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EU's new figurehead believes climate change is a myth

Sunday, January 04, 2009

By David Charter
The Times of London

The European Union's new figurehead believes that climate change is a dangerous myth and has compared the union to a Communist state.

The views of President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, 67, have left the government of Mirek Topolanek, his bitter opponent, determined to keep him as far away as possible from the EU presidency, which it took over from France yesterday.

The Czech president, who caused a diplomatic incident by dining with opponents of the EU’s Lisbon treaty on a recent visit to Ireland, has a largely ceremonial role.

But there are already fears that, after the dynamic EU presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy - including his hyper-active attempts at international diplomacy over the credit crisis and Georgia as well as an historic agreement to cut greenhouse gases - the Czech effort will be mired in infighting and overshadowed by the platform it will give to Mr Klaus and his controversial views.

Czech diplomats in Brussels insist that Mr Klaus is not a big part of their plans and are trying to limit him to one speech to the European Parliament in February and chairing one international summit, either the EU-Canada or EU-Russia meeting.

They are pinning their hopes on a lunch between Mr Klaus and Mr Topolanek on January 5, which they hope will see both parties agree a truce after the President’s unsuccessful attempt to unseat his rival as Prime Minister at a party conference last month.

“What is sure is that there will be at least a little choir of voices coming from Prague that will not be singing the same song,” said Piotr Kaczynski, of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels....(Click for remainder).


Justice for Gay War Widower

By Jonathan Dart
Sydney Morning Herald

Every so often, Edward Young sits on the couch in his apartment and closes his eyes. "And then I just pretend I'm not here any more," he says.

It has been 10 years since his partner, Larry Cains, died. They met in London in 1960 - he, a model, was introduced to Mr Cains, a photographer who had served with the Australian Army in Borneo during World War II.

"He was desperately handsome," Mr Young said. "We spent two weeks together and I told him I wanted to spend my life with him."

Now, after a decade of fighting to have the law recognise his and Mr Cains's love as equal, the Sydneysider will soon become the country's first recognised gay war widower.

Laws passed in November mean that partners in gay relationships with serving and retired soldiers will, for the first time, be allowed to claim pensions - opening the door for the so-called "forgotten people" of our military heritage and allowing for more people to make claims that must be paid out.

The decision will end a long-winded battle for Mr Young that began in a small inner-city law office, when he applied for a pension only to find the Veterans' Entitlements Act limited the definition of "couple". Under the old law, his 38 years with Mr Cains were invalid because he could not prove he was "living with a member of the opposite sex".

Having lived through a time when discrimination against gay men was rife, Mr Young said the wording still jolted him. "I didn't really need the pension," he said. "I didn't even really want it. What I wanted was to take on the little man, [the former prime minister John] Howard, and fight."

Mr Young took his claim to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The case dragged on for years.

"I wanted a decision that wouldn't just apply to my own circumstances," he said. "What I wanted was something that would apply right across the board. I wanted something that would say that, yes, there was discrimination and it didn't just apply to me. It applied to all facets of our law."

In September 2003 the UN concluded Australia had breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Mr Young was "entitled to an effective remedy, including the reconsideration of his pension application without discrimination based on his sex or sexual orientation"....(Click for remainder).


California Sues Bush Administration To Save Endangered Species Act

By Samantha Young
Associated Press via Huffington Post

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is suing the Bush administration to block last-minute endangered species regulations that are intended to reduce input from federal scientists, state Attorney General Jerry Brown announced Tuesday.

Brown said the president is trying to gut the Endangered Species Act before he leaves office next month.

"Unfortunately, the Bush administration has had an antipathy to using sound science," Brown said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "This is the latest assault as Bush goes out the door. It's intolerable."

The lawsuit was filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The Interior Department issued the revised rules this month. They allow federal agencies to issue permits for mining, logging and similar activities without getting a review from federal wildlife biologists if their own research shows the project will not affect plants and animals.

The changes also block agencies from using the Endangered Species Act to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on ecosystems when reviewing projects such as new roads or coal plants on federal land.

Interior Department spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said the revised rules will continue to protect threatened and endangered species and noted that the law says federal agencies will ensure no listed animals are killed....(Click for remainder).


Energy of the Stars, With No Emissions

Translated by Larry Fischer

A consortium of governments will build a groundbreaking fusion power plant in France for a price in excess of €5 billion. After decades of discouraging setbacks, plasma physics has made jaw-dropping recent progress. Could it save the world?

Something went wrong during reactor experiment number 23,995. The fusion process started, continued for a second, but suddenly broke off. Before it collapsed the plasma in the reactor chamber began to vibrate, and microphones transmitted a squealing sound to the control center.

"The plasma probably had too much contact with the chamber walls," physicist Arne Kallenbach surmised, "and then underwent a sudden drop in temperature. That happens fairly often. Unfortunately, the plasma is pretty unstable, particularly during the phase when it is being heated up."

Kallenbach kept his eyes glued to the monitor. Like the other scientists taking part in the experiment, he waited for measurement data to come up on the screen. The room was shielded by thick concrete walls and resembled a mission-control center for space flights. But the scientists here at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Garching near Munich have nothing to do with launching vehicles into outer space. They're trying to reproduce fusion processes that go on inside the sun, and harness them for applications here on earth. The device they work with, a "tokamak" known as the Asdex Upgrade, is the largest fusion reactor ever built in Germany. "Tokomak" is derived from Russian and refers to the donut-shaped fusion chamber.

They've used it in more than 20,000 experiments, but the scientists here still haven't achieved their objective. "We will continue to work towards getting the fusion reaction down just right," says Kallenbach, "so that everything is precisely the way we want it to be."...(Click for remainder).


Volunteer suicide bombers seek to attack Israel

By Ali Akbar Dareini
Via Yahoo! News

TEHRAN, Iran – Hard-line Iranian student groups have asked the government to authorize volunteers to go carry out suicide bombings in Israel in response to the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.

The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not responded to the call by Wednesday. Volunteer suicide groups have made similar requests in the past and the government never responded to their calls. The groups' activities appear to be mainly for propaganda purposes, and there has been no sign of Iranians carrying out suicide attacks in Israel.

Five hard-line student groups and a conservative clerical group launched a registration drive on Monday, seeking volunteers to carry out suicide attacks against Israel.

In an open letter to Ahmadinejad, the students said "volunteer student suicide groups ... are determined to go to Gaza. You are expected to issue orders to the relevant authorities to pave the way for such action." A copy of the letter was made available to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The hard-liners started signing up volunteers after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious decree Sunday saying anyone killed while defending Palestinians in Gaza against Israeli attacks would be considered a martyr.

The groups claim that more than 10,000 people throughout Iran have registered as volunteer suicide bombers in the past three days. At a gathering Tuesday in Tehran, hard-liners were distributing registration forms to volunteers.

"How can I remain indifferent while defenseless Palestinians are being butchered," said one volunteer, Ali Reza Takrim Namini, as he filled out the registration form....(Click for remainder).


Happy New Year! It's the End of the World As We Know It!

By David Neiwert
Crooks and Liars

So it seems there's this Rooskie professor who thinks the United States is going to wind up following the path of the old Soviet Republic:
For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

In recent weeks, he's been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. "It's a record," says Prof. Panarin. "But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger."

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.
Dunno about you, but the results of the last election didn't seem to suggest any dissolution of the United States -- rather the opposite. We seem to be in the process of healing old divisions and coming back together after a decade of Republican-induced strife. We'll see if it continues. But Professor Panarin sounds like he has a bad case of the projections.

Of course, there's always that possible asteroid impact that's been all over the YouTubes, if you prefer your apocalyptic scenarios more, ah, complete....(Click for remainder).


The Last Word: Hatewatch’s 2nd Annual Smackdown Awards

By Mark Potok @ Hate Watch
Blog of the Southern Poverty Law Center

It’s been another sorry year in the world of hate, as knuckle-dragging white supremacists and their fellow travelers did their best to make our country a little worse with each new passing day. Here at Hatewatch, we’ve been hard at work trying to winnow away the garden-variety savagery that habitués of our blog know so well in favor of truly extraordinary examples of asinine activities from the benighted denizens of the radical right. It hasn’t been easy for members of the Hatewatch 2nd Annual Smackdown Awards Committee, who’ve had to wade heroically through the sewers and cesspools to produce our list. But now they’ve returned from that underworld, muddied but unbowed, to offer our readers, without further ado, Hatewatch’s year-end countdown of the very, very worst of 2008:

10. Most Creative Tattoo Award
We’ve seen more than our share of those who believe that large tattoos of swastikas and SS lightning bolts are attractive additions to their faces and other body parts, no matter what their mommies and daddies think. But the truth is that this year, there simply was no competition at all in this category once Ron Edwards, imperial wizard of the Kentucky-based Imperial Klans of America, showed up for a February deposition with attorneys of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Edwards was there for a lawsuit the SPLC brought against him and his organization after two of his followers beat up a 16-year-old boy, and he wasn’t happy, as evidenced by a new tattoo on the side of his freshly shaven head that read, “Fuck S.P.L.C.” The other side of his head — this one tattooed with “Aryan Justice”— apparently reflected his hopes for the trial’s outcome, but the mostly white jury didn’t agree. In the end, it came back with a $2.5 million judgment for the boy who was beaten, and Edwards’ head was plumb out of space for further commentary on the state of the world.

9. Creepiest Cult Leader Award
After last year’s recognition of neo-Nazi boss Kevin Alfred Strom for his arrest on charges of possession of child pornography — not to mention his version of “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” detailing his interest in marrying a 10-year-old girl — it’s been hard to find real competition in the Icky Sexual Proclivities Department. But just when we were beginning to despair, along came Tony Alamo, the cult leader known for his blistering hatred of Catholics and homosexuals. Turns out that the 74-year-old Alamo allegedly had something in common with Strom, who emerged from prison last fall after serving time on the kiddie porn charges. In truly awful documents filed in court this fall, a 14-year-old girl accused Alamo of fondling her in the shower; another said she was about 9 when Alamo “married” her; and a third recounted having sex with him at age 11. According to a confidential source, Alamo, who goes on trial in February on 10 counts related to transporting underage girls across state lines for sex, kept candy and Barbie dolls in his bedroom....(Click for remainder of disturbing post).


Pity the Poor Neocons

As bloody and grotesque as Israel’s pounding of Gaza has been, it marks a bitterly disappointing end for seven-plus years of neoconservative dominion over U.S. foreign policy, a period that was supposed to conclude with the dismantling of Israel’s Muslim enemies in the region.

By Robert Parry

Contrary to those neocon plans, George W. Bush is limping toward a historical judgment as possibly “the worst President ever”; U.S. power is waning in Iraq under a “status-of-forces agreement” that is showing the Americans the door by 2011 if not earlier; and key neocon targets – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon – have gained in regional influence.

All the neocons have left now is to cheer the Israeli air force as it, in effect, shoots fish in a barrel, i.e. blasting away at selected Palestinian targets inside the crowded confines of Gaza, killing more than 400 people, including many children and other civilians, over the past week.

In 2001, especially after 9/11, the neocon dreams were so much more ambitious. The neocons planned to achieve “regime change” in all Middle Eastern countries that were perceived as threats to Israel and replace them with compliant, pro-Western leaders.

First on the list was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which was a center for Arab nationalism and an advocate for resisting Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Since Iraq was too strong – and too far from the effective reach of the Israeli military – U.S. forces would be needed to conquer Iraq.

After that, Iraq was supposed to become the staging area for projecting American power across the region, with the governments of Iran and Syria the next targets.

A favorite neocon joke in 2003 was whether after capturing Baghdad, U.S. forces should go east or west, to either Damascus or Tehran, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran.” Of course, unlike American soldiers, the neocons weren’t really going anywhere, except to the next AEI conference or a Georgetown cocktail party.(Click for remainder).


American Recovery and Reinvestment

Remarks of President-elect Barack Obama
Weekly Address
January 3, 2009

As the holiday season comes to end, we are thankful for family and friends and all the blessings that make life worth living. But as we mark the beginning of a new year, we also know that America faces great and growing challenges—challenges that threaten our nation’s economy and our dreams for the future. Nearly two million Americans have lost their jobs this past year—and millions more are working harder in jobs that pay less and come with fewer benefits. For too many families, this new year brings new unease and uncertainty as bills pile up, debts continue to mount and parents worry that their children won’t have the same opportunities they had.

However we got here, the problems we face today are not Democratic problems or Republican problems. The dreams of putting a child through college, or staying in your home, or retiring with dignity and security know no boundaries of party or ideology.

These are America’s problems, and we must come together as Americans to meet them with the urgency this moment demands. Economists from across the political spectrum agree that if we don’t act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double digit unemployment and the American Dream slipping further and further out of reach.

That’s why we need an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that not only creates jobs in the short-term but spurs economic growth and competitiveness in the long-term. And this plan must be designed in a new way—we can’t just fall into the old Washington habit of throwing money at the problem. We must make strategic investments that will serve as a down payment on our long-term economic future. We must demand vigorous oversight and strict accountability for achieving results. And we must restore fiscal responsibility and make the tough choices so that as the economy recovers, the deficit starts to come down. That is how we will achieve the number one goal of my plan—which is to create three million new jobs, more than eighty percent of them in the private sector.

To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will double renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient. To build a 21st century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation to create jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, and schools. To save not only jobs, but money and lives, we will update and computerize our health care system to cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help reduce health care costs by billions of dollars each year. To make America, and our children, a success in this new global economy, we will build 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries. And to put more money into the pockets of hardworking families, we will provide direct tax relief to 95 percent of American workers.

I look forward to meeting next week in Washington with leaders from both parties to discuss this plan. I am optimistic that if we come together to seek solutions that advance not the interests of any party, or the agenda of any one group, but the aspirations of all Americans, then we will meet the challenges of our time just as previous generations have met the challenges of theirs.

There is no reason we can’t do this. We are a people of boundless industry and ingenuity. We are innovators and entrepreneurs and have the most dedicated and productive workers in the world. And we have always triumphed in moments of trial by drawing on that great American spirit—that perseverance, determination and unyielding commitment to opportunity on which our nation was founded. And in this new year, let us resolve to do so once again. Thank you.

(Original Post)


Controversial Issues Pose a Challenge for Obama and Pope

Forging a New Relationship
By Francis X. Rocca

VATICAN CITY -- In the 24 years since the United States and the Holy See established full diplomatic ties, relations have never been closer or warmer than during the administration of President Bush.

The two sides broke over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but Bush's personal esteem for popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and his agreement with Catholic teaching on such controversial issues as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, have fostered a special rapport. Bush has met six times with the leader of the Catholic Church, more often than any other U.S. president.

The relationship between the Vatican and the White House is bound to change this month with the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, whose support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research has drawn denunciations from a number of church leaders. Yet informed observers agree that both sides have strong incentives and opportunities to avoid conflict and build on the recent history of collaboration.

Relations got off to a cordial start the day after the Nov. 4 election, when Benedict sent a telegram to Obama, noting the "historic" nature of his victory and assuring him of his prayers that God would "sustain you and the beloved American people in your efforts . . . to build a world of peace, solidarity and justice." ...(Click for remainder).


Right wingers are still fighting against Clinton appointees

By Joe Sudbay
America Blog

Further evidence that the GOP is stuck in the past.

In a dog bites man story, today's Washington Post lets us know that the right wingers are upset with Obama. But, the best part is that the right wingers are re-fighting the battles of the 90s. They're going after the same people they attacked ten and fifteen years ago. The country has moved on, the right wingers haven't:
To some staunch conservatives watching President Bush relinquish the reins of power to President-elect Barack Obama, a few too many ardent liberals are now crashing the gates.

Some well-known Democratic activists are advising Obama on how to steer federal agencies, including a few whom conservative Republicans fought hard to keep out of power in the Clinton administration. They include Roberta Achtenberg, a gay activist whose confirmation as an assistant housing secretary was famously held up by then-Sen. Jesse Helms (N.C.), and Bill Lann Lee, who was hotly opposed by foes of affirmative action and temporarily blocked from the government's top civil rights job.

Conservatives fear that some of these Obama transition advisers are too far left on the political spectrum and are a sign of radical policies to come.
The conservatives haven't had a new idea in years. Even their attacks on Obama are just recycled from the 90s. It's pathetic -- and equally pathetic that the Washington Post thought this was news.

(Click for original post).


Denver schools superintendent is Gov. Ritter's choice to replace Salazar

By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News

Gov. Bill Ritter is shattering conventional wisdom in tapping the popular but politically untested Michael Bennet, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, as the U.S. Senate replacement for Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar.

The surprising move, expected at a state Capitol news conference Saturday, perplexed many political insiders, most of whom considered Bennet the darkhorse candidate in a field crowded with big name, political veterans like Bennet's old boss, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.

To some, the reaction wasn't head-scratching.

It was jaw-dropping.

"I'm very surprised. He's improbable. He's risky," said pollster Floyd Ciruli, who figured the little-known Bennet would barely be a blip in the polls because he's so unknown. . "He's qualified, and he could be a really, very special and sensational senator. But at least initially, from the political side of it, you are puzzled."

Bennet's selection was confirmed by multiple Democratic sources, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the governor's announcement. Ritter's office only announced the 2 p.m. news conference. Bennet declined comment, as did various top-level Democrats who had been informed of the decision.

The selection was unconventional, just like Bennet and his unique political résumé....(Click for remainder).


Bigger Than Bush

By Paul Krugman

As the new Democratic majority prepares to take power, Republicans have become, as Phil Gramm might put it, a party of whiners.

Some of the whining almost defies belief. Did Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general, really say, “I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror”? Did Rush Limbaugh really suggest that the financial crisis was the result of a conspiracy, masterminded by that evil genius Chuck Schumer?

But most of the whining takes the form of claims that the Bush administration’s failure was simply a matter of bad luck — either the bad luck of President Bush himself, who just happened to have disasters happen on his watch, or the bad luck of the G.O.P., which just happened to send the wrong man to the White House.

The fault, however, lies not in Republicans’ stars but in themselves. Forty years ago the G.O.P. decided, in effect, to make itself the party of racial backlash. And everything that has happened in recent years, from the choice of Mr. Bush as the party’s champion, to the Bush administration’s pervasive incompetence, to the party’s shrinking base, is a consequence of that decision.

If the Bush administration became a byword for policy bungles, for government by the unqualified, well, it was just following the advice of leading conservative think tanks: after the 2000 election the Heritage Foundation specifically urged the new team to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.”...(Click for remainder).



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