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11 March: US Vice-President Biden denounces Israel’s...

Defend Truth


11 March: US Vice-President Biden denounces Israel’s latest move on settlements

Also today: US drones kill suspected militants in Afghan border area; American budget deficit swells to biggest ever ; Forbes says Mexico’s Carlos Slim is richer than Bill Gates; Brazil’s Lula in hot water over Cuban dissident comments; Quake may benefit Chile’s incoming billionaire president; Marathon Dostoyevsky play could exhaust even Manhattanites; Google strikes mega-antiquarian book deal with Italy.

US Vice-President Biden denounces Israel’s latest move on settlements

Middle East

The diplomatic row ensuing from Israel’s announcement that it will build 1,600 homes in disputed east Jerusalem during the visit of vice president Joe Biden, shows all too clearly that the US only strives to retain a strategic upper hand in striking a peace deal in the Middle East. Biden rebuked Israel in some of the strongest terms heard from a US administration, but whether this will enable President Barack Obama’s government to break with decades of double-speak over the building of illegal settlements remains to be seen. That’s because the Americans want to maintain the threat that they would intervene in the region with force if necessary, and has little to do with the actualities of Israeli-Palestinian peace. While Biden’s anger is palpable – he pointedly arrived 90 minutes late for a dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing short of threatening to withdraw billions of dollars in aid to Israel over continued settlement building will make the Israelis sit up and take notice. It’s about time this happened.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is greeted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas upon Biden’s arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 10, 2010. Biden publicly condemned on Wednesday Israel’s new plan to build 1,600 homes for Jewish settlers, saying on a West Bank visit the project undermined Washington’s peace efforts. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Read more: The New York Times, AP, Daily Mirror


US drones kill suspected militants in Afghan border area


Missile strikes by US drones killed about a dozen suspected militants in north-west Pakistan, a wild and mountainous frontier in the Afghan border area that provides shelter for the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. More than 700 people have died in such strikes since late 2008, in an attempt to destroy militant training camps and supply routes without the loss of US lives. The latest attacks are partly revenge for the killing of seven CIA officers in a suicide-bomb attack across the border in Afghanistan last year, but they’re mainly to help keep the enemy leaderless and on the move. Pakistan publicly criticises such strikes, saying they encourage support for militants among their own lawless tribal peoples, but privately, they’re known to condone them because, by proxy, they disrupt the spread of radical Islam in Pakistan.

Read more: BBC, Al Jazeera, Agence France-Presse


American budget deficit swells to biggest ever


The February budget deficit of $221 billion is the biggest in US history, bringing the total deficit since the beginning of the October fiscal year to nearly $652 billion. That means it might exceed last year’s record annual budget deficit of $1.4 trillion, which indicates it’ll be a long while before the US claws its way back to fiscal health. A fall in US tax receipts is driven by the dismal economic conditions, with most companies earning much less than in past years, and one in 10 Americans still jobless. But the government also relies on increased fiscal spending to drive the recovery, putting the US economy between a rock and a hard place. Whatever happens in future, the deficit will have to be cut dramatically. But it’s a tricky business balancing spending cuts with economic recovery. Too many cuts and the recovery stalls. Too much spending, and the recovery is built on spiralling inflation, precipitating another slowdown.

Read more: CNN, BBC, Bloomberg


Forbes says Mexico’s Carlos Slim is richer than Bill Gates


Mexico’s Carlos Slim has topped Forbes magazine’s billionaires list – the first time in 15 years that an American has not taken the kitty. The telecoms mogul is worth an estimated $53.5 billion, after his fortune rose by nearly $20 billion last year. It just goes to show that not everybody’s hurting as a result of the global recession, and speaks volumes for the old saw that the rich always get richer. Bill Gates is worth a fractional $500,000 less than Slim, putting him in second place, while Warren Buffett – the Sage of Omaha – has a $43 billion stash that places him third. Forbes says 332 names left the list after a tough year in 2009, but many more billionaires clambered aboard – with the über-rich rising from 793 to 1,011. A talking head for Slim said they don’t waste their time on such calculations (because they’re too busy making more billions), but nonetheless welcomed the result, as it confirmed trust among investors.

Read more: Forbes, BBC, The Telegraph


Brazil’s Lula in hot water over Cuban dissident comments


A Cuban hunger striker, journalist Guillermo Farinas, who’s demanding the release of all political prisoners, has accused Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of complicity with the tyranny of the Havana regime. Lula earlier said Brazil must respect the decisions of Cuba’s government to arrest people in accordance with the laws of Cuba. Even one of his political allies called the president’s words “disappointing”, after a group of Cuban dissidents had urged Lula to ask Cuba to release the prisoners and save the hunger striker’s life. The president also said hunger strikes should not be used to free people from prison, despite the fact that he went on a hunger strike as a union leader during his resistance to Brazil’s military dictatorship. Now people see him as a hypocrite unwilling to take on the brutal realities of the island’s rulers. Brazil’s media focused on a statement by Lula that seemingly compared Cuban dissidents with drug lords in Brazilian prisons, when he said he didn’t think hunger strikes could be used as a pretext for human rights to free people. Earlier this year he met with Fidel and Raul Castro hours after a Cuban dissident died from a prolonged hunger strike. He’s really opened up a can of worms this time, and needs to make amends.

Read more: MercoPress, AP, Agence France-Presse


Quake may benefit Chile’s incoming billionaire president


Chile’s new President Sebastián Piñera takes office today as the first elected right-wing leader of Chile in 50 years. Former dictator General Pinochet stepped down in 1990, returning Chile to democracy after 30 years of bloody dictatorship. Piñera’s immediate priority is the national disaster after a massive earthquake struck Chile last month. The billionaire businessman and former senator campaigned on a platform of job creation and law and order, and now he may have a free hand to crack down hard on crime, after departing left-wing president, Michelle Bachelet, hesitated for days to call in the military while looters ran amok in the aftermath of the quake’s destruction. He’s already dubbed himself the president who will build the country anew, and the quake’s devastation might give him some breathing space to effect economic reforms. But it won’t last, because it’s a fine line to tread in a country leery of a return to military-style rule.

Read more: The New York Times, Guardian, MercoPress


Marathon Dostoyevsky play could exhaust even Manhattanites


It could be a big, long yawn for many of Manhattan’s cultural buffs when a 12-hour stage adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novel is performed at the forthcoming Lincoln Center Festival 2010. Director Peter Stein’s agonisingly long version of Dostoyevsky’s “The Demons” will be staged in Italian with English subtitles. There’s lots of Italians in New York, but for those who speak only English, that will mean a lot of reading from the teleprompter. There’ll also be an adaptation of the novel and film “Teorema”, which is about middle-class disintegration, and should strike a strong note with recession-blitzed denizens of the Big Apple. The New York Philharmonic will perform the complete works of innovative composer Edgard Varese, and there’ll be dance by Thailand’s Pichet Klunchun Dance Company. It should be great, if the audiences aren’t too knackered to see more after sitting through the Dostoyevsky number.

Read more: Arts Beat, AP


Google strikes mega-antiquarian book deal with Italy


Google will help Italy’s government put the contents of two national libraries on the Internet. That means about a million antiquarian books, including works by Dante, Machiavelli and Galileo, will now be freely available on Google Books. That involves an awful lot of scanning, but there won’t be any copyright hassles because the works were all published before 1868. It seems slimmed-down civic budgets have slashed the amount that can be spent on preserving works in Rome and Florence, so this has given a fillip to a digi-cultural future. The deal comes shortly after an Italian court found Google executives criminally liable for flouting privacy laws after the US search-engine carried a video of an abused autistic child. In 1966, a flood in Florence ruined thousands of books in the city’s library, so the move to e-books should resolve this problem. But, no doubt, raging waters could still damage the library’s e-readers and their PCs if they’re not put on higher ground. Predictably, the masterpiece of the Italian literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, is already available in Italian for iPhone/iPodTouch users at Apple’s AppStore.

Read more: BBC, Xinhua, PR Mac


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