Current Events

More Military Might for Europe?

The EUObserver wrote on November 16:

“UK foreign secretary David Miliband called for a strengthening of the EU’s military capacities during his first major speech on EU policy on Thursday (15 November) – an idea that has also been recently raised by France. ‘It’s frankly embarrassing that when European nations – with almost two million men and women under arms – are only able, at a stretch, to deploy around 100,000 at any one time’, Mr Miliband said… ‘European countries have around 1,200 transport helicopters, yet only 35 are deployed in Afghanistan. And EU member states haven’t provided any helicopters in Darfur despite the desperate need there’, he went on.

“French president Nicolas Sarkozy has also called for more efforts to build an independent European defence capability as well as to modernise NATO, while French defence minister Herve Morin told German newspaper FAZ earlier this week that Paris would put defence high on its EU presidency agenda during the second half of 2008.”

Europe, Under Germany, Against Iran…?

Reuters reported on November 16:

“Germany would consider the possibility of separate EU measures against Iran if the U.N. Security Council fails to agree on a new sanctions resolution, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday.

“Reacting to the latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the United States said on Thursday it would work with its allies for a third round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran for refusing to suspend nuclear enrichment.

“But Russia and China, permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council, are opposed to more sanctions. As a result, France has been pushing for the European Union to impose its own separate U.S.-style sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“A German Foreign Ministry spokesman was asked at a regular news conference what Germany, which diplomats have been saying opposed the idea of separate EU measures, would do if the Security Council failed to approve tougher sanctions. ‘The foreign minister has made clear that if this is the case we would take up this issue in Europe and consider together what steps could be taken by Europe,’ spokesman Martin Jaeger said.”

… But Germany’s Position “Difficult, Sketchy and Ineffective”…

Der Spiegel Online wrote on November 20:

“In an effort to forestall an American military strike against Iran, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for tougher economic sanctions against the mullah-controlled regime in Tehran. But critics say Merkel’s plans are sketchy and difficult to implement, while experts disagree over their effectiveness…

“During a visit to US President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas two weekends ago, Merkel promised her host that her government would apply stronger economic pressure on the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Merkel hopes that harsh economic sanctions will force the country’s ruling mullahs to finally abandon their controversial nuclear program… Only a few days later, during a routine consultation between senior officials in the German and French governments, Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy explored ways to put together a European alliance of countries willing to participate in the boycott. The Europeans’ main goal is to prevent a US military strike, which they believe could have more catastrophic consequences than an Iranian nuclear program… However, many in Berlin doubt tougher sanctions would be enough to force Tehran to come around on the nuclear issue. They are merely the price of keeping the Americans peaceful.

“The Catch-22 in Merkel’s pledge is that the plans she proposes are difficult to implement, and the German government has little latitude. Government experts warn against further reducing or even eliminating Hermes cover — export credit guarantees that protect German companies from non-payment by foreign debtors — for business transactions with Iran, as the Americans are demanding. Although Berlin reduced the government export credit guarantees from €900 million last year to the current level of €500 million, canceling the Hermes guarantees altogether would be risky.

“In Berlin, senior government officials fear that if the guarantees were eliminated, Tehran would no longer have any reason to repay what it already owes. At issue are receivables totaling roughly €5.5 billion, and not collecting on these debts would drive many German companies into bankruptcy. The government would have to jump in to prevent this from happening, which would impose an unacceptable burden on its budget.

“Closing the Iranian banks’ German offices isn’t as easy as the Americans imagine, either. Before this could happen, the European Union would require a United Nations resolution stating that the banks are funding the nuclear weapons program Iran is believed to be developing. EU member states would only be permitted to take action against the relevant Iranian companies if the UN adopts the necessary resolution. Although the resolution is pending before the UN Security Council, it hasn’t been adopted yet…

“US government pressure on German corporations and banks is also causing legal problems for the companies in question. By agreeing to participate in a boycott against a foreign country, German businesses would be in violation of foreign trade legislation enacted in 1993. The new laws were introduced because a number of Arab nations had demanded that their trading partners refrain from doing business with Israel. Many companies, fearful of losing their Arab business, caved in and signed the statements their Arab trading partners were demanding. To prevent this from happening in the future, German lawmakers enacted the 1993 legislation, which imposes fines of up to €500,000 on offenders…”

French President Keeps Low Profile

Der Spiegel Online wrote on November 20:

“It’s Black Tuesday for French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Five million French civil servants have gone out on strike, joining millions of others already on the streets protesting planned reforms.

“French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing his stiffest political test on Tuesday as five million public servants stage a one-day strike. They are joining transport workers who are staying off the job for the seventh straight day. Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Monday that the transport strike was costing the economy between €300 million and €350 million ($440 million and $513 million) a day.

“The strikes are causing disruptions to air traffic, postal delivery and even weather forecasts and French people are being forced to forgo their newspapers as printers and distribution employees stay away from work…

“While the majority of French supported Sarkozy’s pledge to modernize France in the presidential elections in May many are beginning to feel disappointed with the failure to improve their daily lives six months on… The president has been keeping an uncharacteristically low profile over the past week, in an attempt to avoid aggravating the situation…”

Global Warming–Man-Made or Not?

AFP reported on November 16:

“UN experts agreed Friday on a draft report that warns global warming may have far-reaching and irreversible consequences… But sometimes sharp disagreement emerged during the five days of negotiations in Valencia to hammer out the summary, even though the main findings remained untouched. US delegates in particular said references to ‘irreversible’ climate change and impacts were imprecise. They argued, for example, that the melting of glaciers or ice sheets — which could raise ocean levels by several meters (a dozen feet) — was not ‘irreversible’ as ice could eventually reform… There is now broad agreement on the amplifying scale of the problem, but countries remain sharply divided on how to tackle it, fearing economic costs and loss of competitive advantage.”

In a related article, the Associated Press wrote on November 16:

“The document says recent research has heightened concern that the poor and the elderly will suffer most from climate change; that hunger and disease will be more common; that droughts, floods and heat waves will afflict the world’s poorest regions; and that more animal and plant species will vanish… The report is important because it is adopted by consensus, meaning countries accept the underlying science and cannot disavow its conclusions. While it does not commit governments to a specific course of action, it provides a common scientific baseline for the political talks. “U.N. experts say a new global plan must be in place by 2009 to ensure a smooth transition after the expiration of the Kyoto terms, which require 36 industrial countries to radically reduce their carbon emissions by 2012…

“While the European Union has taken the lead in enforcing the carbon emission targets outlined in Kyoto, the United States opted out of the 1997 accord. President Bush described it as flawed because major developing countries such as India and China, which are large carbon emitters, were excluded from any obligations. He also favors a voluntary agreement.

“Sharon Hays, a White House science official and head of the U.S. delegation, said the certainty of climate change was clearer now than when Bush rejected Kyoto.  ‘What’s changed since 2001 is the scientific certainty that this is happening,’ she said in a conference call to reporters late Friday. ‘Back in 2001 the IPCC report said it is likely that humans were having an impact on the climate,’ but confidence in human responsibility had increased since then.”

America Is Giving Mixed Signals on Global Warming

Although the U.N’s. draft report on man-made global warming was unanimous, this may not mean that the United States really agrees with its conclusions. As AFP reported on November 17:

“The United States believes there is no clear scientific definition of the dangers of climate change although it recognizes urgent action is needed, a US conference delegation said. ‘The scientific definition of that is lacking, and so we are operating within the construct of, again, strong agreement among world leaders that urgent action is warranted,’ said Jim Connaughton, chairman of the Council of Environmental Quality…

“‘The scientific community has offered a wide range of perspectives in these documents,’ Connaughton said… Head US delegate in Valencia, Sharon Hays, cited recent American studies… made on the basis of the last IPCC report, in which US researchers stated ‘very clearly’ that ‘value judgments’ still have to be made in determining what the dangers of climate change really are… ‘That is a political judgment, as it’s been made,’ added US negotiator on climate issues Harlan Watson. ‘It’s their interpretation.’… The United States continues to oppose establishing strict legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions.”

Changes In Poland

Will Poland’s new government change the country’s relationship with Europe and the United States?

Der Spiegel wrote on November 20:

“The Kaczynski twins went a long way toward destroying Poland’s relations with Europe. Now that Donald Tusk has become prime minister, the repairs have begun… Foreign Minister Sikorski… wants the US to give the Poles something in return for their commitment to the Americans. When he was defense minister, Sikorski asked Washington for $1 billion in military aid. He also fears that missiles stationed in Poland could turn the country into a target for attacks by rogue states.

“Besides, the new government promised its fellow Poles that it would withdraw the remaining 900 Polish soldiers from Iraq. Surveys have repeatedly shown that the majority of Poles are highly critical of their soldiers’ Iraq mission.

“This skepticism is likely to have grown in recent days, after a military prosecutor in Poznan filed charges against seven Polish soldiers alleged to have opened fire on unarmed civilians during their deployment in Afghanistan. Six people, including women and children, were killed in the incident. The notion that Polish soldiers may have committed war crimes is unbearable for a nation that has been the victim of war all too often in its own history.”

Pakistan’s Ongoing Maneuverings

In a bizarre twist of events, Pakistan’s President seems to follow through with a “quid pro quo” arrangement. Antagonistic Supreme Court justices were replaced with justices sympathetic toward the President. The new justices promptly confirmed, in effect, the “legality” of the President’s election. In return, the President subsequently announced that he would step down as Army chief–while continuing to refuse ending martial law. In addition, thousands of detained political opponents were released.

AFP reported on November 19:

“Stripped of hostile judges by [Pakistan’s President] Musharraf under a state of emergency after he feared it would rule he was ineligible for another five-year term, the new-look top court took just over two hours to throw out the cases… ‘There were five petitions, they have all been dismissed. There is only one left, and that will be heard on Thursday,’ attorney general Malik Mohammad Qayyum told AFP after a hearing from which international media were banned…

“There was no sign of a swift end to the emergency, despite a blunt message Sunday from US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who said it was ‘not compatible’ with holding a free and fair vote.”

Times On Line added on November 20:

“President Musharraf of Pakistan has decided to resign as Army chief by the end of the week, it emerged today. Sources close to the Pakistani President indicated that he wanted to stand down almost immediately if a Supreme Court newly packed with his supporters decides… to reject the final legal challenge to his victory in last month’s election on Thursday…

“Critics of the Pakistani President claim that he engineered the Supreme Court’s decision today by sacking a number of independently-minded judges who had been due to consider the case when the state of emergency was called…”

Further Decline of U.S. Dollar

Bloomberg reported on November 20:

“The dollar fell to a record low against the euro and Swiss franc on concern credit-market losses will slow economic growth, prompting the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates again this year… ‘There are lots of forces working against the dollar,’ said Robert Fullem, vice president of U.S. corporate currency sales at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York. ‘The market sentiment toward the dollar is very negative. You are going to see further declines in the dollar.’… The dollar will decline to $1.50 per euro by the end of the year, according to Fullem.”

U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Handguns

The Associated Press reported on November 20:

“The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide whether the District of Columbia can ban handguns, a case that could produce the most in-depth examination of the constitutional right to ‘keep and bear arms’ in nearly 70 years. The justices’ decision to hear the case could make the divisive debate over guns an issue in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

“The government of Washington, D.C., is asking the court to uphold its 31-year ban on handgun ownership in the face of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban as incompatible with the Second Amendment… The main issue before the justices is whether the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects an individual’s right to own guns or instead merely sets forth the collective right of states to maintain militias. The former interpretation would permit fewer restrictions on gun ownership.

“Gun-control advocates say the Second Amendment was intended to ensure that states could maintain militias, a response to 18th century fears of an all-powerful national government. Gun rights proponents contend the amendment gives individuals the right to keep guns for private uses, including self-defense…

“The Second Amendment reads: ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’…

“Arguments will be heard early next year. The case is District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-290.”

Reuters: “U.S. Prison System a Costly and Harmful Failure”

Reuters reported on November 19:

“The number of people in U.S. prisons has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society, researchers said in a report calling for a major justice-system overhaul… The report was produced by the JFA Institute, a Washington criminal-justice research group, and its authors included eight criminologists from major U.S. public universities… More than 1.5 million people are now in U.S. state and federal prisons, up from 196,429 in 1970, the report said. Another 750,000 people are in local jails. The U.S. incarceration rate is the world’s highest, followed by Russia, according to 2006 figures compiled by Kings College in London.

“Although the U.S. crime rate began declining in the 1990s it is still about the same as in 1973, the JFA report said. But the prison population has soared because sentences have gotten longer and people who violate parole or probation, even with minor lapses, are more likely to be imprisoned. ‘The system is almost feeding on itself now. It takes years and years and years to get out of this system and we do not see any positive impact on the crime rates,’ JFA President James Austin, a co-author of the report, told a news conference. The report said the prison population is projected to grow by another 192,000 in five years, at a cost of $27.5 billion to build and operate additional prisons… Women represent the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, the report said.”

Vatican’s Ties With Israel Worsening

The International Herald Tribune wrote on November 16:

“A senior Vatican diplomat [Archbishop Pietro Sambi] who served as papal envoy to Israel has described Vatican-Israeli relations as worsening, blaming the Jewish state for failing to keep promises related to church land, taxes and travel restrictions on Arab clergy… Asked about Sambi’s criticisms, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: ‘Israel is interested in good relations with the Vatican and Israeli and Vatican officials are working to overcome gaps that exist.’

“Vatican spokesman… Federico Lombardi said the interview with Sambi ‘reflects his thinking and his personal experience’ during the diplomat’s former posting in Israel… Earlier this year, tensions developed between the Vatican and Israel when the Holy See’s ambassador to Israel initially decided to boycott a Holocaust memorial service because of allegations that during World War II Pope Pius XII was silent about the mass killings of Jews.”

Catholic Church’s Canon Law Prohibits Full Ecumenical Relations

The Canadian Press reported on November 14:

“Under pressure from Baltimore’s new Roman Catholic archbishop, a priest resigned as pastor to three parishes and signed a statement apologizing for ‘bringing scandal to the church’ after offences that included officiating at a funeral mass with an Episcopal priest, a violation of canon law. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien ordered the resignation of… Ray Martin, who has led the Catholic Community of South Baltimore for five years, triggering a debate about enforcing Catholic doctrine and the limits of ecumenical relations.”

“If Anyone Will Not Work, Let Him Not Eat”

On November 16, the Catholic News Agency, Zenit, published a noteworthy article, by Raniero Cantalamessa, on work ethics and the Bible. We are quoting the following excerpts:

“It seems that in one of the first Christian communities, that of Thessalonica, there were believers who… thought that it was useless to weary themselves, to work or do anything since everything was about to come to an end. They thought it better to take each day as it came and not commit themselves to long-term projects and only to do the minimum to get by… Paul responds to them in the second reading: ‘We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.’ At the beginning of the passage,… Paul recalls the rule that he had given to the Christians in Thessalonica: ‘If anyone will not work, let him not eat.’

“This was a novelty for the men of that time. The culture to which they belonged looked down upon manual labor; it was regarded as degrading and as something to be left to slaves and the uneducated. But the Bible has a different vision. From the very first page it presents God as working for six days and resting on the seventh day. And all of this happens in the Bible before sin is spoken of. Work, therefore, is part of man’s original nature and is not something that results from guilt and punishment. Manual labor is just as dignified as intellectual and spiritual labor. Jesus himself dedicates 17 years to the former — supposing he began to work around 13 — and only a few years to the latter… A person who has done the most humble jobs in life can be of greater ‘value’ than those people who hold positions of great prestige.

“It was said that work is a participation in the creative action of God and in the redemptive action of Christ and that it is a source of personal and social growth, but we know that it is also weariness, sweat and pain. It can ennoble but it can also empty and wear down. The secret is to put one’s heart into what one’s hands do. It is not so much the amount or type of work done that tires us out, as much as it is the lack of enthusiasm and motivation. To the earthly motivations for work, faith adds eternal motivations: ‘Our works,’ the Book of Revelation says, ‘will follow us’ (14:13).”

Terrible Devastation of Bangladesh Cyclone

The Telegraph wrote on November 20:

“Up to 15,000 people were killed and seven million lives left devastated by the cyclone in Bangladesh last week, aid agencies have said as the full extent of the disaster became clear… In the worst affected districts, 90 per cent of homes and 95 per cent of rice crops and valuable prawn farms were obliterated by the winds, which generated a 20ft tidal surge that swept everything from its path… Officials described the humanitarian situation in coastal districts like Barguna, 130 miles south of the capital Dhaka, as the ‘worst in decades’, a grave assertion in a country that is used to dealing with annual floods and storms… Village after village has been shattered. Millions of people are living out in the open and relief is reaching less than one percent of the people. When reached, victims are being found dehydrated and in a state of shock.”

The Associated Press reported on November 19:

“Survivors said many of the deaths could have been prevented but people failed to heed warnings to move to higher ground as the storm approached Thursday…

“Many foreign governments and international groups… pledged to help.

“The United States offered $2.1 million and two U.S. Marine Corps transport planes arrived in Dhaka with medical supplies, said Chowdhury, the army spokesman. An American military medical team was already in Bangladesh and two U.S. Navy ships, each carrying at least 20 helicopters and tons of supplies, would be made available if the Bangladesh government requested them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.

“The European Union promised $2.2 million and the British government $5.1 million. Italy’s Roman Catholic bishops conference said it would donate $2.9 million. The governments of Germany and France each pledged $730,000, Japan sent $318,000 in relief supplies, and the Philippines said it would provide a medical team.

“Bangladesh is a densely populated nation sitting on a vast river delta. Storms batter its low-lying lands every year, often killing large numbers of people. The most deadly recent storm was a tornado that leveled 80 villages in northern Bangladesh in 1996, killing 621 people. A 1991 cyclone killed about 140,000 people near the city of Chittagong, and a storm in 1985 left some 11,000 dead. One of the worst disasters came in 1970, when a cyclone’s 20-foot-high storm surge killed an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people.”

AFP reported on November 21:

“Bangladesh’s army said Wednesday it had finally reached most parts of its cyclone-hit southern coastline where millions of desperate survivors were at risk from starvation and disease. Six days after cyclone Sidr smashed in from the Bay of Bengal, small amounts of aid were at last getting through to most places but villagers — most of whom have lost family members and livelihoods — said much more was needed… Up to four million people in the area, one of the poorest places on the planet, have been left destitute and without adequate food and water.”

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