Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Obama Enlists UN Support in War on Arizona

Nile Gardiner at the Telegraph wrote:

There can be few sights more humiliating for the American people than that of a US president kowtowing to a foreign leader or to supranational institutions. Continental Europeans are used to this sort of thing after decades of dominance by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, and have grudgingly accepted over time the gradual and undemocratic erosion of their freedoms. But most Americans fiercely defend their national sovereignty, and find the idea of giving international organisations a say over their laws and lives completely unacceptable.

The Obama administration however has submitted a report to the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, South African judge Navanethem Pillay, which makes direct reference to a popular Arizona immigration law aimed at tackling illegal immigration, which is fiercely opposed by the White House, and is the subject of legal action by the Justice Department.

The highly controversial reference to the Arizona law serves only one purpose – to gain UN and international support for the Obama administration’s position in the face of mounting opposition from Arizona legislators and a majority of the American people. A recent Rasmussen poll showed 61 percent of Americans backing Arizona-style laws for their own states, and just 28 percent supporting a Justice Department challenge .

By doing so, Obama officials undoubtedly hope to stir up international condemnation of the Arizona policy in advance of the UN General Assembly meetings in September, which they believe will increase pressure on Arizona to back down. It is a highly cynical move that speaks volumes about the Obama team’s willingness to undercut American sovereignty and popular will on the world stage.

It is important to note that the Obama administration’s report to the United Nations will go before the UN Human Rights Council, which includes in its current membership some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. The likes of China, Cuba, Libya, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, will have a right to pass judgment over the Arizona immigration law, a humiliation for a great superpower before some of the most brutal regimes on the face of the earth.

Christopher Johnson at Midwest Conservative Journal wrote:

In the meantime, the Justice Department continues to harass Arizona.

So it is a violation of “human rights” to insist that the federal government do its job. Democrats? If you want a reason why you’re currently in freefall, this is as good a reason as I can possibly provide you.

Spin this any way you like. But the fact of the matter is that the leader of your party doesn’t much like the country he leads. He and his administration are only too happy to kowtow to the “international community” at the expense of people with whom he shares a nationality and who only ask that the government secure the national borders, something that it is the responsibility of all governments to do.

Read it all here.

Glen Beck Rally

The massive rally on the mall of Washington over the weekend has the media in a tangle. It was larger and more peaceful and more positive and less political than they expected, and this is all territory largely foreign to them. How to account for what they’re all calling ‘Glenn Beck’s rally’?

Though it was more about recovering personal virtue than replacing political parties, the CS Monitor suggests some politicians may have cause for concern.

Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington Saturday could not have been an encouraging sign for Democrats and the Obama administration.

The crowd was huge by any count – likely at least a couple hundred thousand people judging by aerial photos and the reported comments of some police officers – stretching from the Lincoln Memorial back to the Washington Monument.

And far from being a gathering of self-proclaimed rabble rousers carrying offensive signs insulting of President Obama, as has often been the case with “tea party” rallies spurred on by Mr. Beck, it was mostly a heartfelt and largely nonpartisan expression of civic concern, patriotism, and religious faith.

In other words, there may have been some Democrats in the crowd, but even they are likely not happy with the direction the country’s taking, according to recent polls – including the policies and programs pushed by the majority party in Congress and the White House.

And yet, this was a new Beck on a new mission, calling out Americans to change what’s wrong with the country by changing what’s wrong with themselves.

“We must get the poison of hatred out of us,” he told the crowd. “We must look to God and look to love. We must defend those we disagree with.”

This from a man who has called Obama “a racist” and likened Al Gore’s campaign against global climate change to “what Hitler did” in having scientists use eugenics to justify the Holocaust.

Which drives Beck’s critics nuts.

It’s driving them nuts partly because Beck is doing exactly what Obama did in 2007-2008, and doing it nearly as well. Most media don’t seem to be getting that, but in this NPR review of differing viewpoints on the rally, someone does.

At the widely read conservative webste HotAir.com, blogger “Allahpundit” thinks that “in a way, the rally … mirrored rallies held for then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and leading up to the election of 2008. Both this rally and many of Obama’s featured mesmerizing speakers, who chose to inspire audiences by rhetorically empowering them to take matters into their own hands.” But, Allahpundit adds, “while Beck’s rally emphasized belief in God, Obama’s generally emphasized himself as a savior of the American people.”

The comparison is both valid and important to understand. Obama was a masterful community organizer. The country has learned that skill from him and learned it well, and it’s working to galvanize individuals into a communal force for change.

That they rallied on this particular occasion where they did posed a problem, some say a huge offense.

The rally took place on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Beck is asking for a return to traditional American values, but the Reverend Al Sharpton accused him of trying to hijack King’s legacy.

“They want to disgrace this day. This is our day and we’re not giving it up,” said Sharpton.

With all due respect, I take issue with this claim. Dr. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, took a prominent and active role in “Beck’s rally” at the site where her uncle delivered his impassioned rallying cry for the nation to ennoble itself and its citizens by recognizing the dignity of all humans. She has worked for years within the pro-life movement to promote King’s ideals and goals of realizing universal human rights across the spectrum, without exception. Her participation in Beck’s rally dignified it. Attacks like this disgrace the cause of unity King embodied.

“This is our day and we’re not giving it up”? What does this say? Dr. Martin Luther King said, passionately, that his dream is for a country that judges a person not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. It was an address about race as a highlight of the fundamental issue of human dignity. It dishonors Dr. King to narrowly and angrily claim that his rally belonged to one race and not the entire nation it sought to free from hatred and fear and rancor and division.

In Dr. King’s speech, just after he says

I have a dream that one day…right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

…he goes on to say what has far less been quoted:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

He was a Christian preacher. He quoted the Gospel, and called on the nation to recall and embrace the meaning of ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee.‘

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

Many people are trying to do that still…and again.

From here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Quote of the Week - Benjamin Franklin

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin

Infertility Often Passed to IVF Babies

A technique used in half of American IVF births causes many infertile fathers to pass on their infertility to their sons - sometimes along with other genetic defects, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

A million babies around the globe have been born with ICSI. But hundreds, and perhaps thousands of the boys will be born infertile.

"Thanks to IVF and ICSI many babies have been born who wouldn't have otherwise existed, and this has brought happiness to countless families. But unlike any other kind of medical intervention, which can be tested for safety and efficacy on the population it will affect, fertility techniques by design can't be tested on the resulting babies until after they are born. To put it bluntly, we've chosen as a society to carry out a big safety experiment on the first generation of children we've created with these methods."

US medical guidelines urge doctors to suggest that men with very low sperm counts be offered genetic tests before ICSI. But very often these guidelines are not followed. And many infertile men do not want to be tested, anyway.

What are the ethics of this, asks Sylvia Pagán Westphal.

"Infertility is, at the very least, a medical condition that causes significant emotional distress and, when fertility treatments are sought, puts the woman, and often her male partner, through medical procedures that are not without risk. Is it ethical to knowingly pass down this condition to a child? Does a couple's right to reproduce trump that of their future children?" ~ Boston Globe, Aug 8

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pakistan's Troubles Magnified

The floods have wrought colossal damage. Nearly 20 million people have been affected, fifteen hundred perished and more than two thousand injured. The economic cost of the floods is estimated to be about $43 billion.

The devastation caused by the deluge would have been an enormous challenge for any government anywhere to meet. In case of Pakistan, the enormity of the challenge assumes even greater proportions in view of the country’s present predicament: the militancy, which is eating up the country’s most resources; the state of the economy, which would have crumbled but for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) credit; a laissez-faire ‘popular’ government, whose big bunch of ministers’ and advisors’ favourite pastime is to harp on their self-proclaimed sacrifices for democracy; the top political leadership, which commands but does not lead and whose credibility is close to naught both at home and abroad; the elected representatives, who are apathetic to the problems of those they represent; the state institutions, which are in decay and decadence; the system of governance, which is rotten to the core, the rule of law, which is trampled under the feet of the high and the mighty; the society which is becoming increasingly insensitive and cruel (the latest and the starkest example being the public beating to death of two young men in Sialkot); and the people, who are naïve enough to be deceived and duped by the same demagogues repeatedly.

The floods have magnified these ills of the polity, economy and society. We begin with the economy, which was in straits even before the floods had wrought the havoc. At the close of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010 (FY10), the major economic indicators by and large presented a dismal picture. Fiscal deficit surpassed the 4.9 per cent target to reach 5.6 per cent of GDP despite drastic cuts in developmental spending (the PSDP was reduced from Rs 646 billion budgetary allocation to Rs 490 billion).

Inflationary pressures persisted with average CPI inflation of 12 per cent exceeding the nine per cent target. Investment-GDP ratio had gone down to 16.6 per cent from 19 per cent, while savings-GDP ratio had dropped to 10.1 per cent from 20.3 per cent a year ago. The unemployment rate had gone up to 5.5 per cent from 5.2 per cent largely due to the increase in urban unemployment to 7.1 per cent from 6.3 per cent.

The only good news was that the real GDP had grown by 4.1 per cent compared with the target of 3.3 per cent. However, that upward growth rate was made possible by a downward revised growth figure of 1.2 per cent for the preceding fiscal year.

To be fair, the economic predicament is not the making of the present government and can be ascribed to the three perennial constraints within which the economy of Pakistan operates: (a) the massive public debt, (b) the need to maintain a huge military establishment, and (c) the lack of tax culture together with the absence of political will to bring some holy cows (agriculture income for instance) within the tax net.

The first two constraints dictate that a large portion of the public expenditure is invariably allocated to debt servicing and defence, while the third constraint ensures that the public revenue, particularly from direct taxes, lags behind increase in government expenditure and growth of GDP. The result is not only increase in fiscal deficit but also misallocation of resources.

Hence, as per budgetary allocation for the current fiscal year, defence and debt servicing expenditure together account for about 66 per cent of current expenditure and 48 per cent of total expenditure. At present, the armed forces are engaged in putting down insurgency in the northwestern part of the country and therefore it is understandable that a sizeable part of the national pie is allocated to supporting that effort.

Scarcity of resources necessitates a trade-off among competing needs. If a country spends nearly half of its resources on mere defence and debt servicing, it will have too little to spend on promoting human capital and infrastructure development. Hence, not surprisingly collectively allocation for both health and education accounts for less than three per cent of the GDP, which is well below the desired level. Poverty alleviation and employment generation are among the basic policy objectives in a developing country like Pakistan. However, attaining this goal requires substantial investment in human capital development.

Although during last couple of years fiscal deficit has been substantially reduced from 7.6 per cent of GDP during FY08, the same has been done by curtailing developmental expenditure rather than by increasing tax-GDP ratio, which is stuck at nine per cent of GDP. Pakistan in fact has one of the lowest tax-GDP ratios in the world. Two options are available to the government to increase tax revenue: one, to broaden the tax net, for instance, by taxing agriculture income; two, to increase the existing taxes. For reasons political, the first option has not been exercised, with the result that those who already pay tax — the salaried class — are burdened with more taxes.

As the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has noted in one of its reports, a sharp cut in development spending is neither sustainable nor desirable, because the government is required to increase spending on human capital development and widening the social safety net as an effective antidote to extremism.

The floods will adversely affect the economy in several ways. One, to rehabilitate the victims and repair the infrastructure, the government will have to re-appropriate budgetary allocation. Given the political economy of Pakistan if any cuts are to be made, the same have to be on the head of development expenditure. Hence, the big chunk of the funds allocated to development will be diverted to repair and rehabilitation efforts.

Two, due partly to the colossal loss caused to agriculture and livestock and partly to diversion of resources, the growth of the economy will be retarded. The estimates are that at least one percentage point of the potential GDP growth will be washed away. When economic growth shrinks, investment level goes down, jobs are lost and incomes fall. Consequently, unemployment and poverty levels rise.

The rise in unemployment and poverty further reduces the aggregate demand, resulting into lower investment demand and thus slower GDP growth. Increased poverty and unemployment have enormous social cost, because the affected people can become a convenient tool in the hands of destabilising forces. This is particularly relevant to Pakistan, which is facing an insurgency in its northwestern part.

Three, the deluge devastation will make the economy more dependent on foreign credit at a time when developed countries are trying to recover from recession and hence official bilateral assistance is hard to come by. This makes credit from multilateral donors indispensable. Already Pakistan is under a 25-month $11.3 billion stand-by agreement (SBA) with the IMF effective since November 2008. Hence, the country will have to negotiate a fresh agreement with the IMF. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank will also provide $2 billion and $950 million in credit respectively. Four, the loss to agriculture and livestock means Pakistan may be in throes of a food crisis in the days to come, which, inter alia, will strengthen inflationary pressures on the economy. The country will have to import food, which, together with fall in exports due to loss of the cotton crop, will push up the current account deficit and add to balance of payment problems.

The socio-political cost of the floods is equally, if not more, threatening. Hundreds of thousands of people have been deprived of their land and livestock, incomes and means of livelihood. Most of them will move to urban areas in search of work and a minimum standard of living. But urban areas, already facing large-scale unemployment and erosion of civic amenities, can hardly accommodate them. The resultant dejection and disappointment can be a fertile ground for anything ranging from unrest and riots to disorder and chaos.

The way the elected governments have handled the situation, the way they left the majority of the affected people to themselves, they way embankments in some places were breached to save the property of powerful politicians will strengthen the growing disenchantment with democracy. That Pakistan has had a sham democracy, there has never been much doubt about that. But the perception that the people’s governments have so abjectly surrendered the popular trust has shocked and shaken even the most vehement of their supporters.

Behind every calamity there is an opportunity and the federal finance minister believes that the havoc wrought by the floods can provide the impetus for taking some tough decisions. Only if the people in power woke up from their slumber, eschew narrow ethnic and political considerations, and put their heads together as to what went wrong and what can be done to avert another such calamity, that can be the redeeming feature of the floods.
hussainhzaidi@gmail.com

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Court Injunction on Obama Executive Stem Cell Order

WASHINGTON — The federal government has vowed a quick appeal of a temporary court order that halts federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research using new stem-cell lines.

The injunction, granted by Washington, D.C., federal Judge Royce Lamberth in response to an action launched by several pro-life groups and two Christian adult stem cell researchers, might even stop research using lines approved by President George W. Bush in 2001.

Judge Lamberth found on Aug. 23 that the National Institutes of Health’s approval of 75 human embryonic stem-cell lines for federal funding violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibiting federal research that is lethal to embryos.

The NIH action lead to the implementation of a 2009 order from President Barack Obama, and his administration wasted no time promising to appeal the injunction.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told the Politico news website that “the appeal should be filed by the end of the week.”

The same site reports deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton saying that the president “thinks that we need to do [human embryonic] stem-cell research, and he thinks his policy is the right one.”

But Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the federal court injunction against the Obama administration’s policy, calling the ruling a “victory for common sense and sound medical ethics.”

The lawsuit was brought last year on behalf of a Christian adoption agency, two stem-cell scientists, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, embryos and others. The court found that only the two scientists had “standing” to bring what amounted to an emergency lawsuit because the other plaintiffs would suffer no immediate or “irreparable” injury by having to wait until the lawsuit goes to trial.

But Sherley, a Baptist and a researcher at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Deisher, a Catholic who runs Seattle-based AVM Biotechnology, were granted standing on the basis that their work on adult human embryonic stem cells would suffer “irreparably” unless the expansion of human embryonic stem-cell research were halted immediately.

Reasoned the court: Researchers in adult and embryonic stem-cell research were competing for the same federal dollars, but only researchers of adult stem cells relied almost entirely on public funding, while embryonic stem-cell scientists stood a chance of getting private money.

But granting the two scientists “standing” only got their legal foot in the door.

Dickey-Wicker Amendment
The meat of Lamberth’s decision is that the Obama-ordered expansion of embryonic stem-cell research violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

“The language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed,” wrote Lamberth, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. “ESC research is clearly research in which an embryo is destroyed.”

Reached in Seattle, Deisher declined to comment. In an e-mail she sent to friends relaying news of the victory, however, she led with two words: “Praise God.”

Deisher, whose research paradigm is to work within the life ethic of the Church, is currently studying links between autism and vaccines made by using embryonic stem cells.

In a previous interview with the Register, she said that while adult stem cells had been used for decades in successful treatment of humans, the experimental treatment of animals with embryonic stem cells produced dangerous side effects and when used with humans would end in “disaster.”
Condemnation
Nonetheless, a group of medical research foundations swiftly condemned the Lamberth injunction. Declared Lisa Hughes, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research: “Today’s Federal District Court injunction halting federal funding for human embryonic stem-cell research is a blow to the hopes of millions of patients and their families suffering from fatal and chronic diseases and disorders.”

Hughes added, “CAMR, and the patients and researchers we represent, remain committed to supporting all stem-cell research and the search for cures that might be discovered from these essential research tools.”

NIH director Francis Collins said the injunction “had poured sand in the engines of discovery” by stopping $54 million in NIH research grants due to be issued in September.
Meanwhile, $131 million in NIH research grants for human embryonic stem-cell research has already been issued and won’t be taken back.

Bush’s Stem Cells
The question remains as to whether the injunction applies to research using the lines approved by President Bush in a 2001 order. Will Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund, one of three pro-life legal organizations that acted for the plaintiffs, told the Register, “The Bush regulation from 2001 doesn’t exist anymore because it was rescinded by the Obama administration, and it is not resurrected by the preliminary injunction because the order in this case only prohibits funding ESC research under the Obama guidelines from 2009.”

The Bush order never provoked a legal action from pro-lifers because it limited research to the use of stem-cell lines derived before Aug. 9, 2001 — preventing the grants from encouraging any more embryo-killing and violation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.

The fact that the injunction is temporary does not mean it is necessarily short-lived. Unless it is successfully appealed, it will stand until the D.C. federal court makes a final ruling on the case for a permanent injunction, said Bowman.

Legal experts supportive of embryonic stem-cell research are also urging Congress to take action by either repealing Dickey-Wicker or passing legislation specifically enabling human embryonic stem-cell research. A poll released this week by Rasmussen Reports indicates 57% of Americans oppose public funding for embryonic stem-cell research, though only 23% believe it to be immoral. This suggests the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is safe for now.

Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.

Brit Urges Homosex at Age 14

A high profile British homosexual activist wants the age of sexual consent lowered to 14, on the basis that currently underage sex “is mostly consenting, safe and fun”.

Peter Tatchell plugged for this change in America in one of a series of articles on “dangerous ideas” on the website Big Think recently.
Dangerous, certainly, but also just a little bit surprising in view of this year of paedophilia scandals and his campaign against Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK -- one of the reasons being the Pope’s alleged “cover up” of clerical sexual abuse of children?

By a tortured logic Tatchell claims that a lower age of consent is “the best way” to protect young people from abuse. His arguments boil down to three:
* The kids are doing it anyway.
* Current laws criminalise teenagers.
* Young people under 16 have the right to decide when to have sex.
Actually, in making the last claim Tatchell puts no lower age limit. This fits with his recipe for protecting kids from peer pressure and paedophiles: “giving them frank, high quality sex and relationship education from an early age”. As we have noted elsewhere on this site recently, for some people that means nursery school.
In the end, his case seems to rest on a view of sex as the driving force and highest achievement of human life -- from “an early age”. It is a view that some adults may find convenient but which common sense rejects as contrary to the good of children and society. Thus the editors of Big Think conclude:
Why We Should Reject This

Of course there will always be underage people who have sex, but that doesn’t mean the law should condone it. Sex is a very complicated part of human behavior that is too nuanced for young people to understand. In fact, studies have shown that people, especially girls, who have sex at a young age often regret it. One study in New Zealand found that 70% of girls who had sex before the age of 16 wished they hadn’t done so. In a column for Telegraph, writer David Lindsay argues, “sex is for people who can cope with the consequences, physical and otherwise. In a word, adults.”

From here.

Obama Presses for World Peace: Step One

President Barack Obama will visit Jerusalem in coming months to press for a Middle East peace deal to be signed this year and implemented within a decade, according to a leaked White House report.

Read it all here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No More Diplomacy on Homosexuality

CNN Belief Blog


Conservative Anglican bishops pressed the head of the worldwide church over homosexuality at a conference this week in Uganda, demanding he "sort out" the crisis facing the world's third-largest Christian denomination.

Bishops from Singapore, Southeast Asia and Africa told Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in closed-door sessions Tuesday and Wednesday that there should be no more diplomacy on homosexuality, an issue that has split the Anglican communion.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, head of Uganda's Anglican church and the host of the week-long All Africa Bishops Conference, said the Archbishop of Canterbury (pictured administering communion at the conference) faces a complicated task in trying to reunite the church. "He (Williams) spoke what was on his mind and we also spoke. We impressed it on him that he had totally gone in a different direction and he has to sort it out," Orombi told journalists after their closed-door meeting on Wednesday. "We sympathize with his position as head of the Anglican communion suffering disunity on moral grounds and teaching of the scripture. It's like having unruly kids in his house and he can't sit down to eat food. We have told him and he understood us, that (there's) no more diplomacy on that matter, homosexuality. We made our minds very clear and he is going back knowing there is no gray area on our part," Orombi said.

Journalists who tried to question Williams on the subject at the conference were rebuffed by aides who surrounded him. The archbishop returned to England Thursday, but CNN calls to his office were not immediately returned.
Read all at the CNN Belief Blog here.

Israel Finds Oil and Gas at Rosh Ha'ayin

The Givat Olam umbrella organization confirmed for investors in Jerusalem on Monday the discovery of a large commercially-viable oil field in central Israel.

Hundreds of investors from around the world, many of them Christian Zionists, have been pouring money into Givat Olam for years in the hopes of helping secure Israel's energy independence.

"For many years we drilled wells without success," chief geologist Tuvia Luskin told the investors. But the Meged 5 exploratory well near the central Israel town of Rosh Ha'ayin had finally provided results which Luskin compared to "the giving of the Torah."

Luskin and his team first struck oil at Meged 5 in early July. They conducted 189 hours of production tests, during which 3,015 barrels of oil were produced. According to Luskin, when it reaches its capacity, Meged 5 will likely be able to produce 450 barrels of oil a day.

A final report on the size of the oil field is expected next month.

Israeli officials have hailed the find as a major breakthrough that could drastically alter Israel's fortunes, both by reducing dependence on foreign energy sources and by providing an enormous boost to the economy.

An Israeli oil exploration company on Thursday announced that it had found a huge amount of oil and gas during drilling below the city of Rosh Ha'ayin this week.

Givot Olam Oil Exploration Limited Partnership said that more than 60 percent gas was measured in the drill, indicating the first such find in Israel.

Read more here.

Pakistan: Relief Aid Used to Recruit Militants?

ISLAMABAD: As voices are being raised in different countries against extremist groups using flood assistance to lure recruits for militancy, the US overseas aid chief created on Wednesday a sort of storm by visiting a Sukkur relief camp supposedly run by Falah-i-Insaniat (FI), the latest reincarnation of Jamaatud Dawa, the humanitarian arm of the banned terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was in Sukkur to witness relief efforts when he visited the FI camp set up in a school.

JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid claimed that the camp Mr Shah visited was run by Falah-i-Insaniat and that he donated two trucks of relief goods.

The FI started functioning openly last year by providing aid to people displaced by the military operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. It was formed after the UN imposed sanctions on the JuD in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks on Nov 26, 2008.

Senior military officials have claimed that LeT has expanded to the West since the Mumbai strike and posed a serious threat to world peace.

However, the purported visit by the US official is being described by the JuD as an endorsement of its relief efforts.

A statement issued by the group quoted Mr Shah as saying that “JuD is actively taking part in relief operations. The work being done by the group is appreciable.”

Falah-i-Insaniat chairman Hafiz Abdul Rauf claimed in the statement that his group was collaborating with a number of international organisations and vowed to continue its work till all the displaced people were rehabilitated.

The US embassy, however, rejected the claim and insisted that Mr Shah had visited a camp run by the government in a school.

US Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire said the camp housed displaced people and was being served by the World Food Programme and Save the Children -- both partners of the USAID.

He also said that the camp was being administered by the school headmaster who was a government employee.

Justifying the distribution of food by Mr Shah, the spokesman said people in the camp needed food and Mr Shah did what he thought should have been done.

However, Snelsire did not completely rule out involvement of JuD or FI in relief work at the camp and said that other groups might have also distributed food at the camp in the past.

Some people in Sukkur told Dawn on phone that a large banner reading ‘Relief Camp -- Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation’ hung over the entrance.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit expressed ignorance about Mr Shah’s visit to the JuD camp.

Last week Mr Basit had appreciated relief work being carried out by religious charity organisations many of whom have links with extremist groups. He had said that NGOs backed by political or religious organisations needed to be lauded for the ‘commendable job’ instead of being stigmatised with ‘nomenclatures’.

$50M AID: Mr Shah announced in Sukkur that the USAID would provide an additional aid of $50 million under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill for the flood-affected people.

He said the additional funding would support early recovery programmes like rehabilitation of community infrastructure and livelihood recovery activities.

From here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gold and Ethical Standards

By Ron Robins, Founder & Analyst - Investing for the Soul

The rising price of gold stands as the ethical barometer of the mismanagement of our fiscal, monetary, and currency systems. Gold is in the early stages of re-asserting its historic role of helping to bring order to monetary and currency chaos. Its price has risen more than fourfold over the past ten years as a result of investors anticipating the predictable financial and currency chaos we have today—and what is likely yet to come.

The central banks and government treasuries, particularly those of the US, Europe, and Japan, have been weakened and our trust in them eroded. For decades they assured us that only they and their paper currencies and fractional reserve banking systems can keep our economies growing forever. They are now failing for all to see. And before the ships of state sink and economies further submerge they bail out their banking friends.

The monetary and currency systems and organisations responsible for them are deteriorating because they essentially lack an ethical standard. That is not to say that most individuals in these organisations are unethical. It is that as organizations they implemented policies over the past several decades that knowingly—or they should have known—would eventually lead to great financial and economic hardship.

One such policy was the encouragement of debt creation way beyond income or economic growth. When this policy failed, it led to tens of millions of people losing their jobs globally, millions losing their homes, and retirees in developed countries losing their savings as interest rates were reduced to near zero. It is in this sense that these organizations were, and are, without an ethical standard.

To rise to the top among many of these banking and financial organizations, requires not only brilliance, but usually subservience to base instinctual values of status and greed.

According to Dr Paul Ray’s research on Americans’ values, close to half the American population’s primary values include those of status and greed. It could be argued that even Timothy Geithner, the US Secretary of the Treasury, exhibited these values. Before his appointment it was divulged that he owed taxes that went back several years. He then hurriedly paid them to smooth his appointment to head the US treasury, the most powerful treasury on earth. About those taxes—he says he just ‘forgot’ to pay them.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dorothy Sayers on Euthanasia

Dorothy Sayers was a High Church Anglican whose writings implicate her in the most scandalous thoughts, mores scandalous for our day than when she wrote. She opposed euthanasia for moral reasons, putting these words into the mouth of Vicar Tredgold:

“In those last weeks or hours of pain and unconsciousness, the soul may be undergoing some necessary part of its pilgrimage on earth. It isn’t our business to cut it short. Who are we to take life and death into our hands? ... the wrongness of the thing lies much more in the harm it does the killer than in anything it can do to the person who is killed. Especially, of course, if the killing is to the killer’s own advantage.” (From the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Unnatural Death)

Australia's Anti-Family, Pro-Euthanasia Govt.

Expectations of stable majority government in Australia have been scuppered by a remarkable “Greenslide” in Saturday’s national election. Neither the Labor government nor the conservative coalition won a clear majority, so it is not clear who will be leading the country – the incumbent Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, or the Liberal leader Tony Abbott. A week of intense horse-trading with a handful of independent MPs lies ahead. It will be Australia’s first minority government in 70 years.

It was a dispiriting result for Labor, but the Greens are ecstatic. They won one seat in the House of Representatives and four in the Senate. Because of an eccentric provision in the Australian constitution, the new Senators do not take their seats until July next year. But then the Greens will have nine senators and the balance of power. “There is a new light on the hill and it's powered by renewable energy,” says one of the new parliamentarians.

What will this mean for Australia?

Interpreting the stunning Green gains in this election is difficult, but it is more than a protest vote. The Greens’ leader, Senator Bob Brown, a dour, lanky Tasmanian, told the media that it was a new birth in Australian politics – like the whale calf which had just been born in the waters lapping suburban Hobart, Tasmania’s capital.

The Greens have steadily gained ground over the past 20 years, first capitalising on concern for the Tasmanian wilderness and then on disillusionment with the left-leaning Labor party. And as it grew, policies which nothing to do with saving virgin forests or protecting endangered species stuck to the Green snowball.

In an address to the National Press Club last week Senator Brown highlighted three policies which his party would pursue. The first two were environmental boilerplate: a hefty tax on the mining industry and the introduction of an emissions trading scheme. But the third was the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Senator Brown is gay himself and to underscore his commitment, he brought his partner along for some carefully scripted photos.

What does gay marriage have to do with saving whales? Not much, but the Australian Greens have wandered far from their conservationist roots. Their opposition to capitalism attracted radicals who were left without a cause after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Their stand on moral issues pandered to pampered Chardonnay socialists of the inner city. Championing of causes like a free Tibet and asylum-seekers enthused idealistic young voters.

If there is an intellectual inspiration for the movement, it is the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, a theorist for the animal rights movement and a radical utilitarian who supports voluntary euthanasia and infanticide for disabled infants. Singer was one of the founding members of the national Greens and in 1996 he even ran unsuccessfully for the Senate as a Green candidate. He co-authored a book on the Green movement with Bob Brown.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that many voters are unaware of the “socially progressive” side of Green policies. Of all the other parties, only the odious Australian Sex Party, which represents the pornography industry, may have more destructive policies on social values. The combative Catholic Cardinal George Pell scathingly describes them as watermelons, green outside and red inside. He claims that their policies are “thoroughly anti-Christian”.
In his regular column in one of Sydney’s newspapers Pell wrote: “Naturally the Greens are hostile to the notion of the family, man, woman and children, which they see as only one among a set of alternatives. They would allow marriage regardless of sexuality or gender identity. We all accept the necessity of a healthy environment, but Green policies are impractical and expensive, which will not help the poor. For those who value our present way of life, the Greens are sweet camouflaged poison.”

Read here.

Orissa Christians Forgive their Persecutors

NANDAGIRI, India — Two years after violent attacks against Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, the forgiveness shown by Christians is inspiring some of their Hindu neighbors. Some are even converting.

Christians who have been displaced, meanwhile, are living a difficult life.

“We are here because of our faith,” said Sabita Nayak, who leads a harsh life on the slopes of the desolate road passing through hilly Nandagiri in troubled Kandhamal district.

After living in a cramped refugee camp for nearly a year, Sabita’s family, along with four dozen other Catholic families of Beticola village, were dumped at Nandagiri by state officials in June 2009.

Since then the Catholic families have been struggling in a no-man’s land without water or toilets.

“Many of the Christians could go back (to their villages). But we had no choice,” Sabita explained.

The reason: The Hindu fundamentalists of Beticola were adamant that they would not allow the Christians to set foot in their village unless they forsook their faith.

Reluctant to take on the fundamentalists, the Kandhamal administration found an easy way out and “transplanted” these families at a forsaken government forest area — about 10 miles from their native village.

“If you become Hindu, we will not break your house” was the threat Sabita heard in August 2008.

Following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23 that year, Christian targets went up in flames. Saraswati had led a vociferous campaign against conversions to Christianity in Kandhamal.

Though Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for the murder, fundamentalist groups alleged that the Swami’s murder was a “Christian conspiracy,” and the fundamentalists pounded the Christians.

Thousands of Christians had been herded out of their villages and corralled into temples like lambs being led to slaughter houses and forcibly reconverted to Hinduism. Their persecutors told them that Christianity is a “foreign religion and only Hindus can live in Kandhamal.”

While those who refused were beaten up and brutally murdered, thousands were forced to drink cow dung water to “purify” them and to chant dreadful oaths preventing them from returning to the churches.

In the widespread violence against Christians that went on unabated for weeks, more than 90 Christians were killed, over 5,000 Christian houses and 300 churches and Christian institutions were looted and torched, and 54,000 Christians were displaced.

“From the beginning of Christianity, there has been persecution. It is part of Christian life,” reasoned another Catholic, Chrisanto Mallick, sitting inside one of the new houses blessed on July 6.

Mallick said that he was benefiting from the troubles. With charities building houses for Christians on a small plot of land allotted them by the government, he earns his wages as a stone mason.

Christian Witness
On the other hand, he said, many of the families are struggling. Despite 50 families living there, an eerie silence haunts the new Christian settlement.

As Mallick pointed out, “Can you find many children here?”

With most of the unemployed parents struggling to feed their families and no schools around in the neighborhood, the children are put up in hostels across Kandhamal and outside.

“Earlier, we had no problems and lived comfortably. But now, we do not have even regular food,” said Sabita. “But we have peace and happiness. Prayer is our solace. Maybe God wants us to undergo this suffering.”

Such powerful witness to the faith in hostile conditions is slowly bearing fruit in Kandhamal.

“We harassed them and destroyed their houses. But they have no hatred and anger against us,” said Junos Digal, a member of the mob who attacked Christian targets during the 2007 anti-Christian violence that rocked Barakhama, about 43 miles from Nandagiri.

“There is certainly something special about how their faith helps them overcome difficulties. This has brought me here,” said Junos, squatting on the mat in the makeshift Protestant church (their church was destroyed) with his Bible kept open in front of him.

Junos added: “If Jesus could influence people’s lives to such an extent, I would prefer to be part of such a faith.” Asked whether he is not worried about the Hindu fundamentalists turning their ire on him for betraying their faith, an unfazed Junos replied: “I am not worried about that. Many of us were misled and now they will accept the reality.”

In fact, Junos is not the only Hindu who has turned Christian in recent times in Barakhama. Sailama Digal embraced Christianity months earlier along with her son and cousin.

“We could not understand why they (Christians) were attacked and their houses destroyed. My conscience made me take this decision,” said Sailama as she squatted on the floor of the makeshift church among dozens of Christians for Sunday service.

The entry of over a dozen such converts to their congregation has brought joy and comfort to the Christians who held on to their faith amid persecution. “In our suffering, our faith has increased,” said Jayanti Digal.

“Even when we were suffering, our spirits were strong and kept us going,” said Jayanti, whose house, along with those of over 400 Christian families of the area, had been destroyed in the violence. “Now we are glad that even those who attacked us have started respecting our faith,” she said.

Father Bijay Kumar Pradhan, who is coordinating reconstruction in a particularly hard-hit area, said that some of the Hindus have already approached him saying that “we want to become Christians.”

The church workers decided to reach out to dozens of dalit (oppressed low caste) Hindu families whose houses had been damaged by tribals earlier. Father Bijay pointed out that these Hindus were impressed by the concern Christians had shown to them despite the atrocities committed on the Christians in Kandhamal.

“Forgiveness has its effect,” said the priest, but he promptly added that he “dissuaded” the Hindus saying that “the Church is not rebuilding the Hindu houses to make them Christians.”



Anto Akkara filed this report from Kandhamal, India.  From here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Circumcision Highlights Global Differences

A clear North/South divide is emerging in attitudes towards male circumcision. In May the Dutch Royal Medical Association became the first national medical group to declare that the procedure is both medically unnecessary and an abuse of the rights of the child, in the same way as female circumcision, or female genital mutilation.

However, the Dutch have decided to actively discourage circumcision rather than to ban it, as that could drive the procedure underground. About 15,000 boys are circumcised each year.

On the other hand African countries are actively encouraging circumcision because trials in 2007 in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa showed that it dramatically reduced the risk of infection with HIV/AIDS. According to a report in the BMJ, 14 countries in southern Africa are promoting circumcision with radio and television campaigns.

In Swaziland, where HIV prevalence is 45%. circumcision is even regarded as "crucial to the survival of the state". Botswana plans to circumcise all boys by 2012. Even Rwanda, where HIV prevalence is only 3%, is promoting it as a cost-saving public health measure.

However, the Dutch doctors are sceptical of the African data. They believe that while it might delay infection, it will not prevent it. They also say that there are some complications which cannot be ethically justified for a "medically futile" procedure.

In the UK, Australia and the US, the trend is away from circumcision. The Australasian Association of Paediatric Surgeons, for instance, describes circumcision as "inappropriate and unnecessary" but allowable in children over 6 months old when parents "hold a very strong opinion." ~ BMJ, Aug 17

Should Cosmetic Industry for Teens be Regulated?

Australia may crack down on the billion-dollar cosmetic surgery industry's pitch for teenage business. According to the Sunday Age, a government report recommends that teens have mandatory psychological examinations and a three-month cooling-off period.

Incentives such as gifts, discounts or loans would be banned together with advertising using "before and after" shots of breast enlargements, nose jobs and tummy tucks.

The Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council says there is a "disturbing trend" in young people seeking cosmetic surgery and treatments such as Botox, liposuction and laser therapy. "Demand for such procedures is fuelled by lifestyle choices to enhance physical appearance and boost confidence, rather than medical need," the report states.

At the moment, any registered doctor can advertise as a cosmetic surgeon. The report recommends that only doctors formally trained in plastic surgery be allowed to describe themselves as cosmetic surgeons. ~ Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 15

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Iman, Not "President"

Moscow, August 13, Interfax - Officials in Grozny are discussing various possible job titles for the leader of the Chechen Republic, the Chechen president's press secretary Alvi Karimov said.

"Any title is acceptable for Kadyrov as long as it does not conflict with the Russian and Chechen constitutions," he told Interfax.

"He [Kadyrov] clearly expressed his opinion in a document sent to parliament today. He is convinced that only one person in the country, namely the head of state, must be called president. The rest is the product of the 1990s when Russia saw a parade of sovereignties. Parliament will carefully study Kadyrov's request, discuss options and choose the most suitable [title] for Chechnya," Karimov said.

Asked whether the job could be titled "imam," he said he saw "no contravention to the fundamental law."

"Why not? Although I do not know what parliament is considering. My personal opinion is that it is a concise title that is easy to write and to pronounce. The main thing is that, regardless of the options, the powers and duties of the top official in the republic are not changing. If I were a member of parliament, this is precisely what I would have proposed, but I do not know what opinion will be reached by the MPs," Karimov added.



In a related story, Ramzan Kadyrov’s press secretary Alvi Karimov said "any title is acceptable for Kadyrov as long as it does not conflict with the Russian and Chechen constitutions." Asked whether the job could be titled "imam," he said he saw "no contravention to the fundamental law."

In his interview to Interfax-Religion Silantyev reminded that there had already been a title of imam in Caucasus and it was imam Shamil. "Title of imam in his case corresponded to the title of "minicaliph" or as Wahabi call it amir, a leader who personifies all the plenitude of secular and spiritual authority," the expert said.

"However, the person who bears plenitude of secular and spiritual authorities is Imam with a capital letter, and if Kadyrov decides to become an imam with a small letter, then he will automatically find himself among subordinates of life-long mufti of his republic Sultan Mirzayev," the interviewee of the agency said.

If Kadyrov, he further said, "will become an imam with a capital letter that I suppose he will declare himself a successor of imam Shamil and he will have the same authorities as imam Shamil, we will have a local caliphate in Russia with very interesting ensuing consequences".

According to Silantyev, this idea will "cause considerable resonance in world Sunnite community that is very jealous about the idea of reviving caliphate." He explained, head of caliphate can pretend both to spiritual and political leadership in the whole Sunnite world and "as minimum to the post of Muslim head in Russia

Iran Unmanned Bomber

Iran announced on Sunday a new unmanned jet bomber that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dubs an “ambassador of death” to Israel and other enemies. Sunday’s launch statement comes one day after Iran began operating its first nuclear power plant and two days after it test-fired a new surface-to-surface guided missile.

"The jet, as well as being an ambassador of death for the enemies of humanity, has a main message of peace and friendship," Ahmadinejad told Iranian officials. He added that the aircraft will help "keep the enemy paralyzed in its bases…until the enemies of humanity lose hope of ever attacking the Iranian nation."

It is tacitly taken for granted that Israel has been mapping out possible scenarios for attacking Iran if American-led diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions do not succeed in stopping the Islamic Republic from continuing unsupervised production of enriched uranium. The recent joint IDFair exercises in Romania seemed to bear that out. Iran has denied widely-accepted Western assumptions that it plans to produce a nuclear warhead that would be aimed at Israel.

Read it all here.

Japan Joins Pakistan Relief Effort

TOKYO, Aug 21: The first contingent of a 200-strong Japanese military helicopter unit left for Pakistan on Saturday to join international relief efforts.

Fifty ground troops left the Japanese city of Fukuoka for an army airfield in Multan, Japanese media reported.

They will prepare the ground for the rest of their unit and six helicopters which will transport people and goods in flood-hit areas.

A naval transport ship and six air force C-130 transport planes are set to carry the helicopters and the unit’s equipment to Pakistan, the ministry said. A total of 530 Japanese ground, air and naval troops will be mobilised for the relief mission.—AFP

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Human Trials of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Approved

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Even as a federal agency gave a California biotech firm the go-ahead to begin the first human trials of therapy employing human embryonic stem cells, a federal court approved a pro-life legal action that could lead to blocking President Obama’s promised expansion of federal funding for research using these cells.

Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., is seeking people paralyzed by spinal injuries to be the first human test subjects for the clinical use of human embryonic stem cells, which some scientists say is dangerous, wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars and unethical.

Stem cells are undifferentiated, primitive cells that have the ability both to multiply and to differentiate into specific blood cells and other cell/tissue types. This ability allows them replace dead or defective cells and/or tissues.

Embryonic stem-cell research, which involves the killing of a unique human being in an attempt to cure different diseases, has proven not only lethal and costly, but has not produced a single cure. On the other hand, adult stem-cell research, which utilizes cells from adult tissues or umbilical cords, does not require the taking of human life. It has proven successful in treating more than 70 kinds of cancers and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Read it all here.

Quote of the Week - Margaret Thatcher

"The trouble with Socialism is, sooner or later you run out of other people's money." -- Margaret Thatcher

Pakistan: Relief Trucks Looted

MUZAFFARGARH: Hundreds of people looted relief goods from trucks meant for the flood-affected areas near Baseera town on the Muzaffargarh-Dera Ghazi Khan road on Friday.

The looting of trucks and relief convoys has become an order of the day here. On Thursday, three trucks were looted and on Friday two trucks of PPP’s women wing were attacked by a mob in Shahjamal.

The road around Baseera remains submerged and drivers are forced to slow down. There are groups of looters who have made the road a no-go area for social workers.

This correspondent saw a gang which intercepted the slow moving trucks and deflated their tyres after holding the drivers hostage.

Later, hundreds of people who were hiding at places along the road came out and started looting relief goods which included flour, ghee, pulses, powdered milk and sugar.

The trucks sent by philanthropists of Khanewal were going to Karam Dad Qureshi and Ghazi Ghat where thousands of people are marooned.

Driver Shabbir Sultan told this correspondent that he and the owner of the truck had collected money from people in Khanewal to help flood-affected people. With eyes filled with tears and face full of bruises, he said that each truck carried goods of about half a million rupees. He said about a dozen people had held him and other truck drivers hostage while hundreds of passers by just looked on.

Shabbir said the looters beat him up and snatched his mobile phone and money. “I will never come here again,” he said, adding that he would ask other donors “not to come here because these people don’t deserve any help”. He said the mob had also damaged their trucks.

This correspondent spoke to a few people who were carrying the looted goods. “These things are for us and there is nothing wrong in what we have done,” said a boy. Another man in his 30s said they had the right to get relief and there was nothing wrong in what they had done.

Two trucks carrying relief goods donated by PPP leader Bagum Belum Husnain were attacked by desperate flood victims in Shahjamal. The PPP leader had brought four trucks and two of them were looted. The goods on the two reaming trucks were distributed among flood-affected people in a camp at the Sanat Zaar Industrial Home in Muzaffargrh.

EDO Revenue Muzaffar Khan who is in charge of relief camps set up by the district government said he received a number of complaints everyday and he contacted DPO to deploy police along the road to ensure safe passage of relief goods.

The SHO of the Karam Dad Qureshi police station said he knew about the looting of trucks near Baseera. “Such incidents happened everyday and I am helpless to combat it because flood victims are in thousands while a few dozen relief trucks are not enough to meet their needs.”

From here.

Is President Obama a Muslim, a Socialist or Confused?

Time Magazine reports that 24% of Americans believe that the current occupant of the Oval Office is a Muslim. The White House felt it necessary to defend the President, saying that "President Barack Obama is a Christian who prays daily as it looked to tamp down growing doubts among Americans about the president's religion."

White House spokesman Bill Burton added, 'The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday.'"

So do Muslims, Bill.

H/T: Rick Lobs Blog and there's a good discussion on this at Midwest Conservative Journal.

From all that I've seen and read it appears that the President is conflicted.  It is more likely that he is a socialist sympathetic to Islam for emotional reasons. Traditional Islam is not sympathetic to socialism, however.  The poor are cared for through the distribution of alms handled by clerics and Islamic charities, not through tax-payer funded government agencies.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Indus Delta Faces Major Inudation

KARACHI: The next seven days are critical for southern Sindh, particularly the Indus delta, when the second wave of peak flood that is currently passing through Guddu and Sukkur will reach the delta, according to Pakistan Meteorological Department Director General Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry. He told this correspondent on Thursday that the flood was feared to cause widespread inundation in the southern region of the province.

Dr Zaman said that there would be full moon in a few days and the sea level would remain high. The monsoon is also supplementing the sea level. When the peak flood would reach the sea during that time the river would face a great resistance from the sea which would be pushing the water backwards, upstream in the river. With the floodwater pushing to enter the sea, a clash would overflow the river banks, inundating the nearby low-lying areas, he added.

He said the flow of water at Guddu was 974,069 cusecs with a decreasing trend but it was likely to remain above 900,000 cusecs in 36 hours while it would remain around 1.011 million cusecs at Sukkur. At the Kotri Barrage, he said, the flow of the first wave of flood was 487, 818 cusecs with a rising trend and it was expected to rise to the high flood level of 600,000 cusecs in 24 to 48 hours.

Dr Zaman said that under the influence of the second wave of flood the Indus at Kotri would rise further and might attain the exceptionally high flood level ranging between 750,000 to 900,000 cusecs in the next five days, around Aug 25.

He said the river at Kotri would remain in high floods till end of the month.—Bhagwandas

Editor's Note:  I have friends in Karachi. Please pray for this region which will see major flooding in the week ahead.

US Criticised for Not Providing Airbase for Paki Relief

ISLAMABAD: Health relief operations in Jacobabad are not possible because the airbase in the area is controlled by the US.

The stunning statement was made by Health Secretary Khushnood Lashari during an appearance at the Senate Standing Committee on Health on Wednesday.

“Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States,” Mr Lashari said while answering a question asked by Senator Semeen Yusuf Siddiqui of PML-Q.

Dr Jahanzeb Aurakzai, coordinator of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Centre, said: “Foreign health teams could not start relief operations in remote areas because there are no airstrips close to several areas, including Jacobabad.”

The town has been evacuated and 500,000 to 700,000 people have been affected. People displaced from Jacobabad, Thul, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Ghouspur and Karumpur are camping in Dera Allahyar.

“It is very unfortunate that Americans can launch a drone attack from Shahbaz airbase but the government is helpless even in using the country’s base for relief operations,” Senator Semeen said while talking to this correspondent.

She said the health ministry should have requested the army to ask the US to allow relief operation from the base.

“I don’t know why the health minister failed to report the matter to the quarters concerned, specifically the Pakistan Army.

“The airbase, which I think the government has given on lease to the Americans, should be used to provide immediate health relief to the flood-affected people.”

The committee, headed by Senator Kulsoom Parveen, was briefed by officials on health-related operations in the affected areas.

APP adds: Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman has ordered PAF to form an air bridge of relief supply for Jacobabad which has been cut off from the rest of the country and make operational an airfield near Sibi for immediate supply of relief goods to flood-hit areas in the vicinity.

Presiding over a meeting, he asked the air staff to use all available human and material resources to provide timely relief to the affected people.

From here.

Help Save the Children of Pakistan

Go here , here or here to make donations.

First American IVF Baby Gives Birth to Son

Elizabeth Comeau, 29, the first American IVF baby, gave birth to her first son last Friday. He was born at 2:05 am, weighing 7 pounds, 12 ounces. In an article she wrote last week for the Boston Globe, she said that she doesn’t want her son to have the same worldwide publicity that she had as a child. She even changed her surname from Carr to Comeau to have “a couple of years under the radar.”

She said that while her childhood was not normal, her life now is. “I had a normal conception and pregnancy despite my abnormal childhood. And early yesterday, my husband and I had a baby boy ‘the normal way,’ proving (I hope) that I’m just like everyone else,” she said.

Comeau, a journalist for the Boston Globe, said she wrote about her story to help others learn about IVF - at the risk of her own privacy. “I follow the same principle my parents did: If my story helps couples or families learn about in-vitro fertilization, then the loss of privacy is worthwhile. People who have fertility issues deserve to know they can have healthy, normal babies,” she wrote. ~ Boston Globe, Aug 6

Saudi Arabia Largest Donor of Flood Relief to Pakistan

Pakistani soldier carries supplies sent from from Saudi Arabia to aid flood victims.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has so far received aid pledges for $466.11 million from a number of countries. Saudi Arabia has promised to provide $124.29 million which is the highest donation offered by any country.

“Till today we have received aid commitments for $466.11 million for the flood-affected people,” Zafar Hasan Reza, a senior official of the economic affairs division, said on Wednesday.

Of the $100 million earlier committed by the Saudi government relief goods worth $60 million have already been delivered and goods worth $40 million are in the pipeline.

A total of $19 million has been raised by the general public in Saudi Arabia. In addition, $5.29 million has been handed over to National Disaster Management Authority.—APP

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bulgaria Hopes for Income from St. John's Relics

SOZOPOL, Bulgaria—Archaeologists and clerics here say they have unearthed bones belonging to John the Baptist, an itinerant preacher revered by many Christians as the last of the Old Testament prophets. Bulgaria's government is looking to the discovery for salvation—of a financial sort.


Bulgaria Puts Faith in St. John's Relics
--Joe Parkinson/The Wall Street Journal

Lead archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov held an item from the excavation site with the Greek inscription of St. John's name and supposed birth date.

The remains, including a skull fragment and a tooth, were uncovered last month during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. They were in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date.

Officials of this recession-scarred country think the purported relics will give a big boost to tourism, drawing believers from neighboring Orthodox Christian countries to this nearby resort town.

Tens of millions of dollars have already been earmarked to prepare for an anticipated surge in visitors. Construction crews are enlarging the port and building a big new parking lot. Tour guides are being rewritten and new signs are going up to direct people to the relics.

"I'm not religious but these relics are in the premier league," says Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria's finance minister and an avowed atheist. "The revenue potential for Bulgaria is clear."

Bulgaria's Orthodox church hierarchy has declared that the bones are authentic. "This is a holy find. It doesn't matter about the science," says Metropolitan Bishop Joanikii of Sliven, who oversees church affairs in Sozopol. "The holy relics of St. John radiate miraculous force. I cannot explain it by using words."

Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the archaeologist responsible for the finding in Sozopol and now hailed as a national hero, insists his discovery is in the same league as the Shroud of Turin. "This kind of discovery happens perhaps once every two hundred years," he says. "We have very strong proof that this is genuine. I know this is very important for the whole Christian world."

Some experts, however, are skeptical about the origin of the bones—as well as their earnings potential. Michael Hesemann, a religious historian who helps the Vatican date relics, says the bone fragments "appear to be authentic." But he thinks they lack the "box-office draw" of better-known religious attractions such as the Shroud, which believers say is Christ's burial cloth.

For its part, the Roman Catholic church says the matter requires more study. The Vatican's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology said tests to gauge the age of the bones and other factors would have to be weighed before it could judge their provenance.

John the Baptist

News of the find, meanwhile, is already drawing visitors. At the local church of St. George, where the presumed relics are now on temporary display in a silver chest donated by Bulgaria's prime minister, hundreds of faithful line up for a chance to view the bones, mouthing prayers and making the sign of the cross.

The church says attendance at daily mass has jumped from about 100 to more than 3,000. Church officials say they are selling more votive candles in a day now than they used to sell in a year, and have just ordered another two tons of them to meet projected demand.

Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest nation, could use an economic miracle. The country's gross domestic product shrank 5% last year and contracted another 3.6% in the first three months of this year. Manufacturing has languished, and unemployment has climbed.

To help pull Bulgaria out of its worst recession since the collapse of communism here 20 years ago, the government is looking to promote tourism. Touting the relics is part of that plan. Mr. Djankov, the finance minister, says he wants to double government spending on the development of religious tourism so "we can make this history profitable."

Religious pilgrimages are big business globally, according to the World Tourism Organization, which estimates that up to 330 million faithful visit the world's key religious sites every year. Lourdes, the French town where worshippers believe the Virgin Mary appeared in 1858, draws about 5 million visitors annually.

The bones, though, make Bulgaria a member of a not-so-exclusive club of nations that say they are home to pieces of John the Baptist, who was beheaded on the orders of King Herod. Ancient tradition has held that his severed head was entombed in Herod's Jerusalem palace.

Over time, body parts believed to be St. John's have spread across Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. A church in Calcutta, India, claims to house part of a saintly hand.

The cathedral in Aachen, Germany, says it has the cloth used to wrap St. John's head after his decapitation. The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, former seat of the Ottoman emperors, also claims to hold parts of one of St. John's arms and his head.

The presence of the relics of St. John hasn't translated into a tourist bonanza in any of these other resting places. Still, authorities in Bulgaria remain optimistic.

Orthodox Christians hold John the Baptist, who according to some accounts baptized Jesus, in especially high esteem. Services every Tuesday are dedicated to his memory in Orthodox churches.

There are some encouraging signs. Milenna Dimitrova, who has been selling fresh berries, figs and jams for 20 years from a stall here, says business has been so brisk that she doesn't have time to go to church. "The season was awful before—this is clearly a gift from God," she says.

Still, the hotel business in Sozopol continues to languish. Stanimir Stoyanov, a veteran hotelier who now runs the Hotel Duma, says occupancy is down by about a third since last year. "The government are telling us the town will become the next Jerusalem," he says. "We just hope that they're right."

Write to Joe Parkinson at joe.parkinson@dowjones.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Appeal to King Abdullah to Protect Flow of Information

August 17, 2010


His Majesty King Abdullah II
King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
C/o Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
3504 International Drive, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008


Via facsimile: 1-202-966-3110


Your Majesty,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about a provisional law on cyber crimes that was approved by the cabinet of ministers on August 3. We believe that the law contains several repressive aspects that can be used to harass online media. The law, if you endorse it through a royal decree, would undermine Jordan's image as a free and open society.

While the provisional 2010 Information Systems Cyber Crimes Law addresses important issues of electronic crimes like hacking or illegally obtaining information for financial transactions, it also includes a number of broadly written provisions that could hinder online expression and restrict the ability of journalists to report the news.

In all, the law provides authorities with sweeping powers to restrict the flow of information and limit public debate. Article 8 penalizes "sending or posting data or information via the Internet or any information system that involves defamation or contempt or slander," without defining what constitutes those crimes. Article 12 penalizes obtaining "data or information not available to the public, concerning national security or foreign relations of the kingdom, public safety or the national economy" from a website without a permit. Article 13 allows for law enforcement officers to search the offices of websites and access their computers without prior approval from public prosecutors.

We fail to see the urgency with which this law is being enacted. According to Article 94 of Jordan's constitution, the government has the right to issue provisional laws on urgent matters in the absence of a parliament. Since the Jordanian parliament was dissolved in 2009 following widespread criticism of ineffectiveness and corruption, the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for November.

National Internet and human rights groups have expressed their concern already. A consortium of electronic websites organized a conference in Amman on August 10 and issued a statement calling the law "a major blow to new media," expressing hope that "the Jordanian government will reverse its political decision and take the initiative to withdraw the law." On Wednesday, the state-funded National Centre for Human Rights urged the government to amend the law, saying it violates press freedom, yet news reports said that government pressure caused the center to voice its support the very next day. The Jordan Professional Associations Complex said in a statement that the government "has once again violated the constitution by issuing more temporary laws that are not of an urgent nature, as stipulated in Article 94a of the Jordanian constitution." According to the association, the government is now about to endorse its 25th temporary law in less than a year since it was formed.

Additionally, we ask that you lift a ban imposed earlier this month on public-sector workers from accessing 48 local news websites at work. Information Minister, Marwan Juma, told the BBC that the step would "improve services" by saving time and money. We are disturbed that the ban mainly targets local news agencies.

The government's decision to ban news sites and the approval of the cyber crime law comes at a crucial time - as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in November and citizens rely on local agencies for news. Now, more than ever, is a time to allow free and open access to journalism both in print and online. We ask that you not sign the 2010 Information Systems Cyber Crimes Law and allow full access to all news sites.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

For more information:

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001, USA
info (@) cpj.org
Phone: +1 212 465 1004
Fax: +1 212 465 9568
http://www.cpj.org/

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Obama's Stunning Decline

Nile Gardiner gives 10 reasons why President Obama has failed America. Here is what he writes:

There are an array of reasons behind the stunning decline and political fall of President Obama, chief among them fears over the current state of the US economy, with widespread concern over high levels of unemployment, the unstable housing market, and above all the towering budget deficit. Americans are increasingly rejecting President Obama’s big government solutions to America’s economic woes, which many fear will lead to the United States sharing the same fate as Greece.

Growing disillusionment with the Obama administration’s handling of the economy as well as health care and immigration has gone hand in hand with mounting unhappiness with the President’s aloof and imperial style of leadership, and a growing perception that he is out of touch with ordinary Americans, especially at a time of significant economic pain. Barack Obama’s striking absence of natural leadership ability (and blatant lack of experience) has played a big part in undermining his credibility with the US public, with his lacklustre handling of the Gulf oil spill coming under particularly intense fire.

On the national security and foreign policy front, President Obama has not fared any better. His leadership on the war in Afghanistan has been confused and at times lacking in conviction, and seemingly dictated by domestic political priorities rather than military and strategic goals. His overall foreign policy has been an appalling mess, with his flawed strategy of engagement of hostile regimes spectacularly backfiring. And as for the War on Terror, his administration has not even acknowledged it is fighting one.

Can it get any worse for President Obama? Undoubtedly yes. (Read it all here.)

The reason that caught my attention the most was number 10: Obama doesn’t believe in American greatness. Gardiner explains:

Barack Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, and has made apologising for his country into an art form. In a speech to the United Nations last September he stated that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.” It is difficult to see how a US president who holds these views and does not even accept America’s greatness in history can actually lead the world’s only superpower with force and conviction.

There is a distinctly Titanic-like feel to the Obama presidency and it’s not hard to see why. The most left-wing president in modern American history has tried to force a highly interventionist, government-driven agenda that runs counter to the principles of free enterprise, individual freedom, and limited government that have made the United States the greatest power in the world, and the freest nation on earth.

This, combined with weak leadership both at home and abroad against the backdrop of tremendous economic uncertainty in an increasingly dangerous world, has contributed to a spectacular political collapse for a president once thought to be invincible. America at its core remains a deeply conservative nation, which cherishes its traditions and founding principles. President Obama is increasingly out of step with the American people, by advancing policies that undermine the United States as a global power, while undercutting America’s deep-seated love for freedom.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Church at Center of Ground Zero Controversy

Rebuild the church....First!

Nine years after 911, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero remains to be rebuilt. Brother, can you spare a little fast-tracking?


So, New York big-shots can fast track a Muslim mosque near the site of the attacks on New York and the destruction of the WTC and the little Greek Orthodox church that was crushed when the South Tower fell but in all this time they can’t seem to find the wherewithal to allow this little house of worship that served not only the Greek community but welcomed anyone who felt the need to find a little peace and solitude amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

More about the delays and red tape plague the rebuilding of St. Nicholas.

From Church’s Troubles Typify Ground Zero Delays:

The story of the tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and its efforts to rebuild after the collapse of the World Trade Center is one of well-intentioned promises that led to endless negotiations, design disputes, delays and mounting costs.

In addition, Charles V. Bagli, the reporter on the NY Times story above, points out: “The church has for several years wanted to build the new St. Nicholas a block northeast of its original home on Cedar Street. But doing so would require trading land with the Port Authority, and an agreement has proven elusive.”

Disgusting.

From here.

Speaking to Fox News former New York Gov. George Pataki, said, "I don't understand it," Pataki said. "Why the Port Authority now has so far put roadblocks in the way of its reconstruction is beyond me. It's not the right thing to do."

Read more here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jordan Aid to Stricken Pakistan

AMMAN, Aug 15: A Jordanian plane carrying 3.5 tons of food and medical supplies left for Pakistan on Sunday to help aid millions of people hit by devastating floods, an official said.

“The plane also carries a 25-member medical team, including nine doctors, as well as 21,000 typhoid and cholera vaccines,” Brigadier Mohammad Mheisen of Jordan’s Royal Medical Services told the state-run Petra news agency.

Prince Rashed bin Hassan, King Abdullah II’s cousin and president of the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation’s board of trustees, said the kingdom would send more aid to Pakistan during Ramazan, according to Petra.

The United Nations has appealed for $460 million to deal with the immediate aftermath of the floods, estimating that over 14 million have been affected and that 1,600 have died.

Waters are still high and the United Nations has said that at least 36,000 people were reportedly suffering from acute diarrhoea.—AFP

New Treatments for Alzheimers Coming?

From BioEdge, this encouraging report:

A spinal fluid tap may be 100% accurate in predicting whether a patient will develop Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in Archives of Neurology.

According to the New York Times, until now the presence of the disease could only be confirmed after an autopsy, although it begins ten or more years before symptoms appear. But a simple spinal tap could predict whether someone has the progressive and incurable brain disease and identify them as potential subjects for research into cures. "This is what everyone is looking for, the bull's-eye of perfect predictive accuracy," said Dr Steven DeKosky, dean of the University of Virginia medical school.

The news was widely reported in the media and shot to the top of the most-read articles in the Times. The conumdrums of a screening test for Alzheimer's were clear to everyone. Would healthy people want to know that they have a disease for which there is no cure? How would they react?

For researchers, the benefits are obvious. It would be far more efficient to test potential treatments on people in the initial stage of the disease. In an accompanying editorial, two experts declared that spinal taps may become a routine "screening test to identify clinically healthy individuals at risk". This would be helpful in developing "early application of treatments to delay onset of symptoms or slow progression of cognitive impairments".

Bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, of the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out in The New Republic that the existence of an accurate and relatively simple test creates many policy problems. As many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's. How will that affect their health insurance? How will it affect families? Will it lead to suicide or will it encourage people to put their affairs in order? ~New York Times, Aug 9

UNESCO Bioethics Chair Installed

The official installation of UNESCO's first francophone Africa chair of bioethics took place at the University of Bouaké in the Côte d'Ivoire capital of Abidjan. For English-speaking African countries, the bioethics chair is based at Egerton University in Kenya.

Fraternité Matin of Abidjan said the chair, aimed at promoting studies on humankind, would be "based on the triad of research, degree-level education and popularisation, and develop and disseminate scientific production and the ethical guidelines promoted by Unesco".

The general aim of the chair, according to Unesco, is to take up the ethical challenges of the millennium and, specifically, to:

* Adapt expertise and behaviour to new ethical demands raised by technological and scientific development and the growing assertion of human rights.

* Develop and promote skills in etchical and bioethical matters to guarantee the quality of public debate on conteporary ethical problems.

* Formalise scientific exchanges between experts (teachers and researchers) of West Africa and those from the North and South specialised in ethics and bioethics.

* Promote in Africa the principles and standards of bioethics.

* Spread information about Unesco's declarations concerning bioethics.

At the ceremony in July the university's president Lazare Poamé, a chief proponent of studies in bioethics in the mid-1990s, described the installation as "one of the greatest intellectual events in the history of this university". ~ University World News, Aug 8

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Virtue May Now Trump Vice.

"'Up until now, probably the evidence might lean towards the 'sin' category doing a bit better, but I'm not sure going forward that would still be the case,' says Ron Robins, a former investment analyst and founder of the 'Investing for the Soul' website." -- quoted in the Wall Street Journal, 11August 2010.

Another Attack on Human Uniqueness

MercatorNet lists the new anti- speciesism as the world most dangerous idea.  I agree.  It is the latest in attacks on the binary distinctions that order the created world. Speaking about the binary distinctions draws fire. Suggesting that they are important invites ridicule. Yet, this is how the ancient Afro-Asiatics made sense of their world and their thinking informs us today through the Bible, Law and Ethics.

Here is the MercatorNet posting:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. ~ Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

One day, we may remember 1948 as the peak of mankind’s respect for one another. Sixty years later, ivory tower snobs, animal rights activists, abortion and euthanasia proponents are increasingly attacking the foundation for freedom and justice declared in the UDHR, the special value of each and every human being, also known as human dignity.

A few years ago, a New York Times reporter celebrated the extension of human rights to nonhuman animals, after the environmental committee of the Spanish Parliament voted to grant great apes the right to life and freedom. In an odd but recurrent pattern of increasing animal rights at the expense of human dignity, the reporter exclaimed that we were kidding ourselves with our belief in unalienable “human” (his quote) rights.

Animal right activists often exhibit a stunning insensitivity to human tragedy. Animal liberation is routinely compared to slavery or the women’s rights even though no one would suggest a radical difference between blacks and whites or men and women. Over the last few years, the increasingly shrill People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have compared the victims of the Holocaust to animals kept in warehouses or killed. Whatever sympathy Holocaust on a Plate ad may bring for chickens, can such campaigns do anything but trivialized human suffering?

Such rhetoric may be mere attention-grabbing, hyperbole. However, the race card and Nazi bogeyman also reflect a popular rational basis for animal rights articulated by Princeton University bioethics professor, Peter Singer. Singer argues in Animal Liberation (1973), the Magna Carta of four-legged freedom, that the belief in the inherent dignity of human beings is speciesism and no more rational than racism. Of course the implication is that since racism is evil then the belief in human dignity is also evil.

Singer is not alone in the halls of our academies. Earlier this year, London School of Economics sociology professor Alasdair Cochrane published a paper contending that the concept of human dignity should be removed from bioethics. Cochrane at least avoids dragging in the KKK but attacks the claim that only and all humans have inherent moral worth as “unhelpful and arbitrary.”

If human dignity is only a crazy, cruel fiction, what happens when we dump the myth?

First, the most vulnerable human beings, the very young and the very sick increasingly may be left outside the umbrella of the human community. In Practical Ethics Singer argues that infants are no more self-aware than snails or dogs. Therefore, killing a preborn child or a week old infant is not murder, nor anymore immoral than squashing a slug.

The inversion of ethical sensibilities doesn’t stop with issues of life as ethicist look to animals as our new moral guides.

Repulsed by cannibalism? Grow-up. A New York Times writer declares that we are in a “community of equals” with apes and female chimpanzees who are known to eat their rivals’ babies.

How about cuddling with animals? Singer argues that we are all animals and sex with animals cannot be an offense to our dignity as a human being.

In the end, if with lose our connection to the high ideas expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our moral universe would be turned upside down. Both man and animal will suffer. Can human beings be human without dignity?

Theron Bowers MD is a Texas psychiatrist.