Also today: Cynical Israelis undermine indirect peace talks; Myanmar’s junta bars Suu Kyi from polls; Chinese and Indians hop aboard Copenhagen Accord; Japan official admits to Cold War nuke deal with US; World Trade Center rally chants “build it now!”; Obama says nice things to Greek PM, promises nothing; Google pleased over Iran, Cuba, Sudan sanctions move.
Pope’s brother adds fuel to Catholic Church abuse fire
The brother of Pope Benedict XVI told a German newspaper that he slapped pupils in the face as punishment after he took over a renowned German boys’ choir in the 1960s, but was completely unaware of allegations of sexual abuse among the Regensburger Domspatzen singers, which are now part of a string of abuse charges by Catholic Church employees across Europe. The revelations by 86-year old Georg Ratzinger, who is a reverend in the Church, are bound to fuel further anger among Catholics after years of allegations concerning sexual abuse in countries as diverse as the US, Ireland and Australia – and currently Austria and the Netherlands. The Vatican has said that the sexual abuse scandals are cause for anguish, but that its response has been prompt and transparent. The Regensburger Domspatzen choir abuse allegations are particularly sensitive for the Church, because Pope Benedict’s homeland is Germany, and his brother is indirectly involved.
Cynical Israelis undermine indirect peace talks
Bravo to US Vice-President Joe Biden for condemning Israeli plans to build, 600 new apartments in disputed east Jerusalem ahead of a new round of indirect peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis timed their announcement to perfection, expecting the US to stand by them as usual. Instead, they’ve been deeply embarrassed, and shown to be already undermining efforts to get peace talks back on track after the Israelis invaded the Gaza Strip early last year. Biden had earlier convivial meetings with top Israeli officials, and few will believe the Israeli announcement was procedural and unconnected to the visit, as some Israelis insist. The approvals came just after the Israelis said 112 apartments would be built in another settlement in the occupied West Bank, but that this approval had long preceded the announcement of indirect talks. The whole world pretty much believes that settlements built on land claimed by the Palestinians, including east Jerusalem, undermine peace prospects, so the latest Israeli action is cynical in the extreme.
Myanmar’s junta bars Suu Kyi from polls
Myanmar / Burma
Myanmar’s ruling military says pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi can’t join a political party and run in upcoming elections. The junta recently refused to release her from years of house arrest, and is enacting new election laws to ensure her National League for Democracy party can’t ever govern. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention, after the NLD overwhelmingly won elections in 1990, subsequent to which the military refused to hand over power. The party hasn’t yet said whether it will participate in the forthcoming elections, due to be held sometime in 2010. The new laws also prevent members of religious orders and civil servants from joining political parties. Seeing as most of Myanmar is Buddhist, that pretty much means everybody.
Chinese and Indians hop aboard Copenhagen Accord
China and India have formally agreed to join the international climate change agreement reached in Copenhagen. Seeing as little else came out of last December’s global summit, this is cause to celebrate. The two countries are major emitters of greenhouse gases. But it’s not much more than symbolic, as the so-called Copenhagen Accord is just a three-page non-binding statement signed by nearly 200 countries, which calls for limiting the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. The maths gets seriously tricky thereafter, and many believe rich countries won’t reach the 25% to 40% greenhouse gas reductions needed to achieve the target. The best part of the agreement is that as much as $100 billion a year might be spent to help emerging countries develop low-carbon energy sources. But don’t count on it.
Japan has admitted to a secret Cold War deal with the US that allowed nuclear-armed US vessels to transit its ports. The pact was an open secret, though, so the formal admission just ends decades of official denial. The Japanese government said that the move was aimed at increasing transparency. You’ve just got to love that notion when it comes to government. By the time the public can supposedly see things, they’ve long disappeared. The announcement comes as the US and Japan are rowing over American military bases in Okinawa that are an enduring memory of the invasion of Japan during the Second World War and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Basically, Japan banned nuclear weapons of any sort thereafter, so by subsequently allowing US nuclear ships into port, the Japanese lied through their teeth. Whether it’s a Cold War or hot war, the first casualty is truth.
World Trade Center rally chants “build it now!”
Hundreds of construction workers and elected officials want the new World Trade Center site rebuilt now, an opinion that they made clear during a lunch-time rally held yesterday. Recession-weary New York is getting a little peeved that instead of a shining symbol of resilience and strength, they have a hole in the ground. The project will put some 10,000 people to work, at a time that one in 10 Americans is out of a job. The protest occurred days before a deadline for a new schedule for rebuilding parts of the site. Construction is already underway on a memorial and transit hub, but the building of planned towers is stuck over a finance dispute, with the authority that controls the site saying it is better to delay construction on two of the towers until the real estate market improves. That could be a month of Sundays, and with construction union officials saying up to 20% of their workforce is jobless, much more than civic and national pride is at stake.
Obama says nice things to Greek PM, promises nothing
US President Barack Obama told Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou that the US would work with its Nato ally, even as Greece’s $270 billion of debt ignited frenzied trading on Wall Street. Papandreou says Obama reacted positively to European ideas about cracking down on currency speculation, but like all such things in politics, this would only be discussed at the next meeting of G20 nations in June. EU officials are urging the US to curb certain speculative financial instruments, after traders bet billions of dollars against the euro on fears of Greece not repaying its massive debts. The country’s 12.7% annual budget deficit – three times the EU limit – has undermined the 16-country Eurozone. In meeting Obama at the White House, Papandreou detailed steps that Greece has taken to reduce its deficit and reform its economy. But Obama made no mention of financial help.
Google pleased over Iran, Cuba, Sudan sanctions move
Google says a US decision to relax restrictions on exporting internet services to Iran, Cuba and Sudan means the company can offer products such as Google Earth, photo-management program Picasa, and internet chat client Google Talk to the nation’s foes. Earlier, the US Treasury Department said the lifting of such trade sanctions was to help people exercise their most basic human rights. Free speech is a big part of the Obama administration’s engagement with the world. And no doubt Google will relish the opportunity to sell it products to new clients after its business came under threat in China, precisely over such issues as censorship. But many hurdles remain, after an Italian court held Google criminally responsible for violating privacy laws by allowing a video of a bullied autistic teenager to be posted online. The Iranians, Cubans and Sudanese aren’t likely to go to court over such matters, so no doubt Google will discover new forms of Internet “censorship”, dreamed up by far more repressive regimes.
Microwave popcorn is nothing special. You can have the same effect with normal popcorn kernels and a brown paper bag.