New US Intelligence Report on Iran— Is Iran Now a Harmless Pussycat?
The Associated Press reported on December 5:
“President Bush, trying to keep pressure on Iran, called on Tehran Wednesday to ‘come clean’ about the scope of its nuclear activities or else face diplomatic isolation. Two days after a new intelligence report said that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, Bush demanded that Tehran detail its previous program to develop nuclear weapons ‘which the Iranian regime has yet to acknowledge.’… The administration is worried that the new National Intelligence Estimate — representing a consensus of all U.S. spy agencies — weakens its leverage over Iran and its ability to build global pressure on Tehran to stop its uranium enrichment program.”
AFP wrote on December 5:
“President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday boasted a US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear programme was a ‘great victory’ for Tehran, vowing never to yield to Western pressure to halt the contested drive. The report by the US intelligence community said Iran halted a drive for atomic weapons in 2003 — despite years of statements by US President George W. Bush accusing Tehran of actively seeking a nuclear bomb. Russia and China argued the report diminished the need for a third set of UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran but Western powers pleaded for no let-up in the international pressure.”
Der Spiegel Online reported on December 5 on German reactions to the US intelligence report, as follows:
“Eckart von Klaeden, a foreign policy expert with the governing Christian Democrats (CDU), expressed support for keeping the pressure on Iran. In an interview with Berliner Zeitung, he said: ‘Iran is still building a missile delivery system, it still doesn’t fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and it supports international terror organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.’… For the most part, Germany’s largest papers seemed relieved but not relaxed. They are relieved that the drums of war that so recently echoed loudly from the White House have died down. But they seem to be unanimous in the feeling that while more carrots are good, it’s still too early to drop the stick:
“The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“‘In reality, America’s intelligence services had not been keen to publish their intelligence estimates once again… It’s obvious that they’re afraid of being used once again — as they were in the case of Iraq — as a tool in the government’s escalation strategy for which there is no factual support. That’s why they’re scrapping the intelligence estimate they made for Iran just two years ago. The fact that this 180-degree turn is publicized hints at the degree to which some part — and a tough and powerful part — of the Bush administration is fighting for an escalation. In this case, it appears to be Vice President Dick Chaney against the rest of the administration.’…
“The conservative Die Welt writes:
“‘… the US intelligence services are more defensive than their European counterparts, who aren’t yet completely convinced that Iran put a freeze on its atomic weapons program in 2003… The 16 American intelligence services apparently did not want to open themselves up to the accusation that they were being manipulated by the White House. But this distancing, though welcome, comes at a price because it will now be even more difficult for the international community to put pressure on Tehran. Iran claims that it will retain its options to obtain the bomb and will perfect the know-how that could be used for building a bomb. By sometime between 2010 and 2015, Iran might have enough material to make an atomic warhead. That’s really not that far from now, when you think about it and when you consider that it’s already been four years since Iran’s nuclear program was discovered. While the diplomatic efforts plod endlessly forward without accomplishing much, there’s no reason to sit back and relax now.’…
“The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
“‘The (US intelligence) report is no cause for sounding the all clear. A civil nuclear program can quickly be repurposed for military uses. The new finding that Iran already had a military nuclear program is more troubling than the finding that it halted it a few years ago, and all the more so because the program … was halted during the tenure of the more moderate President Mohammad Khatami. That really says very little about the intentions of his successor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a well-known hardliner.
“‘Iran must be denied the possibility of making a nuclear bomb. Therefore, it shouldn’t be allowed to enrich uranium for either civil or military uses. The issue is nuclear conflict, and that is what the resolutions of the UN Security Council are aimed at. The intelligence report doesn’t change that at all… The US government is now going to have a tougher time getting the international community to toughen its sanctions in mid-December, especially Russia and China. Of course, they’ll demand fewer sticks for Iran, but the intelligence report would be the wrong argument for that.'”
Climate Change Conference–USA Left Increasingly Isolated
AFP wrote on December 3:
“A major United Nations climate change conference opened on Indonesia’s Bali on Monday, buoyed by the new Australian prime minister’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol… Kevin Rudd ratified the landmark UN treaty as his first official act after being sworn in as Australia’s leader following elections last month. The move by Rudd… leaves the United States — the only advanced economy yet to ratify the protocol — increasingly isolated as the world tries to hammer out a plan for when Kyoto expires in 2012.
“The 11-day conference, held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and attended by more than 180 nations, comes as evidence mounts of the havoc rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns are set to wreak on world ecosystems and humankind. Under the new pact, industrialised countries will be pressed to massively reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases from the end of 2012… Environmental group WWF said Australia’s signing of Kyoto would send a strong message to the United States, currently the world’s biggest emitter of polluting greenhouse gas.”
Der Spiegel Online reported on December 3:
“In recent official statements, Washington has indicated it might be looking for a compromise during negotiations in Bali for a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. But sources say the White House is discreetly searching for partners in Beijing and Dehli to derail the prospects for any binding agreements to curb emissions of greenhouse gases… According to the source, Washington is hoping that the two greenhouse gas emitters will openly declare during the conference that they are unwilling to accept any binding limits on emissions of greenhouse gases — at least not as long as the US is unwilling to do more or if the Western industrial nations do not provide them with more financial aid for climate protection initiatives. If successful, the US could use the tactic to prevent itself from becoming an isolated scapegoat if negotiations in Bali end in a stalemate.”
The Associated Press reported on December 6:
“American climate negotiators refused to back down in their opposition to mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions Thursday, even as a U.S. Senate panel endorsed sharp reductions in pollution blamed for global warming… the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill Wednesday to cut U.S. emissions by 70 percent by 2050 from electric power plants, manufacturing and transportation. The bill now goes to the full Senate. U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson, however, said that would not impact Washington’s position at the international gathering in Bali… It was the first bill calling for mandatory U.S. limit on greenhouse gases to be taken up in Congress since global warming emerged as an environmental issue more than two decades ago…
“The two-week conference, which opened Monday, is already in a tense standoff between two camps, with the majority supporting mandatory emissions cuts on one side, and opponents such as the United States on the other, delegates said… Washington’s isolation in Bali has increased following Australia’s announcement Monday that it has reversed its opposition to the Kyoto pact and started the ratification process — winning applause at the conference’s opening session. That left the U.S. as the only industrialized nation to oppose the agreement…
“Further momentum for serious greenhouse gas cuts, came from a petition released Thursday by a group of at least 215 climate scientists who urged the world to reduce emissions by half by 2050… The United States and ally Japan are proposing that the post-Kyoto agreement favor voluntary emission targets, arguing that mandatory cuts would threaten economic growth which generates money needed to fund technology to effectively fight global warming… U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns denied that Australia’s acceptance of the Kyoto accord would prompt Washington to do the same. ‘We do not see eye-to-eye with Australia or many other countries on the wisdom of signing the Kyoto regime, that’s obvious,’ Burns said in Sydney, Australia.”
Testing Political Candidates for Brain Dysfunctions?
The LA Times published a seemingly provocative editorial on December 5, which appears to be outrageous at first sight. The article was written by Daniel G. Amen, a neuropsychiatrist and director of the Amen Clinics, and the author of ‘Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.’ It was pointed out:
“What do Rudy Giuliani’s messy personal life, John McCain’s temper and Hillary Clinton’s inability to seem authentic have in common? Maybe nothing. They may be just overblown issues in the otherwise normal lives of candidates under the political microscope.
“Such symptoms, however, may mean a lot — such as evidence of underlying brain dysfunction. Sometimes people with messy personal lives have low prefrontal cortex activity associated with poor judgment; sometimes people with temper problems have brain damage and impulse control problems; sometimes people who struggle with authenticity have trouble really seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
“Is the brain health of a presidential candidate a fair topic in an election year? Certainly Dick Cheney’s heart condition wasn’t off-limits in 2000, nor have questions about McCain’s age been considered out of bounds. The White House issues a complete medical history of the president each year — detailing everything from his seasonal allergic rhinitis to his adenomatous colon polyps. Clearly we care about the health outlook for our elected leaders. Should we go so far as to do brain scans? Of candidates for the Oval Office? Some people might consider discussing brain health a ridiculous idea. Not me…
“Three of the last four presidents have shown clear brain pathology. President Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease was evident during his second term in office. Nonelected people were covering up his forgetfulness and directing the country’s business. Few people knew it, but we had a national crisis. Brain studies have been shown to predict Alzheimer’s five to nine years before people have their first symptoms.
“President Clinton’s moral lapses and problems with bad judgment and excitement-seeking behavior — indicative of problems in the prefrontal cortex — eventually led to his impeachment and a poisonous political divisiveness in the U.S. The prefrontal cortex houses the brain’s supervisor, involved with conscience, forethought, planning, attention span and judgment.
“One could argue that our current president’s struggles with language and emotional rigidity are symptoms of temporal lobe pathology. The temporal lobes, underneath your temples and behind your eyes, are involved with language, mood stability, reading social cues and emotional flexibility.
“A national leader with brain problems can potentially cost millions of people their lives. Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein give us recent historical examples. Both of Milosevic’s parents committed suicide, he had serious bouts of depression and reportedly drank heavily — all signs that point to brain problems. He was found to be unreasonable and unreliable in negotiations and heartless as a political leader. Hussein was described as paranoid and without empathy, also symptoms pointing to poor brain function. His mother suffered severe bouts of depression and attempted suicide while pregnant with him, which is known to affect a baby’s developing brain. He was physically and emotionally abused by his stepfather. All of these stresses must have been involved in shaping his paranoid brain into a mind that could torture dissenters, murder relatives and launch chemical attacks that killed thousands.
“Functional scans, such as Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, provide a window into the brain. Doctors can now see healthy or dysfunctional brain patterns, much as we can assess the strength of a heart or measure hormone levels, and recognize trouble. All doctors might not agree on the interpretation, but there is a growing body of scientific literature establishing what these scans mean, such as attention deficit disorder or a predisposition for Alzheimer’s… A president with brain problems could wreak havoc on the U.S. and the world at large.”
U.S. Senate Investigation of Christian Ministries–Legal or Unconstitutional?
The Associated Press reported on December 6:
“A second Christian ministry is refusing to meet a Thursday deadline for a Senate investigation into preachers’ salaries, perks and travel… Benny Hinn… said in a statement to the AP on Thursday that he will not respond to the inquiry until next year. A lawyer for preacher Creflo Dollar… in suburban Atlanta had said Wednesday that the investigation should be referred to the IRS or the Senate panel should get a subpoena for the documents.
“Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent lengthy questionnaires a month ago to six ministries so he could review whether pastors were complying with IRS rules that bar excessive personal gain through tax-exempt work. Only Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo., has provided the detailed financial and board oversight information sought by Grassley.
“Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a Wednesday conference call with reporters that he ‘can’t be impressed’ by the argument from some of the preachers that the IRS already monitors them, because his past inquiries have unearthed information that the IRS never knew. All the ministries preach a form of Word of Faith theology, known as prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants believers to reap material rewards for their faith.
“… several religious liberty watchdogs have said the scope of the inquiry is too broad and warned that it could be unconstitutional… Refusals to turn over the information could lead to a court fight, giving a judge the authority to decide whether the committee is entitled to all the information it requested.”
Terrible Weather Conditions in Oregon and Washington
The Associated Press reported on December 5:
“The drenching rains and howling winds were gone but flooding concerns persisted Wednesday, as anxious residents waited for waters to recede so they could see what was left after this week’s fierce storm. The storm… battered the Pacific Northwest before moving on Tuesday, leaving behind flooded homes, fallen trees and washed-out roads, including the region’s largest highway… The interstate, which is the main north-south route between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, was expected to be closed at least through Thursday.”
We received the following additional information from one of our members, residing in Woodburn, Oregon:
“We have SURVIVED! This storm was one of the worst we have seen since 1996. It was absolutely awful with constant pouring down sheets of rain, wind gusts up to 54-56 mph here in the valley and wind gusts up to 129 mph on the northern coast of Oregon. Our apartment building groaned and moaned and creaked from the strong winds.
“Now the rivers and streams are flooding and peoples’ homes are being affected. Our little creek has maxed out but thankfully, we are too high in the park for it to bother anyone here. This began Saturday afternoon until early this morning (Tuesday, December 4)! Yesterday, literally all of the roads leading to the coast were closed due to fallen trees, flooding or land slides. Tillamook, which is on the northern coast of Oregon, was basically cut off from all directions due to flooding of Hwy 101.”
Another member wrote on December 5 from Florence, Oregon:
“Weather reports said we had hurricane conditions here with gusts up to 100 mph. All is quiet now, with the only damage around town being downed trees and power outages. The river is high and pretty muddy from being so stirred up, plus lots of log debris floating in it. Really no hardship here…just inconvenience.”
The Associated Press reported on December 6:
“Floodwaters from a deadly wave of storms were receding in the Pacific Northwest on Thursday, rescue and evacuation work ended and lights were coming back on in thousands of homes and businesses. Eight people were killed in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the storm and damages were likely to reach into the billions of dollars, but remained to be tallied. Interstate 5, closed since Monday about 30 miles south of the state capital in Olympia, could reopen as early as Thursday night with one lane of traffic in each direction…
“Gov. Chris Gregoire said flooding hit record levels on the Chehalis, Skokomish and Elwha rivers. Recalling scenes of blown-down trees, Gregoire said, ‘The visual is nothing like I’ve ever seen other than my recollection of Mount St. Helens’ after the volcano’s devastating 1980 eruption… State officials believed about 33,000 customers remained without electricity early Thursday, mostly in outlying areas of coastal Pacific and Grays Harbor counties…”
No Chavez Beyond 2013?
AFP wrote on December 3:
“Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez acknowledged Monday his first-ever defeat at the polls after voters rejected reforms in a weekend referendum that would have strengthened his grip on power and turned his oil-rich country into a socialist state… Chavez, a firebrand critic of the United States with ties to Iran and Cuba, had been counting on the referendum to continue his rule beyond January 2013, when he must step down under the current constitutional two-term limit. The 53-year-old former paratrooper had said he wanted the constitution overhauled so he could seek re-election ‘until 2050’ — when he would be 95. He had also wanted to gain even tighter control over the country by putting more of the military under his command, permitting media censorship in times of emergency and scrapping the central bank’s autonomy…
“Former defense minister Raul Baduel, who had referred to the reform proposal as a concealed coup attempt, urged supporters to remain vigilant in months ahead. ‘We need to remain conscious of the possibility that the president could attempt to reach the same results through the legislative process,’ Baduel said… Venezuela’s constitution prevents Chavez from re-presenting his constitutional reform under the current congress — though he could conceivably appoint a constituent assembly to draft an entirely new basic law for adoption.”
USA Soon Without Venezuela’s Oil?
The New York Times wrote the following in its report of December 3:
“The results of the referendum, which would have given new powers to President Hugo Chávez, were a stunning development in a country where Mr. Chávez controls nearly all of the levers of power… The defeat slows Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired transformation of the country. Venezuela, once a staunch ally of the United States, has become a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s policies in the developing world. It has also taken the most profound leftward turn of any large Latin American nation in decades…
“The United States remains the largest buyer of Venezuela’s oil, despite deteriorating political ties, but that long commercial relationship is starting to change as Mr. Chávez increases exports of oil to China and other countries while gradually selling off the oil refineries owned by Venezuela’s government in the United States… Mr. Chávez already has unprecedented discretionary control over Venezuela’s oil revenues, valued at more than $60 billion a year. “
Christians Worse Off in Iraq
The Eastern Star News Agency reported the following on December 2, republishing an article by CBS:
“An Anglican clergyman in Baghdad, who has seen his flock murdered and forced into exile by Muslim extremists, says Christians there are worse off now than under Saddam’s rule and are probably suffering more than [at] any time in history… ‘There’s no comparison between Iraq now and (under Saddam),’ says [Canon Andrew] White. ‘Things are the most difficult they have ever been for Christians – probably ever in history’…
“That’s because White estimates that 90 percent of Iraq’s Christians, once thought to number over a million, have either fled or have been murdered by Islamic extremists during the religious civil war. That includes his own church leaders and most of the men of his parish. ‘They are mainly killed. Some are kidnapped,’ says White. ‘Here in this church, all of my leadership were originally taken and killed.’ Their bodies were never recovered. ‘This is one of the problems. I regularly do funerals here, but it’s not easy to get the bodies’… It’s all happening because religion can go wrong, says White. ‘When religion goes wrong, it kills others. (Islam) has (gone wrong) and in the past, Christianity has gone wrong,’ he says.”
Preparations for the Third Temple Underway
The Daily Israel Report wrote on December 3:
“The Temple Institute in Jerusalem announces the completion of the Tzitz, the High Priest’s headplate… ready to be worn by the High Priest in the rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The words ‘Holy for G-d’ are engraved on the headplate, in accordance with Exodus 28:36. Rabbi Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute, explained to Arutz-7 that until it can actually be used, the [Tzitz] will be on view in the Institute’s permanent exhibition display, together with other vessels and priestly garments fashioned for use in the Holy Temple by the Institute…
“Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, Director of the Institute, explained some of the Halakhic [Jewish legal] aspects of the fashioning of the vessels for the Temple. ‘For one thing,’ he said, ‘they are made in impurity – for now we are impure, and will remain impure until we are able to have a Red Heifer whose ashes can be used in the Torah-prescribed purification ceremony. If no Red Heifer is available, then the High Priest must even serve in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur in a state of impurity.’
“…’ to gain the actual status of hekdesh, we similarly make it clear that this does not happen until the vessel is actually brought in to the Temple Mount for use in the Temple’… Rabbi Richman noted that in less than two weeks from now… the famous Menorah (candelabrum) – suitable for use in the Holy Temple…- will be relocated to the landing of the wide staircase that leads down from the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall…
“Asked what project they’re working on at present, Rabbi Richman said, ‘We have begun work on 120 sets of garments for “regular” priests, not the High Priest. This involves special thread from India, etc. In addition, we have begun work on architectural blueprints for the Third Temple, including cost projection, modern supplies, electricity, plumbing, computers, etc.’…
“‘We are now approaching the holiday of Chanukah,’ Rabbi Richman continued, ‘which is the holiday that commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple. We’re not just building beautiful vessels; we’re interested in granting G-d the dwelling place that He wants in this world; the Temple is not merely a building, but a way of bringing G-d into our lives in a very real way. And that is what we aim to do. This [Tzitz] is G-d’s Chanukah present to us, and our Chanukah gift to the Jewish People.'”
How To Implement the New EU Treaty?
The EUObserver wrote on November 28:
“Although the ink has barely dried on the EU’s new treaty, analysts are already scratching their heads as to how the document, with its unclear division of power between the EU’s top politicians, is going to work in practice.
“Come 2009, when the Reform Treaty is supposed to click into place, there will be three big jobs to be had in Brussels – the president of the European Commission; the president of the European Council and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
“The three have overlapping job descriptions that are set to be defined only by the strength of the personalities involved, meaning that the treaty, agreed in October after years of wrangling, could be laying the ground for a political hornet’s nest… The questions run from pinning down the exact powers of the EU president; agreeing who the president will be… Experts believe the answers to these questions will shape whether the EU will be a bloc of 27 member states or run according to the wishes of the big countries…
“… the questions are so sensitive that they are being largely left unspoken until after the Irish vote on the new treaty, probably in May or June. Ireland is to be the only country that has a referendum on [the] document, which has to be approved by all member states before it can go into force.”
Europeans to Tighten Rules for Possession of Firearms
The EUObserver wrote on November 29:
“The 27-nation EU is set to tighten existing rules on the acquisition and possession of firearms, an issue that has come to the fore again in Europe after a recent shooting at a Finnish school… Under the EU deal, a firearm may be purchased and owned only by someone who is at least 18 years old and holds a permit. The only exception will be for hunters and sport shooters. They may possess a firearm, if under supervision of a licensed adult.
“In addition, all weapons as well as packages of ammunition will have to be marked by an alphanumeric symbol in order to facilitate their traceability. Each member state will be obliged to set up a computerised database of firearms, including information about their manufacturer, former and current owners, their trade or repair. The data must be kept by authorities for at least 20 years…”
New European Satellite Program
The EUObserver wrote on November 30:
“The 27-nation European Union has agreed how the Galileo satellite project, worth €3.4 billion, will be shared out among member states, with Spain on Friday abandoning its isolated position and finally giving its blessing to the deal. ‘Thanks to the combined efforts of the commission and the presidency, all the member states have eventually accepted to work on the basis of this mechanism’, EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot said in a written statement. He added that ‘an agreement will allow Europe to have its own satellite navigation system by 2013’… [He] pointed out that once up and running, Galileo will ‘ensure the economic and strategic independence’ of the EU, as ‘special navigation is an indication of power’ on the world stage.”
Election Fraud in Authoritarian Russia?
AFP wrote on December 3:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Monday his party’s landslide election victory as a vote for stability, but foreign observers cried foul and the West urged the Kremlin to probe fraud allegations… With 98 percent of ballots counted from Sunday’s election, Putin’s United Russia party had secured 64.1 percent, giving it more than two thirds of seats in parliament — a majority sufficient to change the constitution. The Communists and other opposition parties denounced the ballot as the most dishonest in Russian history and foreign observers called the Kremlin’s backing for Putin’s party an ‘abuse of power’…
“The criticisms were taken up by Western governments, with the United States calling for a full investigation of reported violations and NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer voicing ‘concern’ over democratic freedoms in Russia.
“But Putin said that the result reflected a national desire for continuity. ‘It is clear that Russians will never let their country go down the destructive path of certain countries in the former Soviet space,’ Putin said, referring to pro-Western popular revolts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.
“According to the Kremlin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with Putin and offered ‘warm’ congratulations although France’s foreign ministry called on Russia to ‘shed full light’ on fraud allegations. Germany meanwhile said there was ‘no doubt’ that the elections were not free and fair, while Britain urged Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) to investigate ‘urgently’ the charges of electoral abuse. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi appealed to Russian authorities to ‘clarify’ the election results and there were also expressions of concern from Russia’s western neighbour Poland…
“The CEC in Moscow rejected the criticism, accusing European observers of bias and hinting at US interference… The vote was seen as setting the scene for the presidential election in March next year at which Putin is obliged to step down after serving a maximum of two consecutive terms in office… Putin has said that a parliamentary victory would give him a ‘moral’ mandate to retain a leading political role, and United Russia has said he should stay on as ‘national leader’.”
European Press Condemns Russian “Elections”
Much of the European Press condemned the elections in Russia as fundamentally undemocratic and unfair.
In its report of December 3, Der Spiegel Online quoted many of the European papers, as follows:
“The liberal Danish daily Politiken writes:
“‘As expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin garnered an overwhelming election victory… It was the most unfair election since the fall of communism. The state abused its power in the media. Opposition voices were suppressed. … If the West doesn’t strongly distance itself from this historic election manipulation, which one could at best describe as a swindle, it will muddy our own democracies. And we would also be abandoning Russians who haven’t yet buried their hopes for democracy in their country’…
“Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger writes:
“‘There is little doubt that the Russian president will interpret this result as a vote of confidence — and that it also justifies his desire to remain in power. If he is no longer able to remain president in spring, then another function will be found for him — be it prime minister, head of parliament or in the role of a ‘national leader’. But Putin’s victory is a false one. The allegations of manipulation brought by the opposition are a dark shadow hanging heavy over the election result… a government that has to gain a victory through undemocratic means, is not as firmly in the saddle as the election result might lead one to believe.’…
“The liberal Romanian daily Evenimentul Zilei writes:
“‘Elections and free-market economies are viewed as a symbol of recovery, and Vladimir Putin’s iron hand as a necessary phase during the transition from post-communist chaos to a liberal democracy. But Russia has destroyed a number of myths about democracy and confirmed the failure of the recipes and frameworks that the West has applied to transition countries. … Russia’s economic strength, which has in no way buttressed democratic transformation, has instead empowered Moscow’s oppressive regime. In Russia, the traditional authoritarian model has been restored using the tools of capitalism, and the Russians appear to be contented with that.'”
In fact, in an accompanying article of December 3, Der Spiegel Online pointed out HOW content many Russians are with their system–in spite of the totalitarian and suppressive measures employed by their government:
“Putin-appointed governors ordered their deputies to make sure the election results were to the liking of the Kremlin. In companies, universities and army barracks, bosses pressured their underlings to ‘vote correctly.’ As if that weren’t enough, opposition politician Garry Kasparov was arrested and imprisoned for five days shortly before Russians went to the polls… The overwhelming majority of Russians, one survey puts it at 69 percent, suspected even before the election that the results would be manipulated… At the same time the polls show that around a third of Russians think the Soviet system was better than Western democracy.”
Poland and the EU Condemn Russian “Elections”–With the Exception of Sarkozy
Der Spiegel Online wrote on December 5:
“Poland’s new prime minister, Donald Tusk, opened a new chapter in his nation’s relationship with the European Union on Tuesday with a visit to Brussels, but he also had critical words for Russia’s parliamentary elections which indicated an ongoing chill between the two Slavic nations. ‘Alongside others who have fought for the European Union,’ Tusk said in English, ‘I will stand up and defend the European interest.’… ‘It’s a real pleasure to receive my good friend Donald Tusk,’ EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Tuesday. ‘Poland is a very important partner, and the voice of Poland matters.’…
“… two days after widely criticized parliamentary elections in Russia — which saw President Vladimir Putin’s party double its power in the Duma, or lower house — Prime Minister Tusk was not in a conciliatory mood. ‘We should not in Europe be tolerant of a situation where certain democratic standards are being broken,’ he said, referring to Russia. Tusk went on to describe Russian opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who spoiled his ballot on Sunday in protest, as ‘my political friend.’
“The comments were in line with an EU statement released Tuesday which expressed ‘regrets’ about ‘many reports and allegations of media restrictions as well as harassment of opposition parties and NGOs’ during the Russian campaign season. But it stood out sharply against French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reaction on Monday. Sarkozy made a personal phone call to Putin to congratulate him on Sunday’s landslide. Both human rights groups and members of the EU objected to the French president’s zeal. ‘Sarkozy’s reaction, which was totally isolated, is both incomprehensible and scandalous,’ said Patrick Baudouin, president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, according to AFP.”
Even Some Russian Papers Question Russian “Elections”
AFP wrote on December 4:
“Russian newspapers questioned Tuesday whether weekend elections were really the resounding success the Kremlin had sought and said President Vladimir Putin’s government could face turbulent days ahead…
“The mass market Moskovsky Komsomolets said that despite United Russia’s electoral success, ‘the referendum on trust in Putin’s course failed’… The independent Nezavisimaya Gazeta echoed this and pointed to tensions in the Cabinet. It said that while a government shake-up was likely, there was little clarity about the country’s path ahead of a presidential poll in March…
“The director of the Western-funded vote monitoring body Golos… strongly criticised Sunday’s polls. ‘We believe these elections were not free or competitive. The elections took place under pressure,’ Liliya Shibanova told journalists. Another expert from Golos, Alexander Kynev, said numerous violations had taken place, including stuffing ballot boxes with extra voting papers, forcing people to vote and bribing them with vodka or money.'”
France and Algeria–A Volatile Union
AFP reported on December 2:
“French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads Monday to Algeria to put the seal on multi-billion-euro oil and gas contracts, amid a row over remarks by an Algerian minister about alleged ties to the ‘Jewish lobby’.
“Sarkozy, who dismissed calls to cancel his second trip to the former French colony since his election in May, has said he considers the matter closed following talks with the Algerian president. Abdelaziz Bouteflika firmly disowned comments by his veterans minister last week that Sarkozy owed his election to the ‘Jewish lobby’, citing in particular Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is half-Jewish. Sarkozy’s maternal grandfather was Jewish.
“… the incident put a fresh strain on relations between Paris and its former colony, which have been tested by France’s refusal to recognise crimes it has been accused of committing under its 1830-1962 colonisation of Algeria…
“Sarkozy, whose insistence that France should no longer ‘repent’ for its colonial past has antagonised some in Algeria, said he wanted to give ‘a new breath of life, a new dynamic to our relations with the countries of the south Mediterranean.’ He repeated his calls for the creation of a Mediterranean union spanning southern Europe and north Africa, saying that oil- and gas-rich Algeria would be an ‘essential partner’… Sarkozy also said there were plans for a nuclear cooperation agreement, following a similar agreement signed with Morocco last month.”
Merkel Strongly Rejects Sarkozy’s Plan for a Mediterranean Union
Der Spiegel Online reported on December 6:
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come out strongly against French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s vision of a Mediterranean Union. Merkel believes the proposed bloc poses a risk to the EU’s core and could release ‘explosive forces.’…
“Speaking at a conference in Berlin Wednesday, Merkel attacked Sarkozy’s vision for an association of Mediterranean nations as being ‘very dangerous.’ The German chancellor used unusually harsh language to warn the French president against splitting the very core of the European Union with his vision of a Paris-led alternative union — and one from which Germany would be excluded.
“Merkel said she was highly skeptical of Sarkozy’s plans and insisted that any cooperation with the EU’s neighbors must include all EU member states. Otherwise, she warned, Germany could, for example, form an Eastern European Union with Ukraine and other countries. These types of developments would threaten the cohesion and unity of the EU, she said. She warned that allowing a separate association with access to the EU coffers could lead to a ‘corrosion of the EU in its core area’ and release ‘explosive forces in the EU that I would not like to see. One thing has to be clear,’ she said. ‘Northern Europeans also share responsibility for the Mediterranean, just as the future of the borders with Russia and Ukraine is an issue that concerns those living on the Mediterranean.'”
Germany’s Fight Against Right-Wing Extremism Could Become Dangerous For Others
Germany’s fight against the neo-Nazi party–NPD– has entered a dangerous state. Even though methods to be employed against the NPD and other radical political parties seem justified in the eyes of most Germans, who is to stop the government in the future from using the same methods against nonpolitical organizations, which might be unpopular in Germany–for whatever reasons?
Der Spiegel Online wrote the following on December 6:
“Germany’s interior ministers have faced frustrating setbacks fighting the far-right in court. A new tactic under consideration involves hitting organizations that support the party where it really hurts — in the wallet… ‘We have to publicly stigmatize people who fund the NPD and the associations that support it,’ Schleswig-Holstein Interior Minister Ralf Stegner (SPD) told the Süddeutsche Zeitung…
“There may… be ways around the legislative approach… some hope to fight the NPD and allied organizations with the time-tested tool of bureaucratic harassment. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, mayors and municipal councils in Rhineland-Palatinate are already making things difficult for the NPD by, for example, requiring a few more toilets in a NPD-related construction projects so as to raise building costs. The state has also put together brochures for municipalities on how to deal with NPD members who come to municipal council meetings.”
Democratic and Free Elections in Pakistan?
AFP wrote on December 3:
“Pakistani authorities Monday banned former premier Nawaz Sharif from standing in next month’s general election, further damaging the credibility of a vote that the opposition may yet boycott… Electoral officials upheld a challenge against Sharif’s candidacy on the grounds that he was convicted of criminal charges in the wake of his 1999 ouster by Pervez Musharraf, who is now president… The case involved Sharif’s attempt to stop a plane carrying Musharraf, who was then army chief, from landing in Pakistan in October 1999. Musharraf ousted Sharif as a result of that incident.”
AFP added on December 6:
“Riot police have blocked former premier Nawaz Sharif from meeting Pakistan’s deposed chief justice [Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry]… Chaudhry was sacked as chief justice after refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to Musharraf under emergency legislation. He was among 37 judges who were forcibly retired by the government for the same reason this week.
“‘All judges are virtually under house arrest. They can only move in the judges’ enclave,’ said sacked Supreme Court judge Rana Bhagwandas, referring to the area which Sharif had tried to enter. ‘Chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is completely under solitary confinement. Neither is he allowed to move in and outside his house nor can he meet anyone,’ Bhagwandas told Dawn News television by phone.”
The Associated Press reported on December 4:
“Heart attack season has arrived. December and January are the deadliest months for heart disease, and many of the things that make the season merry are culprits: Rich meals, more alcohol — and all that extra stress. But what may make the Christmas coronary more deadly than the same-size heart attack in, say, August, is a double dose of denial. It’s not uncommon for people to initially shrug off chest pain as indigestion. Research suggests they’re even more reluctant for a run to the emergency room when it means disrupting a holiday gathering, or if they’ve traveled to a strange city — meaning they arrive sicker… A 2004 study confirmed it was a nationwide phenomenon, with peaks in death coinciding around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.”