Current Events

German Reactions to Bush Speech

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 12:

“It was US President George W. Bush’s last shot at keeping the US public behind him and turning the tide in an Iraq sliding ever faster toward chaos… Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung was scathing in its commentary, beginning with the claim: ‘This war was wrong from the very beginning.’… The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung rips Bush on Friday: ‘For the Europeans, it is extremely disconcerting that the president and commander-in-chief of the West’s leading power shows himself to be so confident but at the same time so disconnected to reality and immune to advice… this fight can never be won militarily…’… The conservative Die Welt sees Bush’s strategy as one of escalation: ‘Bush’s strategy is reminiscent of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970… No one should be under any illusion about where the situation is beginning to head — towards a massive FINAL STRUGGLE  for the Middle East…'”

Stoiber’s Way Out

Bavaria’s Edmund Stoiber announced on Thursday, January 18, that he will resign in September from all his political offices, including as Prime Minister of Bavaria, and as chairman of his party, the CSU. Reports about Stoiber’s demise and an internal power struggle had been published in the German press for several weeks. But until now, there were still speculations that Stoiber might avoid his resignation and “retirement.” With his public statements to the contrary, it appears that Stoiber’s political career is over.

Prior to Stoiber’s announcement of his resignation, Der Spiegel Online had reported, on January 15:

“He’s a former candidate for German chancellor and has ruled Bavaria for almost 14 years. But that’s not enough for Edmund Stoiber to enjoy job security. His support is disappearing fast — and early retirement looms… Stoiber himself, who inherited the party soon after his larger-than-life mentor Franz Josef Strauss died in 1988, has done little to dampen the flames of dissent. Considered indispensable for so long, it seems he is having difficulty believing that his flock is turning on him.

“The only person surprised by Stoiber’s rapid descent may be Stoiber himself. He lost a lot of steam with his unexpected, last-minute federal-election loss to Schröder in 2002 and his image was further tarnished during the long power struggle with Angela Merkel which followed. Finally, just after Merkel’s victory in the 2005 election, Stoiber unexpectedly declined the position of economy minister and chose to stay in Munich — after having told the country he was moving up to Berlin. After that, the Bavarian’s eventual demise seemed just a matter of time… Even as Stoiber looks around for friends to support him, those who have been at his side the longest are beginning to position themselves for the coming power struggle…”

EU Outstrips US Dollar

The Financial Times wrote on January 14:

“The euro has displaced the US dollar as the world’s pre-eminent currency in international bond markets, having outstripped the dollar-denominated market for the second year in a row… That represents a startling turnabout from the pattern seen in recent decades, when the US bond market dwarfed its European rival: as recently as 2002, outstanding euro-denominated issuance represented just 27 per cent of the global pie, compared with 51 per cent for the dollar… the trend among some Asian and Middle Eastern countries to diversify their assets away from the dollar has further boosted this trend… The euro has also risen to trade around $1.30 against the dollar, from around parity three years ago.”

Germany’s Democracy Threatened by EU

 The EUObserver reported on January 15:

“Germany’s state of parliamentary democracy is under threat from the European Union which is slowly taking away all the national parliament’s powers, the country’s ex-president has said. In an article for newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Roman Herzog pointed out that between 1999 and 2004, 84 percent of the legal acts in Germany stemmed from Brussels. ‘EU policies suffer to an alarming degree from a lack of democracy and a de facto suspension of the separation of powers. By far the biggest part of the current laws in Germany are agreed by the council of ministers [member states representation in Brussels] and not the German parliament,’ Mr Herzog wrote in a paper with Lüder Gerken, director of the Freiburg-based Centre for European Policy. ‘And each regulation that the German government adopts in the council of ministers, has to be transplanted by the Bundestag [parliament] into German law.'”

“The article continues by noting that Germany’s own constitution foresees the parliament as the ‘central actor in the shaping of the political community. Therefore the question has to be raised of whether Germany can still unreservedly be called a parliamentary democracy.’ The authors also complain that the EU constitution, over which there are currently renewed talks about its revival, will not solve this problem, nor that of the democratic deficit within the EU itself.”

The article in the EUObserver continued:

“… the comment from the former constitutional judge and president of the bloc’s biggest member state between 1994 and 1999 is not an isolated event. German parliamentarians themselves have also started to complain about not being consulted enough on what their government agrees in Brussels. In addition, the final technical step for Germany’s ratification of the EU constitution is being held up due to a similar complaint. Although both houses of parliament have overwhelmingly approved the document, Germany’s president Horst Köhler has refused to sign it off until the country’s constitutional court rules on whether the charter is taking too much power from the national parliament, after a centre-right MP filed a legal complaint in 2005.”

German Hans-Gert Pöttering New European President

The EUObserver reported on January 16:

“German Christian democrat Hans-Gert [Pöttering], elected as the new European Parliament president today, has pledged to stand up to pressure by big member states… MEPs picked their new president on Tuesday (16 January), with Mr [Pöttering] winning the plenary vote in the first round by an absolute majority of 450 votes… As a Christian democrat ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel, the current EU president, he hopes to boost influence of the European Parliament by working through his contacts in Berlin… Politically speaking, there are two key issues – both expected during the German presidency in the first half of the year – in which Mr [Pöttering] hopes the parliament can be actively involved in.

“The first is the more formal – the EU’s 50th birthday declaration… while the second initiative concerns the forthcoming talks on how to revive the EU constitution – put on ice after it was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. ‘We need reforms but also values and I’ll fight for both,’ Mr [Pöttering] pointed out, adding that the core of the EU constitution – including the chapter on its values – should survive the editing process of the treaty.”

The German Axis

The EUObserver pointed out on January 15:

“MEPs’ resolve will be tested during the coming weeks as they fight to get more of a say on the EU constitution and a planned European declaration in March. Current EU presidency Germany has so far indicated it will sideline the European Parliament focussing instead only on canvassing government opinion on the two key issues over the coming months. As part of the streamlined approach, chancellor Angela Merkel has sent a letter to member states asking that only heads of state and government and certain nominated officials should handle the thorny constitutional question, which sees 18 member states having largely ratified the document, two having rejected it and several likely tricky ratifications to come… The close knit approach is also set to be applied to the EU’s 50 year anniversary declaration in March, a statement that Germany believes is closely bound to talks on the EU constitution…”

The article continued:

“With the [new] president of the parliament… the German Hans-Gert Pöttering, and head of the socialists also a German – Martin Schultz – there may be some room for political leverage on the two issues… ‘If anybody is going to make sure we have an influence on this [anniversary] declaration, it’s Pöttering, or a combination of Pöttering and Schulz’ lobbying,’ said Liberal leader Graham Watson last week. The MEPs’ struggle on this issue is especially interesting because it comes as the Brussels assembly finds itself with less and less to do.”

New Extreme-Right Party Becomes Member of European Parliament

AFP reported on January 15:

“A new extreme-right group, including veteran French firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen and Mussolini’s granddaughter, was formally created in the European parliament… The ‘Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty,’ group… has fulfilled the conditions for its formal recognition… Those rules notably include the requirement that at least 20 MEPs from five EU member states to sign up for the new political group. The formal setting up of the bloc allows it various rights including receiving official funding of around one million euros (770,000 dollars) and certain speaking rights…

“[The] founding principles include recognising ‘national interests, sovereignties, identities and differences’, and opposing a ‘unitary, bureaucratic, European superstate’. Its platform also includes commitments to Christian and traditional family values… Its formation was made possible by the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU on January 1 this month, as five Romanian MEPs have signed up as well as a Bulgarian.”

Europe and the USA Completely Disagree…Again!

On January 15, 2007, Der Spiegel Online wrote:

“Condoleezza Rice is on a tour of the Middle East in an attempt to win over Arab leaders to President Bush’s new Iraq strategy. But she is finding it difficult to avoid awkward questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the failure of the US to get the Roadmap for Peace off the ground…

“The business daily Handelsblatt comments on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the context of an editorial on Bush’s new Iraq strategy and its implications for the region… ‘The Europeans and the US government have completely different interpretations of reasons for the conflicts in the Middle East. For the Europeans the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is central. This can quickly lead to war like the Lebanon conflict in summer 2006, and offers dictatorial politicians an emotionally charged platform from which to present themselves as champions of Arabs and Muslim. Bush sees things completely differently: For him the decisive ideological struggle of our time is being fought in the Middle East. The forces of freedom stand on one side and the extremists stand on the other. There is little room for political solutions and compromises.'”

Iraq Wants American Weapons–Not Troops

The Times On Line reported on January 18:

“America’s refusal to give Baghdad’s security forces sufficient guns and equipment has cost a great number of lives, the Iraqi Prime Minister said yesterday. Nouri al-Maliki said the insurgency had been bloodier and prolonged because Washington had refused to part with equipment. If it released the necessary arms, US forces could ‘dramatically’ cut their numbers in three to six months, he told The Times. In a sign of the tense relations with Washington, he chided the US for suggesting his Government was living on ‘borrowed time’. Such criticism boosted Iraq’s extremists, he said, and was more a reflection of ‘some kind of crisis situation’ in Washington after the Republicans’ midterm election losses… “Asked how long Iraq would require US troops, Mr al-Maliki said: ‘If we succeed in implementing the agreement between us to speed up the equipping and providing weapons to our military forces, I think that within three to six months our need for American troops will dramatically go down. That is on condition that there are real, strong efforts to support our military forces and equipping and arming them.’

“The US Government is wary of handing over large amounts of military hardware to the Iraqis because it has sometimes ended up in the hands of militias and insurgents.”

Iran’s Coalition Against the USA

The following comments were published by, on January 14:

“Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they were ready to spend billions of dollars (euros) financing projects in other countries to help thwart US domination… Iran… is allegedly bankrolling militant groups in the Middle East like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, as well as insurgents in Iraq, in a bid to extend its influence… After Venezuela, Ahmadinejad will visit newly elected leftist governments in Nicaragua [to meet on Sunday with Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla] and Ecuador [for the inauguration of President-elect Rafael Correa] that are also seeking to reduce Washington’s influence in the region. Bolivian President Evo Morales, another critic of US policy, said he plans to meet with Ahmadinejad while both are in Ecuador Monday…”

Iran vs. USA

The China View reported on January 17:

“Iranian troops have shot down a U.S. pilotless spy plane recently, an Iranian lawmaker announced on Tuesday as the Islamic Republic was facing increasing military pressure from its arch rival — the United States. The aircraft was brought down when it was trying to cross the borders ‘during the last few days,’ … a member of the [Iranian] parliament… was quoted by the local Fars News Agency as saying. The lawmaker gave no exact date of the shooting-down or any other details about the incident, but he said that ‘the United States sent such spy drones to the region every now and then.’… The United States accuses Iran of using its influence to meddle in the region, especially in Lebanon and Shiite-majority Iraq, besides seeking a nuclear weapon, which has been rejected by Iran…  In a show of defiance, an Iranian government spokesman said on Monday that the country was pushing ahead with its plan to install at least 3,000 centrifuges for nuclear fuel production.”

USA vs. Iran

The Associated Press reported on January 17:

“Provocative words by President Bush and a fresh American military buildup in the Persian Gulf seem to mark a new focus on Iran that could signal another Cold War or even a deadly confrontation… Sending a second carrier to the Gulf for the first time since 2003 and positioning a Patriot missile battalion in the region, mark a broader U.S. stand in the Middle East at a time when diplomatic efforts with countries such as Iran and Syria have stalled. It also puts U.S. policy at odds with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendation that the administration should reach out to Iran and Syria to bring more regional support to Iraq.

“Trita Parsi, an Iranian-born author and Middle East scholar, said the strategy will lead to an endless balance-of-power game that will drain American resources and undermine the U.S. position in the region… Members of Congress have also expressed concern and pressed the administration to say whether the U.S. military has plans to move into Iran or Syria, and if that could be done without congressional authorization… The escalation against Iran comes as polls show Americans are overwhelmingly unhappy with Bush’s Iraq policy. Seventy percent oppose sending more troops to Iraq, as he intends to do, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll last week.”

Iran Buys Missiles from Russia and the USA

Reuters reported on January 16:

“Russia has delivered new anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran and will consider further requests by Tehran for defensive weapons, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday… Moscow says the sanctions [previously imposed on Iran] do not apply to the missiles. The Russian military insists that the missile systems will protect Iran from air attacks, but do not pose a threat to neighboring countries.”

The Associated Press added on January 16:

“The U.S. military has sold forbidden equipment at least a half-dozen times to middlemen for countries–including Iran and China–who exploited security flaws in the Defense Department’s surplus auctions. The sales include fighter jet parts and missile components.”

U.S. Trial of the Year

Der Spiegel Online reported on January 15:

“It’s the trial of the year in the United States. Former Bush administration official I. Lewis Libby is… facing charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the case of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The spotlight is on Bush’s pre-Iraq War propaganda… The United States of America v. I. Lewis Libby begins at 9:30 a.m. sharp on Tuesday morning. Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of having lied in order to cover up ‘concerted action’ by the White House to ‘discredit’ an enemy of US President George W. Bush… The Yale graduate is facing up to 30 years in prison. Libby is on trial for just one tiny segment of the propaganda battle the White House used to justify the invasion of Iraq…

“Before Christmas, rumors were still circulating in Washington that Bush would simply pardon Libby. But the risk associated with such a move must have seemed too great even to the most daring lawyers in the White House. Now the only hope left for the Bush administration is that the case has become so complicated that Americans are no longer able to make neither heads nor tails of it. Which is a distinct possibility. Even the quick and dirty version of the Valerie Plame affair is complicated enough. Joseph Wilson, a former US diplomat, travelled to Niger before the war in Iraq in order to verify secret service reports claiming that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium there for his presumed nuclear weapons program. He found out the story was a complete fiction — but Bush and Cheney continued to use the claim to beat the war drum. Wilson then humiliated the White House by going public with his findings. The mud slinging that followed was led by Libby … In the end, even the name of Wilson’s wife — Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent — was made public…

“But Libby, according to [special prosecutor] Fitzgerald, has lied repeatedly to the FBI and under oath to the grand jury. During his interrogation, Libby repeatedly stressed he had never known the name of Wilson’s wife and that he had learned it from journalists. But in fact Libby learned that name from his boss, Cheney. And Libby leaked it to the press… Libby… is… opting for a so-called ‘faulty memory defense,’ a method that is part of a notorious tradition in Washington. Richard Nixon is considered the tradition’s founder: He advised his co-conspirators in the Watergate affair to tell the jury they couldn’t remember the acts they were accused of. Large parts of the Reagan administration likewise suffered from collective faulty memory during the Iran-Contra affair. And now Libby also wants to swap out perjury for amnesia…

“Libby’s perjury look[s] like a third-rate crime, but the lies used to justify the war in Iraq weigh down the Bush administration to this day. Special prosecutor Fitzgerald will have to prove how important it was to the White House to maintain the illusion that the reasons for going to war were sound — and how vengefully Wilson was pursued because of this. That will be the only way to convince the jury that Libby couldn’t possibly just have forgotten the details of the campaign against Wilson.”

Severe Weather Conditions Destroy California Fruits

The Associated Press reported on January 16:

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the federal government Tuesday for disaster aid because of an ongoing cold snap that has destroyed nearly $1 billion worth of California citrus, and industry officials said shoppers will feel the sting through higher prices for oranges, lemons and other produce… Nearly every winter crop is affected by the freeze, from avocados to strawberries to fresh-cut flowers, but it’s the state’s citrus crop that stands to take the biggest economic hit… California is the nation’s No. 1 producer of fresh citrus, growing about 86 percent of lemons and 21 percent of oranges sold in the U.S… Florida produces more oranges, but those are mostly processed for orange juice. “More than 70 percent of this season’s oranges, lemons and tangerines… were still on the trees as nighttime temperatures in California’s Central Valley dipped into the low 20s and tens on four straight nights beginning Friday. The freeze ruined as much as three-quarters of the California citrus crop, growers say; the fruit is threatened whenever the mercury falls below 28 degrees… Damages from the current freeze will likely surpass those from a three-day cold snap in December 1998 that destroyed 85 percent of California’s citrus crop, a loss valued at $700 million… The state also suffered a deep freeze in 1990 – one that completely wiped out the $1 billion crop. It took growers two years to recover…

“Adverse weather has also taken a toll on the Florida-dominated orange juice industry in recent years. After two nasty hurricane seasons compounded by drought and crop disease, PepsiCo Inc… which sells juice under the Tropicana and Dole labels, and Coca-Cola Co… which owns Minute Maid, each raised orange juice prices over the past several weeks…

“Strawberries growing along the coastal regions of Southern California were mostly ruined… The freeze also destroyed flowers that would produce the next berry crop on each plant… Growers in the Imperial Valley also were worried about tender vegetables such as lettuce that may not have held up to five days of temperatures in the mid-20s… Throughout the cold snap, growers have tried to save their crops by pumping fields with heated irrigation water and running wind machines to circulate warmer air and keep it from rising off the trees. David Pruitt of Ball Tagawa Growers in Arroyo Grande has struggled to keep 200,000 square feet of greenhouses between 60 and 74 degrees. The company produces a variety of seedlings, including pansies and marigolds. The greenhouses are heated with hot water fired by gas boilers. The cold ‘multiplies our gas use enormously,’ Pruitt said. The boilers ‘are just cranking full blast.'”

Doomsday Five Minutes Away

The Associated Press reported on January 17:

“The world is nudging closer to nuclear or environmental apocalypse, a group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday as it pushed the hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. The clock, which was set two minutes forward to 11:55, represents the likelihood of a global cataclysm. Its ticks have given the clock’s keepers a chance to speak out on the dangers they see threatening Earth. It was the fourth time since the Soviet collapse in 1991 that the clock ticked forward amid fears over what the scientists describe as ‘a second nuclear age’ prompted largely by standoffs with Iran and North Korea. But urgent warnings of climate change also played a role…”Stephen W. Hawking, the renowned cosmologist and mathematician, told The Associated Press that global warming has eclipsed other threats to the planet, such as terrorism. ‘Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of people,’ Hawking said. ‘Global warming could kill millions…’

“Since it was set to seven minutes to midnight in 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been moved 18 times, including Wednesday’s adjustment. It came closest to midnight — just two minutes away — in 1953 after the successful test of a hydrogen bomb by the United States. It has been as far away as 17 minutes, set there in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union.

“The decision to move the clock is made by the bulletin’s board, composed of scientists and policy experts, in coordination with the group’s sponsors, who include Hawking and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Despite the organization’s new focus on global warming, the prospect of nuclear war remained its primary concern, the bulletin’s editor, Mark Strauss, told The AP. ‘It’s important to emphasize 50 of today’s nuclear weapons could kill 200 million people,’ he said.”

Petra–One of Seven New Wonders?

The Associated Press reported on January 16:

“Jordan’s ancient city Petra was officially declared a candidate Tuesday in the contest to name the new seven wonders of the world at a ceremony amid its rose-colored stone buildings. Contest founder Bernard Weber presented Jordan’s Queen Rania with Petra’s official candidacy at the event that included a presentation on the way the city’s first inhabitants lived. The New 7 Wonders of the World contest was launched in 2001 by Weber’s Geneva-based NewOpenWorld Foundation, which aims to promote cultural diversity by supporting, preserving and restoring monuments. It relies on private donations and revenue from selling broadcasting rights. Twenty-one sites around the globe are vying to be declared wonders of the world.

“Petra, located 162 miles south of the Jordanian capital Amman, is built on a terrace around the Wadi Musa or Valley of Moses. It was the capital of the Arab kingdom of the Nabateans, a center of caravan trade, and continued to flourish under Roman rule after the Nabateans’ defeat in A.D. 106. It is famous for water tunnels and stone structures carved in the rock, including Ad-Dayr, ‘the Monastery,’ an uncompleted tomb facade that served as a church during Byzantine times. Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burchhardt in 1812 discovered the city that is hidden behind an almost impenetrable barrier of rugged mountains… Egypt’s pyramids of Giza is the only other site in the Arab world that has reached the contest’s short-list. The New 7 Wonders of the World will be announced at a ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal on Saturday, July 7, 2007.”

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