Also today: Haitians deal with dreadful aftermath of quake; Google to censor its practice of censorship in China; Wall St execs less than contrite as they spin the market collapse to a furious nation.
Iraq’s Anbar province sees renewed surge in violence
The US is slowly withdrawing from Iraq, just as it bumps up the troop count in Afghanistan by 30,000, escalating the conflict against al-Qaeda. But a recent spate of suicide bombings, coupled with the use of improvised explosive devices by the Taliban, shows that the lessons of guerrilla warfare in Iraq have, by osmosis, been taken up in Afghanistan. So, when a water truck loaded with explosives was detonated in a suicide attack against local government officials in western Anbar province in Iraq, killing seven people, one should expect more of the same in Afghanistan in future. The US is planning to withdraw more than half of its 7,500 remaining troops from Anbar by the end of January, but the latest killings have cast a pall over this positive move. The province was once the centre of the Sunni Muslim insurgency against the Americans, but had become more peaceful until a new spate of attacks bearing the signature of the Sunni group al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia was launched. Photo: Reuters
Read more: The New York Times
Haitians deal with dreadful aftermath of quake
Haitians are dealing with the dreadful aftermath of the earthquake that shattered their side of the island of Hispaniola, shared with the far more stable Dominican Republic. Bodies were piled in the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, after the magnitude 7.0 quake collapsed thousands of structures, including schools, shantytowns, the National Palace and the UN peacekeeping headquarters. Many people are still trapped in the rubble, and the Haitians have few resources to get them out. The nation’s President Rene Preval believes thousands of people were killed, saying that the parliament building has collapsed, the tax office is gone, as are hospitals, so injured victims can’t be treated adequately. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince is among the dead, while the head of the UN peacekeeping mission is missing. This is a huge setback for the nation of 9 million people, which has lurched from one crisis to another over the past several decades.
Wall St execs less than contrite as they spin the market collapse to a furious nation
Contrite (just kidding!) Wall Street executives have acknowledged they underestimated the severity of the 2008 financial crisis and apologised for risky behaviour and poor decision-making at the time. But they also defended their bonus and compensation practices to a sceptical financial crisis inquiry commission that’s looking into what caused the US financial system to collapse. No wonder the American public is furious. Millions of people have lost their jobs with unemployment at 10% in the US. And now that Wall Street’s bankers and brokers have decided to pay themselves tens of billions of dollars in bonuses after $700 billion in taxpayer money bailed them out, their claims that they are grateful to the US public ring anything but true.
Read more: AP
Google to censor its practice of censorship in China
Google says it won’t censor its search results in China anymore after hackers tricked human-rights activists into exposing their email accounts to outside parties. It’s tempting to congratulate Google, but since 2006 it was happy to comply with the authoritarian strictures Chinese authorities placed on its doing business in China. Maybe Google felt it could fight censorship within from without. The about-turn is a big shift in its previous policy of kow-towing to the one-party state. It outraged advocates of free speech and even some of its own shareholders, who said the world’s leading internet search company’s compliance with Beijing violated the company’s “don’t be evil” motto. Google co-founder Sergey Brin had openly expressed his misgivings about the company’s presence in China. No doubt his Russian background made him see how loathsome the terms and conditions of operating there were. But it wasn’t until Google was hit by what appear to be Chinese hacker attacks, which the company suspects are driven by China’s government, that it decided free speech was a basic human right. It’s never too late to learn.
Read more: AP
Markets watch Chinese bank lending move very carefully
Asian stock markets are worried over Chinese moves to curb rampant bank lending because it could slow the pace of recovery in the region. China’s central bank has tweaked bank reserve requirements up by half-a-percent. Whether this will be enough to kill off the spectre of inflation, driven by unbridled lending to China’s over-heated property market, is what’s at stake for balancing regional growth against an almighty Chinese economic bubble. Hong Kong and mainland China’s markets have dropped the most, which raises questions over whether the ten-month surge in global stock markets is sustainable, as countries try to shrug off the global recession, or whether markets will be hit by a double-dip whammy.
Read more: AP
Turks threaten to withdraw ambassador from Israel over humiliating meeting
The temperature between Turkey and Israel has risen after tit-for-tat diplomatic summonses resulted from a Turkish television series showing Israeli intelligence agents as kidnappers of children and killers of old men. Now Turkey has rejected an Israeli attempt to make amends for humiliating its ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who Israeli diplomats forced to sit on a low sofa while they sat on chairs that towered over him, and refused to shake his hand. So the Turks have given Israel a deadline, saying they’ll bring the ambassador home if the Israelis don’t deliver a public apology. The spat has outraged sectors of the Israeli public, who witnessed the humiliating spectacle on television. Deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon invited Israeli TV crews to watch the meeting, pointedly showing the camera crew how he was snubbing the ambassador. Since then he’s issued a statement criticising his own undiplomatic behaviour. The Turks and Israelis usually get on quite well, so this storm in a teacup needs to be resolved.
Read more: AP
Al-Qaeda leader killed by Yemeni forces
Yemeni authorities say the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell in the province of Shabwa has been killed by security forces, while four others in the cell have been arrested. The Yemenis are no doubt responding to pressure from the US, after Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day. The 23-year-old man is said to have been part of a plot by al-Qaeda in Yemen to bomb the plane and is now facing charges in the US. Yemeni security forces surrounded a house in which Abdullah Mehdar and some 20 militants were hiding. Most of the rebels escaped. But one needle in one haystack seems to have been dealt with.
Read more: BBC
Hillary Clinton refocuses US eyes on Asia after break in relationship
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton says the relationship with the Asia-Pacific region is a priority for President Barack Obama, who spent some of his early years in Hawaii and Indonesia. Clinton was speaking at the US-sponsored East-West Centre in Honolulu, saying China would benefit from a more open society. Her speech comes at the same time as US Internet search company Google says it may pull out of China after a row about hackers and censorship. Clinton goes to Papua-New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia next. She’s put a heavy accent on the US returning to a major political role in Asia-Pacific, after George W Bush’s administration got bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, broke with tradition by not regularly attending ministerial meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Obama’s childhood experiences may or may not bring about the cooperative and mature relationship with China that he seeks, but they hold out hope that his administration will benefit from his insight into the rest of Asia.
Read more: VOA
Germans put on sentimental waltz with Obama
Move over Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The Germans are putting on a musical about Barack Obama’s Yes, We Can election campaign, and the audience will see the prez cooing love songs to his wife Michelle and engaging in duets with Hillary Clinton. Sarah Palin also gets some stage time, although we reckon she should have been the star of the show. She and John McCain get to belt out some songs about what it was like to lose the Republican election battle. The musical might sound a little sentimental to hard-core theatre goers outside of Germany. But the production of Hope – the Obama Musical Story seems appropriate for the Obamamania that is still sweeping Germany after his July 2008 speech to some 200,000 people in the heart of Berlin about the world, the US and its place in it. The Americans have always been popular in Berlin since the end of World War 2, after the Western Allies conducted the Berlin Airlift, which prevented the Soviet Union from strangling the city. Then, in a June 1963 speech, former US president John F. Kennedy underlined US support for the city after East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. The show’s American writer, Randall Hitchins, is riding the wave in the modern reunited Germany, saying that people are hoping for a better life under Obama.
Read more: AP
Simon and Garfunkel to bridge New Orleans’ still-troubled waters
Simon and Garfunkel will play at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The famous duo will join Pearl Jam, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, The Neville Brothers, Lionel Richie, the Allman Brothers Band and Anita Baker on stage over two weekends in April and May. The city flooded by Hurricane Katrina is still trying to find its feet after Katrina roared through in 2005. While Paul Simon has performed at the legendary Jazz Fest before, this will be his and Art Garfunkel’s first time together in New Orleans. No doubt they’ll do a reprise of their smash hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in their only planned US appearance of the year.
Read more: AP
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine