Current Events

U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan — Clueless?

The British paper, The Sunday Times, wrote on May 16:

“The nominee to be the next justice of the Supreme Court has no opinion on anything… How do such people exist? Well, the truth is they have existed on the career ladder for the US Supreme Court since Robert Bork was crucified by the Senate when Ronald Reagan nominated him. Bork had written on everything, had opinions on everything.

“…nobody has been as blank a slate as Elena Kagan… she has never been a judge, so it is impossible to examine her rulings and her reasoning. She has barely written a thing… none of us outside her circles has a clue…

“Take this classic piece of blather from an icon of the liberal legal establishment, Walter Dellinger: ‘Her open-mindedness may disappoint some who want a sure liberal vote on almost every issue. Her pragmatism may disappoint those who believe that mechanical logic can decide all cases. And her progressive personal values will not endear her to the hard right. But that is exactly the combination the president was seeking’…

“How are we supposed to know [all of this], when she has never articulated any such progressive values in, you know, public? Well, we just have to take Barack Obama’s word for it… She is [Jewish]… unmarried, and apparently has no anecdotes of dates, no ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, no romantic interludes … nothing…

“The far right has already identified her as a ‘lesbian homosexual’; and the gay blogosphere openly discussed her alleged lesbianism weeks ago. But there is no confirmation of that anywhere and the White House reiterated last week that questions about sexual orientation ‘have no place’ in judging a nominee (but her gender most certainly does)… She is not only a blank slate as an intellectual and public figure; she is also a blank slate in other respects as well…

“Once Kagan gets on the court, she will answer to nobody for the rest of her life. Better get some answers now, then, don’t you think? Or does that too ‘have no place’ in such a process?”

Surprise Surprise — Asylum for Obama’s Aunt

USA Today reported on May 17:

“President Obama’s aunt, a native of Kenya, has been granted asylum by a U.S. immigration court and can stay in this country, her lawyers said today.The reason for the asylum request by Zeituni Onyango — the half-sister of Obama’s late father — has not been made public. But one of her lawyers said last year Onyango has been worried about ‘violence in Kenya.’

“Onyango’s current attorney… said ‘the asylum process is confidential and she wants to keep it that way, so we can’t get into details on why the judge granted asylum or the exact basis for her claim — she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her.’ Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the White House ‘had no involvement’ in Onyango’s case.”

One of the principles on which this great country was founded was “justice and liberty for all.” We dare to say that not too many natives of Kenya, living in this country, would have been granted asylum, as there is no evidence that Kenyan natives living abroad and returning to Kenya would face governmentally sponsored or at least permitted persecution because of their ethnic, racial, religious or political origins or views

Bill Clinton the Joker?

The Times wrote on May 13:

“There are many ways to pay off campaign debts — cajoling phone calls, begging letters — but Bill Clinton believes that he has come up with a better method to wipe out the financial obligations outstanding from his wife’s failed presidential bid. He is raffling himself. In an e-mail sent to millions of people who supported Hillary Clinton’s White House campaign, the former President asks: ‘How would you like the chance to come up to New York and spend the day with me?’

“For those who would like the One-Day-With-Bill prize, an online donation of as little as $5 (£3) will buy them the chance… This is the second time in a year that Mr Clinton has offered himself as a lottery prize to whittle down his wife’s debt, something that makes some of their supporters cringe.”

We would think that Mr. Clinton’s date with the winner–assuming it’s a female–will be supervised…

U.S. Primaries Show Discontent with Washington

USA Today wrote on May 19:

“A growing wave of discontent with government crashed down on ‘establishment’ candidates running in primaries Tuesday… Few races represented the political backlash sweeping across the country better than Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, in which Specter was defeated by Rep. Joe Sestak… ‘This is what democracy looks like,’ a beaming Sestak told supporters. ‘It should come as no surprise to anyone that people want a change.’

“Primaries in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky were the latest sign of the nation’s political mood, as high unemployment and President Obama’s ambitious agenda allowed a new crop of candidates to claim the mantle of change. ‘We’ve come to take our government back,’ said Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who courted the anti-tax ‘Tea Party’ movement to defeat Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the GOP Senate primary. ‘We want things done differently’…

“‘Distrust of all things Washington seems to be the theme,’ said Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation… The president’s party has lost seats in Congress in 10 of the past 12 midterm elections. Jennifer Duffy with the non-partisan Cook Political Report says the results show if ‘your name starts with “senator” or “congressman,” voters view you as part of the problem…'”

The New York Daily News wrote on May 19:

“Tuesday’s balloting is a fresh reminder of what all the combatants have understood for months: It’s a lousy year to be a Democrat, an incumbent or President Obama. At the very least, Democratic majorities in the Senate and House will shrink significantly this November…

“Pennsylvania was the biggest prize for anti-establishment forces… Obama couldn’t be found in the Keystone State. He and his handlers didn’t want to risk more embarrassment after Obama campaigned for losing gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia and couldn’t keep state Sen. Scott Brown from claiming Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat… If the Republicans seize control of either chamber, Obama’s legislative agenda is pretty much shredded…”

The Euro Must (and Will) Survive!

Deutsche Welle wrote on May 15:

“Despite the tough times, EU leaders are staying the course… In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel… defended her own decisions to support a financial rescue package for Greece. ‘When the stability of the euro is threatened, we can’t evade our responsibility,’ Merkel [said]. ‘With our guarantee package from the entire eurozone for Greece, we’re ensuring that the common currency remains stable… We all know, if the euro fails, more failures will follow,’ she said, adding that the only way to ensure the stability of the euro in the future was a convergence of financial policies in Europe.”

The Associated Press wrote on May 19:

“Merkel said that defending the shared European currency is ‘about no more and no less than the preservation of the European idea… That is our historic task; if the euro fails, then Europe fails,’ she told the lower house of parliament on Wednesday. ‘The euro is in danger – if we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.’…

“Europe is showing a newfound resolve to strengthen its regulatory grip… ‘Europe needs a new culture of stability,’ [Merkel] said… Above all, though, Merkel said all EU members must speed up cutting their deficits. ‘Only then can the rescue attempts be effective, because continuing to cover up the real causes of the crisis wouldn’t help Europe,’ she said. ‘Germany advocates lasting stability in Europe – we’re not going to spare anyone in Europe from that.'”

Berlin Takes the Lead…

Der Spiegel Online wrote on May 19:

“Berlin means business… Angela Merkel’s government has drafted a list of proposals to revamp the European common currency. From suspending voting rights to national bankruptcy proceedings, the plan is far-reaching.

“The offensive now seems to have started in earnest. On Tuesday, European Union finance ministers announced efforts to both rein in hedge funds operating in Europe and to introduce a tax on financial transactions. Overnight, the German financial services regulator BaFin slapped a ban on certain types of short selling.

“Chancellor Angela Merkel has also been working with her finance minister and economics minister on far-reaching changes to the treaty underpinning Europe’s common currency, the euro… Merkel’s government would like to see increased monitoring of member states’ annual budget proposals, the introduction of stiff sanctions for those in violation of euro-zone debt rules and the suspension of voting rights in the European Council. Furthermore, Germany wants to establish bankruptcy proceedings for insolvent euro-zone countries…

“Berlin is serious about taking the lead as the euro zone struggles with a suddenly weak currency. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is to present the draft to a European Union working group on Friday before it is considered at an upcoming EU summit… Many of the measures proposed in the draft paper would likely require amendments to the recently passed Lisbon Treaty…”

… But not Everyone Likes It

The Financial Times wrote on May 19:

“Europe’s leaders scrambled to restore unity in the face of the sovereign debt crisis after Germany dismayed allies with a unilateral ban on naked short selling. But officials in Brussels, Paris and other EU capitals made little effort to disguise their surprise and irritation at the German move against naked shorting – selling securities such as shares and bonds that are not owned or are borrowed.”

The New York Times wrote on May 19:

“World markets slid Wednesday while the euro hovered near four-year lows against the dollar after Germany announced new curbs on traders in a unilateral attempt to shore up the ailing single European currency and prevent the continent’s debt crisis from getting out of control… The unexpected decision sent shock waves through the markets, especially as it was done unilaterally by the eurozone’s largest economy…

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the measure, telling lawmakers that Europe faces an ‘existential’ test as it tries to shore up the euro. The ban on naked short-selling, she indicated, was part of a strategy to rein in speculators…”

Deutsche Welle added on May 19:

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on other European nations to follow suit in taking measures to ensure that financial markets could no longer ‘extort’ sovereign states. While the euro showed signs of recovery on Wednesday, Germany’s sudden ban on naked short sales was generally met with surprise, or even irritation, rather than support.

“French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said ‘one ought to at least seek the advice of the other member states concerned by this measure.’ Lagarde will be one of the guests at a conference of world financial leaders hosted by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Berlin. They hope to work on a common stance for financial regulation ahead of a Group of 20 meeting in Canada in June.”

Is the Euro Really in Danger?

Bild Online says, “No.” The mass publication also wrote on May 19:

“Most financial experts do not anticipate inflation… Financial expert Professor Peter Bofinger: ‘The euro is in a better position than the dollar, the pound and the yen. The current fall in value is without any consequence… The newly incurred debts in the euro-zone are small, comparatively speaking, and core country Germany can borrow money today at lower interest rates than ever before.”

Der Spiegel Online wrote on May 20:

“A fall in value for the euro is good for Europe… because currently the declining euro is Europe’s most effective tool for generating sufficient economic growth to cover its budget deficits. The more the currency corrects its overvalued position, the more robust European exports will be — and it won’t be Germany alone that benefits. Europe’s south also gains from a lower euro, both directly (it will be a busy tourist season in Greece this summer) and because higher German growth means increased German imports from Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.”

Europe Must (and Will) Become a Closer Union

Deutsche Welle wrote on May 15:

“Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is the 2010 recipient of the Charlemagne Prize, an annual award that recognizes efforts in promoting European understanding. Tusk received the prize in Aachen on May 13, with the Charlemagne judges praising him for steering Poland away from nationalism and bringing the former Soviet-bloc country into the heart of Europe.”

In just over a year, Poland will take over the presidency of the European Union for six months. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Tusk stated:

“For all those who understand the meaning of freedom, the meaning of human rights, the meaning of respect for tradition – for all those who have faith in themselves, in their own potential – Europe is, first and foremost, the best model for Europeans. Europe is understood as a union, the European Union – but it is also a continuing dream and a continuing challenge.

“Sometimes, especially in the so-called old Europe, I hear doubting voices, that Europe is not proving itself; that times of crisis have shown that the European Union is not up to the challenges. And we, the Polish people, but also many other Europeans, reply that it is precisely at such critical moments that the idea of Europe, or the union of free people, who believe in their potential and in fundamental values, becomes the most attractive challenge.

“And, as I have been repeating frequently over the last few weeks, the more difficult and painful our experiences, the more the doubting voices arise all around, the more we need to hold high the European flag, affirm the conviction that this is a phenomenal invention: the European family. We must repeat this all the louder and raise the rallying cry all the higher…

“A moment of historic reflection and common sense is enough to understand that nations will remain nations; Poles will feel Polish. And Germans, German. The French, French… This is as true about nations as it is about smaller ethnic groups. We shall remain true to our religions. We shall remain faithful to our customs, while at the same time being aware that Europe needs to be an ever closer union; it needs to think more effectively about its security… In the global world, a Europe divided by conflicting interests and conflicting values doesn’t stand a chance. But a Europe that can rise above these differences while not negating them has a chance to become one of the key world powers, and that is our shared dream…

“Nevertheless, we shall always be asking ourselves and other Europeans, as well as those who want to join the union, do you share our system of values?…

“The eurozone cannot afford for the grim experience of the recent months to be repeated ever again. Poland wants to become a member of the eurozone as soon as possible by fulfilling the criteria which have been agreed to by all…”

Greek Crisis Changes EU–The New European State

The Telegraph wrote on May 9:

“But if the early reports are near true, the accord [among the EU member states] profoundly alters the character of the European Union. The walls of fiscal and economic sovereignty are being breached… A European state is being created before our eyes…

“The euro’s founding fathers have for now won their strategic bet that monetary union would one day force EU states to create the machinery needed to make it work…”

The Birth of a New Gigantic Europe

Der Spiegel Online wrote on May 17:

“The €750 billion ($950 billion) rescue package has calmed financial markets, at least for the time being. Stock markets have recovered and risk premiums on government bonds from the southern euro states have declined… The events on that dramatic weekend in Brussels marked the birth of a gigantic European transfer union, where previously unthinkable sums of money are made available to rescue southern euro-zone members.

“But over and above that, a number of determined politicians under the leadership of French President Nicolas Sarkozy have managed to undermine the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB)… Under the mounting pressure of waves of speculation against the euro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed herself to be talked into a bailout package that is nothing less than a general overhaul of the monetary union according to the agenda set by the French…

“There is a growing fear that a gigantic wave of debt will soon roll over Europe and the euro-zone countries will deal with it as elegantly and unscrupulously as they have so often done in the past — by allowing inflation to reduce their debts…”

Europe’s Shift to the Right…

The Los Angeles Times wrote on May 13:

“With David Cameron ensconced as prime minister here after 13 years of Labor rule, center-right parties or coalitions now have the upper hand in Western Europe’s most populous countries: Germany, France, Britain and Italy. They also rule several Eastern European nations, such as Poland and Hungary, while on the Iberian Peninsula, the Socialist governments of Spain and Portugal are struggling to fend off gains by conservative opponents.

“The shift to the right, underway for several years, has persisted despite the near-meltdown of the global financial system and the worldwide recession that followed. Rather than punish the right for the failings of unbridled capitalism, voters have turned to conservative parties to fix the situation, analysts say…

“Last month, the opposition Fidesz party in Hungary, which promised to trim the size of the state and cut taxes, thumped the ruling Socialists, sweeping two-thirds of the seats in parliament. In Poland, which elects a president next month, the center-right’s candidate is far ahead in the polls, and June general elections in the Netherlands could see significant gains for the far right.

“If present poll ratings hold, the right would dominate in Spain’s national elections next year. The tilt toward conservatism across Europe has been a source of puzzlement in many ways…

“In Germany, little seemed to distinguish the left-leaning Social Democrats from the conservative Christian Democrats… The debt crisis roiling the region and threatening stability of the euro has also scrambled traditional politics to some degree. Socialists hold power in Greece, Spain and Portugal. But those governments, constrained by rules governing countries that use the euro, are imposing harsh austerity measures to reduce their ballooning public deficits — in short, acting more like their conservative counterparts…”

New EU-Central American Agreement

Reuters reported on May 18:

“The European Union and Central American states reached an agreement on Tuesday to liberalize trade and cut import tariffs… The trade ministers of Central America and the EU express[ed] their full satisfaction with the outcome, which will result in an ambitious, comprehensive and balanced trade pillar of the association agreement… The European Union is Central America’s largest trading partner after the United States. Trade between the blocs stood at nearly 10 billion euros ($12.32 billion) in 2009.

“Central American states export mostly agricultural products such as coffee, bananas and other fruits to the EU and import machinery, chemicals, vehicles and fuels from Europe.”

New German-Palestinian Agreement

Deutsche Welle reported on May 18:

“Germany and the Palestinian National Authority tread new ground in Berlin on Tuesday, kicking off the landmark German-Palestinian Steering Committee… The high-level political partnership is aimed at facilitating peace in the Middle East.

“‘We believe that the development and reconstruction of state structures in the Palestinian areas are indispensable for a just two-state solution in the Middle East,’ German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a joint press conference with the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad.

“Westerwelle’s talks with Fayyad ran parallel to meetings between the German and Palestinian interior, economy, development and education ministers focused on the development of state institutions in the Palestinian territories.

“The steering committee resembles an arrangement that the German government already has with the Israeli cabinet. It is due to meet once a year, either in Berlin or Ramallah, and involves 10 ministers from each side… Westerwelle announced that a total of 50 million euros ($62 million) had been allocated for development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian Authority for 2010, which since 2007 has had control over the West Bank following a split with the militant Hamas movement. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has no formal contact with European governments or the Middle East Quartet, which is made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

“Germany is to continue the training of Palestinian Authority police forces, raise the upper limit for export-credit guarantees… German firms would also assist in the reconstruction of a sewage plant destroyed in the Gaza war in 2009, the rebuilding of a water treatment plant in Tulkarem and the construction of an industrial park in Jenin. Some 20 million additional euros were being made available for the Gaza Strip’s energy supply, which currently relies heavily on smuggling via Egypt…

“Fayyad called it ‘historic’ that the Palestinian administration had the opportunity to meet with the German government for high-level talks. He said that the Palestinian Authority had no other such agreement with other states and that he hoped the steering committee would set an example ‘at the EU level, in the framework of efforts to create the structures for an independent Palestinian state.'”

Germany Shortens Military Service

Deutsche Welle reported on May 17:

“After many weeks of squabbling between the Christian Democrat and Free Democrat coalition partners in the German government, the two sides have finally agreed to shorten the country’s compulsory military service and the alternative community service for conscientious objectors from nine to six months… Compulsory military service, for those men drafted into the German Bundeswehr at age 19, will be cut to six months, with the option of voluntarily extending active duty.

“The FDP was unable to convince its political partners to give those opting to do alternative community service a monetary bonus for signing up longer, as active duty soldiers get. The agreement was nonetheless a success for the FDP because it paves the way for reducing the length of both services this year and strengthens the voluntary aspect of the duty. The FDP supports the idea of an all-volunteer, professional army and wants to do away with conscription.”

An all-volunteer, professional army would be of course much more effective than the current “compulsory” army of more or less unwilling soldiers.

No Full-Face Veil in France…

AFP wrote on May 11:

“The French parliament on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the full-face Islamic veil as an affront to the nation’s values, setting the stage for a law banning it. The vote in the National Assembly put France on course to become the second European country after Belgium to declare the wearing of the burqa or the niqab illegal in public places.

“President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party and the opposition Socialists made a rare show of unity in backing the non-binding resolution that declared the veil ‘contrary to the values of the republic.’

“Next week, Sarkozy’s cabinet will examine a draft bill that could impose fines on women who wear the full veil and threaten with imprisonment men who force their wives or daughters to cover themselves. That bill will then go before parliament in July… Debate on the burqa ban has prompted warnings that it could stoke tension in a country that is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million, and where Islam is the number two religion…

“The head of France’s Council of the Muslim Faith, a government body created to promote inter-faith relations, warned that the veil ban risks leaving many Muslims feeling like outcasts… French politicians have said the law will also apply to wealthy tourists from the Middle East and the Gulf who are often seen fully veiled in luxury shops on the Paris boulevards.”

Oil Spill–Much Worse than U.S. Government Suggests…

The Daily Mail wrote on May 16:

“As BP struggled to contain the environmental disaster, scientists have found enormous oil plumes lurking beneath the surface of the water, including one as large as 10 miles long, three miles wide and 300ft thick. The discovery suggests that the leak could be ‘substantially worse’ than estimates given previously by BP and the government… Crude oil is gushing unchecked into the sea from a blown-out offshore well a mile deep on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, threatening an ecological and economic calamity along the U.S. Gulf Coast.”

Der Spiegel wrote on May 19:

“… the massive oil slick has reached an important ocean current: the so-called Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico. This massive body of water flows to the north before swinging in a clockwise direction when it reaches the Mississippi Delta, after which it first spins eastward, and then finally northward to join the Gulf Stream. This powerful maritime conveyor belt could now carry oil to the previously unendangered coastal areas of Cuba and the US state of Florida…

“What was just a hypothetical danger for the past few weeks has become a certainty… at the very least, oil on the ocean surface has reached the Loop Current…

“Environmentalists are particularly worried about the Florida Keys, with its coral reefs, fields of seaweed and coastal mangrove swamps — as well as the potential effects of the oily devastation on a tourism industry that brings billions of dollars to the region each year…

“The oil poses [an] immediate and real danger — and yet one, whose effects are hard to predict — to the states on the Gulf of Mexico and to Florida. Predictions are made even more complicated by the onset of the hurricane season. The privately owned US weather service AccuWeather has forecast an above average number of cyclones and hurricanes for the region this year. The company warns that this could hinder attempts to contain the oil spill. And the choppy waters could carry the pollution even further to areas that have not been affected so far. Additionally, hurricanes traditionally increase in strength as they move across the Gulf of Mexico…”

Developing World Wipes Out Plant and Animal Populations…

The Telegraph wrote on May 9:

“The world’s biodiversity is threatened by the economic growth of countries like China, India and Brazil… While Western countries are increasingly aware of the need to protect endangered species, the developing world’s appetite for raw materials is destroying vulnerable ecosystems… Population growth, pollution and the spread of Western-style consumption are also blamed for hitting plant and animal populations…

“Ahmed Djoghlaf, who heads the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that countries had failed to honour pledges to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. He said: ‘The magnitude of the damage [to ecosystems] is much bigger than previously thought. The rate of extinction is currently running at 1,000 times the natural historical background rate of extinction.’ He added: ‘It’s a problem if we continue this unsustainable pattern of production and consumption. If the 9 billion people predicted to be with us by 2050 were to have the same lifestyle as Americans, we would need five planets.’”

Jordan River May Fade Away

Israel National News reported on May 16:

“Environmentalists on both sides of the Jordan River are warning that the legendary body of water, now reduced to a stream, may soon fade away to nothing at all. And that from a river described in the Bible as ‘overflowing,’ where otters and other water creatures used to play. They’re long gone. Pilgrims still baptize themselves in the waters where Christian tradition says that John baptized Jesus, however – although many choose a different, less polluted spot on the river than the one described.

“A report released last week… said there are areas of the Biblical river [that] are already so narrow that one can simply walk across… Scientists who conducted the study predict that large areas of the river could dry up altogether by 2011 – a risk that could also affect the Dead Sea, into which the river feeds, to its south.”

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