Also today: Iraqis hang ‘Chemical Ali’; Haitian homeless desperate for shelter; Russia’s illegal Botox trade adds to US worries over al-Qaeda; Obama to comfort US middle-class in State of the Union address; Osama says he sent Detroit plane bomber; Americans actually like the sound of Obama’s healthcare reforms; French hide behind secularism when it comes to the Muslim veil.
UN mission in Kabul says it’s time to talk to the Taliban
It may be the beginning of something different in the “war on terror”, but then again, maybe not, after the leader of the UN mission in Afghanistan suggested that Afghan government officials might remove some senior Taliban leaders from the UN terrorist list, to help facilitate direct negotiations with the enemy. The UN special representative, Kai Eide, also wants the US military to speed up its review of detainees in Afghan military prisons, after Afghani and American officials indicated they might take such steps. This means the US would have to accept that the Taliban may have some legitimate aspirations, beyond being a tool of al-Qaeda. That won’t be easy for the US to swallow, as the Taliban are fond of cutting off heads and limbs, and insist that women remain mere uneducated chattel. Photo: Reuters.
Iraqis hang ‘Chemical Ali’
There were lots of jokes about Saddam Hussein’s cousin “Chemical Ali”, including calling him “Comical Ali”, but none was that funny. And just in case you forgot (the Iraqis didn’t), Ali Hassan al-Majid was responsible for the poison gas massacres that killed more than 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in 1988. Yesterday he was hanged, as three suicide car bombs detonated in downtown Baghdad. Whether or not the bombings were linked to his execution doesn’t really matter. The poisonous legacy of Saddam remains in the hearts and minds of every Iraqi, and bombings are a just a daily fact of life, whether “Chemical Ali” lives or not.
Haitian homeless desperate for shelter
Haitians continue to sleep in the open in the nation’s devastated capital, and 10% of the country’s 9 million people have nowhere to go, according to the UN. What’s worse is that some 700,000 of these people are living in the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, meaning almost a third of the city’s residents have been made homeless by the earthquake. The relief agencies don’t have tents for this many refugees and reports say it may take experts weeks to find sites suitable for tent cities to hold those displaced by the temblor. For now, some 10,000 family-size tents are available, but rescuers reckon 100,000 are needed costing in the region of $30 million. Tens of thousands of people have taken shelter near the coastal city of Gonaives in Haiti’s north, which was pretty much abandoned after two huge floods in six years. In Haiti, it never rains, it just pours.
Russia’s illegal Botox trade adds to US worries over al-Qaeda
Russia is “Oh, Mother Russia” to many of its citizens. Living between despair and fear, most do what they must to make ends meet. Now, reports say a clone of Botox is being peddled among the country’s vain and moneyed, but it’s an anti-ageing remedy with a lethal twist, as no one knows where the raw botulinum toxin – a primary ingredient in the wrinkle-killing drug – is being made. Botulinum toxin is one of the deadliest poisons in the world, and a mere speck the size of a grain of sand can kill. Russian authorities thought it may come from war-ravaged Chechnya, which would be very worrying for them, but it’s the Americans who are most concerned, fearing al-Qaeda may use it in a terrorist attack. The US believes the poison is made in numerous secret laboratories around the world, saying there’s a surge of the drug on the black market. Al-Qaeda is said to have tried to get its hands on botulinum toxin through Lebanon’s Hezbollah group. That means it could kill people by sticking them with an umbrella, as former Soviet states are wont to do from time to time (using other poisons). That’s enough to give you wrinkles, and wipe the smile off anyone’s face at the same time.
Obama to comfort US middle-class in State of the Union address
President Barack Obama will try to reach out to the beleaguered US middle-class in his State of the Union address, by including tax credits for child care, easier terms for student loan repayments, and facilitating retirement savings. He doesn’t need reminding that “it’s the economy, stupid”, when addressing the needs of what’s referred to as the “the sandwich generation” — those sandwiched between paying for university for their children and caring for their elderly parents. Obama’s had numerous setbacks of late, including the Democrats losing their safest seat of 46 years, after former Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts died last year. Ordinary Americans are suffering 10% unemployment, which is a staggering number for the world’s most advanced economy, so Obama’s proposals will also include bigger tax credits for retirement savings, and benefits to help families care for elderly kin.
Osama says he sent Detroit plane bomber
Osama bin Laden has claimed responsibility for sending the failed Nigerian plane bomber into the skies over Detroit on Christmas Day. The Americans had long decided that al-Qaeda in Yemen was intimately linked to the incident anyway, so other than being another piece of propaganda that says attacks will continue on the US as long as it supports Israel, the message is nothing new. But the audio message broadcast on al-Jazeera’s Arab television network, can only be from a man purported to be bin Laden, as nobody knows whether he’s dead or alive, and if they do, they ain’t telling. Experts say the authenticity of the tape can’t immediately be verified, but that the voice resembles original recordings of bin Laden. It’s not as simple to do forensic analysis, despite what Hollywood tells you, and by the time the authorities actually make a call, this story will be long buried and the public none the wiser. And seeing how many people can mimic voices, speak many languages and change their accents to suit their surroundings, while manipulating technology, maybe the secret of bin Laden will remain unsolved. His latest supposed message states that if the US could understand the words of al-Qaeda, the group wouldn’t need to send planes. Yeah, right, words from the deep faraway, heavily worked by US spinmeisters to keep the world guessing.
Americans actually like the sound of Obama’s healthcare reforms
Pity poor President Barack Obama. His first year in office has been all too torrid. But that’s par for the course after the election honeymoon, and most former US presidents will really feel for him. So, the news that despite his big setbacks over healthcare, the average American supports his health reform proposals when told about its key provisions, speaks volumes for the ascendancy of political and media garble over informed communication in a 24/7 world. It seems that while Americans are deeply divided over Obama’s proposals, many warm to his ideas when told of the major provisions in the bills. A new survey found that 42% support Obama, 41% don’t and 16% withhold judgment, but the majority are more favourably disposed after learning more about key elements. The overall price tag remains a problem, but these gremlins can be whittled away over time to create a workable solution. People sampled in the survey liked hearing that tax credits are available to small businesses that offer health coverage to their employees, and that they could no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.
French hide behind secularism when it comes to the Muslim veil
The French and Turks are an amazing parallel study in secularism, when it comes to banning Muslim women’s veils in public places. A French parliamentary enquiry has spent six-months looking into the wearing of all-concealing veils after President Nicolas Sarkozy last year said they weren’t welcome in France. If you come from Algeria, you’d understand why that sort of remark from a French politician doesn’t win friends and influence people. The very secular French so far only ban headscarves (and veils) from classrooms, but now they’re looking to ban such attire in schools, hospitals and other public buildings, but not in private buildings, such as offices and homes, or on the street. Whether this would extend to public transportation is currently moot, although one official talked of moving toward a law banning veils in the streets and at work. Secularists see veils as an insult to gender equality and a path to religious extremism, but conversely, some French Muslim leaders say the banning of face-covering attire in public could drive some Muslims to extremism. Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders in the country said they consider such a step unnecessary, and it seems few Muslim women in France wear the “niqab” across the face anyway. France has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, and what’s being tested here is whether freedom of expression and religion are seen as fundamental to democracy.
EMI records refused to allow the Beatles' Here comes the Sun to be placed on the Voyager spacecraft's record.