Sunday Roast: February 17, 2013 – Bits and Pieces

Good Morning to the Sunday Roast. Let us see what Europe has to tell you this morning. You will see why bees are playing a role here, below:

The Economist:

AT A perilous moment of transition for America’s armed services, involving departure from Afghanistan, looming budget cuts and significant worldwide tension, the Pentagon is set to receive a civilian leader weakened by partisan attacks and doubts about his willingness to see military power used. As The Economist went to press, Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel, seemed likely, though not certain, to earn the Senate’s grudging endorsement. (read more)

If I may add, the accusations of being anti-Israel, even anti-semitic are nothing but window dressing. Billions are at stake for war (or defense) profiteers. Numerous jobs in military funded industries, quite often to be found in red states, as well. I tend to follow the money and prefer to think it is Hagel’s reluctance to fight against massive cuts in the defense budget that earns him his difficulties. More on that may come later.

The Guardian has a Comeback Kid for you:

It could have been a career-ending moment. Given the task of delivering the official Republican response to Barack Obama’s state of the union speech last week, rising star Senator Marco Rubio made a catastrophic gaffe. (read more)

The Independent reports a “Me Too” moment:

Hours after a meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,000 people and an asteroid passed relatively close to Earth, people in California reported seeing an unusual flash of light over the San Francisco Bay area that left many startled and thrilled.(read more)

Der Spiegel, as well, has a “Me Too” story, why on earth the Germans would want to start fracking beats me:

Germans are wary of fracking, but that hasn’t stopped Berlin from moving ahead to create legal guidelines for the controversial natural gas extraction method. The opposition is up in arms and the issue could dog Chancellor Merkel as she campaigns for re-election. (read more)

Finally, a little Swiss navel-gazing, which is nevertheless really important, see TheLocal.ch for more:

Basel-based agrichemical giant Syngenta on Friday urged Brussels to withdraw plans to slap a two-year ban on so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, saying blaming them for bee deaths was wrongheaded. (read more)

Grab a coffee, maybe some bread butter and honey, too, and enjoy reading. This is our Open Thread, so don’t hold back!

The Watering Hole: Tuesday June 12, 2012 – Duck and Pray or Go Vote! Your decision.

Bank Run

The perfect economic storm may be rocking the boat big time, come three weeks. That’s how long IMF boss Christine Lagarde reckons Europe has left to solve their problems. I wish everybody the best of luck with Angela Merkel being the key person in the situation. That’s one obstinate woman if there ever was one.

Well, then there are younger economic powerhouses than Europe, which could pick up the slack. India? Errr no. Brazil? So sorry, no help. China? Hmmmm.

Don’t expect the economy to be any help in November when it comes to President Obama running for a second term. Mitt Romney’s position gets stronger by default. Bringing out the Democratic vote, even if you are understandably less than enthusiastic must be top priority this year. If Mitt Romney is elected, the last remnants of what’s left of the middle class will go down in flames. Their already dismal funds will be transferred to the top 1%.

The 1% will then learn a little later, that their money is just printed on paper after all and there is no one left they can milk for more. Then the top 0.1% will go after the others, but that won’t be of any help to any of you.

Is it that bad? Yes it is.

The Watering Hole: Tuesday May 15th – Europe

A Storm is brewing over Europe in more than one sense…

There is the unsolved, so called debt crisis, which entangles Spain and Italy now and has, by all accounts all but devoured Greece already. 

The second one is a political storm. In France it has swept Sarkozy out of office, in the UK the Tories got to feel quite a blustery breeze. In Germany last weekend and the one before voters were giving Merkel’s austerity politics quite strong headwinds. Again, Greece is at the center of the disturbance. The last election brought a stiff breeze from the left, but some serious gusts from the right as well. The Captains of the coffin ship contemplate to test the waters again and that should bring a solid gale from the left and swipe them off board.

Then there’s the weather. It’s really gusty and nasty outside, so much for spring. Ugh.

No matter how it eventually ends, there is some turbulence ahead for sure.

This is our Open Thread. Talk about the Weather?

UPDATE JUST IN: GREECE TALKS BROKE UP – NEW ELECTIONS DUE.

The Watering Hole: Tuesday May 8th – Men in Kilts

On the last Sunday in April I was in Säckingen with the boys. They have this Festival, which translates into Medieval Phantastic Spectacle, or some such. Loads of men were wearing kilts there, but I whipped my head around when a saw a guy wearing nice nature colored tartans. Little did I know I’d see the bloke on stage shortly after and, boy, this was fun to watch and listen to. The video above is from the same festival a year ago.

Other than making music, they have a charity going on. See more here and here. As the boys and me are planning for a Scotland visit this summer, we know where to go.

I could have written about the North Carolina Amendment 1 vote tonight, but it depresses me. I could have written about Greece’s troubles, but the fact that they are considering yet another vote rather than listen what the People says, depresses me. I could have written about Chancellor Merkel’s arrogance in the face of European voters’ will, but that depresses me as well. So I decided on music and men in kilts.

This is our Open Thread. Enjoy and weigh in.

Across the Pond – Europe’s News

What’s in the news? Egypt again, of course. The situation has not dramatically changed. Mubarak still tries to smother the unrest the only way he knows, by banning the TV and the internet.

Mr. Mubarak, I have news for you: Your people is out in the streets protesting you and not sitting in front of the TV set or computer. There is no way back. There is a plane waiting for you somewhere. Your cronies have already seen the light, many rich families have fled the country and are sipping their tea in Dubai now.

What violence occurs now, is mostly looting and criminally motivated. Prison breaks are rampant and add to the confusion.

Here’s what we find on the news sites  in Europe:

The Independent:

In the pantomime world of Mubarak himself – and of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Washington – the man who still claims to be president of Egypt swore in the most preposterous choice of vice-president in an attempt to soften the fury of the protesters – Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s chief negotiator with Israel and his senior intelligence officer, a 75-year-old with years of visits to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and four heart attacks to his credit. How this elderly apparatchik might be expected to deal with the anger and joy of liberation of 80 million Egyptians is beyond imagination. When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman’s appointment, they burst into laughter. (read more)

The Guardian:

And Arabs from the Mashreq to the Maghreb are watching, egging on those protesters to topple Hosni Mubarak who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, because they know if he goes, all the other old men will follow, those who have smothered their countries with one hand and robbed them blind with the other. Mubarak is the Berlin Wall. “Down, down with Hosni Mubarak,” resonates through the whole region. (read more)

Der Tagesanzeiger

Die Aufstände in Tunesien und Ägypten beseelen den Westen mit neuer Hoffnung auf eine demokratischere Welt. Doch das Beispiel der ehemaligen Sowjetunion zeigt deutlich: Demokratie ist nicht ansteckend. Und selbst wenn es zum Aufstand kommt: Dass dabei ein demokratischer Staat entsteht, ist die Ausnahme und keinesfalls die Regel.

The uprising in Tunisia and Egypt instill new hopes in the west for a more democratic world order. But the developments in the former Soviet Union show clearly: Democracy is not contagious. And even if there is a general uprising: The creation of a democratic state is the exception not the rule.  (full story)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

Würde Ägypten in einem revolutionären Strudel versinken, fiele ein wesentlicher Akteur des nahöstlichen Friedensprozesses für geraume Zeit aus. Überdies gibt es in Ägypten im Unterschied zu Tunesien eine starke islamistische Bewegung, die von Mubaraks Regime unterdrückten Muslimbrüder.

If Egypt went down in revolutionary turmoil, an important actor in the Middle East peace process would drop out for a considerable time. Moreover, there is a strong islamist movement in Egypt, the oppressed Muslim Brotherhood. (full story)

Der Spiegel:

In the wake of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the Egyptians are now revolting against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The country feels as if it were waking up from a bad dream, but the West stands to lose a reliable partner — and Israel one of its few Arab friends. (read all)

The Jerusalem Post:

The fear and trembling is that what happened in France in 1789, in Russia in 1917 and in Iran in 1979 will repeat itself in Egypt and the Arab world in 2011. After the old was thumped out by the new in those countries, there was a brief moment when democratic forces arose – be it the National Constituent Assembly and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France, Alexander Kerensky in Russia, or Shapour Bakhtiar in Iran – only to be swept away by the radicals: Robespierre in Paris, the Bolsheviks in Moscow, Ayatollah Khomeini in Teheran.

In Egypt, too, democratic forces are on the march, but the radical extremists are lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce. (read more)

Enjoy your reading. The situation will further unfold today and, if necessary I’ll update this post accordingly.

The Watering Hole: May 4, PIIGS turn PIIS

P -ortugal

I -reland

I -taly

G -reece

S -pain

Now that Greece has fallen, the next countries are in the sights of the financial industry. Old acquaintances as the ones above, but the upcoming UK elections are made out for profiteers as well. A hung parliament would be the ideal background for short selling UK bonds and getting the £ into the same mess as the € currently is in.

This is our open thread. You’re welcome to open up.

Big Pharma Wins – You lose I&II

There have been two stories in the Swiss newspaper “Tagesanzeiger” lately, which get my goat. I do not deny the benefits of modern pharmaceuticals. Compared to my childhood days, modern medicines are way more efficient and ailments, that constituted a death sentence then, can now be cured or at least made more bearable. But I refuse to think of the pharma industry as a big benefactor of humankind. Here’s why.

Big Pharma wins, you lose I

Medicines are there to cure you.

Wrong. Medicines are there to treat your chronic condition for as long as possible for a prize as high as possible. Thousands suffer from neurodermatitis here in Switzerland and millions more, of course, elsewhere. The affliction goes from mild to almost unbearable. From small ulcers if you eat the wrong stuff to inflamed excema that cover most of a patient’s body. I have a very mild form, which can easily be controlled by good skin treatment products and avoiding food such as shellfish or nuts. I’ve seen other cases much worse.

There is a cure. Two students Karsten Klingelhöller and Thomas Hein have developed a skin cream made from Avocado oil and vitamin B12. A pink coloured ointment, which has no side effects and was successfully tested in clinical tests. The product has been patented and even given a brand name “Regividerm” the patent’s worth is estimated at 936 Mio US Dollars.

Those two have made it! Helped the suffering!

Not.

Not a single parmaceutical company contacted was interested in taking the cream into their product portfolio. The thing is: You don’t earn money by healing the chronically ill at a low price.

Big Pharma wins, you lose II

If you want to put health reform under the microscope, why not use Europe. We all have a public health care scheme, but to different degrees. And the differences show. Take today’s headline on one of Switzerlands most popular newspapers the “Tagesanzeiger”: “The Swiss pay thirty times the price for generic medicine as the people in the Netherlands do.”

So why would that be?

Switzerland’s public health system mandates insurance for everybody, but is run through private insurance companies. There is no public option, however and the control of drug prices is not in the hands of the insurers.

The Netherlands’ system is not so very different today, but they have reformed it only three years ago from a public option system.

What is the difference now?

Switzerland is the home of pharmaceutical industry giants Novartis and Roche. The fact that Switzerland is a small country makes two giants like that huge contributors to the GDP.

The Health Ministry is in charge of drug prices and asks for prices of generic medicines to be 40% – 50% lower than the listed prices of the originals. But: The listed prices are a phantom. No insurance company in the Netherlands, nor in Germany or in Denmark, nor France or England accepts those prices, they have long since negotiated much lower ones with the drug industry. They either get a rebate on the originals or mandate the use of generics, unless the doctor prescribes the original. They got there (The Netherlands, too in the recent past) by using the power of a public option. Which affects, of course the price of healthcare.

The Swiss authorities refuse to change their method of determining  prices and we are paying the higher insurance premiums.

The thing is: No public option, you pay the price!

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It was 70 years ago today..

Franz Honiok

Franz Honiok

..that the second World War started.

The biggest catastrophe of the 20th century was finally triggered by the German attack on Poland. The first dead of the war was Franz Honiok. He was murdered, dressed up in Polish uniform and positioned in the Gleiwitz (Gliwice) radio station as a “proof” for the alleged Polish attack on the station. The attack, of course never had happened but was orchestrated by the SS, led by one Alfred Naujocks,  in order to make the case of the invasion into Poland.  In the end almost 60 Million more people were dead and a great part of Europe was reduced to rubble and ashes.

Out of the debris rose a united Europe where former foes are friends. In central Europe we now live in peace for 64 years. We pass from Italy to Austria, from France to Germany,  from Germany to Holland without any border controls and share a common currency. Not even a century ago this was unthinkable.

Today’s the day to remember and mourn the incredible loss of lives and pray for a more peaceful world for those who are still mired in decades or centuries of conflict. May they, too find a way to overcome enmity and bloodshed to create peaceful solutions for their region and a better life for all who live there.

The Watering Hole: July 21 – Hermínio da Palma Inácio

Hermínio da Palma Inácio

Hermínio da Palma Inácio

Hermínio da Palma Inácio  was the leader of the first hijacking of a commercial aircraft. On the 10th of November 1961, five man and one woman boarded the TAP Super-Constellation called Mouzinho de Albuquerque carrying in their hand luggage 100 000 pamphlets protesting against the Portuguese dictator Oliveira Salazar and urging the people to rise for democracy. Half an hour after take-off, Palma Inácio stormed in to the cockpit and with a revolver threatened the flight crew to follow his orders.

As the flight continued to Lisbon the crew told that there wasn’t enough fuel to return to Morocco, but Palma Inácio was an experience aircraft mechanic and had a license for commercial flight, so he checked the records and confirmed that the plane had been fueled in Casablanca. When arriving to Portela Airport, permission was asked to land, and just before touchdown, the pilot initiated a go-around at low altitude. The plane was depressurized and by the emergency windows the leaflets were thrown over Lisbon and Faro.

He then allowed the plane to return to Morocco, apologized to the passengers, presented all the ladies onboard with a rose, and then vanished.

Hermínio da Palma Inácio died on July 14th, 2009.

Sunday Open Thread

It’s a long way from father to son. The father starring in the wonderful movie M*A*S*H* , the son’s violence worship in “24″. Both productions are characteristic for the time in which they originate. I, for my part, would like to rewind to the 70′s. What’s your favourite era, that you’ve lived in?

Now, this is not acceptable Mr President!

The Guardian reports:

US threats mean evidence of British resident’s Guantánamo torture must stay secret, judges rule

The US government obviously has blackmailed the UK into not releasing details about Guantanamo torture and threatened the country with such dire consequences that UK judges ruled evidence of torture must remain secret due to the severity of the consequences for Britain’s safety,

Here’s the same story from The Times The Telegraph The Independent

The Independent has the most extensive quotes from the ruling:

“Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials … relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.

“We had no reason … to anticipate there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States Government that it would reconsider its intelligence sharing relationship, when all the considerations in relation to open justice pointed to us providing a limited but important summary of the reports.”

In another part of the ruling, the judges said they had been informed by lawyers for Foreign Secretary David Miliband that the threat to withdraw co-operation remained even under President Barack Obama’s new administration.

I was wondering how long it took until I got mad at President Obama. It didn’t take long. I still give him the it’s-the-first-100-days-and-you-can’t-do-everything-at-once benefit of the doubt, but only just. This is not the kind of foreign policy I expect and President Obama promised. This gag order must go.

From a distance – Calling the race for Obama, or maybe not just yet ?

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The underlying conviction of the British newspapers about the Presidential Election seems to be, Obama will win the race. They just don’t dare to say it out loud. In a way it is understandable, there have been so many surprises in this overlong campaign, so why not another momentum change in the last four weeks? Personally, I do not think there will be another upset, if only because the McCain surprises have lost almost all of their charm. His first one, the nomination of a woman as running mate could have been a real game-changer, had he made a wiser choice. By all means the perfomance of Sarah Palin is painfully inadequate. Whatever the pundits say, she was an abject failure in the debate. She so obviously skirted the questions to spew forth her talking points it was an embarrassment to watch. I am not an American, but I am a woman and really, to me this is insulting. John McCain’s second attempt at mavericking the race by theatrically suspending his campaign, racing to Washington to “fix it”, was another failure. So what on earth can he think up now that will change a race that has Obama leading 264 to 163 in electoral votes (111 votes toss up with Obama leading in six of the eight remaining toss-up states). Going dirty is the only remaining option, William Kristol has already done the “journalistic” groundwork for that and the McCain campaign has already gone there, but my guess is that people have moved on and mostly made up their minds. Barack Obama will win this race.

But then, who am I? Let’s have a look what the big boys and the big girls in journalism have to say:

Starting with The Times there is Daniel Finkelstein, who essentially says the race is over. Holly Watt is traveling the South and is detecting early warning signs in Georgia:

The Peach State has already begun early voting, and it will not have lowered Republican blood pressure one little bit. 30% of Georgia’s voters are African-American, but that group has cast 40% of the votes so far.

Continue reading

From a distance: Not impressed.

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I’ve seen John McCain’s speech this morning and I can’t say I was very much impressed. Same old, same old. Frankly, even considered the VP candidate’s the attack dog and the Presidential candidate is supposed to be more the statesman, I think McCain was neither. His speech was soporific and ultimately pointless. With his boneheaded decision for Sarah Palin as a VP candidate and the ultra right wing election platform of the GOP he will not appeal much to independents and undecided voters in the political center anyway. He is now firmly attached to the fundamentalist faction of his party. And with another bout of economic worries on the horizon, I really would have wanted to hear some substance.

European newspapers are time lagged a bit and some are still commenting on the Sarah Palin speech, but there are some commentaries out there about John McCain, too. I give you the usual roundup, so you can judge for yourselves.

Gerard Baker in The Times warns of underestimating the McCain/Palin ticket:

It never ceases to amaze me how the Left falls again and again into the old trap of underestimating politicians whom they don’t understand. From Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to George Bush and Mrs Palin, they do it every time. Because these characters talk a bit funny and have ridiculously antiquated views about faith, family and nation, because they haven’t spent time bending the knee to the intellectual metropolitan elites, they can’t be taken seriously.(read more)

Rupert Cornwell of The Independent, says Palin fits the bill of Republican voters, but:

Remember, however, that she was speaking to the friendliest audience she will ever encounter – “the most exciting new Republican star since Ronald Reagan” one party strategist gushed yesterday. She had some good lines, none better than the way she drew the distinction between Messrs Obama and McCain, the former who had “used ‘change’ to promote his career,” and the Republican candidate who “used his career to promote change”.

But even her lesser lines, including her gratuitously insulting reference to Mr Obama’s work as a community organiser on the south side of Chicago, were guaranteed a rapturous reception in the hall. Outside, it is another matter. (read more)

Charles Clover in his Telegraph environment weekly column adresses the green side of Sarah Palin, or rather her complete lack thereof:

Alaska’s pit-bull beauty queen sneered at Obama for wasting his time “turning back the waters and healing the planet”. Certainly, no one could accuse her of that.

The European press has yet to pick up on Mrs Palin’s extreme anti-conservation record – that’s how the Sierra Club, a non-partisan organisation, described it. Time says she is on the “far right” on green issues – further to the right than her running mate and even George W Bush.

[...]

Governor Palin, on the other hand, was described to me flatly by the head of one American environmental group as “Dick Cheney in go-go boots”. (read more)

Michael Tomasky is covering the US elections for The Guardian, was in St.Paul and has listened to John McCain’s speech:

Okay. I’m a liberal in my political beliefs. But I’m also an analyst. I’ve watched 82,000 political speeches, by speakers from far left to far right. I know a good one when I see one and I can call them as I see them – ideology completely to the side. In 2004, I thought John Kerry’s acceptance speech was ghastly. I also thought, as I wrote last night, that Sarah Palin gave a very good speech. Rudy Giuliani gave a very good one too.

John McCain sounded like the vestry board chairman speaking at the church social about the success of the raffle. Or, as a colleague just put it: he looked like the guy who’d been the office accountant for 40 years giving his retirement address. After he’d eaten a little too much Chicken Kiev. (read more)

For the same newspaper, Martin Kettle says:

As Hurricane Sarah blasts through American politics, many lose their bearings and get the whole Palin thing out of proportion. That is nowhere more true than here in St Paul itself. Yes, she lit the touchpaper on a convention that had previously been a damp squib. But the overcompensation is absurd. It sometimes feels as though the selfsame people who at the start of the week were saying that Palin was certain to lose John McCain this election are now saying that she is certain to win it for – and in spite of – him.

This is madness, short-termism and loss of judgment. (read more)

And Richard Silverstein, again at The Guardian, explains why John McCain is “Kissing the Jewish Vote Goodbye”.

The Economist doesn’t mince it’s words any more:

The moose in the room, of course, is her lack of experience. When Geraldine Ferraro was picked as Walter Mondale’s running-mate, she had served in the House for three terms. Even the hapless Dan Quayle, George Bush senior’s sidekick, had served in the House and Senate for 12 years. Mrs Palin, who has been the governor of a state with a population of 670,000 for less than two years, is the most inexperienced candidate for a mainstream party in modern history.

Inexperienced and Bush-level incurious. She has no record of interest in foreign policy, let alone expertise. She once told an Alaskan magazine: “I’ve been so focused on state government; I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.” She obtained an American passport only last summer to visit Alaskan troops in Germany and Kuwait. This not only blunts Mr McCain’s most powerful criticism of Mr Obama. It also raises serious questions about the way he makes decisions. (read more)

Well, then. John McCain’s decision to choose Sarah Palin is not getting good ratings at all. It was, I believe the mistake that will ultimately sink the campaign and senior advisors of the GOP obviously fear so, too. They have switched to damage control mode. She is currently prepped for the debates with Biden, by Joe Lieberman. Where? In an undisclosed location.

Hello from Europe – The Candidate causes quite a stir

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Hello Everybody. We have two news items over here today. One is “The Arrest” and the second is unsurprisingly “The Candidate”. Radovan Karadzic‘s arrest has caused quite a stir in Europe, he was on the run for nigh on 13 years after all. He is one of the great war criminals of the end of the 20th century and will now, I hope, get his trial and his just sentence.

The other topic is, of course, Barack Obama who will soon be visiting Europe and is eagerly anticipated by those politicians who count on a little bit of popularity rubbing off on them, because they need it. But alas, neither Sarkozy, who is far from popular at home right now, nor Gordon Brown, who would shake hands with just about anybody if he had a chance to bask a little in the glow of his guest’s aura, will get the lion’s share of Obama’s attention. The highly respected and very popular German chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign secretary Steinmeier, he himself very popular, too, are on Obama’s shortlist, never mind she resisted his plans to speak from the Brandenburg Gate. Brown and Sarkozy are far from pleased says Der Spiegel:

One-on-one meetings for Obama have now been confirmed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But so far he is only including time in his stops in Paris and London for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. A decision still hasn’t been made on whether the Democratic candidate will meet with the foreign ministers of those countries. (read more)

But then Germans are the ultimate Obamamaniacs, not the only ones, but securely in the candidate’s pocket. Some 70% would vote for him, if they were qualified for voting in the US presidential election.

Obama is the hope of a Western world filled with concerns. A recession looms as does high inflation sparked by exploding demand for commodities and natural resources. Furthermore, no one has yet come up with a convincing response to global warming. No one knows how to bring peace to the Middle East, Afghanistan or Iraq. And no one has a promising strategy for dealing with Islamist terrorism.(read more)

Barack Obama is very popular in Britain, too, of course. The Guardian is covering a lot of reporting and commenting on Obama’s behalf. Michael Tomasky, feels that Maliki’s support of Obama’s withdrawal plan is the single big story of this year’s Presidential campaign.

Boy would I have liked to have been tapping the phone lines between Washington and Baghdad on Saturday afternoon.

I would love to know exactly what people in the Bush White House were saying to one another, and more importantly what they were saying to Baghdad, after Der Spiegel published its now-famous interview with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in which he in essence endorsed Barack Obama’s withdrawal timetable. Bush officials acknowledged on Sunday that they did indeed call the Maliki government for, ah, clarification. I bet they did. (read more)

But, apart from Obama’s obvious political prowess, there is another truth. Almost everybody sees a different Barack Obama, according to one’s own beliefs. My personal view of Obama? He is a highly energetic, intelligent and competent person, who is more pragmatic than dogmatic and quite conservative in his personal beliefs and ethics. He is an excellent manager and able to think through complex issues to the end, so he comes across as far sighted, while he is only very thorough in his thought processes.

“This is not Barack Obama, she hasn’t understood a single thing he said, or hasn’t been listening properly.” Is that your reaction to my view of the candidate ? Ok, read this:

These contradictions are arguably true of all politicians, but they seem truer of Obama than most. He must be the only “radical Islamist” whose biggest scandal to date has arisen from membership of the Trinity United Church of Christ. Depending on what Kool-Aid you have been drinking, when it comes to Obama your glass is either half full, half empty or overflowing, or you’ve smashed it lest anybody else imbibes its poison.

This is a blessing and a curse for Barack Obama. It offers the screen where you can project all your hopes and expectations and see them displayed for you, which will help getting him elected. But, obviously, it carries the seed of disappointment. The Times enters this inevitable and in my opinion vitally important sobering up process into the larger context of Anti Americanism:

It amuses me that some of those who criticise the present US Administration for its Manichaeism – its division of the world into good and evil – themselves allocate all past badness to Bush and all prospective goodness to Obama. As the ever-improving myth has it, on the morning of September 12, 2001, George W. and America enjoyed the sympathy of the world. This comradeship was destroyed, in a uniquely cavalier (or should we say cowboyish) fashion, through the belligerence, the carelessness, the ideological fixity and the rapacity of that amorphous and useful category of American flawed thinker, the neoconservative. They just threw it away. (read more)

There were several instances, where I seriously doubted that the Democrats were planning on winning the coming elections at all. I called it “The Cliff Barnes Syndrome” of the Democrats in discussions with friends. But The Economist sees it differently:

For the base, the “enthusiasm gap” may genuinely be about the personal appeal of Barack Obama or specific qualms regarding John McCain. But among the writers and the think-tank wonks, there seems to be a widespread sense that the Republican Party, and perhaps the conservative movement more generally, is due for an overhaul. And many of the folks who’d like to do the overhauling seem to think that the shock therapy of a clear defeat, and the space for introspection and reinvention that a few years out of power would provide, are needed to make it happen.

This would explain, to me at least, why they are going on with John McCain, despite all his shortcomings. I am still afraid, however, that they may spring a different candidate on you at the convention where McCain will step back for health reasons. But that is neither here nor there and only my personal nightmare.

You all have a good, healthy and successful day!

Sympathy For the Devil

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For reasons escaping intelligent thought, there seems to be a wave of love for Ronald Reagan that’s infesting several European countries. London and Berlin are among several European cities that plan to host memorials to the late former president, who died four years ago last month. (They must have missed the anniversary of his death.) Other locales throughout the continent have already honored Reagan by naming streets, parks and other public places after him.

What I found interesting was learning that Michael Reagan not only heads up the Reagan Legacy Foundation, but is now going around referring to himself as “Reagan’s eldest son“, as if Reagan fathered him. He didn’t. Michael was born John L Flaugher and was adopted by the elder Reagan when he married actress Jane Wyman (who is not Michael’s birth mother, either. It’s confusing.) Ronald Reagan was the speaker at Michael’s graduation and when Michael got up on stage to get his diploma and (like all the other students) to shake the elder Reagan’s hand, Ronald asked him, “Who are you?”, to which Michael is said to have replied, “I’m your son.” I always loved that story.

But I cannot understand the fascination with Ronald Reagan. The Republicans still canonize him as the greatest president ever to rule the world (that’s how they see things). They give no credence whatsoever to the oft-repeated fact that the Soviet Union was bound to collapse sooner or later and, instead, credit Reagan completely when it finally did go down. This was, of course, after he was already out of office, but “cause and effect” have never been strong points for conservatives, so they naturally credited the former president. (Funny how they didn’t seem to want to give any credit to the many thousand of us American troops – I was at Ramstein AB, West Germany, for nearly two years of Reagan’s second term – stationed on the front lines of the Cold War for our part in bringing the Soviet Union down.) George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s successor, called the fall of the Berlin Wall “Neat.”

Then there’s the whole Iran-Contra thing. When he was finally put on the witness stand and under oath, Reagan was asked if he knew what the “Iran-Contra affair” was about. He answered that he did because it was an operation taken at his behest. Yet, for years, Republicans lied and denied that Reagan had anything at all to do with it. (Bush 41 wrote in his memoirs that he, Bush, was probably the only person who knew all of the details about the operation, a fact he repeatedly denied in public saying he was “out of the loop”. I guess we all understand now where his son learned to tell the truth.) I have no doubt that some of them even believe to this day that no laws were broken, possibly because the president ordered them to do it. And it is that kind of mentality that permeates the Bush Administration. This philosophy of theirs, that the president is above the law, is the cornerstone of Republican thinking today. And this is why we must never let people like that in our government again. And we certainly shouldn’t honor them all over the world.

[NOTE: The views expressed in this item are solely the author's, and should not be construed as representative of The Zoo as a whole.]

Good Morning from Europe – The Sunday Papers

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Europeans are besotted with Obama. UK Prime Minister Brown is planning his schedule right around Obama’s visit and Germans are happily fighting about whether it’s appropriate to have Obama speak from the Brandenburg Gate. But George W. Bush will still be President for a while.

The Times concentrates on the here and now in American politics. And in the here and now favours are granted for cash. Stephen Payne will arrange meetings with the powers at large in the White House, but for a price.

During an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, Payne was asked to arrange meetings in Washington for an exiled former central Asian president. He outlined the cost of facilitating such access.

“The exact budget I will come up with, but it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush library,” said Payne, who sits on the US homeland security advisory council.

He said initially that the “family” of the Asian politician should make the donation. He later added that if all the money was paid to him he would make the payment to the Bush library. Publicly, it would appear to have been made in the politician’s name “unless he wants to be anonymous for some reason”.(read more)

So, that’s what Presidential libraries are for, money laundering? Small wonder Bill Clinton adamantly refuses to publish a list of donors.

The Independent is worried about the incresing “tit for tat” politics around the nuclear ambitions of Iran. The ongoing bickering may finally evolve into the military conflict we fear and some would welcome.

What began in 2003 as a legitimate attempt to persuade Iran to desist from its hitherto secret enrichment programme has snowballed into a confrontation between the US and Iran embroiling pretty much the entire Middle East, worrying Russia and China and potentially affecting the daily lives of Europeans.

Tit for tat is likely to continue and, unchecked, could lead to wars nobody wants. Is there a way out? Can Europeans do something effective? The answer to both questions is “Yes”. (read more)

By the way, the Iranian missile tests were not only propagated with doctored pictures, they were a propaganda sham entirely.

Der Spiegel is preoccupied with Bush still, too. Gabor Steingart invites George Bush to take a walk and have a look at the real world, but

However, the president doesn’t want to understand and he doesn’t even want to go for a walk. That’s why at the meeting of the world’s eight most industrialized nations the most powerful man in the world had to have the world explained to him by seven less powerful leaders. They encouraged him to finally contemplate a future without oil, and they persuaded him that the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 2050 was possible.

The US president didn’t lead, he followed. The world’s only superpower has seldom looked quite as small as it did this week. (read more)

The Guardian/Observer is voicing a desire for a normal relationship with the United States and sets it’s hopes on Barack Obama.

Barack Obama will arrive in Europe this week to a tumultuous reception. Europe – and the rest of the world – has watched in awe the amazing political theatre that has surrounded his bid to be America’s first black President. Should he win in November Obama’s priorities will be domestic ones but he also has a formidable opportunity to help recast America’s relationship with the world. It is this relationship which took such a battering during the Bush presidency as anti-Americanism took root across the globe (though not, it has to be said, in large parts of Africa where the current American President did much of his best foreign work). The euphoria surrounding his presidential bid offers him a brilliant opportunity to repurpose the relationship between America and the world. And all of us would benefit. (read more)

The Telegraph has a similar standpoint. Both Tory leader David Cameron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown will take whatever time it takes to meet Obama:

The Democratic presidential candidate is due to visit London as part of a major foreign tour of Europe and the Middle East but he has been unable to finalise his itinerary, leaving the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition dangling.

Downing Street officials are relaxed about the scheduling problems and say the government has made clear they are happy to accommodate the White House frontrunner whenever he can fit them in. The Tory leader, who has previously forged links with John McCain, Mr Obama’s Republican rival, is understood to be equally keen. (read more)

Well Gordon Brown can indeed use some glamour, he is almost as popular as George W. Bush and the coming elections will most probably put an end to his premiership.

I wish you all a good Sunday, grab a coffee and read. There is much more to be found where I found the articles above.

Across the Pond – Hello from Europe

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It is far from easy nowadays to stay true to the vow I made to myself, not to cover Hillary Clinton’s campaign anymore. She is so desperately seeking the limelight that her actions amount to the political equivalent of Britney Spears sans underwear.

Nevermind, there are news outside the Democratic primaries that move European readers.

Britain suffers a string of teenager violence which so far cost 14 lives in London alone this year. The most prominent victim, Rob Knox, an aspiring teenage actor, was stabbed to death in a brawl, according to some while trying to protect his younger brother. The latest victim 17 year old Amar Aslan was found beaten to death in a park in Yorkshire. The bank holiday weekend cost three lives and three people are in critical condition. Of the six, five victims are teenagers. The youngsters held by police in the Aslan case are shockingly young and shockingly callous. They allegedly filmed the attack and shared the video.

More violence, this time military. The Dublin talks on the ban of cluster bombs will most probably result in a treaty to be signed by the United Kingdom. This causes upset among US politicians and NATO officials and attempts to subvert the agreement. The Dublin plans include clauses very similar to the landmines ban and makes US-allied soldiers possible targets for criminal prosecution, if they continue to fight along US military who still uses cluster bombs. The British as others, too, are trying to water down the treaty, to allow storage of cluster bombs in the UK and abolish the “assistance clause”. As they are bragging to be a leader in the cluster bomb ban movement, they may have to bite the bullet and accept the full ban, however. Good thing.

(To come back to where I started from: We all know who has voted against a cluster bomb ban in the US Senate and we know who was President in 1997, when the US walked out on the negotiations for a ban on landmines, when it became clear the bloody treaty would be effective after all. Just sayin’.)

High fuel prices fuel protests in Europe: In London and Cardiff hundreds of lorry drivers protested against the rise in petrol prices. The protests fell victim to its own raison d’être in a way and decided to decentralise the effort: “In Wales, hauliers – who had planned to join the London protest but decided the fuel costs would be excessive – drove around 100 lorries to Cardiff to lobby the Welsh assembly.”

In France there were protests by fishermen. The French clashed with police last week and now continued their protests by blocking the Dover straits. They managed to severely slow down traffic in that heavily used waterway and while they were at it blocked access to a Total oil refinery. The lads are not alone. Portugese and Belgian fishermen are protesting, too.

Have a good day all of you. Stay safe and healthy!

Hello from Europe – 358 Days of Bush left

The Sunday papers today know but one headline: Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama and Obama.

Wait a minute: Here’s something interesting, a must-read: “The Sunday Times” again covers  the Sibel Edmonds story.

AN investigation into the illicit sale of American nuclear secrets was compromised by a senior official in the State Department, a former FBI employee has claimed.

The official is said to have tipped off a foreign contact about a bogus CIA company used to investigate the sale of nuclear secrets.

The firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, was a front for Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent. Her public outing two years later in 2003 by White House officials became a cause célèbre.

The State Department official denied the story:

The State Department official said on Friday: “It is impossible to find a strong enough way to deny these allegations which are both false and malicious.”

From the look of it, the allegations are worth a hefty jail sentence, I’d deny it too. The Zoo’s “nwmuse” has posted on this story very early on and you can find more coverage here.

Germany is holding elections in two states today. They are considered a litmus test for the ruling grand coalition in Berlin. Hesse is particularly of interest, because of a dirty campaign by the ruling governor Roland Koch, which appealed mostly to the baser instincts like xenophobia.

Have you ever heard of Jérôme Kerviel? Well he’s the young man who helped the Société Générale to lose $7 Billion. What a villain? Not if you’re French:

 ‘He was your ideal son-in-law,’ said 62-year-old Martine Le Pohon, who remembers Jérôme helping his mother out on Saturdays at Un Monde Imagin’ Hair. ‘And if it turns out that he has stood up to the system to the tune of €5m, well, as far as I am concerned, that makes him even more ideal.’

By the way, President Sarkozy and his minions learned about the  fraud only three days after the bank’s management was aware of it. Sarkozy was livid, for not being informed. Well, maybe taking care of your job instead of your “singer-model-wife-mistress” would help you along in getting taken serious Monsieur Le Président!

And here’s another “conservative” poised to return to power and, in his case most importantly, immunity from prosecution, Silvio Berlusconi.

Did you think businesses are concerned about global climate change? Think again!

And there may still be one day when the world’s weakest are not subject to abuse anymore, but that will still be a long time from today.

This is what struck me a interesting or important in the Sunday Papers. I wish you all a peaceful and happy Sunday. Take care!

Blogging Bush’s last year in office – 365 days to go

Europe calling with the headlines in the Sunday Papers. So let’s hit it! “The Sunday Times” opens with the caucus primary victories of John McCain and Hillary Clinton. The McCain campaign has an edge now, but Mitt Romney is busily collecting delegates instead of high profile victories. And, please, can someone explain to this to me?

She captured the popular vote by a margin of 51 to 45 per cent over Barack Obama – but, after a racially-charged election, her rival won 13 delegates in Nevada to her 12.

There is news about the Sibel Edmonds case! Remember? This is the courageous lady who is trying to tell you Americans that all is not well at all, when it comes to your nuclear secrets. She has to do this through foreign media, because yours won’t print, nor air what she has to say.

And the FBI still is trying to wriggle out of it:

One of the documents relating to the case was marked 203A-WF-210023. Last week, however, the FBI responded to a freedom of information request for a file of exactly the same number by claiming that it did not exist. But The Sunday Times has obtained a document signed by an FBI official showing the existence of the file. (emphasis added)

Stay tuned to this story, it’s worth multiple life sentences for some very high ranking people in Washington. Maybe in a year (see above, 365 days left) things and public reception of this story will change and indictments will be issued. Let’s switch to “The Guardian”. They are reporting extensively on the US election primaries as well here and here and with loads of related stories. There is more on economics to find there, too. Why is going for bio-fuels not a solution? What is fuel poverty? And how to lower taxes the right way. You find “The Independent” covering the elections here and here. On top of that they treat you to the news, that mobile phone use can wreck your sleep. (UPDATE: There seems to be a problem with the Independent website. I leave the links, as the problem surely is temporary, so please try again later, if the links don’t work right now.) “The Telegraph” reports on, surprise, the primaries here and here! The English website of “Der Spiegel” gives you news on the primaries, who’d a thunk it, but a very interesting interview with OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla Salem el-Badri, too. ‘International Oil Companies Are the Real Dinosaurs’, quote:

SPIEGEL: And are you in favor of abandoning the practice of trading in dollars as Venezuela and Iran have demanded?

El-Badri : The euro is currently the world’s strongest currency. A change can be made, but it will take some time. It took many years for the dollar to become a dominant currency in the oil business. But in the future it will not be that difficult to change.

A scan of the other newspaper websites gives us more election coverage, and still more. So enjoy your reading and let us know what we missed in the comments section (as the saying goes). “Europeanview” wishes you a good and restful Sunday. Take care!