Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rwandan Genocide Officer Sentenced

The United Nations war crimes tribunal set up in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide has sentenced a former top officer in the country’s armed forces to 25 years of imprisonment after being found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Lieutenant Colonel Ephrem Setako, who was also head of the Division of Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Defence in 1994, is believed to be one of the key architects of the mass killings during which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed – often by machete or club – during a 100-day period.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, found that Lt-Col Setako ordered the killings on 25 April 1994 of 30 to 40 Tutsis at Mukamira military camp in Ruhengeri prefecture and around 10 other Tutsis there on 11 May.

He was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity (extermination) and serious violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II (murder), but acquitted of complicity to commit genocide, murder as a crime against humanity and pillage as a war crime.

Some 55 witnesses took part in the trial of Lt-Col Setako, who was arrested in the Netherlands in 2004.

From here.

Quote of the Week - St. Ignatius

“Indeed, it is better to keep quiet and be, than to make fluent professions and not be. No doubt it is a fine thing to instruct others, but only if the speaker practises what he preaches. One such Teacher there is: He who spake the word and it was done; and what He achieved even by His silences was well worthy of the Father. A man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech.” -- St. Ignatius to the Ephesians

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pew Report on the Millennials

Good news about young adults in the United States: research shows that their top priority is being a good parent. In the latest Pew Report on the Millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) 52 per cent of them chose that over owning a home (20 per cent), having a high-paying career (15 per cent) and becoming famous (1 per cent) as the most important thing in their lives.

Unfortunately, some of the aspiring parents put it far ahead of having a successful marriage (only 30 per cent) -- not to mention living a very religious life (15 per cent). How do they think they can be good parents without a good marriage?

One explanation for their naivety is this: “Only about six-in-ten were raised by both parents -- a smaller share than was the case with older generations,” says the report. And they are not rushing to say “I do”:

Just one-in-five Millennials (21%) are married now, half the share of their parents' generation at the same stage of life. About a third (34%) are parents, according to the Pew Research survey. We estimate that, in 2006, more than a third of 18 to 29 year old women who gave birth were unmarried. This is a far higher share than was the case in earlier generations.

Last week Pew reported that this generation are-- to no-one’s surprise -- “the least overtly religious American generation in modern times.”

One-in-four are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29. Yet not belonging does not necessarily mean not believing. Millennials pray about as often as their elders did in their own youth.

[Their] beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades.

By and large Pew finds these young people “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change”.

They embrace multiple modes of self-expression. Three-quarters have created a profile on a social networking site. One-in-five have posted a video of themselves online. Nearly four-in-ten have a tattoo (and for most who do, one is not enough: about half of those with tattoos have two to five and 18% have six or more). Nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe -- about six times the share of older adults who've done this. But their look-at-me tendencies are not without limits. Most Millennials have placed privacy boundaries on their social media profiles. And 70% say their tattoos are hidden beneath clothing.

Here’s a little mystery: fully 37 per cent of them are unemployed or out of the workforce (around 40 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds were in college in 2008) but 90 per cent of them say they have enough money and expect to meet their financial goals.

They get along well with their parents. Actually, they need to, because one in eight have boomeranged back to their parents roof during the recession. (Part of the secret of having enough money, no doubt.) But they seem to really value family:

They respect their elders. A majority say that the older generation is superior to the younger generation when it comes to moral values and work ethic. Also, more than six-in-ten say that families have a responsibility to have an elderly parent come live with them if that parent wants to. By contrast, fewer than four-in-ten adults ages 60 and older agree that this is a family responsibility.

There are other interesting observations about the Millennials in the latest report. What is encouraging is that they seem less ideological than elders and betters and more open to new ideas -- some of which may be old, but new to them.

From here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

US Praises Pakistani Anti-Terror Successes

WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s ‘decisive’ action against the Taliban is already showing results, says the US State Department, adding that such measures would encourage militants to seek reconciliation.

“This is expressly the kind of decisive action that we sought in our strategy from the outset, and that has been the basis upon which we have worked with Afghanistan, worked with Pakistan,” said the department’s spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Talking to reporters at the State Department on Thursday evening, Crowley, however, warned that it was too early to declare victory.

There has been a positive response in the US to Pakistani military and intelligence operations over the last several weeks that resulted in the capture of some key Taliban leaders, including the group’s military chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Crowley said that Pakistani actions were linked to a joint strategy for dealing with militants, which began with the recognition that they were an adversary of the United States as well as Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“But as to what conclusions those who are associated with political violence will draw from this, that is expressly why we have included in our strategy the concept of reintegrating those who are currently engaged in the fight,” he added.

To join this reintegration process, the militants will first have to lay down their arms, disassociate themselves from Al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution or the rule of law in Pakistan, he said.

Responding to a question about a possible reconciliation with the Taliban leadership, the spokesman said the US and its allies were “not too far down that road at this point”.

Such decisions, he added, would ultimately be made by the Afghan leadership on their side, the Pakistani leadership on their side. “But certainly, I think we are encouraged by the broad trends that show the results of Pakistan’s decisive action.”

Crowley claimed that in southern Afghanistan, where the US was conducting a major military operation, the militants were already showing interest in the reintegration process.

“We’re now moving ahead with being able to bring more civilians into that region and demonstrate to the Afghan people that there are clear benefits to them in the immediate term and the long run.”

From here.

Most Pakistani Leaders are Polygamists

ISLAMABAD: The Minister of State for Ports and Shipping, Nabil Gabol, stunned the National Assembly on Thursday when he claimed that 80 per cent members of the house had more than one wife.

He said: “It should be left for Ulema to issue a decree whether anyone can have more than one wife or not”.

Interestingly, he was responding to a statement of his own party’s former information minister, Sherry Rahman, who contended that a man was not allowed to enter into second wedlock without permission from his first wife.

The surprising aspect of Mr Gabol’s claim was that no member in a thinly attended house, including any of the ministers, chose to deny or confirm his assertion.

Maulana Abdul Malik, a member from Fata, however supported Mr Gabol’s stance on polygamy by reciting a verse from Holy Quran: “Faithful are allowed to wed twice, thrice or four times provided they can maintain justice between wives.”

Ms Sherry referred to a recent statement of PML-Q’s women MPA in the Punjab Assembly in which she claimed that a Muslim man can have more than one wife without getting permission from his first wife.

She expressed her concern over the silence of the Punjab government as well as the federal government over the issue.

She said the Jamiah Al Azhar of Egypt had issued a decree (fatwa) that no one was allowed to indulge into polygamy under the prevailing circumstances.

From here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care Summit Bad for Dems


According to Jay Nordlinger:

This health-care summit was a bad idea for the Democrats for this reason: They have long benefited from a perception — a perception greatly abetted by the media: The Republicans don’t care about health care, they don’t know about health care, they are the Party of No. All the ideas and caring are on the Democratic side.


It is not so, and it has never been so. And now everybody knows it.

Read more here.

Constitution? What Constitution?

George F. Will notes, "Democracy's majoritarian ethic is, liberals say, being violated by the filibuster that prevents their enacting health legislation opposed by an American majority.

Some liberals argue that the Constitution is unconstitutional. Their reasoning is a non sequitur: The Constitution empowers each chamber to "determine the rules of its proceedings." It requires five supermajorities (for ratifying treaties, endorsing constitutional amendments, overriding vetoes, expelling members and impeachment convictions). Therefore it does not permit requiring a sixth, to end filibusters.

Liberals also say the filibuster exacerbates the Senate's flaw as "inherently unrepresentative." That is, the Founders -- who liberals evidently believe were dolts or knaves -- designed it to represent states rather than, as the House does, population...[more]

US Request for Baradar Denied

The arrest of Mullah Baradar was kept secret for about a week before Pakistan and the White House confirmed it on Feb 17 and hailed it as a big success in the fight against terrorism. - Reuters File Photo


ISLAMABAD: The government refused on Wednesday to hand over to the US the commander of Afghan Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was recently captured in Karachi.

According to sources, the request was made by US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Director Robert Mueller during meetings with officials of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

He was told that an accused arrested in Pakistan could be repatriated to the country of his origin only if he had not committed any crime here.

The refusal was in contrast with the policy pursued by ex-president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf who handed over to the US a large number of Afghans. Gen (retd) Musharraf was also accused of handing over several Pakistanis to the US for dollars. He denied the charge.

The sources said that the Taliban leader might be handed over to Afghanistan if Kabul made a request.

The issue also figured at a meeting attended by the FBI chief, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the sources said.

They said the US sought extradition of Mullah Baradar and other wanted terrorists to America, but Pakistan contended they could only be extradited to the country of their origin if they had not violated Pakistani law.

It was decided that a biometric system would be installed along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border within two months.

A press release issued by the US embassy quoted Mueller as saying that “the tripartite session was an effective discussion conducted in a positive and productive manner and focussed on our shared concerns”.

It said the three sides agreed to timelines and deadlines for their cooperation in countering terrorism and major crimes. They agreed to meet again in a month to monitor progress and define new milestones in this regard.

The session was the latest in a series of tripartite discussions being held since February last year.

The arrest of Mullah Baradar was kept secret for about a week before Pakistan and the White House confirmed it on Feb 17 and hailed it as a big success in the fight against terrorism.

Mullah Baradar was regarded as second only to Mullah Mohammad Omar, Taliban’s supreme leader.

AP adds: Zemeri Bashary, a spokesman for the Afghan interior minister, said: “Pakistan has agreed to hand Mullah Baradar over, but there are going to be consultations with judicial authorities.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Pakistan was expecting a formal request from the Afghan government to hand over Mullah Baradar.

The move could allow US officials to conduct their own interrogation.

Mullah Baradar was captured in a joint Pakistani-US operation and has given some useful information to Pakistani interrogators, officials said. It is unclear if American officials have had direct access to him.

From here.

Pakistan Assisted in Rigi's Arrest

TEHRAN, Feb 24: Pakistan played a role in helping Iran arrest its most wanted militant Abdolmalek Rigi who was seized onboard a flight from Dubai, Islamabad’s ambassador to Tehran Mohammad Abbasi said on Wednesday.

“I must tell you that such action cannot be carried out without the cooperation of Pakistan. I am happy that he has been arrested,” Mr Abbasi told a media conference at Islamabad’s mission in Tehran.

Without elaborating, Mr Abbasi said details of Pakistan’s help to Iran in arresting Rigi would be revealed in “two or three days time.”

Rigi, the head of shadowy rebel group Jundallah was captured on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday.

Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said the entire operation to capture him was carried out by Iranian agents and no other regional country was involved.

An airport official from Bishkek told AFP on condition of anonymity on Tuesday that the passenger plane Rigi was travelling in was forced to land on Iranian territory by two Iranian jet bombers.

Iran’s official Press TV, quoting an unidentified source speaking on condition of anonymity, added on its English-language website that Rigi was seized along with one of his deputies.It said they “were captured after their plane was brought down by security forces in an airport in the Iranian Persian Gulf city of Bandar Abbas.”

On Wednesday, Mr Abbasi said Rigi was arrested “outside Pakistan.” “Based on what was shown and reported, he was arrested somewhere between Dubai, Afghanistan and Central Asia.”

Mr Abbasi said Pakistan too had been “working to arrest Rigi,” adding Islamabad had regularly handed over to Tehran members of his group, including his brother Abdolhamid who is now on death row in Iran.

After the October 2009 deadly suicide bombing in the Pisheen town of Sistan-Baluchestan which was claimed by Jundallah, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards had charged that Rigi had been briefly detained in Quetta but later released following intervention by Pakistan’s intelligence service.

On Wednesday, a top Iranian official said Rigi would be put on public trial, and urged his associates to give themselves up to the Islamic republic’s authorities.

“Rigi will be put on an open trial in Sistan-Baluchestan,” Fars news agency quoted Mohammad Marzieh, prosecutor of Zahedan, capital of the southeastern province bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, as saying.

From here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Makes a Good Society?


There are numerous marks of a good society: justice, equity, rule of law, economic opportunity, reciprocity, prosperity, critical thinking, ethical standards, concern for good citizenship, right to defense, right to private property, etc. But where does the value of Goodness for Goodness sake come in?





Alice C. Linsley

As Americans watch the political stalemate in Washington, we can’t help but notice the conflicting views on what makes a society good. We might agree that it takes good people to make a good society, people reaching out to people. We might say that it takes good leaders to design a good society. Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of the "Great Society" which for him meant social reforms designed to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. Johnson's vision was formed by the radical changes of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement. He saw the nation's greatness in terms of economic prosperity and opportunity.

The Founding Fathers spoke of a society in which there is "liberty and justice for all". Such a statement could be made by left-leaning Democrats as well as old-guard Republicans. It rings with the shallow “truth” of a slogan. It reads well on a banner carried by activists on both sides of health reform, campaign reform, education reform, etc, but this ideal can be achieved only by embracing the Good. 

Plato was right that one can't live the good life unless one knows the Good. The hard part is defining “good” apart from self-interest. For many, good is what I perceive to serve me best. Society is good if it features personal comforts and benefits and generates a standard of living that I feel entitled to enjoy.  But the reality and the dream are very far apart! We are a nation of overworked and underpaid wage slaves whose debt dampens our passion for the Good.  Many are just trying to survive.  Our standard of living never will be high enough to satisfy us.  There always will be another convenience or techy toy just beyond our reach. We are no longer free. We are ruled by schedules, technology, taxes and our own discontent.  And we tend to think our discontent is someone else's fault. No wonder many Americans are angry!

Aristotle believed that free men are responsible for their voluntary and involuntary actions and behaviors. He did not include slaves in this scheme because to him the society of ruling men was the basis upon which to build a good society.  For Aristotle, a society or state is held together by friendship more than justice. He regarded men with many friendships as good men. [1]

That friendship, or natural affinity, is the basis of a good society is evident to children who determine who is included and who is excluded from their group. No matter how often their mothers tell them to be nice and let everyone play together, children form groups according to their own rules. (And their parents don't "play" with everyone either.) Yet children are more egalitarian than Aristotle's society.  Children slip in and out of different groups quite often.  This is how they discover where they fit best.  But in Aristotle's society a person could never escape from his caste. Slaves were at the bottom of the caste system and they had no rights except those granted to them by their masters. Some slaves were highly skilled in medicine, arts, reading and writing, etc. These were generally treated well by their masters because they had valuable skills, but they were not regarded as the equal of free men like Aristotle. So all the things we like about Aristotle - the attitudes which seem fair and democratic - really apply only to men of his Athenian social class.  There is little application to America, a society of myriad communities straining in diverse directions to achieve a good society .

We grow up hearing that America is the "Land of the Free" but we know from daily experience that people aren't treated as equals and many, though not slaves in an institutional sense, bear the heavier load of work and for the least amount of pay.  It is no surprise that our nation produced a thinker like J. B. Rawls who articulated a way for a person's execution of a rational long-term plan of life to remain fair to other people's life plans under the "veil of ignorance".  The veil is to keep people from tilting the balance of justice in their favor. But Congress, reflecting the nation, is a community of communities, each working to tilt the balance in their favor.  This is not the balance of justice, but the balance of power. Winning the votes, passing the porked bill, getting the dirt on one's opponent - these are what tilt the balance.  These are what break bonds of friendship.

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni has written, "the quest for a good society points to one that allows communities to maintain some limitations on new membership while at the same time greatly restrict the criteria that communities may use informing such exclusivity. The criteria for exclusion cannot be race, ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, or a host of other criteria based on ascribed statuses. Rather, the bonds of good communities, it follows, should be based on affinities whose nature remains to be defined." [2] 

Contrary to political correctness, the good society limits membership by law.  It is predicated on affinity, not on grand schemes or social engineering.  Societies are organic.  They develop according to their social DNA, and can't be designed. (Socialists neglect this truth.)  Unless natural communities can be connected in friendly ways, nation building is impossible.  The good society works as a confederation of tribes, each honoring the other's right to exist and all responsible for the most vulnerable and the poorest.


NOTES

1.   Aristotle intended authentic friendships, not fair-weather friends.  Authentic people tend to attract authentic friends. That being the case, the larger the network of friendship, the greater the measure of a man's virtue.

2.  The quotation is from Etzioni's essay "The Good Society" found here.  Etzioni is a communitarian.  As such, he views institutions and policies as reflecting values passed from generation to generation.  "These values become part of the self through internalization, and are modified by persuasion, religious or political indoctrination, leadership, and moral dialogues." Read more here.


Related reading:  Critical Thinking and Good Citizenship; Revising Good and Evil; Teaching the Benefits of Capitalism; Moral Obligation

Silence a Human Right?

It is almost impossible today, beyond the confines of one’s home, to escape hip-hop (now taught as a serious subject in some colleges), rap, rock, and country-western hits, played at high volume. Shopping malls blast recordings, spoken commercials, and videos at shoppers. Our local Home Depot and Best Buy reverberate with the assault of sobs, groans, and twangs over gigantic loudspeakers. Our cavernous grocery store sounds like a perpetual rock concert, with thump-thumping, shouting, and shrieking tearing at one’s ears in every aisle. Going to the movies can often be likewise painful, as the volume of the film and the commercials is set at a level necessary to communicate with the many hearing-impaired teens in attendance. Summer fairs and festivals are often worse. At most sporting events, the bombast starts at the first hesitation in the athletic action. Gambling casinos can be as loud as a computer game room or a sawmill. When you enter a church and see a drum set near the pulpit or altar, you know you’re in trouble.

This is because people all over the West and industrialized Asia today, perhaps especially the young, cannot abide silence. Disc jockeys understand this well, not permitting even a second of silence between recordings, running everything together as though it was all of a single piece or leaping into the dreaded “dead air” at the end of a number with blaring commercials. One of the very few moral commandments of modern life to command widespread assent must be: Thou Shalt Not Permit Quiet.

I used to watch several of my students enter class with their earphones on, take them off reluctantly during a lecture, and clamp them back on as soon as possible when the class ended. They were intent on avoiding more than a second or two of silence. New devices have greatly encouraged more young people to become sound zombies, seeking constant instruction and inspiration from the likes of Lil Boosie and Chingy. Cell phones often occupy those intervals in life when silence might threaten. Now everyone is routinely required to sit or stand in public places listening to loud telephone conversations waged by people who have no idea that their conduct might offend others, and wouldn’t care if they knew.

In fact, silence is necessary for many achievements in civilized society, especially meaningful and thoughtful study (as opposed to mere memorization). Concentrated minds need to focus without interruption. When I used to tell my students that simple truth, I was often greeted with smirks and bewildered looks. Some had not even imagined reading a serious book in silence.

Quiet is also vital to contemplation, prayer, and worship. Churches should have signs that say (right after the admonition against beach apparel): “Be Still. Think. Listen. Pray.”

Silence is the enemy of everything superficial, stupid, and ugly.

Thus I am entirely in favor of the Right to Quiet Society of Vancouver, British Columbia (www.quiet.org), which seeks “recognition of the right to quiet as a basic human right.” Organization officials argue that “Noise causes stress, and stress is a major cause of illness and suicide.” Urban noise is said to be doubling every ten years.... [read it here.]

Iran Captures Jundallah Head

Reporting from Beirut and Tehran — Iran's security forces said they captured the head of an ethnic militant group they have fought for years Tuesday morning and claimed he was at an American base in Afghanistan a day before he was caught.

Abdulmalak Rigi, the infamous leader of the ethnic Baluch militant group Jundallah, and his second-in-command are in Iranian custody after what the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is touting as a five-month operation.

"We had spread a dragnet and we managed to capture him," said Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, according to state radio. "He is now in the claws of justice. We were watching him and his agents, but we wanted to capture him alive."

Read it all here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taliban Behead Sikhs

SRINAGAR/JAMMU: Raising anti-Taliban slogans, Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday blocked roads for hours and burnt tyres during a bandh to protest the recent killing of two members of the community in Pakistan’s restive tribal belt, and demanded concrete steps to ensure the safety of minorities in that country.

The call for the bandh — given by the Jammu and Kashmir Sikh United Front (JKSUF) and supported by the BJP, VHP, the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP), the Jammu Bar Association and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, besides social organisations — hit life in Jammu, Poonch, Reasi and R.S. Pura districts, where shops and business establishments remained closed and vehicles went partially off the roads.

However, there were no reports of any untoward incidents, a police spokesman said.

Sikh protesters, led by Sudershan Singh Wazir, JKSUF convener, blocked the Jammu-Srinagar national highway for over four hours in the Gangyal and Jammu areas, burnt tyres at Digiana, Camp and other places along the highway, and shouted anti-Taliban slogans besides demonstrating in the city.

“We condemn the attack on Sikhs in Pakistan. The beheading incidents are brutal. Sikhs are unsafe in the area and the Pakistan government has failed to provide them security,” Mr. Wazir told journalists in Jammu.

The All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee in Srinagar appealed to the governments of India and Pakistan to take concrete steps to ensure the safety and security of minorities living in Pakistan.

Read it all here.

Homosex Rarely Monogamous

When Rio and Ray married in 2008, the Bay Area women omitted two words from their wedding vows: fidelity and monogamy.

“I take it as a gift that someone will be that open and honest and sharing with me,” said Rio, using the word “open” to describe their marriage.

Love brought the middle-age couple together — they wed during California’s brief legal window for same-sex marriage. But they knew from the beginning that their bond would be forged on their own terms, including what they call “play” with other women.

As the trial phase of the constitutional battle to overturn the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage concludes in federal court, gay nuptials are portrayed by opponents as an effort to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony. Quietly, outside of the news media and courtroom spotlight, many gay couples are doing just that, according to groundbreaking new research.

A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage — one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.

New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years — about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.

Read the entire NYT article here.

The Episcopal Church Excoriated

There’s nothing like Lent for reflecting on the sins of other people; I thought I’d start at the top — with the bishops of my own church. As the Episcopal church along with the other mainline Protestant denominations diminishes, we don’t have to look far to see bishops and leaders who are largely failing in their core assignments: to tend to the health and promote the growth of the congregations in their area. Yet even as we have fewer and fewer effective and successful leaders, we have no shortage of political, ‘prophetic’ bishops.

When they can, they meet with world leaders and jet off to exotic locales to bring peace and fight for justice. When they can’t do that, they sign statements of concern, issue reports and otherwise tug on the skirts of an indifferent public seeking attention for their political views.

In the mainline churches, which is what I know best, the political views leaders express are generally those of what could be called the ‘foundation left’ — emotionally grounded in concern for the poor and development, historically linked to the ‘new left’ mix of economic and social concerns as developed in the 1960’s, shaped by an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement that reflects the upper middle class background of the educated professionals who run these institutions.

The social sins they deplore are those of the right: excessive focus on capitalism, too robust and unheeding a promotion of the American national and security interest abroad, insufficient care for the environment, failure to help the poor through government welfare programs, failure to support affirmative action, failure to celebrate and protect the unrestricted right of women to abort.

I am of course speaking very generally here and there are lots of individual exceptions, but many of these folks are generally tolerant of theological differences and rigidly intolerant when it comes to political differences: they care nothing at all about doctrines like predestination but get very angry with people who disagree with them about issues like global warming or immigration reform. Theological heresy is a matter for courtesy and silence, but political heretics fill them with bile. [more]

 
H/T to Rick Lobs

Monday, February 22, 2010

FBI to Investigate Schools Use of Remote Activiation Software

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A suburban Philadelphia school district accused in a lawsuit of secretly switching on laptop computer webcams inside students' homes says one of its administrators has been "unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked."

The Lower Merion School District has acknowledged remotely activating webcams 42 times to try to find missing, lost or stolen computers, which would include a loaner computer taken off campus against regulations.

One family alleges a school official mistook a piece of candy in a webcam photo for a pill and thought the youth was selling drugs. The district says in a statement Saturday that the official was trying "to be supportive" and denies that the photo was being used to discipline the student.

Officials say the system has now been "completely disabled."

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press on Friday that the FBI will explore whether Lower Merion School District officials broke any federal wiretap or computer-intrusion laws,

Remote-activation software can be used to capture keystrokes, send commands over the Internet or turn computers into listening devices by turning on built-in microphones. People often use it for legitimate purposes—to access computers from remote locations, for example. But hackers can use it to steal passwords and spouses to track the whereabouts of partners or lovers.

Read it all here.

Saudi Arabia to Have Women Lawyers

RIYADH, Feb 21: Saudi Arabia would soon allow women lawyers to appear in court, though apparently only to represent other women, the country’s justice minister said in comments published on Sunday. Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Issa said the ministry is drafting new rules to permit female lawyers to argue family cases, Saudi newspapers reported.

The women would be able to represent women in marriage, divorce, custody and other family cases, the newspapers said.

Female lawyers in the kingdom can currently work only inside the women’s sections of law and government offices, where they do not come into contact with men. All judges in the kingdom are male religious clerics.

As part of ongoing judicial reforms, the Saudi government is developing a network of specialised courts, including “personal status” or family courts, where the women lawyers would be allowed to practice.—AFP

Quote of the Week - Fr. Anthony Corcuera

“Christ’s Kingdom is not an abstract or ill-defined reality. If Christ is calling us to establish his Kingdom on this earth, we can ask ourselves where and how we are to do so.” -- Father Álvaro Corcuera

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fallout from D.C.s Legalization of Gay Marriage

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has ended its 80-year-old foster-care program in the District rather than license same-sex couples, the first fallout from a bitter debate over the city's move to legalize same-sex marriage.

Catholic Charities, which runs more than 20 social service programs for the District, transferred its entire foster-care program -- 43 children, 35 families and seven staff members -- to another provider, the National Center for Children and Families. Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the D.C. Council member who chairs the Committee on Human Services, said he didn't know of any problems with the transfer, which happened Feb. 1.

In addition to foster care, the center runs programs in Montgomery County and the District for homeless families and victims of domestic violence.

The marriage bill, which was approved and signed in December, is expected to become law in the next couple of weeks if it clears a congressional review period.

Read it all here.

Dutch Government Collapses

THE HAGUE, Feb 20: The Dutch premier tendered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix on Saturday after a spat over the country’s Afghan military mission scuppered his ruling coalition.

“Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende this morning offered the resignations of the (12) ministers and deputy ministers of the PvdA (Labour Party) to Her Majesty the Queen,” an official statement said, paving the way for early poll.

In a telephone conversation with the queen who is on vacation in Austria, the premier also offered the 12 cabinet positions of his own Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the majority partner in the coalition, as well as the three held by the smaller Christian Union (CU).

Mr Balkenende announced the collapse of the government in the early hours of Saturday after coalition parties failed to agree on a Nato request to extend the Netherlands’ military mission in Afghanistan by a year.

“As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no fruitful path for the CDA, PvdA and Christian Union to take into the future,” a dejected Balkenende said after more than 16 hours of talks failed to save his three-year-old centre-left coalition.

“For days we have seen that unity has been affected by ... statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions. These statements place a political mortgage on collegial deliberation.”

Matters were brought to a head when the PvdA Labour Party withdrew from the government after insisting that the mission in Afghanistan must end this year as planned, and that the Nato’s request should be rejected.

His public statements this week caused the latest in a string of rows with CDA and CU coalition partners who insisted the matter was still under discussion.

Wouter Bos, who is finance minister as well as vice-premier, said “no good reason” for an extension of the mission had been forthcoming in the coalition talks and that he hoped for speedy elections.

“Under the circumstances, the PvdA could no longer credibly form part of this cabinet,” Mr Bos argued.

Parliamentary elections, scheduled for March next year, will now have to be brought forward with polls predicting Mr Balkenende’s CDA and the Labour Party to lose about seven seats and 13 seats respectively in the 150-seat assembly. The CDA currently holds 41 seats and the PvdA 33.—AFP

____________________________________________

Dutch soldiers have been deployed since 2006 in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan on a two-year stint that was extended until next August. Balkenende's party wanted to keep a trimmed-down military presence in the restive province, where 21 Dutch soldiers have been killed, but Labor was adamant that the Dutch troops leave Uruzgan as scheduled.

"A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan," said Labor Party leader Wouter Bos. "Our partners in the government didn't want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal, we have decided to resign."

The Dutch government split came after weeks of tension between Balkenende and Bos, the finance minister, mainly over Afghanistan and the government's earlier political support for the war in Iraq.

Balkenende's allies argued that a pullout from Afghanistan would damage the Netherlands' reputation as a nation that carries more than its weight in international peacekeeping missions, and could encourage other wavering countries to also withdraw.

Read more here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reactions to Impending Health Care Reform

Here is a portion of Kathleen Sebelius' recent email letter.  She cites rate increases as a reason to pass Obamacare, but fails to recognize that rate hikes are a reaction to impending or feared market changes.

At a time when health insurance companies are fighting as hard as ever to stop health reform, their actions couldn't show more clearly why we need it.

In California, beneficiaries recently received letters from Anthem Blue Cross announcing their rates would go up as high as 39 percent. Elsewhere, in the last year alone, large insurers have requested premium increases of 56 percent in Michigan, 24 percent in Connecticut, 23 percent in Maine and 20 percent in Oregon.


If we don't pass reform, premiums will continue to rise and Americans will continue to be at the mercy of the worst insurance company practices and abuses.


We’re closer than ever to making reform a reality. We can't let up now.


Sincerely,
Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Health and Human Services


Similarly, credit card companies raised their rates and increased credit limits last spring in anticipation of CARD which was signed by President Obama in May 2009.  In a market-driven economy such as ours, every reform seems to cost the customer. When will it end?

Cloning Neanderthals

Neanderthal is a byword for backwardness, but this relative of ours, which disappeared only 25,000 or 30,000 years ago was clearly human. The Neanderthals had burial rites, buiilt fires, probably had language, made tools and even had a larger brain than homo sapiens. Now, according to an article in the journal Archeology, some scientists want to clone them.

According to George Church, a genetics professor from Harvard Medical School, Neanderthal cells could be significant in the discovery of treatments for largely human-specific diseases such as HIV or smallpox. He says that if they are different enough to modern humans, they may possess genetic immunity to these conditions. Also, differences in their biology could lead to new gene therapy or drug treatments.

A first draft of the Neanderthal genome was released a year ago, but it is likely to contain many errors. Creating an artificial genome is an even greater challenge, but if it can be done, is it ethical to recreate Neanderthals?

The bioethicists interviewed by Archeology were largely in favour of it. Bernard Rollin, a bioethicist at Colorado State University, has no serious ethical reservations, but warns that it all depends on how they are perceived by others. "I don't think it is fair to put people...into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared," he says. Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, doesn't see any problem with cloning, but points out that the Neanderthal's legal rights would include the right not to be experimented on. Since experimentation is the main purpose of the exercise, this makes cloning useless.

James Noonan, a geneticist at Yale University, takes a dim view of cloning. "If your experiment succeeds and you generate a Neanderthal who talks, you have violated every ethical rule we have, and if your experiment fails...well. It's a lose-lose," he says.

On the other hand, Dr Church believes that it could be unethical not to clone them.

The Neanderthals' differently shaped brains might give them a different way of thinking that would be useful in problem-solving. They would also expand humanity's genetic diversity, helping protect our genus from future extinction. "Just saying 'no' is not necessarily the safest or most moral path," he says. "It is a very risky decision to do nothing."

John Hawks, a University of Wisconsin paleoanthropologist, says that he does not believe that it is ethical to recreate a Neanderthal, but also that it is inevitable that some people will ignore the ethics of the situation. "In the end," he says, "we are going to have a cloned Neanderthal, I'm just sure of it." ~Archaeology Vol 63 No. 2 Mar/Apr 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Military Coup in Niger

NIAMEY, Feb 18: Soldiers in Niger seized President Mamadou Tandja in a coup bid on Thursday amid gunbattles that killed at least three troops in the uranium-rich nation, two ministers also being held captive said.

Gunfire and loud explosions reverberated across the capital Niamey as soldiers assaulted the presidential palace where Mr Tandja, the country’s strongman for the past decade, presided over a cabinet meeting.

A French diplomat said Mr Tandja’s own guard took part in the coup.

“We want to know what has happened. It is our country and no one wants to set it ablaze,” said one of Mr Tandja’s ministers, contacted by mobile telephone from Niamey and speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We cannot move freely, we cannot go out. They have taken away Mamadou Tandja,” he added.

The other minister said: “We do not know what is happening, we are not free to move about, but we have our mobile telephones with us and we are where the cabinet meeting was to take place.”

An African diplomat based in Niger confirmed the capture, saying several senior government figures had been arrested.

“Tandja is among them. The rebels have taken the upper hand,” he said.

Another official said that Mr Tandja was believed to be held in a military barrack on the outskirts of the capital.

“President Tandja and his aide-de-camp may be held at a garrison in Tondibia,” about 20km west of Niamey, the official said.

State radio suspended its programmes and played martial music as Niger’s long-simmering political tensions erupted. Previous coups in the state have seen the network playing military tunes.

Mr Tandja, 71, extended his term through a controversial referendum last August after dissolving parliament and the constitutional court, leading to the West African nation’s isolation in the international stage.

Witnesses said they saw the bodies of three soldiers being lifted out of a badly damaged armoured vehicle which pulled up outside the morgue of the main hospital.—AFP

Euthanasia Loopiness

But after tracking the increasingly outrageous suggestions from advocates for assisted suicide and euthanasia, I feel that jail is not the place for people like Nitschke. They belong in a straitjacket. It is becoming increasingly clear that euthanasia advocacy is an illness characterised by an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s actions, an inability to empathise with normal people, and a morbid desire to help others die. Like mad cow disease, it lies dormant for years. Its victims look normal, but eventually the spongy degeneration of the brain becomes evident.

Nitschke is a classical case. An intelligent man with a PhD in physics and a qualified doctor, he entered the public debate by decrying the cruelty of forcing the terminally ill to die in excruciating pain. Autonomous adults should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, surrounded by their loved one, he argued. It sounded vaguely plausible to the media and to his doddering but increasingly numerous groupies, it was a new gospel. But bit by bit, it became clear that his goal was death-on-demand, even for troubled teenagers. He seems incapable of grasping that most of us want teenagers to stick around for a few more years rather than kill themselves over a cruel Facebook post.

In England, the latest case of euthanasia madness is a 70-year-old veteran BBC broadcaster and gay rights campaigner, Ray Gosling. He confessed in the middle of a TV show that he had smothered an unnamed gay lover suffering from AIDS some 20 years ago.

“In a hospital one hot afternoon, the doctor said ‘There’s nothing we can do’, and he was in terrible, terrible pain. I said to the doctor ‘Leave me just for a bit’ and he went away. I picked up the pillow and smothered him until he was dead. The doctor came back and I said ‘He’s gone’. Nothing more was ever said.”

Mr Gosling sobbed a bit, but was adamant that killing someone and concealing the murder was the right thing. “If there’s a heaven and he’s looking down, he’d be proud of me,” he told the BBC. He was oblivious to all the safeguards promised by euthanasia advocates. A right to smother someone, anywhere, anytime, without consulting doctors, without notifying the police, without proving your disinterestedness, and without even consulting the victim raises questions in most sane minds about the possibility of widespread collateral damage. Perhaps only BBC journalists would be allowed to do mercy killings, but some sane people might even object to that.

In the Netherlands euthanasia loopiness has become epidemic. It is legal there and every year about 2,500 acknowledged cases of doctor-administered death take place.

But amongst the numerous Dutch victims of spongy-brained euthanasia syndrome some are more affected than others. Recently a distinguished group called “Out of Free Will” has complained that there are too many restrictions on euthanasia in the Netherlands. Even in the mercy-killing heartland, people are required to have some sort of terminal illness. But the new lobby group wants the right for to anyone sane over the age of 70 to die with a professionally-trained expert’s assistance. They have already begun collecting signatures to lobby for improvements to the legislation.

Part of their scheme is a completely new profession: specialist suicide assistants. These people will need to pass a “Completed Life” training program and to join a professional association which will maintain standards of professional, transparent and safe conduct.

Read it all here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crisis In Catholic Higher Education

WASHINGTON — A new study on higher education concludes that there is no “secularizing trend among Catholic students attending Catholic colleges.”

The study, conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) takes a fresh look at a 2003 study by the Cardinal Newman Society.

The CARA study was presented at a meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) in Washington in early February.

Authored by CARA’s Mark Gray and Melissa Cidade, it used data published by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, as did the Cardinal Newman Society study.

One finding: 31% of students changing their attitude about abortion move away from Church teaching while 16% move toward it, meaning a net loss of 15%.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, still believes there is a crisis in Catholic higher education. “This is worse news than anything we’ve seen yet,” he said, “because not only does it show significant declines in faith practice and beliefs at Catholic colleges, but the additional analysis CARA performed finds that attending a Catholic college in itself has no significant impact on students’ faith.”

Read it all here.

Mexico Indifferent to Abuse of Journalists

Mexico D.F. - The Mexican government should comply with its responsibilities and do more to protect journalists and media workers who are under threat of widespread abuse, ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS say in their new report.

In 2009, 244 cases of attacks and intimidation against journalists and media workers were registered in Mexico. Of those cases 11 journalists were assassinated and one more has disappeared.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists to practice their profession.

While it may be perceived that organized crime is responsible for the abuses, ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS show in their 2009 annual report that public officials or those with links to political parties can be cited as the main perpetrators in more than 65 per cent of the attacks, compared to six per cent for criminal gangs. The Mexican army is cited in 26 abuses.

Brisa Maya Solis, the director of CENCOS, said: "Attacks on freedom of expression are different in each state of the republic and different people are responsible. Organized crime in one of them but public officials represent the majority."

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS state that governments at all levels and security services are also failing to ensure the safety of media workers, leading to a culture of impunity concerning attacks carried out to silence dissenting voices or unwanted reporting.

Attacks are not solely limited to the restive northern regions, attacks on journalists continue to occur in Mexico's central and southern regions. The states with the greatest incidence of intimidation against media workers in 2009 were Oaxaca and Veracruz, in the south.

The report analyses the state's lack of political will to address the issue, the Special Prosecutor's complete failure to prosecute such crimes and the parliament's inefficacy in legislating to monitor abuses and provide safeguards to journalists.

Human rights should be institutionalized at the state level in Mexico to protect the lives and physical integrity of journalists, as advocated by ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS.

As attacks by criminal groups continue, the report highlights the culpability of those in political power and the grave levels of corruption. The 2009 report calls for a strengthening of prosecution, the legal framework and public policy to uphold security for media workers.


For more information:

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London
EC1R 3GA
United Kingdom
info (@) article19.org
Phone: +44 20 7324 2517
Fax: +44 20 7490 0566

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
http://www.article19.org/
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
Medellín 33, Colonia Roma
06700 México, D.F.
México
cencos (@) cencos.org
Phone: +52 55 55 336 475/476
Fax: +52 55 52 082 062
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
http://cencos.org/

The State and Bioethics

Religiously informed people already know that, but Pope Benedict XVI brought up that point again when he addressed “problems revolving around the issue of bioethics” with the Pontifical Academy for Life, in their annual meeting.


Bioethics need guidelines, he said, because ethical questions always come out of conflicting interpretations of science and how to apply what advanced science can do. Those guidelines have always been “the natural moral law” that recognizes human dignity as the most basic inalienable right.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Obama Wants Conversation with Syria

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday named career diplomat Robert Ford as the first ambassador to Syria since Washington pulled its official representative from the rogue nation in 2005.

The move was part of Obama's broader initiative to alter America's image in the Middle East by engaging even those dedicated to the downfall of the US and its allies.

"[Ford's] appointment represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance US interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people," announced White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Gibbs indicated that Obama hopes a more soft-handed approach to Syria will result in that nation's regime being more helpful in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions and forging peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Israel, for its part, has refused to engage in serious peace talks with Syria until the latter ends its public support for anti-Israel terrorist organizations. Groups such as Hizballah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad today maintain their administrative headquarters in Damascus.

From here.

Rape Victim Wants Justice

KARACHI, PAKISTAN– Ghazala Shafiq speaks in urgent tones from her small apartment inside Trinity Church, where her husband is pastor to Karachi's Protestant community.

In April 2005, Shafiq was sexually assaulted when a gang of men barged into her office across the road from the church's grounds. Shafiq recognized her attackers – officials in the church community in cahoots with local police officials.

Yet, two years later, despite appealing to Pakistan's then prime minister Shaukat Aziz and after numerous police and intelligence investigations, justice has evaded her.

"You don't know what it's like to be violated like that," said Shafiq, her eyes filling with tears. "It's so humiliating. I hardly feel alive anymore, but I still want justice from my country."

Read it all here.  For background on the Bishop implicated, go here.

Baradar's Capture Big Step for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Known as a brilliant and charismatic military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was the second-most powerful figure in Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.

He was described by many terrorism experts as more cunning and dangerous than even the Taliban supreme leader and his old friend Mullah Omar.

Mullah Baradar’s capture from a place on the outskirts of Karachi was the result of increasing US pressure on Pakistan to pursue a policy of killing or capturing the Taliban leadership believed to be hiding in the country.

The detention of one of their most powerful commander sent a clear message to the Taliban leadership that Pakistan was no more a safe haven for them.

Pakistani intelligence had been keeping a close track of the movement of the Taliban leadership which had earlier moved freely.

Mullah Baradar’s arrest demonstrated increasing cooperation between the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence.

Mullah Baradar has been credited for rebuilding the Taliban into an effective fighting force and running the group’s day-to-day affairs for the past many years with Mullah Omar taking a back seat because of his falling health.

Besides heading the Taliban’s military operations, he ran the group’s leadership council, also known as the Quetta Shura because its leaders have been thought to be hiding for years near Quetta.

Mullah Baradar was born in 1968 in Weetmak, a village in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province. As a young man he participated in the Afghan Mujahideen war against the Soviet forces.

It was during the war that he came to know of Mullah Omar. They fought side by side against the communist forces. Some reports suggest that the two had married two sisters.

After the withdrawal of Soviet forces and collapse of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992, Mullah Baradar and Mullah Omar settled down in the southern Afghan district of Maiwand where they ran their own madressah.

When Mullah Omar started a revolt in 1994 against local warlords with a force of some 30 men, Mullah Baradar was among the first recruits. That was also the beginning the Taliban movement which in 1996 swept Kabul and established a hard line conservative regime.

He first served as Taliban’s corps commander for western Afghanistan and later as the garrison commander of Kabul where he directed the fight against rival Mujahideen commanders in the north.

He was with Mullah Omar when US bombs pounded Kandahar in November 2001. According to some reports it was Mullah Baradar who hopped on a motorcycle and drove his old friend to safety in the mountains.

Many terrorism experts describe Mullah Baradar as the most skilled military leader who spearheaded the fighting in southern Afghanistan. His forces were responsible for inflicting heavy casualties on the Western forces last year.

He also conducted the Taliban’s financial operations, allocated Taliban funds, appointed military commanders and designed military tactics.

Mullah Baradar was quoted last year as telling his fighters not to confront US soldiers possessing superior firepower, but to operate using guerrilla tactics.

He was said to be responsible for the Taliban tactic of planting “flowers” -- improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- along roadsides.

Mullah Baradar was believed to have been often travelling to Karachi to meet other members of the so-called Quetta Shura or leadership council who had moved to the port city in recent months.

The intelligence sharing and cooperation between the United States and Pakistan has broadened and deepened in recent months.

The recent CIA drone strikes in South Waziristan that killed top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud are indicative of the improved relationship between the two allies.

The capture of Mullah Baradar came when American and Afghan forces are in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.

Defence analysts said Mullah Baradar’s arrest had dealt a serious blow to Taliban which had expanded its influence to a large part of Afghanistan.

But some analysts warn that its impact would not change the course of war in Afghanistan. “One should be cautious in assessing its net impact,” said Maliha Lodhi, a former ambassador to Washington.

From here.

Mullah Baradar Captured

KARACHI: The senior-most military commander of the Afghan Taliban was captured from outskirts of Karachi about a week ago in what is being described here as a joint operation carried out by Pakistani and American intelligence agencies.

Although the government did not confirm the report till Tuesday night, an intelligence source said that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (Brother) had been taken into custody. The source declined to say how the man had been tracked down.

Mullah Baradar is said to be next to Mullah Muhammad Omar in the Taliban hierarchy and a close confidant of Osama bin Laden. He was said to be in charge of Taliban’s strategic military planning and also of its financial operations.

Sources privy to the country’s premier intelligence agency told Dawn that Mullah Baradar had been picked up from the premises of a seminary on the outskirts of the city. The seminary, Khudamul Quran, is located 10 to 25km from the toll plaza on the Super Highway in the jurisdiction of the Lonikot police station in Hyderabad district.

“The arrest was made around a week ago, to be precise between Feb 7 and Feb 8,” the sources said.

However, officials of the police station concerned said they were unaware of any such development.

There were reports that four people accompanying Mullah Baradar were also detained, but their identities could not be ascertained.

The seminary had not been raided, the sources said, adding that the Taliban commander and his four accomplices were detained when they came out of the seminary in a vehicle. It was a swift operation which surprised them and they didn’t get a chance to put up any resistance.

The sources declined to say if US intelligence personnel participated in the operation or their role was limited to intelligence-sharing.

It is learnt that the five are being interrogated by intelligence operatives at an unspecified location. It was not clear if they were moved out of Karachi.

From here.

Many Nations Experience Terrorism

Iraq is the country most at risk from terrorist attacks for the second straight year, according to a ranking by global analysts Maplecroft, while Thailand has joined the nine countries most in danger for the first time.

Terrorism has shot back up the global agenda since Al Qaeda claimed a Dec 25 bid to down a US airliner and militant violence remains a pressing concern as both Iraq and Afghanistan face milestones in 2010 in their search for stability.

The risk consultancy’s Terrorism Risk Index shows that although security in Iraq has improved, the scale, human impact and frequency of attacks still makes it the riskiest country for political violence with nearly 4,500 civilians killed in 2009.

Violence in Thailand’s restive Muslim south, such as the Oct 6, 2009, bomb attacks in Sungai Kolok that killed two and wounded 42, largely account for the country’s rating of ninth, a rise from 11 the year earlier, the index of 196 countries shows.

The index based on 2009 data ranks Afghanistan second, with Pakistan and Somalia third and fourth respectively. They are rated at extreme risk along with Lebanon (5), India (6), Algeria (7), Colombia (8) and Thailand (9), a Maplecroft statement said.

The UK-based risk advisory group’s index tracks the risks of an attack, the intensity of violence as measured by casualties per incident, a country’s history of extremist violence and threats made against it by groups such as Al Qaeda.

“Media coverage can often skew public perceptions of terrorism risk in a country by publicising mass casualty attacks,” said Maplecroft political risk analyst Eva Molyneux.

“However, smaller terrorist incidents often go unreported, despite having potential to disrupt business operations and supply chains.”

While overall violence in Iraq has fallen over the last two years, attacks and fighting remain common as Iraq gears up for a March 7 parliamentary election and US troops prepare to stop combat operations ahead of a withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Washington aims to cut troop levels to 50,000 by its Aug 31, 2010, target for an end to combat operations, and to withdraw all its forces, now about 115,000-strong, by the end of 2011.

More than 3,900 people have been killed in six years of unrest in Thailand’s deep south, blamed on separatist insurgents in the region bordering Malaysia.

The deployment of tens of thousands of police and troops backed by tough security laws has failed to end the violence, for which no credible group has claimed responsibility so far.

In Afghanistan, Western countries hope a major offensive this year backed by 30,000 extra troops will help push the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

The Philippines, ranked at 10, Palestinian Territories at 11, Turkey 14, Russia 15, Israel 17, Nigeria 24 and Spain 34 rate as high risk, while Britain at 41, China 43, USA 46 and France 56 are rated medium risk. Countries rated low risk include Germany 81, Canada 116 and Australia 120.

Major movers in the index, versus a year earlier, were:

— Greece: Rose to 57 from 63, due to an increase in minor incidents of left wing extremism. Common targets are police tax offices and other state govt symbol, Maplecroft said.

— Yemen: Rose to 22 from 29 due to an increase in abductions and an increase in the threat from Al Qaeda.
— Iran: Rose to 19 from 25, due to insurgencies in Baluchistan and Khuzestan and rising anti-government sentiment.

— China: Rises to 43 from 54 due to increase in the intensity of security incidents in 2008-09 compared to 2006-07.

— Egypt: Rises to 54 from 66, due to a spate of minor security incidents in late 2008 and early 2009.—Reuters

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Briefs - Feb 12-16

Los Angeles:  A Korean-American missionary who defiantly crossed a frozen river into North Korea intent on urging a change in its leadership is back in the United States with his family after being detained in North Korea for 43 days. Robert Park was arrested on Christmas Day after he crossed into North Korea intending to protest human rights abuses. North Korean officials said they released Park after he acknowledged, they said, that “there’s complete religious freedom” in the country. Read more here.

Washington:  President Obama has named White House lawyer Rashad Hussain as his special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents 57 Muslim countries. An Islamic critic and terrorism expert says President Obama should not have named him as special envoy to an Islamic organization.  Read more here.

Chicago:  Americans increasingly rely on soup kitchens and food banks, according to a new study by a network of charities called Feeding America. Thirty-seven million people—about one in eight—sought emergency food aid from the network last year. That’s a 46 percent increase over the previous survey results in 2006.

Dar es Salaam: Toyota Tanzania Limited yesterday announced a recall of motor vehicles sold locally, as the giant Japanese auto manufacturer continues to grapple with its global crisis of defects found in several of its popular makes. Worldwide, Toyota, which is Japan's leading car manufacturer, has recalled more than 400,000 vehicles, following customer complaints about defects in some models. Read more here.

C of E Recognizes Anglican Church of North America

A blizzard of winter weather on the Eastern seaboard was matched this past week by a flurry of activity from the Episcopal Church Center. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori traveled to Britain in order to lobby Church of England (CoE) leaders against a motion favorable to conservative rivals in North America. At the same time, South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence revealed that the Presiding Bishop’s office had retained an attorney in South Carolina who was apparently laying the groundwork for a challenge to the diocesan leadership.

If the latter turns out to be correct, it marks the first time that the denomination has taken action against a diocese that has not announced plans to separate from the church.

Jefferts Schori’s trip to London coincided with a meeting of the CoE’s Synod, which was considering a motion introduced by an evangelical lay leader. Lorna Ashworth’s motion stated that “this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America.”

In preparation for Synod debate, the Episcopal Church (TEC) Office of Public Affairs issued a series of talking points to TEC allies in the CoE, seeking to dissuade the Synod from adopting Ashworth’s motion. The points criticized the Anglican Church in North America (AC-NA) as not a legitimate member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and questioned AC-NA’s size relative to TEC.

Leaders of the rival North American church also sent representatives, including Canadian Bishop and AC-NA Dean Donald Harvey, the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum of Virginia’s Truro Church, Communications Director Cynthia Brust of the Anglican Mission in America (TheAM) and Dr. Michael Howell of Forward in Faith North America. The four were made available to answer questions from Synod members.

Following 2 ½ hours of debate, the Synod adopted an amended version of the motion, which read:

That this Synod, aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,

“(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.”

The amended language passed by a 309 – 69 margin, with seven abstentions, supported by both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Some conservatives criticized the motion, calling it weak or watered-down, while others praised it.

AC-NA Archbishop Robert Duncan thanked Ashworth for bringing forward the motion. “We are very grateful to Mrs. Ashworth and the scores of other friends in the Synod of the Church of England for all they did to give us this opportunity to tell our story to the mother church of the Anglican Communion. It is very encouraging that the synod recognizes and affirms our desire to remain within the Anglican family,” Duncan said in a statement.

Read it all here.

Mrs. Obama is an Expensive First Lady

The total for Mrs. Obama's 22 personal assistants: $1,591,200 in annual salaries

There has NEVER been anyone in the White House at any time who has created such an army of staffers whose sole duties are the facilitation of the First Lady's social life.

One wonders why she needs so much help, at taxpayer expense.

This does not include makeup artist Ingrid Grimes-Miles, 49, and "First Hairstylist" Johnny Wright, 31, both of whom traveled aboard Air Force One to Europe.

Read more here.

Iran Getting Away With Murder.. Again?

(RSF/IFEX) - 15 February 2010 - The United Nations Human Rights Council is to review the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran on 15 February 2010. Until now, Iran has escaped any kind of sanction since the Council's creation in March 2006. A firm decision by the international community, including China and the countries of the Islamic Conference, would help to induce Iran to respect its human rights undertakings.

When Iran was the first country to be reviewed by the Council in March 2007, the debate took place behind closed doors and the files were quickly classified after much bargaining among the various countries present. By using ideological and regionalist arguments with its "neighbours and friends," Iran finally emerged unscathed.

Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection on 12 June 2009, 29 newspapers have been closed, more than 130 journalists have been arrested and more than 60 have been forced to leave the country. This is unprecedented since the Islamic Republic of Iran's creation.

Iran is now the world's biggest prison for the media with more than 80 journalists and netizens currently detained (48 journalists, 2 media assistants, 18 netizens, 7 other arrests announced by the intelligence ministry and 8 under investigation).

"The countries that say nothing about the bloody crackdown that has been taking place in Iran for the past eight months are accomplices to these crimes," Reporters Without Borders said. "When the UN Human Rights Council conducts its Universal Periodic Review of Iran, it must show that it is up to the task. Its credibility must not be eroded yet again."

The press freedom organisation added: "The Council must demand the release of all the political prisoners, including the journalists, and must ensure that the Iranian government respects the right to freedom of expression in practice."

Since 2000, several UN special rapporteurs have formulated criticisms and recommendations regarding respect for human rights in Iran.

Following a visit to Iran from 15 to 27 February 2004, Louis Joinet, the head of the working group on arbitrary detention, published a damning report on the deterioration in the situation of human rights, including freedom of expression. He noted that solitary confinement for very long periods was widely used in Iran's prisons and could be regarded as a "prison within prison," one that lent itself to grave abuses. No action was even taken on Joinet's recommendations.

Ambeyi Ligabo, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, urged Iran in January 2004 to bring its judicial procedures into line with international standards and to adopt a human rights charter. In particular, he said revolutionary courts should no longer try crimes of opinion and he called for the abolition of prison sentences for crimes of opinion and press offences.

The Islamic Republic has just been celebrating its 31st anniversary but its press freedom record during the past 31 years has been appalling. Several thousand newspapers have been closed since February 1979, hundreds of journalists have been arrested, hundreds have been sentenced to long jail terms and dozens have been summarily executed or murdered.

Since June 2009, the crackdown on criticism of the regime's political and religious institutions has created a climate of terror leading to self-censorship and the flight of many journalists into exile. When journalists are arrested, their most fundamental rights are flouted and they are often subjected to long spells of being held incommunicado or in solitary confinement.

These periods of being held incommunicado can be regarded as forced disappearances and crimes against humanity and constitute violations of international law.

"The international community must now turn its words into actions," Reporters Without Borders said, calling for the Iranian government to be censured for its serious human rights violations and calling for UN special rapporteurs to be sent to Iran as matter of urgency.

For more information:
Reporters Without Borders
47, rue Vivienne
75002 Paris
France
rsf (@) rsf.org
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84
Fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51
Reporters Without Borders
http://www.rsf.org/

Heavy Snow Here and There

The Eastern US has been slammed with heavy snow and plunging temps, and so has Pakistan, with some northern regions receiving between 13 and 18 feet of snow. Here's the report:


PESHAWAR: A record snowfall in upper parts and heavy downpour accompanied by hailstorm in the plains, paralysed life in the Frontier province on Monday.

Upper and Lower Dir, Swat, Shangla and the Bajaur tribal region witnessed a record snowfall after decades, triggering a punishing cold wave as mercury plunged to below zero degree Celsius.

Upper parts of the province remained cut off from the rest of the country because of the heavy snowfall and all main and link roads were impassable. The snowfall also knocked out power and telecommunication systems in several parts of the province.

Peshawar, Swabi, Nowshera, Mardan and other districts received heavy rains, turning the weather cold and chilly.

Incessant and heavy snowfall over the last 24 hours in Upper Dir broke an 18-year record as the town received 2.6 feet of snow. Mountainous areas received around six feet of snow, bringing life to a standstill.

The district administration has ordered closure of all schools for a week and postponed a polio drive in the district.

The snowfall began on Sunday and continued the whole day on Monday in and around Dir town, dumping up to two-and-a-half feet of snow. Thal, Doog Darra, Kalkot, Barikot, Qulandi, Lowari, Barawal and Dobando received up to six feet of snow.

Dir received rains and heavy snowfall after a long dry spell. All upper parts of the district have been cut off from the rest of the country. Roads to Qulandi, Dobando, Barawal, Girgat, Sharingal, Thal, Kalkot and other areas have been closed for all kinds of traffic. The bad weather also played havoc with electricity, leaving several areas without electricity. The Dir-Peshawar road was blocked for all kind of traffic. Attendance at government offices remained very thin.

Locals said the snowfall began at 6am and continued till late night. One foot of snow was recorded at Timergara headquarters and other plain areas.

They said it was the heaviest snowfall after 1962, forcing over 800,000 people of the district to remain indoors.

The Peshawar-Chitral highway and all link roads remained closed, inconveniencing commuters. Uprooted trees and poles littered the highway.

In Swat, mercury dropped to minus five degrees. Markets in Mingora city and adjoining areas remained closed.

According to reports, 13 feet of snow was recorded in Kalam, 15 to 18 feet in Atrorh, Gabral, and Osho, three feet in Bahrain and 10 to 12 feet in Malam Jabba, Miandam and Murghzar.

There were also reports of damage to houses and buildings. The Silk Mills building on Bamakhela road was destroyed.

Heavy snowfall was also recorded in Shangla district. One foot of snow was recorded in Alpuri, four feet at Shangla top and six feet on Wengo top.

In Bajuar, people said such a heavy snowfall was recorded after 20 years. The snowfall began at 11am and continued till 3pm.

In Swabi, hailstones and torrential rain lashed different parts of the district at night and early in the morning, causing suspension of power supply and damage to standing crops.

Over the last two weeks, it was the second time that hailstones pounded different regions of the district.

From here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Quote of the Week - Blaise Pascal

"He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God's providence to lead him aright.” —Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662)

Breaking News: Forward in Faith Australia

FORWARD IN FAITH AUSTRALIA INCORPORATED

A Special General Meeting of Members of Forward in Faith Australia Inc. was held on Saturday 13 February at All Saints Kooyong in Melbourne to consider the following recommendations from the National Council regarding the future direction of the Association.

That this Special General Meeting of FiFA receives with great gratitude the Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” of Pope Benedict XV1 and directs the National Council to foster by every means the establishing of an Ordinariate in Australia. And furthermore this Special General Meeting reaffirms its commitment to provide care and support for those who at this time feel unable to be received into the Ordinariate.

That we warmly welcome the appointment of Bishop Peter Elliott as delegate of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the project to establish a Personal Ordinariate in this country.

That we note the formation of a working group with Bishop Elliott comprising Members of Forward in Faith Australia, the Traditional Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Church of Australia, to set in train the processes necessary for establishing an Australian Ordinariate.

That we give notice as to the establishing of Friends of the Australian Ordinariate and invite members of Forward in Faith Australia and other interested persons for expressions of interest by provision of names and addresses at this meeting, or by contacting the Chairman, noting that this does not commit interested persons to joining the Ordinariate.

The Meeting passed each of these Resolutions unanimously.
The Right Reverend David Robarts OAM. National Chairman.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's All About Me, Isn't It?

Humans are unique among living creatures in that we attribute meaning to events and to objects.  Attributing meaning involves complex functions such as memory, emotion, reflection and speech.  For some, every other object (humans included) are meaningful only as extensions of Me, Myself and I.  This is true for many in our generation.  Consider how products are sold by playing to such narcissism.  Burger King made a fortune by telling the individual customer: "Have it your way!"

The question of my importance has been taken up by many philosophers. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche address the question from different outlooks on life. They agreed that anything meaningful must come from within the individual. In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, each explores the importance of ego and the role of human freedom, but they come to different conclusions.

For Nietzsche the “will to power” is the secret of life and the destiny of humanity. He wrote, "The strong men, the masters, regain the pure conscience of a beast of prey; monsters filled with joy, they can return from a fearful succession of murder, arson, rape, and torture with the same joy in their hearts, the same contentment in their souls as if they had indulged in some student's rag.... When a man is capable of commanding, when he is by nature a "Master," when he is violent in act and gesture, of what importance are treaties to him?..."

Nietzsche's "Messiah" will bring perfection to the world by predation and biological engineering (eugenics) of human populations.  He will replace traditional morality with concepts borrowed from zoology: the taming of a beast and the breeding of a more advanced species.  Nietzsche's savior is a narcissist, who according to Nietzsche's ethical view, believes that "No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. "  This amorality of the animal kingdom is what constitutes freedom for Nietzsche.

Kierkegaard takes a different approach to human freedom. For him, freedom involves surrender to God-initiated events. Drawing on John Climacus’ understanding of spiritual enlightenment, Kierkegaard argues that learning involves a mysterious change that takes place in the learner at a specific moment of his existence - a moment of enlightenment. In this moment, the learner is absolutely certain that he/she has grasped eternal knowledge. Kierkegaard maintains that this is miraculous and supernatural because it can only be initiated by God through a series of historical/temporal events. This learning (or enlightenment) is highly individual and subjective, and it is unique for every learner. Kierkegaard argues further that individuals are unable to know anything that is certain except through this supernatural intervention in history.  So while the individual is important, the individual's freedom involves relationship with the source of enlightenment. 

Where Nietzsche admits nothing greater than himself, Kierkegaard holds that his own greatness depends on One greater than himself.  What do you think?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Russian Mothers Outraged by Journalist's Remark

Two Russian mothers have won the right to rebut a journalist's argument that handicapped children should be euthanased. Aleksandr Nikonov, of the popular tabloid Speed-Info, wrote a column contending that children with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities should be killed so that they don't suffer, in what he termed "post-natal abortion".

Snezhana Mitina, mother of a 10-year-old son with Hunter's syndrome , and Svetlana Shtarkova, mother of a 3-year-old son with severe brain damage, were outraged. They filed a complaint with the Russian Union of Journalists which decided that Mr Nikonov's words were extremist.

The two women say that many Russians share his ideas. "The opinion expressed by the author is not unique; statistics show that one-fourth of Russians share similar views," Shtarkova told the journalists' union on February 2. "Complete strangers come up to me in the street and tell me that I'm depraved and deserve my fate. Doctors and social workers refuse to do their jobs, just because my child is severely disabled."

Mr Nikonov was unrepentant. He told the Radio Liberty "If you want to bring up a child with Down syndrome, you can do it. But if you don't, you can euthanase him. Why is prenatal abortion legal, and postnatal abortion is not?"

This incident underscores Russia's reluctance to care for its citizens with disabilities who are widely regarded as burdens for society, says Radio Liberty.

"The issue is gaining traction as Russia faces a severe population crisis brought on by a low birthrate and poor pediatric health. Over the next two decades, Russia's population is expected to shrink by 17 million people. Faced with such statistics, advocates of people with disabilities say the country cannot afford to let prejudice stand in the way of caring for the country's estimated 15 million registered "invalids" -- adults and children suffering from a range of physical and mental ailments." ~ Radio Liberty, Feb 8

Same-Sex Marriages in Mexico City

On March 4, Mexico City will became the first capital city in Latin America to have legal same-sex marriages and adoptions.

Even for Mexicans, how this ever happened is difficult to understand. You would think that this deeply religious country would take a dim view of homosexuality. According to the last official census, more than 93 percent of Mexicans are Christian: 87.9 percent Catholic, and 5.2 percent Protestant. Since same-sex marriage was only approved in the capital, the local religious situation might be different there. But it is not: 94 percent there are Christian.

Then why did the Mexico City legislature vote 39-20 on December 21 to change the definition of marriage from "a free union between a man and a woman" to "a free union between two people"?

From here.

Obama's Aggressive Use of Drones

“The efforts overseas are bearing fruit,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strident critic of Obama’s domestic counter-terrorism policies who said President Obama has at times shown himself even more aggressive than Mr Bush in his use of force overseas. “I give them generally high marks for their efforts to capture and kill terrorists in Pakistan, and they’re pushing the envelope in Yemen.”


CIA drones are responsible for many of the deaths. Drone strikes began increasing in the final months of the Bush administration, thanks in part to expanded use of the Reaper, a newer generation aircraft with better targeting systems and greater, more accurate firepower.

Mr Obama has increased their use even further. A month after Mehsud’s death, drone strikes in Pakistan killed Najmiddin Jalolov, whose Islamic Jihad Union claimed responsibility for bombings in 2004 at US and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan. Senior Al Qaeda operatives Saleh Al Somali and Abdallah Sa’id were killed in air strikes in December. And Baitullah Mehsud’s successor at the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, died following an attack last month.

Intelligence officials and analysts say the drawdown of troops in an increasingly stable Iraq is part of the reason for the increase in drone strikes. The military once relied on drones for round-the-clock surveillance to flush out terrorists, support troops in battle and help avoid roadside bombs. With fewer of those missions required, the US has moved many of those planes to Afghanistan, roughly doubling the size of the military and CIA fleet that can patrol the lawless border with Pakistan, officials said.


Rea it all here.