Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt Closes Al-Jezeera Bureaus

(Commitee to Protect Journalists/IFEX) - New York, January 30, 2011 - Nilesat, the satellite transmission company owned by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union and other government agencies, has stopped transmitting the signal of Al-Jazeera's primary channel, the station and others reported today. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the actions of Egyptian authorities to disrupt media coverage by Al-Jazeera and calls on them to reverse the decision immediately.

Shortly before 11 a.m., Al-Jazeera announced on the air that Anas al-Fiqi, information minister in the cabinet that was dismissed on Friday, had ordered the offices of all Al-Jazeera bureaus in Egypt shut down and the accreditation of all network journalists revoked. The official Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported that the order was to take effect on Sunday, and transmissions originating from Egypt ceased within an hour of the announcement. The discharged information minister ordered "the relevant government agencies to take the immediate legal measures necessary to revoke the licenses for live satellite transmission equipment (S.N.G.) and fiber optic cables or any other means of communication provided to Al-Jazeera," MENA reported.

"The shutting down of Al-Jazeera is a brazen violation of the fundamental right of Egyptians to receive information as their country is in turmoil," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "The international community should prevail upon President Mubarak to lift this censorship immediately."

Today is the sixth day of massive street demonstrations in which citizens had been demanding political, social, and economic reforms, though demonstrators are now calling for the complete removal of Mubarak's three-decade-long regime. On Thursday, authorities suspended Internet and mobile phone service, according to news reports and mobile operators, in an effort to disrupt communications between protesters as well as transmission of news. On Saturday, mobile phone services were restored to a large degree, according to local journalists and press freedom advocates who spoke to CPJ.

Internet connectivity, a vital resource for local journalists and those reporting from Egypt to the rest of the world, continues to be almost non-existent in Egypt, with more than 90 percent of connections to the wider Internet shut down. CPJ research indicates that this is a deliberate, coordinated result of Egyptian government orders to local Internet service providers. CPJ urges the government to rescind any such directives and order the restoration of Egypt's connections with the outside world.

Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera English continued to report today on Egypt from other locations. CPJ research shows that viewers outside Egypt can now view the network's Arabic channel only on the Hotbird satellite or other satellites not controlled by Egyptian authorities. But at least two individuals in Egypt who spoke to the channel's anchor on air reported that they could not view the channel even on non-state satellites, an indication that authorities may be jamming those transmissions. As of 1 p.m. local time, Al-Jazeera English's broadcast remained on Nilesat. Al-Jazeera Mubasher, the network's live news channel, which had been transmitting live footage from Egypt's streets, was taken off Nilesat on Thursday.

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/

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egyptian Protestors' Anti-America Rhetoric

Anti-Mubarak means anti-USA and anti-Israel.  The Islamic Brotherhood wants blood.

Here is the chilling CNN interview.

David Katos' Murder

David Kato
It was reported here that David Kato was murdered by a mob, but that appears to be false.  He was beaten to death by a man who lived with him.

Gavin Drake wonders... "about the sanity of some of my colleagues in the media. At a press conference in Dublin this afternoon, held at the end of the 18th Anglican Primates Meeting, RTE’s Religious and Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little asked the Archbishop of Canterbury about the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato

[...] The Archbishop had earlier said that the Primates had spent very little time at their meeting talking about matters of sexuality. They did issue a statement about the death of David Kato in which they said: “no one should have to live in fear because of the bigotry of others”; and they reiterated statements from the Primates Meeting in 2005, the Windsor Report and the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The Primates statement follows the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments earlier this week.

David Kato was amongst a number of people identified as gay in a Ugandan newspaper under the headline “hang them”; but the police say his murder – he was beaten to death – was not linked to the newspaper campaign.

Ugandan Police say the main suspect in the killing is a man who lived with David Kato and who is now on the run.

To blame an Archbishop for the death of a somebody because they boycotted a meeting over genuine theological differences is to engage in exactly the type of demonisation the journalist was seeking to criticise.

The Church is often accused of focusing on sex and sexuality; but this week the Primates got together and addressed a number of subjects – sexuality not one of them – and yet the media reports focus again on sex. Just who is it obsessed with sex? The Church or the media?

Read all of it here.

Woman Hanged in Iran

TEHRAN, Jan 29: Iran on Saturday hanged an Iranian-Dutch woman for drug smuggling after initially arresting her for anti-government protests, the Tehran prosecutor`s office said.

Zahra Bahrami`s execution takes the total number of people hanged in Iran so far this year to 66, according to a tally based on media reports.

The Netherlands summoned Iran`s ambassador in the wake of the hanging, the Dutch foreign ministry said.

“A drug trafficker named Zahra Bahrami, daughter of Ali, was hanged early on Saturday morning after she was convicted of selling and possessing drugs,” the prosecutor`s office said.

Bahrami, a 46-year-old Iranian-born naturalised Dutch citizen, was reportedly arrested in December 2009 after joining a protest against the government while visiting relatives in the Islamic republic.The prosecutor`s office confirmed on Saturday that she had been arrested for “security crimes”. But elaborating on the drug smuggling charge, the office said Bahrami had used her Dutch connections to smuggle narcotics into Iran.

“The convict, a member of an international drug gang, smuggled cocaine to Iran using her Dutch connections and had twice shipped and distributed cocaine inside the country,” it said.

During a search of her house, authorities found 450 grams of cocaine and 420 grams of opium, the prosecutor`s office said, adding that investigations revealed she had sold 150 grams of cocaine in Iran.

“The revolutionary court sentenced her to death for possessing 450 grams of cocaine and participating in the selling of 150 grams of cocaine,” it said.

The Netherlands had been seeking details about Bahrami`s case and had accused the Iranian authorities of refusing the Dutch embassy access to the prisoner because they did not recognise her dual nationality.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bengt van Loosdrecht said in The Hague that the ministry had not yet received confirmation of the execution. “The minister has summoned Iran`s ambassador in order to elucidate this piece of information,” he said.

On January 5, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal expressed “extreme concern” about Bahrami, and said that he had “asked the Iranian authorities to provide immediate clarification” about her case. “We insist on information, the possibility to provide her with consular assistance, and a fair course of justice,” Rosenthal said in a statement at the time.

Dutch broadcaster Radio Netherlands Worldwide, quoting Bahrami`s daughter Banafsheh Najebpour, had reported earlier this month that Bahrami was awaiting trial in a second capital case in which she was accused of being in an armed opposition group.—AFP

Suicide Not a "Right" Even in Switzerland

There is no human right to assisted suicide, the European Court of Human Rights has declared, in a unanimous verdict.

The background to this important judgement is in Switzerland. A 57-year-old Swiss national, Ernst G. Haas, felt that he could no longer live a dignified life after battling a serious bipolar affective disorder for 20 years. He twice attempted suicide, but then hit upon the idea of using sodium pentobarbital, a prescription-only drug. But no psychiatrist would prescribe it for him. He then asked the Swiss government for permission to obtain sodium pentobarbital without a prescription. He argued that Article 8 imposed on the State a "positive obligation" to create the conditions for suicide to be committed without the risk of failure and without pain.

Various Swiss courts refused. Mr Haas then asked 170 different psychiatrists whether they could examine him with a view to getting his hands on some sodium pentobarbital. They all refused.

As a result, Mr Haas invoked Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a right to privacy, and sued the Swiss government in the European Court of Human Rights.

On January 20, the Court handed down its decision. It acknowledged that there does appear to be a right to suicide implied in Article 8. This has been strengthened by the 2002 Pretty case, in which the Court approved the right of a British woman to kill herself if she found life undignified and distressing.

However, Article 2 of the Convention also guarantees the right to life. Most member states give the right to life more weight than the right to suicide.

The Court pointed out that a prescription system is supposed to protect vulnerable people from making hasty decisions and to prevent abuse. That was all the more true in a country such as Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.
 
The Court considered that the risk of abuse inherent in a system which facilitated assisted suicide could not be underestimated. The Court agreed with the Swiss Government’s argument that the restriction on access to sodium pentobarbital was intended to protect health and public safety and to prevent crime. It also shared the view of the Federal Court that the right to life obliged States to put in place a procedure apt to ensure that a decision to end one’s life did in fact reflect the free will of the party concerned. The Court considered that the need for a prescription, issued on the basis of a full psychiatric report, constituted a means of fulfilling that requirement.
 
It also declared that the risk of abuse inherent in a system which facilitated assisted suicide can not be underestimated. That is why a prescription from a doctor and a psychiatric examination to ensure free will are proper safeguards. ~ Human Rights Europe, Jan 20

Saturday, January 29, 2011

France: No Gay Marriage

Paris - France's law prohibiting gay marriage does not violate the constitution, the country's top constitutional watchdog ruled on Friday, all but challenging parliament to debate overturning the ban.

The decision by the Constitutional Council puts the politically sensitive issue at the doorstep of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives, ratcheting up the pressure as they face presidential and legislative elections next year.

Gay rights activists quickly condemned the ruling.

The issue has bared a contradiction about France: The country retains a conservative strain on family values, but its image is often linked to love and romance - and polls suggest openness to gay marriage is growing.

Corinne Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, who have lived together for 15 years, have four kids and seek the right to wed, challenged the constitutionality of the French civil code's stipulation that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

From here.

Cairo: Israel Vacates Embassy

January - President Hosni Mubarak knows that only a popular fear for chaos and looting now can save him. Not surprisingly, protesters catching looters have established they are indeed police officers.

There is a certain fear spreading among Egyptians not marching in the streets - a fear that the lawless conditions may victimise them. Reports of looting and violence are dominating on state broadcasters, fuelling the fear.

President Mubarak in his speech yesterday evening warned against the chaos too much freedom would cause and staged himself as the only person able to protect the population. The warning has had some effect as several Cairo neighbourhoods now are organising vigilance groups to protect their property.

Reports of looting, which were very scarce yesterday, are indeed growing in number. Also international broadcasters have been able to document looting in central Cairo and other cities. Even the world-famous Egyptian Museum - until now well protected by protesters and army alike - has fallen prey.

But a closer look behind these reports reveals that much of this looting activity is well organised and not spontaneous. At the Egyptian Museum - which indeed has been protected - reports indicate that artefacts are not missing, but that rather a big mess has been created. And everybody in central Cairo is asking how any group of looters could have entered the museum without being noticed.

More and more reports are ticking in from all over Egypt, indicating that the mobs spreading fear indeed are on the government pay-roll. In Alexandria, the protesters themselves attacked a looting group, catching several of them bore police ID cards.

Also in Cairo, demonstrators and the army have been able to catch some of the looters. Also here, police and secret police ID cards were found, according to the protesters.

President Mubarak, while having some success with the create-fear-though-looting strategy, however no longer seems to be sure he can remain in power. Several sources confirmed that both his son Gamal - believed to be next to take over power in Egypt - and his wife have already left the country in private jets.

Also several allies of President Mubarak are reported to either seek distance from him or leave the country. The Israeli Embassy has already be vacated and Israelis have left the country - despite the large confidence exposed in Jerusalem yesterday that Mr Mubarak will be able stay in power. Israel is known to have good intelligence services and analysts.


From here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mubarak's Call for Dialogue Too Late?


28 January 2011- Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak finally appeared on national tv, saying he understood the "suffering of the people" and promising dialogue with an aim of democratising Egypt and fight poverty.

The 83-year-old, looking self-confident during his long-awaited public appearance, apologised for the use of force during the massive protests all over Egypt today. But he also warned against "chaos, destruction and looting" in the wake of the protests.

Mr Mubarak urged for a national dialogue to mend the conflict during the protests. He admitted problems regarding lack of freedoms, corruption and widespread poverty, calling for a dialogue to address these problems.

While President Mubarak made it clear he would stay in power and "assure the security of Egyptians," he also announced the resignation of his entire government. Making the current cabinet mostly responsible of the "sufferings" in Egypt, he promised to announce a new government, "fresh hands", tomorrow.

But he also indicated that it was exactly the "freedoms" he had admitted Egyptians over the last years were responsible for the "chaos" now unfolding. The line between freedom and chaos was fine, he pointed out.

The speech, expected five hours earlier, came as rumours were spreading the President already had left the country. Reports from the Cairo airport recently had confirmed that three private jets were leaving the otherwise closed facilities under great security efforts.

The many protesters still controlling the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities were immediately made aware of President Mubarak appearing on all Egyptian broadcasters. For a moment, the streets of Cairo became quieter.

But as the speech went on, the masses again started chanting against the President. "Down, down with Mubarak," the chants went, stronger and stronger. The presidential message seemingly made little impression, rather than ruining the illusion of Mr Mubarak already having left the country.

His promise to dismiss the government also made little impression on the crowds as President Mubarak himself is known to hold all powers in the country. There are therefore no signs that the appearance of Mr Mubarak would ease the pressure against him.

From here.

Rabbis Go After Glen Beck with Soros' Money

[The] rabbis have called on Fox News's owner, Rupert Murdoch, to sanction his two famous employees via a full-page ad in Thursday's editions of the Wall Street Journal - one of many other media properties controlled by Murdoch's News Corp.

The ad is signed by the heads of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements as well as Orthodox rabbis.

"We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media. But that is not what we have seen at Fox News," says the ad, signed by hundreds of rabbis and placed by the Jewish Funds for Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group. Earlier this month, the group organized a letter-writing campaign asking Murdoch to remove Beck from the air.

The rabbis were prompted by Beck's three-part program in November about liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom Beck described as a "Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps" during World War II.

Soros was a young teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the war and hid with a Christian family to escape the Holocaust. He once described accompanying his surrogate father while he confiscated property from Jews deported by the Nazis.

The Jewish Funds group has received financial support from Soros's Open Society Foundations.


Read it all here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Evangelicals Want in a President

“Evangelicals want someone with: Sarah Palin’s looks and courage, Tim Pawlenty’s Midwest sensibilities, Mike Huckabee’s heart, Chris Christie’s boldness, Rick Santorum’s moral compass, Mitt Romney’s business experience, Newt Gingrich’s brains, Bobby Jindal’s common sense, and Mike Pence’s record. What’s not acceptable is four more years of someone who is economically and socially driving the nation off the cliff.”– Penny Young-Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America


This is what they don't want.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Organ Harvesting in Belgium

A group of Belgian doctors are harvesting “high quality” organs from patients who have been euthanased. This is not a secret project, but one which they described openly at a conference organised by the Belgian Royal Medical Academy in December.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Dirk Ysebaert, Dirk Van Raemdonck, Michel Meurisse, of the University Hospitals Of Antwerp, Leuven And Liège, showed that about 20% of the 705 people who died through euthanasia (officially) in 2008 were suffering from neuromuscular disorders whose organs are relatively high quality for transplanting to other patients. This represents a useful pool of organs which could help to remedy a shortage of organs in Belgium (as everywhere else).

It is not clear from the presentation how many patients participated in their scheme. However, in a 2008 report, Belgian doctors explained that three patients had been euthanased between 2005 and 2007 and had agreed to donate their organs.

Euthanasia for organ transplant is a bit different from normal euthanasia, the doctors say, because they prefer that patients die in hospital rather than at home.

They have developed a protocol for the procedure. There has to be a strict separation between the euthanasia request, the euthanasia procedure, and the organ procurement. The donor and his (or her) relatives have to consent. The euthanasia is performed by a neurologist or psychiatrist and two house physicians. Organ retrieval begins after clinical diagnosis of death by the three physicians. And, of course, staff participation is voluntary.

This seems like the ultimate in utilitarian compassion: make paralysed people feel useful by killing them for their organs. It’s something to look forward to if euthanasia ever get legalised. ~ thanks to Carinne Brochier, of l'Institut Européen de Bioéthique, in Brussels.

From here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Drowned Toddler a Case of Euthanasia?

Is the tragic drowning of a disabled toddler in Sydney an indirect consequence of publicity given to the merits of legalised euthanasia?

Three years ago, two-year-old Maia Comas drowned in an inflatable pool. Despite a lengthy investigation which ended this week, a coroner was still unable to decide whether her death in the beachside suburb of Curl Curl had been an accident. But he did say that the circumstances suggested "great irresponsibility" on the part of her parents.

Two months before her death, Maia was diagnosed with Rett syndrome, a disorder that often leaves sufferers with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. Her parents, 36-year-old Pablo Comas and 31-year-old Samantha Razniak were shaken by the news.

Their ramshackle home was in the beachside suburb of Curl Curl -- "two hippies living in a house playing guitar," in Mr Comas's words. They felt utterly unprepared for the burden of caring for their daughter.

After the tentative diagnosis, they probed Maia's pediatrician about the legal and medical position of euthanasia for children with incurable but non-terminal conditions. The doctor - who had never heard such a request -- responded "this is not an option under Australian Law and any action causing harm in any way is a criminal act. Any action causing death actively or passively would be considered murder."

But Ms Razniak was at her wits' end. She rattled government social workers by telling them: "Do you understand that she will grow into a young woman and have the mind of a 2 to 10 year old. The head, hands and feet all stop growing. I don't want to see my daughter become a monster, to become ugly... I'd rather her die now than die slowly."

When she was reassured by social workers that she could get government support, she responded, that the only support she was interested in was euthanasia. "I want to get on with my life and not see all this ugliness - clinics, home disabled people, doctors."

Mr Comas felt much the same. He once asked a social worker: "Why do they keep children with these disabilities alive? It doesn't seem fair on the children."

The social workers were alarmed by the parents' attitude, but the case seems to have fallen between the cracks. On December 3, 2007, Maia's visiting grandmother discovered her floating in a unfenced wading pool. Her mother, who was a trained swimming instructor who was working at a childcare centre, was too "freaked out" to revive her. Maia was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.~ The Australian, Jan 15

Quote of the Week - G.K. Chesterton

“Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.” --G. K. Chesterton

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Those Vatican Conspirators!

A programme about clerical sexual abuse aired January 17 by Irish broadcaster RTE attempted to prove that the Vatican had a worldwide policy encouraging bishops to conceal sexual abuse by priests. Reliable reporters say that the programme, aired just ahead of a Vatican-sponsored Apostolic Visitation of the Irish church, failed to make its claim stick.

The doco, “Unspeakable Crimes”, was based on a January 1997 letter from the papal ambassador to Ireland, communicating the opinion of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy about a set of proposed Irish policies on priestly sexual abuse. It confirms, says John Allen of National Catholic Reporter, “that in the late 1990s the Vatican was ambivalent about requirements that bishops be required to report abuse to police and civil prosecutors.”

In it, Storero, who died in 2000, writes that the Congregation for the Clergy had concluded that a “mandatory reporting” policy, proposed by a draft 1996 set of policies considered by the Irish bishops, “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.”

That line has fueled charges that the Vatican effectively tied the hands of bishops, preventing them from turning over abuse cases to civil authorities.

American attorney, Jeffrey Anderson (who, having run out of US clients for his lucrative line of suing the Catholic Church, has recently set up shop in Britain) claimed the letter was yet another “smoking gun” indicating a conspiracy to suppress evidence of sexual assaults by Catholic priests. But Allen, who prides himself on his objective view of the Church, says there are three reasons that claim won’t stick.

As usual, there is some background to understand, but in brief:

* The “main concern of the letter is to ensure that when a bishop takes action against an abuser, his edict should stick – suggesting a fairly tough line on abuse, rather than a drive to cover it up.”

* “Second, the letter does not directly forbid bishops from reporting abusers to police and prosecutors. Instead, it communicates the judgment of one Vatican office that mandatory reporting policies raise concerns. It’s not a policy directive, in other words, but an expression of opinion.”

* “Third, the Congregation for the Clergy at the time was under the direction of Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, whose reservations about bishops reporting their priests to civil authorities have been already well documented.” Some other Vatican officials at the time, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, disagreed with Castrillon Hoyos’ approach. Pope John Paul II put Cardinal Ratzinger in charge of the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse crisis in 2001.

Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, said the letter “correctly insists on the importance that canonical legislation be respected, precisely so that guilty parties not have a basis to appeal.” The “moral and canonical concerns” mentioned in the letter, Lombardi said, concern the sacrament of confession.


From here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gays Bashing Elderly Christians

By Helen Weathers, Mailonline


[...] The Bulls argued that, as devout Christians, they let their double rooms only to heterosexual married couples and that their beliefs prevented them from allowing same-sex couples to share a double bed – although gay couples could stay in single or twin rooms.

This week, however, the judge ruled that the Bulls’ actions amounted to direct discrimination, on the grounds of sexual orientation, as there was ‘no material difference between marriage and civil partnership’.

Their lives are now in turmoil. Hazelmary is adamant that she and Peter will not compromise their religious beliefs, despite the court ruling. As a result, they have two options – face prosecution again by refusing to book double rooms to gay civil partners, or close the business.

And if they close the business, which is already in debt, then they can’t afford to stay in their home.

‘I don’t want to tell Peter. I want to hold back for a little while, because he’s so ill,’ says Hazelmary, whose husband suffered complications after surgery. ‘He doesn’t know because the hospital has kept him sedated for two days.

‘The uncertainty of the future would take Peter down. He doesn’t cope well with stress.

‘I feel so upset. I don’t want us to leave Chymorvah like this. It feels like we are being driven out.

‘We have put everything into it and if we lose it we’ll be left with nothing. We’ll have no money to buy a new home and who will give us a mortgage at our age?’
Read it all here.

Comment from Amanda Platell: Where's the justice?

Civil partners Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall won their lengthy court battle for compensation from two Christian hotel owners who refused a double bed to the gay couple.

As they reveal in an interview in the Mail today, Peter and Hazelmary Bull are now the target of vile abuse, have been inundated with aggressive demands for rooms from gay couples, and unless their appeal against the judgment is successful, may have to close their business — and thus lose their home — rather than compromise their faith.

Peter is now in hospital recovering from a heart operation. Meanwhile, Mr Preddy and Mr Hall were each awarded £1,800 for the ‘hurt and embarrassment they suffered’.

I know who I consider to be the real victims in this sorry farce.

H/T: Anglican Mainstream

Related Reading:  Judge Rules Against Bulls

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ethical Investing and Good Returns

By Ron Robins, Founder & Analyst - Investing for the Soul
Reprinted from alrroya.com


Investors rarely think about how their investments really affect them other than on a financial basis. Though some might incorporate sustainable investing or avoid tobacco stocks etc. for other and/or personal reasons. But looking deeper, investors would realise that all investment actions create numerous effects on the world around us. Just as a pebble thrown into a pond creates ripples throughout the pond, so the accumulation of numerous individual investment actions ultimately affects the lives of many people in both good and bad ways. As in physics: ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’

Similarly, all major religious traditions have sayings that express how all our actions can come back to affect us. Christians believe, ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap.’ The Muslims’ Quran says, ‘whatever affliction may visit you is for what your own hands have earned; and He pardons much,’ and for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains are the ‘laws of karma’ where the individual experiences the results of past actions.

Thus, the investor’s personal or spiritual development, as well as the quality of life for the world as a whole is affected by the investors’ investments. So in a subtle way, investors share in the responsibility for the activities of the companies they invest in, as well as participate in some way in the outcomes of the corporate actions of the companies they invest in.

Those investors who believe themselves ethical and moral individuals—and very few would argue they are not—therefore, have a responsibility, as daunting as it is, to try to place their investment funds into companies and organisations that offer ‘all good’ returns. These are returns that are not only financial in nature, but which also benefit, and not harm, the lives of others and the world around us.

Of course, this is not an easy task! And it sounds absurd to many investors to even attempt to do this. Critics are right to say that even the stocks of Enron and WorldCom, where both companies became bankrupt after evidence of immense fraud, were once considered good ethical investments. But ethical investors who invested in such stocks may argue that it was a lack of full, transparent, and timely disclosure of their corporate affairs that played the major role in deceiving them.

The huge challenge for ethical investors—and all investors—is to obtain up-to-date transparent and honest information concerning any public company’s activities. This is why I am an ardent supporter of financial statements that reflect actual market values versus computer modeled fantasy values that are now used for valuing many assets, and for mandatory corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting for all stock exchange listed companies. (See my June 9 column, A Call for Mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting.)

Personally, until financial statements show real-time market values and high quality CSR reporting becomes the norm globally, I would welcome the creation of a WikiLeaks that focuses on corporate misdemeanours. Such a development might finally spur investors and regulators everywhere to demand full, timely, and transparent disclosure of everything that might affect an investor’s investment decision. Otherwise, it is impossible for investors to assess the profitability and value of any company. I find it stunning the silence of investors on these issues.

Of course what is considered an ethical company by one investor may not be by another. I know some investors who believe defence stocks are also ethical investments, while others would strongly oppose. Some investors invest in precious metals as they hold that the only real money not subject to government or central bank money printing and deceit are gold and silver. So ethical investing does not necessarily mean only investing in a few select industries or companies that are deemed to hold some superior ethical stance.

But the innate desire for high ethics is universal among investors, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain… or atheist! High ethics can be defined as including honesty, transparency and integrity in one’s dealings with others. If enough investors apply their higher ethics to their investments—and so demand from companies and regulators the kind of reporting that high ethical standards require—then it could reverberate in corporate boardrooms around the world. This is not a utopian ideal. In fact, it is already demonstrated.

Studies reveal so-called ‘best-in-class’ companies generally exhibit higher than average ethical standards while usually offering relatively superior stock market returns compared to their competitors. For more on this see my July 19 column, Can Ethical Investing Produce Higher Returns?

One last thought, in light of what I have said: ask yourself who was ultimately responsible for the recent financial meltdown. After all, in developed countries around the world, particularly in the US and Europe, investors—again, most of whom say they are ethical individuals—gave their financial elites the responsibility of their investment dollars, Euros and pounds, and the power to use those funds to their advantage. Ultimately, it was the lack of higher ethics by all concerned that created such a financial and economic disaster. Unless higher ethics are practiced by all market participants another financial catastrophe awaits us.

More investors are beginning to consider the broader ramifications of their investing activities, investing in sustainable investing, avoiding tobacco, and so on. However, were investors to look more deeply into the effects on the world that their investments produce, they would soon realise the necessity for applying higher ethics to their investments. As a consequence, they might also succeed in improving the ethics in the investment world and beyond. And that would help create ‘all good’ returns, financial and otherwise, and improve life for all of us on our fragile spaceship Earth!


Copyright alrroya.com

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jeremy Vine: Christian Living "Socially Unacceptable"

Jeremy Vine, the BBC presenter, has claimed that it is becoming "socially unacceptable" to be a Christian in Britain.The Radio 2 host said that he feels unable to talk about his faith on his show because he fears how people would react.

He argues that society has become increasingly intolerant of the freedom to express religious views.

"You can't express views that were common currency 30 or 40 years ago," he said.

"Arguably, the parameters of what you might call 'right thinking' are probably closing.

"Sadly, along with that has come the fact that it's almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God."

Read it all here.

Catholic vs Christian School, United in Tragedy

This letter appeared in the local paper after a game between arch-rivals Lexington Christian Academy and Lexington Catholic.


Class acts


I volunteer with some older fellows at Lexington Catholic home basketball games. While working a game against Lexington Christian Academy, I was distracted by something different. It was utter silence.

Three days earlier a senior who attended Catholic died unexpectedly. A minute of silence was observed in his memory. This was followed by a prayer for a fallen friend.

The Catholic student section, all clad in black, stood silently with heads bowed. Two lines of LCA players stood reverently, heads bowed.

I noticed the Catholic players were wearing their black jerseys instead of their usual home whites. Their cheerleaders were dressed in black uniforms also. I saw LCA students also in black.

During the game an LCA player was fouled and knocked to the floor. The Catholic player who fouled him walked over, extended a hand and pulled the LCA player to his feet and gave him an affectionate pat on the backside. Way to go, No. 20.

Later, an LCA player charging hard down the floor ran into and flattened Catholic's star, Taylor Martin. The LCA player leaned over and said something to Martin and helped him to his feet. Way to go, No. 14.

At times a tragedy brings out the best in us. This was demonstrated by a bunch of high school students on this night.

To those parents who spend a lot to assure their kids a Christian education, it's worth it.

Gene Caudill
Lexington

From here.  The sudden death was a suicide.

The People's Revolt in Tunisia

Tunisia's revolt, which was triggered by the martyr Bouazezi's self-immolation and helped overthrow the “former” president, Zein Alabideen Bin Ali, carries many messages and lessons to be read and analyzed. It is an indicator of the direction of the political and humanitarian compass not only in Tunisia and the Arab region, but also across the globe – for what has taken in place in Tunisia is a global event par excellence.

The very first of such messages alludes to the jubilation with which Arab nations have welcomed the news; laymen in the Arab world received the news about Bin Ali’s departure with a note of optimism, believing that the event will spark change in most of the Arab states ruled by totalitarian, corrupt regimes. Although Bin Ali is not the first Arab president to be overthrown in recent times – with Saddam Hussein's overthrow in Iraq perhaps the most notorious – the fact that Bin Ali has been brought down by his own people, without foreign intervention, and that this was a popular revolt rather than military coup, has been greeted with general satisfaction, unlike the controversy of the Iraq invasion.

Many political observers and analysts feel the wave of protest will not be restricted to Tunisia; they refer in this respect to demonstrations in Algeria and Jordan recently – though demonstrations in Jordan have been peaceful and have not called for the overthrow of the regime. Instead, the demand is for improved economic conditions and reform of the government’s criticised economic policy, while re-iterating faith in the monarchy as the defining identity of the state and guarantor of stability.

Tunisia's message will definitely find its way to the mailboxes of Arab rulers. There is a need to launch genuine political, economic and social reform processes more significant than the mere superficialities that the pan-Arab regimes have long practiced by hiding behind a “formal or pseudo-democracy”, and ultra-nationalist or religious ideologies.

Tunisia has also highlighted the double-standards adopted by most democratic states, particularly the Europeans and the United States. Having been involved in occupying Iraq under the pretext that they wanted to help the Iraqi people against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the US and many European nations refrained from advancing democracy and maintained a foggy attitude vis-à-vis what has been taking place in Tunisia. They have failed to justify their support for Bin Ali’s regime – which is but one example that those democratic states are supporting non-democratic regimes in order to preserve their own vested interests.

By contrast, the Tunisian uprising has proved that the people remain the side that has the final say, and that any regime anywhere in the globe is bound to fall as long as it continues to distance itself from its people regardless of the size of support it receives from key powerful countries. History has already proved that powerful allies will not be able to protect such regimes if the people can no longer abjure injustice and oppression.

The third message has to do with Tunisia itself. The Tunisian people who offered the lives and blood of their sons for freedom should not fall into the trap that opportunists and power-addicts are trying to set up for them. The Tunisian people should know that these opportunists who benefited from Ben Ali’s regime will not easily give up their interests and gains. A case in point here is the fact that the Tunisian constitution was overlooked when the prime minister assumed power instead of allowing the house speaker to fill in the gap as per that constitution. The Tunisian people should not be tricked by such a move, for the solution definitely does not lie in the hands of those who helped Bin Ali oppress his people. The solution to the current political crisis can be achieved through the formation of a national salvation government that represents all political factions in Tunisia. The first task such a government should attend to will be to hold legislative and presidential elections as soon as possible, provided that such elections are run by an independent commission under local and international observation.



Mohammed Hussainy is director of the Identity Center in Amman, Jordan and writes for the Arabic language Al Ghad newspaper. This article first appeared on openDemocracy.net and has been republished under a Creative Commons licence. Copyright © Mohammed Hussainy. Published by MercatorNet.com.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Anti-Semitism on the College Campus

On a Monday during Hanukkah, someone took eight Hebrew texts down from the shelves of Indiana University’s Wells Library, put the books in eight different bathrooms, threw them in toilets and urinated on them.

The next day, two rocks were thrown into Jewish buildings on Indiana’s campus.

The same week, a large menorah at the University of Florida was uprooted and vandalized — the night after people heckled the Hillel center, yelling, “Fuck the Jews.”

These events appear be part of a larger trend: The Anti-Defamation League has received reports of at least 260 anti-Semitic incidents on campuses over the past three years.

Kenneth Marcus, former staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that the resurgence in anti-Semitic activity had occurred “more in California than in any other state.”

Marcus attributes the increase in anti-Semitic incidents like these to a number of factors, including the state’s left-leaning tendencies, larger Arab and Muslim population and campuses more tolerant of extremist ideologies.

At Stanford in late 2009, a sukkah — a temporary hut constructed in celebration of the festival of Sukkot — in front of the Hillel building was vandalized with graffiti. Administrators and investigators were never able to ascertain whether the act was simply a random act of vandalism or a purposeful act of hate. Similar incidents have occurred regionally, on campuses such as San Jose State.

Rabbi Mychal Copeland, the Stanford Hillel rabbi, said that whatever the motivation, the event was still damaging.

“Whether or not it’s ever determined, at some level, it doesn’t matter because of [Jews’] history as tiny persecuted people over a long history,” Copeland said.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz, pointed to political tendencies of university faculty members.

“It’s anti-Zionist faculty who use their position as faculty members to promote a political agenda,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “I think that what happens in the classroom influences what happens in the campus square and gives it legitimacy.”

Rossman-Benjamin believes this variety of factors, at times, forms a “perfect storm” that produces an outpouring of anti-Semitism.

One example of this occurred at UC-Irvine in the early 2000s, where Jewish property was defaced with swastikas and Jewish students were physically assaulted.

Susan Tuchman, legal director of the Zionist Organization of America, described how at UC-Irvine “students reported that they’ve been afraid to wear a kippah or Star of David” and how many “students and faculty feared for their physical safety on the campus.”

While Irvine experienced traditional forms of anti-Semitism, experts note the recent rise in campus anti-Semitism has been characterized by a new form of anti-Semitic rhetoric, which blurs the line between anti-Israel political expression and outright anti-Semitism. Kenneth Marcus noted that this type of rhetoric has become increasingly common in the past decade.

“Discourse regarding Israel is used as a cloak for animus toward the Jewish people,” he said. “This has had a significant increase since the start of the Second Intifada a decade ago and the failure of the Oslo Process.”

When asked how to differentiate between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, Marcus pointed to Israeli author Natan Sharanksy’s “3-D Test,” which lays out three forms of rhetoric that are, in his mind, anti-Semitic – namely, demonization, double standards, and delegitimization.

Marcus said that much of the rhetoric surrounding Israel on college campuses today often fails the “3-D Test.” He pointed to the divestment movement (BDS) as one example of the use of double standards.

“[It would] otherwise be inexplicable why they’re focused on Israel, not China, Saudi Arabi, the Sudan, or any of other countless examples,” he said.


University and National Responses

University response to anti-Semitic rhetoric varies—and some argue the response at some schools lacks proper aggression.

At UC-Irvine, the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism concluded that the university administration did not act strongly enough in condemning instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Furthermore, the report criticized prominent national organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel, for failing to hold the “University and its leadership accountable for its failure to support an environment conducive to all students.”

According to Susan Tuchman, such failings are not limited to the Irvine campus.

"You often see college administrators either remain silent in response to anti-Semitism,” Tuchmann said. “Many administrators say that we know that this speech is hateful, hurtful, and offensive, but there’s free speech and therefore we can’t intervene.”

Tuchman described how when her organization, ZOA, filed a civil rights complaint in the case of UC Irvine, the response was unexpected.

“I thought other organizations would publically support what we did. And that was not the response that we got,” she said.

Rossman-Benjamin said national groups like Hillel often have conflicts of interest, which can cause inaction.

“On the one hand, they want to keep the students safe,” she said. “But on the other hand, they want to give two images: one that they’ve got everything under control and two that their university is a really wonderful place with a thriving Jewish life because of Hillel.”

However, Rossman-Benjamin argued that the role of national organizations is advocacy.

“Ultimately, the only people can really take care of this problem is the administration,” she said. “Hillel can bring pressure.”

She said the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the classroom was her real concern.

“If [professors] keep it outside of the classroom, it’s not my issue,” she said. “What really is wrong and corrupts the notion of a university is when that gets brought into the university.”

Alex Katz blogs at Fiat Lux and is the editor-in-chief of the Stanford Review. He is a member of the Student Free Press Association.


From here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Quote of the Week - Pope Gregory

"The teaching of the arrogant has this characteristic: they do not know how to introduce their teaching humbly and they cannot convey correctly to others the things they understand correctly themselves." --Gregory, Bishop of Rome (d. 604 A.D.)  From The Moral Reflections on Job

Congress: Protection for Illegal Pakistanis

WASHINGTON, Jan 16: The Temporary Protection Status Bill for illegal Pakistani immigrants in the United States has been moved in the US Congress.

AL Green, the Democratic Party congressman from Texas, tabled the TPS Bill earlier this week.

The US constitution allows temporary protection status to illegal immigrants from the countries that suffer a natural disaster like floods or an earthquake. Last year, unprecedented floods devastated various parts of Pakistan, leaving over 1,600 people dead and affecting millions.

After the passage of the bill in Congress, illegal Pakistani immigrants would be able to enjoy temporary residence status in the United States, while the bill will also benefit students and those staying in the US on visit visas.

An identical bill was presented before the previous Congress in December by a panel of eight members. But it expired after the mid-term elections brought in a new Congress. Last year, the United States provided temporary protection status to thousands of Haitians living here after an earthquake killed an estimated 250,000 people and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, Pakistanis demonstrated outside the White House and the UN headquarters in New York in favour of the bill. Similar demonstrations were held in Boston and Chicago.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Africans Puzzled by Western Antagonism to Christianity

Africans are no strangers to the world of international pop culture, so they have seen the European and American male rock stars, some with dubious personal lives, performing in regalia that includes large gold crosses. It makes a certain sense. Didn’t Christianity come from Europe? So when they hear that a British Airways employee was suspended from work for wearing a Christian cross around her neck while on duty , they are bewildered. Why would that be an offence? Doesn’t the Christian message encourage moral goodness, which is something to be openly proud of?

As if to prove the point, many African Catholic men wear a rosary around their neck at all times, except when telling their beads. Many car drivers and minibus drivers hang a rosary or set of Muslim prayer-beads from the driver’s mirror as a reminder of Who is in charge. And they are not considered sissies or holy Joes, but very normal people.

A preacher arraigned in a British court for making a personal comment in the street about homosexual behaviour equally baffles people in countries where what is deemed immoral is spoken about, and spoken against, spiritedly and openly.

A health-care worker taken to court for giving spiritual encouragement and speaking about God to a patient makes little sense to a population where the main topic in a hospital visit conversation is God -- more precisely, about accepting illness as His will, leaving recovery in His hands, and so on. In Africa, then, "God-speak" is not only permitted but fostered; He is not a topic to whisper about in secret or about whom one should lower one’s head in shame.

No African nation, except for Ethiopia -- which also has a substantial Moslem population -- has ever had an established church, like England, Russia and Greece, Scotland and the Scandinavian countries, Spain or Italy, and much of Latin America. The African history of evangelization is very different from that of the West; for much of Africa, Christianity arrived at the end of the 19th century. Africa never experienced the cynicism and doubt cast by the Enlightenment and rationalism.

It has also been spared the consequences of church-state battles and, by and large, of anti-clericalism. Christianity's critics will say that the missionary came with the trader and the gun, that it came from Europe and is the white man’s religion. This, however, is paradoxical. Christianity has Semitic roots, and many Semitic customs, such as polygamy, circumcision, the importance of family and blood ties, respect for elders and their decisions still play an important role in traditional Africa.

Furthermore, the Christian missionaries arrived after the explorers and the colonizers, not on the same boat. Their motives were non-political and human-rights based: to set up schools and medical dispensaries and to evangelize the people.

In sub-Saharan Africa, which excludes the sandy, rocky wastes of the north and north-east, religious freedom is non-negotiable. In fact, one wonders sometimes if there’s too much of it. Residents can be kept awake the whole weekend by a non-stop revivalist crusade taking place in their neighbourhood, with music booming and people screaming "alleluia" for 60 hours on end.

Kenya, with a population of 40 million people, tops the world religious free market with 4,000 registered Christian denominations and many unofficial ones. The latter may consist of a man and his wife who open up a splinter worship group, so that the spouses themselves and their younger children may be the only faithful. Their place of worship is a zinc-sheeted or mud-and-wattle shack, which can be dismantled and removed at a moment’s notice.

Uganda has an estimated population of 30 million, of whom some 40 per cent are Catholics. In the towns, a recent surge in Pentecostalism and Revival Christianity advertises its particular brand of the Christian Gospel in the names of its widely scattered chapels and meeting-places: Lolwe Trumpet Church; Miracle Centre; Apostle-Winning Church; Reconciliation Mission International; Open Door Revival church. On offer: the end of the world, miracles here and now, and, with the last three on the list, everyone is welcome to attend.

What about young people? Are they believers? Do they practice? They are, in fact, the ones filling the mainstream Pentecostal and Evangelical places of worship. The trendy preachers, their dynamic showmanship, the noise and the rhythmic beat of the music, the chance of a “miracle” at a “sold-out” crusade, and dramatic personal testimonies provide an irresistible attraction.

Young people, meanwhile, are growing tired of the pornographic, blasphemous lyrics of some of the African-American rappers and rock-artists and have turned to Gospel rap, a new genre, short on orthodox doctrine but offering a moral boost to kick off the working week.

The attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, which seems to be one and the same campaign -- to rid the Middle East of Christians -- has no counterpart in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sudan and northern Nigeria are on the religious, ethnic, geopolitical Arab-African fault-line cutting. The religious persecutions in Sudan are mostly ethnic, exemplified by Arab Moslem killing African Moslem in Darfur over cattle-grazing space. This week's referendum in southern Sudan heralds its independence from the north and, hopefully, an end to such long drawn out, deadly conflicts.

Religious wars as such between Catholics and Protestants are unknown in black Africa. There have been misunderstandings, “bad blood”, human intransigence and competing for converts, but no Thirty Years War, no Battle of the Boyne, no Wars of the Vendee. Family and blood ties come before religious differences. This is not to say that people change religious affiliations like changing their socks, but that there is mutual respect.

The fact that Wayne Rooney goes to the physio’s room after warm-up to pray, or a Brazilian soccer-player makes the sign of the Cross before kick-off in front of millions of TV spectators doesn’t cause a ripple here. If anything, it endears them more to their fans.

Martyn Drakard writes from Kampala, Uganda

From Mercatornet.com

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Voting in Sudan

Staff helps woman vote in al-Jereif, a Khartoum suburb, on January 14, 2011.
Photo Credit: Associated Press

Sudan's referendum on independence kicked off on Jan. 9 with reports of peaceful voting in most parts of the country but with news that violence in the disputed Abyei region had erupted, claiming lives and injuring people after militia attacked a polling station.

Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan joined his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Paulino Lukudu, and other religious leaders as they cast their ballots at 4 p.m. on Jan. 9 at the Hai Jalaba Junior School polling station in Juba, capital city of southern Sudan.

Accompanying the archbishops was a delegation from the All Africa Conference of Churches, which had traveled to Juba as an ecumenical body of referendum observers, according to a Rebecca Coleman, international coordinator in Deng's office.

"On arrival, and with big smiles and waves, the archbishops greeted the crowd of fellow Sudanese citizens who had also turned up to vote," Coleman said, in an e-mail sent to Episcopal News Service. "They proceeded inside the station and after a brief explanation of the process from the polling station officials, they finally voted."

"We have been waiting 55 years for this day. This is the day, this is our time," Deng said, according to Coleman, adding that all Sudanese had now proved to the world that they could reach this day peacefully.

Meanwhile, more than 40 deaths were reported in Abyei following violent clashes between the Misseriya Arab tribe of the north and Ngok Dinka of the south. Abyei is a border region which is holding a separate referendum to determine whether it will belong to the north or the south.

"It is very sad news about Abyei," Bishop Joseph Garang of the Diocese of Renk, which lies on the border between the north and south, told ENS during a Jan. 10 telephone from his home. "The militia arrived well-prepared and attacked a polling center. We are all trying to be peaceful."

In Renk, Garang said the referendum is "going very well" and being conducted peacefully. "It's a celebratory time for everybody," he told ENS, adding that the vast majority of people had already cast their ballots and that he expected voting would conclude in the next day or two. The official final day for voting is Jan. 15.

But Garang's main message was that he believes in the power of prayer. "Everything now is in the control of God. If it were not, there would be much more violence," he said. "God is so good always and people are praying, which is why things are going so smoothly. I believe that God has answered our prayers that the referendum goes forward on time. Now we continue to pray that the voting can finish peacefully."

The referendum is a main provision in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought an end to a 21-year civil war that claimed 2 million lives and displaced many more.

The results of the referendum are expected to be announced by Jan. 25 and should the south vote to secede from the north a transitional period will commence, with the official start of a new nation scheduled for July 9.

Millions of refugees are expected to return to the south from the north and the Diocese of Renk is in a strategic position to welcome them. Garang said that Renk's Christians were rejoicing that UNICEF had delivered food and medicine over the weekend to ensure that the region was prepared for the mass migration. He urged ongoing prayers from the international community.

Back in Juba, Episcopal Church missionary Robin Denney explained that the thousands of people who lined up outside polling stations were patient and joyful. "People congratulated each other as they voted," she said in a Jan. 9 e-mail to ENS. "There was a general feeling of solemnity in the air, a state of awe at the historic event we were witnessing and participating in. It is hard to describe the intensity of the overarching feeling of joy and pride that pervaded Juba today."

Among the international observers in Juba were former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. "Jimmy Carter greeted the archbishops, and all the people gathered there," Denney said. "He thanked the other observers for their presence, and encouraged the voters with confident words and a glowing smile. He spent a few minutes speaking with the archbishops about their experience of the vote, and telling them about his own commitment as a Christian."

"We praise God for this joyful peaceful day, and we continue to pray for peace in all corners of Sudan as these events unfold," Denney added.

From here.

Related reading:  Southern Sudan to Take a Biblical Name?; Prayer Needed in the Midst of Sudan Vote; Who Were the Kushites?

Ultrasound-Guided Abortion Final Straw for Johnson

"I had never seen an ultrasound-guided abortion before. They’re not standard procedure because they take a few extra minutes. To the best of my knowledgeit was the first time it had happened at our facility.

I was called in to help. My job was to hold the ultrasound probe on the woman’s abdomen so that the physician could get a view inside the uterus. I got everything ready. When I looked at the screen and heard them say that she was 13 weeks pregnant, on the screen I saw the profile of a 13-week-old baby in the womb. I had seen thousands of ultrasounds before, including ultrasounds of my own daughter Grace, who is now four. In that instant, I had a flashback to my own ultrasound of my daughter when I was 12 weeks pregnant. In that instant, I realized what was about to happen and what I was about to witness.

As I was trying to get it together and talk myself back into it, I recalled all of the things I had said for so many years to justify abortion – all the things that I thought I believed deep down in my core."



Read it here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Southern Sudan to Take a Biblical Name?

Cynical as it sounds, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has a point when he says that an independent southern Sudan will be a “failed state” from its inception, though in truth his own misrule and warmongering in the south has caused much of the suffering and destruction there, and hence the southerners’ desire for independence.

A U.S.-backed 2005 peace deal, which ranked among President George W. Bush’s main foreign-policy successes, gave the mainly Christian south a degree of self-government.

“The northerners tried to impose Arabism and sharia across Sudan,” said Father Peter, a parish priest at St. Teresa’s Cathedral in Juba, the region’s capital. “Imagine if we tried to impose canon law on others in Sudan. You cannot govern a country with so many ethnic groups and identities with such a system.”

He said the Catholic Church was targeted by Khartoum throughout the 1983-2005 war.

“We were depicted as agents of the imperialists, or agents of Rome out to undermine Islam,” he said.

However, the Church and affiliated aid organizations and charities helped people suffering from war, disease and hunger, without fear or favor, he said. “Some people saw us for what we really are. We helped other Christians, Muslims, people from traditional beliefs, if they were hungry, thirsty, homeless, hurt. We did not ask for conversion or anything like that in return,” he said.

Now, as he asked during Mass here, he hopes that people vote peacefully, “in an orderly manner, and not to cause trouble.”

On the first day of voting, Sunday, Jan. 9, Father Peter’s church saw a visit from U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Salva Kiir, president of the government of Southern Sudan.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made three trips to Sudan in recent months on behalf of the Obama administration. In an address to the congregation at St. Teresa’s, the former presidential candidate paid tribute to the people of southern Sudan.

Biblical Name?

Southern Sudan’s vote has attracted a foreign press entourage to an area that does not receive much media coverage, despite the history of war, famine, disease and the geopolitical contest being waged between the United States and China, which is a key investor in and buyer of Sudanese oil.

Earlier, at the Mass conducted in Bari, one of many local languages, Western journalists scurried in and out of the church, to the consternation of the nuns working as ushers. “Please, this is the consecration,” one implored, to which the cameraman and reporter responded, as if not hearing her pleas, “Is the president here? When will he be here?”

Father Peter estimates that two-thirds of southern Sudan’s Christians are Catholic, though in an area bigger than France, with no paved roads outside Juba, the infrastructure means that it is difficult to get around and establish exactly how many people live there.

Some of those clamoring for independence seem eager to establish historical and Christian credentials, and names such as Azania and Cushitia have been suggested as possible names for the country. The latter refers to the biblical land of Cush, which is thought to approximate this region.

Asked if he wants to see an independent southern Sudan, Father Peter commented, “This is an opportunity for us to express our will in a way that we have never had before.”

“We have our own culture and history here in the south,” he added. “It is better for us to be on our own.”

From here.

Related reading:  Who Were the Kushites?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quote of the Week - Abba Xanthias

"A dog is better than I am, for he has love and does not judge." --Abba Xanthias

India Not Budging on Afghanistan

KABUL, Jan 9: Reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government must be led by Kabul, India`s foreign minister said on Sunday, warning that outside interference could undermine the prospect of a stable Afghanistan.

S.M. Krishna also said that security threats would not drive his country out of Afghanistan. His comments came shortly after a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council travelled to Pakistan to discuss how to move forward with the efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

“India has always supported the efforts of Afghanistan to reintegrate those individuals who are willing to (reject) violence, respect values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan constitution, and do not have links with terrorist groups,” Mr Krishna said at a joint news conference with his Afghan counterpart, Zalmai Rassoul.

“The process should be Afghan-led, inclusive and transparent,” said Mr Krishna, who also met President Hamid Karzai.

“Any external interference in the reintegration process would be detrimental both for its success and for the future of a democratic, stable, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan.”

Mr Krishna said he and Mr Rassoul discussed the issue of terrorism and that they agreed on the need to deal “firmly with terrorist groups that continue to exist outside Afghanistan`s borders”.

India is playing an increasing role in Afghanistan. Indian companies are carrying out several projects in the country and Mr Krishna said his nation was commit- ted to staying in the country and helping Afghans as long as the “legitimately elected” government of Afghanistan wanted.

He said India was going to donate 100,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan, a move linked to the drought that has ravaged crop development over the year.

Mr Krishna said the threat to his country`s mission, and its workers in Afghanistan, was “a cause of great concern”, but that he was confident the Afghan government could provide the necessary security.

“Let me hasten to add India is not going to be cut down by such threats,” he said.

Both India and Afghanistan have pointed the finger at Pakistan over security threats, alleging that elements within its power structures fund and support extremism.

Analysts say regional rivals India and Pakistan are locked in a struggle for influence in Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan.

India is believed to give more money to Afghanistan than any other country in the region, through aid and reconstruction programmes. —Agencies

From here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

41% of NYC Pregnancies End in Abortion

NEW YORK (CNS) — In response to recent statistics revealing that 41% of pregnancies in New York City in 2009 ended in abortion, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan reiterated the pledge of his predecessors to help any pregnant woman in need.

“Through Catholic Charities, adoption services, lobbying on behalf of pregnant women, mothers and infants, support of life-giving alternatives, health care and education of youth for healthy, responsible, virtuous sexual behavior, we’ve done our best to keep that promise, and these haunting statistics only prod us to keep at it,” he said during a Jan. 6 interfaith news conference in New York.

The statistics were released in late December by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in its annual summary of vital statistics. According to the figures, the 87,000 abortions performed in New York City in 2009 continues a pattern of decline from previous years, but the overall rate of abortions is much higher than the national average of 23%.

Speakers at the news conference called the percentage of abortions tragic and urged renewed efforts to promote chastity and support mothers and their children, born and unborn.

Read more here.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Islamic Publisher Prints "Forged" Bible

Abu Islam Ahmed Abdallah, owner of the Islamic Enlightenment Publishing House, has printed a version of the Bible that he claims is "forged," prompting Egypt's Coptic Church to consider filing a complaint with the Attorney General against the book, which it considers an "insult to Christianity."

In the book's 65-page introduction, Abdallah wrote that the Bible version had been "written before the Genesis," noting that the reason for its publication was to prove that Christians had themselves forged the books they hold sacred.

It was not uncommon to read in the margins of some Bible versions that certain words were not original and that certain phrases had been added by transcribers, or that certain figures were incorrect, the publisher wrote. This, he added, had prompted some Christian theologians admit that their holy book was not sacred in itself, but rather represented an account of sacred events.

Coptic Bishop Abdel Messih Bassit, for his part, said the Coptic Church was "extremely offended" by the perceived "act of contempt" for Christianity.

“Do Christians have the right to publish manuscripts of the Koran from our own point of view?” he asked. “Can Christians print the Koran and add their comments to it?”

Bassit added that Abdallah did not understand the essence of the Bible, its original Hebrew and Greek versions, or the rules of translation, contending that the publisher had used differences in translations and the evolution of language as a means of discrediting the Bible.

“The translation of this version was written in Levantine Arabic 400 years ago,” Bassit explained. “With the development of language from generation to generation, the meaning of certain words was changed.”

From here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Salman Taseer's Murder

A few in the Indian media have found in the murder of Salman Taseer an opportunity to prescribe ways to Pakistan to fight religious terrorism, but a small news item in the Times of India on Thursday offered a clue to New Delhi`s own nervousness with home-grown terror.

The single-paragraph report did not have a dateline, but appeared to refer to a police advisory in Mumbai. It said: “Police have instructed private security agencies to check background details of guards they recruit, especially youths from Kashmir, as intelligence agencies suspect the Indian Mujahideen (IM) plans to use such people for terror strikes in the city.”

The IM, which some say has links with Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been blamed for a clutch of attacks across the country.

In an editorial titled `The slippery slope`, The Indian Express said Tuesday`s murder of Salman Taseer by one of his guards underlined the deepening structural crisis in the nation.

“The first major political assassination since the killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto a little over three years ago has brought into sharp relief the growing militant infiltration of the security forces, a weak civilian government that is unable to govern, an economy in shambles, and an all-powerful army leadership that appears to have lost the plot,” The Express said.

“The assassin has reportedly said his motivation was to avenge the governor`s support to changes in Pakistan`s notorious law against blasphemy that has victimised not only religious minorities but also mainstream Muslims,” the paper pointed out.

It said Pakistan`s leaders must comprehensively reject Ziaul Haq`s vision and turn back to a more moderate and democratic ideal of Pakistan, taking on extremist elements. “Otherwise cracks in the polity will only deepen, and the worst losers will be the people of Pakistan.” Telegraph

The Kolkata-based said Taseer`s murder makes clear that Pakistan remains on the edge of the abyss.

“Thousands of lives, and billions of pounds, have been lost in an effort to defeat the insurgents who threaten to seize control of the nuclear-armed state. And it is becoming clear that the Pakistani state either isn`t willing, or isn`t able, to confront the Islamist movement that it has nurtured for decades — and which now threatens to turn the country into a burnt-out dystopia.”

Last month Ashok Singhal, leader of the neo-fascist Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had warned that Congress president Sonia Gandhi would meet the fate of her assassinated mother-in-law, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, if she persisted with an investigation into the alleged involvement of rightwing Hindu activists in sabotage and bomb attacks, including the fire-bombing of the Samjhota Express. Most Indian newspapers didn`t find the comments newsworthy.

Read all of it here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Microcredit Goes Mainstream

Those for whom the word “microfinance”, or “microcredit”, conjures up images of village entrepreneurs around the world lifting themselves out of poverty by access to tiny, Grameem Bank-style, non-profit loans may be mystified, if not scandalized by developments in that sector during the latter part of last year.

In August a for-profit microcredit company raised $350 million in an Initial Public Offer, indicating the mainstreaming of microcredit in the finance sector. Then, in November, a highly publicized wave of suicides was blamed on microfinanciers and the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh suspended microfinance debt-collection. The Wall Street Journal spoke of a “backlash against the booming microfinance industry” and a spreading crisis.

Despite these events, several prominent economics professors resolutely declared that microcredit is not the enemy. In “Microcredit Is Not The Enemy”, a December 13 op-ed in the Financial Times, these professors, led by Abhijit Banerjee of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, defend microfinance and, in particular, call comparisons between the microfinance crisis and the subprime crisis, “badly misguided” because “microfinance institutions are highly focused on avoiding default.” In contrast to the subprime crisis, Professor Banerjee writes that this “is a crisis born of government intervention”, and aggravated by microcredit’s “rapid growth” and the “over-indebtedness of clients.”

Professor Banerjee comes to the defense of microcredit because the industry has worked to overcome two stereotypes: (1) the poor are much less likely to pay back their loans than everyone else, and (2) making money serving the poor will lead to exploitation.

It is this second stereotype that I too would like to challenge because, done properly, for-profit microcredit better contributes to the self-worth of the borrower than non-profit or hybrid models. There is a sense of worth that a for-profit loan communicates because the for-profit loan says: “I’m giving you this money because I think you can pay it back and not for other motives, benevolent as they may be.”


A micro-background

For those without much familiarity with microfinance or the current microfinance crisis, here is a very brief primer. Since its beginnings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, microcredit has been viewed as a much better alternative to predatory moneylenders in developing countries who can charge 100 per cent interest per year or more.

After a period of consistent yet unremarkable growth, microlending began to take off a few years back as for-profit microfinance companies entered the market -- culminating in SKS Microfinance’s $350 million IPO in August of this year. Two months later, following a wave of suicides linked to indebtedness, the cabinet of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh adopted an ordinance aimed at reducing abusive practices within the microcredit world. The ordinance has greatly reduced debt-repayments, leading to a crisis in microcredit.

Leaving aside the question of what caused the microcredit crisis, we can be sure that Professor Banerjee and his co-authors wouldn’t need to defend microfinance against comparisons to subprime if some similarities didn’t exist. Both involve excessive lending to the poor and both involve rapid growth in a relatively new and, therefore, poorly understood and poorly-regulated industry. And, both involve private companies making money by lending to the poor.

Which brings us back to my belief that for-profit microcredit offers a greater sense of accomplishment to a borrower that non-profit or hybrid lending.

Isn’t paying back one loan just as good as paying back another?

Yes and no. Paying back any type of loan provides the borrower with a sense of accomplishment and worth, but that sense of accomplishment varies depending on who lends the money, because certain relationships are different than others. Borrowing money from your parents is different than borrowing from a bank, for instance. And, while working in a family business is noble and necessary work, working at a firm without a family connection provides an opportunity to test yourself in an environment where you have no special claim on your job. The same holds true for microfinance lending. Borrowing from a non-profit is fine and often very good, but paying back that for-profit loan offers more of a sense of accomplishment since the lender is “in it for the money,” so to speak.

The growth of for-profit microcredit shows that making money serving the poor has become mainstream. At the same time, there is a healthy suspicion of those who seek to make a lot of money helping the poor because we are rightly sensitive to the potential for exploitation. And the microcredit industry has seen this exploitation in the form of over-indebted borrowers. Plus, if a person makes $100,000 in a microfinance company, for example, we are immediately confronted with the vast disparity between the $50 microloan and that $100,000 salary.

Even though for-profit microcredit has rightly come under scrutiny, the for-profit model offers a sense of accomplishment to borrowers that the non-profit and hybrid models of microcredit cannot. Yes, significant reforms need to take place in the entire microcredit industry to prevent exploitation of the poor, a practice which deserves all the ire it receives. But the poor deserve the opportunity to enter into contracts with for-profit lenders because they, like the rest of us, deserve the opportunity to participate freely in their economy.

Blake Robinson is a Financial Advisor at Fulcrum Securities, a regional financial services firm that tailors individual and institutional portfolios to clients’ ethical concerns. A graduate of Princeton University and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, Mr Robinson resides in New York City.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Quote of the Week - Gary L'Hommedieu

"In today's Episcopal Church 'justice' is one of those words that should always be put in quotes." -- Gary L'Hommedieu

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pope Benedict: Attack on Coptic Christians "Offends God"

ROME (AP) Pope Benedict XVI says an apparent suicide bombing outside a Mass in Egypt that left 21 worshippers dead "offends God and all of humanity."

The pope offered condolences and expressed his grief for the victims and their families during his traditional Sunday Angelus prayer.

He compared the attack to bombs placed near churches in Iraq, saying both are meant to intimidate Christians and prevent them from attending services. Benedict has repeatedly denounced the violent campaign against Christians in Iraq blamed on al-Qaida militants.

He also remembered the "numerous" pastoral workers killed in 2010.

The pope urged Christians Saturday in his New Year's appeal to remain strong in the face of intolerance and violence.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Justifying Violence Against Christians: An Example

ALEXANDRIA, Jan 1: Egypt said a suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 79 outside a Coptic church on Saturday, in an attack President Hosni Mubarak said was the work of “foreign hands.”

There was no immediate claim but Al Qaeda has called for punishment of Egypt`s Copts over claims that two priests` wives they say had converted to Islam were being held by the Church against their will.

The bombing in Alexandria sparked anger among Christians, who clashed with police and shouted slogans against the despotic regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

A health ministry official said 21 people were killed and 79 wounded, and the interior ministry said eight of those hurt were Muslims.

A witness had told private channel On-TV that in a car park outside the Al-Qiddissin (The Saints) church shortly after midnight (2200 GMT Friday), he saw two men get out and the explosion happen almost immediately afterwards.

But the interior ministry ruled out the hypothesis of a car bomb, saying it was “probable that the bomb… was carried by a suicide bomber who died among the crowd.”—AFP

US-Syria Not-so-secret Talks on Israel

KUWAIT CITY (January 02, 2011) : The United States has been in secret contact with Syrian officials in the hopes of realising a comprehensive Israel-Syrian peace treaty, the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper reported Saturday. The past few weeks had witnessed an "unprecedented Syrian co-operation" in the peace process, prompting Washington to talk with Syrian officials to reach a peace agreement between Syria and Israel, informed sources told al-Rai.

Sources said Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem had sent positive signals to the US showing that "the Syrians are ready to re- engage in dialogue with the Israelis to reach peace". President Barack Obama's administration believes that an Israeli- Syrian peace agreement will be "a breakthrough in the peace process as a whole to achieve peace in the Palestinian territories".

Sources said that Obama adviser Denis Ross told the US administration that he found "Syria ready to move away from Iran and reduce relations with Hezbollah and Hamas, and work with the United States in the fight against terrorism." The Israelis, for their part, expressed a willingness to return to Syria the occupied Golan Heights, reach an agreement on water rights, and normalise relations with Damascus.

Syrian demands the return of the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, as a prerequisite for any peace deal with the Jewish state. Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 war, and in 1981 parliament passed a law applying Israeli "laws, jurisdiction and administration" to the territory, in effect annexing it. The annexation was not recognised internationally. Direct Israeli-Syrian peace talks fell apart in 2000, over a dispute over Syrian access to the Sea of Galilee, as per the de facto border which existed prior to the 1967 war.

Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2011  (From here.)