Saturday, February 28, 2009

Washington: Get a Grip on Reality

Fiscal stimulus is reaching its global limits. The lowest interest rates in history are failing to gain traction. The Fed seems paralyzed. It first talked of buying US Treasuries three months ago, but cannot seem to bring itself to hit the nuclear button.

As the Fed dithers, a flood of bond issues from the US Treasury is swamping the debt market. The yield on 10-year Treasuries has climbed from 2pc to 3.04pc in eight weeks. The real cost of money is rising as deflation gathers pace.

US house prices have fallen 27pc (Case-Shiller index). The pace of descent is accelerating. The 2.2pc fall in December was the worst month ever. January looks just as bad. Delinquenc-ies on prime mortgages were 1.72pc in September, 1.89pc in October, 2.13pc on November and 2.42pc in December. This is the trajectory eating away at the banking system.

Graham Turner, from GFC Economics, fears the Dow could crash to 4,000 by summer unless there is a "quantum reduction" in mortgage rates. The Fed should swoop in to the market – armed with Ben Bernanke's "printing press" – and mop up enough Treasuries to force 10-year yields down to 1pc and mortgage rates to 2.5pc. Monetary shock and awe.

This remedy is fraught with risk, but all options are ghastly at this point. That is the legacy we have been left by the Greenspan doctrine. We are at the moment of extreme danger in Irving Fisher's "Debt Deflation Theory" (1933) where the ship fails to right itself by natural buoyancy, and capsizes instead.

From all accounts, the Fed was ready to launch its bond blitz in January. Something happened. Perhaps the hawks awoke in cold sweats at night, fretting about Weimar.

Perhaps they feared that China and the world will pull the plug on the US bond market. If so, it is time for Washington to get a grip. America remains the hegemonic global power. The Obama team should let it be known – and perhaps Hillary Clinton did just that on her trip to Asia – that any country playing games with the US bond market in this crisis will be treated as an enemy and pay a crushing price.

Pacific allies already know that they cannot take the US security blanket for granted. As for China – and others pursuing a mercantilist strategy of export-led growth – they must know that the US can shut off its market and wreak havoc to their economy.

Read it all here.

Fix Education: Bring Back Metaphysics!

In “The Lost Tools of Learning”, Sayers begins by criticizing the modern tendency to regard specialized talking heads as “authorities” on everything from morals to DNA. She tells us that the greatest authorities on the failures of modern education are precisely those who learned nothing. We can imagine chuckles coming from some in her audience and frowns on self-important academics. While Sayers is correct that we can’t “turn back the wheel” to the late Middle Ages when metaphysical exploration was still regarded as an objective of education, she nevertheless urges that we consider patterning education along those lines in order to restore the lost tools of learning. Sayers draws on her extensive knowledge of the medieval period to help us understand which tools are essential if students are to be life-long learners. She lays the groundwork by asking her audience to consider some “disquieting thoughts” about the direction of English society in the mid-twentieth century and identifies the following concerns:Irresponsible prolongation of intellectual childhood to justify teaching less in more subjectsConfusion of fact and opinion, or the proven and the plausible, in the media.Sophistry in public debate, rather than logical rhetoric.Committees addressing mostly irrelevant matters expected to form public policy.Failure to define terms and intentional abuse of language, making words mean whatever one wants them to mean.A society of adults who don’t know how to discern legitimate expertise from popular pulp and who can’t use the library.The tendency of some people to become so specialized that they can’t make connections between the disciplines.Scientists who fail to adhere to the basic principles of Aristotelian logic, thus presenting speculation as facts.

Sayers’ critique of the society in which she lived is relevant today, as these problems have become more pronounced in our time. In 35 years of teaching I’ve seen the materialistic worldview of empiricism come to dominate public education and inch by inch erode the more balanced offering of private schools, parochial schools and even Christian schools. Once metaphysics is excised from education, we are left with a mechanistic, materialistic, and blatantly false view of reality. And then we wonder why our students aren’t learning? Or why they seem unmotivated?

So what does Dorothy Sayers suggest we do? She suggests restoration of the two part syllabus of the Trivium and the Quadrivium, which together provide “one coherent scheme of mental training.” Sayers illustrates how modern intellectuals misrepresent medieval metaphysical education by pointing to how one such intellectual confuses location and extension, something that a classically trained high school sophomore would hardly stumble over, having learned the principles of Aristotelian logic.

Read Sayers' "Lost Tools of Learning" here.

Pakistani Girl Gang-Raped

On 7 February an impoverished 13-year-old Christian girl in the Punjab province of Pakistan was gang-raped at gunpoint by five Islamic extremists.

The incident happened in a village in the Sangla Hill region, as the girl went to put out some rubbish. Two men kidnapped her and took her by force to their nearby farmhouse, where three others were waiting. After being assaulted by them for several hours she was in a critical condition. Eventually her family tracked her down and knocked at the farmhouse, but the men escaped through the back door.

At the request of a Christian lawyer, a judge ordered a medical examination, which confirmed that the girl had been molested. But although a case was registered against the alleged rapists, twelve days after the attack no-one had been detained.

Violent assaults by Muslim men on Christian girls and women in Pakistan are sadly frequent. Last month two Christian girls were freed by police after they were kidnapped, sold as sex slaves and forcibly converted to Islam. Sangla Hill has been the scene of several attacks on churches and other Christian institutions in recent years.

• Please pray for the Christian girl who was attacked, that God will heal and comfort her following her traumatic experience. Pray that her attackers will be brought to justice.

• Pray for the Lord's protection on Christian women and girls throughout Pakistan, and that the police will make it a priority to assist those who have been kidnapped.

Quote of the Week - C.S. Lewis

"...I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests' Order. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds..."

-- C. S. Lewis, from his essay "Priestesses in the Church?"

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pakistan Govt. Sells out Christian Minority

Christians in Pakistan have expressed concern over plans to implement Sharia law in the Malakand region.

The move was part of a package to secure a cease-fire with pro-Taliban groups in the region that includes the Swat Valley, but it has caused unease among the region’s Christian groups. Their concerns have been echoed by human rights groups. The concession by the federal government was agreed last week in an attempt to broker a truce with pro-Taliban groups in the region, but Christians say that the introduction of the Islamic legal system renders constitutional and juridical law redundant.

From Religious Intelligence News.

For more on the Pakistan Government's deal with the Swat Taliban, go here and here.

Pakistan: Will Saba See Justice?

Police ignore arrest order, but lawyers hopeful 13-year-old can be returned to parents.

ISTANBUL, February 26 (Compass Direct News) – After months of legal deadlock, lawyers in Pakistan said they have new hope they can restore to her family a 13-year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped and forced to marry a Muslim.

Saba Masih might be returned to her family, the lawyers said, if they can legally maneuver around Pakistani policemen who have stonewalled their attempts to pursue a kidnapping case against the captors. On Saturday (Feb. 21) a Pakistani judge charged the suspects with kidnapping for the first time in the seven-month legal ordeal.

“The judiciary is one thing, the police are another,” said Arfan Goshe, a lawyer who has taken on the custody case. “I will prove [the three accused men] kidnapped Saba so the judiciary will force the police to arrest them.”

On Saturday (Feb. 21), Judge Mohammed Ilyas issued a First Instance Report (FIR) at a subordinate court in the Punjabi village of Chawk Munda against Amjad Ali, Muhammad Ashraf and Muhammed Arif Bajwa on charges of kidnapping, trespassing, and threatening the Masih family.

Attorney Goshe, a Muslim, said the three kidnappers trespassed onto the property of Yunus Masih, the father of Saba, and threatened to kill his family and burn down his house in late December.

The decision to file kidnapping charges marks a major shift of momentum in the case. In previous hearings judges have nearly always sided with the kidnappers – based on either dubious evidence or threats from local Islamists – in the Muslims’ legal battle to retain custody of Saba and her 10-year-old sister Aneela. A court ruled the younger daughter could return to her family last September.

The two girls were kidnapped in June 2008 while traveling to visit their uncle in Sarwar Shaheed, northwest of Multan. Saba was married to Ali the next day. Bajwa and Ali registered a case with police on June 28 for custody of the girls based on their alleged conversion to Islam.
The court granted them custody in July.

At nearly all the hearings, Muslim groups protested outside the courtroom against lawyers attempting to return Saba to her Christian parents. A traditional interpretation of Islamic law (sharia) does not allow non-Muslim parents to have custody of Muslim children.

In spite of the judge’s decision to begin procedures for kidnapping charges, Chawk Munda police have not followed through with the FIR by arresting the three Muslims. Today the judge contacted the local police station and ordered officers to register the kidnapping case against the three men, Goshe told Compass. He said he hopes police will file the FIR within the next few days.

“The police are favoring the accused party at this time,” he said. “Everybody knows [Saba] was abducted, and that the culprits are trying to threaten minorities everywhere.”

But others are less optimistic the kidnappers will be arrested. Khalid Raheel, Saba’s uncle, said he believes he may have to bribe the police. They would likely demand around 20,000 Pakistani rupees (US$250), he said.

Uncooperative police had also blocked the legal team’s efforts to register charges before Saturday’s ruling. As a result, the Christian family’s lawyers filed a private complaint to the subordinate court of Chawk Munda, sidestepping the need for a police investigation to file charges that would be necessary at a normal criminal court.

Goshe said the court is finally complying after months of deadlock because the multiple charges against the kidnappers cannot be ignored. Previous court hearings focused on Saba’s alleged conversion to Islam to mitigate the charges of her kidnapping, but the judiciary could not ignore the three suspects’ subsequent crimes of trespassing and attempting to burn down the Masihs’ house, he said.

In January, lawyer Akbar Durrani of the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) filed an appeal to register kidnapping charges against Ali, the husband of Saba. Durrani had tried to register these charges in December, but Judge Malik Saeed Ijaz refused the case since it was built upon the testimony of Saba’s sister Aneela, whose status as a minor invalidated her testimony.

Instead, the judge ordered Ali to pay a dowry of 100,000 rupees (US$1,255) and allow her parents to visit, both required by Pakistani marriage protocol. Saba, however, relinquished her dowry, a prerogative provided by sharia. Her family suspects that she made this decision under threat.

Struggling Family
Attempts by Saba’s family to contact and visit her have been thwarted by Ali’s Muslim family members, despite a court order for visitation rights.

“We have heard nothing from Saba,” said Raheel, her uncle. “Once we tried to visit her, and [Ali’s family] ran after us and tried to shoot us. But the judges did not do anything.”

The seven months of legal battling have taken their toll on Saba’s family. Her parents have eight children but have been unable to send their sons to school due to the ongoing costs of the case, even though CLAAS has undertaken it pro bono.

The girls’ uncle has been trying to maintain the family’s quality of life as they struggle to get Saba back and their legal options dwindle.

Read it all here.
“This year I will try my best to help them and send them to a school,” said Raheel.

More Sea Ice than in 1980

According to my favorite meterologist, worldwide there is more sea ice now than there was in 1980. There is less ice around Greenland because the north Atlantic is in its multi-decadal warm phase (AMO). To counter that, the Pacific is in its multi-decadal cold phase (PDO) so the ice has increased on the Pacific side of the Arctic.

Antarctica has more sea ice now too, so again the overall amount is higher than 30 years ago.

Here are the numbers:

1980 Southern Hemisphere = 4.7 million sq km
1980 Northern Hemisphere = 15.0 million sq km
Total = 19.7 million sq km

2009 Southern Hemisphere = 5.8 million sq km
2009 Northern Hemisphere = 14.1 million sq km
Total = 19.9 million sq km

See NASA images here.

Related reading: Antarctic Ozone Hole Smaller

Mormons Gain Converts, Catholics Lose Members

NEW YORK (AP) — Membership in the nation's two largest Christian church bodies, the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, declined slightly in 2007, according to the latest edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

The Catholic church remains the largest body of believers in the U.S., with 67 million members, the yearbook said. But from 2006 to 2007 the church shed 398,000 members in the U.S. — a 0.59 percent drop. Southern Baptists reported 16.2 million members for a decline of 0.24 percent, or a loss of nearly 40,000 members.

Although the declines are relatively small, both churches historically have reported growth. The yearbook is published by the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group based in New York.

Among the 25 largest churches in the U.S., four are growing, the yearbook found: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church (up 1.6 percent), the Assemblies of God (up nearly 1 percent), Jehovah's Witnesses (up 2 percent), and the Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn. (up 2 percent).

Mainline Protestant denominations lost members, but were not alone in suffering declines. Those churches in the yearbook experiencing the highest rate of membership loss include predominantly white, mainline denominations the United Church of Christ (down 6 percent), the Presbyterian Church (USA) (down nearly 3 percent) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (down more than 1 percent).

A more conservative Lutheran denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, reported a decline of nearly 1.5 percent. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church suffered a 3 percent drop.
Note that the AP doesn't report on the decline in The Episcopal Church which is significant. Note also that the report doesn't mention Eastern Orthodoxy, which is gaining members in the USA.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Governor Bobby Jindal's Speech

The full text of Gov. Jindal's speech:

Good evening. I'm Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana.

Tonight, we witnessed a great moment in the history of our Republic. In the very chamber where Congress once voted to abolish slavery, our first African-American President stepped forward to address the state of our union. With his speech tonight, the President completed a redemptive journey that took our nation from Independence Hall . to Gettysburg . to the lunch counter . and now, finally, the Oval Office. Regardless of party, all Americans are moved by the President's personal story -- the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father, who grew up to become leader of the free world.

Like the President's father, my parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4 ½ months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a 'pre-existing condition.'To find work, my dad picked up the yellow pages and started calling local businesses. Even after landing a job, he could still not afford to pay for my delivery -- so he worked out an installment plan with the doctor. Fortunately for me, he never missed a payment.

As I grew up, my mom and dad taught me the values that attracted them to this country -- and they instilled in me an immigrant's wonder at the greatness of America. As a child, I remember going to the grocery store with my dad.

Growing up in India, he had seen extreme poverty. And as we walked through the aisles, looking at the endless variety on the shelves, he would tell me: 'Bobby, Americans can do anything.' I still believe that to this day. Americans can do anything. When we pull together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.

As the President made clear this evening, we are now in a time of challenge. Many of you listening tonight have lost jobs. Others have seen your college and retirement savings dwindle. Many of.......Let me tell you a story.

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: 'Well, I'm the Sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!'

I asked him: 'Sheriff, what's got you so mad?' He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go -- when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, 'Sheriff, that's ridiculous.' And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: 'Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!' Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.

There is a lesson in this experience: The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens. We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes -- and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.

To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians. The way to lead is by empowering you -- the American people.

Because we believe that Americans can do anything. That is why Republicans put forward plans to create jobs by lowering income tax rates for working families, cutting taxes for small businesses, strengthening incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment and hire new workers, and stabilizing home values by creating a new tax credit for home-buyers. These plans would cost less and create more jobs.

But Democratic leaders in Congress rejected this approach. Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history -- with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, DC.

Democratic leaders say their legislation will grow the economy. What it will do is grow the government, increase our taxes down the line and saddle future generations with debt. Who among us would ask our children for a loan, so we could spend money we do not have, on things we do not need? That is precisely what the Democrats in Congress just did. It's irresponsible. And it's no way to strengthen our economy, create jobs or build a prosperous future for our children.

In Louisiana, we took a different approach. Since I became governor, we cut more than 250 earmarks from our state budget. And to create jobs for our citizens, we cut taxes six times -- including the largest income tax cut in the history of our state. We passed those tax cuts with bipartisan majorities.

Republicans and Democrats put aside their differences, and worked together to make sure our people could keep more of what they earn. If it can be done in Baton Rouge, surely it can be done in Washington, DC.

To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump -- and unless we act now, those prices will return. To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power, and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home. We believe that Americans can do anything -- and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.To strengthen our economy, we also need to address the crisis in health care. Republicans believe in a simple principle: No American should have to worry about losing their health coverage - period. We stand for universal access to affordable health care coverage. We oppose universal government-run health care. Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients -- not by government bureaucrats.

We believe Americans can do anything -- and if we put aside partisan politics and work together, we can make our system of private medicine affordable and accessible for every one of our citizens.

To strengthen our economy, we also need to make sure every child in America gets the best possible education. After Katrina, we reinvented the New Orleans school system -- opening dozens of new charter schools, and creating a new scholarship program that is giving parents the chance to send their children to private or parochial schools of their choice. We believe that, with the proper education, the children of America can do anything. And it should not take a devastating storm to bring this kind of innovation to education in our country.

To strengthen our economy, we must promote confidence in America by ensuring ours is the most ethical and transparent system in the world. In my home state, there used to be saying: At any given time, half of Louisiana is under water -- and the other half is under indictment. No one says that anymore. Last year, we passed some of the strongest ethics laws in the nation -- and today, Louisiana has turned her back on the corruption of the past.

We need to bring transparency to Washington, DC -- so we can rid our Capitol of corruption and ensure we never see the passage of another trillion dollar spending bill that Congress has not even read and the American people haven't even seen.

As we take these steps, we must remember for all our troubles at home, dangerous enemies still seek our destruction. Now is no time to dismantle the defenses that have protected this country for hundreds of years, or make deep cuts in funding for our troops. America's fighting men and women can do anything. And if we give them the resources they need, they will stay on the offensive, defeat our enemies and protect us from harm.

In all these areas, Republicans want to work with President Obama. We appreciate his message of hope -- but sometimes it seems we look for hope in different places. Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in you -- the American people.

In the end, it comes down to an honest and fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.We oppose the National Democrats' view that says -- the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government. We believe the way to strengthen our country is to restrain spending in Washington, and empower individuals and small businesses to grow our economy and create jobs. In recent years, these distinctions in philosophy became less clear -- because our party got away from its principles. You elected Republicans to champion limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility. Instead, Republicans went along with earmarks and big government spending in Washington. Republicans lost your trust -- and rightly so.

Tonight, on behalf of our leaders in Congress and my fellow Republican governors, I say: Our party is determined to regain your trust. We will do so by standing up for the principles that we share -- the principles you elected us to fight for -- the principles that built this into the greatest, most prosperous country on earth. A few weeks ago, the President warned that our nation is facing a crisis that he said 'we may not be able to reverse.' Our troubles are real, to be sure.

But don't let anyone tell you that we cannot recover -- or that America's best days are behind her. This is the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery, overcame the Great Depression, prevailed in two World Wars, won the struggle for civil rights, defeated the Soviet menace, and responded with determined courage to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The American spirit has triumphed over almost every form of adversity known to man -- and the American spirit will triumph again. We can have confidence in our future -- because, amid today's challenges, we also count many blessings: We have the most innovative citizens --the most abundant resources -- the most resilient economy -- the most powerful military -- and the freest political system in the history of the world. My fellow citizens, never forget: We are Americans. And like my Dad said years ago, Americans can do anything.

Thank you for listening. God bless you. And God bless America.

Sears Closes 24 More Stores

AP) — Struggling retailer Sears Holdings Corp. said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit dropped 55% as holiday sales plunged and charges weighed down quarterly results.

Still, adjusted results for the owner of Kmart and Sears stores managed to top Wall Street estimates, sending the company's stock up nearly 12 percent before it retreated in a broadly lower market.

Chairman Edward Lampert, who acquired Kmart in 2003 and Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 2005, told investors in his long-awaited annual missive that the company's cautious approach to investing capital in stores and closing unprofitable locations — 28 during the fiscal year and another 24 announced Thursday — while paying down debt has helped the chain.

"In the future, there will be many opportunities for us and we intend to seize them," Lampert wrote in the long and sometimes philosophical public letter.

Sears Holdings Corporation is the parent company of Kmart Holding Corporation (Kmart).

More closures may be possible this year, Lampert said. Part of today’s announcement, the retailer is closing Kmart store in Lockport. Last year, it announced that it was closing a Kmart store in Joliet and Great Indoors store in Schaumburg.

The company has been hurt badly by the housing downturn, which particularly affected home appliance sales at its domestic Sears locations. It also cited the pullback in consumer spending brought on by the recession, which hurt home, household goods and apparel sales at Sears and Kmart stores as well as lawn and garden sales at Sears stores.

Read it all here.

Criminalizing Cocaine Abuse of Fetus

The Supreme Court of the State of Kentucky is to hear Case No. 2008-SC-000095, Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Ina Cochran: Is A Pregnant Woman Criminally Responsible for Her Fetus During Pregnancy?

The organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women has been trying to get ethicists to join an amicus curiae brief in support of the defense for a case to be heard by the Supreme Court of Kentucky. Here is the legal and ethical issue as seen by that organization:

“Ms. Cochran gave birth to her daughter Cheyenne on December 29, 2005. Both she and her daughter, who was born otherwise healthy, tested positive for cocaine. Ms. Cochran was charged with endangerment of a child, and her attorney filed for a motion to dismiss, citing Commonwealth v. Welch, a case where the Supreme Court of Kentucky held that child endangerment statutes do not apply to the context of a woman's relationship to the fetus she carries. Cochran's motion to dismiss was granted, but the State appealed.

The appellate court held, that despite binding state supreme court precedent and Kentucky law that requires issues of drug use and pregnancy to be dealt with solely in the public health sphere, that in light of feticide laws and unborn victims of violence laws meant to punish a third party's acts against a pregnant woman, the state's child endangerment statute can now apply to the pregnant woman herself. Not only does that appellate court decision effectively overrule Welch, based on highly faulty reasoning, it also undermines Kentucky's Maternal Health Act of 1992, which states ‘the General Assembly finds it is necessary to treat the problem of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy solely as a public health problem by seeking expanded access to prenatal care and to alcohol and substance abuse education and treatment programs.’

The Maternal Health Act's enlightened approach, which is in line with the position statements of practically all medical and public health organizations promoting treatment over incarceration in order to improve maternal and fetal health, is under attack by the Cochran appellate decision.

Furthermore, by blurring the line between third party acts and a pregnant woman's experiences during her pregnancy, this case focuses squarely on whether the state can view a pregnant woman in relationship to the life she carries as no different from a stranger, or a batterer, a drunk driver, or a man who brutally kills a pregnant woman."

Read Dr. Maurice Bernstein's take on this here.

180 in Congress for Pro-Life Riders

Here is the text of the letter that was sent the the Speaker of the House on Wednesday, February 25, 2009:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Obey, and Chairwoman Slaughter:

We write to you today about critical pro-life policies that may become contentious in the upcoming appropriations process. As you know, for many years pro-life measures have been added to the various appropriations bills to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or perform abortion, protect the consciences of health care professionals, and prevent funding for unethical human embryo experiments. Often referred to as pro-life riders, each year these provisions are included in legislation reported out of Appropriations subcommittees.

Some of these measures have been in place for over thirty years. The Hyde Amendment, for example, has been in effect since 1976. Enacted under a Democratic Congress, the Hyde Amendment has been renewed by administrations and congresses regardless of party control. Members of both parties have expressed rtrong support for these measures, which reflect the moral concerns of many Americans who do not wish to see their tax dollars used for any organization that provides abortion services.

We respectfully request that the pro-life riders be included in any legislation reported out of the
Appropriations Committee. We believe that failure to include all of the current policies with regard to the right to life will mark a radical departure from a policy a majority of Americans support. If you choose to take such action, then we ask that the Rules Committee report a rule that allows for consideration of any deleted riders on the floor of House of Representatives. The magnitude of this issue and the history associated with it require no less. If this Congress intends to rescind these riders, at a minimum the American people deserve a full debate with an up-or-down vote. Thank you for your time and consideration of our request.


Signed by 180 Members of Congress. Read the document and see who signed it here.

Mendez 47th Journalist Murdered in Mexico

Radio reporter Luis Daniel Méndez Hernández murdered in Veracruz state, motive unknown

SOURCE: Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Paris(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is dismayed by radio reporter Luis Daniel Méndez Hernández's murder on 23 February 2009 while he was attending a carnival in Huayacocotla, in the southeastern state of Veracruz.

Méndez Hernández, a correspondent for "Enlaces Noticias", a news programme broadcast on several frequencies by the Radiorama Tuxpan news agency, was shot four times in the back."

There are not yet any grounds for concluding that Méndez was killed in connection with his work," Reporters Without Borders said.

"But in view of the great dangers to which the Mexican press is exposed, we join Méndez's colleagues in urging the police and judicial authorities to quickly shed light on the circumstances and motives for this tragedy and to ensure that journalists are protected. We also offer his family and friends our condolences."

The shooting seems to have been the result of a dispute between youngpeople but the officials in charge of the investigation say they are stilllooking out for any signs of a link between Méndez's murder and his work asa journalist.

Méndez was very involved in local politics and was a candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2007 municipal elections in Huayacocotla. A link between the murder and his political activities cannot therefore be ruled out either.

The Veracruz state authorities told the regional daily "Cambio" that three suspects had been arrested but the investigation is continuing.

Méndez, age 24 and the father of a one-year-old child, worked as a correspondent in Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz state, and in the State Arbitration Commission's press department in the city of Veracruz. He went to Huayacocotla to celebrate the carnival with his family.

According to the tally kept by the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH), Méndez is the 47th journalist to be murdered in Mexico since 2000. This figure includes both journalists who were clearly killed in connection with their work and those who were killed for unclear motives. He is the second journalist to be killed since the beginning of the year in Mexico.

Photographer Jean Paul Ibarra, of the local daily "El Correo", was the victim of a contract-style killing on 13 February in the southern state of Guerrero (see 16 February release - ).

For further information on the Ibarra case, see:

For further information, contact Benoît Hervieu, RSF, 47, rue Vivienne,75002 Paris, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 68, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51,e-mail:, Internet:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pakistani Poet Shot by Religious Extremists

SOURCE: Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Karachi(PPF/IFEX) - Jan Muhammad Dashti, poet, writer and proprietor and editor of the Urdu daily "Asaap", and his driver were seriously wounded on 23 February 2009 when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his vehicle in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province. The motive for the attack seems to be sectarian extremism.

According to police sources, Dashti, who is also a senior bureaucrat, was on his way to his office when the gunmen intercepted his vehicle and opened fire on him with an automatic weapon. He was rushed to the Civil Hospital in Quetta and then transferred to the Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi due to his serious injuries. He and his driver survived the attack and are now out of danger.

In a telephone call, a person who identified himself as Haider Jhangvi and as the spokesperson of the sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the attack and accused Dashti of having published a book insulting the prophets and Jesus Christ. Excerpts from the book had been published in "Asaap". Jhangvi demanded that the government ban Dashti's book, otherwise religious elements would set fire to the newspaper office.

In addition to being the newspaper's owner, Dashti is a poet and the author of five books written in English and Balochi. The attempt on Dashti's life was widely condemned in Balochistan.

Soon after the incident, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, members of the Provincial Assembly, as well as other political leaders and members of civil society rushed to the hospital and strongly condemned the attack.

Dashti's supporters, activists of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal), closed Jinnah road and pelted vehicles breaking several car windows, which resulted in a massive traffic jam. BNP supporters also blocked the National Highway at various points between Quetta and Karachi.

A strike was also observed in Wadh, Turbat and other towns in Balochistan, to protest the attack.

The president of the Quetta Press Club, Shehzada Zulfiqar, told PPF that they would observe a day of protest on 26 February to demand the immediate arrest of the assailants.

For further information, contact Owais Aslam Ali at PPF, Press Centre, Shahrah Kamal Ataturk, Karachi 74200, Pakistan, tel: +92 21 263 3215, fax:+92 21 263 1275, e-mail:, Internet:

Gaddafi Chairs African Union

Kampala: The recent election of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as the chairman of the African Union has been received with mixed feeling across the continent.

There is the school of thought that Africa is in for a very explosive period under the flamboyant Libyan leader. Proponents of this thought say so because finally Africa has a chairman who says that coups are welcome so long as they are staged peacefully.

The mixed feeling towards Gaddafi arises from his backing to some of the evils that have befallen African recently, like the piracy activities. “Col Gaddafi says that there is nothing wrong with piracy since it is a way to correct colonial wrongs,” wrote the Daily Nation of Kenya recently.

Following his election in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in early February 2009, Col Gaddafi addressing journalists said: “Coups and rebellions are spontaneous events that cannot be controlled. Coups are fine so long as they are staged peacefully.”

He had this view on democracy: “If you want to have political formations, there will be tribal parties. We do not have political structures, our system is social. The system that is being tried in Africa has not been successful,’’ said the African Union Chairman.

The Libyan leader, who has ruled the rich oil producing country for 40 years under the Jamahiriya “Mass-State” system, claimed that the post-election violence in Kenya in December 2007-January 2008 was a sign that democracy cannot work in Africa.

Speaking on war-torn Somalia where gunmen have seized ships and demanded ransoms, Gaddafi said: “It is not piracy, it is self-defence, and it is defending Somali children’s food. It is a response to greedy Western nations who invade and exploit Somalia’s resources illegally."
Gaddafi is currently the fifth-longest serving head of state in Africa and the longest serving head of government worldwide. He came to power in 1969 in a coup that toppled Libyan monarchy then led by King Idris I.
“The signs are that Africa is in for a very tumultuous time under the guardianship of Col Gaddafi,” wrote the Daily Nation of Kenya.
Read it all here.

Episcopalians Elect Buddhist Bishop

The Anglican Communion’s first Anglican-Buddhist Bishop was elected this week at a special convention of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. The sole candidate on the ballot, the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester received the support of 88 per cent of the delegates and 91 per cent of congregations, according to a diocesan news release.

The nomination of Fr Forrester sparked controversy last month, when the diocese announced that he was the sole candidate for election. Critics charged it was unseemly that a single candidate was chosen by the search committee --- which included Fr Forrester among its members --- to stand for election. Concerns were also raised about the suitability of a professed Buddhist who said he had received Buddhist “lay ordination” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together” being consecrated a bishop.

Known also by his Buddhist name, “Genpo” which means “Way of Universal Wisdom”, Fr Forrester holds progressive views on a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Writing in the diocese’s news letter he stated: “Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness.”

Fr Forrester declined to respond to queries, but a statement issued on his behalf by the diocese claimed the mantle of Thomas Merton for Genpo as one enriched by both faiths.

The bishop-elect had been “drawn into the Christian-Zen Buddhist dialogue through centreing prayer and his desire to assist persons in their own transformation in Christ. As many of you well know, he has practiced Zen meditation for almost a decade. Indeed, with marvellous hospitality, the Buddhist community welcomed him in his commitment to a meditation practice as an Episcopal priest (in a process known by some Buddhists as ‘lay ordination’),” the diocesan statement said.

The diocese said its nominee “resonates deeply with the wisdom learned by Thomas Merton through his own interfaith dialogue and meditative practice; through the grace of meditation he has been drawn ever deeper into the contemplative Christian tradition.”

With a typical Sunday attendance of 690, the Diocese of Northern Michigan is the third smallest in the Episcopal Church. According to statistics released by the national Church, its membership has declined by 31.7 per cent over the past decade.

Read it all here.

Obama Reverses on Health Care

Ezra Klein reports on a second spot in the health care plan where Obama appears to be asking Congress to pick up a policy that he attacked during the campaign.

The first was lifting the tax exemption on health benefits -- which he attacked McCain for suggesting. Now, Klein reports, Obama's team is steering Congress toward including mandates in its health care plan -- a key front of Obama's primary battle against Hillary:

[T]he Obama administration will provide most of the money -- though not all -- and the governing objectives and Congress will be asked to hammer out the details.One of those details is universal health care coverage. ....The budget -- and I was cautioned that the wording "is changing hourly" -- will direct Congress to "aim for universality."...Administration officials have been very clear on what the inclusion of "universality" is meant to communicate to Congress. As one senior member of the health team said to me, "it will cover everybody. And I don't see how you cover everybody without an individual mandate."

That language almost precisely echoes what Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus told me in an interview last summer. "I don’t see how you can get meaningful universal coverage without a mandate," he said.The administration, in other words, is not specifically proposing an individual mandate in the budget, but they are asking Congress to fulfill an objective that they expect will result in Congress proposing an individual mandate. And despite the controversy over the individual mandate in the campaign, they will support it. That, after all, is how you cover everybody.

The mandate is saleable in part because the industry likes the idea; it would drive more customers into their arms. But Obama himself discovered how unpopular it can be, if sold -- as he sold it -- as a measure to "force" people into spending money on health care.

Liberal health care advocates were angered at the time because, they said, foes of universal care would turn Obama's arguments against him when he -- inevitably -- came around to their view that mandates were essential. Perhaps they had a point.

Here's a sample of that attack (.pdf):

Go here to read it all.

Obama's Plan to Fix USA

In his programs and promises, President Barack Obama Tuesday night offered the nation by far the most expansive agenda for the national government in decades.

In his words and mood, however, Obama presented this breathtakingly ambitious vision in a way intended to convey caution, moderation, sobriety.

The 52-minute address outlined more commitments by the public sector, more intervention into the private economy, and more spending than anything Washington has undertaken at least since the Great Society and more likely the New Deal.

The substance reflected Obama’s bet that the country—alarmed by the economic crisis, repelled by the failures of the president who preceded him—is ready to move in a decisively more liberal direction.

The rhetoric, by contrast, reflected his apparent belief that most Americans remain instinctually conservative, leaving him and his agenda acutely vulnerable to backlash.

The result was a bold vision supported by defensive arguments. Repeatedly he made his case by stressing what he and his program—with its trillions of dollars to jump-start the economy, bail out distressed auto firms, banks, and homeowners, and launch major new initiatives on health care, clean energy, and education—were not.

Referring to the $790 billion he won to jump-start the economy, he said he backed the measure, “Not because I believe in bigger government — I don't. Not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited — I am.”

Nodding to public anger about coming to the rescue of reckless bankers, he repeated twice that he was trying to help people not banks, and practically pleaded, “I promise you — I get it.”

He took the same tack with homeowners, singling out “speculators” and those who borrowed beyond their means and pledging—in an assertion that critics vigorously dispute—that they would not be helped by his plan.

And on taxes, which he wants to raise on the most affluent, he repeated with emphasis that “not one single dime” will come from families earning less than $250,000.

In many ways, Obama used his speech to practice the politics of “pre-buttal”—attempting to pre-empt the lines of argument that Republicans hope can revive their defeated and demoralized party.

It was as if he and his speechwriters had listened closely to both Bill Clinton and Rick Santelli. It was Santelli, the CNBC commentator, who rallied bail-out skeptics with an on-air rant that Obama was rewarding irresponsible behavior by careless banks and homeowners.

The former president, meanwhile, said recently that Obama needed more inspiration and hope mixed in with his bracing warnings about the anemic economy.

Obama closed his speech by telling lawmakers that if Washington rose to the occasion in meeting the crisis “then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, ‘something worthy to be remembered.’”

Read it all here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Clinton Priority: Climate over Human Rights

HILLARY RODHAM Clinton says she was only "stating the obvious" when she played down the importance of U.S. pressure on China about human rights issues during a visit there over the weekend. In fact, her comments understated the significance of what a secretary of state says about such matters, and how those statements might affect the lives of people fighting for freedom of expression, religious rights and other basic liberties in countries such as China.

When reporters asked whether she intended to raise human rights questions during her first visit to Beijing as a Cabinet secretary, Ms. Clinton affected a world-weary air. "We know what they are going to say because I've had those kinds of conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders," she said. "We have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis."

No doubt there is a predictable rhythm both to U.S. protests and to Beijing's responses. That hardly makes them unimportant. By publicly stating its objection to the imprisonment of peaceful dissidents or the crushing of opposition in places such as Tibet, the United States reinforces the principle that such practices are unacceptable anywhere in the world. It gives hope to those who are bravely fighting for change and causes average Chinese to question their government. It also can produce results -- as has been demonstrated time and again when Chinese political prisoners have been released thanks to American pressure.

Ms. Clinton's suggestion that U.S. advocacy for human rights might "interfere" with cooperation on other issues is equally misguided. Over many years China has proved ready to work with the United States on issues where it sees an interest in doing so, regardless of disputes over human rights. Playing down those concerns won't change Beijing's stance on North Korea or increase its willingness to reduce carbon emissions. But it will cause the regime to feel less restrained in cracking down on movements such as the newly formed Charter 08, whose manifesto in favor of democratic change has been signed by more than 8,000 Chinese from all walks of life.

Read it all here.

US Troop Drawdown Begins

BAQOUBA, Iraq American troops in Iraq are beginning to pull back from bases and outposts that were linchpins in the U.S. surge that helped reduce violence, prevent a civil war and allow peaceful elections.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Trade now has possession of what was once Forward Operating Base (FOB) Callahan, the locus last year for operations to quell militias loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in and around the Muslim Shi'ite slum of Sadr City.

U.S. military officials said about 15 other bases in Baghdad will follow suit before June 30, when all American troops are to have relocated from the nation's cities, towns and villages. The pullback is stipulated by the status of forces agreement that since Jan. 1 has governed the continued U.S. military presence in the country.

In Baqouba, 35 miles north of Baghdad, a sprawling compound known as Combat Operations Post (COP) Hatoon was returned to its private owners earlier this month, and COP Tahrir, a school once used as a headquarters by al Qaeda in Iraq, will soon return to the Ministry of Education.

Soldiers on outposts near populated areas in Iraq often establish friendly relationships with residents during patrols. New restrictions on U.S. operations and the withdrawal of troops from cities may make that more difficult. (Richard Tomkins/The Washington Times)

Only a third or fewer of the 14 installations in Baqouba and surrounding Diyala province will remain after the withdrawal deadline, said Maj. John Sutton, the assistant operations officer of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which is part of the 25th Infantry Division.

"Just because we pull back doesn't necessarily mean we aren't going to have any presence. We just won't be in the populated areas themselves," he said.

"Prior to 2006, when we started moving out to these other places, we were on the SuperFOBs and we were doing [missions], but with a less effective Iraqi security force. Now were pulling back with an Iraqi force with increased capability.

"So, yes, we're going to be a little bit farther away, but we have a partnership now with a capable entity. It will balance out," he said.

Washington and Baghdad signed the status of forces agreement in December. Under the terms of the agreement, U.S. troops must have court-issued warrants before detaining terrorism suspects, Iraq's military must approve operations and U.S. forces must withdraw from populated areas by the end of June. It also requires U.S. combat forces to leave the country completely by the end of 2011.

Read it all here.

Obama: No Offense, Mr. Churchill

It is no secret that Team Obama is all about symbolism and messaging. So presumably it was no accident that one of the new president's first gestures was to have a bust of Winston Churchill given to the United States by the British government removed from the Oval Office.

Mr. Obama didn't have it relocated to another prestigious location in the White House complex - say, the Cabinet Room or even the First Family's residence. Neither did he choose to put it on display in the Smithsonian, where this likeness of the greatest honorary American could have been enjoyed and revered by the rest of us. No, President Obama had it sent back to the British, who would be entitled to feel offended as well as appalled.

If indeed this explicit disassociation with one of the iconic heroes of the last century was meant to convey a symbolic message, the question occurs: Precisely which message and for whom was it intended?

Several possibilities come to mind. During his long career in various positions in the British government, Winston Churchill was closely associated with his nation's empire and worked manfully to preserve it as the sun began to set on its imperial holdings. Thanks to his own life experiences - notably, his Kenyan father and a formative stay in Indonesia - Mr. Obama clearly identifies with those colonized, rather than the colonizers. Perhaps, he wanted to serve notice of his solidarity with Mahatma Gandhi and the other anti-imperialist revolutionaries who struggled against Churchill and his government.

Alternatively, the banishing of the Churchill bust may have been part of the new president's campaign to "respect" Islam. After all, the former prime minister took a dim view of the Koran and adherents to the brutally repressive theo-political-legal program its authorities call Shariah.

Notably, Mr. Churchill wrote that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was "the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message." (Interestingly, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders - who will be in Washington later this week to meet with members of Congress, attend the Conservative Political Action Conference and hold a press conference - is currently being prosecuted by his government for having made a film, "Fitna" that reached a similar conclusion.) Clearly, Churchill's was not the sort of submissive "respectful language" Mr. Obama is promoting, perhaps with a view to beginning prosecutions here of those he, or others, consider to be "Islamophobes"?

Read it all here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deng Deng National Park

afrol News, 19 February - Cameroonian government has created a new national park to protect a population of 600 gorillas, and other threatened species such as chimpanzees, forest elephants, buffaloes, and bongo.

The new Deng Deng National Park, approximately 580 square kilometers comes just three months after Cameroon announced the establishment of Takamanda National Park which now forms part of a trans-boundary protected area with Nigeria's Cross River National Park and protects the world's rarest gorilla population.

According Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the creation of the new national park is the result of years of conservation planning, including the first gorilla population surveys in the former forest reserve in 2002 by the society.

President and CEO of the WCS, Dr Steven E. Sanderson said Deng Deng National Park is a major step towards conservation of all Cameroon's gorilla population and wildlife in the country which is facing serious deforestation.

"We applaud the government of Cameroon for continuing to be a leader in conservation and for taking this important step to protect these species," he said.

Cameroon Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Cameroon Railways and WCS are also collaborating to enforce regulations that will ban transportation of bushmeat or any other wildlife products from remote locations to urban markets by local trains.

"This effort in part has helped Cameroon uphold its obligations as a member nation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)," WCS said.

Cameroon has one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa, losing some 220,000 hectares of forest per year, mostly to logging and agriculture.

China to Help Pakistan Build Dam

YICHANG (China), Feb 22: Pakistan and China signed an agreement on Sunday for cooperation in the field of hydel-power generation.

Wapda chairman Shakeel Durrani and president of China’s Three Gorges Project Corporation Li Yong’an signed the agreement. President Asif Ali Zardari attended the signing ceremony.

Under the agreement, China will extend technical assistance to Pakistan in hydel-power generation.

Earlier, Mr Li briefed President Zardari on salient features of the dam, the world’s largest with a capacity to generate 22,500 megawatts of electricity. Later, President Zardari visited the dam and talking to reporters stressed the need for Pakistan to benefit from its relations with China and sought China’s help to build dams in Pakistan to meet its growing energy requirement.

“Pakistan has not benefited to the extent that it should have from its relations with China. We would like China to help us in the construction of a dam similar to this one,” he said. “After having seen this dam, I think nothing is impossible to achieve. Let’s try and conceive such projects which can meet our future energy requirement,” he said.

The Three Gorges Hydropower Complex consists of a dam, a hydropower plant and shipping facilities. Its reservoir submerged 632 square-kilometres of land and it took 17 years to complete. The dam meets over half of China’s electricity needs.

Read it all here.

This project requires careful analysis.

The World Bank once approved a huge dam project for India that meant submerging many villages of tribal peoples. India promised to provide land for the displaced peoples but was not able to keep that promise. The anti-dam movement grew and eventually the World Bank withdrew support, but the battle does on. With India and China we are speaking about thousands of miles being affected. Pakistan doesn't have the land to develop a project as large as either of those nations. With India and China, the rural peoples suffered in order for the cities to receive water. Likely this would be the case in Pakistan also, further angering the tribal areas.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Netanyahu-Livni Talk in Obama's Shadow

By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's political rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni agreed to hold further talks about a future government at their first meeting on Sunday since an inconclusive February 10 election.

Netanyahu, head of the hawkish Likud party, whom President Shimon Peres asked on Friday to form a new ruling coalition, vowed to press on with efforts to persuade centrist leader Livni, Israel's foreign minister, to join him in a government.

He called it "the challenge of the hour and the will of the Israeli people" for Israel's two largest political forces to rule jointly to confront what they see as Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and its militia allies, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Livni, head of the centrist Kadima party, said she and Netanyahu, "didn't reach any agreement, there are substantial differences," but added "it is important to investigate whether there is a common path."

She agreed at Netanyahu's urging to meet again, telling reporters at the Jerusalem hotel where they had met behind closed doors that "there is no reason not to."

Kadima won 28 seats to 27 for Likud in the election for Israel's 120-member parliament.

In choosing Netanyahu, Peres did not follow the tradition of asking the leader of the party with the most legislators to form a government within 42 days. He opted for Netanyahu because a majority of lawmakers pledged their support for him.

But a narrow government comprised of hawkish factions could put Netanyahu on a collision course with U.S. President Barack Obama and his promise to move quickly to a Palestinian statehood deal.

Netanyahu, 59, pledged on Sunday "to cooperate with the Obama administration and to try to advance the common goals of peace, security and prosperity for us and our neighbors."

He has sought to pursue that goal by enlisting Livni's party, which favors trading large parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank for peace, into a national unity government.

"Unity is reachable, through dialogue ... that is what we are going to do today, beginning with Kadima and tomorrow with Labor," Netanyahu said earlier on Sunday.

But after Livni's remarks Netanyahu wasn't as optimistic, Israeli media reported, and quoted him telling advisers "nothing may come of this."

Netanyahu has plans on Monday to meet Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the left-wing Labor Party, which came in fourth in the election behind Yisrael Beiteinu, a far-right party.

The U.S.-educated Netanyahu has said he wants to shift the focus of stalled, Washington-sponsored peace talks with Palestinians away from tough territorial issues to shoring up their economy, an approach their leaders have rejected.

Quote of the Week - John Donne

“No man is an island, entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of themain. If a clod be washed away by the sea,Europe is the less, as well as if a promontorywere, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s orof thine own were: any man’s death diminishesme, because I am involved in mankind, andtherefore never send to know for whom the belltolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne

Obama Delivers to Leftist Supporters

With political realities preventing Obama from satisfying his left-wing base on economic and foreign policy questions, look for Obama to give the left the barn on social issues. And expect him to do so in significant measure through the courts.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will resume hearing cases as it begins the second half of its term. Concern over Justice Ginsburg’s recently-announced cancer has naturally led to speculation about the future of her seat and the Court. At the same time, it seems that political realities will prevent Obama from honoring the wishes of his left-wing base on key questions of foreign policy and national security as well as on some central economic issues.

It is clear that in Afghanistan, and even in Iraq, Obama’s policies will differ little in substance from what we would have had in a McCain presidency or a third Bush term. The new president has already increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and he has quietly conceded that U.S. soldiers will have to remain in Iraq for some time to come. He has officially ordered the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within one year, but evidently he has not resolved the question of where the terrorists who are detained there will go or how their cases will be handled. His options are limited and none are good. It seems increasingly likely that Guantanamo will get an extension.

Apart from a few essentially symbolic changes, Obama will of necessity follow the broad outlines, and many of the details, of the Bush policy on surveillance and counterterrorism intelligence. He is fully aware of the political price he and his party would pay if he dismantled the Bush policy and then the country suffered another terrorist attack.

If President Obama’s left-wing supporters ever actually believed that American policy under Obama would be to stop talking tough to Iran and start getting tough with Israel, they will be disappointed. Here, too, the Obama administration’s actual policies, for now at least, will look more like than unlike those of the Bush administration.

Although no one would have predicted it before the economic meltdown in September, it now appears that the same will be true in key areas of economic policy. In the short run, at least, Obama is unlikely to raise anybody’s taxes. In the midst of a recession whose depth and duration is worryingly uncertain, it would be folly for the new president to try to fulfill his campaign promise to “spread the wealth” by increasing the tax burden on corporations and the affluent. And whatever Barack Obama is, he is no fool.

Nancy Pelosi and others on the left fringe of the Democratic Party will squawk about this, but their position is intellectually weak and is regarded as being so even by most liberal economists. Pelosi will have no effective way of holding Obama’s feet to the fire on tax increases, at least for the first two years.

Obama’s top appointments in the areas of national security, foreign affairs and economics reflect the political realities he is facing and signal the trajectory of his policies. As the Los Angeles Times has remarked, “the cabinet nominated by President-elect Barack Obama is a largely centrist and pragmatic collection of politicians and technocrats without a pronounced ideological bent.” The Times no doubt had in mind Republican Robert Gates (Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, whom Obama has chosen to retain in that position), and James L. Jones, who occupy key national security slots, as well as Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner, who are slated to lead the Obama economic team.

So what will the left get? How will Obama pay his debt to his base and keep them chanting “Yes we can!”?

The left will get huge spending programs, of course, and a “stimulus plan” stuffed with pork. They will probably also get the abolition of the secret ballot in union elections, though here Republicans in Congress will put up a fight.

More sweepingly, the left will get, fully and without dilution, victory on the moral and cultural issues. And this means Obama will deliver a left-liberal litmus test for appointments in the Department of Health and Human Services and related agencies, in the Department of Justice, and in the federal courts. There are two reasons for this: (1) politically, these are the only substantial issues on which Obama can afford to give the left everything it demands; and (2) his own views conform perfectly to the left-liberal orthodoxy on these matters.

Read it all here.

Troublemakers Incite Violence in Nigeria

A new wave of violence has erupted in Nigeria as Muslims and Christians battled in the northern Bauchi state.

The latest incident saw Muslims attacking Christian places of worship after two mosques were set on fire. The Muslims blamed this on the local Christian population.

However, Government officials were blaming the violence on local politicians. "This is a crisis fomented by troublemakers intent on causing disaffection in the state," state governor Yuguda said in a radio broadcast."

It is fuelled by disgruntled political elements who do not wish the state well and the government will not condone it," he said, adding: "I have ordered soldiers to take over the restoration of normalcy in the affected area from the police."

Local sources suggest that this latest outbreak of violence, following riots in November, began when members of a Pentecostal church barricaded an approach to a mosque during Friday prayers. But some said the blockage was due to a broken-down truck, which blocked the passage of Muslim worshippers.

Government officials are concerned about the rising tensions after hundreds were killed last November in Jos in similar violence. Tensions in the region have been high for years and were exacerbated after several states in the north of Nigeria adopted Sharia law.

Read it here.

Chas W. Freeman Jr. Not a Friend to Israel

A flurry of reports over the weekend said that the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, considered a sharp critic of Israel, is to be named to a top intelligence post in the administration of President Barack Obama.

Chas W. Freeman Jr., who was U.S. ambassador to Riyadh from 1989-1992, is set to be named chairman of the National Intelligence Council, which has a strong influence on the content of the intelligence briefings presented to the President (and puts together the National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, which in 2007 dissuaded the Bush regime from attacking Iran). The Council chairman is also often called on to give direct briefings to the President.

Typical of Freeman's viewpoints is a statement he made in a speech before the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs in 2007, in which he more or less blames international terrorist acts on Israel. "American identification with Israeli policy has also become total. Those in the region and beyond it who detest Israeli behavior, which is to say almost everyone, now naturally extend their loathing to Americans. This has had the effect of universalizing anti-Americanism, legitimizing radical Islamism, and gaining Iran a foothold among Sunni as well as Shiite Arabs.

For its part, Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them. Palestinian retaliation against this policy is as likely to be directed against Israel’s American backers as against Israel itself. Under the circumstances, such retaliation – whatever form it takes – will have the support or at least the sympathy of most people in the region and many outside it. This makes the long-term escalation of terrorism against the United States a certainty, not a matter of conjecture."

Freeman also is a strong advocate of talking to Hamas, which he calls "is the only democratically elected government in the Arab world." In his speech, Freeman said that "Hamas is showing that if we offer it nothing but unreasoning hostility and condemnation, it will only stiffen its position and seek allies among our enemies. In both cases, we forfeit our influence for no gain." Israel must be pressured to accept the American point of view, which does not coincide with Israel's. "We must talk with all parties, whatever we think of them or their means of struggle. Refusal to reason with those whose actions threaten injury to oneself, one's friends, and one's interests is foolish, feckless, and self-defeating. That is why we it is past time for an active and honest discussion with both Israel and the government Palestinians have elected, which – in an irony that escapes few abroad – is the only democratically elected government in the Arab world."

Read it all here.

Sookhdeo Target of UK Convert to Islam

The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev. Michael Nazir Ali, of Pakistani origins, now has to have a body guard, for himself and for his Englishborn wife and their sons.

His forthright comments on Islam in Britain have led to death threats from the British Muslim community, threats which the police take very seriously.

Furthermore, good ministries are being undermined, and might even be destroyed. Ben White`s review of "Global Jihad" soon appeared on the Church Mission Society, and also on the website of Richard Sudworth, one of their missionaries, who urged people to read the review and see what really underpins the ministry of Barnabas Fund.

Barnabas Fund, headed up by Patrick Sookhdeo, is an aid agency sending practical help to persecuted Christians around the world. If Sudworth`s comment damages its work, he will have reduced the support available for faithful Christians living courageously in hostile contexts. But of course, they are mostly non-white and many of them are converts, so their welfare is perhaps of little interest to him.

Read it all here.

And here is John Martin's response:

With over 150 years’ experience of work in the Muslim world, CMS has always been well aware of the risks faced by Christian minorities.

But now an anonymous article has been published online which appears to implicate CMS and one of its mission partners, Richard Sudworth, in actions seeking to damage the work of the Barnabas Fund and with it put at risk faithful Christians living in hostile situations.

The article was originally posted on VirtueOnline on 15 February and subsequently replaced by a significantly revised version.

This new version still appears to implicate CMS and Richard Sudworth. CMS notes that the Barnabas Fund still carries the original version of the article from VirtueOnline and is disseminating it.

CMS has no intention whatever to undermine the work of the Barnabas Fund. CMS has consistently affirmed the work of the Barnabas Fund on behalf of persecuted Christians and has occasionally worked collaboratively with it.

CMS affirms the ministry and integrity of Richard Sudworth who having lived and served in the Muslim world knows the realities Christian minorities face and is now engaged in sensitive and courageous work here in Britain.

CMS regrets that this episode has sown disunity among evangelical Christians whose common aim is to share Jesus.

John Martin
CMS Head of Communications

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pakistani Immigrant Beheads Wife

The founder of a Buffalo Muslim TV station established to portray Muslims in a good light has been charged with murder after his wife was beheaded.

Muzzammil Hassan, 44, arrived at a police station in surburban Orchard Park, N.Y., on Thursday night to say his wife, Aasiya Hassan, 37, was dead.

Police found her body at the offices of Bridges TV, founded in 2004 by Muzzammil Hassan who was inspired by his wife's post-9/11 distress at hearing a radio report she thought portrayed Muslims negatively.

He was charged with second-degree murder. No weapon was found but "the investigation is ongoing," Orchard Park police said.

Aasiya Hassan recently filed for divorce, authorities said. According to Buffalo News reports, she obtained an order of protection on Feb. 6, barring her husband from their home in Orchard Park.

From here.

The best report on the hypocrisy of Muzzammil Hassan and the media is here.

US: No Deal with Taliban in Swat

WASHINGTON, Feb 20: The United States has rejected the truce in Swat but US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday that Washington could accept a similar agreement between the government and Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

The US rejection was conveyed by its special envoy Richard Holbrooke who called President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday evening to tell him that the Swat deal was tantamount to surrender by Pakistan.

Later, Mr Holbrooke told CNN that the Pakistani leader had assured him that the Swat deal was only an “interim arrangement” to stabilise the restive region and that he had not yet signed an agreement with the militants.

In a separate briefing on Friday, Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Poland that the United States could accept a political agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban rebels along the lines of the Swat deal.

“We have said all along that ultimately some sort of political reconciliation has to be part of the long-term solution in Afghanistan,” media reports quoted Mr Gates as saying.

Asked whether Washington would approve a Swat-like agreement between Kabul and Taliban guerrillas, Mr Gates replied: “If there is reconciliation, if insurgents are willing to put down their arms, if the reconciliation is essentially on the terms being offered by the government then I think we would be very open to that.” The Swat deal, however, appears to have irked Mr Holbrooke who earlier this week also criticised the Pakistani military for not sharing President Zardari’s commitment to fighting the militants.

Pakistan has defended its effort to make a peace deal with the militants, saying that it was part of a pragmatic military and political strategy to turn Swat’s native populations against the terrorists.

Ambassador Holbrooke, who returned from a fact-finding visit to South Asia earlier this week, rejected this argument.

“It’s hard to understand this deal in Swat, the area you’re talking about, less than 100 miles from the capital in Islamabad,” he said.

Mr Holbrooke described the Swat militants as “murderous thugs and militants (who) pose a danger not only to Pakistan, but to the United States and India”.

President Zardari, he said, “doesn’t disagree” with this description.

Asked whether President Zardari had given him a commitment to stop the accord, Ambassador Holbrooke said: “Well, he hasn’t signed the deal.”

“Will he?” the US envoy was asked.

“That I don’t know. But the issue isn’t whether he signs the deal or not, the issue is the negotiations themselves. And I’m concerned, and I know Secretary Clinton is, and the president (Obama) is, that this deal, which is portrayed in the press as a truce, is not -- does not turn into a surrender.”

Mr Holbrooke said that President Zardari had not only assured the US that Pakistan will not surrender to the militants but is also sending a very high- level delegation to Washington next week for talks on this and other issues.

The delegation will include the foreign minister and several senior military officials, Mr Holbrooke said. He said Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and the head of ISI would also be in Washington next week for similar talks.

“And I can assure you, and President Zardari knows this, that this (the Swat deal) will be the top initial subject of conversation,” said Ambassador Holbrooke.

Mr Holbrooke was then asked to comment on a recent statement by the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who said: “Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons. It has terrorism, extremists, corruption, very poor, and it’s in a location that’s really, really important to us.”

“How worried are you?” Ambassador Holbrooke was asked.

“This is a legitimate concern. The United States cannot ignore it. The American intelligence community has briefed us,” he said. “But we have been assured by the American intelligence community that this arsenal is under the control of the Pakistan military. But it’s an issue of high concern and it can’t be ignored.”

Ambassador Holbrooke, who brokered a peace deal in Bosnia, was asked what was harder: Bosnia or his present assignment in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “This is harder … much harder,” he replied.

Read it here.

Quote of the Week - Thomas Cranmer

"We are desirous of setting forth in our churches the true doctrine of God, and have no wish to adapt it to all tastes, or to deal in ambiguities; but laying aside all carnal considerations, to transmit to prosterity a true and explicit form of doctrine agreeable to the rule of the sacred writings; so that there may not only be set forth among all nations an illustrious testimony respecting our doctrine, delivered by the grave authority of learned and godly men, but that all posterity may have a pattern to imitate." -- Thomas Cranmer, from a letter to John a Lasco, 4 July 1548

Glacko Smith Kline Good Business

In a speech titled "Big Pharma a Catalyst for Change," delivered at Harvard on February 14, 2009, Glacko Smith Kline CEO Andrew Witty set out an ambitious new agenda to tackle the challenges of improving global public health. GSK proposes to slash the cost of its medicines and patents to the world's poor. In summary, Witty said:

• The task before us is huge. Africa, for example, has 34 of the 50 poorest countries in the world and suffers 24% of the global disease burden.

• To tackle the problems before us we need to scale up our existing commitments. But that alone will not be enough. We need to develop new partnerships and new approaches. We need to adopt a new mindset, one which is more innovative, open-minded, flexible and willing to take risks.

• Today we are setting out four commitments:

First, a more flexible approach to IP in the Least Developed Countries. IP’s primary objective is to incentivise and reward research. However, there are plenty of neglected tropical disease where there is a severe lack of research. We need to see if we can use IP to help address that gap. One idea we are proposing is a Least Developed Country (LDC) Patent Pool for medicines for neglected tropical diseases. We would put our relevant small molecule compounds or process patents for neglected tropical diseases into the pool, allowing others access to develop and produce new products. The pool would be voluntary so as to encourage others to participate and any benefits from the pool must go in full and solely to LDCs.

Second, on pricing. Today we are setting out a new promise: we will reduce our prices for patented medicines in the LDCs so that they will be no higher than 25% of the developed world assuming we can cover our cost of goods. This will be a maximum price – where possible we will go further and reduce our prices more aggressively. In middle income countries we will also be more flexible, so that prices reflect more closely a country’s ability to pay.

Third, on greater collaboration in fighting Diseases of the Developing World. GSK is fully committed to research into DDW. We have a dedicated research centre into DDW in Tres Cantos, Spain which employs 100 scientists funded in part by our partners - including Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Global Alliance for TB drug Development. However, globally research into DDW is still too fragmented, which represents a sub-optimal approach. We need to have much greater critical mass and partnership between the public and private sectors. For our part we are willing to open up, allowing partners in to our facilities if that helps create a truly world-class, global centre of excellence, not owned just by GSK, but by all of its partners whether they are governments, foundations or other companies

Fourth, by looking at how we move from being a supplier of drugs to being a partner in delivering solutions. We need to stop saying "it’s not our fault there is no infrastructure to deliver healthcare" and start saying "who can we work with to ensure that the infrastructure does exist?" To start with today we are setting out a new commitment in which 20% of the profit we make selling medicines in LDCs will be reinvested in infrastructure projects in the LDCs, benefiting the poorest people in the poorest countries directly. We need to do more. We never want to be seen just as a "Western" company. We need to be a local company committed to addressing the specific healthcare needs of the country we operate in, building on our existing partnerships. An example of this is Brazil, where we are helping them build technical expertise so that in the long run they can produce vaccines themselves. We are setting ourselves the challenge of ensuring that we create partnerships in every country we operate in whether that is with a local company, public sector organisation or academic institution. These partnerships will tie us much more closely to the country we operate in, giving us a stake in its economic and social development. That is how it should be.

In conclusion, Witty said:

• The potential of what we can achieve by working in partnership is huge. Take malaria as an example. GSK has been working in partnership with PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative on a malaria vaccine for over twenty years. The vaccine is poised to go into Phase III efficacy trials. If this vaccine works, we need to make sure nothing gets in the way of access, least of all price. The children who need this vaccine are among the poorest in the world; that is why price cannot be a barrier to access. So we need to get the price right and we need to work with the international community to mobilise the resources to pay for it and the infrastructure needed to deliver, not least to remote communities. We developed this vaccine in partnership; we need to deliver it in partnership.

• What this shows is that we can work together. We need more such partnerships and a new and greater willingness to work together. At GSK we are fully committed to doing just that; we will not shirk from difficult issues or the hard decisions. We will evolve our business practices and model. In doing so we aim to be a catalyst for change.

UK Media enquiries:
Philip Thomson (020) 8047 5502
Alice Hunt (020) 8047 5502

US Media enquiries:
Nancy Pekarek (919) 483 2839
Mary Anne Rhyne (919) 483 2839

European Analyst/Investor enquiries:
David Mawdsley (020) 8047 5564
Sally Ferguson (020) 8047 5543

US Analyst/ Investor enquiries:
Tom Curry (215) 751 5419
Jen Hill (215) 751 7002

Read Chris MacDonald's take on this here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pakistan Deadly for Journalists

New York, February 18, 2009 - The Pakistani government should immediately investigate today's shooting murder of Geo TV and The News daily correspondent Musa Khankhel in the country's northwest Swat valley, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, the first violation of a truce called Monday between the government and local militant groups, according to local and international news reports. Khankhel had been covering a peace march led by Muslim cleric Sufi Muhammad, the father-in-law of local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, the reports said.

Muhammad sought to recruit his son-in-law to join a ceasefire agreement he had negotiated with local government officials.

Geo TV Managing Director Azhar Abbas told CPJ by telephone from Karachi that the journalist was found dead with gunshot wounds to the body and back of the head in a militant-controlled area near the town of Matta after he separated from the rest of his four-person reporting team. The motive for the killing is not clear, Abbas said.

"We mourn the tragic death of Musa Khankhel and send our condolences to his family and colleagues," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. "But grief and condolences are not enough - the government must act swiftly to bring his killers to justice and protect journalists working in this volatile region."

Khankhel was native to the region and had worked for Geo for five years, Abbas said, so his colleagues were not worried when he took his own camera to carry out some independent reporting. He also filed for Geo-affiliated newspaper The News. Abbas said Geo was concerned for the safety of the rest of its staff and was pulling all but a few employees from the region while the death was investigated.

Former Washington Post correspondent, Imtiaz Ali, now studying at Yale University, told CPJ he had worked with Khankhel in Swat. "He was brave and courageous and always wanted to break the news," he said. Journalists he knew were shaken by the slaying, Ali said. "If someone takes responsibility for the murder you can be careful next time. If you don't know who killed them, then you are scared just because of your profession," Ali told CPJ by telephone this morning.

Ali, who had spoken with Khankhel's colleagues as they kept vigil over his body, described the mood among local journalists. "They are waiting to see whose turn is next," he said.

The Swat valley is located in Pakistan's tumultuous North-West Frontier Province, where militant groups are fighting government forces for control.

Journalists frequently face violence in the area. Armed men kidnapped Royal TV Peshawar bureau chief Noorul Hasan on February 8 when he was returning from Swat. After his release three days later, he said he had been questioned about a recent interview with a Taliban chief.

Azadi daily reporter Abdul Aziz Shaheen died when an army strike targeted the Taliban jail where he was being held in September last year. The daily Nation correspondent Siraj Uddin was killed in a suicide bombing in Swat in March 2008.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit .

For further information on the Hasan case, see:

For further information on the Shaheen case, see:

For further information on the Uddin case, see:

Obama's Team Winging It

Team Obama demonstrated remarkable discipline during the presidential campaign. From raising an unprecedented amount of money to milking every advantage from the Internet to grabbing lots of delegates from inexpensive caucus states, they left nothing to chance.

And now the administration has scored a major legislative victory in an extraordinarily short period of time. Less than 700 hours after taking the oath of office, President Barack Obama signed the largest spending bill in American history.

Nevertheless, this fast start can't overcome a growing sense the administration is winging it on issues large and small.

Take the vetting of cabinet nominees. Mr. Obama's aides ignored a federal investigation of New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson that started last August for a possible pay-for-play scandal. Mr. Richardson had to withdraw after being named to become secretary of commerce.

The administration treated as inconsequential the failure of its choices for Treasury secretary and White House performance officer, as well as its labor secretary-designate's spouse, to pay taxes. It failed to uncover Tom Daschle's problems with more than $102,943 in previously unpaid taxes, penalties and interest -- and once it did, aides assumed Mr. Daschle would be given a pass.

Team Obama promised Gen. Anthony Zinni he'd be ambassador to Iraq, then cut him loose without explanation. After the Bill Richardson fiasco, it romanced Republican Sen. Judd Gregg for commerce secretary -- then ignored his advice on the stimulus and wouldn't trust him with running the department, moving supervision of the Census into the White House. Mr. Gregg withdrew himself from consideration.

Then there is the stimulus itself. Mr. Obama's economic team met with congressional leaders in December to green light a bill costing up to $850 billion. But they described less than $200 billion of what they wanted in the envelope. In return for outsourcing the bill's drafting to Congress, the administration took on two responsibilities: running polls to advise Hill Democrats on how to sharpen their marketing, and putting the president on the road to sell a bill others wrote.

Read all of Karl Rove's commentary here.