Current Events

Is Russia Resurrecting a By-Gone Era?

On March 7, The New York Times published the following commentary by Marshall Billingslea, a former assistant secretary general of NATO and former chairman of the NATO-Russia Council’s ad hoc working group on theater missile defense. It was pointed out:

“Russian reactions to the discussions among Poland, the Czech Republic and the United States on a missile defense system in Europe have been disconcerting. Some of the rhetoric in past days — such as Monday’s blunt threats by Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov to target European missile defense sites with bombers, or intimations by other Russian officials of scrapping the 1987 INF Treaty (which bans short- and medium-range nuclear missiles) — is a throwback to a bygone era that needs to stay gone.

“Moscow should be well aware that the proposed defense installations are focused on the emerging Iranian threat. Russian defense planners surely understand the physics and geography of the potential deployment, and know that a Czech radar facing south and 10 interceptors in Poland pose no threat to the credibility of the Russian deterrent of thousands of warheads. It would be physically impossible for interceptors in Poland to chase down Russian ICBMs headed toward North America. The Russian ICBMs move too fast, and defensive interceptors cannot win such a ‘tail chase.’

“Nor could they get out of their silos fast enough to protect Europe from a Russian missile attack, even if the radar were facing in that direction, which it wouldn’t be. The radar would not be able to see incoming Russian missiles in time, and — again — the interceptors would be thrown into a losing tail chase. In other words, the system proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic is clearly designed to protect against Iran, and not against Russia. No doubt about it. Unlike the NATO nations, who are in the early stages of developing missile defenses, Russia has long possessed its own antiballistic missile defense for its capital, making recent Russian protests even more perplexing.”

China’s Military Ambitions

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 7:

“For more than a decade, China has boosted defense spending by double digits every year and won’t explain why or for what exactly. The bad news for Beijing is that it is now reaping the unintended consequence of its stonewall tactics. Some of the region’s biggest players — the U.S., Japan and even India — are increasingly skeptical of China’s ‘peaceful development’ campaign and are building up their own defenses accordingly… China’s military advances are no longer just about attacking Taiwan. As January’s test of an anti-satellite weapon demonstrated, they are about protecting all of China’s interests and countering anyone who may interfere with them.”

Turkey vs. Freedom of Expression

The Associated Press reported on March 7:

“A Turkish court ordered access to YouTube’s Web site blocked on Wednesday, after a prosecutor recommended the ban because of videos allegedly insulting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Paul Doany, head of Turk Telekom, Turkey’s largest telecommunications provider, said his company had begun immediately enforcing the ban… On its front page on Wednesday, the newspaper Hurriyet said thousands of people had written YouTube and that the Ataturk videos had been removed from the site. ‘YouTube got the message,’ the headline said. Insulting Ataturk or ‘Turkishness’ is a crime in Turkey punishable by prison. Turkey, which hopes to join the European Union, has been roundly condemned for not doing enough to curb extreme nationalist sentiments and to protect freedom of expression.”

If Turkey ever wants to join the EU, either those practices will have to change, or the current practices of the EU will.

Libby’s Conviction

The Associated Press reported on March 6, 2007:

“The case laid bare the inner workings of a presidency under siege and the secretive world of Vice President Dick Cheney. It showed the lengths to which Cheney went in early summer 2003 to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson. The former ambassador’s assertions had cast doubt on the administration’s justification for having taken the country to war in Iraq. And the Libby case showed the president assisting Cheney in the leaked attacks on Wilson. Libby, who was Cheney’s chief of staff, was found guilty on Tuesday of four of five counts of obstructing justice, lying and perjury during an investigation into the administration’s disclosure of the identity of undercover CIA official Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife. The verdict ‘does great damage to the Bush administration,’ said Paul C. Light, professor of public service at New York University. ‘It undermines the president’s pledge of ethical conduct. But the most serious consequence is that it will raise questions about Cheney’s durability in office. It may be time for Cheney to submit his resignation.'”

The article continued:

“The trial, which included a month of testimony, is also relevant as the U.S. seeks to build a case that Iran is providing sophisticated munitions to Shiite insurgents in Iraq who are using them against U.S. troops. Administration critics have suggested the administration is trying to lay the groundwork for isolating or even attacking Iran — using flawed intelligence, like in Iraq. Wilson, a retired career diplomat, had accused the administration of manipulating intelligence to build its case to invade Iraq.”

Unanswered Questions in the Libby Trial

The Associated Press reported on March 7:

“Former White House aide I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby’s conviction capped a four-year, politically charged investigation but did not seal Libby’s fate or resolve some of the lingering questions in the CIA leak case… the case offered little new information about whether President Bush was involved or whether he authorized any leaks. Defense attorneys never delivered Cheney or Libby to the witness stand as promised to discuss the White House effort to undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a campaign that resulted in the disclosure of his wife Valerie Plame’s job at the CIA. Libby’s attorneys offered few details about a supposed White House conspiracy to protect Bush adviser Karl Rove from prosecution. It also was never explained why former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who originally leaked Plame’s identity, was never charged.”

On March 7, added the following comments by Patrick J. Buchanan:

“However, this was about a larger issue than the narrow question of whether Libby lied about leaking the role of Valerie Plame in having her husband sent to Niger to investigate a report that Iraq had been seeking ‘yellowcake,’ a critical component in a uranium enrichment program.
“That larger issue is this: Were we misled, were we deceived by our government, as the White House made the case for invading and occupying Iraq? Did neoconservatives at the Pentagon cherry-pick the intelligence, stovepipe it to the vice president’s office and Libby, and then feed it to sympathizers and collaborators in the media, to stampede our country into a war against a nation that, no matter how odious its regime, did not threaten us, did not attack us and did not want war with us? In short, were we lied into a war in Mesopotamia that is breaking our Army, has crippled an administration, and has bled and divided our country as it has not been since the days of Vietnam?

“And why has the Democratic Congress, on taking power in January, not begun a broad investigation into how we got into this war? This is the dog that didn’t bark. And the reason the dog is silent suggests itself. The Congress, in voting President Bush the authority to take us to war against Iraq at a time and place of his own choosing, failed to do its duty by the Constitution… The dilemma a Democratic Congress faces in any investigation into whether we were lied into war is that Congress would be investigating why a Democratic Senate failed its constitutional duty to determine the necessity for war.

“And, lest we forget, the media, too, played a supporting role in pushing this nation into an unnecessary war. Columnists and commentators assured us there was a nexus between Saddam, al-Qaida and 9-11, a ‘Prague connection’ between Muhammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence. We were told Saddam had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and was working on nuclear weapons, that enrichment of uranium was being done secretly around the country, that if we did not act now, we faced a nuclear-armed Iraq that would surely transfer atomic weapons to al-Qaida terrorists. Said Condi Rice, our proof of WMD might well come in the form of a mushroom cloud above an American city… in the end, we are unlikely to know the truth of why it was we went to war. For that record is sealed in minds and souls.”

CO’s and the Army

Der Spiegel Online reported on March 7:

“Is it possible to become a conscientious objector once you have signed up to fight a war? According to United States military regulations, the answer is yes. But as confirmed by a US Army court martial in the case of former Army Specialist Agustin Aguayo near the western German city of Würzburg on Tuesday, the Army also reserves the right to answer no. Aguayo, a 35-year-old Mexican-American from Los Angeles, served a tour of duty in Iraq as a combat medic from 2004 to 2005. Early on in basic training, however, he began to realize that he was opposed to war. When his unit was ordered to return to Iraq for a second tour of duty in the war-torn country, Aguayo decided he simply could not obey with a clear conscience… In a small cramped courtroom on the Leighton Barracks near Würzburg, Germany on Tuesday, Aguayo was found guilty of desertion, slapped with a bad-conduct discharge, stripped of pay and benefits and sent to the brig for eight months…

“Aguayo has become the latest in an ever-growing list of US soldiers hitting the headlines for refusing to fight in Iraq. Some, like Lt. Ehren Wutada — who recently became the first US officer to be court martialed for opting not to obey orders sending him to Iraq — argue that the fight is illegal. Others, like Aguayo — and Mark Wilkerson, who was sentenced to seven months behind bars in February for desertion — choose the conscientious objector route, saying that their belief systems have changed… ‘Those who take a public stand give support to those (still in the military) who are against the war and thinking of resisting,’ Kelly Dougherty, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. ‘The only ones who can destroy the myth (that the Iraq War is necessary) are the military.’… nearly 1,600 active soldiers have now signed a petition to the US Congress that reads in part: ‘Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price.’ Likewise, according to the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, there may be as many as 200 to 300 US soldiers who have headed north across the border to escape deployment.”

Roman Catholic Bishops vs. Israel

Der Spiegel Online reported on March 7:

“Comments by Germany’s Catholic bishops during a pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian territories have sparked fury among the Jewish community in Germany, who have accused the bishops of making anti-Semitic remarks… According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the bishop of Eichstätt, Gregor Maria Hanke, remarked during a visit to Bethlehem, ‘This morning in Yad Vashem the photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, and this evening we travel to the ghetto in Ramallah. That makes you angry.’ The Bishop of Augsburg Walter Mixa then remarked that it was a ‘ghetto-like’ situation and that it was ‘almost racism.’

“The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, has reacted with anger and disappointment to the remarks, which she describes as ‘awful and completely unacceptable.’ Comparing the fate of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto with the situation of the Palestinians in Ramallah belied ‘either a questionable shortfall in historical knowledge,’ or an attempt to turn the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and their children into today’s perpetrators, she said.

“Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, spoke of a demonization of Israel and said that those who used the term ‘Warsaw Ghetto’ in connection with Israeli or Palestinian politics, had ‘forgotten everything, or learnt nothing, or failed morally.’

“Bishop Mixa also came in for criticism for ascribing racist motives to the Israeli state and government in their dealings with the Palestinians. ‘It says more about the bishop’s mentality than about the actual situation in the Middle East,’ Knobloch said, adding that it not only misjudges the facts of the Middle East conflict and Israel’s security situation, but it also makes use of clichés ‘that border on anti-Semitism.’ …

“The Catholic Church in Germany is now trying to diffuse the row with a number of apologies… Bishop Mixa denied that the opinions given during the trip could be interpreted as politically one-sided. He expressed his concerns about the future of the peace process and Palestinians and Israelis living together, and emphasized the Church’s position of supporting the right of Israel to exist and the right of the Palestinians to their own state.”

A Permanent European President and Foreign Minister?

The Telegraph wrote on March 7:

“Ahead of an EU summit in Brussels that opens tomorrow the Germans vowed to resurrect plans for a full-time EU president and dedicated EU foreign minister…Last night, Downing Street attempted to play down the German intervention, saying it would not react in detail until the full Berlin plan on what to do about updating the EU’s institutions is revealed at another summit at the end of June…

“Germany’s fresh push was spelt out in detail by Wolfgang Ischinger, the country’s ambassador to London, in a briefing with journalists. Mr Ischinger said ‘the first step’ to make an enlarged EU work better should be to end the system of six-month rotating presidencies of the EU, and give the community ‘a permanent, professional presidency.’ It was also high time the EU had a full-time foreign minister who could be the public face of a European foreign policy abroad.

“‘Why can’t we get our act together and have a European foreign minister who can travel to Malaysia, or Washington or some other country and say this is what the EU believes,’ he said.”

How NOT to Save the Planet

Der Spiegel Online wrote on March 5:

“Germany in its capacity as president of the European Union and G8 is leading a drive to slash CO2 emissions. But German media commentators want to know why their country should take the leading role while the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, stand idly by… While Merkel has committed Germany to an emissions reduction of more than 20 percent by 2020, both China and the United States have indicated that their emissions will continue to increase in the coming years. German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who sees Germany as a driving force in climate protection, has suggested anchoring it as a goal in a future European Union constitution. Following an Australian initiative, Gabriel has proposed a German ban of standard issue light bulbs, and the introduction of new EU energy efficiency guidelines for lamps and household appliances. The German press has responded skeptically to the leading role that Merkel and Gabriel want Germany to adopt, questionning the political motivations behind the grandstanding and calling for greater international pressure on the true offenders: China and the USA.

“The business daily Handelsblatt writes: ‘The discussion lacks all sense of proportion. Germany contributes roughly 6 percent to CO2 production worldwide and the figure is declining. Roughly half of all emissions come from the USA and China, where the output continues to grow at double-digit rates… The perfect insulation of all German homes will save one million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, and exchanging all lightbulbs will save a similar amount. But when Germany shuts down its nuclear plants, their output will in part have to be taken over by coal and gas-fired power stations which will produce up to 160 million tonnes of CO2 additionally per year. We’re saving in the wrong places.’

“Mass circulation Bild in a front-page story headlined: ‘Are We Germans Supposed to Save the World on our own?’ writes: ‘We Germans are for environmental protection! We’re also prepared to make sacrifices for the environment. But sometimes one gets the impression: We’re supposed to save the earth ourselves! What are the biggest polluters, the USA, Russia and China, doing to save the planet?’

“The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes: ‘The Christian Social Union wants to ban cars with combustion engines. The Social Democrats wants air travellers to pay a climate tax. The Greens want to slap a tax on air fuel and Greenpeace wants to ban all budget air travel. What’s peculiar is that the so-called climate-protectors are punishing mobility and little else. Of course, the environmental costs of traffic are significant and the energy efficiency of travel has to be improved. But much more energy is being consumed by industry and private households… The issue of how the energy needs of billions of people can be satisfied without destroying the environment and the climate is far too important to be left to politicians intent on self-promotion.”

Out-Of-Body Experiences?

The Telegraph wrote on March 3:

“People who have out-of-body experiences, such as flying along a tunnel towards a heavenly light, are more likely to suffer a strange effect called sleep paralysis, according to a survey that adds to mounting evidence for a biological explanation for the experience.

“During sleep paralysis, people experience a kind of breakdown between states of consciousness which takes place on the fringe of sleep, either when falling asleep or waking. Because the brain turns off the body’s ability to move during dreaming, muscles can lose their tone, or tension, causing paralysis.

“The details of sleep paralysis vary from person to person. Some hear vague sounds, indistinct voices and demonic gibberish. Others see hallucinations of humans, animals and supernatural creatures. There is a striking inability to move or to speak, or a weight on the chest.

“Also common are feelings of rising off the bed or flying. In addition, people report out-of-body experiences, sometimes accompanied by ‘autoscopy’ when they look down on themselves. Not surprisingly, these moments are accompanied by fear. Throughout history, there have also been accounts of people having visions on the brink of death – what are now called ‘near-death experiences’.

“Today, the two odd effects are linked by a study that backs the idea that the near-death experience is a biological experience, rather than anything to do with a spiritual dimension, a glimpse of heaven or the existence of the soul… The sleep paralysis linked with out-of-body experiences was thought rare, but may strike between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of people at least once. They report sensations of floating, flying, falling or leaving one’s body. It ranges from relatively tranquil floating experiences to horrible feelings of falling or rising at high speed.”

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