Also today: Chinese reel as aftershocks of earthquake wreak havoc; Vatican cardinal slammed for saying homosexuality is a ‘pathology’ like paedophilia; Israelis claim Syria gave Hezbollah Scud missiles; Iraqis claimed they foiled ‘9/11 plot’ against revered Shiite shrines; Americans drum up Iran nuclear scare ahead of new sanctions efforts; Obama hints at shift in Middle East policy; Palin rides the wave of voter discontent.
Lexus SUV sales halted worldwide
After halting sales of the 2010 Lexus GX 460 in the US and Canadian markets, Toyota suspended sales of the vehicle “worldwide” when a US consumer magazine warned readers that the utility vehicle was unstable and prone to overturning. The Japanese car maker now says it’ll test all of its other SUV models, such as the Land Cruiser, Land Cruiser Prado and Rav4, but would not suspend their sales. However, outside of the US and Canada, the 2010 model of the Lexus GX 460 is sold only in the Middle East and Russia. The company says it remains confident its vehicle is safe, but has been forced to respond to market pressures after recalling nearly 9 million vehicles globally on consumer complaints over faulty accelerator pedals and sticky floor mats that have been blamed for dozens of deaths on US roads.
Chinese reel as aftershocks of earthquake wreak havoc
China’s reeling from the aftershocks of an earthquake that struck a mountainous region of Tibet, killing nearly 600 people and injuring more than 10,000. The tremors flattened most of the buildings in the town of Jiegu in remote western Yushu county, sending bleeding survivors flooding on to the streets. Residents and troops garrisoned in the town pulled survivors and bodies from the rubble, as rescuers set up emergency generators to restore operations at Yushu’s airport. A landslide blocked the road to Jiegu, leaving tens of thousands of the town’s 70,000 or so people without shelter in freezing temperatures. Rescuers coming in from the airport in Xining, the nearest big city some 900km away, were put on buses to drive the 12 hours to the quake zone.
Vatican cardinal slammed for saying homosexuality is a ‘pathology’ like paedophilia
The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, called homosexuality “a pathology” and linked it to paedophilia, sparking outrage as the Vatican tried to calm a scandal over sexual abuses by priests. Gay rights and victims’ groups said the comments by the Vatican’s second in command were linking entirely separate issues, causing Vatican spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, to quickly distance the Catholic Church from the remarks. Lombardi said the Vatican had no competency to make statements on such medical or psychological issues, claiming Bertone was evidently speaking about abuse on the part of priests and not in the general population. Still, that makes it sound like the Vatican won’t deny that a “gay pathology” is responsible for such abuses.
Israelis claim Syria gave Hezbollah Scud missiles
Israeli defence officials claim the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia group Hezbollah has Scud missiles that could target any place in Israel. The allegation comes a day after President Shimon Peres accused Syria of supplying Hezbollah with such weapons for the first time, causing a flurry in Washington, where a state department spokesman would not confirm the claims. Peres says Syria is talking peace while actually threatening Israel. That won’t help get US-mediated Middle East peace talks back on track after the Israelis invaded the Gaza Strip in early 2009. Peres’ remarks went beyond earlier public assessments by senior Israeli defence officials and weren’t backed by any details. The Syrians say the claims are false and accused Israel of trying to divert attention away from questions about its own nuclear weapons programme, days after world leaders met in Washington over securing global nuclear safety. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t attend that conference – in case he had to answer to sensitive issues, we think.
Iraqis claimed they foiled ‘9/11 plot’ against revered Shiite shrines
Iraqi security forces say they foiled a 9/11-style plot by the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda to fly hijacked planes into Shiite religious shrines, shortly after hotly contested national elections and just as US forces prepare to leave the country en masse. Intelligence officials in Washington confirmed the plot, but said it wasn’t clear whether the militants would have been able to carry out the attacks. Airports in Baghdad and the city of Najaf were closed last week because of the plot, according to the AP news agency. Najaf’s airport remains closed because of its proximity to one of the most revered Shiite mosques in the world. It’s a game of smoke and mirrors, and it’s not clear who ultimately benefits from the paranoia.
Americans drum up Iran nuclear scare ahead of new sanctions efforts
The US says Iran could have enough weapons-grade nuclear material to build a bomb within a year, and could eventually launch a missile powerful enough to reach the US. President Barack Obama has hinted that he won’t rule out the option of a military strike against the country, but that’s pretty much always been US policy, whoever’s in power. The bomb bit is really scary, but such estimations are given out year after year. The missile part sounds like scare-mongering to get Congress to agree to another round of sanctions against Tehran. While Iran does appear to be pursuing an aggressive missile programme, that includes developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, intelligence sources say Iran requires significant outside help for this endeavour. And to launch a pre-emptive strike on the US in future would guarantee that Iran would cease to exist.
Obama hints at shift in Middle East policy
US President Obama is subtly signalling a far-reaching shift in how the US now views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how far it might push for a peace agreement. Like all presidents before him, Obama says resolving the Middle East crisis is vital to US national security interests, but it seems that his administration is particularly frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to strike a meaningful deal. The president has indicated the US is tired of expending blood and money on battling Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, while the protagonists continue their dance at the expense of everybody else. Expect some harsh pragmatism to be introduced into the equation.
Palin rides the wave of voter discontent
Sarah Palin’s starting her run for the White House (because that’s what she’s really trying to do) by paying homage to the US Tea Party movement and the original revolutionary events in Boston that inspired it. The Tea Party is a generally “anti-government as usual” movement, and anti-Barack Obama political phenomenon that has Americans scratching their heads. It recently came from nowhere and has added a “third force” to the dualism of US politics. So, Palin told thousands of latter-day revolutionaries in Boston that this was a warning bell redolent of 1773, when colonists, sick of arbitrary British taxes, dumped tea from British ships into Boston’s harbour. Maybe she’s looking for a new party to head up, because too many in the GOP may think she’s too big a political risk. The 18% of Americans who identify with the Tea Party reckon big government (Obama’s Democrats) needs to be small government (conservative Republicans), but while they tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45, their slogans such as “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Get your second wind, America!”, make them far more individualistic that either the Democrats or GOP.