Current Events

No Talks with Syria and Iran?

The Telegraph reported on December 8:

“Differences have emerged between Tony Blair and George Bush on strategy in the Middle East, even as the two leaders agreed that a major change of course was necessary in Iraq in the wake of the devastating critique delivered this week by a high-level bipartisan panel in Washington… at a joint press conference after a White House meeting yesterday, the President ruled out early talks with Iran and Syria… on which Britain seems much keener… But the direct talks with Tehran seen by some experts as an essential part of a new US strategy remain out of the question, Mr Bush stressed, until the regime verifiably suspended uranium enrichment. British officials later refused to make such a connection, pointing to the full diplomatic relations that exist between London and Tehran. In the case of Syria–recently visited by Mr Blair’s top foreign policy adviser–Mr Bush was equally uncompromising. Any serious discussions between Washington and Damascus depended on Syria not fomenting terrorism against Iraq and ceasing its meddling in Lebanon, he said…

“Yesterday’s meeting was a sombre occasion, the first at which the two architects of the war had to confront, head on and in public together, the recent slide towards anarchy in Iraq. A tired-looking Mr Bush acknowledged that the situation was ‘bad’ and ‘very tough,’ and that the task ahead was ‘daunting.’ But, he warned, the stakes could not be higher. A terrorist-dominated Middle East, he said, represented ‘an unprecedented threat to civilisation’. As unwilling as ever to admit error, he described America’s involvement in Iraq as ‘a noble mission’. Unlike the Prime Minister, he spoke explicitly of ‘victory’; insisting that it was ‘important for the entire world’ that the US and Britain prevailed.

“The two countries were facing ‘a difficult moment’ in Iraq. But Mr Bush noted that yesterday was the 65th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, the event that propelled the US into the Second World War, in which Britain and the US had fought side by side. They had faced difficult moments then but had prevailed, just as they would in this conflict. But differences in emphasis were evident. Mr Bush seemed only half-heartedly to accept the link between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the crises in Lebanon and Iraq, all of which involve a clash between moderation and extremism, as the Prime Minister believes.”

For more information, please view our StandingWatch program: “How to Solve Iraq’s Problems…”

Kirk Douglas: “The World Is in a Mess”

On December 9, PRNewswire published an interesting press release from famous actor Kirk Douglas. We are reproducing the following excerpts:

“My name is Kirk Douglas… I was a movie star and I’m Michael Douglas’ dad, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ father-in-law, and the grandparent of their two children. Today I celebrate my 90th birthday. I have a message to convey to America’s young people. A 90th birthday is special. In my case, this birthday is not only special but miraculous. I survived World War II, a helicopter crash, a stroke, and two new knees… Instead of making a silent wish for myself, I want to make a LOUD wish for THE WORLD.

“Let’s face it: THE WORLD IS IN A MESS and you are inheriting it… You are the group facing many problems: abject poverty, global warming, genocide, AIDS, and suicide bombers to name a few. These problems exist, and the world is silent. We have done very little to solve these problems. Now, we leave it to you. You have to fix it because the situation is intolerable.

“You need to… care about people and the world you live in. We live in the best country in the world. I know. My parents were Russian immigrants. America is a country where EVERYONE, regardless of race, creed, or age has a chance. I had that chance. You are the generation that is most impacted and the generation that can make a difference.

“I love this country because I came from a life of poverty. I was able to work my way through college and go into acting, the field that I love. There is no guarantee in this country that you will be successful. But you always have a chance. Nothing should interfere with it. You have to make sure that nothing stands in the way.”

Arab World on the Brink of Exploding

AFP reported on December 9:

“Saudi King Abdullah opened the annual summit of Gulf leaders with a warning that the Arab world was on the brink of exploding because of conflicts in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Lebanon. ‘Our Arab region is besieged by a number of dangers, as if it was a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode,’ he [said]… The Palestinians were reeling from ‘a hostile and ugly occupation’ by Israel while the international community watched their ‘bloody tragedy like a spectator,’ Abdullah said. But ‘most dangerous for the (Palestinian) cause is the conflict among brethren,’ he said in a reference to the differences between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement that have blocked the formation of a unity government. In Iraq ‘a brother is still killing his brother,’ Abdullah said of the tit-for-tat killings between the Sunni Arab former elite and the ruling Shiite majority. Abdullah also warned that Lebanon, which was rocked by civil war in 1975-1990, risked sliding into renewed civil strife as a result of the current standoff between pro- and anti-Syrian camps.”

Iraq’s Grim Death Toll

The Associated Press reported on December 9:

“As of Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, at least 2,930 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003… The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,356 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers… The British military has reported 126 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 18; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, six; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, one death each.”

This is almost the same number as the reported deaths on September 11th.

Rumsfeld Sued in U.S. Civil Court for Violation of Constitution and Civil Rights

MSNBC reported on December 8 that former alien detainees have filed a civil lawsuit against Don Rumsfeld. They argue that Rumsfeld is guilty of “‘derelictions of duty and command’ and promoting the practice of inflicting ‘physical and psychological injuries’ on civilians held by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan… The former detainees accuse Rumsfeld and others of being personally responsible for approving torture techniques and violating the U.S. Constitution. Rumsfeld argues that they are all immune from liability… [and that] ‘alien military detainees held outside the United States are not generally entitled to constitutional protections.’…

“The former detainees who filed the lawsuit say they were all eventually released from detention and never charged with any crime or wrongdoing. The detainees–five were held at Abu Ghraib and four at Bagram–accuse Rumsfeld and the others of subjecting them to ‘torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, confinement in a wooden box, forcible sleep and sensory deprivation, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions,’ according to court documents.

“The suit seeks compensatory damages and a judicial declaration that the legal rights of the prisoners were violated under the Constitution, the Geneva accords and other international law. Although allegations in the suit are the equivalent of war crimes, it is a civil case, not a criminal one. Only the U.S. government is empowered to prosecute war crimes in criminal court or before a military court.”

Will Germany Get Involved?

Der Spiegel Online reported on December 7:

“The Iraq Study Group on Wednesday released its long awaited report on the increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq. And one of its central recommendations was, as expected, to talk directly with two of President George W. Bush’s most hated countries: Syria and Iran. Should he agree, Germany may be just the country to help him proceed. Indeed, Karsten Voigt, Berlin’s coordinator for German-American relations, wants Germany to play a central role in bringing Washington to the table with Damascus and Tehran. The Germans have long pushed for the dialogue, which they see as critical to regional stability.’Germans and Europeans can help here and mediate, but they can never replace direct talks between the US and Syria or Iran,’ Voigt told the Berliner Zeitung…

“Germany finds itself right in the middle of the diplomatic triangle. Last week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a visit to Damascus. He delivered a stern message to President Assad that Syria will only get his help in emerging from international isolation if it stops contributing to Lebanon’s instability. On Wednesday, Steinmeier’s travels will take him to Washington for consultations with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Syria is sure to be on the agenda. Germany’s nice-making with Syria has been as controversial within Europe as in the US.

“When it comes to speaking with Iran, Europe is more united. President Bush has said he would join Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in talks with Tehran if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first suspends uranium enrichment. But the Iraq Study Group is urging Bush to hold talks ‘without preconditions.’ If the situation in Iraq deteriorates, says the report, Iran might ‘send in troops to restore stability in southern Iraq and perhaps gain control of oil fields.’ Voigt sees this as Germany’s moment to shine diplomatically. ‘Europe and the US can only be successful in the region if they are both strong and attractive and cooperate well,’ he said.”

Is Israel Going to Give Control of Parts of Mount Zion to the Vatican?

Israel National News published the following report on December 10:

“[Prime Minister] Olmert [of Israel] will meet in the Vatican this week with Pope Benedict–two weeks after Israeli diplomats confirmed the reopening of talks over the status of church property on Mt. Zion and elsewhere… A year ago… a Foreign Ministry official admitted that a blueprint of an agreement with the Vatican giving it control of parts of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem–also known as King David’s burial site–had been received. The proposed contract read as follows:

“‘The State of Israel hands over to the Holy See the use of the Cenacle [the room of the event known as the Last Supper, above King David’s tomb – ed.], of the access path to it, and of the spaces adjacent to it… It is the Holy See’s intention to inform the Bishops – and through them the world’s Priests – that the Catholic Church has been given the use of the Cenacle, inviting them to visit the Holy Place together with their faithful…’

“At the time, President Moshe Katzav was about to embark on a visit to the Vatican. In the face of increasing public pressure, he was forced to deny any plans to sign away the King David’s complex in Jerusalem. It now appears, however, that this option has once again surfaced.”

Israel Worries About President Bush

AFP reported on December 8:

“Israel’s foreign minister has arrived in the United States amid worries that the Jewish state’s main ally could shift course after a report [by the Iraq Study Group or ISG] urged Washington to redouble Mideast peacemaking efforts… ‘The fact that [Bush] has decided to support Blair’s visit to the region and to present this trip as a joint mission of Britain and the United States shows that Bush intends to at least try to change his policy,’ Israel’s Yediot Aharonot daily wrote Friday. The newspaper went on to slam the Iraq report, accusing its chief authors James Baker and Lee Hamilton of ignoring Israel while preparing the report.

“‘If the truth be told, they barely paid any attention to us,’ the newspaper lamented. ‘For 14 years, Israel enjoyed warm and pampering attention, under Clinton and Bush. Now, in light of the catastrophe in Iraq, Baker and Hamilton wish to restore us to our proper proportions.’ Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also expressed dissatisfaction with the report’s recommendations. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he said US problems in Iraq ‘are entirely independent of the controversy between us and the Palestinians.'”

Radioactive Polonium Surfaces in Germany

Der Spiegel Online reported on December 11:

“The cloud of intrigue around the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko continues to thicken… In true Cold War thriller fashion, a German connection has now been uncovered, with traces of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 which poisoned Litvinenko being found in Hamburg… Russia’s ambassador to Berlin, Vladimir Kotenev, on Sunday rejected criticism from the German government that the Russians were not doing enough to investigate the case… The discovery prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to warn the Russian government that cases such as Litvinenko’s death and the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya risked damaging Russia’s image abroad…

“Litvinenko died on November 23 after receiving a lethal dose of polonium-210. In a statement he issued shortly before his death, he accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his poisoning. The Kremlin has denied involvement in the case, which has revived memories of Cold War espionage, strained relations between Russia and Britain, and sparked a number of conspiracy theories.”

German Federal Government’s Latest “Disgrace”

On December 11, the German press, including Bild Online, reported about another incredible case of perceived incompetence of the German federal government, calling it the latest “giant disgrace.” According to Bild, the federal government deliberated for over six months how to ban smoking in trains, public buildings and discotheques, before announcing on Sunday that they are not even competent, for lack of jurisdiction, to make such decisions. Germany’s 16 states have extensive rights that cannot be overridden by Berlin. Bild asked: “Are our Politicians totally covered with smoke?”

Chile’s Pinochet Dies

AFP reported on December 11:

“Riot police clashed with thousands of demonstrators late Sunday celebrating the death of Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet, as his body lay in a humble military school chapel. The former strongman died on Sunday aged 91, having evaded years of efforts to bring him to trial for thousands of cases of murder and torture arising from his 1973-1990 regime… The death of Pinochet, who came to power in a US-backed military coup in 1973 that toppled the Socialist government of Salvador Allende, struck a deep nerve in a country where many suffered under his regime and others defend it as salvation from the road to communism.

“The United States, which supported Pinochet’s 1973 coup against Allende, expressed sympathy for the victims of Pinochet’s regime… Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was ‘greatly saddened’ by Pinochet’s death, her spokesman said on Sunday… Thatcher, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, would send her ‘deepest condolences’ to his widow and family. Left and right-wing political parties in Spain regretted that Pinochet had died before being brought to justice for atrocities committed under his regime… Some 3,000 people, by official count, were killed or disappeared under Pinochet’s regime.”

Freedom of the Internet?

Ireland-on-Line reported on December 8:

“Nearly one third of journalists now serving time in prisons around the world published their work on the internet, the second-largest category behind print journalists, the US committee to protect journalists said today. The bulk of internet journalists in jail–49 in total–shows that ‘authoritarian states are becoming more determined to control the internet,’ said Joel Simon, the New York-based group’s executive director…

“When Iranian journalist Mojtaba Saminejad was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting his country’s leader, it was not for an article that appeared in a newspaper. His offending story was posted on his personal weblog. Other noteworthy imprisoned internet journalists include US video blogger Joshua Wolf, who refused to give a grand jury his footage of a 2005 protest against a G-8 economic summit, and China’s Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for posting online instructions by the government on how to cover the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“For the second year in a row, CPJ’s annual survey found the total number of journalists in jail worldwide has increased. There were 134 reporters, editors and photographers incarcerated as of December 1, nine more than a year ago… In addition to the internet writers, the total includes 67 print journalists, eight TV reporters, eight radio reporters and two documentary filmmakers.

“Among the 24 nations that have imprisoned reporters, China topped the list for the eighth consecutive year with 31 journalists behind bars–19 of them internet journalists. Cuba was second with 24 reporters in prison…

“The US government and military has detained three journalists, including Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who was taken into custody in Iraq nine months ago and has yet to be charged with a crime…

“Cuban journalist Manuel Vasquez-Portal said he posted his articles on a Miami-based website because: ‘It was the only way to get the truth out of Cuba.’ Mr Vasquez-Portal, who was jailed for 15 months in 2003, said he had to call his stories in to the operator of the website, though, because Cubans are not allowed access to the internet.”

Christmas PAGAN-Inspired

On December 11, USA Today published a thought-provoking article by Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of women’s studies and religion at Skidmore College. She wrote:

“Happy holidays!

“Have I just offended you? If you are a member of the American Family Association, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights or the Committee to Save Merry Christmas, I probably have.

“For the second year in a row, conservative Christian groups have threatened boycotts of big-box and department stores whose advertisements for ‘holiday trees’ and whose hearty if non-specific holiday well-wishes reflect, these groups say, an ‘anti-Christian and anti-Christmas bias.’…

“Yet there is a deep, and seasonal, irony here – one that might come as a shock to the ‘Save Merry Christmas’ crowd. For Christmas is, in its origins and its symbolism, perhaps the most pagan-inspired of all Christian holidays. Its dating derives from the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was determined by the winter solstice, that astronomical point in the year after which the periods of sunlight on Earth lengthen…

“Most of the popular symbols surrounding Christmas–evergreen trees and other greenery, mistletoe and holly, the Yule log, candles and bonfires and holiday lights, mystical spirits with the ability to fly and to enter and leave a house through its chimney, tricksters who treat or taunt little children, not to mention those elves–all derive from older, pre-Christian Europe. These pagan-derived symbols and customs are precisely the elements of Christmas that Christian activists are pressing to preserve and promote, in venues such as Target and Macy’s.”

For more information on the REAL origins of Christmas, please read our free booklet, “Don’t Keep Christmas!”

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