Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quote of the Week - John Climacus

"Some labor and struggle hard to earn forgiveness, but better than these is the man who forgets the wrongs done to him. Forgive quickly and you will be abundantly forgiven. To forget wrongs is to prove oneself truly repentant, but to brood on them and at the same time to imagine one is practicing repentance is to act like the man who is convinced he is running when in fact he is fast asleep." -- St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Perfection

Germans Exit Nuclear Energy

Germany announced Monday it would become the biggest industrial power to completely give up nuclear energy following the crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan, saying that all nuclear reactors would be shut by 2022. The announcement caps a startling reversal in which Chancellor Angela Merkel was strongly in favor of nuclear power before she was against it. Yet coming after weeks of discussions, “the German government has made it clear that it is serious with its U-turn on nuclear energy,” notes Der Spiegel.

After a long night of talks, Germany’s Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen announced the details of the plan that would force all of the country’s nuclear plants to go offline by 2022 at the latest. Specifically, the seven plants that were shut down after the Fukushima disaster in Japan and one that had already been taken offline would remain shut. Six would then go offline by the end of 2021 and the three most modern plants would have until 2022 to be shut, according to a plan outlined by Roettgen. The agreement “may be even more ambitious than the nuclear exit planned when the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens were in power in 2000,” details Reuters.

Read it all here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Yemen Forces Attack and Kill Protesters

Security forces raided the protesters' camp in Taiz, killed dozens of people and inured hundreds. AFP

Taiz, May 30 – A group of security force soldiers have raided the protest camp in the heart of Taiz city, known as the “Freedom Square”, at 3:00 AM on Sunday, 30 May, killing dozens of people and injuring others.

The loyalist soldiers attacked the square from all directions and gunmen in police and plain clothes shoot at protesters from the roofs of surrounding buildings.

The raid terrified local residents and thousands of protesters have fled the square after many of their tents were burned by security forces.

An unknown number called the Yemen Times correspondent in Taiz, threatening to kill him if he reported on any of the events that took place Sunday night in Taiz.

Until now, there are no accurate numbers of protesters killed or injured as the security forces have also stormed protest camp field hospital and the Al-Safwa Private Hospital, seizing dead bodies as well as some injured protesters.

Televisions and satellites inside the camp were also confiscated by the security forces. Two cars belonging to protesters have been burned by police and plainclothes gunmen.

In retaliation to this fierce raid against the protesters, a group of demonstrators burned two government vehicles found in the area.

Currently, armed clashes are erupting between supporters of Hamoud Al-Mikhlafi, an opposition parliamentarian from the Islah party and security forces in front of the security administration building of the Cairo district, only 20 meters distant from Freedom Square.

Source:  Yemen Times

Dr Khan Overly Confident on Paki Nukes?

Answering a question about safety of the nuclear assets, Dr Khan said neither the Taliban nor any external force could seize them because of a “highly secured system which has been improved gradually.” - Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: The country’s nuclear programme has been “running without any break” for the past 10 years and the process of uranium enrichment is in progress, too, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan claimed in an interview with Dawn on Saturday.

“Although I have not been associated with the programme for the past 10 years, I know that it has been running without any break and the process of uranium enrichment is in progress,” the nuclear scientist said.

He said although the departments concerned were not giving “final shape to new nuclear weapons”, the material was being prepared and they could be assembled any time if required.

Answering a question about safety of the nuclear assets, Dr Khan said neither the Taliban nor any external force could seize them because of a “highly secured system which has been improved gradually."

He said the county’s nuclear assets were safe from day one and no country should be worried about them.

“We know how to protect our strength (nukes),” he said in reply to a question about statements from Washington and New Delhi that terrorists could seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

He said nuclear weapons were not stored at one place and very few people knew about their location. “You can count these people on fingers who exactly know about the location of nuclear arsenals,” he said.

Most of the nuclear weapons made by the Khan Research Laboratories and other departments concerned had been handed over to the military authorities and the practice still continued.

“These weapons are lying in tunnels and safe houses where no one can access them, except very few relevant people,” Dr Khan said.

In reply to a question, he said Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had made the security system of the country’s nuclear programme and nuclear assets foolproof and with the passage of time Gen Ziaul Haq, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar further beefed up security around them.

“Finally the Strategic Plans Division upgraded the system, making it inaccessible to any one inside and outside the country,” he said.

Asked if the country’s nuclear programme was running satisfactorily, Dr Khan said it was running well.

In reply to another question, the nuclear scientist said he often moved out of his residence because he had no fear about his security. “I have faith in Allah because no one can harm me if He protects me.”

From here.

San Francisco Proposed Bann on Circumcision

Here's a piece of proposed legislation that will meet with resistance and if it become effective will certainly be contested in the courts.  Lloyd Schofield, a resident of San Francisco, that bastion of politically-correct non-thinkers, wants to ban circumcision for males under age 18.  Religion be damned!  Health considerations? Humph!

Here's the report from BioEdge:

"Males need protection as females do," said Lloyd Schofield, the main sponsor for a local ballot measure in San Francisco that - if passed by voters in November - will effectively ban circumcision of males under the age of 18 in the city. A federal law and a number of state equivalents ban circumcision of girls, even for religious reasons. "Intactivists" like Mr Schofield ask, why not boys?

Circumcision arrived in America mainly as a Victorian British fad - which originally purported to aim at discouraging masturbation and nocturnal emissions. It spread during the 20th century, becoming almost universal by the 1960s. It has declined over recent decades, however, to about half of baby boys in 2008. The procedure's medical benefits are disputed - but evidence suggests that male HIV infection rates can be reduced by circumcision. Intactivists, however, counter that this does not justify what they label the amputation of a body part from infants who might never be at risk of HIV infection.

If the measure passes, circumcision would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in prison. There would be no religious exceptions. "Parents are really guardians, and guardians have to do what's in the best interest of the child. It's his body. It's his choice," Mr Schofield said. He argues that circumcision is a more invasive medical procedure than many new parents or childless individuals realise.

Many Jews in San Francisco are outraged at what they regard as an attack on religious freedom. Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds, of Berkeley, a "mohel" who performs ritual circumcisions, says, "For a city that's renowned for being progressive and open-minded, to even have to consider such an intolerant proposition ... it sets a dangerous precedent for all cities and states."

Mr Schofield is glad that many Jews signed his petition. Some have begun carrying out an alternative ceremony known as "brit shalom" - the "covenant of peace" - which does not involve cutting.
See also Economist, May 19; Working to Outlaw Infant Circumcision

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Youth Enter Pro-Life Statement at UN

Pro-life Statement Enters UN Youth Fray

By Amanda Pawloski

NEW YORK, May 26 (C-FAM) As negotiations begin this week on the initial draft resolution of the upcoming youth conference, a growing international youth coalition submitted a pro-life statement to the UN.

The draft resolution on youth and the pro-life statement are an indication of divided opinions that will manifest in the July conference to celebrate the end of the UN International Year of Youth.

The UN youth document presents a negative state of youth in the world, focusing on young people as impoverished, unengaged, and intolerant. In contrast, the pro-life statement contains an optimistic appraisal of the potential that young people have to participate in development.

In little more than three pages of the initial draft resolution on youth there are no less than nine references to the World Program of Action for Youth (WPAY). This program of action has controversial language on sex education, sexual and reproductive rights, and contested interpretations of gender.

Read it all here.

ESG Reduces Investment Risk and Yields Profits

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

When I started my career as an investment analyst in 1970, the idea that a company’s environmental and social activities would be important in helping predict its future financial and stock performance was seen as largely irrelevant. Well, not anymore!

Inclusive of governance issues and abbreviated as ESG (environmental, social and governance), factors pertaining to ESG are now included in mainstream corporate stock and bond analysis in numerous investment firms, funds and managers globally. Why? Because it provides analysts better insight into companies and a possibility of producing higher investment returns with less risk.

ESG has its beginnings in ethical and socially responsible investing (SRI), which have their roots in some religious traditions. Now, with mounting environmental and climate change concerns, ‘green’ or sustainable investing has emerged. It was with these asset classes that ESG issues first began to play a pivotal role. However, ESG issues are now becoming a significant factor in all asset classes.

Evidencing the enormous shift towards inclusion of ESG issues in investment analysis among global financial institutions, were the findings reported in a September 14, 2010, press release of the United Nations (UN) Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). The PRI is a “ …framework to help investors achieve better long-term investment returns and sustainable markets through better analysis of environmental, social and governance issues in investment process and the exercise of responsible ownership practices.” Companies sign on as signatories to the PRI framework.

In the PRI press release, Executive Director James Gifford said, “every large, world-class listed company is now monitoring and reporting on its ESG performance, and so too are an increasing number of investors.” The PRI reported that, “total [PRI] signatory numbers… has jumped in the last year by more than 30 per cent… The value of the assets under management of PRI signatories now stands at $22 trillion, over 10 per cent of the estimated total value of global capital markets…”

Continuing, “signatories are now drawn from 45 countries… Over 95 per cent of asset owners and 87 per cent of investment managers have an overall investment policy that addresses ESG issues... The percentage of asset owners involved in dialogue with regulators on ESG issues rose to 85 per cent.”

And governments and regulators everywhere are listening. Countries that are taking big steps in promoting ESG issues in corporate reports include the USA, the UK, France and Sweden. Also, the European Union might soon have a policy for all member countries on ESG corporate reporting as well.

Even stock exchanges are becoming proactive on ESG issues concerning their listed companies. For instance, in South Africa, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange became the first exchange to require all listed companies to produce fully integrated financial and ESG reports. In Malaysia, its major stock exchange, the Bursa Malaysia, actively pursues ESG reporting among its listed companies.

As a result of such interest, especially by global investment institutions and individual investors, ESG stock and bond indexes are becoming commonplace everywhere. All the major stock/bond index producers—Dow Jones, FTSE, MSCI, S&P etc.—have global, continental, country and often even industry specific ESG stock indexes.

Encouraging the ESG cause are studies demonstrating improved financial, portfolio and stock performance where ESG factors are analytically applied. One study, published in March 2009 is by risklab, a division of Allianz Global Investors. It is “… a landmark study [that] strengthens the position of ESG advocates. The results reveal that a focus on ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) factors can significantly reduce portfolio risk or enhance returns. The study… is the first systematic quantitative analysis explicitly examining ESG risk in a portfolio context… [it] concludes that investors ‘not only have a right to feel good about promoting ESG, but that clear financial benefits can be expected.”

Another study finds that, “… [ESG] improves portfolio diversification through a reduction of the average stock’s specific risk …ESG criteria probably leads best-in-class ESG screened funds to be better diversified than otherwise identical conventional funds… pension funds should at least contemplate about the use of ESG criteria, as an ignorance of ESG criteria could violate their fiduciary risk management duties.” (From, Portfolio Diversification and Environmental, Social or Governance Criteria: Must Responsible Investments Really Be Poorly Diversified? By Andreas G. F. Hoepner of the University of St. Andrews, School of Management, Principles for Responsible Investment, UN.)

And a third study also by risklab, reported in Global Pensions on April 18 found that ESG can reduce the risk of negative or ‘tail’ risk impacts on portfolios in emerging as well as developed markets. “ … The tail risk of an ESG risk neutral emerging market equity strategy defined by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index can be reduced from -64.5 per cent p.a. to -38.8 per cent. The same is true for corporate bonds defined by the Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Corporate Index, it added, where the tail risk—measured as conditional value at risk (95 per cent) of the default strategy—can be reduced from -8.1 per cent p.a. to -4.9 per cent... [and for developed market equity, the] tail risk optimisation potential of the ESG neutral default strategy defined by the MSCI World Equity Index [went down] from -38.1 per cent p.a. to -25.7 per cent.”

With increasing social, environmental and climate change risks, it makes dollars and cents to now include ESG issues in investment decisions. And that is why asset managers and investors everywhere are adopting ESG criteria in the selection of individual stocks and bonds as well as aiding in their structuring of entire portfolios.

copyright alrroya.com
E-mail the writer: r.robins@alrroya.com or comment here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gender Decision Making

A couple in Toronto has kicked off a controversy over gender and parenting by keeping their third child's gender a secret. Kathy Witterick, 38 and David Stocker, 39, say that four-month-old Storm will be able to decide for him or herself what gender he or she wants to identify with. After the birth they explained to relatives and friends: "We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now -- a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...)."

They already have two children, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, who are boys. Witterick and Stocker are also trying to avoid forcing them into the constrictions of a single gender identity: "As a result, Jazz and now Kio are almost exclusively assumed to be girls," Stocker told the Toronto Star. It's up to the boys to correct mistaken impressions.

"Everyone keeps asking us, 'When will this end?'" says Witterick. "And we always turn the question back. Yeah, when will this end? When will we live in a world where people can make choices to be whoever they are?"

The gender experiment seems to be one dimension of Witterick's educational philosophy of "unschooling", an offshoot of the home-schooling movement which allows children to learn whatever they like.

The couple's unusual decision for Storm provoked a lot of comment, almost none of it supportive. Even Time magazine's health reporterBonnie Rochman, said "The way Storm's parents handle the de-genderizing (is that a word?) of the youngest member of their family is confusing at best and creepy at worst." ~ Toronto Star, May 21

Friday, May 27, 2011

UN Population Projections Force Policy Change

We’ve alluded to the UN’s latest population predictions a couple of times already in the last couple of weeks here on Mercatornet. Our editor, Michael Cook, wrote a great article on population decline in which he mentioned the problems with the UN’s predictions and linked to Fred Pearce’s fairly scathing analysis of the UN’s models.

The major problem with the UN’s approach is that it has revised upwards the projected growth rates of the world from its predictions in 2008 despite the fact that the current actual world population and growth rates are lower than that predicted two years ago. So in effect the UN has predicted that the future growth rates will be higher than it predicted at a time when the actual growth rate and population was higher. The trend is down, expect in the projections. It appears that the UN in 2008 assumed that world fertility was heading inexorably towards 1.85 children per woman; while in its latest projections the number has been revised upwards to 2.1 children per woman – the population replacement level. As Pearce states:

“The assumption now is that countries with higher fertility rates will fall to the 2.1 figure and not below, while those below will rise to reach it.”

This is despite the fact that there is no known case of a population growth rate declining to replacement level and remaining there. It also seems a big stretch to see European countries, Japan and China raising their fertility levels to 2.1 anytime soon. Thus, the UN seems to be making some fairly problematic assumptions in its global population projections. Pearce argues that the UN should explain why the higher level of 2.1 children per woman was imposed upon the projection model.

This is the problem with treating the pronouncements of the UN as gospel. It is a political organisation made up of fallible humans which has its own agenda to run. However, in pushing its agenda, the UN is using its flawed projections to justify its position. As we can see in this BBC story about Nigeria.

According to the UN’s projections, the population of Nigeria will reach 730 million by 2100 and will be the third largest in the world behind China's and India's. The UN special adviser Jeffrey Sachs is “alarmed” by this projection. (Although Chinwuba Iyizoba would disagree.) Mr Sachs told the AFP news agency that:

“It is not healthy. Nigeria should work towards attaining a maximum of three children per family".

The Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria agrees with this goal of course. (As an aside, isn’t the idea of Planned Parenthood to help people “plan” their parenthood, whether they want to have three or thirteen children? Isn’t supporting an “optimum” number of children somewhat dictatorial?)

So, we have a UN official arguing for a policy (interestingly, a policy that China seems to be moving away from) based upon the UN population projection that has some serious question marks hanging over it. Does this perhaps give us an insight as to why the projection was revised to include the 2.1 figure? After all, it's easier to get countries to enforce a change in policy which you advocate when you can scare them with the consequences if they don’t follow your advice. I can’t help but think that there will be more stories like this in the near future – some country is projected to become hugely overpopulated by the UN, therefore that country must indulge in some sort of population control policy advocated by the UN. Does the projeciton justify the policy, or does the policy justify the revised projection?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

American Citizens Increasingly Infantilized

MercatorNet:  May 24

Last October a group of Yale freshmen pledging a fraternity made jackasses of themselves by marching around the campus chanting a vulgar slur against women. Complaints poured in and the university took action. Several fraternity members were disciplined and Yale banned the offending fraternity from all campus activities for five years, saying “the actions were necessary to ensure an educational environment free of harassment and intimidation”. Quite embarrassing for a prestigious institution and the alma mater of two recent presidents (Bush 1 and Bush 2) and a close contender (John Kerry).

That was not enough, however. The federal government got wind of these campus hijinks. The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has also launched an investigation “to review Yale’s policies for dealing with sexual harassment and assault cases”. The Feds are coming after Yale under the flag of the 1972 Title lX Act (20 United States Code Section 1681: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

My experience with fraternities and sororities is limited. I don’t recall ever encountering a member of either tribe during my undergraduate days at a large university. I did, however, have a brush with fraternities toward the end of my graduate studies at Stanford University. Being newly married and on the outskirts of poverty, my wife and I accepted an offer to be “faculty residents” for a freshmen dormitory of 90 boys, boys who had just escaped from the horrendous oppression of their parents and their high school teachers. Their newfound freedom quickly found expression in incredible slovenliness, loud cursing, a few fist fights and the consumption of large quantities of brown beverages. We still bear scars and invariably wince when we reflect on that near-Animal-Farm year.

One of the most upsetting events happened when our boys returned from Christmas vacation and fraternity “rush week” began. The fraternity “men” came around to pick over our boys and begin their recruitment drive. Watching the process up close was heartbreaking. Many boys were not selected and were instantly labeled as “rejects,” “losers”, along with several less flattering tags. It was the first time most of these boys had faced rejection. To say the least, many took it quite poorly.

Late one night, worried about what to do and angry at the fraternity system, I asked my wife for advice. She had been very much a part of the fraternity and sorority life at a big state university. While sympathetic to the boys who lost out, she described her experience. Having been raised on a farm and being away from home for the first time, sorority life had provided her a haven in a huge and otherwise impersonal university campus. She described how the rules and traditions provided structure and how important the friendship and example of the older girls was. She thought that in the better fraternities the same was true for the boys.

Clearly fraternities and sororities are like families, close communities where the individuals are linked by bonds of loyalty and friendship. And, like families, there are good ones and bad ones; families that have good years and bad years; families that occasionally do noble things and families that do incredibly stupid things. The offending Yale fraternity (a DKE chapter, for those of you into the arcana of the fraternity-sorority world) seems to have fallen into this last category. Fine. But why unleash a gaggle of Washington lawyers on Yale? Why wheel in the investigatory and legal machinery of the federal government of the United States?

It is not as if Yale University had ignored the crude and offensive behavior of the students and a campus organization for which it was responsible. The University punished individuals and banned the fraternity from recruiting or engaging in activities on campus for five years.

This didn’t satisfy a small group of current and former students, who pleaded for Washington to come in and straighten out the situation. They are like children who, after parents have meted out punishment to their siblings, run to the mayor and ask him or her to visit their home to impose justice.

What is happening to the United States? Are we so silly that whenever there is a perceived injustice, we take it to the highest authority? What about petitioning Yale’s president? Or asking the Faculty Senate or the university’s Board of Trustees to see that justice be done? Or the powerful Yale Alumni Association? Or the state of Connecticut which grants Yale its charter? What is this childish obsession with the federal government?

And do not Americans have to scratch our collective heads at a government that takes up such a case and send its lawyers to New Haven to hold hearings, take testimony and arrange depositions? Are there not more worthy issues or even more dire problems confronting the federal government? Are we so rich in 2011 that we are ready to spend several hundreds of thousands to get to the bottom of the rude chanting of some frat boy wannabees? Or is this just one more example of a bloated, out-of-control government bureaucracy taking over the responsibilities of an increasingly infantilized citizenry?

Kevin Ryan founded the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University, where he is professor emeritus. He has written and edited 20 books. He has appeared on CBS's "This Morning", ABC's "Good Morning America", "The O’Reilly Factor", CNN and the Public Broadcasting System speaking on character education. He can be reached at kryan@bu.edu.

Uganda President Seeks to Gag Media

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the threatening letter that President Yoweri Museveni sent to the national media on 17 May 2011, in which he accused some of them, and international media such as Al-Jazeera and the BBC, of encouraging recent "walk-to-work" protests and said they deserved to be treated as "enemies".

The letter was sent one week after President Museveni announced a constitutional amendment that implicitly threatens journalists who cover protests. It is to be submitted to parliament during the session that began on 19 May.

Under the proposed amendment, the possibility of release on bail would be automatically banned for the first six months for anyone charged with "murder, treason, rape, defilement, child sacrifice, rioting or economic sabotage."

The charge of "economic sabotage" could be brought against anyone whose actions are deemed to have a negative effect on the country's economy. Reporters Without Borders fears that it could be brought against journalists who cover protests, since it could be argued that they are scaring off tourists and investors.

"We call on the government to withdraw this amendment," Reporters Without Borders said. "The president clearly has journalists in his sights. From arrests and increased physical attacks on journalists to lynching attempts and a constitutional amendment, President Museveni seems to be turning authoritarian and behaving like a predator just days after being sworn in for a fourth term."

The press freedom organization added: "Although it is being submitted to a parliament in which the ruling National Resistance Movement has a big majority, this constitutional amendment must not be adopted because it poses a major threat to fundamental freedoms."

The language that the president used in his 17 May letter seems to have been designed to justify gagging the media and the use of police violence against reporters of the kind seen on 12 May, when 10 journalists were injured.

"Those who have been talking of the harmless 'walks' can see their mistakes," the letter said. "The media houses, both local and international, such as Al-Jazeera, BBC, NTV, 'The Daily Monitor' etc. that cheer on these irresponsible people are enemies of Uganda's recovery and they will have to be treated as such."

During a news conference on 10 May, Museveni was very critical of the media's coverage of the "walk-to-work" protests, especially the "Daily Monitor"'s. "This is something I would really advise you to stop because this country belongs to Ugandans, not newspapers or radio stations," he said. Two days later, he talked of reporting that was "wrong, or in some cases, malicious."

It was at the 10 May news conference that the president unveiled the constitutional amendment. He went on to discuss it with members of the ruling party at meetings on 13 and 15 May.

For more information:

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Physician Assisted Torture

Doctors who participate in torture and capital punishment are unlikely to be hailed as role models for their colleagues. The American Board of Anesthesiology has even declared that it might decertify members who participate in lethal injections.

However, two articles in the latest Hastings Center Report suggest that there is a place for complicity. Even in a torture chamber or on a gurney, people still need healing hands to staunch the blood or to palliate the suffering. Who else will do it?

On capital punishment, Lawrence Nelson and Brandon Ashby of Santa Clara University argue:

"Though there are good arguments against physician participation in executions, physicians should be allowed to make their own decisions about whether they will participate, and professional medical organizations should not flatly destroy the careers of those who do."

"We contend that, though the traditional ethical arguments against physician participation are not without merit, they are not persuasive enough to justify a total ban on physician involvement. When principled and morally serious arguments lead to different conclusions about what physicians as medical professionals may do, individual physicians typically are allowed by their colleagues to make their own decisions about the proper use of their medical knowledge and skills.

"Hence, professional medical organizations should allow physicians to participate in executions on the basis of their own consciences; and although we do not oppose other forms of sanction, we believe they should not impose organizational sanctions that significantly impede or destroy physicians' ability to practice medicine."

On the participation of doctors in torture, Chiara Lepora of the University of Denver and Joseph Millum of the National Institutes of Health argue:

"Doctors sometimes find themselves presented with a grim choice: abandon a patient or be complicit in torture. Since complicity is a matter of degree and other moral factors may have great weight, sometimes being complicit is the right thing to do...

"Medical complicity in torture, like other forms of involvement, is prohibited both by international law and by codes of professional ethics. However, when the victims of torture are also patients in need of treatment, doctors can find themselves torn. To accede to the requests of the torturers may entail assisting or condoning terrible acts. But to refuse care to someone in medical need may seem like abandoning a patient and thereby fail to exhibit the beneficence expected of physicians." ~

The editor of the Hastings Center Report clearly felt uneasy about showcasing these views. "I want it clear that publishing the articles does not necessarily mean I or others at the Center think they are right," wrote Greg Kaebnick. ~ Hastings Center Report, May-June 2011
Source: Bio Edge, please comment there.

Dubai: Terminating Life is Illegal

Emirates 24/7 reports that a doctors' group in the United Arab Emirates has called for "euthanasia". Apparently they have in mind patients who are "clinically dead". They argue that this already happens in many other countries. There may be some confusion in the local media, and perhaps amongst the doctors, about the distinction between euthanasia and withdrawing burdensome treatment. In any case, the Dubai Health Authority refused their request, saying that terminating a patient's life is illegal. A spokesman, Dr Ramadan Ibrahim, said: "The Authority has notified the doctors that their request is not accepted even in cases of brain or clinical death." ~ Emirates 24/7, May 11

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saudi and UAE Groups Financing Terrorism

KARACHI: A US official in a cable sent to the State Department stated that “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”

The cable sent in November 2008 by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, was based on information from discussions with local government and non-governmental sources during his trips to the cities of Multan and Bahawalpur.

Quoting local interlocutors, Hunt attempts to explain how the “sophisticated jihadi recruitment network” operated in a region dominated by the Barelvi sect, which, according to the cable, made south Punjab “traditionally hostile” to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thought.

Hunt refers to a “network of Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith mosques and madrassahs” being strengthened through an influx of “charity” which originally reached organisations “such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Al-Khidmat foundation”. Portions of these funds would then be given away to clerics “in order to expand these sects’ presence” in a relatively inhospitable yet “potentially fruitful recruiting ground”.

Outlining the process of recruitment for militancy, the cable describes how “families with multiple children” and “severe financial difficulties” were generally being exploited for recruitment purposes. Families first approached by “ostensibly ‘charitable’” organisations would later be introduced to a “local Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith maulana” who would offer to educate the children at his madrassah and “find them employment in the service of Islam”. “Martyrdom” was also “often discussed”, with a final cash payment to the parents. “Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately Rs 500,000 (approximately USD 6,500) per son,” the cable states.

Children recruited would be given age-specific indoctrination and would eventually be trained according to the madrassah teachers’ assessment of their inclination “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture” versus their value as promoters of Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith sects or recruiters, the cable states.

Recruits “chosen for jihad” would then be taken to “more sophisticated indoctrination camps”. “Locals identified three centres reportedly used for this purpose”. Two of the centres were stated to be in the Bahawalpur district, whereas one was reported as situated “on the outskirts of Dera Ghazi Khan city”. These centres “were primarily used for indoctrination”, after which “youths were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas”.

The cable goes on to quote local officials criticising the PML-N-led provincial and the PPP-led federal governments for their “failure to act” against “extremist madrassas, or known prominent leaders such as Jaish-i-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar”. The Bahawalpur district nazim at the time told Hunt that despite repeatedly highlighting the threat posed by extremist groups and indoctrination centres to the provincial and federal governments, he had received “no support” in dealing with the issue unless he was ready to change his political loyalties. The nazim, who at the time was with the PML-Q, “blamed politics, stating that unless he was willing to switch parties…neither the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz provincial nor the Pakistan People’s Party federal governments would take his requests seriously”.

Cable referenced: WikiLeaks # 178082.  Source: Pakistan Dawn

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ethics of Taking Out Osama

The killing of Osama bin Laden has become a battlefield of its own, pitting effete, hand-wringing talking heads against square-jawed, decisive columnists.

Amongst the hand-wringers are old campaigners for moral equivalence. Celebrity human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson (yes, the one who wanted to jail the Pope) immediately declared that taking out OBL was a perversion of justice. "Justice means taking someone to court, finding them guilty upon evidence and sentencing them." he said. "This man has been subject to summary execution, and… it may well have been a cold-blooded assassination."

Predictably, radical warhorse Noam Chomsky argued that deaths of thousands in Iraq were far more evil than crimes for which OBL was allegedly responsible. “We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.”

For such scruples and assertions of moral equivalence, the machismo team has nothing but scorn, beginning with President Obama, who thought it was one of the most satisfying moments of his presidency. "Anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined."

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was sounding a lot like a shotgun-toting frontier housewife in a TV Western than the ├╝ber-liberal feminist she is. Her response to the news that the murderer of hundreds of New Yorkers was dead was stridently patriotic: “I want memory, and justice, and revenge… Morally and operationally, this was counterterrorism at its finest. We have nothing to apologize for.”

Brendan O’Neill, of the left-leaning Spiked, was contemptuous of critics of America’s “cowboy” venture. “The now widespread ‘uncomfortable feeling’ with the shooting of bin Laden is really an expression of moral reluctance, even of moral cowardice, a desire to avoid taking any decisive action.”

Without all the facts, it is a waste of time to discuss whether killing OBL was an “extra-judicial killing”, an assassination, or pre-emptive self-defence. Narratives from US spokesmen have been sketchy and conflicting. Were the Seals ordered to capture or kill or just to kill? Was OBL capable of resisting? Why wasn’t the compound better guarded?

It will probably be some time before all the details become public and by that time no one except Noam Chomsky will care. Osama bin Laden was a fanatical terrorist and an enemy of Americans and Muslims alike. Now he’s dead. Everyone is breathing a bit easier.

But closure is not an ethical argument. It is simply lazy to dismiss misgivings about the way that OBL met his maker as the scruples of an overdelicate conscience.

The death of bin Laden is not an isolated case. Rather, it is the most successful of hundreds of targeted assassinations in the War on Terror. In fact, this unconventional tactic is a key element in Obama’s strategy for eliminating al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In his election campaign he set out his policy clearly:

“The Bush administration has not acted aggressively enough to go after al Qaeda’s leadership. I would be clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not take out al Qaeda leadership when we have actionable intelligence about their whereabouts, we will act to protect the American people. There can be no safe haven for al Qaeda terrorists who killed thousands of Americans and threaten our homeland today.”

Under Obama, the use of drones has increased dramatically. According to the New American Foundation, a liberal think tank,

“Our study shows that the 236 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 24 in 2011, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,467 and 2,334 individuals, of whom around 1,174 to 1,863 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 20 percent. In 2010, it was more like five percent.”

The logic of targeted killing by remote control is inescapable for a US administration that wants to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. But the US public is hardly aware of this campaign and has never debated it in a democratic fashion.

Admittedly, civilian casualties appear to be decreasing. But it takes a peculiar morality to say that civilian deaths in a country with which the US is not at war – in fact, is an ally in the War on Terror – don’t matter much because they are declining.

Indeed, it was the opinion of a former head of the CIA that the main issue with these targeted killings is not the collateral damage but the fact that the American people were even aware of them. “The problem is that the US government no longer seems to be capable of conducting covert operations without having them reported in the press,” complained John Deutch, in a 2009 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

The war on the odious regime in Libya is another arena for targeted assassination. Only 24 hours before Osama was killed, NATO missiles struck a house in Tripoli and killed one of Gaddafi’s sons and three of his grandchildren and just missed the Colonel himself. A leading organ of liberal opinion in the US, the Washington Post, thought that the assassination option was completely justified: “we think targeting Mr. Gaddafi and his sons … is as legitimate as striking al-Qaeda”.

What astonishes in this moralising is how glib and shallow is its cowboy morality. If targeted assassination of villains in Libya passes muster, how about lobbing a few missiles at the generals in Burma or the president of Syria? The worst features of the Bush Administration seem to have rubbed off on the editorial staff of one of its most trenchant critics.

Now that OBL has been successfully dealt with, voices from the Bush Administration are back in the newspapers defending waterboarding and other methods of enhanced interrogation (aka torture) because they squeezed valuable information from detainees. "It was a good program. It was legal program. It was not torture," former Vice-President Dick Cheney said recently. "I would strongly recommend we continue it." And John Yoo, who worked on interrogation policies in Bush’s Justice Department, insists that his tough measures worked.

“Obama administration sources confirm that the coercive interrogation of three al-Qaeda leaders identified the courier who led the CIA to bin Laden… Past US presidents rightly didn't allow foreign opinion to dissuade them from using the most effective means to victory. Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan to end World War II; Abraham Lincoln allowed Sherman's destructive march through the South. Appeasing foreign opinion is no substitute for the need to make the tough decisions that will defeat a determined enemy.”

This sounds remarkably like the much-discussed “dirty hands” theory advanced by American political scientist Michael Walzer. When faced with existential emergencies, he contended, a government can justifiably do things which would otherwise be gravely immoral – like torture or dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations. It’s not good; it’s not bad. It just has to be done.

If this is the lesson to be drawn from Osama bin Laden’s death, it is the wrong one. No decisions can be beyond ethical analysis. No governments are above morality. No necessity transcends right and wrong. To assert that necessity is the only necessary justification for acting turns men into robots – drones! The effort to assess ethically what tactics American adopts in the War on Terror is not wimpish, or effete, or cowardly. It is at the core of our humanity. Thinking ethically is what defines human dignity. If the US fights with dirty hands, then Osama bin Laden has achieved victory in his death.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Egyptian Clash: 12 Christians Dead

+ Mouneer Anis

May 9, 2011

With great sadness, I would like to tell you about the tragic situation in Imbaba, Giza. Imbaba is a densely populated area, a few kilometers south of Cairo. Over the past two days, there have been clashes in this area between Christians and Muslims. The outcome of the clashes was the death of 12 people, and more than 232 injured. Moreover, several houses and shops were burnt, cars were destroyed, and the church of St. Mary, in the same area, was completely burnt.

The clashes started because of a rumor that a Christian woman who converted to Islam was being hidden by Mar Mina Coptic Orthodox Church. As a result of this rumor, a group of Muslim fundamentalists that belong to the Salafi sect gathered around the church, and wanted to go inside to search for this woman. Young people from the church prevented them from entering, because they were afraid that they may burn the church as it happened a few weeks ago in Sole, Giza.

As a result, more Muslim people came and after praying in the street, they started to shout "Islamic, Islamic." The Christians shouted back "with our spirit and blood, we are ready to defend the cross." There were attempts from moderate Muslims and the church priests to calm down the demonstrators on both sides, but these attempts failed.

Soon after this, some of the demonstrators started shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails. The army arrived and things became quieter. However, early the next morning, some extremist Muslims came and burned several blocks of flats and shops owned by Christians. Yesterday, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar called for an emergency meeting of Beth EI-Eila (the House of the Family), a newly formed group which includes the heads of Christian denominations and several Muslim leaders and the Grand Imam. We all agreed that this incident should be taken very seriously by the authorities, and that those who caused these destructive clashes must be brought to justice. It is worth mentioning that previous clashes between Christians and Muslims have always been solved through community reconciliation. The meeting also appointed a committee to go and visit Imbaba, and report back. I was one of this committee, and we spent eight hours today visiting and listening, and then writing a report to the wider committee.

The damage we saw was indescribable. The area looked as if it was a battlefield, because of the many tanks and soldiers. I was moved by the story of one of the guards of St. Mary's Church, who refused to denounce Jesus Christ and as a result his throat was slit.

This is at least the fifth tragic incident since the first day of the year, when a church was bombed in Alexandria. There is no doubt that inter-religious tension is growing in Egypt, and this needs a real strategic plan to combat it. This is what we are trying to do through Beth El-Eila.

I very much appreciate your prayers so that the Lord may transform this difficult situation. We all hope that Egypt will be a safe place for all Egyptians.

May the Lord bless you.

----The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis is Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa and President Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East

Quote of the Week - Luci Shaw

"Like all art, poems are only hints and guesses that draw our attention to something larger." -- Luci Shaw

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mr. Camping: Clueless about Bible's Meaning

Pastor Camping thinks that "the Rapture" is going to happen this weekend.  For the record, the Rapture theory is a sectarian heresy based on a misuse of Scriptural references.

Here is what Sheila Liaugminas has to say:
‘Jesus is coming. Look busy,’ quips one bumper sticker. Folks in a California church have been warning the world to take it seriously, because he’s coming soon. Saturday, to be specific.

Surely you’ve heard of this. Rolling earthquakes will hit on Saturday evening across the globe, marking the beginning of the end of life as we know it. So says preacher Harold Camping and his group of followers is trying to warn the world.

“Mr. Camping saw God had placed, in scripture, many important signs and proofs. These proofs alert believers that May 21st of 2011 is the date Christ will return for His people and begin a period of the final destruction of the world.” All will be over on Oct. 21, “when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants,” the website says.

This isn’t the first time Camping has predicted the end of the world. He also targeted 1994 as a probable time, but on the website, Family Radio says, “important subsequent Biblical information was not yet known.”

This prediction has picked up a lot of press lately, especially this week. Eliot Spitzer’s crew put Camping ‘in the Arena’ on CNN’s blog.

Some people are having fun with it all.

While Harold Camping’s followers will be preparing for the end of the world this Saturday (May 21), non-believers across the United States are planning to have a little tongue-in-cheek fun by planning “Rapture parties” as a source of amusement.

When I first heard this, I thought of the people in Japan in those terrible videos of the moment the tsunami washed away countless homes and cars and the people in them, on an otherwise ordinary day when people were going about their business. And for them, that became their last day, the end of the world for them.

And I thought of the recent devastating tornadoes through America’s south, historic flooding, taking a terrible toll in human lives that were going about their business as usual until the sound of the freight train that accompanies a sudden tornado crashed into their complacency, and may have been the last sound they heard besfore their homes ripped apart.

And, oddly but maybe not….I had a sudden flashback of the time a couple of years ago when our family walked into a popular neighborhood restaurant and as we were being seated, I became aware of the lyrics of the song playing overhead:

If you knew that you would die today
If you saw the face of God and love
Would you change?…

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change…

If you’d broken every rule and vow
And hard times come to bring you down
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you knew that you would die today
If you saw the face of God and love
Would you change?

The truth we all know, that doesn’t merit headlines, is that any day could be our last day. No one knows, said even Christ in scriptures. Christians believe that when this life ends, we each face judgment and eternal life according to how we lived.

Read more here.

Related reading:  The Kingdom of God in Genesis; Yes, Georgia, There is a Kingdom

Friday, May 20, 2011

WikiLeaks to be Published in Pakistan and India

The Dawn Media Group and Julian Assange, Chief Executive of Sunshine Press Productions, the publishing arm of WikiLeaks, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the exclusive first use in Pakistan of all the secret US diplomatic cables related to political and other developments in the country.

The MoU signed in the UK allows the publication and use of these secret cables in Dawn, its website Dawn.com and DawnNews television. Under similar arrangement between the Sunshine Press Productions, daily The Hindu and NDTV will also be publishing these cables simultaneously in India.

These cables have been obtained by WikiLeaks through its own sources and made available to Dawn Media Group. Today Dawn is carrying the first set from a huge cache of cables, and will continue to publish them in the following days. Dawn’s extensive coverage will include publication of the actual cables as well as specially commissioned stories around them. All cables referenced are available for viewing in their original form on Dawn.com.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chechen Terrorists Killed in Pakistan

QUETTA: Security forces killed five suspected Chechen terrorists, three of them women, who had tried to attack a checkpoint near the airport on Tuesday. A paramilitary soldier died of wounds he had suffered during the incident.

“All the five Chechens were suicide bombers,” Capital City Police Officer Daud Junejo said, adding that they possessed hand-grenades, explosives and detonators.

However, he was not sure about the place or the people the slain terrorists planned to target.

“I have no idea at the moment about their target,” Mr Junejo said, adding that they were going towards the city.

Another senior police officer said that intelligence agencies had received information that some suicide bombers had entered Quetta and police and security forces had been put on high alert.

“They were Chechens and possessed Russian passports,” the police officer claimed. He said their passports carried Iranian visa.

Sources said that policemen deployed at a picket in Killi Khezi area near the airport informed police and law-enforcement agencies about a vehicle carrying some suspected foreigners. The driver of the van ignored police signal and tried to speed away.

A heavy contingent of police started patrolling the area. Frontier Corps personnel rushed to the area and cordoned it off. They saw the suspected vehicle and gave it a chase.

The police official claimed that after reaching the Bazai-Cross, the suspects abandoned the vehicle and hurled two grenades at the FC checkpoint on the main roundabout, injuring three FC personnel.

One of them, identified as Sajjad, died in hospital.

The FC men opened fire on the suspected terrorists, killing the five on the spot.

“All the five suspects, two men and three women, received multiple bullet injuries,” the sources said, adding that bodies of the three women were found near the FC checkpoint. They were wearing colourful Pakistani dresses. Their ages ranged between 22 and 24 years. The men also appeared to be 24 to 25 years old.

One of the men was identified as Ahmed and a woman as Aimat, according to their passports.

“The suspects looked quite young. They walked to the FC checkpoint and a powerful explosion took place,” Zaheer Khan, who was in the area at that time, told reporters. Another witness claimed having seen them carrying grenades.

“They held grenades in their hands,” Abdul Nafay said. Police sources claimed that suspects had shown grenades to the policemen when they tried to stop their van.

“They hurled two grenades at the checkpoint,” Col Faisal of Frontier Corps told newsmen.

The bodies of the five alleged suicide bombers were taken by FC and police to Bolan Medical Collage.

None of the suspects was wearing suicide jackets, the sources said.

Police claimed that two and a half kilograms of high explosives and 52 detonators had been found in the van used by the suspects.

The sources said that two other people traveling with the foreigners had escaped before the firing by security forces.

They said they had entered Pakistan from Afghanistan through the Chaman border two days ago and after an overnight stay in Kuchlak they were coming to Quetta in the rented van.

Some people were, however, of the view that all the five were going to the FC checkpoint to surrender themselves. They said that before the FC opened fire the women were waving their hands near the checkpoint and this was shown live by a private TV channel. However, officials claimed that they all wanted to attack the checkpoint.

Police said that a team of senior officers was investigating the incident.

Source:  Pakistan Dawn

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Saudi Official Gunned Down in Karachi

KARACHI, May 16: A Saudi diplomat was gunned down in the DHA area of the city on Monday morning, days after two grenades had been lobbed at the Saudi Consulate building.

The attack on the consulate official took place in the relatively peaceful neighbourhood of Khayaban-i-Shahbaz, not far from the consulate.

“CCTV footage shows that four men on two motorcycles intercepted Hassan Al Qahtani’s car and opened fire,” Deputy Inspector General of Police (Karachi South) Iqbal Mehmood told Dawn. The official was driving to work and his car carried a diplomatic number plate.

Shots were fired from both sides of the car and Mr Qahtani was hit by two bullets, one in the head which caused his death, the DIG said.

Police found six spent bullet casings of a 9mm pistol at the place and took the diplomat’s body to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre for post-mortem.

The body was later handed over to Saudi officials who made arrangements to fly it to Saudi Arabia.

An identity card found in the car described Qahtani as a ‘Consulate Agent’.

Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz Al Ghadeer condemned the attack. “No-one who carries out this kind of attack can be a Muslim,” he said while talking to the Reuters news agency.

A police officer said a ‘Bahrain connection’ could not be ruled out as a possible motive for the two attacks, but it was also being investigated whether these were in revenge for the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The New York Times, quoting a Pakistani security official, said Qahtani was working on Saudi dissidents who had found refuge in the city and this most probably was the reason behind his killing. Security at all foreign missions in the city was enhanced after the incident.

Meanwhile, the Binnoria University International issued a statement condemning the killing and grenade attack and demanding immediate arrest of the attackers.

Agencies add: Sindh home ministry official Sharfuddin Memon said a six-member police and intelligence team would investigate the killing and the attack on the Saudi mission.

A security official said: “Apart from a possible reaction by militants to Osama’s killing, we also suspect a sectarian link.”

Saudi Arabia called on Pakistan to tighten security measures around diplomatic missions, a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by state media.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quote of the Week - Tertullian

Donimus noster Christus veritatem se, non consurtudinem, cognominavit

"Christ has said He is truth, not fashion." -- Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220 AD)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Israel Defends Borders Against Infiltrators

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday accused Iran of orchestrating two waves of fighting along its northern borders, as Palestinian protesters tried to infiltrate from Syria and Lebanon during demonstrations to mark Nakba Day, which commemorates the "catastrophe" of the creation of the State of Israel.

At least eight people were reportedly killed on the two frontiers, when IDF troops opened fire on masses of protesters attempting to infiltrate into Israel. The protests, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said, bore Iran's "fingerprints."

"We are seeing here an Iranian provocation, on both the Syrian and the Lebanese frontiers, to try to exploit the Nakba day commemorations," he said.
The IDF confirmed opening fire as scores of Palestinian refugees spilled into the town of Majdal Shams, which runs along Israel's border with Syria. At least four people, apparently Palestinian refugees, were killedt.

Mordechai also confirmed that the IDF fired at a crowd of Lebanese protesters who approached the border with Israel and began vandalizing the fence. The spokesman had no details on the number of casualties, but Lebanese sources said there had been four fatalities.

Syria is home to 470,000 Palestinian refugees and its leadership, now facing fierce internal unrest, had in previous years prevented protesters from reaching the frontier fence.

"This appears to be a cynical and transparent act by the Syrian leadership to deliberately create a crisis on the border so as to distract attention from the very real problems that regime is facing at home," said a senior Israeli government official who declined to be named.
From here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saleh Immunity Deal is Deadly for Protestors

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, May 12, 2011 - Negotiators should immediately remove a promise of immunity from any resignation deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen in light of repeated, lethal attacks by his security forces on peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. In the latest attacks, security forces, along with pro-government gunmen in civilian clothing, have shot dead at least 21 people since May 7, 2011 - at least 15 of them on May 11 and 12 - and wounded hundreds.

After weeks of delay, Saleh agreed on April 23 to a pact brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and backed by the United States and the European Union, in which he would resign within 30 days in exchange for blanket immunity for himself, government officials, and close relatives who include commanders of security forces that have repeatedly fired on protesters. The broad language in the pact appears to set no limits on the immunity terms. But Saleh has stalled on signing, demanding additional changes or concessions, as security forces continue shooting at peaceful protesters.

"These attacks suggest that President Saleh views his promise of immunity as a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for political murder," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The GCC member states and other governments involved in negotiations for President Saleh's exit should immediately pull immunity from the table."

Yemeni courts and foreign governments will still be obligated to hold Saleh to account for the attacks even if an immunity deal is signed, Human Rights Watch said.

International law rejects impunity for serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity and torture, Human Rights Watch said. International treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, require states parties to ensure that alleged perpetrators of serious crimes are prosecuted, including those who give the orders for these crimes. Systematic or widespread unlawful killings, carried out as a state policy, are likely to be crimes against humanity.

At least 137 people have died in attacks by security forces and pro-government assailants on anti-Saleh protesters since February.

In the latest attacks, on May 11 and 12, security forces and pro-government gunmen shot dead protesters in the capital, Sanaa, and provincial cities including Taizz, the western port city of al-Hudaida, and the central city of al-Baida'. Many of the protesters were shot as they tried to occupy or blockade government buildings, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Yemeni officials blamed the opposition for the violence, saying demonstrators were trying to "storm" government buildings, but numerous witnesses said the protesters were not using any form of violence.

To read the full press release, click here.

For more information:

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10118
hrwnyc (@) hrw.org
Phone: +1 212 290 4700
Fax: +1 212 736 1300

Brain Dead Australian Woman Wakes up!

"Hopeless" and "brain dead" are expressions which have to be used with great caution, it seems, judging from the experience of an Australian woman.

Gloria Cruz, 56, had a stroke in her sleep and was operated on at a Darwin hospital. Doctors told her husband, Tani, that her case was "hopeless" and that she would probably die in 48 hours. They wanted to turn the ventilator off, but Mr Cruz asked for a 48-hour reprieve. "I'm a Catholic - I believe in miracles," he pleaded.

Later a doctor, social worker and patient advocate all rang him and once again insisted that the ventilator should be turned off.

After two weeks it was turned off. And three days later Mrs Cruz awoke, to the astonishment of the hospital staff. Now she is alert and in a wheelchair at the hospital. Her husband told the Northern Territory News: "She's well on the way to recovery." ~ Northern Territory News, May 11

Friday, May 13, 2011

Profitablilty of Corporate Social Responsibility

Ron Robins, Founder and Analyst - Investing for the Soul

It is generally held that corporate social responsibility (CSR) could increase company profits and thus most large companies are actively engaged in it. But few executives and managers are aware of the research on this important subject. And as I review here, the research does show that it may improve profits. However, linking profit growth to abstract variables that are frequently difficult to define is a challenging task.

Most executives believe that CSR can improve profits. They understand that CSR can promote respect for their company in the marketplace which can result in higher sales, enhance employee loyalty and attract better personnel to the firm. Also, CSR activities focusing on sustainability issues may lower costs and improve efficiencies as well. An added advantage for public companies is that aggressive CSR activities may help them gain a possible listing in the FTSE4Good or Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, or other similar indices. This may enhance the company’s stock price, making executives’ stock and stock options more profitable and shareholders happier.

Substantiating some of these beliefs is a study, Corporate citizenship: Profiting from a sustainable business, by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published in November 2008. Corporate citizenship is another term roughly equivalent to CSR.

The EIU study said that, “corporate citizenship [CC] is becoming increasingly important for the long-term health of companies even though most struggle to show a return on their investment from socially responsible activities… 74 per cent of respondents to the survey say corporate citizenship can help increase profits at their company… Survey respondents who say effective corporate citizenship can help to improve the bottom line are also more likely to say their strategy is ‘very important’ to their business (33 per cent) compared with other survey respondents (8 per cent).”

At the heart of the debate as to whether CSR improves profits is first how you define it. Besides the terms CSR and CC, another frequently used and related term is corporate social performance (CSP). In the above quoted EIU study, it provides the following definition of CC: “corporate citizenship is defined as transcending philanthropy and compliance, and is addressing how companies manage their social and environmental impacts as well as their economic contribution. Corporate citizens are accountable not just to shareholders, but also to stakeholders such as employees, consumers, suppliers, local communities and society at large.”

The study of CSR and its relation to corporate profits is growing. The most recent study on this subject is by Cristiana Manescu. In her thesis, "Economic Implications of Corporate Social Responsibility and Responsible Investments,” at the University of Gothenburg's School of Business, Economics and Law, Sweden, she wrote on December 6, 2010 that, “the results [of her thesis] reveal that CSR activities do not generally have a negative effect on profitability, but that in the few cases where they have a positive effect, this effect is rather small.” Other studies add further perspectives.

Defining the experience of CSR in relation to different industries is this study, The Economics and Politics of Corporate Social Performance, by David P. Baron, Maretno A. Harjoto, and Hoje Jo, published on April 21, 2009. The researchers found that, “For consumer industries, greater CSP [corporate social performance] is associated with better CFP [corporate financial performance], and the opposite is true for industrial industries… Empirical studies have examined the relation between CSR and corporate financial performance, and while the results are mixed, overall the research has found a positive but weak correlation.”

However, reviewing individual empirical studies can be confusing. But by using the technique of ‘meta-analysis,’ many studies can be statistically analysed to determine collective results. A meta-analysis on CSR and its link to profits won the famed socially responsible investing, Moskowitz Prize in 2004. The study, Corporate Social and Financial Performance: A Meta-Analysis, was compiled by researchers Marc Orlitzky, Frank L. Schmidt and Sara L. Rynes. It yielded encouraging data suggesting a positive link between CSR and increased profits.

Summing up their results, the researchers said, “we conduct[ed] a meta-analysis of 52 studies (which represent the population of prior quantitative inquiry) yielding a total sample size of 33,878 observations. The meta-analytic findings suggest that corporate virtue in the form of social responsibility and, to a lesser extent, environmental responsibility, is likely to pay off… CSP [corporate social performance] appears to be more highly correlated with accounting-based measures of CFP [corporate financial performance] than with market-based indicators, and CSP reputation indices are more highly correlated with CFP than are other indicators of CSP. This meta-analysis establishes a greater degree of certainty with respect to the CSP-CFP relationship than is currently assumed to exist by many business scholars.”

So the research generally indicates that CSR/CC/CSP, no matter how you define it, does offer potential benefit to corporate profits. But there is another unanswered problem, and that relates to causation.

Do high profits enable greater spending on CSR, or is it that CSR itself creates higher profits? Referring again to the study, The Economics and Politics of Corporate Social Performance, the researchers write that, “…the direction of causation remains an open question. That is, good CSP could cause good CFP, but good CFP could provide slack resources to spend on CSP. As the Economist wrote, ‘...whether profitable companies feel rich enough to splash out on CSR, or CSR [activity itself] brings profits.’” Hopefully, future research will be able to answer this question.

On balance, surveys and the research literature suggest that what most executives believe intuitively, that CSR can improve profits, is possible. And almost no large public company today would want to be seen unengaged in CSR. That is clear admission of how important CSR might be to their bottom line, no matter how difficult it may be to define CSR and link it to profits.

Copyright alrroya.com     
E-mail the writer: r.robins@alrroya.com

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Does Ayn Rand's Philosophy Divide Conservatives?

The spectacular failure of the film version of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged has drawn fresh attention to one of modern conservatism's most influential and controversial figures. Movement conservatism usually presents itself as the stalwart guardian of traditional faith. But conservatism may experience a profound identity crisis due to the increasing popularity Rand's philosophy of Objectivism -- which celebrates selfishness as a virtue; declares religious faith to be incompatible with reason; and altruism -- including self-sacrifice - is a vice. Objectivism says there are only two kinds of people in this world, creators and parasites. Suffice to say, such a view is very far from the vision of most conservative Christians.

All this suggests a deep fault line just below the normal fractiousness of the active factions of conservatism. If the exposure of the Randian Fault is a quake waiting to happen among movement conservatives, it could very well be The Big One.

Indeed, we may be starting to see some shaking in the debate about the Republican budget proposals. Recently I (Frank) contributed an essay on the economic philosophy of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to the web site of New Deal 2.0. Oddly, Ryan claims that Rand's selfishness is all about morality.

Read it all here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quote of the Week - King George VI

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown' and he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way." -- King George VI in his Christmas Day broadcast of 1939

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Karzai Blames US for Taliban Attack in Kandahar

KANDAHAR, May 7: The Taliban unleashed a coordinated wave of attacks on government targets in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Saturday, killing at least two people and wounding 29

President Hamid Karzai charged that the violence was “revenge” for this week’s killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US troops in Pakistan, but the Taliban said the operation was planned several weeks ahead.

Targets in the first major incident since the Taliban unveiled the start of its spring offensive included the offices of the governor, mayor and intelligence service plus two schools and several police offices.

The violence in the city of Kandahar kicked off around 1pm when Taliban fighters with guns and rocket-propelled grenades holed up in nearby buildings and attacked the governor’s office.

Later on, 10 explosions, including six suicide blasts, two car bombs and two rickshaw bombs rocked the city.

Provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa, who was in his compound as the attack took place, revealed details of casualties in a press conference while officials stressed the fighting was not yet over.

“As a result of today’s terrorist attacks, 29 people were injured and two were killed. Ten members of security forces are among the injured,” Wesa said. A statement from his office added: “Our brave security forces have repulsed all enemy attacks but their resistance is still continuing in one area… but will soon be over.” The two buildings close to the governor’s office, the focal point of the attacks, are now thought to have been almost been cleared, although aircraft targeting Taliban fighters were circling in the skies above.

However, fighting near the National Directorate of Security (NDS) office was ongoing where Taliban fighters occupied a six-storey hotel.

Karzai’s office issued a strong condemnation of the attacks, linking them to Al Qaeda and the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Al Qaeda and its terrorist members who have suffered a major defeat with the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory have tried to hide this defeat by killing civilians in Kandahar and take their revenge on the innocent people of Afghanistan,” the statement said.—AFP

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Most Young Arabs Indifferent to Osama's Death

By Assaad Abboud - DUBAI

The apparent indifference of young Arabs to the killing of Osama bin Laden is being seen as a sign of Al-Qaeda's flagging popularity and the preoccupation in the Middle East with revolutions at home.

An Egyptian expert on Islamist movements, Diaa Rashwan, said his killing by US troops has failed to provoke Arab street protests because they are already marching for freedom.

"The death of bin Laden does not mean much to the Arab people," Rashwan said, noting the Middle East was awash with revolutions to topple longtime autocratic rulers.

Bin Laden's elimination was "a natural development at a time when people are turning the page on guns and violence that targeted civilians indiscriminately," he said.

The death of Al-Qaeda's leader marked the end of an era.

With his popularity already on the decline, the Saudi-born Islamist militant "would not have even enjoyed the media coverage he has had now if he had been killed a bit later," said Rashwan.

This week has not seen any major popular protest, neither at the announcement of bin Laden's death nor over the disposal of his body at sea.

Washington says it opted for a sea burial out of concern that a traditional funeral could have produced a shrine for bin Laden, who topped the most wanted list for the past decade since the 9/11 terror attacks.

President Barack Obama announced that US forces shot dead bin Laden early on Monday local time after tracking him down to a hideout at Abbottabad near the Pakistani capital.

Sporadic street rallies have been held in support of bin Laden in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Al-Qaeda chief spent most of his life, but no such events have been reported in the Middle East.

Islamist forums on the Internet, however, have been active in hailing his contribution to radical Islam.

Salman Shaikh, director of Brookings Doha Centre, said the absence of sympathy for bin Laden was not surprising. "The Arab world moved a long time ago from Al-Qaeda ... The Arabs are instead moving towards popular revolts," he said.

"They are focusing more on the struggle to have their own freedom. And besides that, they want to get rid of the extremists. They want to move forward and look to the future."

Shaikh said Arabs did not want to be identified with or viewed as "terrorists," despite mixed feelings of denial and disbelief among loyalists who insist bin Laden lives on.

The youth, at the forefront of the so-called Arab Spring, is focused on freedom, democracy and higher living standards, agreed Lebanese sociologist Dalal Bizri, although this did not mean a total lack of sympathy for bin Laden.

A leader of Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen on Wednesday vowed revenge.

"We will take revenge for the death of our Sheikh Osama bin Laden and we will prove this to the enemies of God," he said, contacted by telephone from Yemen's restive southern province of Abyan, an Al-Qaeda stronghold.

"They will see what they haven't expected ... We are preparing a plan to continue jihad in the coming period," the militant warned, requesting anonymity for "security reasons."

Bizri said Islamist movements in the Arab world were increasingly influenced by the Turkish model of rule in a secular state, with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria more amenable to the West and abandoning anti-Western slogans.

Since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood has formed a non-theocratic" party in Cairo to contest up to half of the parliamentary seats in September elections.

"The main feature of the coming period will be the involvement of Islamists in power, and they will then fight against extremists and silence them," predicted Bizri.

Egypt's Brotherhood itself said on Monday that "Islam is not bin Laden."

"After September 11, there had been a lot of confusion. Terrorism was mixed up with Islam," said Mahmud Ezzat, the Brotherhood's number two. "In the coming phase, everyone will be looking to the West for just behaviour."

Source: Middle East Online

Putin Promises to Boost Birth Rates and Life Expectancy

Vladimir Putin has promised to spend £33 billion to boost the country's flagging population by up to a third over the next four years, during a two-and-a-half hour speech that appeared to gear him up for a 2012 presidential run.

On the country's declining population, he pledged to boost the country's birth rate by between 25 and 30 per cent by 2015.

"According to preliminary calculations, between 2011 and 2015 some 1.5 trillion roubles will be invested in demography projects," he said. "First, we expect the average life expectancy to reach 71 years. Second, we expect to increase the birth rate by 25 to 30 per cent in comparison to the 2006 birth rate."

Read it all here.
MercatorNet has this comment:
It is interesting to note that 2006 is taken as the benchmark date where the birth rate increase will be measured from. Why not take the recent census data as the starting point? An answer may be found in the fact that according to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2006 Population Data Sheet, the Russian birth rate was around 10 births per 1000 people. An increase of 25 - 30% on that number would take the birth rate to around 12.5 - 13 births per 1000 people. And what do you know? According to the latest census data, the current Russian birth rate is 12.6 births per 1000 people. Thus, it seems that Prime Minister Putin’s target has been reached without a rouble being spent! That is the mark of a successful politician – pick a target that has already been reached and then throw lots of money at it and then point to the fact that you’ve reached your target as proof that your policies work. However, on the other hand at least the average life expectancy target of 71 years has not yet been reached according to the latest census. So, what will the money be spent on?

“Under the plan, the government would build more affordable housing for families, promote a healthy lifestyle and stop the country's brain drain. Previous schemes have seen cash incentives given to parents with two or more children to be spent on housing and education…He promised to stem Russia's population decline by supporting young families and improving health care…”

Perhaps some of the money should be sent on ensuring that members of the Russian Government attend the first international demographic summit being held in June and organised by the World Congress of Families. To sweeten the deal, the cost of sending delegates will not be very high at all – in fact they won’t even have to leave Moscow!

Of course, all of this means that Russia should be the case study par excellence for those seeking a reduction in the Earth’s population. Want to reduce the number of human beings on this Earth? Just follow Russia’s lead. But don’t be surprised when you see its leaders trying to drag it in the opposite demographic direction.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Robbery of Ancient Graves

The Israel Antiquities Authority

In ancient times, the deceased were usually buried together with personal goods in the belief that they would be useful during the deceased's journey to the next world. Jewish graves from Second Temple Period times yield coffins and an abundance of ancient artifacts, mainly glass, decorated oil lamps, cooking utensils and jewelry. Artifacts from this period in the Holy Land, the time of Jesus, are in great demand. Stone burial coffins, some with ornamentation or inscriptions are one of the robbers' favorite items, scattering bones in all directions and stealing the ornamented coffins. Unornamented coffins are left, shattered in the burial cave.

Finding and entering a burial cave doesn't require much physical work. Upon discovery, the circular entry stone is pushed aside; robbers burst inside and systematically collect the burial site's contents. Some of the bone boxes in Jewish burials were decorated in geometric and floral patterns, many inscribed with the deceased's name, family ancestry and livelihood. Unornamented coffins are today used as flowerpots in private homes and by collectors. The ornamented coffins are stolen and sold for a high price.

Robbery of Roman and Byzantine Graves Roman and Byzantine period graves are rich in glass objects and attractive jewelry, as well as a variety of ceramic wares. Systematic destruction of the graves of Muslim sheikhs has recently become the latest fashion by bands of robbers searching for treasure. The entire gravesite is completely dug up from below in a search for gold treasure from the Ottoman period. Graves are desecrated and bones scattered over a large area.

Read more here.

Bishop Ackerman Responds to News of Provincial Visitors in C of E

May 6, 2011

Bishop Keith L Ackerman ssc

Forward in Faith North America rejoices over the appointment of two distinguished Catholic priests in the Church of England to be Provincial Episcopal Visitors. The Episcopal Church in the United States of America would have done well to have adopted the graciousness of the Church of England in providing specific care for those who maintain the Historic Faith, which includes maintaining the received position regarding one of the Sacraments of the Church, namely Holy Orders. Sadly the lack of charity in the Episcopal Church has resulted in unholy disorder. As Anglicanism in North America continues to realign, one wonders what would have happened had the Episcopal Church exercised the same spirit of graciousness extended at this time in England, rather than litigation and depositions of Traditionalists. Forward in Faith North America prays mightily for Fr Banks and Fr Baker, both of whom are held in the highest regard by Anglo Catholics in the United States. They will serve as Bishops in the Church at a time where they will be mightily tested and tried. As learned men formed in the Catholic Tradition, may God use them mightily as Successors to the Apostles in a world that desperately needs to hear the Truth being proclaimed, and the fruits of the Truth being lived.

X Keith L Ackerman

Source: Forward in Faith

Thursday, May 5, 2011

US Wants Gaddafi's Assets to Aid Libyans

The Obama administration wants to use some of the billions of dollars in frozen assets belonging to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his government to provide humanitarian and other assistance to the Libyans affected by the country's ongoing civil war, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

The move, announced at a high-level meeting in Rome on how to shore up Libya's rebels, appeared to be the first time a country has sought to tap some of the massive Libyan wealth blocked by U.N. sanctions in February.

For more information, go here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Kenyan Considers Obama's Story

Mauya Omauya

During Barack Obama's last visit to Kenya he gave a thrilling speech at the University of Nairobi, UON on Monday 28th August, 2006.

In his speech entitled, An Honest Government, A Hopeful Future, Barak Obama reprimanded Kenya's corrupt leaders for being the cancer that ails Kenya. He boldly and without batting an eyelid stated, "while corruption is a problem we all share, here in Kenya it is a crisis - a crisis that's robbing an honest people of the opportunities they have fought for - the opportunity they deserve."

A young Barak Obama with family in Kenya

He lashed at negative ethnicity, greed and tribalism that are to blame for Kenya's "a thousand millionaires and a million beggars" situation.Kibaki's Government through their usual parrot, Dr Alfred Mutua disowned Obama, rubbished him about his remarks and told him how unwelcome his advice and presence was! Mr. Obama was described as being ignorant and dismissed as a mere Senator from Illinois, methinks they meant an inconsequential busybody who was very low in the American pecking order.

In short, Kibaki's government actually could not stand Obama's honest opinion on the way forward for Kenya; Kibaki's regime did not listen to him and a few months later, in January 2008, Kenya plunged itself into an Armageddon; a clear result of the build-up of unresolved injustices in the nation.

Upon Obama clinching the White House on 5th November 2008, Kibaki addressed kenyans, emphasizing Obama's links to Kenya and expressing elation on his victory. For Kibaki to turn around and declare a National Holiday in honour of Obama is to exhibit narrow-mindedness because he and his political cohorts don't share Barack's spirit of governance.

Had he shared Barack's ideals, he should have implemented the great advice Obama gave in the UON speech. While it is proper for Kenyans to celebrate Obama's victory, methinks there are reasons for Kenyans to gnash their teeth in shame because Obama's victory highlights our shame as a country!

If Obama is "Luo" (he has written so his book although jestingly) then USA has just elected a Luo tribesman to the White House, the highest and most powerful office on earth currently. This answers Ali Mazrui's 2007 question; Which country between Kenya and USA will be the first to elect a Luo to the highest office. Kenya has killed all its brilliant Luos and any other bright chaps; Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko, Dr Mbai, Pinto etc. If a Luo aspired to take a high office in Kenya we would be loudmouthed about uncut penises and their love of throwing stones! The last time a Luo, Raila Odinga shook the country with his fame and won clearly in 5 out of 8 provinces in an election in Kenya (2007), the country sped towards genocide rather than see a Luo at the helm. The divisive and venomous nature of Kenyan politics deeply ingrained in ethnic discrimination should make us be ashamed to be related to Obama's message of change!

Obama's victory should be our shame because his story could not be possible in Kenya. In Kenya, I doubt if he could even become a ward councilor, maybe he could not have gone to University or even if he did, he'd have to study some subject he didn't choose because he is on Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) and the Joint Admissions Board (JAB) just allocates you a degree based on available bed space in the universities, your dream or preference doesn't count. All the good subjects or those that a student wants and has passion for would have been taken by Rich and/or Parallel students who even graduate in less time than the "common students."

Had Obama vied to be councilor in Majengo ward, Nairobi, they would sneer at him, huyu chotara anataka nini?, what does this half-breed want? If he vied for mayor in Kisii town they could have inquired "mointo ong'o are? Whose son is he?, ngesaku ki'are? Which tribe is he? And he would fail miserably in the election! His Victory in America is Kenya's shame because it could not happen in Kenya. Thank God Obama senior chose to let the boy grow in the USA rather than having dragged him to live in Shauri Moyo. Obama's story could not happen in the present Kenya's socio-political climate! It is a shame.

From here.