18 January: Chilean billionaire’s presidential win shows central shift in country’s politics

By Branko Brkic 18 January 2010

Also today: The good, bad and ugly battle for control in Haiti quake aftermath; Turks and Israelis seek to mend fences after “baby-snatcher” row boils over; Democrats may lose Ted Kennedy “safe” seat after 46 years.


Chilean billionaire’s presidential win shows central shift in country’s politics


Billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera has won the election run-off for the Chilean presidency, making it the first time the right had won the presidency democratically in more than 50 years. Piñera is one of a handful of conservatives elected to head a Latin American country, running counter to a trend in the region of a strong swing to the left in recent decades. However, most analysts did not see the Chilean vote as a reflection of a major conservative shift among voters as much as it was a sign of disenchantment with what voters saw as stale ideas and a desire for renewal. Social Democrat Eduardo Frei conceded defeat after early results showed Piñera got 52% of the vote to Frei’s 48%. However, Frei threw in the towel after only 60% of votes were counted, so he must have known what was coming. Piñera is promising tougher law-and-order and says he’ll boost the economy. He’ll also continue the popular social policies of outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet, who has reached the end of her constitutional term’s limits. This means left and right in Chile are now more drawn to the centre. Chile’s last conservative leader was General Augusto Pinochet, who seized power through the military in 1973 and ruled until 1990. His bloody years ended with a peaceful return to civilian rule. Piñera made his fortune by introducing credit cards to Chile; he also owns a television station and a stake in Chile’s most successful soccer team. That should give him plenty of populist clout. Photo: Reuters.

Read more: BBC


The good, bad and ugly battle for control in Haiti quake aftermath


It looks like the bad guys are terrorising the streets of Haiti after last week’s devastating earthquake. Wherever there’s massive need, there are always bad deeds, and that’s the way it will be until US and other troops arrive in force. Reports say dozens of armed men now wander freely down the main streets of Port-au-Prince, which was flattened by the 7.0-magnitude quake. The tools of their trade are pretty basic, including machetes and sharpened pieces of wood, but they strike fear into bystanders as they cart away whatever they can carry. Most of the city’s three million people are focusing on clearing the streets of debris and pulling bodies out of the rubble, but there are reports of looting and ransacking, and the lynching of an accused looter. The capital’s residents have little food or water, and law and order has broken down. Mostly, a spirit of co-operation prevails, with people helping to erect shelters and sharing whatever food they have. But the world needs to help the good majority quickly, otherwise they might run out of patience and become ugly towards the bad.

Read more: The New York Times


Turks and Israelis seek to mend fences after “baby-snatcher” row boils over


A diplomatic row between Israel and Turkey is boiling over, and somebody better turn the kettle off quick. Former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, who is now the country’s defence minister, met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and will also meet his Turkish counterpart after Israel’s deputy foreign minister humiliated Turkey’s ambassador on national television. Relations between the two countries have gone south since Turkey condemned Israel’s invasion of Gaza in late 2008, early 2009, so when Turkish television recently aired an unflattering programme about Israel’s security services, calling them baby-snatchers, things really blew up. Barak, who’s basically a dove in Israeli politics, was warmly greeted by Turkish military officials on his arrival in the capital, Ankara, including Turkish ambassador to Israel, Oguz Celikkol, whose unfortunate dressing down came close to imploding relations between the two countries. That inspires hope that things will soon be resolved. Barak’s visit was scheduled before the row broke out, but now he’s got an added item on the agenda.

Read more: BBC


Democrats may lose Ted Kennedy “safe” seat after 46 years


Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat might become the yardstick of the Democratic Party’s fluctuating political fortunes. Elected on a wave of national euphoria, US President Barack Obama has had a lot of fires to put out since he got into office. He inherited the global markets crash, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has had to deal with a Republican opposition bruised by a stinging election defeat. From the 2008 election, the Democrats held large majorities in both the Senate and the House but they are now struggling to hold a Senate seat occupied by a Kennedy for over half a century in one of the most Democratic states in the country. The GOP is riding discontent over Obama’s drive for a more activist federal government role. He wants harsher banking legislation after the financial meltdown, and while many people agree with these basic sentiments, it may go against the grain of opinions of middle-Americans. If the Democrats lose Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, the Obama administration will be getting a major wake-up call on its domestic legislative agenda.

Read more: The New York Times


Pope meets Italian Jews over controversial elevation to sainthood


It’s 65 years since World War 2 ended, but Jews are up in arms about the Vatican’s intention to elevate Pius XII (a war-time Pope) to sainthood. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, says the Vatican did try to save Jews from the Nazis all those years ago, but that’s a moot point for many who lost family in the Holocaust. The Nazi genocide stemmed from the invasion of Catholic Poland in 1939. The Vatican says Pius used behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save Jewish lives from 1939 to 1945, but Jewish leaders say Pius represents the Vatican’s essential capitulation to the Nazis, when they later overran Italy during the war. Benedict XVI was still welcomed with warm applause as he began a visit to a synagogue in Rome’s Old Jewish Ghetto, where for hundreds of years Jews were confined under the orders of a 16th century pope. But memories of the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis and centuries-old oppression have also been revived after Benedict tried to reinstate a prayer in Catholic liturgy for the conversion of Jews. It’s time for the Vatican to accept that this is not the right thing to do.

Read more: AP


Tylenol gives Johnson & Johnson a headache


Got a headache? Skip the Tylenol, after Johnson & Johnson issued a massive recall of over-the-counter drugs that include Tylenol, Motrin and St. Joseph’s aspirin because they’re making people sick. US regulators have criticised the company, saying it didn’t respond to the complaints quickly enough. The products are sold in places as diverse as the Americas, the United Arab Emirates, and Fiji, and people have been sickened by an odour from small amounts of a chemical associated with wooden pallets used to ship the drugs. Johnson & Johnson says this has leached into the medicines, and traced it to a manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico. The problem first surfaced in early 2008, but the pharmaceutical giant conducted only a limited investigation. Now, the US Food and Drug Administration has sent a warning letter to the firm for violating manufacturing standards, giving Johnson & Johnson 15 days to respond. Given that it’s two years since this first started, it sounds like a tardy reaction all round.

Read more: AP


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