Current Events

After Blair–Is Bush the Next Convert to Catholicism?

The Associated Press reported on June 13:

“[President Bush] began the day [Friday] taking a rare stroll through the lush grounds of the Vatican Gardens, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily. ‘Your eminence, you’re looking good,’ Bush told Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of their third visit. Normally, VIPS are received in the pope’s library in the Apostolic Palace. That’s where Bush had his first meeting with Benedict in June 2007. But in a gesture of appreciation for the hearty welcome Bush gave him in Washington in April, Benedict welcomed the president and Mrs. Bush near St. John’s Tower in the lush Vatican Gardens.”

Reuters added on June 13:

“Pope Benedict gave George W. Bush an unprecedented welcome in the tranquility of the Vatican Gardens on Friday before the U.S. president resumed his campaign to rally European support for sanctions against Iran… As birds chirped, the two entered a restored medieval tower and held 30 minutes of private talks. ‘Such an honor, such an honor,’ Bush said to the pope.

“After the meeting in the tower, they stood on a terrace to take in the view of 44 hectares (108 acres) of manicured gardens, buildings, ancient walls and St Peter’s Basilica that make up Vatican City. Bush asked: ‘How big is it?’ A Vatican aide responded: ‘Not quite as big as Texas.’ Bush then said: ‘Yes but more important … this is spectacular.'”

AFP stated on June 13:

“Bush ‘is a huge fan of the pope and has full respect for him,’ White House chief of protocol Nancy Goodman Brinker said. The US leader ‘fully supports the (Catholic) Church and fully supports everything this pope is trying to do on behalf of peace, education and hunger in cooperation with world political leaders,’ she told the ANSA news agency. Bush, whose relations with pope John Paul II were strained because of the US-led invasion of Iraq, feels closer to Benedict, who appreciates the religious fervour of the president, a born-again Protestant… On Friday, the two leaders will pray before a statue of the Madonna before bidding each other farewell.”

In fact, they did. Bild Online reported on June 13: “They prayed together before the picture of the Virgin Mary.” The paper also pointed out the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Catholic Mary Ann Gleddon, kissed the pope’s hand when they met.

As a consequence, the Belfast Telegraph stated on Monday, June 16, that “Bush ‘may convert to Catholicism.'” The article continued:

“President George Bush was given such a splendid welcome by Pope Benedict XVI yesterday that rumours started flying that the President, like Tony Blair before him, was on the verge of converting to Catholicism… The notion was given extra mileage by the fact that the President’s brother Jeb, the former governor of Florida, converted to Catholicism on marrying his wife Columba, a Mexican.

“The Vatican differs from the White House on immigration and the death penalty but on other issues including stem cell research, gay marriage and abortion there has been, as the Catholic daily L’Avvenire put it, ‘total harmony.’  Cardinal Pio Laghi, the papal envoy to the White House, said: ‘Bush believes in the values of the Church and his brother is a convert.'”

Serious Problems for this Year’s Harvest Due to Flooding

The New York Times wrote on June 16:

“Last week, the price of corn rose above $7 a bushel on the commodities market for the first time, and soybeans rose sharply, too, reacting to the harsh weather hampering crop production across the Midwest. In addition to Iowa, the farming states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota have suffered an unusual level of flooding this year.

“Soaring global demand in addition to the increased use of corn for ethanol, an alternative fuel, have shrunk the worldwide supply of staples that are the core of practically every continent’s diet.

“Meanwhile, the price of oil has jumped, raising the cost of producing crops and feeding livestock and causing an increase in grocery bills here and abroad, sparking riots and protests in at least two dozen countries.

“At a moment when corn should be almost waist-high here in Iowa, the country’s top-producing corn state, more than a million acres have been washed out and destroyed. Beyond that, agriculture experts estimate that 2 million acres of soy beans have been lost to water, putting the state’s total grain loss at 20 percent so far, with the threat of more rain to come…”

US Floods Hit Food Prices

The Financial Times wrote on June 17:

“Consumers were warned to expect even sharper increases in global food prices after US officials said that some of the country’s best farmland was facing its worst flooding for 15 years. Agriculture officials and traders said the damage could push up worldwide corn and soyabean prices, which have spiralled in recent days as floods have swamped crops in parts of Iowa, the US’s biggest corn-producing state. The warning comes at a time when high food prices are already sparking protests across the developing world…

“The increase in the cost of corn and soyabeans – the two main feed crops for farm animals such as cows and chickens – increased the price of live cattle yesterday for the second day in a row, to the highest level in 22 years…

“After weeks of heavy rains and low temperatures, the US Department of Agriculture said that only 57 per cent of the country’s corn crop is in good or excellent condition, considerably less than the 70 per cent registered this time last year. Local farmers in Illinois said that the bad weather had delayed planting by up to five weeks, which would result in a much reduced crop of corn and soyabeans. Some farmers expected their corn production to be down by as much as 50 per cent from last year’s level.

“Agriculture traders described the problem graphically, saying that corn plants in Iowa or Illinois should now be reaching almost waist height, but due to the impact of the heavy rains and low temperatures were below knee-height.”

Reuters added on June 18:

“The swollen Mississippi River ran over the top of at least 12 more levees on Wednesday, as floodwaters swallowed up more U.S. farmland, adding to billion-dollar losses and feeding global food inflation fears… About 10 levees were breached earlier this week, bringing the total to 22 on Wednesday… The cost of the disaster may end up rivaling that of 1993 Midwest floods that caused more than $20 billion in damage and 48 deaths… The prospects of smaller crops have already jolted commodity markets, food producers and exporters. Chicago Board of Trade corn prices traded at a record $8.07 a bushel. The floods will mean more food inflation, not only for U.S. consumers, but also for dozens of countries that buy American grain. The United States exports 54 percent of the world’s corn, 36 percent of its soybeans and 23 percent of its wheat…

“Estimates are that 5 million acres across the Midwest have been ruined and will not produce a crop this year. Iowa and Illinois usually produce one-third of all U.S. corn and soybeans. Expectations of reduced crops from the main sources of livestock feed, renewable fuels like ethanol, starch and edible oils has sent commodity prices to record highs… The worst flooding has struck Iowa but evacuations have also affected flooded sections of Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota.”

After the Irish “No”-Vote–Difficult Times Ahead for Europe

Der Spiegel wrote on June 13:

“Ireland shot down the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum held on Thursday. Already, EU politicians are branding the Irish as ingrates. But it is exactly that kind of arrogance which helped lead to the Irish ‘no’ in the first place… Brussels is disappointed — and furious…

“Listen to the Irish themselves and it becomes clear that they remain, for the most part, committed Europeans. In the run up to Thursday’s referendum, though, the country posed two questions born of pragmatism: Is this treaty good for us? And: Are we happy with the current development of the EU? Both questions are ones which many millions of Europeans would likely have responded to with ‘no.’ Had they been asked…

“Already, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have said that ratification of the Lisbon Treaty should continue as planned — as though the Irish referendum never took place. But for the EU — which sings the praises of democracy and does what it can to improve democratic institutions in places like Turkey — that would be the wrong way to go.”

The Guardian wrote on June 14:

“The long campaign to forge a new dispensation for the European Union descended into panic and uncertainty yesterday when Ireland turned its back on its 26 EU partners and voted down the Lisbon Treaty. EU leaders in Brussels and governments across the union, particularly Germany and France, were stunned by the Irish verdict, which amounted to a huge vote of no confidence in the way the EU is run… The result left Europe’s leaders with a giant dilemma over what to do next… The pressure on Britain indicated that Germany and France still hope to salvage the treaty, although it was not clear how since it has to be ratified by all 27 EU countries to take effect…

“Everything suggested that Europe’s key leaders were urgently conferring on a scheme to steamroller their blueprint through despite the Irish rejection, a course likely to trigger protest from Eurosceptics and deepen Europe’s democratic legitimacy problems. At the very least, the deadlines for implementing the treaty looked difficult to achieve.”

The EUObserver wrote on June 16:

“Europe will this week try and pick up the political pieces following Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, but the relatively high turnout at the ballot box, the wide margin and the jumble of reasons for the No vote mean an exit strategy will be hard to find… Ireland has admitted it will be hard-pressed to come up [with] an answer and asked Europe to not isolate it… France and Germany have been careful to sing from the same hymn sheet, staving off a feeling of Europe in crisis and rushing out a joint statement to say ratification should continue in a bid to stop more eurosceptic countries such as Britain immediately calling off the process… But all countries need to ratify the Lisbon Treaty for it to come into force…

“The most obvious way out – without resorting to renegotiating the treaty for which there is little political appetite – is another vote to see if the Irish say yes second time round… But it appears unlikely that the Irish government can take this route… the EU would leave itself exposed to charges that it is ignoring the will of the people if it pushes Dublin towards a second vote.”

Coming–a Two-Speed or “Core” Europe

The Times wrote on June 15:

“Gordon Brown is privately ready to sacrifice the Lisbon treaty rather than allow the Irish no vote to create a two-tier Europe. Despite the Irish referendum, France, Germany and senior Brussels officials have insisted there should be no delay in implementing the European Union blueprint. But No 10 sources say the prime minister would rather see the entire constitutional treaty collapse than allow individual member states to be left trailing in a two-speed Europe… If Europe presses ahead without Ireland, it would set a precedent for a two-speed club, with Britain likely to be stuck in the second tier…

“The only EU leader so far to admit that the treaty is dead is Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, who declared the entire project ‘finished’. ‘Ratification cannot be continued,’ he said. There are signs that across Europe political leaders will face growing public opposition if they disregard the Irish vote.”

Der Spiegel Online wrote on June 16:

“The most probable option that remains is an exhausting marathon. The EU would continue working, at least for a while, with the instruments and powers that it already has. Then, in a couple of years, a new round of negotiations would begin in order to come up with a more efficient set of rules for the club. That would take a long time and by that point the old longing for a smaller, better ‘core Europe’ among committed Europeans would once again have been awakened.”

In a related article, Der Spiegel Online wrote on June 16:

“Elsewhere, calls for a ‘two-speed’ Europe have once again become audible. Many in Germany, France and other long-time EU members have argued that, if not everyone is willing to fully integrate, then those who would like to should move ahead. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said on German radio on Saturday that it was time for a ‘Club of the Few.’ Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer likewise wrote in an editorial for Die Zeit that ‘those who want political integration should move forward and those who are happy with just a common market should be left behind.'”

Ultimately, a two-speed Europe WILL develop, and certain “core nations” WILL move forward. For more information, please watch our new StandingWatch program, titled, “Ireland Says No–What Now?” It is posted on StandingWatch, Google Video and YouTube. Also, make sure to read our free booklet, “Europe in Prophecy.”

“Fortress Europe Is Taking Shape”

Der Spiegel Online wrote on June 19:

“The European Parliament has approved new measures for handling illegal immigrants in the European Union. But does it make the EU more humane? German commentators aren’t sure…

“The business daily Handelsblatt writes: ‘Unfortunately, the train is heading in the wrong direction. … Already the approach is wrong. Instead of seeing immigration as a way to enrich and increase the growth prospects of the aging continent, the EU has set its sights on building a wall. … The slogans are regulation and repression. Fortress Europe is taking shape… there is absolutely no reason for the EU to strengthen the fortress.'”

European Defense–Top Priority

The EUObserver wrote on June 17:

“French president Nicolas Sarkozy has reaffirmed his intention to make European defence a major theme during his country’s six-month stint at running the European Union, beginning in less that two week’s time. In a key address before French military brass on Tuesday (17 June), Mr Sarkozy said ‘building European defence is our priority’ and that ‘whatever the future of the Treaty of Lisbon’ he would not change his mind…

“EU member states in 1999 committed themselves to achieving a Rapid Reaction Force of this size, deployable within 60 days… Mr Sarkozy said he wants to make defence and security policy an example of a ‘concrete Europe, of a Europe that responds to the needs of its citizens. I very much hope that the French presidency of the European Union (…) will be the first step in a veritable relaunch of European defence for the coming years,’ he said, according to AP.”

Blueprint for Nuclear Weapons in the Hands of U.S. Enemies?

CNN wrote on June 15:

“An international smuggling ring may have secretly shared blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon with Iran, North Korea and other rogue countries, The Washington Post reported Sunday. The now-defunct ring led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan is previously known to have sold bomb-related parts to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

“A draft report by former top U.N. arms inspector David Albright says the smugglers also acquired designs for building a more sophisticated compact nuclear device that could be fitted on a type of ballistic missile used by Iran and other developing countries, according to the Post.”

In addition, The Financial Times wrote on June 19:

“The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards. Robert Gates, US defence secretary, recently fired both the US Air Force chief of staff and air force secretary after an investigation blamed the air force for the inadvertent shipment of nuclear missile nose cones to Taiwan. According to previously undisclosed details obtained by the FT, the investigation also concluded that the air force could not account for many sensitive components previously included in its nuclear inventory. One official said the number of missing components was more than 1,000.”

Israel Believes Air Strike Against Iran Unavoidable–“We Will See a Middle East in Flames.”

Der Spiegel Online wrote on June 16:

“The Israeli government no longer believes that sanctions can prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. A broad consensus in favor of a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities — without the Americans, if necessary — is beginning to take shape… there is now a consensus within the Israeli government that an air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities has become unavoidable…

“The one question over which Israel’s various political groups disagree is the timing of an attack. The doves argue that diplomatic efforts by the United Nations should be allowed to continue until Iran is on the verge of completing the bomb…

“The hawks, on the other hand, believe time is running out. They stress that there is now a ‘favorable window of opportunity’ that will close with the US presidential election in November, and that Israel can only depend on American support for as long as current US President George W. Bush is still in charge in Washington. They are convinced that the country cannot truly depend on any of the candidates to succeed Bush in office. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate, has already said that he favors direct negotiations with Tehran. And even if Republican John McCain wins the race, politicians in Jerusalem do not expect him to be ordering an attack as his first official act… President Bush, however, has recently been sending out signals that are suspiciously reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq war…

“In a recent letter to Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak wrote that Tehran is not far from the ‘point of no return’ at which the Israelis believe it could no longer be prevented from developing a bomb. Israeli intelligence officials believe that Iranian weapons engineers could have enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead by 2009.

“Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert who spent many years working for the CIA, says it would be ‘very difficult for this administration [of the USA] to start a war with Iran. There would be public uproar and congressional uproar.’ But the situation is different from Israel’s perspective, says Riedel. ‘There is some risk that Israel thinks it has limited time to act and it has a green light from American politicians.’ Besides, the Israeli Air Force is known for its ‘inventive solutions to military problems,’ says Riedel, who has strong contacts to Israel, referring to the feasibility of such an attack. ‘Israeli military planners tell me it is mission doable.’

“This is why Riedel sees an Israeli military strike, with the US government’s consent, as the most likely attack scenario. But the consequences, according to Riedel, would not differ from those of an American attack. ‘An Israeli attack will be seen as a US attack. Iran will retaliate against both Israel and the US.’ The consequences, says Riedel, would be fatal. ‘We will see a Middle East in flames.’

“Nevertheless, in Israel it is no longer a matter of whether there will be a military strike, but when.”

No Official Position on Homosexual Bishops in Lutheran Churches

Reuters reported on June 17:

“Germany could elect its first openly gay Lutheran bishop [Horst Gorski, a senior cleric from Hamburg] next month [July 12], a move conservatives say would alienate many Christians and open divisions in the Church…

“‘Many members of the community would have little understanding for a bishop with this kind of lifestyle,’ Ulrich Ruess, a pastor in the northern city of Hamburg, was quoted as telling Die Welt newspaper. Others have been quoted as saying Gorski’s appointment would damage the standing and weight of the Lutheran Church, founded by German Martin Luther in the 16th century and now one of the largest Protestant denominations.

“The election committee is standing by its choice of candidates. ‘After careful consultation, we have nominated two experienced provosts as candidates who have excelled in their localities and in the region in a variety of ways,’ said election committee member Bishop Maria Jepsen, the world’s first woman Lutheran bishop. In an Internet statement, she said the two candidates earned respect with their theological and pastoral work as well as through their strong charisma.

“The Lutheran World Federation, which represents nearly 69 million Christians, says it will not get involved as it has no common line on the question of homosexuality… Last year the largest U.S. Lutheran body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said it would allow homosexual clergy in sexual relationships to serve as pastors.”

California’s Gay Marriages

The Associated Press reported on June 18:

“Wearing everything from T-shirts to tuxedos and lavish gowns, hundreds of same-sex couples rushed to county clerks’ offices throughout California to obtain marriage licenses and exchange vows as last-minute legal challenges to gay marriage failed. All 58 counties began issuing licenses Tuesday following an order from the state’s highest court.

“San Diego County, typically a Republican stronghold, added four walk-up windows and assigned 78 employees to issue marriage licenses, up from the usual 19. It issued 230 licenses on Tuesday, breaking its previous single-day record of 176 on Valentine’s Day 2005…

“A recent Field Poll showed that Californians favor granting gays the right to marry 51 percent to 42 percent. It was the first time in 30 years of California polling that the scales tipped in that direction. In a sign of the growing political support for same-sex marriage, the Los Angeles City Council president, the mayor of Sacramento and at least two state lawmakers agreed to officiate at the weddings of staff members and friends.”

Romantic Human-Robot Relationships?

AFP wrote on June 15:

“Romantic human-robot relationships are no longer the stuff of science fiction — researchers expect them to become reality within four decades… ‘I am talking about loving relationships about 40 years from now,’ David Levy, author of the book ‘Love + sex with robots’, told AFP at an international conference. ‘… [Then] there [will exist] robots that have also emotions, personality, consciousness. They can talk to you, they can make you laugh. They can … say they love you just like a human would say “I love you”, and say it as though they mean it …’

“Scientists were working on artificial personality, emotion and consciousness, said Levy, and some robots already appear lifelike… Levy’s bombshell thesis, whose publication has had a ripple-effect way beyond the scientific community, gives rise to a number of complicated ethical and relationship questions.”

Jacob’s Pillar Stone in the UK–Fact or Fiction?

The Telegraph wrote on June 16:

“Scottish, English and British monarchs have been crowned on the ancient coronation stone since the ninth century. It spent 700 years under the chair in Westminster Abbey after it was seized in 1296 by King Edward I, and was finally returned to Scotland 12 years ago. It has since been viewed at Edinburgh Castle by tens of thousands of people, and is regarded as a symbol of Scottish independence. According to legend, Jacob used the ancient stone as a pillow when he dreamt of a ladder to heaven.

“But Scotland’s First Minister is convinced that it may be no more than a worthless lump of Perthshire sandstone. He believes it was passed off as the real coronation stone when Edward stormed Scone Abbey in 1296…

“On Christmas Day 1950, the Stone of Destiny was stolen from below the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey by a group of radical nationalist students… After a brief sojourn north of the border it was later handed back to British authorities and was used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

“Ian Hamilton, a QC who was one of the four students who stole the relic 58 years ago, said he remained convinced it was the real thing… A spokesman for Westminster Abbey said she had always believed the stone was genuine.”

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