian conference:

“The danger of the Iranian conference is that it gives a few lunatics the opportunity to  come into contact with a state which has a great deal of power to act on its ideological, and here in particular its anti-Semitic, obsessions. To this extent, we are talking about a completely different level, compared to when some crazed guy from the German nationalist NPD party claims that the Holocaust is a myth.”

Eight Myths of Smoking

Der Stern Online published an article on January 23, debunking eight myths of smoking, which have been advanced and propagated by certain elements of the world-wide tobacco industry, and by smokers who don’t want to quit. We summarize the findings of the article, as follows:

Myth #1: Smoking is not harmful if it is only done occasionally.Truth: Every cigarette is harmful and shortens our life expectancy.

Myth #2: It is easier to quit smoking slowly and in stages, by reducing cigarette consumption gradually, than by quitting immediately and abruptly. Truth: To gradually reduce cigarette consumption does not work, as the smoker becomes even more addicted to the “few” cigarettes that are “permitted” to be smoked each day.

Myth #3: Light cigarettes are less harmful than other cigarettes. Truth: False. Light cigarettes are as harmful as other cigarettes.

Myth #4: When one has begun smoking, it is unnecessary to quit, as our health has already been affected. Truth: It is always important to quit. A few hours after quitting, the body receives more oxygen; after two to three days, one can smell and taste better; and after a few years, risks of cancer and heart attacks diminish.

Myth #5: If I do not inhale, I cannot get lung cancer. Truth: False. Even passive smoking can lead to lung cancer.

Myth #6: Smoking poses no problem with the modern anti-baby-pills. Truth: False. The risks remain.

Myth #7: Smoking makes one only psychically addictive. Truth: Nicotine is a drug which causes psychical and psychological addiction.

Myth #8: When I quit smoking, I will gain weight. Truth: On an average, a person who quits smoking gains two to four kilograms during the first several weeks after quitting. However, the weight increase is not an automatic consequence, but it is explained by the fact that the person begins to eat too much, and the wrong things. Most of the time, the person eats chocolate to replace the cigarettes.

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