WORLD TODAY: 11 January 2010

By Branko Brkic 11 January 2010

Mrs Robinson’s sexploits set Northern Ireland alight; US Senator cringes over racial gaffe; Chinese heading for the winner’s podium on exports.


Mrs Robinson’s sexploits set Northern Ireland alight

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is not only caught in the grip of snow and ice, it’s also in the middle of a sex scandal that could bring down the Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government after 30 years of sectarian violence that has left 3,500 people dead. The scandal involves the rather attractive 60-year-old British parliamentarian Iris Robinson (who was caught having an affair with a 19-year-old man) and her husband Peter, who leads the new government. What’s worse, she paid her young lover large sums of cash (for what, nobody yet knows), and didn’t disclose this to Parliament. Local papers headlined the saga ‘Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson’, from the song in the 1967 film The Graduate that starred a very youthful Dustin Hoffman. Mrs Robinson has campaigned as a deeply moralistic lawmaker, and the news comes as the shaky coalition of Protestant unionists and mainly Catholic republicans try to transfer police and justice powers in the British province to the unity government. Her hubby says he won’t quit his job, but Mrs Robinson is not seeking re-election because she’s suffering from clinical depression, saying that she attempted suicide over the affair, and begging to be forgiven by her spouse and the public. Photo: Reuters

Read more: The New York Times, The Globe and Mail


US Senator cringes over his own racial gaffe


Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is only 70 years old, but he may as well come from another planet when it comes to the language of identity. He’s just said sorry for stating way back in 2008 that Barack Obama’s race would help rather than hurt his presidential bid. He apparently said that Obama was a “light-skinned African-American with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one”. Reid got caught on the record by a couple of journalists who have now published a book on the US presidential campaign. But the US president has shrugged it off, saying the chapter is now closed, as he needs the Nevada Senator to help him get his healthcare bill passed. Reid, on the other hand, is trying to get re-elected this year, and is frantically phoning civil rights leaders and fellow Democrats to dampen the damage caused by his antiquarian utterances. But if you think his comments were a lighter shade of pale, the intrepid journos quoted that paragon of liberalism, former President Bill Clinton, as telling Edward Kennedy that just a few years ago, Obama would have been serving him and his wife coffee. Kennedy was apparently unimpressed, and threw his weight behind Obama.

Read more: AP


Chinese heading for the winner’s podium on exports


China may just have overtaken Germany as the world’s greatest exporter, turning round a decline in the products it makes for sale elsewhere by 17.7% in December. The winner of the race to be number one in foreign trade will be confirmed when Germany’s 2009 export data is published in February. China has come booming out of the global recession, with resurgent growth in gross domestic product estimated in some quarters to be heading for about 10%. The country’s state news agency, Xinhua, says total exports for 2009 were $1.2 trillion, despite total foreign trade dropping 13.9% in the year. Trade stats are always a tricky business, because what this means is that while the total exports of goods rose, total exports of services fell. Services include projects such as funding and building African infrastructure, but these figures are not easy to account for. China’s new status is likely to increase calls from the US and EU that it revalue its weak yuan currency, which makes its goods cheaper than those of its competitors. Nearly everybody wants to sell to the Chinese market, but the Chinese ensure that it’s easier to buy consumer goods from them.

Read more: BBC, OECD


Say, cousin, where’d you get that lekker makeover?

World 30,000 years ago

The big question that scientists are now pondering is whether it was Neanderthal men or women who wore make-up before they became extinct. We reckon it was both parties, after researchers claim that the ape-men (and women) covered themselves in body paint 50,000 years ago. The report comes from the august Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, showing that seashells unearthed in southern Spain contain residues of pigment that were essentially Neanderthal make-up kits. It knocks the prevailing view of Neanderthals as dimwits who didn’t have the wherewithal to make it to human status, by portraying them as actually capable of symbolic thinking. A British-based archaeologist from Bristol University, who led the study, says the recipes used to adorn the presumably hairy bodies are more than body painting. It seems our simian-cum-human ancestors may have used a yellow pigment as foundation, along with a red powder mixed with flecks of a brilliant black mineral. The scientists also think the brightly coloured shells may have been worn as jewellery. To date, many researchers thought only modern humans wore make-up for decoration and ritual purposes. Didn’t any of them see Planet of the Apes?

Read more: BBC


Hillary Clinton puts cat among the Middle East pigeons


The Chief Palestinian negotiator says negotiations with Israel can’t continue until the Israelis stop building settlements in occupied territories, despite US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanting both sides to resume peace talks without preconditions. Israel invaded Gaza in January 2009, in the charmingly named Operation Cast Lead, after militants kept firing rockets into nearby Israeli towns. The tit-for-tat violence has gone on since Israel first came into being in 1948 under a UN mandate. Most of the settlement building goes on in what’s called the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. Some 280,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, with another 190,000 living in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Israel wants Jerusalem to be the nation’s sole capital, which the Palestinians reject, along with many other vexing concerns, ranging from security to the rights of Palestinians living in Israel. The US has long called for Israel to stop building settlements (a sentiment shared by many enlightened Jews), but now Clinton is in danger of putting the clock back.

Read more; BBC, Haaretz, Adalah, Huffington Post


Japan’s new finance boss checks nation’s wallet


Japan’s new Finance Minister Naoto Kan needs to stimulate his country’s ailing economy while keeping inflation and rampant public debt at bay. That’s a tall order for the man who made his name as health minister, when he forced the official release of documents showing some 1,000 haemophiliacs received HIV-tainted blood transfusions. Now the nation’s powerful bureaucrats will test his financial expertise, as he is one of a few members of the first-time Democratic Party government with any cabinet experience. Hirohisa Fujii, a seasoned minister, resigned from the finance post after being hospitalised for exhaustion, leaving Kan, who has minimal financial or economic policy experience, to run the economy. Kan’s role in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s cabinet has been to take power away from Japan’s notorious bureaucrats, and give it to elected officials. But the odds are currently stacked against him in the arcane world of Japanese politics.

Read more: The Christian Science Monitor, Business Week


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