26 March: North Koreans threaten nuclear war
Also today: Friends now enemies over Israeli settlement issue; Ugly healthcare reform politics leaves victims in its wake; Vatican roundly rebuts Pope hid abuse claims; Chavez targets Venezuela’s last privately-owned TV station; Americans flummoxed by the rights of home-grown terrorists; Ned Kelly finally makes his fortune.
North Koreans threaten nuclear war
AP states that North Korea warned South Korea and the US of "unprecedented nuclear strikes" over a report the two countries plan to destabilise the totalitarian dynasty run by Kim Jong-il. It doesn’t take much to get the North Koreans going, even if the unsubstantiated report came from somewhere like “Hello” magazine. The latest threat is considered to be common, paranoid, Stalinist-style propaganda that regularly emanates from Pyongyang, despite its chilling effect. The West and its allies, along with China and Russia, want North Korea to return to international talks aimed at ending its nuclear programme. But these parties also engage in global power games with each other, so the issue turns into diplomatic ping-pong played over decades. The North is thought to have at least half-a-dozen nuclear bombs to back its threats, and nobody ever wants it to pull the trigger. It frequently lobs missiles in the direction of Japan, so there’ll be more talks about talks for some time to come. But don’t expect much substance. Photo: Reuters.
Friends now enemies over Israeli settlement issue
Hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be cocking a snook at US President Barack Obama, after he requested Netanyahu give a written commitment to halt any further settlement-building in East Jerusalem. But Netanyahu says he did provide a written commitment to the Americans before he met the president, saying he wouldn’t do so. The Palestinians see that part of the city as a capital of a future Palestinian state, after it was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli officials insist that construction of a Jewish housing project in the east of the city could begin at any time, which flies in the face of all UN resolutions on the issue. Netaynahu flew home from Washington telling news agencies that he thinks Israel has “found the golden path between Israel’s traditional policies and our desire to move forward toward peace.” Hmm.
Ugly healthcare reform politics leaves victims in its wake
Congressional Democrats are putting the final touches to their historic healthcare legislation, which at last makes it the right of every US citizen. President Barack Obama said he welcomed a good fight, after angry Republicans said they’d punish him in mid-term elections. There were reports of lawmakers having bricks thrown through their windows, and of receiving obscene and threatening phone calls. The bill gives better medical benefits to older folk, and those who come from low-income and middle-class families. It also cracks down on insurance industry abuses and requires most American to buy insurance for the first time, or face penalties. It’s been a close battle in both the Senate and House, but an overwhelming victory for Democrats nonetheless. Now, Obama’s turning his attention to nuclear disarmament, education reform and culling the excesses of Wall Street. Place your bets.
Vatican roundly rebuts Pope hid abuse claims
The Vatican is up in arms about reports that Pope Benedict XVI did nothing about a US priest who allegedly molested up to 200 deaf boys decades ago. But in truth, this a response that has been trotted out for years in relation to cases all over the world alleging sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. A Vatican newspaper editorial says the latest claims are an "ignoble" attack on the Pope and that there was never any "cover-up". At the time, American Archbishops complained to the then future Pope about the priest, in his role as Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer. But the reports say they got no response, so a new can of worms has been opened on the back of current allegations of widespread sexual abuse by Church officials in Europe. One US victim says the Pope should confess about what he knew.
Chavez targets Venezuela’s last privately-owned TV station
The owner of Venezuela's only remaining TV channel that opposes President Hugo Chavez has been arrested on charges of making offensive remarks about the president. He was later released, but the judge issued an order preventing him from leaving the country, as prosecutors proceed with their investigation. Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of Globovision, said military intelligence agents detained him as he was preparing to fly on his private plane to the Caribbean for vacation. Privately-owned Venezuelan television stations have long made remarks about Chavez that shouldn’t be shown on prime-time. In other jurisdictions they would be considered defamatory in the extreme, and would keep civil courts very busy. They’ve also shown offensive political advertisements in the past, and are accused of evading taxes on these ads. But unfortunately, in Caracas, such broadcasts are increasingly considered tantamount to treason. Despite his redeeming populist features, Chavez has spent years closing down independent cable and satellite stations, which makes him the dictator that he is.
Americans flummoxed by the rights of home-grown terrorists
David C. Headley, an American charged with helping plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, is said by the US Justice Department to have trained at a militant camp in Pakistan on numerous occasions, but was able to travel freely between the US, Pakistan and India for nearly seven years. The charge-sheet also claims he was conducting al-Qaeda business in Europe, while meeting with the militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. What most irks US spooks, is that Headley could slip undetected from his home in Chicago to al-Qaeda lairs. One guesses that’s called the soft-underbelly of democracy, which is what the terrorists are really aiming at.
Ned Kelly finally makes his fortune
The famed Australian outlaw Ned Kelly has become the subject of the country's most expensive artwork, selling for $4.8 million at an auction of Australian artist Sidney Nolan’s work. The buyer is keeping the prize under wraps, so it’s likely the public will only see the painting on the Internet. Called the First Class Marksman, the work shows the 1800s bandit in the Aussie bush with his rifle raised, while wearing his trademark body armour with iron helmet and narrow eye-slit. The old joke is that when you arrive at Sydney airport and immigration asks whether you’ve got a criminal record, the stock response is: “Why, do you still need one?” And although Australians don’t find that particularly funny, they’re increasingly proud of their anti-authoritarianism, and love the rogues who regularly defied the British colonial authorities.