11 February: Hard-living hero of “Charlie Wilson’s War” is dead

By Branko Brkic 11 February 2010

Also today: Video of twin towers collapse as never seen before; Verdict still out as Pakistan claims top Taliban leader dead; US December trade deficit brings good news and bad; Greek civil servants protest over threat to jobs for life, Iran’s authorities go on detention spree; Obama slaps sanctions on Iranian hardliners; UN workers get taste of the real-world, and they don’t like it.


Hard-living hero of Charlie Wilson’s War is dead


The rambunctious Democrat Charlie Wilson has gone off to meet his maker, reaching the Pearly Gates at the crusty age of 76. The hard-boozing Texas congressman’s behind-the-closed-doors deals channelled millions of dollars worth of weapons to mujahedeen fighting the then-mighty Soviet military. Known in Washington as “Good Time Charlie”, the fun-loving womaniser once called a congresswoman “Babycakes”, but his Democratic credentials didn’t stop him from being hawkish on US defence matters. By arming the mujahedeen with nasty things such as Stinger missiles, he enabled them to prosecute the liberation war which sent the Red Army to a dismal retreat. Since then, the US has found itself in its own quagmire in Afghanistan, leading Wilson to reflect that he and other security hawks had allowed a power vacuum to open up, that let in the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Such was his importance, that Wilson inspired a movie and book called “Charlie Wilson’s War.” He might meet many of his old foes in Heaven (if that’s where they went). No doubt they’ll discuss the fate of the traumatised country, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters.

Read more: Guardian, AP, Politico, Haaretz, Iconic Photos

WATCH: Charlie Wilson’s War Trailer


Video of twin towers collapse as never seen before

New York

It’s gross, ghastly and gruesome, but newly-released aerial photos show the twin towers of the World Trade Center coming down from dramatic new angles. ABC News filed under the Freedom of Information Act to get the photos from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which used the images in its investigation of the September 11, 2001 attack. Police took 2,779 pictures from helicopters, many of which have never been seen by the public. Here’s a preview of some of them.

See more: ABC News

Verdict still out as Pakistan claims top Taliban leader dead


Pakistan’s top Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is officially dead. Or, so say Pakistani security chiefs. And while this may not stop the suicide bombers, it might take some of the sting out of the Afghan war raging across the border. Of course, you never know who might replace him within the al-Qaeda-linked insurgent network. Things could get even worse. There was a stream of reports of Mehsud’s death in January, after US missile strikes hit his stronghold in northwestern Pakistan. He was said to have died of wounds from one of the strikes, similar to a campaign that killed his predecessor last year. But the Taliban continue to deny he died, presumably until they have finished fighting over who will take his place.

Read more: The Telegraph, AP, Time


US December trade deficit brings good news and bad


It’s a very big number and one that concerns the whole planet. The US trade deficit blew up to a larger-than-expected $40.18 billion in December, on the back of a 4.8% rise in imports to $182.88 billion. The deficit is 10.4% higher than in November, and is the biggest imbalance in a year. A wider deficit means Americans are importing more, and that’s what the US doesn’t need, unless there’s greater reciprocation. While bigger imports reflect a resurgent economy – as seen in a 14.8% jump in December oil imports, the highest since October 2008 – such demand doesn’t mean bigger exports. By contrast, general US exports in December rose 3.3% to $142.70 billion, on gains in sales of commercial aircraft, industrial machinery and US-made vehicles and vehicle parts. For all of 2009, the Great Recession cut the deficit to $380.66 billion, the smallest in eight years. But it’s the imbalance with China, totalling $226.83 billion in 2009, that’s scaring the heck out of everyone. It’s time Chinese consumers were allowed to buy many more American goods and services.

Read more: The Wall Street Journal, Agence France-Presse


Greek civil servants protest over threat to jobs for life


In what sounds like an echo of Iceland’s angry public protests, striking Greek civil servants shouted “We won’t pay for their crisis!” in the streets of Athens, adding that they won’t be sacrificed on the altar of the world’s bankers over the country’s $270 billion debt pile. So, bankers sound even more unpopular there than they are elsewhere, with public services grinding to a halt. There’s a danger that Greece can’t refinance some $28 billion in debt due in April and May. And while government proposals for deep public spending cuts have calmed world markets, promises to rein in the deficit have been resisted by the one in three Greeks employed in the country’s civil service, who are guaranteed a job for life.

Read more: BBC, The New York Times, YouTube


Iran’s authorities go on detention spree


Iran is arresting people left, right and centre, as it tries to silence domestic critics and stave off months of widespread protests. This week sees the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, and killed off Iranian hopes of a modern and secular future. Rights groups say authorities have cracked down on the rank-and-file of the opposition, largely leaving leaders alone. Students, artists, photographers, rights advocates, and especially journalists have been detained, often in midnight raids that leave friends and family unaware of their fate. The country’s Revolutionary Court has now summoned the wife and children of an imprisoned journalist to appear as “political prisoners”, according to an opposition website. This kind of double-speak comes straight out the manual of a fascist state. Iran issued a blanket detention order in June, allowing police to take anyone into custody for any reason.

Read more: ABC News, The New York Times, NBC News, The Telegraph


Obama slaps sanctions on Iranian hardliners


US President Barack Obama’s administration has slapped sanctions on Iran’s notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guards, a mean bunch that owns a huge network of companies and banks that the Americans fear are funding efforts to produce a nuclear weapon. The Guards are seen to direct the country’s nuclear programme, while cracking down on anti-government protesters. A UN Security Council resolution states they even own the national airport, and have dismissed attempts to co-exist peacefully within international norms. Obama says he’s working on more sanctions that will isolate the Guards, by massively increasing the cost of doing business with them. Swiss bank Credit Suisse recently paid a vast penalty to US authorities for hiding their dealings with the regime.

Read more: AP, The New York Times, Haaretz-Reuters, The Boston Globe, Deutsche Welle


UN workers get taste of the real-world, and they don’t like it

New York

UN delegates and staffers are unhappy they now have to work in a cramped, three-storey, corrugated steel building on the north lawn of the world body’s iconic headquarters, which is undergoing a four-year $1.87 billion renovation. Reports say morale has plummeted among the world’s peacemakers, after they were put into windowless, airless cubicles that are described as completely inhumane. But some diplomats say a spell in the no-frills environment is just what’s needed to focus attention on the UN’s work. It’s been accused of being wasteful, while governments, especially the US, have starved it of cash. The UN headquarters has also been showing its age. The building leaks, is a fire-hazard, and the air-conditioning is so poor that staffers are never sure whether it’s summer or winter. But it’s still far more elegant that the box-like structure that’s been nicknamed Bantanamo by those who work there. A spell in lock-up is just the trick to get staffers and delegates to comprehend the living conditions that fuel many of the conflicts that they try to settle. Predictably, they hate the idea, and are arguing over who gets which morsel of space and comfort.

Read more: Foreign Policy, The Huffington Post, In the Crosshairs



Zondo Commission will be long and thorough – will it outlast President Ramaphosa?

By Ferial Haffajee

Microwave popcorn is nothing special. You can have the same effect with normal popcorn kernels and a brown paper bag.